What is your earliest memory of art making?
One of my first memories of making art with very serious intentions: I was 5 years old. I painted a squirrel in watercolor at my kitchen table from a ‘how to draw animals book’.
Tell us about your personal background?
I was raised in northern Ohio, in a socially conscious, peace activist family. This of course shaped my suburban childhood. My family, with several others, created an allegorical musical called Alice In Blunderland and performed it all over the northeastern United States. The musical, based on Alice In Wonderland, was about the dangers of the nuclear arms race and ultimately Alice’s search for the truth. This was very important, and gave me an early sensitivity to the ideas of destruction, war, power and truth. All things I investigate in my work. Most importantly, by way of example, it taught me to be expressive artistically about what I feel connected to.
How do you generally describe your work?
Honest and playful. When I am drawing, painting a huge canvas, or creating an installation, the thread that links each piece is my honest attempt to convey a deeper truth. However, there is always a lighthearted banter that happens between me and the piece, which transforms the messages into bright, ironic and playful creations.
James I, 2011, edition of 10. Available at www.ochishop.com
James 1 is part of a series, can you tell us about it?
Yes, this is part of the series Free Me From This Land, which began in the spring of 2010 when my neighbor moved out of his studio and left behind hundreds of National Geographic magazines from the 1960′s-1980′s stacked in the hallway. I walked past them for weeks until something possessed me to take them. I began pouring through them in combination with several history books from the flea market. I saw this powerful story taking form, and thus I wove the images together. I am deeply interested in our story as Americans, and juxtaposing the iconic images from National Geographic with the portraits of Nobility and Monarchs was the perfect method for me to address our heritage and future in a playful way. I want to ask the question “where have we been and where are we going”? The paintings are rooted in my love of this land, and our history as a people on it.
You live in Brooklyn, NY, how does your environment influence your work?
Brooklyn is such a creative environment, I see art everyday in small moments everywhere. It seeps into my work by way of what I am attracted to, or feel compelled to say.
For instance, in my I See series, I have been cutting masks out of linoleum blocks, then printing them on top of vintage advertisements. Now, I’m going to cut out vinyl masks and place them on subway ads in much the same way. Living here, there is a stronger dialogue between my artwork and the environment that I am creating it in.
Your husband, James Seward, is also an artist, and you’re both assistants to other artists, but all your work is extremely different. What is it like being immersed in such an interesting dialogue between artists?
I absolutely love it! The exposure to other artists’ ideas; what materials, thoughts and processes are happening from concept to production is wonderful. Watching the bodies of work become what they are, and having active conversations about that artwork is a real gift. I can’t image a day where I wasn’t discussing at home or work what creative choices were the best, what shows were happening where, or what would make my newest painting stronger. I love it!
Despite your generally happy, sometimes even girly color palate, your series often contain a deeper, even darker meaning. Is there a consistent message you want to convey with each series?
Yes, from as far back as I can remember my work has always circulated around a handful of polarities. I am interested in power and freedom both on a micro and macro scale; personal, communal, political. I often use images of compassion towards others, animals and our planet and they are usually coupled with the sadness of destruction. These are based on what I see and read, then stories come to me that I want to tell. I tend to reveal these ideas and then cover them back up, or literally paint over them. They are never so obvious that you can say what one thing is about, because in truth, it is always a prism that is reflective of many different ideas and thoughts all at once. For instance, I have utilize wolves in my work for years. The wolf means many things to me. It has a great history in our storybooks that tell us who we think it is. But I want to tell a new story. I want to see if we understand the wolf inside us. I also want to show the wolf in a way that makes you see yourself as projecting a certain image on this animal. And I want to show these beautiful animals in a way that illuminates the history of our choices as people. It’s always complicated to me. There is so much meaning that no matter what angle you look at it, if you really look, you will understand a message.
Tell me about your most recent installation, I LOVE YOU FOREVER.
I LOVE YOU FOREVER is an installation I created for the Brooklyn DUMBO Arts Festival. It was made of 40 inch silver and gold mylar helium balloons propped 72 inches above ground in the Brooklyn Bridge park, directly under the Manhattan Bridge. My idea was for it to be a giant blow-up text message to New York, a proclamation of love to the city, and for the people. What was so miraculous about the installation was watching people gather and laugh and hug each other while taking pictures in front of the piece. It really spread joy and people loved it. The balloons wafted and danced in the wind, rain and sunshine. They glimmered and twirled, while people read the message, it was exactly what I envisioned.
What are you working on for your first solo show with Ochi Gallery that will be in February 2012!?
I have been working on several new bodies for my show at Ochi Gallery. The largest works are beautifully colorful neon, punchy paintings of eagles, lamps, campfires, messages and masks. These pieces are all about history, my personal history and that of the nation. I was inspired by books on religion and pilgrims to investigate these images as large scale icons. This is also the first time I have returned to painting on canvas since 2005, which has been powerful. Then some of the smallest pieces are vintage Presidential flash cards with glitter masks, State flash cards and vintage cut out dolls. Wolves are playing a big part in my newest work, they are part of several collages and paintings. I am working on 3 more large scale paintings as we speak that are very bold and are pushing me creatively to a new space. It’s going to be a fantastic show!