Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Great American Loserdom

Conrad Freiburg
Artist, musician, & carpenter
Forest Preserve District of Cook County

There is no romance in artists studios.  There is a loser rolling off his couch next to his pick up truck. There is cold pizza and coffee for breakfast.    There is homelessness and shitting in buckets because what meager space can be afforded on the margins is a garage on the west side without a toilet.  In addition to forays into what might be the greatest failure in sculpture since that cargo ship filled with baby doll parts capsized on the shore of eighties art schools, you begin to innovate and take pleasure in finding solutions for civilizing the life of the loser in the 21st century.

The artist in process of vacating his studio.

One finds kinship with homesteaders and the make-do spirit of desperate Americans of the civil war era foraging their circumstance for what joy and pleasure and steadiness might be found in the open and dangerous beautiful places of the Open Western Skies.  You get a membership at the YMCA so you have a place to shower, shit, and exercise with machines.  Your open western skies, your expansive becoming, your brief unutterable pleasures are found in those strange objects produced under such circumstances, shown publicly, and then put into the storage pile, or, if you are lucky, on a collector's wall.

The artist's toilet paper holder.

In these sideways situations there is a perpetual uncertainty.  When the hammer falls it is traumatic.  You can be turned out when your landlord's ragtag unpermitted electrical schemes are finally discovered because there was a shooting across the hall.  In addition to the .45 callibre bullet hole in your wall, you  get the subsequent city inspectors, city lawyers, and city Orders to Vacate.  You spent all your spare money on building the space for unknown unfoldings, and your 2 month deposit is forfeit due to your landlord's bankruptcy.  I for one wish this were not my truth- these unfortunate and sickening vapors of burnt normalcy.  To not take it personally, I bathe myself in the Waters of Odd, play music, sing songs, make art, make friends.  With all these refined pleasures of loserdom, Henry Miller was right “genuine needs are met.”

A delicate sculpture destroyed.

You find that you have friends who bring food from their kitchen to you on the sidewalk as you set your panhandling art machine in motion.  When you and your love call it quits and its not dark yet you find that sofa surfing is a delicate art of washing dishes and singing for your supper.  You find that you cannot do this alone; this anything alone.  You find that friendship is the most valuable thing when you are poor and some people are surprisingly kind.  It can break you open to be allowed to be cared for, to be given gifts not asked for.  The unplanned special offer of free space inside a small institution's walls can begin to make you feel that maybe all these terribly inexplicable choices are adding up to something someone else might be interested in engaging with deeply over a period of time.  That the HPAC is offering a physical place for work to unfold in a community that might care about such things as harmony, formalism, cosmology, phenomenology, demolition, entropy, dissonance, absence, and the unknown blossoms of the VOID might make you think that there may be a place to bury what can't be carried.  Maybe life is easy after all.

-Conrad Freiburg
from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, 2010

Conrad Freiburg is an artist, musician, and carpenter who grew up on the Mississippi River. Last Summer he recorded an experimental folk album, and also made drawing charcoal from pieces of his bowling ball roller coaster called the Slipping Glimpser. This Fall and Wnter he plans on singing sad songs on his happy little ukulele, making drawings, and building the most fantastic Nothing the Hyde Park Art Center has ever not seen. His acheivements are beginning to exceed his wishes.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Studio Soiree

Chad Kouri
Artist & Curator
The Post Family

Over the past couple years I have become infatuated with the artist studio and its role in our vastly diverse creative community in Chicago and elsewhere. Some of this obsession can be tracked through The Post Family’s studio tours. I'm a strong believer in process being part of the product. Not only is it interesting to see how other artists work but it puts the general audience in a better position to start a more informed dialog about the work beyond "Oh my god, I love/hate it!" So you can imagine my excitement when the Studio Chicago theme was announced. In the following two interviews I attempt to shed a little more light on the creative process while asking two artist with drastically different styles and processes about their work flow with only five questions! I know it's a big task, but I have to say I learned a thing or two and was inspired to get down to work after reading. I hope it has the same impact on you.

The first is Nancy Rosen; A Chicago-based painter and stuff-maker focusing mostly on portrait work with dashes of pattern and tons of texture. Nancy has been painting longer than anyone else I know so I assumed that this would be an appropriate place to dig a little deeper into her process and workspace which she has been tweaking for decades. Also, in the spirit of collaboration, I have asked Margot Harrington of Pitch Design Union to drop in and ask a few questions as well. Let's dive into a shorthand look at Nancy's wonderful spirit and unwavering dedication to creation.

Chad Kouri: So you have been in your studio for a while now… how many years? I always have a hard time staying inspired in the same place. Do you feel like the only way you can really get down to work is if you are in a more "permanent" space?

Nancy Rosen: I've been in my studio for 12 years or so. I LOVE MY STUDIO. I was in another for 6 years. Did I ever tell that wonderful story of my husband, for an anniversary gift, gave me keys to a studio? All mine. The kids will not touch any thing. Everything will be just as I left it if for an hour or 3 weeks. Benny (my youngest son) was 2 years old and I had just started drawing again at the Evanston Art Center.

INSPIRED... When I gave myself the permission to paint what I loved (people) and not care what anyone else thought, it became an endless volcano of work. So it's not about the space as much as whom I'm painting or what I'm painting or where the painting has led me. I'm not big on change. I like getting up and going to my studio. I love the permanence of my studio; I love the way it evolves. The piles of paintings that grow, shelves filled with treasures I gather (and now, treasures people gather for me). I love the photos of my family. They make me smile. When people come to my studio, that's what they seem to love the most. When my soul sister from Art school came into town and we spent some time there after wandering around for a while she looked at me and said, "Its like being inside your head." Of course I wrote that on the wall along with everything else.

Storage in Nancy Rosen's Studio

Margot Harrington: How has your studio practice changed throughout your life? For example, your husband said you stopped painting for several years while your boys were small. What was it like to pick up a brush again and how did you get back into the habit of it?

NR: Actually I stopped painting in the early 80s and had a business painting fabrics and designing and manufacturing clothing and upholstery fabric. So not making paintings but was certainly painting and making stuff. Ever since I was 5 I've been doing that. I've never stopped. I'm pretty driven that way. it’s what wakes me up in the morning.

CK: What do you use your studio for? Some people say they just use if for conception of ideas, sometimes it's just the creation of the work. Some say they use it start to finish. I actually really like people in my space while working so the social aspect is really important to me.

NR: I use my studio. It's my other home. It’s where I work and reinvent myself and, as of recent, it’s become a classroom for others. I some times go to other studios to draw. I'll bring that info back to my studio and work on it until it's done. Could take moments or years, but it does get done. I have to finish what I started, but also work on what came to me in the middle of the night or while walking down the street or perhaps what my model might be talking about. The paintings create a conversation for me and my studio is a place to get back and work on them until the conversation is resolved.

Nancy Rosen working in her studio

CK: I've recently been thinking about seeking out a mentor for my "fine art" work. I feel like I have hit a spot where I can't go much farther without some expert knowledge on a more regular basis from someone I admire. Someone who can help me set goals and get out of ruts. Can you tell us a little bit about one of your mentors and what kind of impact they had?

NR: When I started drawing again I took some classes with Eleanor Spiess-Ferris (an amazing Chicago artist). I was perfectly happy just drawing with my 2B pencil on my bristle paper but after a bit she would look at me and suggest I experiment with charcoal. I would say I hate charcoal and she would demand that I get some. I ended up loved it.  A few weeks later she suggested conte crayon. My responses was something like  "oh my god I hate conte crayons” but like a good student I marched right out and bought myself some conte crayons and loved them..............Still use them.

A great teacher can help you explore and grow. Eleanor could guide me gently, or not so gently, on how to get my work out of my studio and into the world. And then there was “Nancy can you sub my class this Friday?” I really wanted to say "NO WAY!" l was scared to death but managed to fall in love with teaching. Eleanor has been my mentor and friend for some time now and I'm endlessly grateful.

MH: I think most artists and designers truly feel like there's no other profession they could see themselves doing. Just like a spider spins a web, not because it's beautiful, but because it's all they know, plain and simple. If you had to change professions though, any inkling what you'd do?

NR: Funny, at the end of the day I feel like I am a factory worker at heart. Although I am driven to helping others. So there it is.

Nancy has a show up at The Family Room until mid-november. Gallery is appointment only.


The second artist is collage warrior Michael Pajon. Michael has recently moved from Chicago to New Orleans and in turn has come up with a lot more time for creating. With the chance of city, studio size and everything else in between, I was curious to see the affect its had on his studio practice, materials and finished pieces.

Chad Kouri: Do you find that the change of city and moving from a large home studio to a much smaller one is affecting the subject manner of your work? Your process? The supplies you use? Even the time you spend in the studio?

Michael Pajon: The biggest thing affecting the work these days would be the amount of time I have to spend.  In Chicago I had a full time job as a studio manager for Tony Fitzpatrick. When I moved to New Orleans I had no place to be for any part of the day in particular.  I spent many hours bicycling around the city, getting familiar with my new home, exploring and drinking tall boys with my neighbors.

The smaller space has created a more compact environment, so I'm no longer able to spread out my collage materials like I used to.  I feel this has made me more confident and slightly faster with the choices that I make. I have learned to trust my instinct to keep from digging further into my supply and committing to the materials at hand.

Michael Pajon's current studio in New Orleans

CK: I can imagine that since your work involves a lot of appropriated imagery that the change of city had a big impact on your art. What was one of the most unexpected changes in your artwork or process when moving?

MP: Time, I have been employed here and there, but mostly I have free time to roam. Somehow being in the 3rd busiest port in America becomes part of the work. Watching tugboats and tankers pushing up and down the Mississippi is semi-hypnotic and allows the mind to wander. New Orleans is much older than Chicago in terms of its architecture and roots. The city itself is a sort of collage of Western Europe, particularly Spain and France, the Caribbean, and the culture of the South. Recently I've incorporated a lot of antique portraiture to create tighter individual narratives.

CK: I've always found it hard to include other mediums in my collage work. Like pencil marks or paint. Do you have any crossover of mediums in your work? Does it go down before or after the cut paper?

MP: My technique is a little haphazard.  I use fountain ink, watercolors, pencil, and paint to manipulate and enhance the collage. It really just depends...some pieces have little to no mark making and some have a lot.  I typically find an image that is mostly black and white and decide that to make it fit it will require some color.

I can't really say whether or not I make more of the marks toward the beginning or the end because I just finished two pieces that had a lot of mark making throughout the process.

CK: Do you think you would benefit from a studio outside of your living space or do you prefer the in house workspace?

When I have been printmaking I definitely work better with an outside studio.  So much is process oriented that it it really nice to have a few other people working around you. For my other work...I love getting up, making coffee, having my cereal, throwing on some Ghostface and getting into the studio, aka the front room.

Michael Pajon's past studio in Chicago

CK: Have you ever done a residency? Do you think that it would be beneficial or a hindrance to your processes?

MP: That is a great question. I have no idea what the answer is. I have often thought of doing a residency, but unless it was for printmaking of some kind I have no idea what I'd do. I feel as though residencies are a kind of place to work through a creative transition or to simply have set aside time and space with few distractions to make your work.  I love my distractions, and would feel a little naked without my shelves of old children's books and bins of matchbooks and postcards. I have a dog now as well, and if Miss Marge the dog can't come, then sorry Charlie.

Michael Pajon's work will be displayed in Dan Cameron's Prospect 1.5  in New Orleans at Madame John's Legacy next month through the end of the year. Opening November 6th, 2010.

Chad Kouri is a living breathing mobile human being in the great city of Chicago. When not working on commissioned illustration and design work, hand lettering poorly spelled phrases, art directing Proximity magazine, rockin out on found object and collage work – or blog jammin, space touring, curating and high-fivin with The Post Family crew – he hibernates like the great grizzly. 

All images courtesy of the artists.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Studio Is Where You Are

Peter Fagundo
School of The Art Institute

When I was in graduate school at SAIC, we were given these studios with no windows, no doors and low fluorescent lighting.  They had a feeling of office cubicles and the effect was anxiety producing.  I felt sort of naked and nervous.  This circumstance became the fuel for much of my work that year.  I even used mostly office supplies from the old Horder store across Monroe Street.  Yellow legal pad paper and white out were the carbohydrate of my practice.  I filled the space with work and then emptied it…twice.  By the end of the that year, there was only two pieces of Belgian linen, that fit perfectly out of the wrapper, on the two long walls, a square of cotton duct canvas on the small wall and the floor donned a “rug” made from yellow legal pad paper scotch taped together.  Ray Yoshida, my adviser, said on one of our last meetings… “It’s better when you are quiet.”

Since then my studio has always been in my home; in the basement, the dining room or the pantry… where ever I find myself.  An image comes to mind I saw years ago of an aged Sam Francis painting, hunched over the canvas on the floor, in an old pair of sweats and white tube socks.  “That’s what I want!” I thought to myself.  Then I remember reading somewhere that Pablo Neruda used to disappear during dinner parties, at his house, to sneak a bit of writing in his study, only to reappear, giggling, as if nothing had happened.  Where ever I find myself, that’s where the studio is for me. 

At present, I find myself living in Evanston with my wife and three kids.  We reside in an old manor house that my wife has spent the last 12 years restoring to perfection.  It is beautiful but the only place that feels right to have a studio is in the basement.  I used to only make work down here.  I used to think that was all one was supposed to do in a studio.  I even had fluorescent lighting installed at the beginning.  Now I have half fluorescent lighting and half lamp light which is warm and cozy.  I work hard but I also read, eat, nap… what ever else we do.  One of my favorite studio occurrences lately was a day that my four year old was home sick.  He was not feeling well and I was in dire need of some studio time.  I tried everything to entertain him and make him feel better but nothing was working.  I finally just brought him down to my studio, the place I really wanted to be.  “Do what you want.”  I said in a salty tone.  “I’ve gotta draw today.”  He whined and I put him on the little couch I’d found in the alley last year.  I put on some Mabel Mercer, took out my drawing things and let him be.  He was asleep by the end of the first song.  He took a three-hour nap on that little couch.  I joined him for the last hour. We both woke up feeling better.

Peter Fagundo lives and works in Evanston, Illinois. He received his BS in Psychology and Fine Art from Regis University, Denver, Colorado in 1997, and his MFA in painting and drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003 where he was the recipient of the Merit Scholarship. He is a currently a faculty member in the Departments of Contemporary Practices and Painting and Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been exhibited at venues including devening projects + editions, Chicago (where he is represented).

All images courtesy of the artist.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Studio Expanse

Alberto Aguilar
Professor of Studio Art
Harold Washington College

This Is The Introduction
I regularly stand in front of a group and sing unscripted verse for three minutes. This is my current trademark introduction to a new class or a lecture. I usually sing about the time as it passes, my fear and anxiety of being in this moment, my hope that something meaningful will come out of it and announce as I begin to gain confidence and feel comfortable in this awkward situation. I enjoy that these works are immaterial and explain themselves in the making. This new medium that I employ gets rid of the middleman. There is no loss of meaning through the materials. The viewer is directly tapped into the thoughts, feelings and revelations involved in my creative process. It is also an icebreaker and instead of painting me the fool it immediately puts us on the same human level.

Let Go
As a young artist, after a late night of painting, I was washing my brushes at the sink and was struck by a deep feeling of loneliness. I accepted this as my lot in life and painted in the seclusion of my studio for many years after. Eventually I began to feel skepticism towards painting, its ability to communicate my ideas and guilt for spending so many hours alone making work. I made my last painting in 2004 after having my fourth child and getting my first full time job teaching Art History but continued to keep a studio which was a shared space with the laundry room. After purchasing a digital camera I began documenting household chores and daily life. The most iconic of these images is one that of me proudly staring at my garage door after completing the duty of painting it. It is titled “Finished Painting”. At this point I decided to let go of my studio.

Finished Painting, 2006, Digital image

Open House

Last year I launched a project on facebook to inaugurate my 36th birthday in which I invited over 1000 strangers into my home to have dinner. The idea for this project first came about after two curators requested to pay me a studio visit. Being that I no longer kept a studio I decided that I would have them over and be a great host. Also I set up several domestic monuments in my home for them to look at.

Open House, 2009, Digital image
After this visit the idea of having some sort of art exhibition in my home started to take shape. In the end I realized that it would not involve art but that I would have people over and treat them with great hospitality. After making 1,136 friends on facebook I fearfully sent out invitations that stated all that would be included in the dinner party and how to be considered for it. There would be 36 guests at 6 separate dinners of 6 people. I promised to arrange interesting groups of people. I also promised a six-course dinner and a handmade gift box containing compact versions of all the works I made since letting go of my studio.

Out of all the invitees, 109 agreed to be considered and 39 made the short list. Upon the arrival of my guests I gave a tour of the house, we ate, I played a soundtrack, we looked through photo albums, we played a board game and I gave henna tattoos. An art writer that attended one of the dinners was upset to find out that I did not have a studio and that we would not be looking at my work that night. At the dinners I wanted to give them a taste of my daily life but I was conscious of creating a strong memory so that even if it were too uneventful they would always remember the night. This was reinforced through the repeated soundtrack of nostalgic songs, the henna tattoos that would stay with them for up to 2 weeks and the handmade gift boxes that they took home with them. Without fail after each night I had great sadness and longed for the company of my guests for several days after the dinner.

Final Dinner, 2010, Digital image
Six months after completing this project I asked guest to send me pictures of the current location of the gift box. I purposely asked them not to stage or move the box but to take a picture of wherever it was kept.  I received only a few photo responses and although there was a couple that gained prominent places at homes most were shuffled amongst the residue of daily life.

Domestic Monuments
Another aspect of my work is that I make sculptures out of objects in my home. These act as monuments that celebrate everyday life. One great thing about these sculptures is that after they are completed, documented or shown the objects could return to its original function or place. I do not have to find storage for these pieces; they do not have to join the collection of  “ The Museum of Decaying Paintings” which currently abides in my mother’s basement.

Double Stuffed Column, 2010, Digital image
I make these monuments in the homes of others as well. Once I made some in the home of guy who runs an apartment gallery in his spare bedroom. He gave me the key to come to his apartment while he was at work. Rather than working in the extra bedroom I was compelled to make monuments all over his apartment using his personal belongings. I did this on various visits to his home. At first he thought it was funny but after a while he seemed to get annoyed because I would leave these monuments for him to find, disassemble and return to there original place.

More recently I did this at the home of an art director in Kansas City. I got her permission and arrived at her home at 8 am. She received me in her nightgown and told me to have at it, that she would continue her sleep in the guest room in order to give me free reign of her home. I made many monuments, documented them, returned the objects to their original place and let myself out before she awoke. I included the photos of these monuments in a show that she co-curated in Kansas City. At the opening reception she told me that she felt extremely honored that I was showing these works made in her home. 

New Mode
Some of my first acts of collaboration were in graduate school. Because of my domestic circumstances my time in the studio was limited. I usually arrived at 7am and was out by 4pm which was when most students would just be arriving or warming up. The first thing I would do when I got there is to go through everyone’s studio and shuffle through there personal belongs getting to know his or her visual tendencies. These were collaborations that I had with them by myself.

I got to know the power of working with others soon after. The first instance was when I made two murals with students in the suburbs of Chicago. Here our concentration on the materials of paint and the goal of finishing a singular work kept us from intimately getting to know one another.

Alberto Aguilar with the Outliers, 
Chain Reaction, 2009, Digital Image
Through a residency/ youth mentorship program that I was part of in 2005/06 I got to know my collaborators more in depth. Together with a group of teenagers we explored my ideas while incorporated their interests. In these groups there was fighting, crying, playing, joking, wasting time and sometimes working. I made an effort not to be the authority figure. We saw one another daily and our relationship was more akin to brother and sister. Here our studio was lively and far from lonely, I accepted this as my new mode of working.

Grande Finale
This past summer I was granted a prime space in downtown Chicago for a given time period. I considered using it to spend time making my own work but in the end I decided to open it up to others. From this decision came the first “Center of Multiple Middles”.  The Idea behind it was to have an open site where people of diverse background and experience could come exchange ideas, make work and then show it collectively: on top of, butted up against, and all over the space. There would be no curator, no singular voice, no work considered more than the other. The amount of people involved kept growing up until the night of the opening reception.

The second “Center of Multiple Middles” took place at Harold Washington College. Rather than happening in a one space it took place at various points around the college with the hopes of expanding the viewers line of sight. In the elevator waiting area, on windows of the building’s façade, in my office, in the refrigerator of my office, in display cases, in the reception area of the President’s office and as a scavenger hunt on every floor of the college. All together there were over 20 artists involved. The night of the opening reception we had performances happening in a room adjacent to the main gallery. The audience was split between all the various points of the exhibition. The performance space was crowded and a bit chaotic as people were coming in and out and there were two stages. As my contribution to the performances I sang one of my three-minute songs, which did not turn out as I hoped, but all together we moved with great force.

Alexander Cohen, Composite Eyes Surf and Slide, 2010, Office Installation
Christopher Santiago, Map for the second incarnation of “Center Of Multiple Middles” 
2010, Digital image

Alberto Aguilar is a Professor of Studio Art at Harold Washington College in downtown Chicago. He is the founder and coordinator of Pedestrian Project, an art initiative dedicated to making art accessible to people from all walks of life. He currently lives on the southwest side of Chicago, on the path of airplanes, near Midway airport. On windy days the airplanes land instead of taking off bringing them fearfully close to his rooftop.  In his current work, every aspect of his daily life and exchanges with others are treated as creative acts.

Opening Image:  Isa’s Headband (00OOO00), 2008, digital image 
All images courtesy of the artist.