Category Archives: Featured Artist

January 2015 Featured Artist: Chandi Kelley

I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO INTRODUCE CHANDI KELLEY…because she is the best friend an art geek could ever have.  Her husband, Frank, thinks I should list all of Chandi’s many accomplishments (he’s so proud), but she has a very well organized website and I’m her friend, so that would be weird.  I think he wants to avoid Chandi the embarrassment of being gushed over, but I ask you, HOW CAN I HELP IT?

If you know me, you’ve heard my praise of Chandi and her work.  She is brilliant when properly motivated, reserved at the appropriate occasions (a gift I do not possess), gentle when you’re being stupid, kind to all the animals in the kingdom, and extraordinarily fair in the sandbox (so to speak).  Chandi for President!

Her current work deals with one of my favorite subjects; the manipulation of visual information which provokes one to question nature vs. artificiality.  Her work is beautiful, thoughtful, well composed, and well framed – literally and figuratively.

She’d want me to be more reserved about my praise of her work, because she does not like it when I show favoritism (I forced her to take her turn as feature).  I don’t care, I’m going to say it…she’s my favorite.  Hands down.  Favorite.  I would order a subscription to Chandi in a heartbeat, except that she’s also way too generous. 😉

So without further ado, I introduce to you the brains (and most of the labor) behind Project Dispatch…the woman my children want to emulate (one of them requested to be called Chandi at school)… a most fair collaborator… an ingenious organizer… and a constant source of inspiration…

(omg I made her cry)

Chandi Kelley

ck head shot

 

When you are working on a body of work, what is your primary concern?  What about photography do you find the most rewarding and what do you find the most annoying or limiting (if anything) about the medium?

When I begin a body of work, I typically have a concept in mind. Initially, I am gathering materials and taking notes. Photography so perfectly speaks to the things that I want to explore about the world. Particularly how perspective completely changes the way that we view an object or scene. Photography is a lie, and I continually try to play with portraying truth with lies and using the trickery available in the medium to raise questions about what we know about the world. I find image making incredibly satisfying, and so I don’t think that anything is annoying. Although my computer files as a result of the image making are REALLY annoying. Mostly because I am pretty disorganized about that. The darkroom is definitely something that I miss at the moment.

In the last few years, you have focused on this juxtaposition between fiction and documentation.  When you were first thinking about representing this glorification of artificiality, what were you reading/studying/thinking about?  We can see the genesis of this idea in your “Inhabit” series, but that work was more about how the natural element relates to an artificial environment, right?  What made you decide to focus more on objects and less on environment?

I was thinking alot about magic and early spirit photography actually. There was an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art back in 2005 called “The Perfect Medium” about photography and the occult, and the use of various processes to create false documentation of the supernatural. It’s probably too cheesy to say that it haunted me, but it truly did. I began thinking about the use of photography as a tool for creating false evidence and was kind of obsessed with how to incorporate it into my work. I was reading about Houdini and the Fox sisters, and looking at photography that incorporated more modern ideas of the supernatural. It probably wasn’t until I began working on the “Inhabit” series that I started playing with my ideas more directly, even though the focus of that body of work had nothing to do with anything otherworldly. But the idea that the world around us is not what it seems became the subtle driving force behind it, and everything since. It crept up on me. And before I knew it I was spray painting the roots of weeds gold and photographing fake leaves on real trees. I guess the progression to move away from environments and focus on individual objects came from the desire to create my own scenes, to hone in on specific objects and examine them front and center. It was a way for me to approach my questions even more head on.

"Hot Spot," Archival inkjet print, 24 x 36 inches, 2011

“Hot Spot,” Archival inkjet print, 24 x 36 inches, 2011

 

Aureate Archival Inkjet Print 24 x 36 inches 2012

Aureate, Archival Inkjet Print, 24 x 36 inches, 2012

 

Portals, Archival Inkjet Print, 24 x 36 inches, 2013

Portals, Archival Inkjet Print, 24 x 36 inches, 2013

 

Gold Leaf, Archival Inkjet Print, 1/5, 24 x 36 inches, 2013

Gold Leaf, Archival Inkjet Print, 1/5, 24 x 36 inches, 2013

 

Do you make sketches or notes, or is your process more trial and error?  What are you working on now?

I do not make sketches, but I definitely take notes. One of the notes that has been sitting on my desk for the past 3 months just says “photograph mirrors in nature for cutout background” and I often send emails to myself that just say things like “go to petco for more volcanos and driftwood.” I am always working on collecting the items that will eventually be incorporated into my work. Right now, I am playing with digital manipulation, which is totally new for me since I have always been more of a purist about the way that I use photography to tell a story. I am also working on paint by numbers kits from the 70’s, both painting and digitally coloring. Although those are much more like an exercise in fun than anything serious. 

Has your recent move to Baltimore inspired a departure from your current theme? You’ve been exposing yourself to a lot of work by Baltimore artists.  How has that influenced you?  Are there themes or styles you wish to emulate in your own work?

I probably wouldn’t call it a departure, but since I have not been as focused on exhibiting a new body of work at the moment I have been more free to experiment and create new works that are not part of a complete idea, theme, or plan. I have been a lot less rigid with myself and my normal structured way of doing things, and have just been acting on my impulses and using alot of my old images as source material. I don’t know that anything in particular has been a major influence in Baltimore, or whether my environment has contributed to my allowing myself to loosen up. It’s funny even saying that, because my work is still so controlled. But working on things without a complete plan is pretty new to me.

"Agate," Archival inkjet print, 24 x 36 inches, 2014

“Agate,” Archival inkjet print, 24 x 36 inches, 2014

 

"Diamond," Archival inkjet print, 11 x 14 inches, 2014

“Diamond,” Archival inkjet print, 11 x 14 inches, 2014

 

"Unrest," Archival inkjet print, 24 x 26 inches, 2014

“Unrest,” Archival inkjet print, 24 x 26 inches, 2014

What is the most challenging aspect of running Project Dispatch?  What is the most rewarding aspect?  What are your hopes for the future of the Project?

Without a doubt the most challenging aspect is time. I have a full time day job as a Studio Manager, in addition to coordinating Project Dispatch and making my own work. However, it is incredibly rewarding to be devoted to a project that is about a community. Self promotion grows tiresome, but promoting a group of incredibly talented artists never grows old. I am dedicated to putting together events and exhibitions that make art collecting accessible and fun, while making sure that artists are benefitting as well. Right now I am focused on carving out a place for us in Baltimore. And ultimately, my hope for the future of the project is for every artist to have a subscription every month. 

Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?

Absolutely. I think that Project Dispatch has allowed me to make work without over-thinking what it meant. Just to do something and see where it goes. The “Inhabit” series started out of a need to make new work for subscriptions, and for a long time felt unresolved to me. It was only in the persistence of it that I eventually reached a certain level of clarity. Project Dispatch definitely gives me the incentive to keep doing and making, even when I don’t know why or how.

 If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?

I already get work from two of my favorites (Frank Adams and Rachel England), so Corwin Lamm, Evan Hume, and Becca Kallem.

Chandi’s work is currently hanging in “Survey Says”, a Project Dispatch group exhibition at EMP Collective, in Baltimore.  The show will be running through January 24th.  Come visit Chandi and other members of the project at the Closing and Book Release party on the 24th from 6-9 PM.

TO CHECK OUT MORE WORK BY CHANDI; VISIT HER WEBSITE.

Order a subscription to Chandi throughout the month of January and receive a 10% discount!

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November Featured Artist: Amy Hughes Braden

Amy visited me last month. I thought it would be good to try a different approach to the interview process rather than a Q&A via e-mail which is how I’d done all previous features.  The problem with this plan is that the experience was so overwhelming and inspiring that I was finding it too difficult to keep my introduction succinct.

So I scrapped it.

I will say this, I knew Amy was a shoo-in to become a member of the Project when I first laid eyes on “Fashion Items” at Majority Rule two Novembers ago.  Since that time, it feels like I want to buy almost everything she makes.  It’s a problem.

So without further ado…

Amy Hughes Braden

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What do you find to be most difficult/challenging about being an artist?

The most challenging thing for me about being an artist, is also the most challenging thing to me about being a human–discipline. I have a serious discipline deficit and I know that everything in my life, including my art, would grow exponentially in quality and quantity if I could make myself get off my ass more often than I do.

When did you start making art and what motivated you to make it?

I have a terrible memory which complicates (or simplifies) this question. I don’t remember ever not making art, and it was never a conscious decision. Until of course I grew up, then I had to choose to continue. But as a child my parents were supportive and noticed me always drawing and painting and encouraged it by letting me take art classes. I think I’m a case where my brain is just wired to create two dimensional things with my hands, and then at  some point it became my identity. 

Similar Noses

Similar Noses

All the Things

All the Things

During our pseudo interview (which is also the funniest recording I’ve ever made) we talked about color preferences (pink), new home ownership (hard labor and creative control), and growing up in the suburbs of W.D.C. (should have explored the city more in her youth), among many other things.  We were all over the place and veered off into many rabbit holes.

In the end, I had to send her questions via e-mail.  The recording was a chaotic, manic mess.  It is not a strength of mine to organize messes into sense, but I’m sure she understands.

BITCHES AINT SHIT_highres

Bitches Ain’t Shit

Georgia 1

Georgia 1

What are your thoughts on babies?

I actually feel pretty confident about having kids, the biggest thing that I’ll want to focus on is maintaining a good relationship with my sweet husband– I can be a real dick when I’m tired. Oh, and another concern about having a kid would be pushing it out of my vagina. Those are my two biggest concerns, because honestly if I don’t make art for a while, or if I temporarily become less ambitious, I’ll be happy because I’ll be playing with my baby instead.

Self Portrait as Wife

Self Portrait as Wife

Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?

I’ve discovered that I don’t hold the things I create as loosely as I would like to, because when it comes time to send them off I have trouble. I aim to be as unattached to the finished piece as possible. An art teacher in high school told me that we mustn’t be too precious with our art and that still rings in my ears. Recently I think I’m worried that I won’t make something as good, or I’ll forget about the piece, and that makes me want to cling on to it. Probably need to do some introspection re: this.

If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?

Easy: Stephanie Kwak, Deborah Anzinger, Becca Kallem

 

TO CHECK OUT MORE WORK BY AMY, VISIT HER WEBSITE.

Order a subscription to Amy throughout the month of November and receive a 10% discount!

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September Featured Artist: Kristoffer Tripplaar

I was excited to interview Kris for this month’s feature as I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him and have been a big fan of his work since I first saw his Watergate Deconstructed series years ago.  In fact, I had far too many questions and completely forgot to ask about one of my favorite of his undertakings, The Post Office Project (link below).  My bad.  Hopefully, this interview will incite a desire to further investigate the excellent photographic work of…

Kristoffer Tripplaar

Inauguration

What is your most memorable occasion that you were without your camera?   Do you remember events or experiences without the aid of a photograph?

I think the most memorable moment I wasn’t with a camera was sometime around my first year at Corcoran. I lived in Frederick, MD at the time and I was at a coffee shop one night with some friends. All of the sudden this beat up pick-up truck comes flying down the street with police chasing it and it ended up crashing into the side of a building across from the coffee shop. It turned out the truck was carrying a bunch of chickens and they got loose. So all these cops were running around trying to catch the chickens and arrest the driver. Mind you, this was a few years before iPhones existed and I didn’t even have a camera phone at the time.  It was the last time I went anywhere without some sort of camera.

It’s funny because with the photojournalism work I actually find that I remember less of whats going on when I’m photographing it. I’m so focused on whoever I’m photographing and their gestures and movements that everything else, often including what they’re saying, just sort of blurs out for me.  I mean, I’ve photographed 6 or 7 State Of The Union speeches and I couldn’t tell you a single thing the President has said at any of them.

For me, going out and photographing is an excuse to have experiences.  By nature I’m a bit of a shut-in.  I’m perfectly content staying home and reading or catching up on my never ending DVR queue. However, through photography I get to travel and have experiences that range from riding around in Presidential motorcades, exploring abandoned nuclear weapons storage facilities, and there was even one time Iggy Pop fell off stage during a concert and landed on top of me.

What is your attraction to abandoned places and things?  Why no people?
 
I’m not specifically attracted to abandoned things for the sake of abandoned things.  My big attraction to abandoned Cold War related stuff is the whole idea of what it represents. All of the places that I’ve been for the project, missile bases, radar stations, nuclear weapons sites, air bases, etc… were all part of an effort that lasted decades and spent trillions of dollars to defend against a Soviet threat and to reinforce our ability to wipe them off of the face of the earth just as much as they could with us. When the Cold War came to an end many of these places that were seen as vital to our survival for so long were simply abandoned and sold off as excess property. I guess the fact that i’ve spent 5 years working on the project might make it seem like all I do… haha.
 
The no people thing is sort of a form of meditation for me. All the photography work that I do to earn a living is completely focused on people. Rooms full of people at events, world leaders surrounded by security, press conferences with lots of other photographers all trying to get the same pictures, etc… And all of that comes with hoops to jump through just to be in the right room at the right time, overbearing press handlers or PR people, endless trips through metal detectors and so on. Being able to get out of the city and just explore somewhere quiet where all of those things don’t exist is just so incredibly relaxing.
 
 
2013_Lyndonville_AFS_031
 
 
 
2013_ME_Loring_042
 
 
 
DSC_0144
 
 
 
2013_Stony_Brook_AFS_004
 
 
 
2013_Quonset_Air_Museum_013
 
 
 
Who are some of your champions?
 
Without a doubt I’d have to say Walker Evans, Garry Winogrand, Lewis Baltz, Mitch Epstein and Dorothea Lange are the ones I look to.
 
What do you hope to be doing in 5 years?  Where do you want to travel?  What do you want to see?
 
I hope to hell I’m still taking pictures and paying my rent in 5 years.  It’d be nice to get one of my never ending projects published as a book too.  I’d love to get over to Europe and photograph the Cold War stuff over there. But I also love any opportunity to get away from the DMV area and just drive around and take pictures with no people in them.
 
Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?
 
I don’t know about discoveries, but I just love the idea of somebody seeing my work and making the decision to subscribe to it. The work I push with Project Dispatch is my personal work and nothing from my work as a photojournalist, so it’s all self-funded. Whenever I get a subscription that person is directly helping to keep a personal project going and that means a lot to me.
 
If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?
 
It’s hard to just pick three. But I’d have to say Allison Long Hardy, Frank Adams, and Rachel England.
 

TO CHECK OUT MORE WORK BY KRIS, VISIT HIS WEBSITE AND BLOG.  TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE POST OFFICE PROJECT, VISIT ThePostOfficeProject.com.

Order a subscription to Kris throughout the month of September and receive a 10% discount!

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August Featured Artist: Corwin Lamm

Much like his work, Corwin has always been a bit of a mystery to me.  I visited him in Brooklyn a few years back and after spending the day gallery hopping we found that my car had been towed.  Because he is extraordinarily kind, he sat with me for what seemed like hours while I waited to retrieve my car.  On my drive home I thought about how little Corwin had revealed about himself after hours in conversation.  He talked a lot about art, ideas, conspiracies, the universe, but very little about himself or his own work.  I thought he is just like his art; vaguely suggesting matter, but with a focus on the visceral.  While that’s true to some extent, he was actually very forthcoming about himself when I made it a point to ask the next time we hung out.  I think he is just much more intersted in the world around him than he is interested in talking about himself or his work.    Though curiosity is a common characteristic in many artists, modesty is not.

So I am very pleased to present an extraordinary fellow…

Corwin Lamm

cookie_house

 

When you first joined the project, you were mostly working with pastels and charcoal, but in the last couple years you’ve worked in digital format.  What prompted this shift?  Do you feel more comfortable with one or the other? Should we expect another shift into different media?

The main reason for the shift to digital was prompted by work. At the time I was doing quality assurance for drawing apps, Draw Something & Draw Something II, so I was testing a lot in the drawing screens on devices. It can be tedious and repetitive work, so I started making my own drawings to keep things interesting. It just seemed like a natural progression to digital since I was working with it every day. That being said, I look forward to moving into different media and exploring the possibilities there, I do miss the tactile aspect of working with charcoal & pastel.

The Pocket Knife,  Digital, 2014

The Pocket Knife, Digital, 2014

 

Belief, Digital, 2014

Belief, Digital, 2014

Who or what are your major influences?

That’s difficult to pinpoint because I’m highly influenced by everything around me. Generally, I’m moved by films and documentaries, the radio, and the weather (I love looking at wind maps). I’ve always been interested by the notion that images, memories, and ideas are floating in some sort of realm and pass through us; so maybe what influences is part of that force.

You’re utilizing Instagram for your current series (and, by the way, it’s my favorite feed).  What are your thoughts on using social media for artwork?

The use of Instagram is also a side effect of doing quality assurance: I was creating a lot of test accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and was posting to social media. So the Instragram feed was born out of this testing scenario, then evolved into its own being. Abstractly I find social media problematic, but at the same time it creates a seemingly limitless platform. When I was working on Draw Something, the most exciting thing to see was the amount of drawings being created and shared by total strangers and friends. It was pure in the way that it seemed to tap into that early awe when creating drawings as a child, the profound glee of it. So social media can be used to that effect, and additionally to create some sort of virtual gallery that’s totally accessible, I like the democracy of it.

Extratropical Cyclone, Digital, 2014

Extratropical Cyclone, Digital, 2014

 

The Family Bible, Digital, 2014

The Family Bible, Digital, 2014

 

Waking, Digital, 2014

Waking, Digital, 2014

You DJ a radio show called Tesla Effect for Newtown Radio based out of Brooklyn.   Tell us about the show and your audio work.  Do you ever include audio in your Project Dispatch subscriptions?

The initial idea of the show was to create an experimental radio documentary platform. Though it still has elements of that idea, it’s gotten a lot more ‘experimental’. A lot of time I’m playing short wave or AM radio through a filter, or just manipulating static. So the episodes tend to turn into sonic collages, or just tone fields with distant voices. I have not included audio before in subscriptions, however that is an excellent idea!

Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?

Since becoming a member, the most exciting thing has been transitioning between different themes and media. So Project Dispatch has been a catalyst in creating new material and not getting stuck. Also the act of packing and mailing work is a very interesting ritual and perfect if you are obsessive compulsive. It can force one into taking care of their own work, which is an important thing.

If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?

I’m too indecisive to pick three artists, there is so much great work. So I would choose the ‘Sampler Subscription’. 

To check out more work by Corwin, visit his Instagram @cookiegomez8888 and listen in to Tesla Effect on Sundays from 11am-12pm at www.newtownradio.com.

Order a subscription to Corwin thoughout the month of August and receive a 10% discount!

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July Featured Artist: Dana Maier

Rarely have I seen the work of an illustrator and felt simultaneously overwhelmed and comforted as I have with the work of Dana Maier.  Her themes are focused, but her thoughts surrounding these themes are sometimes sardonic and sometimes playful; sometimes straightforward and sometimes like a winding maze.  That’s the greatness of Dana’s work.  She perfectly illustrates the madness of a visual thinker, but refines those thoughts by her distinct style, in a way providing a key.  So if you take the time to read the map, you can relate.  I think that is why my favorite of her themes is her maps of museums and cities.  She particularly captures the feeling of being alone in a crowd.  I think, to some extent, we can all relate to that, but particularly artists whose job it is to observe from the outside.

If you’re not a visual thinker, here is your entry point by way of a fascinating mind…

Dana Maier

marketDrawing1 (1)

 

You currently have 57 drawings hanging at DCAC centered around a museum experience.  From what I can tell, you’ve been consumed by museum “studies” for some time.  What led to this focus?  Tell us about a discovery you made while working on this theme.  What is your favorite response to the work so far?

I don’t remember exactly why I started drawing museum scenes. I was working on a series of hand-drawn maps, and that led to hand-drawn-museum maps, and that led to drawing the actual stuff you find in a museum. I like the loaded symbolism of pedestals. You put something on a pedestal and automatically you are saying, ‘hey look, this is important.’ So if you put something ridiculous or unexpected on a pedestal, you can experiment a lot. 

I discovered that I actually have a lot to say about museum-going. I think the psychology of looking at art is fascinating. You have a place where you can see amazing work on display, but often when you go the context is all wrong–you’re surrounded by crowds of squishy tourists, or you find yourself being indifferent to something that you know is Very Important (or else why would it be in the museum?) and feel like an asshole. Or it’s the just the opposite. You go at the perfect time, or with the perfect companion and see something that hits you just right, and feel blown away and humbled and–I don’t know if this is the right word or not, but I can’t think of a better one–cleansed. I always feel clean after going into a museum and looking at art. Like I did something good for my soul.

My favorite museum is the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.  I always leave that feeling as though I’m re-remembering the whole point of doing art in the first place. And I love any artist who makes you feel as though their inner life is an interesting place. 

As for my favorite response: one of my drawings depicts a painting that is thinking, “Oh, shut up” over a crowd of museum patrons [attached]. My friend Sarah, who works as a museum educator saw that and said, “I think that all the time when I listen to other people talk about art!” So that was nice to hear.

You are so prolific, I assume you have excellent habits.  What habits are integral to your practice?  Do you have any habits you want to break?  To form?

Oh, am I prolific? That’s nice to hear. I feel as though I spend most of the day doing stuff that has nothing to do with art, which means that when I actually am drawing, it’s never work or an obligation–it’s always more fun than anything else I could be doing. My habit is to draw either in my studio or around DC–museums, bars, cafes, anywhere I can find a good surface–and listen to audiobooks. That, or I’ll eavesdrop.  The odd time I get an idea for a cartoon I’ll draw and write it as soon as I can, so that I don’t have time to talk myself out of the idea. But you can’t be vague in a cartoon the way you can be vague in a “fine art” drawing so those tend to be a bit more labor-intensive and harder to get right. 

My worst habit, artistically speaking, is probably overworking drawings. You know that quote from Six Degrees of Separation? About the teacher who takes the drawings away from her students before they have time to ruin them? I need someone like that to stop me before I think, “oh, just a little more cross-hatching won’t hurt” for the millionth time.

 

Main Hall Portrait, pen and ink

Main Hall Portrait, pen and ink

 

The Restaurant, pen and ink, 8"x10"

The Restaurant, pen and ink, 8″x10″

Washington DC Map, pen and ink

Washington DC Map, pen and ink

You Can't Put Art On a Pedestal, pen and ink, 5"x7"

You Can’t Put Art On a Pedestal, pen and ink, 5″x7″

MuseumGuideBrochureSample

Museum Guide Brochure Sample, pen and ink

What are you thinking about for your next project and what is your professional goal?

I’m always trying to figure out the best home for my work–like, should it be in a gallery? In a book? On a wall in an alleyway? My work is on the border between cartoons and fine art, so it’s hard to know where it fits best. But I tend to like venues that are more accessible.  

I’d love for my museum guide to be shown in an actual museum gift shop, but that’s been an uphill battle so far (one museum did not appreciate my jokes about touching the artwork, because they take that sort of thing, “very seriously.”) And there are always fun projects I’d love to do that are in the back of my mind, if someone gives me the money and/or space; drawing label for wine or beer. Or a coaster for a restaurant. Or another big-ass mural. Or just publishing a book of my drawings and cartoons.

Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?

It makes you remember one of the things about art you don’t think about very often; how art is a means to connect with other people. That’s the hope, anyway. And physically sending them art is a nice reminder of that. 

If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?

Tough call, but I’d go with Dasha Tolstikova, Chris Chen, and Christopher St. John.

 

To See more work by Dana Maier, visit her website, www.danajeri.com.

Order a subscription to Dana thoughout the month of July and receive a 10% discount!

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June Featured Artist: Chris Chen

There is much to appreciate about Chris Chen, so I’m happy to introduce him to you now if you do not know him already.  Not only did he save me with excellent conversation at a particularly awkward opening (successfully distracting me), he also skillfully and artfully documents and catalogues the night life (and sometimes day) in my most beloved capital city.

If you live in DC and go out at night, you have probably encountered Chris with a camera in hand or at eye.  If you don’t live in DC, you will have a full taste of the beautiful city if you spend some time with his art.

Chris Chen

MattDunnBlog

Photo by Matt Dunn

You provide very little information about yourself online other than the thousands of photographs which document your life in DC.  Tell us a little about yourself.  Have you always lived in DC?   What’s your day job?  Where does your love of art come from?
 
I’m deliberately sparse on the biographical stuff because:  (a) I honestly don’t think it’s very interesting; & (b) I’m a big proponent of the “let the work speak for itself” school.  That said, I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, part of the belt of (mostly) upper-middle class suburbs that surrounds DC.  I have lived in DC proper since the early ’90s, i.e., most of my adult life.  The day job is being a lawyer for the federal government.
I’ve always loved art of all kinds, but I’m actually a relative latecomer to photography, not taking it up in any serious way until my 30s & I’m completely self-trained/educated.  Growing up, writing was my main creative outlet because I had some natural ability.  The visual arts, like music, were things I could appreciate & enjoy, but could never really see myself doing for real because they are hard & I am lazy.  Fast forward a couple decades, I found myself inundated with (mostly bad) text all day at work & wanting to get away from that in my free time.  Since I still can’t draw, photography presented a logical path for visual expression &, like many people, I initially got into it as a hobby, taking vacation snaps, etc.  The fact that photography can be both documentary & creative was definitely an attraction.

 

You walk around with your camera all the time, but what kind of moments are you looking for that make you bring the camera to your eye?
 
It’s a cliche, but I look for moments that exist in our 3D reality that can be interesting or compelling when transformed into 2D images.  In other words, it must be something that’s worth a second look by me (via the camera) and by others as a graphic (via print or screen).  Usually, that’s an unusual-looking person doing something unusual, but that can be extended to an unusual-looking object or objects.  For a personal snap or whatever, there’s a lower bar because I can assume the viewer has some background knowledge of what’s depicted.  For something I’m going to present as art, it has to have a wider resonance.

 

Who are your street photographer icons?
 
There are so many, but the usual suspects:  Frank, Cartier-Bresson, Webb, Kertesz, Leiter, Winogrand, et al.  Even more if you go beyond street to include documentary, like Eggleston, Evans, Arbus, Parks, Capa, etc.

 

What’s your favorite toy right now?
 
I collect & usually shoot with old & old-fashioned cameras, especially rangefinders like Leicas, because I think they’re more fun.  However, right now I’m messing around with a Sony Alpha 7, which is a new camera that embraces current technology.  That means it only has an electronic viewfinder & screen, no optical viewfinder or prism.  Definitely a new experience for me, kind of like taking photos within an HD TV world.

 

You must see the city differently than most of us.  What do you hope people will see or feel about the city (particularly DC, of course) when they look at your work?
 
I’m not so sure I see the city differently from most.  DC is home, though, so maybe I just see it differently from those who are merely passing through.  I hope people see that DC is like every other big city, that it’s not just a stage set for politics (which it certainly is, of course), but also a real place where regular people go about their business.
"Pool party, Capitol Skyline Hotel, 2010", digital black & white print from scanned negative

“Pool party, Capitol Skyline Hotel, 2010”, digital black & white print from scanned negative

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“Bluebrain Final Boombox Walk, U.S. Botanic Garden, 2012”, digital color print from scanned negative

"Binoculars, Leica Store, 2012", digital black & white print from scanned negative

“Binoculars, Leica Store, 2012”, digital black & white print from scanned negative

"Hermandad del Senor de Los Milagros, 2000 block, California St., NW, 2008", digital color print from scanned negative

“Hermandad del Senor de Los Milagros, 2000 block, California St., NW, 2008”, digital color print from scanned negative

"Allan Chappelear of Warchild, 9:30 Club, 2013", digital color print

“Allan Chappelear of Warchild, 9:30 Club, 2013”, digital color print

Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?
 
I’ve certainly discovered that there’s a wider variety of art being made & a broader market for that art than I had imagined existing before.  Specific to my own work, Project Dispatch has helped me develop ideas about the scalability of different photos.

 

If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?
 
That’s a tough choice, but I’ll go with Dasha Tolstikova, Becca Kallem, & (major (b)logrolling alert!) Rachel England.

 

To see more work by Chris Chen, visit his Flickr or www.furcafe.com.

Order a subscription to Chris Chen throughout the month of June and receive a 10% discount!

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May Featured Artist: Becca Kallem

It’s good to interview others in our field of study or occupation.  It’s good to be jealous of education, opportunities, experiences, and work ethic.  It’s a powerfully positive motivator.

Rather than asking yourself, why am I doing this?  Maybe it’s best to ask other’s why they do what they do?

I didn’t ask Becca why she makes art (because I had too many other things to ask), but she made me remember why I crave art like nourishment. It’s damn good to explore and learn.  Nuff said.

Becca Kallem

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 You taught Art and English in Spain on a Fulbright scholarship after studying Art and Spanish in college.  Can you tell us a little about your experience learning and teaching language alongside of Art.  How did you use one or both to teach the other?  What are some lessons you learned working in a foreign country which have helped you to teach art in the U.S.?

I mostly taught English, working with four- and five year-olds. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but my creativity stood me in good stead. We sang, read stories, painted, and played. Studying and teaching language got me to think about how much we do or don’t understand each other, and about the powers and limits of language. It also shaped my awareness of how my brain works, and about learning in general. On the one hand, it is a complement to the nonverbal place I go when I paint and make. But it’s also blurred for me any distinction between tactile things and abstracted thought. There is so much of each in the other: watch kids use building blocks as they build their mental understanding of the world. These days, I teach art to pre-K through 5th grades at an elementary school. It’s wonderful to see them grow from year to year. My students who speak Spanish as a first language learn English so quickly. It’s cliché, but we all need self-expression, whether in writing, speaking, painting, etc.

Because I am a great admirer of your work and have been stalking your portfolio since you started with the Project, I can’t help but notice a progressive deviation from more figurative work to a focus on symbols.  What sparked this deviation?  Why the symbols +, x, and letters particularly?

At one point, I needed a break from figurative imagery. Like my painting language wasn’t working anymore! I pared down my work into a question for myself: solving for x (or +), how is painting meaningful to me? Is the act important, even when I strip it of my skill for representation? Also, since my work tends towards being personal in a hermetic sort of way, using symbols and letters let me be deliberately obscure and private. I was able to put more into my work emotionally, albeit in a coded way.

 I had a great chance to show my work at Hillyer Art Space this March, and I titled it Signs and Symbols, after a short story by Vladimir Nabokov. The text presents itself as having all of these symbols and ciphers, like a riddle to be solved. But then you are also thwarted in reading it this way. Nope, the story says, gotcha, life is just life and that is it, no secret code. Or maybe there is… Anyway, that aspect of the story seemed like great shorthand for what I’d been thinking about in the studio: about communication, and the rich space between a speaker and a listener or a painter and a viewer. Back to language, I love that interpretation is imprecise and slippery, that there are always multiple meanings. But this isn’t to say that intimate understanding is impossible. As an artist, I think someone can deeply comprehend something without understanding it literally or in the same way the maker meant it. I’m not going to say exactly what I was thinking when I painted an X, or a plus sign, or an L. I’d rather have someone guess or make up their own answer, if they care enough to do so.

 I will say that the X’s are a nod to creation and destruction in the painting process: I paint over or x-out one layer to arrive elsewhere. The X’s mask and hide, but they also reveal something new, stake a claim, define a fixed identity. So they are also about how we present ourselves to the world, what we reveal or hide, and how we are “read” by others. I was painting them with very crisp geometry against a blurrier ground to mirror my personal anxieties in approaching life with both clarity and ambiguity. That they turned into pluses and now I’m using figurative imagery again, well, go figure.

Your “work in progress” pages on your website are quite intriguing.    “Latour” feels like a fusion of your textured drawings and symbols series, but “Melville” is a complete mystery.  Can you tell us a little about your new work?

I may have jumped the gun by making these sections on my site! Each represents a potential direction, ideas that may take shape or lead elsewhere. In any case, that’s Melville as in the author Herman Melville. I love how the book Moby Dick is this sprawling amalgamation of diverse stuff, but some how it comes together. My brain (and studio) is full of stuff that I only wish I could marshal into a meaningful, cohesive body of work. I’ve been making little rope sculptures and murky, unclear water/sky paintings, and drawings of eyeballs strung on string that all take (my readings of) Moby Dick as a starting point.

 When I went to the opera Moby Dick at the Kennedy Center recently, I recalled my high school impression of that novel: literature with a capital L, a behemoth and wild. As with the Nabokov story, I am interested in the ambiguous, interpretive space that a text makes between the writer and the reader. That’s why art is art: it is ineffable to a degree, both demanding and confounding attempts at interpretation. At one point, Melville describes the whale as having wound-marks on its head that look like some indecipherable alphabet. The human characters all attempt to decode the whale’s meaning according to their varied personal narratives and beliefs. People try to make sense of things with the tools they have; it’s all we can do. Is it even possible to not impose our view of things on the world? But sometimes, maybe, we should try to hold back. Or at least we should recognize our personal viewpoints and cognitive machinery as the limited, subjective, and partial things that they are. What about the whale’s point of view? Isn’t it amazing and meaningful enough that a whale is “just” a whale? Sometimes it is okay to just be, to just draw, to just have a painting that exists, to let a thing be a thing.

Anyway, the paintings and sculptures and eyes I’ve been working on relate to this, but in ways I am still figuring out! There’s an eye on a string hanging off a painting – the string is the eye’s (futile?) longing to understand what it perceives. The cloud/water paintings are my return to representational painting by depicting the vastness of the novel’s maritime setting in a very ‘open’ way. I love the way that sky paintings by J.M.W. Turner or photos of water’s surface, by, say, Roni Horn, present the visible, phenomenal, physical world as sublime and concrete at the same time. As a painter, I also love the parts of the bible that talk about the world as a flat surface: heaven rolled up like a manuscript, God moving over the face of the waters…

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Studio shots of work in Progress.

Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?

Project Dispatch has helped me gain confidence in ‘putting my work out there.’ It’s extremely gratifying and affirming to know that something you make has a guaranteed audience/recipient.

 If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?

Oh, this is an easy one! Corwin Lamm, Christopher Chen, and Kendall Nordin.

Visit Becca’s website (BeccaKallem.com) for more information.  Visit ProjectDispatch.com to subscribe to Becca.

Order a subscription to Becca Kallem throughout the month of May and receive a 10% discount!

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