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.

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