By JAMES SOLOMON August 2022
So we are at the Chelsea Square Diner on the 23rd and 9th. Why here?
It’s my old haunt from when I had a big, crazy, crazy, free, crazy cold studio on the 11th and 22nd. It was a dreamy place from a long time ago. The interior was built with street finds and repurposed supplies. Gutted ceiling tin from uptown brownstone lined the walls of our kitchen (thanks Tom Beale). There was a 50 foot long paper chandelier that hung above our dining table (thanks Christopher Trujillo). Big parties.
I came here for the split pea soup, and thank goodness the scene is exactly the same. This place is uncool in all the best ways. I love the rotating cake stand, the slide of baked goods that were all made elsewhere, and the bowl of mints at the checkout. It is a beautifully gravelly place.
A few years ago, I photographed you on the bridge in Williamsburg. You have chosen this place.
I moved to Williamsburg in 2000 and walked across the bridge every morning to my first job in Manhattan. My own “Let the River Run” moment. I walked this bridge almost daily for 12 years. Many curious encounters. There was another walker, with the opposite route, who gave me chewing gum every time we passed each other. I hate chewing gum, but I loved the friendly exchange. A former boyfriend once painted me a birthday note in the left lane. I have often tried to make phone calls, but the lightning screeching of the train makes it impossible. A bonus to noise is that you can talk or cry if you need to. That’s one weird thing I miss about NYC… people crying in the street. Emotional strangers at intimate distance from each other. Elsewhere, people do it alone in their car.
I heard you say you’re “stepping in the middle” lately. What does that mean?
Yes… well, I’m a middle-aged, mid-career artist living in Central America. Are those super lame terms pretty powerful? fabulous? when you put them all together right? My work merges the experience of female identification with materials from the domestic landscape. It seems like an important time to do this work…and Tennessee is an important place to do it. I’m excited about some exposure opportunities in the area. My solo exhibition opened at the Huntsville Museum of Art last week. I am grateful for upcoming group shows in Louisville, Nashville and Miami. Next year I’m back in Alabama with projects in Birmingham and Dothan. I want to give these red states a bit of a tickle…..and tangle and confuse everything as I go.
Well, I think there’s a lot to mine in every state, it’s not always NY/LA. Is there anyone in Nashville or anywhere else you have your eye on? Someone we may not know?
Here are some brilliant female artists working in different parts of Tennessee:
Nashville – Jana Harper
Johnson City – Vanessa Mayoraz
Memphis – Johana Moscoso
Knoxville – Althea Murphy Awards
Chattanooga – Christina Vogel
Can you tell us a bit more about your personal view of the “women’s experience of identification”, and how this manifests itself in your work? A lot of people look at artwork, nod their head, and say “very interesting” without really knowing what’s going on in the creator’s head. Then they’ll read a press release or explanation that says next to nothing, while continuing to nod.
So… what’s up?
I sometimes find myself nodding my head in press releases. Glazed by social media, our interest in absorbing actual content is numbed. But there is work that keeps me from nodding my head. The hardest works for me to enjoy are the ones that are most important to spend time with. I like things that I don’t know what to do with, that don’t fit into a category.
Likewise, ticking the boxes and following the cultural prescription or behavioral expectations of femininity seems overstated and tasteless. After growing up in the South, I struggle with “supposed homework”. My content is often inspired by the tragic heroines of Greek mythology, literature, and the shared experiences of different generations of women. I associate these stories with domestic materials that have the potential to speak in a certain way. Sometimes I use functional materials from inside the house, like used sheets and curtains. Sometimes I explore the foundation or outdoor landscape and use mineral wool and driveway gravel. I manipulate materials, allowing them to transcend their intended functions, contradict their structural natures and betray traditional gender associations. How can wax paper become lace? How can quilts be mean? How can breast milk be sculptural? How can cement become a fertile vase? How can a ruffled bedspread become a whistling, shiny window? How can bedroom curtains become a standalone witch? Ideally, the materials will be perceived in new ways and engage with the force, friction and fantastically fiery current that I associate with female identity.
You recently ran into a former pal and collaborator of mine, Alice Gray Stites, at 21c. How did it go?
I think Alice is amazing. We got to the heart of the matter…we talked about creating, exhibiting and discussing art in the American South. And what a gift it is to be in this strange world of work. She has the tremendous job of producing/designing/presenting powerful contemporary art programming for 8 “in the middle” states. She always knocks it out of the park.
We met at 21C in Louisville, the location of the mothership, where Still life! Mourning, significance, reparation is on display. Magnificent pieces by Valérie Hegarty and Heidi Lau, to name but a few. Weight and optimism swirling together. I’m currently on a show called The future is feminine, hosted by Alice with Stefanie Gerber, at their Nashville location.
Since you’re a local, I can’t help but ask: who are you listening to now?
Something I really love about Nashville is that you can always settle down here with a dream. Although the country scene is quite saturated, there are still some slots to fill. I live near the bus station and often see people getting off a Greyhound with a guitar slung over their shoulders.
I went to a party last week and heard Peter One play. His first solo album comes out later this year. You should also look for the very fabulous Katie Schecter. His latest album, Bad for Business, was released last October. She was last seen opening for Beck, as 8 months pregnant, in the basement is in Nashville.
What is your why?
The female narrative in American folklore needs to be rewired.
I am attracted to household materials because they are artifacts. They carry expectations, stories, tensions and potential for development. Turn them into stepped shapes, edit them into raw elements, vacuum say as much as possible with as little as possible. Have the confidence to say this is enough.
I’m not interested in untangling the knots. There is more content in the free ends. I do this work so my sons can see that digging deep is worth being vulnerable, and probably a little messy.
Current and upcoming exhibitions:
Huntsville Museum of Art, until November 2022.
21C Museum Hotel, Nashville, July 2022 to July 2023.
Kentucky Museum of Arts & Crafts, from August to November 2022.
The Bank, Newark, Ohio – September – October
Abroms-Engle Institute of Visual Arts, University of Alabama, opens June 2023
Wiregrass Museum, opens September 2023