Entries in artist (4)


Interview - Nirmal Raja

"Lyrical Lines" Engraved palm leaves, intaglio and collograph print- 14” X 32”

Our next exhibition is The Tongue of the Hand, new work by Nirmal Raja. Raja answered some questions on the work she'll be showing. 


Can you start out by telling us a little about yourself and your artistic background?

I grew up moving every few years across India and then briefly to S. Korea and Hong Kong. I migrated to this country in 1991 after marrying my husband Sharath. I have a Bachelors degree in English Literature from India. I continued my education and obtained a BFA at the Milwaukee institute of Art and Design, and a MFA in painting at UWM. My friends and family, the exceptional faculty at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts where I continue to teach and an amazing support system at Redline Milwaukee (where I am a mentor resident), have all had a hand in my growth as an artist. Due to migration and travel, my life has been a collage of experiences. As a result, my artwork is a collage as well- of experiences ruminated, digested and translated. Nurturing a poetic sensibility towards life helps me reconcile diverse memories of a fragmented past with the here and now; this attitude permeates my work.


In this exhibition, you are exploring the different aspects of language such as “script as form” and “legibility and illegibility.” Can you talk a little about the evolution of these concerns in your work?

I am fascinated by the opacity of an illegible script. I have lived and travelled in many places and absorbed what it feels like to be confronted with a script I cannot read. It becomes line and pattern (form) and one cannot help but see rather than read. It is wonderful to focus on abstract notions of geometry, mark making, rhythm and how these things can communicate in their own way especially when written by hand. The expressive quality of line is universal and communicates something subliminal and guttural nevertheless.

I am also interested in the duality of these scripts as they parallel the duality of two cultures and perspectives. The same script decoded by a native speaker is perfectly understandable to her or him but totally illegible to someone who does not know the language. English plays a hegemonic role in written and verbal communication- probably remnants of a colonial past. We are increasingly becoming a monolingual society with very little tolerance of diversity of language. In the work “The Practice of Letters”, I place the viewer in a position where she or he experiences what it feels like to be confronted with script they cannot decode. Too often, non-English speaking people are put in this position. I chose to incorporate a ritual from childhood, which involves writing letters on a bed of rice. In this artwork, the viewer is invited to participate in this ritual by tracing the animated letters on a bed of rice which is a very sensual and tactile experience.

I am often saddened by the loss of my own native tongue due to attending all English speaking schools and migration. At the same time, I want to transcend the limitations of language through my artwork. In this show I focus on the possibilities of using line as a mode of expression, the substrate as manuscript and printmaking as mimesis and mirror.

"Community" Engraved palm leaves, intaglio and collograph print- 14” X 32”You employ both traditional and new media practices in your work such as drawing and video. How does the blending of these types of practices help you to express the concepts you are interested in?

I try to keep my practice as open as possible to different media choices. My approach to making art has always given preference to the idea over materials. Although trained as a painter, I love to learn new techniques and modes of making. I have found that drawing animation particularly is suitable for what I want to express. I like the way it hovers between materiality and immateriality and allows temporality and participation. Combined with installation strategies, art becomes an immersive experience.

The Scribed series is very much about materiality and process. I started each of these works with an intentional mark and allowed for free “writing” Some are about gesture and line, some resemble asemic writing (a wordless and non specific form of writing) and some become pattern. My intent is to remove coding and semantics and create a space where the viewers can fill it with meaning. I chose to use an ancient book form – palm leaf scroll as a substrate and then connect that with the Western tradition of printmaking and its role in the proliferation of knowledge. The scroll and the print mirrored, speak for cultural and formal duality within the work.

How does the work in The Tongue of the Hand differ from your previous work? How is it the same? Specifically, how did your consideration of our 12 X 12 space influence your work?

Text and line have always had a presence in my work usually to enhance an over all concept. I consider the work included in this show as beginnings of an ongoing exploration. There are several other aspects of text and language that I will continue to explore in the future. The advantage of a 12 X12 space is that it gives one control over the whole space and at the same time forces you to edit your work and thoughts. I chose not to include some work that was going in a different direction due to space and concerns of clarity and I believe this makes for a stronger show.

The text that is included in this installation is an excerpt from the Ain-I Akbari, “On the Arts of Writing and Painting” (ca. 1590) by Abul Fazi. Please tell us a little about this writer and the significance of this text.

Abul Fazl was the minister and advisor to Emperor Akbar in late 1500s India. He was one of the nine “jewels” in Akbar’s court, a prolific writer, historian and translator. He supported Emperor Akbar’s liberal views on religion and learning. I found this quote by him in an exhibition catalog about manuscripts and the written word- The word is sacred, sacred is the word, The Indian Manuscript Tradition. I was struck by how fresh and relevant his ideas still are with text based contemporary art and my concerns of language, art and communication.

"Sunset Perspective" Engraved palm leaves, intaglio and collograph print- 14” X 32”Do you have any other shows coming up that you would like to talk about?

I was invited to exhibit at the Alfons Gallery in Milwaukee in August 2015. This is particularly exciting to me as I am interested in exploring the spiritual in this show. I will be showing some video installations and other work that connect ideas of mindfulness, nature and transience. In addition, I am part of a group show in San Ramon, CA titled Intersections: Asian American Narratives in February 2015; I have a two-person show at the Hinterland Gallery in Denver in the fall of 2015, and a group show at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Oct 2015. I am grateful and excited for all opportunities to share my work.


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: 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


Interview: Andy Mattern 

This week we interviewed Andy Mattern. Andy's work is featured in the upcoming three person exhibition Trace, which opens April 19th. Stay tuned for interviews with the other two artists, Leigh Merrill and Pavel Romaniko.


How did all of you meet and what made all of you want to do a collaborative exhibition?

Leigh Merrill and I met as undergraduate art students at the University of New Mexico. Pavel Romaniko and Leigh Merrill are both photography professors in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. Merrill had the idea to bring all three artists together because of overlapping ideas in the work.

Can you tell us a little about who and/or what influences your work?

Walking in the city is a source of inspiration for me. I love taking new routes and discovering places I have never been. Whether I’m photographing in the world or in the studio, much of my subject matter consists of commonplace objects and sites that say something about our time. In photography, I’m inspired by the history of scientific and typological image-making like Karl Blossfeldt and Bernd and Hilla Becher, but I also love the poetics and formalism of artists like Hiroshi Sugimoto and Thomas Demand.

Tell us a little about your background and what impact that has on your work.

My step-father was an amateur photographer and residential designer. My mom has had a long interest in the arts including painting and graphic design. My father is a musician and educator. So I have always had a variety of creative directions to emulate. Growing up, my family did a lot of backpacking and traveling, which taught me a lot about the human relationship to nature. In some ways, I see that awareness bubble up in my work, but in an urban context. I’m interested in the unconscious impact we have on our surroundings.

What types of processes do you use in your work and how do they relate to your conception of place?

My process involves both a studio practice and a regular exploration of my immediate surroundings. These days, I capture almost exclusively digitally, but I work in a way that resembles large format photography. With some exceptions, I usually use a tripod and special lenses designed for architecture, so I can compose very deliberately and make multiple images of a single subject, which I later combine seamlessly. This very controlled way of photographing results in extremely detailed images. My goal, in part, is to make uncanny images of everyday subjects that harness something distinctive the human relationship to place.

How do you see photography in the 21st century as differing from previous times? 

It’s amazing. Even in my brief lifetime and experience with photography, things have changed so much. Obviously, there’s the analog to digital transition, but beyond that there is an explosion of image-making by a much larger group of people. I’m still smitten with traditional ideas of formal aesthetics and the individual artist developing a singular vision, but there is an undeniable revolution going on in terms of data art, pixel mining, and appropriation because of the Internet. Photography is more democratic now than it ever was, and the audience as well as the authors are growing.

Specifically what unique conceptual concerns do you think photography deals with today?

I am interested in photography’s complicated relationship with representation. I’ve been reading a lot lately about “concrete photography” as opposed to “abstract photography,” the distinction being that the former is a direct piece of photographic evidence of a process such as crumpling up a piece of light sensitive paper and shining light on it, versus taking a conventional photograph and somehow obscuring the subject. These are both legitimate pursuits, as is documentary photography, however, I’m interested in where they collide.

How do these issues manifest in your work?

In my work, I am looking for a grey area where representation meets abstraction. In Driven Snow, the subjects are printed actual size, so the photograph is approximately the same physical size as the subject it depicts. Because the subject is removed from its original context, however, it is abstracted. So there are elements of both hyperrealism and abstraction in these works. I’m curious how this problematizes the document and comments on photography’s inherent struggle with being simultaneously a reflection of something from the world as well as an object itself.

Speaking of place, if you could visit any place at any specific moment in history, when and where would you go?

Provided that I would not disturb the space/time continuum or start bleeding from my ears… I would like to visit the future in about 500 years. Say, anywhere on Earth, or if we’ve found a suitable exoplanet and figured out how to get there and back, I’d go there.