Can you tell me about your practice?
I am an American painter from Chicago, living in the UK. I work in oil and acrylic on canvas and aluminum, as well as 9M long paper which I use to create immersive site-responsive installations that can be rolled up and reinterpreted in another location. My interest is in the psychological impact of spaces, both man-made and natural.
Recently, I began painting uncanny and fantastical landscapes that reflect an interior world rooted in fragments of memory, reality and fantasy. Growing up, I spent weekends with my parents while they attempted to establish a small organic farm before most people were considering our relationship to the land; I didn’t value what they were doing at the time, but now I think they were so cool!
Focusing much more on nature now, I consider how crucial gardens and green spaces are to our mental health and well-being and explore our reponsibility to the environment by referencing images of extinct and existing plant life that never actually co-existed, compressing time by creating impossible pictures of nature in flux and alternate worlds.
How do you get started on a piece of work?
I research plants that are extinct, endangered and those that are thriving. The diversity in nature is amazing; I was unaware of the way plants really have a hidden life. For example, trees have a nervous system that facilitates communication and memory. With the assistance of mushrooms, they actually share nutrients with each other through their root system. I find learning about all this really fascinating and it was hopeful to read about all this healing and interconnectedness going on under our feet at a time when we have all been so isolated.
Besides reading about the systems and structures in nature, I make a lot of drawings and pepper the walls of my studio with images culled from the internet, as well as looking at the work of other artists I admire.
I take all this information and craft fictional landscapes, working intuitively in repetition and layers. First laying out a quick gestural series of colours for a base layer that are the beginning of where I think I want to go. It then becomes a process of painting, drawing, scratching back and erasing as the layers build up.
Being in lockdown and making work in such uncertain times also freed up the way I work, I became more prone to coming into the studio and painting out the previous work with transparent marks that leave a hint of the previous work. That then becomes my new base layer and I enjoy this process of reinvention on the same surface, whereas before I may have been more precious because my time in the studio is balanced out with family responsibilities and freelance work. While this has been a horrible time of loss for so many, the fact the world shut down was a gift of time for me and that was liberating.
Who are your biggest influences?
Lately, I have been looking at a lot of Helen Frankenthaler’s work, reading about her life and listening to podcasts about her. Feeling a bit at sea in the studio and being someone who gets energy from being around other people, I started a routine for my days where I invited artists in for a chat. Unlike Philip Guston (quoting John Cage) who said he came into the studio with everyone in his life and, as they left the studio, the painting began, I invited in artists I admire to sit and have tea with me as I arrived at the studio. I had ‘conversations’ with Helen Frankentahler, Georgia O’Keeffe, Eva Hesse, Lee Krasner and more. I would imagine what they would say if they were here with me, we would talk about painting, our lives, books, etc., wandering across a range of topics and I started taking notes. These notes have become titles for my work over the last year, giving breadcrumbs of narrative in the titles as well as the work.
Can you talk about the role that the fantastical plays in your practice?
I have always been someone rather lost in my own head, I am an only child and an autoimmune illness kept me isolated for periods of time in my childhood. I always created my own worlds, collaging the walls of my room with images from magazines of places I wanted to go or pages from Vogue - I loved clothes because fashion was a way to pretend to be someone else. I suppose I have always been interested in fantasy and in the escape you can find by making the world as you want it to be.
How important is material in your work?
I am finding it more and more exciting to experiment with surfaces and paints. I started working on aluminium panels in recent months and I love them - the way the paint slides around so easily, and how the gestures and textures layer up quickly when working on the slick surface in acrylic. I still enjoy oils and working on canvas and paper too, I bounce back and forth between the surfaces. In the end, I often obliterate the early acrylic layers with oils, but I need those early gestural marks to riff off of.
I also started experimenting with air drying clay and small sculptural paintings on board that are free standing objects which work with the small clay sculptures. A sculptor might see these as a maquette for 3D work, but they are the work. A small environment you can imagine walking around in. Clearly, my immersive installation paintings on 9M rolls of paper are actual environments the viewer can wander through or sit down in, but I see these ‘object paintings’ as works in their own right.
What is your most important tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
My most important tool is my awl! My dad gave it to me, I love the feel of the rounded wooden handle in my hand. It is a sharp, pointed tool I use to make pilot holes in the studio walls for screws to hang my work. A drill works too, of course, but the awl is faster and does the trick. And I love that my dad bought it for me - he has a great workshop in our basement in Chicago and I always loved working on projects with him - I still do!
Can you give us a book recommendation that has been important in your practice? And tell us why it’s important.
That is easy: ‘Invisible Cities’ by Italo Calvino. It was recommended to me by a friend, the artist Lynn Dennison, and I read and re-read it regularly. It imagines a conversation between Marco Polo and the elderly emperor Kublai Khan; Polo is asked to describe all the cities he has visited and so he details 55 fictional cities, each one with a fantastical element to the place and each one named after a woman.
Finally, is there anything new coming up that you would like to tell us about?
Yes, I have a residency coming up at Chateau d’Orquevaux, which is supported by a DYCP grant from the Arts Council; it will enable me to spend time in nature researching the landscape and to carry on with this body of work around my fictional conversations.
I am also working on a limited-edition print series; I was selected by curator Becca Pelly-Fry to be part of a new project produced and supported by King & McGaw which will launch at the end of the year. As this is my first time working in printmaking, I am using this opportunity to learn and to make the most out of all the possibilities in this process. My work starts with a digital print, then I am moving on to a silk screen before adding hand finishing. I like this arc of processes that runs from digital to analog, seeing how they work together and the range of marks that are possible. I am also experimenting with mono-printing, to see how gestural painted marks translate as prints in that process as well.
All images are courtesy of the artist:
‘They Come in Pairs at Night’, Acrylic Ink and Acrylic on Linen, 46 x 61 cm, 2020
‘Fortress’, Installed at The Florence Trust, St Saviours Grade I Listed Church, Acrylic on Arches paper,, 4.2M x 2M x 5M, 2018
‘Sigillaria Watching’, Oil on Arches Paper, 56 x 76cm, 2021
‘Watching Over Monet’s Garden’, Oil on Arches Paper, 56 x 76cm, 2021
‘Sending Out Sparks’, Acrylic on Aluminum, 30 x 40cm, 2020
‘Humor Grew Best in Bitter Ground’, Acrylic on Canvas, 85 x 120 cm, 2021