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I’m a failure. Now what? by Brendan Carroll | Dec 1, 2013

I’m a failure. Now what?
by Brendan Carroll | Dec 1, 2013

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Margaret Murphy | Courtesy of Jersey Journal

Margaret Murphy was born in Baltimore, MD. She is a painter, curator, and professor.

Margaret earned her BS from Towson State University; and she earned her MFA in Painting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in 1992.

Margaret’s work is in the collection of Deutsche Bank, Jersey City Museum, Hudson County Community College Foundation, Hunterdon Museum of Art, The Brodsky Center at Rutgers University, and numerous private collections. She now resides in Jersey City, NJ.

Margaret, I’m intrigued with the way you juggle your professional life. You are a visual artist with gallery representation; you curate and organize exhibitions. You also teach art on a collegiate level. I think you’re a great role model for a lot of artists who want to follow a diverse practice. So, I’m curious about some of the realities of that. For this profile, I want to concentrate on your experience as an artist. What do you do, and why?

I paint and make art because its how I process the observations and questions I have about life. I also enjoy the “craft” of art making. I like working with my hands. Painting has always been the medium of choice for me, creating illusions and being in the world of ideas feels right for what I speak about in my work.

Why? That has changed over the years. I was one of those kids who always got positive feedback about my drawings and paintings. I knew early on that I wanted to work in a creative field. As I matured I realized that my interests would best be expressed through painting.

MARGARET MURPHY. American Family Triptych, 2008.

You have a successful career: gallery representation, numerous awards, and critical recognition. What’s your secret?

“No secret, just hard work.”

Being a professional artist is a lot like being a small time business owner. How do you manage your career, and what skills do you need?

That is a good point. To be a successful artist it helps to have a good business sense. You have to be organized because you have to juggle many hats. I spend months painting then take a few months just to market the work (send out grant applications, apply for residencies, shows etc.) On top of that you have to make money so you teach, curate -whatever works best for you.

What’s your favorite part of being an artist?

“My favorite part is making the work. When you are in the studio and in a zone its great- the ideas flow, the process is exciting. I also enjoy always learning new things.”

What’s your least favorite part of being an artist?

Not being in control of your career. You are ready to work non stop but if the opportunities are not there that can be frustrating. Also the lean economic lifestyle can be difficult. An artist needs financial backing to work.

MARGARET MURPHY. Mother and Child, 2007.

What three pieces of advice would you give to an artist just starting out their career?

“Hmm, first – make good work. I think younger artist can come out of school now with too much of a business sense and not enough willingness to experiment and take risks with their work.

Second, try and connect with likeminded people and take charge. Curate shows, start a blog, be part of an art collective… You need to take the reigns of your own career and not wait for other people to give you opportunities.

Third, be patient. Work hard. Help others.”

You hail from Baltimore—home of John Waters, Anne Tyler, and The Wire. What’s the deal with Baltimore, and why does it inspire such great art?

I love Baltimore! Its quirky, charming and has a real sense of its own culture. It’s about crabs, orioles (and now Ravens), Edgar Allen Poe, John Waters…its great. I think it’s the whole Mason Dixon Line thing. It’s a little bit southern and a little bit east coast, it’s a nice combination. It doesn’t take itself too serious either. It’s a safe place to find your voice as an artist.

MARGARET MURPHY. girl down, 2010.

If Baltimore and Jersey City were to get into a pillow fight, whose side would you fight on, and why?

“I am a Jersey City girl now. This is home. I think what I like about JC is that is has a little bit of Baltimore in it – just closer to NY!”

What’s next for you?

We’ll see. I am working on a new body of work at PS122 in Manhattan. I do have a solo show coming up at Pentimenti Gallery in May. Also, my work will be included in a catalogue of 100 Mid Atlantic artists that will be published by Schiffer Publishing.

The original post may be found here.

“I find individual elements most interesting when taken out of their original context and re-interpreted through a fresh perspective.” — Stephen Chopek

SodaCan| Courtesy of Stephen Chopek

Apart from actor/conceptual artist/fiction writer/grad student James Franco, Stephen Chopek may be the busiest man in the art world today. Chopek (aka SodaCan), who lives and works as a musician and artist in Jersey City, is currently on tour with singer-songwriter Todd Carey; closer to home, the Broadway Gallery in Manhattan and LITM in Jersey City are currently showcasing his art in two group exhibitions. We recently caught up with Chopek to discuss SodaCan, his studio practice, and the business of being an artist and musician.

What is SodaCan?

SodaCan is a solo project, an artist collective, a multimedia extravaganza, an evolutionary experiment, a peace movement, a radical revolutionary uprising, a democracy, a dictatorship, a fascist theocracy, a socialist republic, an equal opportunity employer, an international corporation, a nonprofit organization, and a few other things not fit to print.

OK. Let’s narrow this down. What types of projects does SodaCan produce?

SodaCan produces music and art by Stephen Chopek. I occasionally collaborate with other musicians and artists, but mostly it’s all me … whatever I want it to be … when I want it to be … and where I want it to be.

The project was initiated after many years of playing other people’s music for a living, with only rarely embarking on my own projects. I started to get burnt out, and decided to take a step back and reassess my priorities. I took a year off from what I had been doing to focus on my personal interests. After that year I was refreshed and ready to get back to the business of music. Since then, I’ve been able to maintain a healthy balance of solo work and sideman work. As a result, I enjoy playing on other people’s gigs more than I ever. I’ve rekindled my fascination and dedication to the creative process.

Christening a project can be difficult. How did you come up with the name SodaCan, and what does it say about the type of work you make?

In 2007, after playing music professionally as a sideman for seven years, I began composing my own music. Around that time, I also started making visual art. I though it would be a good idea to present both under one name, but not my own. I was going for something more of a brand than a personal connection. It’s liberating to create things that my name is not directly attached to. However, it’s no secret that SodaCan is Stephen Chopek and vice versa.

I got the idea for the SodaCan name and logo from a friend’s T-shirt. It was a thrift store find, and had an image of what appeared to be the top of a soda can. So, like any aspiring artist would do, I stole it — the image, not the T-shirt.

The name doesn’t necessarily say anything about the type work I make, which is kind of the point; it’s ambiguous. The viewer or the listener can decide what it means.

Do you prefer to drink a beverage from an aluminum can with a pull-tab or stay-on-tab, and why?

I don’t drink soda or beer, so I’m not in a position to make an informed decision about the best way to drink out of an aluminum can.

Lately, I’ve been getting into coconut water. Most brands come in drink boxes with a pull-tab. That seems to be the way to go.

SodaCan "Night"

SodaCan "Day"

You have a show coming up in New York City. How did you become involved in the exhibition, The International Artists at Home and Abroad Exhibition Series, and what work will be on view?

Earlier this year, I viewed Bonnie Gloris’ art at the Brunswick Windows in Downtown Jersey City. I liked what I saw, and I sent her an email to let her know. Shortly after that, we were both showing work at LITM. In addition to being an artist, Bonnie is also a curator at the Broadway Gallery in New York City. She invited me to participate in their Nature Vs. Nature show in November. As a result, I was asked back for The International Artists at Home and Abroad Exhibition Series.

The work on view will be a diptych entitled Night & Day. This is part of a body of work made by applying paint to the glass of old windowpanes.

Networking sounds sleazy, but it’s not. It’s amazing how emailing an artist to share your admiration for a particular project can lead to other unforeseen opportunities. What else do you do to cultivate new relationships?

It’s important to get out there and meet the members of your community. In terms of the music and the art world, this means going to gallery openings, concerts, jam sessions, fundraisers, etc. Needless to say, the internet is a great way to network. Reaching out to fellow artists and musicians via email and social networking sites is a great way to stay connected. Find out what’s going on in and around town and check it out. Artists need to support each other.

What is the relationship between your paintings and your music?

My music and art are both created with the help of previously existing sources. I collect samples to make music and objects to make art. Some of the objects that I use are magazine photos, newspaper headlines, windowpanes, old paint, broken crayons, pen ink, plastic flowers, and bug carcasses.

I often collect things that I’m not sure what to do with. It may take a while, but they eventually find their way into an art piece.

Materials take up a lot of space. I work in my apartment. My space dictates the type of work I make – small, intimate, personal. Do you have a studio or specific space designated for your art and music?

I have a room in my apartment that serves many functions – recording studio, art studio, instrument storage. The room is not small, but sometimes it feels like the walls are closing in. It can get overwhelming, but I’m glad to have a space designated for creating. Depending on what I’m making, I may need to spread out into the living room and/or kitchen. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that my works are small to medium size. I often wonder what kind of art I would be making if I space was not an issue.

Slayer + Public Enemy | Courtesy of Glen E. Friedman

I want to discuss some of your music. One of the pleasures I had while listening to your songs was the experience of trying to identify the sources of the various samples and soundbites. I still remember the initial glee I felt — and still feel — when I heard the Slayer “Angel of Death” sample in Public Enemy “She Watch Channel Zero.” Do you think about who your audience is? How do you expect viewers to respond to your work?

I don’t think of my audience when I’m composing music or making art. I do my best to not think of anything at all. I prefer to concentrate on the work at hand. I wouldn’t say my work is unfocused, but it’s not aimed in a specific direction for a specific audience.

I don’t place any expectation on my work or the people who view my work. There are no meanings, messages, emotions, or feelings that I’m trying to convey. I prefer to leave it up to the viewer or the listener to derive meaning from the work.

The final part of the creative process is sharing the completed work with the world. However it’s received once it’s out there is beyond my control.

I wish I had your mentality. One of the biggest challenges I find as an artist is getting caught up in my own head instead of making the work. Do you practice meditation or anything to help you get in the zone or are you just hardwired at this point to do the work?

In recent years, I’ve come to realize that passions come and go. The creative process requires devotion more than passion. The creative impulse is a gift that has been given to everyone — it’s our responsibility to foster and develop that gift. It requires a strong work ethic. We have a finite amount of time on earth and there are a finite number of hours in the day. Using our time wisely while we have it is the least we can do in exchange for this gift, and for the gift of life in general. Everyone has something to offer.

I practice Vipassana meditation on a daily basis. “Vipassana” is a Pali word derived from the Sanskrit language. It can be translated into English as “clear-seeing”, “clear-knowing”, or “insight.” The practice itself is one of the world’s most ancient meditation techniques, originally taught by Gautama Buddha. Vipassana mediation requires one to be equanimously aware of the present moment as it manifests itself in the breath and through bodily sensations.

Courtesy of the Rubin Museum

I am interested in learning about how you construct an audio piece. For example, on your song “Lord Protect My Child” on Sweet and Savory, what came first, the soundbite of the woman singing, the sitar clip, or the drumbeat you created?

Whenever I’m listening to music and I hear something that catches my attention, I make a sample of it. Through years, I’ve collected many sound clips of myself and other people playing their instruments. When I sit down to create a song, I begin by perusing my sample library.

With “Lord Protect My Child,” I began with creating the drum groove and matching it to the vocals. Then I found a bass sample and laid out the form. Once that was in place, I filled in the blanks with some percussion. There was plenty of space, which worked well for the song, but something was missing. It was at that point that I went through my CDs of Indian classical music and pieced together a few sitar solos.

Generally speaking, I make many versions of a song before I decide that it’s complete. It usually helps to make edits throughout the course of a few days. This way, I can get some distance and return with fresh perspective.

The piece that I’m currently working on is a bit of a departure from my first two albums. It’s about 30 minutes long and I play most of the instruments. My sister Claudia, who plays the violin and viola, is also featured. The only element of the song that I didn’t create is the vocal. It’s a sample taken from an astronaut reading the Bible. I’m also collaborating with a video artist to make a short film for the song. It will be released early in 2011.

How long have you lived in Jersey City, and what is it like to be an artist here? Has living in Jersey City influenced your decisions inside and outside the studio?

I’ve been living in Jersey City for about ten years. I was in the Heights for the first five, and I’ve been in the Journal Square for the past five. I have a music/art studio in my place that helps to maintain a reasonable cost of living.

There’s a healthy community of artists and galleries in Jersey City. There are also many musicians in town, but the live music scene is not very happening.

I’m not sure how much living in Jersey City has influenced my decisions. I would be making music and art in some capacity no matter where I lived.

What are the biggest challenges to a thriving music scene in Jersey City, and what can the community do to create one?

The biggest challenge to a thriving music scene in Jersey City is the lack of venues. I’m not sure what the reason is for this void; perhaps music clubs are not financially viable investments.

The community can take it upon itself to present shows in “alternative spaces” like galleries, vacant storefronts [and] private residences. However, the powers-that-be do not seem to be tolerant when people take the initiative to produce independent shows. I’m aware that the city has rules, laws, variances, zones, and requires permits for certain activities and events; but one should not have to consult with a lawyer if they want to throw a party. There needs to be a middle ground where the officials and the artists can meet amicably and productively. I’m not sure what it will take to get there, but it can’t happen without solidarity – within both sides and between both sides.

What artists should we be paying attention to in Jersey City?

I like what John Fathom is doing with his light boxes. Bonnie Gloris is always up to something new and interesting. I also appreciate how the Agitators Collective utilize and beautify public spaces. (I’m not just saying that because you’re a member of the group). I became aware of their work when I saw the decorated electrical boxes on Central Avenue in the Heights. It wasn’t until I saw their show at the 58 Gallery that I realized who was responsible for the project.

You have a diverse practice. You perform, tour, and record music on a regular basis, and make art. How do you find time to do it all?

Sleep deprivation. Don’t get me wrong … I love to sleep, but it often gets in the way. I don’t do drugs, but if I did it would be some sort of amphetamine. I could get a lot more done if I didn’t need to sleep. I often wonder how much more productive humans would be if we didn’t need to rest. Then I realize … we would probably accomplish twice as much, but live half as long.

I tend to take on more than I think I can handle, and then figure out a way to make everything happen. It keeps things interesting. I like to push myself and test my limits. I’m always up for a new challenge.

My workload is never a burden because I enjoy all the things that I do. The creative process never ceases to amaze me, and is a form of energy in and of itself.

Original post may be found here.

SodaCan logo

This gallery contains 11 photos.

In the heart of the Pacific Ocean lies a nebulous mass of plastic debris the size of Texas. This synthetic island of plastic bottles, lids, utensils, and bags has entered the food chain, and is coagulating in your bloodstream. Artist Olivia Kaufman-Rovira has come toe to toe with this global threat. In 2008, she began …

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“As a small child I told my Grandmother I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, but did not want to spend it locked away in an attic.” ~ Melanie Vote

Melanie Vote | portrait of the artist

If you have ever fancied the idea of smashing your mother’s beloved collection of Precious Moments figurines, I cannot blame you. Artist Melanie Vote, a child of the American Heartland, will not point the finger at you either—she may even encourage you to do so. As long as Melanie is free to walk the streets, no porcelain ballerina, bunny or lamb is safe in your family’s home.

This iconic figurine of American consumerism and banality has inspired Melanie to create a new series of paintings called Lost and Found. This collection of work, including a life size replica of a Precious Moments figurine by Melanie, will be on view in the Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery at New Jersey City University. This is the artist’s first solo show at the gallery. The Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery is located on 2039 Kennedy Blvd. Hepburn Hall, room 323, in Jersey City, NJ.

The opening reception is March 16, 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. The exhibition will be on view from March 16 to April 21, 2010. Join the artist for a discussion about her work in the gallery on April 12, 2011, at 4:30 p.m.

I recently caught up with Melanie to discuss her new exhibition, the role nostalgia plays in her work, and the wide-open space of America’s heartland.

Melanie Vote, Precious Moment on the Plains, 2007, oil on panel, 7 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the Artist

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

I am a painter predominately.

When did you first become interested in painting and drawing?

I always drew, daydreamed and drew, as the youngest of three, growing up on a farm in rural Iowa—it was how I occupied myself. As a small child I told my Grandmother I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, but did not want to spend it locked away in an attic. My first real memory of drawing involves being punished after drawing all over a freshly painted hallway, my parents did not believe in spanking, but this act warranted an exception; my father was so furious. Of course we laugh about it today!

Iowa

You hail from Iowa. I got drunk at a gas station in Des Moines once. What brought you to the east coast?

Funny, Was it the Flying J truck stop? I came to attend graduate school at NYAA [New York Academy of Art], vowed to leave after, but became more and more infatuated with New York, and stayed to develop my career.

What made you want to flee the east coast?

It all just seemed excessive, the massiveness of the city, the never ending shopping mall feeling, the inability to never really be alone. But I quickly became taken by all the advantages of being here. The list is long but namely the museums, galleries and the richness of all different cultures living together.

All kidding aside, Iowa is one of the most progressive places in the United States, and it is host to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Some of my favorite writers passed through the workshop, including Flannery O’Connor, Thom Jones, and Raymond Carver. What is Iowa’s secret, and why does lure such great artists?

The space, the unending horizon line. The flat lands allow one to see for miles, this giving way to enormous skies- creating a feeling of openness, clarity perhaps. Being there is very grounding for me. I have to visit at least once a year. I was born there rather than lured, it was a really amazing place to grow up, a lot of time for daydreaming and play.

Melanie Vote, Head 1, 2007, oil on panel, 8 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the Artist

Tell us about your solo exhibition, Lost and Found, at the Harold B. Lemmerman Gallery at New Jersey City University. What was lost, and who found it?

I want the work to elicit these questions. The work is partially about memory and loss- remnants of childhood. The lost part also reflects my growing concern for our country’s loss of innocence, and an overall concern of the human condition. The found part relates to all these problems that future generations will inherit out of our lack of contemporary social concerns. The imagery is metaphoric foreshadowing of what may become of our overindulgent civilization. The landscapes are null time- a place where the past present and future all coalesce.

The loss of innocence intrigues me, as a theme in art and life. When you say our country lost its innocence, are you thinking of a specific thing? If so, what is it? And do you think art can help to heal this loss?

I guess this is not anything new; more my of my own realization of so many things are just wrong and unjust. Actually the entire history of our country has been filled with atrocities from taking away land from natives and building a new world with enslaved people. This has repeated itself over and over again throughout history, not just American history. Even though I feel privileged to born here and that I have never had to live through the atrocities of war, I just wish our country would not have to take on the role of policing the world instead of taking better care of it’s people.

There are just so many problems to list. The lack of affordable health care to middle income people our reliance on crude oil, lack regard to recycling and reusing. The list is too long, I do not have any grand solutions to these ills of society, just observing and hoping people will do their part in any way they can to make things better. Art may not heal, but hopefully it will create awareness, that may motive change.

What work is on view, and why should people come out to see it?

Seven small paintings and one large one will be seen all together for the fist time. Also I will be showing three-dimensional work for the first time. Two maquettes will be on display as well as a number of drawings and plein air studies. Most importantly I just completed a 40” tall sculpture that directly reflects imagery in the painting- that is the most unusual work for me, and am interested in seeing the response.

Melanie Vote, Precious Moments Sculpture, 2011, cast urethane resin, 40 x 25 x 22 inches. Courtesy of the Artist

What is the relationship between your paintings and sculptures? Does one inform the other?

Yes, the sculptures inform the paintings. I build maqettes, mainly so I can observe the light on the form. This observed element is intended to create a level of believability of a real world. The foray in to sculpture is somewhat new, growing out of the maquettes, though my under graduate focus was in three-dimensional work.

Much of your work is inspired from children’s toys, especially Precious Moments figurines. My older sister (she will remain nameless) had a modest collection of these collectibles—girls, lambs, and bunnies—in the late seventies. I hated them, and what they were about—sentimental, decorative, and precious. These creatures survive today—some thirty odd years later—inside a shadow box on the top shelf in the computer room of my mother’s home. What role does nostalgia play in your work?

I hate them too, hate them and love them at the same time. For me they are the ultimate symbol of kitsch. Many of them have religious themes, but at the same time depict children as pseudo-sexualized objects. I received the one that has been seen in a number of the works as a gift from my oldest sister when I was age 13. The figure is a blonde doe eyed ballet dancer and in meant to be a Christmas tree ornament. Her back is arched, with tutu- tutu flipped up in the back exposing her little posterior. Hmm…what a loaded message in this tiny little thing.

Art history has a long tradition of sexualizing children. Balthus comes to mind. I am thinking of two paintings in particular—Girl with Cat and The Living Room. Who is the audience for these paintings, and what is he trying to communicate about human behavior?

Balthus’ audience was other artists, art historians and literary figures. He was adored and encouraged at a young age by Rainer Marie Rilke, one of his mother’s lovers. From what I understand he saw these girls as virginal empowered sexual agents, and those viewers that found dis- ease by looking at them, revealed more about their own discomfort or issue with sexuality. Perhaps he is communicating that individuals what we want to, or what they are conditioned to, in every work of art and every life situation.

Balthus "Girl and Cat (1937)"

Precious Moments elicits a certain type of hostility in me. I want to smash them with a ball-peen hammer. That being said, I am a sucker for religious figurines. I have several statues of Catholic saints (Jude, Patrick, Francis, Rocco, Anthony, Bridget), Buddha, and Vishnu. What is a cheap toy to one person is a personal icon or talisman to another. What attracts you to these figurines, and why do you want to remake them?

I understand the hostility; these things are evil saccharin-sweet little religious icons. I plan to create a large one in order to create ruins of; perhaps you can help me smash it. They are horrible. These are the sorts of thing that become collected and cherished by many in Middle America. To me they are the embodiment of all the outlandish attributes of our culture’s consumerism, lack of concern for larger world issues, and my God is bigger and better and in this case – cuter, than yours.

Let me know when you want to smash some stuff up. I am game. Breaking cute things… this could be cathartic. Have you ever considered adding an element of performance in you work?

Yes, this summer I plan to burry the work then stage a faux excavation. I am hoping this will happen at a residency where people would visit. I will keep your offer in mind and let you know where it takes place!

Melanie Vote, Discovery in the Bank, 2008, oil on panel, 10 x12 inches. Courtesy of the Artist

I’ve been thinking about your series Lost and Found. It depicts the future ruins of America. Is your work a type of mediation on mortality? What do you hope the audience takes away from your paintings and sculptures?

Perhaps just to ask themselves how they can be part of the solution rather than the perpetual cycle of problematic overindulgence. How can we convert to different ways of living, avoiding use of oil, reusing and recycling, etc.

Kitsch inspires many contemporary artists, including Jeff Koons, Yoshitomo Nara, and Takashi Murakami. Do you see your work as a parody or exaltation of American consumer culture?

A parody I guess. I find it sort of disheartening that this is what is embraced, and is what will remain.

Jeff Koons’s sculpture, Bear and Policeman, is a life-size carved wood sculpture. He said the Hummel, the German counterpart to Precious Moments figurines, inspired the sculpture. Koons remarked: “I don’t see a Hummel figurine as tasteless, I see it as beautiful. I see it and respond to the sentimentality of the work. I love the finish, how simple the color green can be painted. I like things being seen for what they are. It’s like lying in the grass and taking a deep breath. That’s all my work is trying to do, to be as enjoyable as that breath.” Do you admire Precious Moments as aesthetic objects?

As I mentioned before, it is a love hate relationship. They [Precious Moments figurines] are alluring at first, even cute, but I have such a distain for their pastel palette and the shallow religious message they carry. Just sugar coated Americana, “every thing here is so happy and perfect, and if you just except Jesus as your savior, your life will be perfect” Even with this sense of disdain I idealize my childhood.

Melanie Vote, Head as Home, 2010, oil on paper, 22 x 26 inches. Courtesy of the Artist

You have described your work as portraying the post-apocalypse. Your vision of the wasteland is much rosier than Cormac McCarthy’s. In McCarthy’s view, dead babies spit-roast on a makeshift rotisserie in ashen woods. In your view, tufts of green grass flutter and swell in a summer breeze as linens dry on a clothesline under the midday sun. Is light a metaphor for God in your work? Do you believe in a benevolent power of the universe, and if so, does this belief inform your art?

The truth is, my work is a far cry from reality, I do not really think an actual post apocalyptic scene would look anything like this, it is more metaphor for making the best of what life presents and human resilience.

None of what I depict is actual real; there are no hollow doll like sculptures the size of the Colossus of Rhodes placed upon the mid-western landscape. If there were to be some apocalypse or natural disaster what would actually remain would be highway, grain elevators, ethanol plants a flame and some of those beautiful wind turbines partially erect.

Life turns upside down for people in many ways, and all that’s left are scraps and people somehow survive. Haiti for example, somehow the people keep holding on… just thinking of what they have endured.

This sort of whimsical undertone seen in the painting is perhaps how I cope with fears that I actually have of what is really going on the world—this never ending chaos.

The God question is big, I believe in lots of things, but wish not to expand here. Historically speaking light and the hierarchy of it on the picture plane has served as a sense order and a presence of God. I have a deep reverence for Renaissance and Baroque painting, and feel the need to create this sense of order with the light to create visual clarity. It is an adopted language.

I am curious about your landscapes. The application of paint is direct, immediate, and vigorous. Did you paint these scenes outdoors in the open air?

I do paint outside when I can, the experience is vastly important. Some of the works start there, some start working from models in the studio then I have to seek out a landscape that works with cast figure. I started painting outside after my family no longer lived in the exact region I grew up in. I developed a real interest in the flatness of the plains. Painting outdoors changed my painting technique immensely.

How has painting outdoors changed your painting technique?

Plein air painting is an athletic event of sorts…or maybe a bit like hunting, fishing, or farming. One has to be prepared: palette mixed, location scouted out in advance, up before dawn to capture something. After that, all you can do is show up, and go for it. There is a sense of urgency to capture the moment and see—not really think but just do. A certain flow happens or hopefully does. Self-consciousness leaves and a real connection to what is present happens. With this sense of urgency, there is no time to judge.

Also I really enjoy being outside and feeling the elements—dirt, wind, bugs, sun—it all feels very natural.

If all goes well I drive away from the site with a little painted morsel of memory on the floor and a deep sense of satisfaction. These little studies hang around my studio; I look at them to remember how I would always like my paintings to look. These studies are more direct, and less fussy.

Melanie Vote, "Refuge in Ruins," 2010, oil on panel, 10 x 17 inches.

I also began to think of Thomas Cole’s landscape series, The Course of Empire. His five painting sequence depicting the rise and fall of Classical Rome. Roman Antiquity and the Italian landscape was Cole’s muse. What is yours?

Yes, Cole’s Classical Rome, after spending just a short ten days in Italy looking at such amazing art and architecture I was, literally, in tears on the plane ride back…our country is young and void of the layers and layers of art and archeology in relationship to the rest of the world. The landscape is practically void of any evidence of Native American existence, and the structures built now are ephemeral.

Also the iconic things that I remember seeing as a child include: water towers, grain elevators, an enormous Jesus figure in Arkansas, and the Jolly Green Giant, located somewhere on route I 35 towards Minneapolis. These things just sort pale in comparison to Bernini sculptures.

My work has grown out of my childhood experience. Iowa is considered part of Tornado Alley, seeing the after effects of tornado damage and watching Wizard of Oz over and over again, certainly has an influence. Additionally, I spent much of my time outdoors creating imagined homes from my fathers scrap parts. Old tractor cabs, grain palettes and random pieces of wood were arranged and/or adapted to provide shelter and backdrops for imagined adventures.

This coupled with the fact that I come from a long line of farmers. Once my grandfather passed away I really started to look at the landscape with such a great appreciation and wonderment. What, if any evidence will be left behind? The earth is such a great provider and how can we take care of it for future generations?

So what are you going to work on next?

I am going to burry the PM [Precious Moments] sculptures, most likely in Iowa and then stage a faux excavation of it. The parts will be reconfigured into maquettes and used for future landscapes.

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Jen Mazza | Courtesy of the artist

Artist Jen Mazza has carved out a career by painting pictures of slabs of human flesh-the female kind. To get an idea of her work, walk over to the nearest Dunkin Donuts, locate the plumpest jelly donut you can find, and take a bite-watch the grape filling spurt, ooze, and drip onto your hands, between your fingers, and down your shirt sleeve.

Jen is an artist who appreciates the sensuality of oil paint. Of late, she has switched gears-flowers and chintz have replaced the female body.

When Jen is not painting in her studio, she teaches at New Jersey City University, and makes a weekly pilgrimage to Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art, will showcase a new series of Jen’s paintings in her first solo show at the gallery. Aljira is located on 591 Broad St., in Newark. The opening reception of The Hothouse is Thursday, Nov. 18, from 6 to 9 p.m. The exhibition will be on view until Jan. 8.

I recently caught up with Jen to discuss her new exhibition and the role teaching plays inside the painter’s studio.

Jen Mazza, Orange Ranunculus, oil on canvas, 2010

Hi Jen. Tell me about yourself-who are you, what do you do, and how long have you been an artist?

Hmm – Where to start? I was born in Washington, D.C., but grew up west of the city in rural Virginia. Being a painter is probably one of my longest lasting traits. The earliest oil painting I remember doing was when I was four years old. Don’t get me wrong; I have the distinct impression it looked like a 4 year old’s painting. I didn’t consider being an artist my calling. At that stage I think I wanted to be an astronaut. Later on I yearned to be a veterinarian. At some point I realized there was no language I spoke as well as the visual and admitted to being what I already was.

When did you begin to paint and draw?

As I mentioned, I started pretty early as most kids do, only I did not stop when I got to that crucial age where one realizes the striking difference between what’s on the paper and what you thought you were drawing. My grandmother was an oil painter and had always given lessons from her home. She got me started, and probably had a lot to do with keeping me going: feeding my paint supply and teaching me about seeing.

Let’s discuss your upcoming show The Hothouse at Aljira in Newark. How did you become involved in this exhibition, and what work will be on view?

This show is part of a new series of exhibitions designed to showcase the work of Aljira Emerge graduates. I was part of the Emerge Program in 2001. After seeing some of my new work, Victor Davson, director of Aljira, asked me if I would be interested in showing it. I took his offer of a “project space” quite literally, so this will be my first exhibition to be conceived as an installation. It will include not only paintings but also other elements to add to viewer’s experiences of time and space.

Jen Mazza, Pink Roses in White Vase, oil on canvas, 2010

On the surface, The Hothouse-your new series of paintings-appears to be a departure from your previous bodies of work. How does this series compare to your earlier work, and what were the paths that led you to flowers, vases, and chintz?

These new paintings have a lot in common with the style and palette of my previous work. They are still very gooey but the subject matter – well yeah, very different. Though I imagine that folks had some doubts about my mental state when I was painting the figurative, seemingly more psychologically intense images that I am recognized for, it is the flower paintings that provoke me into look at myself in the mirror and asking, “have you gone insane??”

Where did this work come from? It has been, as you say, a path, not always a direct path, but I generally find my direction by moving. The flowers and chintz followed from the series I called “Self Deceit” which I put together as a solo project at the Jersey City Museum. “Self Deceit” came after a six-month period of “painter’s block”. My question was: how had I lied to myself? What rules and limitations had I created in my process? Did they, should they still apply? Or had they become arbitrary limits, a constraint on progress? After that things just opened up. Anything could be a subject.

From your Web site, I see that Jean Renoir’s film “Grand Illusion” (1937) played a minor role in the development of The Hothouse. What attracted you to this film, and has cinema influenced your other work?

Well, it is a beautiful film. Perhaps Jean inherited his father’s eye. Lately I have been thinking a lot about Time, thinking of ways to condense, preserve or encapsulate the experience of Time. In painting one must play time out spatially – like the Cubists did through faceting, the Futurists through multiplication, and as Picasso continued to do beyond analytical cubism with subtle incongruence of space. Film time is more straightforward, it deals with time the way we experience it – as duration, a shifting succession of images. I am pleased to say that The Hothouse will actually feature my first “film”.

Can you tell us more about the film? Do you see yourself transitioning into film like Kathryn Bigelow and Julian Schnabel?

As I mentioned, I have been thinking about ways of incorporating time and this is a large focus of The Hothouse exhibition. There are lots ways of building time into a painting – from use of space, to mark making and repetition to even a choice of subjects – but a painting remains a still image. Film is obviously also composed of still images – but sequentially they create a duration. The “film” I have made is a loop of still images of a static image: basically an image of a painting on a wall. There is no movement present other than the flickering of the film and the whirr and rattling of the projector. It is a metronome that marks and measures the passage of time.

I don’t think I will leave off painting anytime soon. I see film as another means of saying what I want to say. I don’t think I have an interest in creating narratives; I am more intrigued by the idea of creating filmic paintings.

Jen Mazza, Pinks and Chintz, oil on canvas, 2010

I’m intrigued with the way you juggle your professional life. You have a successful career, numerous awards, critical recognition, and exhibit on a regular basis. What’s your secret?

I am not sure there is a secret to it. You give up some things, you get others. Though I try not to be too much of a hermit, mainly I focus on painting, on what comes next. I paint, I read, I look – I am hungry for insights, hungry for the thing that will open up some new door in perception. I am ambitious to solve the problems I set for myself – this generally keeps me going even when the juggling is slowing the process down.

What are you reading and where do look at art?

At the moment I am reading a lot of French authors: Georges Perec, Jean Phillipe Toussaint, and Henri Bergson. I look at art just about everywhere. I probably spend the most time at the Met as there are so many favorite paintings to visit and revisit. (I am often there at least once a week.)

Painters such as David Hockney, Elizabeth Peyton, Kehinde Wiley, John Currin, and Gerhard Richter make tons of money. They are not most painters. Most painters are poor. Jen, what steps have you taken to sustain your career-especially in light of the recent economic downturn?

Making paintings, one can periodically trade them for money, but needs dictate that I spend a lot of my time teaching (usually about 4 days a week) that gets me out of myself but also keeps me out of the studio. I try to integrate the different parts – though I have yet to feel productive sitting on the Light Rail.

Jen Mazza, Dead Roses in Glass, oil on canvas, 2010 You earned a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Art from Mason Gross School of the Arts (Rutgers University). What made you choose this institution to study painting, and how did graduate school inform your work in the studio-both then and now?

Rutgers has a strong conceptual and feminist program. I felt I needed to get my brain up to date more than I needed instruction in painting, so I made my choice. My direction was sympathetic with the school’s so I am not sure I wouldn’t have ended up making similar work eventually – but I think Mason Gross’s strong performance art focus definitely had an influence on the work I have made since. Up until the present body of work I would begin each series with a performative element that I then transitioned and transcribed into painting. Like performance it is about the process and about the body.

Which Grease Truck is your favorite, and why?

I’m more of a diner gal.

In addition to being a painter, you are also a professor. You teach painting and drawing at New Jersey City University. How long have you worked at NJCU, and what role does it play in the creative community of Jersey City, Hudson County, and the region?

I have been working at NJCU since 2004. The school first came to my attention when I saw a great exhibition of student drawings from Ben Jones’ classes at the Sumei Art Center in Newark. I think NJCU does great work in training young artists and engaging them with the art world. And because my classes frequently have not only future artists but future accountants, biologists, criminal studies majors amongst others I have an awareness of what an important role the university has in connecting non-artists, amateurs, with the JC, NJ and NY art scenes. As an artist I can say there is nothing better than an educated viewer. And as a teacher there is nothing more rewarding than when a student makes a connection – either out in the world or in themselves. Art does both.

Has your experience as a professor influenced your decisions in the studio?

Definitely. When I teach the class I teach myself. Not only does teaching add to my experience with various mediums but it also has done much to make me more eloquent about my process and my work.

What’s your favorite part of being an artist?

Starting a painting.

What’s your least favorite part of being an artist?

Starting a painting.

Jen Mazza, Rose on Pink and Gray, oil on canvas, 2010

What three pieces of advice would you give to an artist just starting out their career?

For the first bit of advice I am just the conduit: the artist Jim Hodges once told me to pay attention to my attractions. I think it is important to notice what you notice. It is the best way to learn about yourself as an artist. The next thing you need, as an artist, is a dialog – engage with other makers. Find others who speak your language. Third – feed your brain: read, look at art, see, and strive to know.

What is your favorite diner? Who has the best jukebox, and where can you find a decent cup of coffee?

The first time I went to JC I remember driving back and forth hopelessly lost. I can’t remember how many times I passed the Miss America Diner before I pulled into the parking lot and went in. I still stop in for hot coffee and egg on a roll on those cold winter mornings on the way to class. Speaking of Jersey City coffee I always seem to have the best when I am with my friend Gene. Whether we share a pot in his kitchen surrounded by his paintings and drawings or drink it while tearing croissants at Madame Claude’s, it always tastes great.

If you had to paint one person, place, object or thing in Jersey City, what would it be, and why?

Perhaps I spend too much time underground, but there is nothing more interesting to me than looking at people, and no better place to stare than on the Path train. I am always mentally drawing while I stand on station platforms or as the train trundles from station to station. I am always amazed at the diversity of age, shape, color, experience, consciousness or unconsciousness. So many stories. There was one day I introduced myself to a young theater student somewhere below / between Journal Square and Grove Street and he became the model for entire series of paintings.

Jen Mazza in studio | Courtesy of Jerry McCrea/Star-Ledger

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Scott Taylor

Miss America Diner, the sounds of George Jones, and painting… Welcome to the world of Scott Taylor. Taylor is a painter whose work spans whiskey-soaked Americana to high European classicism. Taylor currently has several paintings on view in The Real LR Word, a group exhibit produced by Cottelston Advisors [www.cottelston.com] and curated by Omar Lopez-Chahoud at Ligne Roset [www.lignerosetny.com]. The opening reception of The Real LR Word is July 14 from 7 to 9 pm. The exhibition will be on view to mid August. Ligne Roset is located at 250 Park Avenue South in New York, NY.

Erin Riley-Lopez introduced me to the work of Scott Taylor a few years ago. I have had the pleasure of seeing Scott’s work in several exhibitions, including solo shows V & A Gallery in the lower east side and Jersey City Museum.

Tell us about your background.

I was accepted to North Carolina School of the Arts in 1989 to study visual art. I consider the two years that I spent there as the seminal time in which I started taking my studies seriously, got my act together and developed a strong quest for understanding the arts, which still persist today. I eventually went to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, UNC, Chapel Hill, Savannah College of Art and Design and received my MFA at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

You come from Tar Heel country. What brought you to Jersey City?

I was researching all graduate degree programs in the country and read that Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University was in the top ten best MFA programs. I was accepted and moved to New Jersey in 2000. I have been living in Jersey City for the past 8 years.

When did you begin to paint and draw?

It began before my earliest memories. Apparently, my Dad and I sat at the kitchen table and drew together when I was still a toddler. I started painting at the age of 16.

Scott Taylor, 400 Blows, oil on canvas

Let’s discuss a couple of your projects. What is the Claimed Master series, and why is it important?

The Claimed Masters series is based on a long history of artists reclaiming art historical images and re-interpreting the results. My project started with pages from a book called Great Prints and Printmakers from the 19th century with artists such as Boucher and Degas and I added my own drawing on top of the print intentionally confusing the “Master’s” hand and my own. Often the images were collaged from different pages and different artists.

scott taylor, reverend gary, graphite on paper, 2009

What is the Left Handed Drawing series?

The Left-Handed Drawing series began after I injured my right shoulder and I could not draw or paint with my hand without it hurting. So, I switched to my left hand, which is incredibly untrained and awkward. I started out by drawing images from my record collection and liked the quality of the drawing and the obvious distortions that emerged. Each drawing took a long time as if I were learning to draw again like when I was very young. About 20 of these drawings were exhibited at V&A Gallery in 2009.

The series depicts a range of American musicians—from Black Flag and Minor Threat to Johnny Cash and George Jones, from Louis Armstrong and Marvin Gaye to Mance Lipscomb and Madame Mame. Why did you choose this cast of characters, and what do they have to do with you and your practice?

The Left-Handed Drawing series also helped to form a self-portrait because I wanted to use my record collection to tell viewers about my tastes in music and also my background in North Carolina, for example depicting Reverend Gary Davis or Libba Cotton from the Piedmont area of North Carolina.

Scott Taylor, Flags, 2009, oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches

What are you working on now?

I am finishing a series titled The Rembrandt Self-Portraits that I have been working steadily on for the past year and a half. The project is ambitious because the paintings are large, 72 x 60 inches, all oil on canvas and I have completed 17 of them. In the work, I am using the iconic image of Rembrandt that we know of from his obsessive self-portraits to tell the story of the flawed artist that is doomed for failure much like his last self-portraits are understood. I also connect to his sympathetic view of the world, his humanistic portrayal of himself and his brutal honesty. In my series the subject is exaggerated with a large nose, ridiculous attire and fool heartedness that turn him into a clown of sorts. Similar to the left-handed drawing series, my intent is to represent the self-portrait as a personal narrative.

The life of the artist is not necessary absurd and tragic but it can be lonely, financial insecure, and unglamorous. What motivates you to continue making art?

I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Yet, I’ve worked at museums and galleries, driven a truck and to do just about anything I can do to stay employed to pay my studio rent. Another artist said, “A painter paints what he wants to see” so, I suppose I am motivated by the satisfaction of making something that doesn’t exist yet.

Scott Taylor, Cool, 2009, oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches

You studied painting at Mason Gross and Savannah School of Art and Design. What made you choose these institutions, and what did they teach you about painting and art?

I chose these schools mostly due to my financial situation. I didn’t apply to schools in New York such as Columbia or SVA because I knew I would not be able to afford them. SCAD offered scholarships, Mason Gross was less expensive and offered teaching assistantships. The benefit of SCAD was that the instructors were young, energetic and from all over the nation. Often it was their first teaching job so they were super excited to teach painting for example and I learned all the essential basics. At Mason Gross, the advantage is that the school is in close proximity to NYC. As a student there, I realized that the art world is significantly larger and accelerated than I had imagined.

Today, many artists work in digital technologies, social media, film and video. In 1994, Gerry Nichols, my painting professor in college, said to his students: painting is slow, anachronistic—bordering on obsolesce, and difficult. Scott, why do you continue to paint?

This question brings to mind the argument that was very prevalent in the 1970’s to say that painting was dead. Today, I think we can look back at that argument and see that painting will always go in and out of style. In the 1990’s painting emerged again as the dominant medium. I paint because I love the act of painting and I also appreciate paintings from art history. I believe that paintings are a kind of signature record or fingerprint of the artist. Unlike mechanical reproduction, paintings can exhibit an intimate and personal tactile quality that other mediums cannot. For me, I love to get close to a painting and read the brushwork, see the varnish, the effort of applying paint and witnessing the struggle of creativity emerge as an intellectual pursuit in oil paint.

Scott Taylor, Smokes, 2009, oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches

Let’s discuss looking at art in a museum. You walk into an art museum, what is the first thing you do, and why? Do you look for the wall text adjacent to the work? Do you use the audio support? Do you participate in a guided tour of the exhibition? Do you just look at the work, with your own eyes, and ruminate—or not? Is there a right way or wrong way to experience art?

In North Carolina, there weren’t many museums outside the state museum. I often traveled to DC to visit the art museums because it was reasonably close by. There, I spent time in the National wing and the Hirshorn Museum educating myself of painting history and learning techniques by looking at the brushwork. I never use audio support or join tours. Rarely, do I walk through a museum very fast to get to a painting that I will spend time with. I often go back to the same painting over and over again. When I was a student at the Museum School in Boston, I went to the museum everyday and could get back to my studio while the image was still fresh in my mind. I still visit museums frequently and know their floor plans so that I can get in and out very quickly. This is my way of experiencing art but there is no right or wrong way.

Let’s focus on Jersey City. What is your favorite diner? Who has the best jukebox, and where can you find a decent cup of coffee?

Now for the important questions: I live next door to Miss America Diner on West Side Avenue. I always wanted to be that character in the movies that goes to the diner next door and orders a coffee and apple pie slice. I don’t do it as often as I should. My favorite jukebox is at Magician in the Lower East Side, NY. Often the bartender gives me a few bucks to keep it going. Beechwood on Grove has great coffee.

Have you ever fondled a terracotta sculpture of a nude woman in a museum or casino? And, have you ever been taken out of an art museum by force?

Yes. It was a wooded African sculpture at the New Orleans Museum of Art and I was asked to leave after fondling it. The museum was completely empty. My friend and I separated but I could hear his footsteps in the gallery next door. As he came around the corner to play a joke, I touched the sculpture inappropriately and extended my tongue towards the mouth of the feminine sculpture. It turned out to be a female security guard instead of my friend. I was completely embarrassed and was asked to leave. I wanted to explain that I was an artist and that I wasn’t really touching the sculpture but I decided to let it go.

If Raleigh, North Carolina, faced Jersey City in a steel cage match, whom would you root for, and why?

I wouldn’t root for either one but I would still watch. I don’t lean one-way or the other. However, I consider Chapel Hill and Savannah my home.

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