Interview - Robin Luther

Our next show features a multi-media installation by Milwaukee artist Robin Luther. In this interview we discuss the motivations behind her work.

"Chester Pool 1" Inkjet Print, 16x22"Can you tell us about some of the themes that you have dealt with in your work over the past few years?

As an undergraduate student I was heavily influenced by documentary photographers that I studied in school and made a lot of personal work documenting different sub-cultures that I had connections to. I ended up very interested in ideas focused around family structures and gender roles within the family structure. I used a lot of humor to illustrate these ideas in tableau photographs of insects inside of my childhood dollhouse, taking on the roles of a human family.

In graduate school I continued investigated ideas of family in my work, but became more interested in using my family history and images from my family albums to illustrate larger ideas of memory associated with vernacular images - snapshots, postcards, home-videos, etc.

Over the past couple of years I've returned to a more documentary style of working and researching, while still utilizing narrative techniques in my work. While the photographs that I have been taking are much more straight forward landscapes and interiors/exteriors of locations, they are sequenced, paired, and categorized in a way that implies a sense of narrative and connections between images. I have also begun combining elements of sound, video, and text in my work to create more of a sense of narrative, history, and complexity. My current work investigates themes of place and politics of place, the justice system and injustice within the justice system, family and memory, and collaboration.

You have a background in photography, but you often blend video and sound elements into a larger installation. How and when did you become interested in working in this way?

As an undergrad at Columbia College Chicago I had the opportunity to intern at, and regularly visit, the Museum of Contemporary Photography. It was this venue, centered around photography, that introduced me to the idea that the medium doesn't have to be limited to only still, two-dimentional images and experiences. I got to experience some really incredible video and installation pieces at MoCP. One piece that really inspired me to want to explore video in particular was "Landscape Theory" by Roberto Bellini, which I saw at the museum in 2008.

I personally started experimenting with video in my work in 2010 as a graduate student at UWM. I began by repurposing my family's old home videos into projected installations, and later began using audio recordings in exhibitions with my photographs. The video piece in my exhibition at Greymatter Gallery, "Temporary Residents", is actually the first video piece that I will be showing in a public exhibition.

"Chester High Bleachers" Inkjet Print, 16x22"How have your travels influenced your work?

I've been lucky to have several great opportunities to travel during graduate school, and now after school as well. As a student at UWM I had the opportunity to spend several weeks traveling Peru, and making work. I have also been an artist in residence at a studio collective in Norway, where I will be returning this summer for a second residency.

My work has always been heavily influenced by place, and by my personal connections to places that are a part of my past and present. Travel has been important, and remains important, to my work because it takes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to redirect my thought process and my practice. It creates inspiration for me, but it also presents a challenge that I think is necessary to keep me from getting to comfortable and redundant in my research and practice.

Your current exhibition is about the town of Chester, IL and the maximum security prison that's located there. But conceptually it addresses so much more. Can you talk a bit about this?

Menard Correctional Center, the maximum security prison in Chester, IL, that is alluded to in my current work, is alluded to, rather than visualized, to emphasize the mental pull that the prison's existence has on the place and the sense of being in that place. This series isn't about documenting the prison and illustrating it for curious eyes. In many ways, it's about the fact that it IS so completely out of the way, out of sight, and out of mind, much like the inmates that are deposited in the prison from far away cities where their family and friends usually reside.

The title of the exhibition, "Population:", refers to the fact that the inmates of Menard Correctional Center are counted as residents of the general population of Chester, Illinois. I am particularly interested in the fact that most of the inmates have never seen or experienced this town which they are calculated as residents of, and the disconnect between their past and present, and between them and their family once they're moved to these far away, rural prisons.

What individuals in your life have had the most impact on you as an artist?

One individual that has had a great impact on me on me as an artist is Art Hand, who taught the first photography class that I took as an undergrad. It was because of his class that I decided to get a degree in photography, and ultimately decided to go to grad school and continue my research, as well as teach others. His attitude towards art and making is really refreshing. He was always motivating his students towards technical improvement while pushing them to follow research paths that they're really passionate about.

I've also been impacted by Hans Gindlesberger, who served on my graduate committee at UWM and gave me really honest, important feedback throughout my years there.

My husband, and fellow artist, C. Matthew Luther, impacts me as an artist as well. I am inspired by his work ethic as a teacher and artist, and by his passion for the themes that are present and important in his work. He's also great at giving honest feedback and critique.

"Chester Pool II" Inkjet Print, 16x22"What artists do you look to and have an influence in your work?

I'm influenced by a variety of artists and photographers. Robert Frank's series, "The Americans" is really interesting to me in a lot of ways. He received a Guggenheim fellowship to document the United States with his camera in the 1950s. The Swiss artist captured thousands of photographs along his various road trips across the United States, but did an incredibly interesting job of editing those photos down to a collection of less than 100 images that really depict the country through the eyes and narrative of Frank. I'm most interested in his ability to take truthful photographs of the world around him, but to then depict his own, personal narrative of place through his editing and sequencing of images.

Some more contemporary artists that have influenced my work include Alec Soth and Taryn Simon. Soth is well known for his photographic series, "Sleeping By The Mississippi", in which he documents landscapes, interiors and exteriors of buildings and sites, and portraits along the Mississippi River. Soth also has a really interesting series of short video pieces that he did for the New York Times, called The Continental Picture Show, in which he usually combines still photographs, video footage, sound, and text to convey a short narrative. Taryn Simon is well known for her series, "The Innocents", in which she collaborated with former inmates that were convicted of crimes that they didn't commit, and eventually released from prison as a result of re-trials using DNA evidence to prove their innocence. Simon photographs the former inmates in a location that is somehow connected to the crime that they were wrongfully convicted of. The photographs are printed at a very large scale, confronting viewers and forcing a physical and emotional connection. In small text next to the photographs is the name of the individual, the crime that they were convicted of, and the amount of years that they served.

I'm also very interested in the writing of Angela Davis, Michel Foucault, Jacques Ranciere, Lucy Lippard, Roland Barthes, and many others!


Interview - Sarah Rebekah Byrd Mizer

Installation of Sarah Rebekah Byrd Mizer show, my pleasure, started today and it looks excellent. Her show opens October 18th. Sarah took some time to answer a few questions for us. 


Could you please tell us a little about your background and how you think that influences you as an artist. Is there anything about your personality that makes you gravitate towards the mediums you choose to work with?

"Glass Wallpaper, pattern no.2: Blue Ridge Wallpaper," 2012, glass, 12 x 9'

I wish I had an elevator pitch for this. There has been much thought as to why I work with mediums and I just simply find them malleable or intriguing and so I play. As an athlete from childhood through college, I understand play and training to be synonymous. Play can be misinterpreted as superficial or frivolous but it has been the foundation for in-depth research and work. I say I am playing around, and I am; I am having fun, experimenting and failing a large percent of the time. That is no different from sports, baseball or softball players understand the .300 batting average as a success and I relate that law of thinking to the studio.

In one of your artist statements you wrote about your grandmother and the poetic lists she used to make. I think that family always has a profound effect on the work we do as artists. Can you tell us a little about how she has influenced your life and work?

It can feel a bit awkward talking about family but they are a part of what I am doing, no doubt. Each member has held a pretty significant role for the most random reasons, including my Mom’s mom. My grandmother wrote a grocery list, I bought the groceries, brought it back to her and the list had done its job. Thought nothing of it until I re-discovered the list a few years later. When it reappeared, I saw it differently: it wasn’t anymore utilitarian so I was able to see it formally and conceptually as though it were a poem. Her handwriting was careful and graceful despite shaky touch. It was beautiful. I had it professionally framed and it hangs in my kitchen.

It goes on and on, it isn’t necessarily the individual relationships with family members that inspire me, rather it is a strange way of speaking or nuances that you only notice when contexts change.

"Rainbow Rocks" 2013, Ink, watercolor and vinyl on paper, 16 x 24"You have a very eclectic way of working. You’ve worked with everything from glass to time based media and have done site specific installation as well as shown work in traditional gallery settings. Can you talk about some of the conceptual commonalities behind your impressive body of work?

The eclectic nature of the work has to be credited to academia. I am so impressed by my student’s ability to turn on a dime. They soak up information so quickly and regurgitate it into these two-week monuments. I try to keep an open mind though I would say that I progress in a much slower fashion. When I was first asked to do a billboard piece I said yes without flinching, and then panic set in. I had no clue where to begin or how to approach it. The process I ended up using to create the highly layered drawings might be one of my favorites because the images are so versatile. Now I am always looking for billboard space. If you know of any in Milwaukee, let me know!

Conceptually, the pieces all have very deliberate editing. That reductive quality is one that has been pretty consistent both formally and conceptually. The relationships between space and ornament remind me of vacant homes waiting for life to happen in them. Of course, in this comparison, the vacant home is a white field and the life is an eruption of ornament, line, color or text.

The use of text in some of your work is very beautiful and striking, but obviously serves a conceptual purpose as well. Can you talk about your motivations in using text?

This goes back to the comment about my Grandmother’s shopping list. Text has the ability to be at once entirely utilitarian and intimate and terribly abstract or vague.

I think of words not only for what they are communicating but also for their visual value. You’ll notice in this exhibition there are elements of borrowed vernacular; there are baroque medallions and pseudo Edwardian patterns, even some mid-century-esque imagery. These elements are employed similarly to how I utilize text. They are familiar, though with a reformatted (and highly edited) context they become individual letters that create a different language entirely.

"Capital." 2013, mixed media on paper, 13 x 20"What artists have had an impact on your professional development and why? Are there others, such as writers, philosophers or even pop culture icons that you look to?

When I was at the New Museum for the ‘93 show early this year I was talking to a friend of mine who said how pivotal that exact moment in time was for his practice and how nostalgic the show was for him. I am jealous of that ability to pinpoint a time and place as being a breeding ground for a lifetime of work. I just don’t work that way. There are hundreds of instances I could tell you were inspirational but they are so disparate from one another. It is exciting to see good work, always.

Tell us about something thrilling that has happened to you recently.

Professionally there have been many exciting developments. In addition to this show here at Greymatter I am in esteemed company in an exhibition at the Taubman Museum, Ambiguity and Interface, runs through January, 2014. The wallpaper piece shown as part of this show was part of a contemporary glass survey that included Tara Donovan and Maya Lin among others. On October 12, I just closed a show examining language or other methods of "Missed Connections", among the artists next to me were John Baldessari, Louise Bourgeois, and one of my mentors here at VCU, Sonya Clark.

Also, I have been awarded three artist residencies and have the opportunity to pursue two of them. I hope that every artist or designer has the opportunity to visit Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. In June, I was among about 40 other artists to participate in their first Open Residency Program. The flat work in this exhibition was a result of that residency. This coming summer I will be an artist in residence at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. I am really looking forward to Houston, I have never been and there are such rich resources.

On the home-front, my husband recently finished renovating our kitchen. That was truly thrilling. I am not kidding, he tore it down and built a new one out of the rubble, our kitchen is a phoenix! Things you touch and interact with everyday have to be an exact kind of perfect. He made our kitchen perfectly, it is so nice to be in a well-designed space and it is a bonus that it is ours!


Interview - Patrick Earl Hammie

We're incredibly psyched to have Patrick Earl Hammie's work as our first painting show here at greymatter.  Read all about Patrick and his impressive work here.

"Night Watch" 68x96" oil on linenI’ve always found it interesting how different artists gravitate toward specific mediums.  Is there anything about your personality that you think attracts you to painting?

I’ve drawn constantly from an early age, so maybe that oriented me toward 2D. At first, painting seemed like a natural extension of drawing. Now it’s use is tied to my content in terms of questioning and celebrating its history. Recently, I’ve begun experimenting with 3D objects. I’m not sure how those experiments will translate into my vocabulary, but my practice has always been a place where I’ve felt free to evolve.

Could you please tell us a little about your background and how you think that influenced your work?

I was born in New Haven, CT in 1981. I was raised in West Haven, CT, but moved back and forth between there and Hartsville, SC until graduate school. I did martial arts when I was younger, and participated in concert choir and athletics until college. I earned my BA in Drawing and Psychology from South Carolina’s Cooker College and my MFA in Painting from the University of Connecticut. Many of my interests from childhood to now such as comics, science fiction, religious studies, philosophy and music have influenced my work. Many things I’m drawn to engage with universal humanistic plights revealed through personal narratives.

You choose to paint on a very large scale; some of your canvases are 8 feet long.  Can you explain how scale relates to the meanings behind your work?

My decisions regarding scale tend to be driven by content and context. For example, historically there’s been a type of chest beating amongst male artists, manifested in heroic canvases that would reach mural-like proportions. I’m a fan of big works and spectacles like many others, but scale does function as a visual symbol of masculine expression, usually reinforced by the content within the frame. With those narratives in mind, I dialogue with those histories by positioning my canvases within that context, while re-presenting examples of women and men that question constructions of identity, history, and gender politics.

It always impresses me when an artist can use traditional media in very conceptual ways.   How do the processes specific to oil painting relate to how you are questioning representations of race and gender?

Perhaps more than any other form of image-making, figurative painting is often read as a mirror of the time in which it is made; the canvas might be uniquely valued as a type of sociohistorical document. When one goes down the road of representation in paint, particularly the figurative, and more specifically the nude, there are certain histories and responsibilities to be navigated and acknowledged. What’s at stake here is representation. Painting has been a forum where these conversations have lived the longest. Utilizing the medium to critique its practice, I adopt body language, narrative and scale, to participate in this discourse, and to reinvent and remix ideal beauty and heroic nudity.

"Untitled" 42x60" charcoal on paperIt is very cool that you use traditional painting to critique Western Art History.  Would you elaborate on how you accomplish this through how individuals in your work are depicted, situated, etc.?

When one thinks of figurative art as a contemporary endeavor one may take a skeptical position as to its relevance. For me, figurative art has relevancy. While I deeply respect and appreciate historical uses of the nude form, the ideas and context in which they developed are no longer in accord with our modern understanding of gender, race, sexuality and mythology. While many contemporary artists have made great strides to relocate this ancient and personal form of human expression, the critical mass of uncritical examples by artists trying to capture those past ideas populates the current collective consciousness. We’re left with associations of the “nude” in art equating to female, white, young, thin, shaved, full breasted, and vulnerable or hypersexual.

With my current project Significant Other, I move towards aspects of figurative representation that have been historically skewed, are contemporarily taboo, or underrepresented. For centuries, male painters have historically presented women as static objects represented in a serpentine pose that recalled Eve’s original sin. The male nude has been cloaked in allegory, which aimed to provide forums for culturally sanctioned looking for an understood heterosexual audience. In the absence of allegory, the penis became mostly un-representable as its presence would make vulnerable to critique the idea and signifier of male power. Subsequently, the black male body has been subject to grotesque exaggerations ranging from abject physical features to hypersexual endowment, all of which reinforced white male normativity and command.

With Significant Other, I suggest the two figures as halves of self. They operate for me as individual female and male figures, symbols of feminine and masculine institutions, as well as forms of self-portraiture. I work to present the woman as a doer who is active and agent. She embodies a strength not derived solely from a masculine-centric understanding of strength, but a strength that also valorizes traits such as care and empathy. With the man, I situate him in a vulnerable position where he has relinquished allusions of power. Lighting and paint colors play an important role in regards to race. The light democratized the complexions in such a way as to challenge easy or rhetorical reads of ethnicity. Realistic representations of persons of color by persons of color have been greatly absent in the narrative of painting, particularly nudes. I strive to make room for alternative depictions of race and gender. Drawing from my history as a son, a male and an African American struggling to synthesize past adversity, my paintings symbolize my shadow-selves, and represent an effort to transcend typical masculine ideals and yield to new realities that require constant compromise and change.

These paintings definitely have an intellectual basis, but also have a deeply emotive quality that comes through quite intensely.  How do you think these two qualities interact and reinforce one another?

As cerebral as artists can become, I equally love when artists, storytellers and musicians tap into their personal experiences and pain to make art that’s visceral and conscious. My ideas have always started with my personal experiences, questions, struggles, and interests. Events like my father’s death when I was 17, singing John Rutter’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall in college, or witnessing a milestone in American presidential history, all vibrate in my gut first, then my head. I want to make work that engages people in that way as well.

One last question I like to ask our artists now and again:  If you could witness any moment in history firsthand, what would it be?

I think the most important time in history is now. It might be interesting to witness moments in history such as the first American woman casting her presidential vote, or the circumstances under which my African and European ancestors first stepped onto American shores, but I’m most excited to experience what’s happening right now, and imagining what will be in the future.


Interview - Mike McGovern

We were so pleased to show Mike McGovern's work as part of one of the first shows we put together, Amalgam. Read about Mike's work and the cool project he's been working on with his wife, Roxanne McGovern.


mixed media print - Mike McGovern & Roxanne McGovern

Tell us a little about the projects or residencies you’ve been involved in lately.

Recently I have been teaching a pretty heavy load. This last term I was teaching 6 days a week at 3 different schools. So teaching has been my main focus and priority. But I have also been working at Children’s Healing Art Project, a nonprofit that works in Portland area children hospitals doing special art projects with kids in medical crisis and their families. ( My wife Roxanne and I have been working for CHAP for the past few years helping to set up a functional print shop. We are working towards making sellable products of the children’s art to raise money to help support the non-profit. We have been making t-shirts, calendars, and wrapping paper. But we are going to be expanding to produce limited edition prints of the children’s art. We are also going to be setting up teen printmaking workshops and art classes. She is the executive director of the organization and does so much for that organization in order to keep it up and running.

In the spring of 2011, I was a visiting artist at CSU Fresno and the College of the Sequoias. As a visiting artist, I was able to work with the printmaking students at both the schools to produce editions of my work. While I was there I also gave lectures about my studio practices. I was asked back in the Spring of 2012 with my wife and collaborator, Roxanne. Roxanne and I have a collaborative art team called OWL CAT INK. We create work about our personal lives and family histories and how they intersect. Roxanne’s work deals a lot with her Armenian heritage and how her grandfather survived the Armenian Genocide. Every year in April during the anniversary of the genocide CSU Fresno has an Armenian awareness week. Fresno has a huge Armenian population. So for the awareness week we were visiting artists and we had an exhibition of our work that featured a lot of imagery by Roxanne about her grandfather’s survival and legacy. It was a great experience for both of us we got to print with students and make lots of editions and give lectures on our work.

mixed media print - Mike McGovern & Roxanne McGovernHow have these impacted your studio practice?

Teaching always influences my work, it makes me understand my own work and what is important to me, and what I feel is important to teach and pass on to other artists. When I am teaching I am always being exposed to new ideas from students and children through their inquisitive nature and their raw unfiltered interactions with art. I get to see people grow and find themselves, something that artists are continually doing throughout their lives.

Who are some of your favorite artists right now and why?

Well there is always the usual artists I like to look at on a regular basis like Jean- Michel Basquiat and Robert Rauschenberg. These two artists have a real raw power with their work that I feel comes from an everyday American vernacular. I feel their work is really blue collar and accessible.

But some contemporary artists that are getting me really juiced these days are people like Peter Doig, David Choe, and William Kentridge.

Doig, who is a painter and printmaker, has just beautiful and rich vibrant paintings and prints with real interesting narratives, textures and colors. To me his work is very mythical and mysterious.

mixed media print - Mike McGovern & Roxanne McGovernDavid Choe is just so raw and unapologetic. His work comes from underground pop culture and the streets and into the galleries and museums. And I just love his use of materials, such as spray paint, ink, blood, found objects. Has a very punk rock and hip hop feel to his work.

I love William Kentridge animated drawing with very strong political and social narratives. He is a great story teller and works in so many different mediums.

But as I get older I find myself looking more to the past. I am hugely influenced by the German Expressionists. I love how as a group collective they accepted and pushed printmaking forward helping solidify it as legitimate art form. I really enjoy artists like Emil Nolde, Ernst Kirchner, Vassily Kandinsky and Kathe Kollwitz who were all associated with that movement.

Oh and I also absolutely love Alberto Giacametti and the way he transformed and distorted the human form in his paintings, drawings and sculptures.

How has your work changed since you showed at greymatter?

I am doing more collaboration with other artists. I feel that printmaking instills a real sense of community and collaboration through its democratic nature. It is the people’s art; it’s by the people for the people. So I am focusing more on working on my collaborative team, OWL CAT INK, with my wife Roxanne and pushing what we are doing. The work that we create is really influenced by the kids we work with at CHAP and the art that they create. If looser, more free, spontaneous.

I am also been working with another collaborative team with my friends, Ed King, Jason Leisge, and Cheyenne Sawyer. For the past year doing both collaborative etchings, monotypes, paintings and drawings.

mixed media print - Mike McGovern & Roxanne McGovernAre there any shows or events coming up that you’d like to make us aware of?

I have some smaller shows around Portland Oregon at some pretty awesome coffee shops that have huge wall spaces and great lighting. And I just got a solo show at the Water Avenue Commerce Center here in Portland in November.



Interview: Christian Arrecis

Christian Arrecis showed at greymatter last April. We recently had a chance to talk to Christian about the many interesting things he's been up to lately.  


Exposing developing self portrait daguerotype

Tell us a little about the projects or residencies you’ve been involved in lately.

Following the end of the Spring 2012 semester teaching, I was an Artist-in- Residence at Prairie Center of the Arts (PCA) in Peoria, Illinois. Once there, I initially spent a lot of time thinking about what I really wanted to do and whether or not I would even get anything meaningful going. It was a matter really of shifting gears and rethinking what I have been doing prior to that time. Needless to say, I just showed up to work in the studio and kept trying out new ideas and eventually something quite meaningful stuck. This new body of work (photograms) is still evolving, but the response has been quite positive and am showing the work in two solo shows and have pieces here and there in a few group shows.

I also attended a workshop in Pittsburgh to learn about making Daguerreotypes. F/295, an organization dedicated to historic, alternative and adaptive photo processes hosted the symposium.

Lastly, I moved back to Chicago after living elsewhere for 13 years. Shortly after returning, I got involved in an after-school program to bring photography to underserved students. It was an experience that I hope to continue.

Exposing in Sun How have these impacted your studio practice?

The residency told me a few things. One, a lot about what I haven't been (but should've been doing) and the value of time. It has also forced me to think very differently about my work – such as materials and process. Aside from a digital lab, PCA has a pretty minimal traditional darkroom. I thought, “how can I make work that speaks to my ideas, uses photography yet I can't really use the resources they have?” Sometimes, constraints are a really good thing. In terms of time, during the course of the year, teaching is a pretty demanding and time intensive endeavor. Before too long, one realizes, it is pretty easy to have those demands take over if you are not careful. It taught me to guard my time more carefully. Of course, I met some really amazing artists and great friends as well. It was a really rewarding time for me.

Interestingly, this has also caused a significant shift in my work as well. I'm certainly a lot more loose and experimenting a lot more. I'm looking at bringing different ways, methods and media to say similar ideas. I'm looking much more at collage, use of found objects. Drawing has figured heavily into my work.

Who are some of your favorite artists right now and why?

There are so many, this is a hard question to feel comfortable in just a few sentences! One is Cassandra Jones. She is doing some really interesting things with found/appropriated photographs including time-based work. Her work references both contemporary usage and the omnipresence of photographs as well as history of the medium.

Caleb Charland is another. His work is a pretty clever mix of physics and visual phenomenon.

How has your work changed since you showed at greymatter?Poked leaf stencil

The work I showed there was quite different from what I have been doing prior and what I have since returned to. This current work (photograms) are really part of something that has been ongoing for some time. The work I exhibited at greymatter (Dissolve) is something that is still part of the background noise in my head, however...

Are there any shows or events coming up that you’d like to make us aware of?

I'll be showing more of my residency photograms as well as an expansion on that work at the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria, Illinois in a two- person show with ceramicist Dwain Naragon in June.

Christian's studio assistant