Phone Tag: Interview with Marian Tubbs

Marian Tubbs, i am series of chemical changes, 2017, Pigment print on silk

Earlier this spring, I Skyped with Marian Tubbs, an Australian artist based in Sydney. Previous Phone Tag participant Kate Newby connected us, and in this interview we discuss how the two met in New York, some of the ramifications of operating as an artist with a more international purview and how that can relate to social connections. Marian investigates images and materials that are so poor or ubiquitous as to be unnoticed, often sourced from the digital, through sculptural objects and installations that are undergirded by a philosophical framework.

 

Phone Tag is a generative interview format, where I ask each participating artist five questions (plus others as the discussion meanders). At the end, I ask him or her to introduce me to a working artist whose attitude and work they find interesting and inspiring, who I then interview with the same five questions.

*****

Marian Tubbs, Quiet revolutions and enfant terribles, 2017, Installation view

LW: “Kate mentioned she knew you through a show at SculptureCenter.”

MT: “Yeah. We come from proximate worlds—she’s originally from New Zealand and I’m from Australia—but exhibit and work a fair amount overseas. I became familiar with her work through shows that were on in Sydney at galleries that I also work with, but strangely we did not meet until installing in the cold underground caverns of SculptureCenter. I took a break from my mess, walked around the corner and said “Hey I’m Marian” and she was like, “No way, I’m Kate.” When we finally met, it was lovely, there was a genuine appreciation of each other’s work. This year she is in the Sydney Biennale and I’ll work on some stuff in NYC so we will get to hang again. We’ve talked of doing a dreamy show together…”

LW: “So you were in New York recently, and you’ve been here before as well, right?”

MT: “Yes, I’ve been visiting New York since 2012 for things; first I came to present at a philosophy conference. And the next year, when I was running away from my PhD, I lived there for six months. I was pretty young and into seeing what the place was about. It’s a great city to drop out in, because there’s so much going on you don’t feel like you’re dropping out. I think those months were the most that I ever enjoyed the place— I had no agenda, so I could just go walking, do yoga, and see music. It was low pressure, though I ended up being in a couple of exhibitions before I left. Since then, I’ve come back to be in or curate shows.”

LW: “Tell me about your philosophy degree.”

MT: “It’s a Doctor of Philosophy, practice-led—…could be singular to Australian universities?”

LW: “So related to your art practice?”

MT: “Yes, very much. My PhD was on aesthetics and philosophy. Specifically how poor materiality, like found objects, images, or words play roles, as minor voices in artworks and mess with value. I wrote about practices that I learn from, philosophy, and my own work.”

LW: “So was it separate from your practice of making, or a chance to think through issues related to making?”

MT: “Yeah, I used direct examples from making to direct the questioning. Finding a voice for this can be tough but ultimately rewarding. It’s something that I hope continues to have a future in Australia, but I think we’ll be fighting for as long as cuts keep happening and the conservative government keeps being in place.”

Marian Tubbs, Abstract Sex, 2016, Installation view at the Bard Hessel Museum

LW: “If you had to say in a nutshell what you make, what do you make?”

MT: “I guess I look for objects and materials on- and offline that are not valued highly or thought through very much and by playing with them, I change this for myself, that’s the personal aspect, deepening my being in the world by relating to stuff. I think this is the nice affinity with Kate’s work. That we both go on walks and look at things and kind of see outside what objects are and can be.

I pull and push the ‘real’ into the virtual, or the ‘virtual’ into the real. For instance, I take a bad photograph of something, flatten it so it becomes a video assemblage, or the reverse: find something online and animate to give it a new narrative property, print it out and make a photo-sculpture. Right now I am heading toward some augmented reality stuff.”

LW: “Looking online at your work, it seemed like there is a dialogue with abstraction.”

MT: “Definitely, yeah. It’s funny, you know, it depends who you talk to whether your work is didactic or obscure—”

LW: “Or whether either of those qualities is desirable—”

MT: “Whether you need to have less narrative or, ‘Be less of a difficult artist, Marian.’ The linear and the non-linear I find interesting, because I think that’s where the poetry is. When the work is saying something overt, something that’s kind of really obvious, there’s another abstraction to it because it’s not necessarily me. Rather, I take floating statements, or memes that float around that I find I have some attraction to, but they’re abstract because simply appropriating does not literally communicate my opinion. This could be versus when you get the material or color just right, and it needs no explanation and you hope that someone gets that.”

Marian Tubbs, Contemporary Monsters, 2016, Installation view at Minerva, Sydney

LW: “What are you working on right now?”

MT: “Academic things. I’m writing a lecture that I’m giving loads of attention to because it’s a complicated subject, on queer digital art, or ‘queering the digital.’ This is a guest lecture for a theory course to a large cohort of students across fine arts, theory, design, and media. I’m doing very detailed research because I think it’s a) necessary, and b) I question if I’m even the one that should be giving such a lecture. But I do work with the digital and the feminine, and I’m also a massive fan of so, so many queer artists. I want to avoid presenting information that presents ‘queering’ as a co-optable methodology, so I’m excited for the complexity.

In terms of my own practice, I’m working on new sculptures, which are following on from some of the SculputreCenter’s works, creating these gestural objects and mosses with very fast curing glasses and resins. I’m creating these fairly weird pieces that are a cross in between the organic and plastics manufacturing. I’m also working on getting a studio.

I have a few shows coming up around Sydney, all quite different, curated and collaborative. A show in a curator couple’s house, a group exhibition with the gallery I work with here, Minerva, also another at a relatively young gallery called COMA, and a collaborative sculpture show—for which I am making work with a best friend. I have also just won an award, that I am going to use to assist in changing up my work. Instead of being immediately responsive, I’m going gestate on developing skills (digital and analog) and make a couple of exhibitions over the next while with longer investment.”

LW: “Are you making new work for these smaller shows?”

MT: “Yes. It’s exciting. It’s all in the starting processes right now, calling in favors, moving stuff around.”

LW: “Right. Have you had a studio before in Sydney? Why are you looking for a new one?”

MT: “Right now I live in a place for artists that has been subsidized by the city, and we all have to move in a month, so I have to find something. Even a desk space can be extraordinarily expensive in Sydney.”

LW: “What’s an ideal day like in the studio?”

MT: “I remember saying this when I used to have a studio: that it was simply half day in the studio, half day at the beach. The beach and water in general is productive for me, staring at the water all my thoughts can be emptied out. So ideally a sunrise beach swim, then get to the studio: think, stare at walls, play some music, read, figure stuff out, maybe organize some stuff. Return to the beach, run or yoga. Then do that again the next day—that would be the perfect life.”

Marian Tubbs, Contemporary Monsters, 2016, Installation view at Minerva, Sydney

LW: “It sounds good. I don’t know Sydney, but it sounds like you have the New York issues that we have with rent. One of my questions is: do you think it is more important for an artist to be in a big city like Sydney or New York where there’s a strong cultural scene with museums and galleries and opportunities but it’s expensive, or to be somewhere totally quiet—like the beach—where maybe the focus could just be on making?”

MT: “If I retreated, maybe that would be a sort of curiosity and people would continue to contact me, but there’s that drop out factor. I live in Sydney, rather than up north near water and family, because I earn a living here, so it feels kind of square at the moment. I don’t make work that sells immediately so I need to be employed—and I also find it very wonderful to work with young minds whose politics are fantastic, these conversations give me a lot of energy. I can’t speak for every artist—as the questions beckons—but there are indeed pros and cons to removing yourself from the circuit for sure. That said you can drop out in the city as well and stop being social.”

LW: “You said in passing that you don’t make work that sells, but you have been supported by different grants.”

MT: “Yes, over the last couple of years I received a couple of grants. Also sometimes pieces sell, mostly overseas and to institutions. Actually I’ve had unexpected and great support from commercial galleries. I just try to cover my ears sometimes—not hear too much—when they look at works and go ‘Oh, these will sell.’ I don’t want that to filter through as an impression impacting what I make next. That’s why I shaped my life so that teaching would be integral, so I could figure out a way to pay rent first and not get to a certain age feeling hungry that I needed to accelerate a career. If that makes sense.”

LW: “I know what you mean. It is just an interesting thing to function within that system and resist that system as well.”

MT: “Sure, and it’s not ever a refusal toward someone wanting to be with a work, take it home, or buy it—that’s such a pleasure for me. It’s about not overtly selling into a market but maybe creating new affections, we come back to challenging ascriptions of value here. And taking the risk to do this, means often as an artist, embarrassing myself or making things that don’t look like something that I recognize or have words for.”

Marian Tubbs, Untitled, 2016, Digital print on vinyl, acrylic, 50 × 60 cm

LW: “Who, or what, has influenced your practice?”

MT: “Well maybe this is two-fold. I find an ongoing silly dialogue with friends inspiring, being in touch with other peoples’ lives and chatting about trivial things while I’m doing things. There are possibilities now to be virtual with each other no matter what you’re doing or where. During day-to-day work, and when travelling, we keep joking and pushing each other, sharing generative conversations that could be read as Dada-ist, nonsensical, or neoliberal strategy. A massive sense of humor is super inspiring, because you can say, ‘Yes, you’re doing all of these things, but none of it really matters: its art and its funny and serious.’

In addition I read when I can and spend time thinking about stuff I don’t understand.

In terms of artists that inspire, I think of those who show moments of throwing absolutely everything at it. Those that have gone for the immortality of their work tend to capture me…”

LW: “I liked how you talked about how conversations with friends kept you going. Do you have a strong community in Sydney?”

MT: “Yes, the Sydney scene is very supportive and defiantly growing, no matter the lack of structural support. My convos are also international. As my work spread via the internet, I’ve found cute friends I have never physically met. Being fortunate to have had a few shows overseas and interstate, you meet the people you love and continue to talk to.”

Marian Tubbs, Contemporary Monsters, 2016, Digital video built with gaming technology (still), 6 min 10 sec

LW: “I wonder, do you think your work works well in an international circuit or is there a local element? I’m thinking about how you’re working so much with the internet and that’s the conceit of the internet: it’s this free, open international space. “

MT: “It should be, but it isn’t completely. In terms of the market, it favors material objects. There are obviously some name artists that have gotten through but deterritorialisation is a post-modern idea/fallacy; everything is still centralized and commerce happens in major cities. So conversations about your work can go to different places and that’s incredible, but also it is not a complete game changer. I am very much involved in my local community, but I wouldn’t say my work looks ‘Sydney’ or ‘Australian’ other than the fact that a lot of beach vibes seep into my works.”

LW: “Final question: when did you first think of yourself as an artist?”

MT: “I think I was in year three—that’s like when I was eight or nine years old. I did a drawing in class and I think it was good. I went home and I kept it and I realized drawing was knowledge, it was thinking. There was also some minor support, you know how family or faculty can see you are interested in something and praise you. It was that mix of doing something that I really loved with an inch of encouragement, and I was like, ‘That’s it then.’ ”

LW: “Great. Well, thank you for participating.”

MT: “A pleasure.”

Marian Tubbs, Vulgar Latin, 2014, Digital video (still), 5 min 39 sec

Phone Tag: Interview with Kate Newby

Kate Newby, They say you’ve got to live there for a while, 2016. Bricks, coins, white brass, pink silver, yellow silver, bronze, stoneware, porcelain, glaze, bottle top, paper clip, nail, glass. Courtesy of Michael Lett Gallery. Photo credit: Alex North

I speak with Kate Newby about her practice and current projects in this Phone Tag interview. From landscape and everyday materials, Kate brings a sensitivity to her environment to create what she calls “situations.” The New York-based artist is originally from New Zealand. However, she has been in Texas on a residency, and so we recently Skyped about how her approach to objects is informed by her surroundings, how art became a profession, life in New York, and her need for the female voice.

 

Phone Tag is a generative interview format, where I ask each participating artist five questions (plus others as the discussion meanders). At the end, I ask him or her to introduce me to a working artist whose attitude and work they find interesting and inspiring, who I then interview with the same five questions.

*****

Kate-Newby, Not this time, not for me2017. Mortar, concrete pigment, silver, white brass, bronze, porcelain, cotton rope, blown glass, glass, stoneware. Courtesy of Michael Lett Gallery (exhibited at the Sculpture Centre, NYC)

Linnea West: “So, you’re in Texas now for a residency. Could you tell me a little bit about what you’re doing?”

Kate Newby: “I’m in San Antonio at Artpace. It’s my first time in Texas. It’s also my first time doing a residency since I did one on Fogo Island in 2013, so it has been quite some years since I’ve been in a residency situation. I’ve only been here a few weeks, but I think the time is going to fly. The residency is set up in a way where you work in a studio for two months, which then becomes your exhibition space for the following two months. There are three studios and three artists in residence. So there’s the pressure of an exhibition at the end but I came down here quite conscious that I didn’t want to think about that, that I wanted to be more involved in the processes.

One of the things I do is, I work in clay. I’ve worked in clay for quite some time. It’s gotten to a point where I’m bored with it. Being down here what I want to do is to get outside more. Digging clay. I want to experiment with firings. Barrel firings. Pit firings, and building my own kiln. And I kind of think I’m more interested in experiences than outcomes, and I think work will naturally arise out of that process.”

LW: “So you’re trying to give yourself two months to breathe and explore?”

KN: “Yeah, I want to breath and explore. I’m realizing that that it is actually more work. I’m getting up at 6 am to do firings and other stuff, but it is good. There are people here who can help. In New York, I feel very singular; it’s just me. It’s nice to have people around who say, ‘Can we help? What can we do? Do you need this?’ ‘Yeah, I need a half cord of firewood, please.’ ”

Kate Newby, Ah be with me always2015. Colored mortar, brick, porcelain, bronze. Courtesy of Michael Lett Gallery (exhibited at Laurel Gitlen, NY)

 

LW: “Yeah, that’s a great thing to be able to say. From what I know of your work, I do see that you work a lot with clay, but not traditional ceramic vessels and that you work with other material as well. Could briefly describe what you make?”

KN: “Sure. I think what I do is, I create situations. I think about things like atmosphere and weather, being outside. Things that I absorbed and paid attention to, and I want to reflect that back out in my work. So my work is never a singular object. In fact, it might be several hundred objects in the case of some of my studies of rocks, or it could be as simple as using a piece of rope, which is what I just did at the SculptureCenter. I used 600 feet of rope to go from a puddle I had made on the ground, out of concrete, to weave into a tree, to weave across the building, and to hang down the very front of the building. I like to call peoples’ attention to these discrete actions. They don’t give a lot away, but they try to belong to a site in a way that is not too foreign. The materials I use, concrete and clay and rope, are never totally removed from what I’m looking at when I am installing.”

LW: “How site-specific are these? Would you reinstall the work somewhere else using the exact components or is it unique to that site?”

KN: “It’s both. It’s totally specific and I’ll use the same components anywhere. But they would change and I would want them to change and I would want them to be responsive. I think about site-specificity versus site-responsiveness—No, I don’t think about any of it. I just think about, what am I looking at? And what do I respond to, and what do I think is curious? I try to trust my instincts more and more. Just see what is happening and make works that responds to that.”

Kate Newby, Crawl out your window, 2010. Concrete ramp, rocks, crystals, cotton fabric, wall, yellow paint. Courtesy of Michael Lett Gallery (exhibited at GAK Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, Bremen). Photo credit: Peter Podowik

 

LW: “Now that you’re in this new space in Texas, what does an ideal day in your studio look like?”

KN: “Hmmm, I know what an ideal of what that would be like… I don’t have a studio in New York; I have a small room in my apartment that kind of acts like an office and storage area. Now I have a huge studio that would be awesome to utilize, but I don’t quite know what to do with it.
I’m definitely a morning person, so I’m trying to get up at 6 am, which is actually a little too early for me, but ideally I would be up at 6, shower, eat, and be in the studio before anyone is around so I can get my head into it. My ideal day is to do everything. To have practical, hands-on work. It would be to finally do my taxes; it would be to do some deep reading and research. It would be to eat properly. But it’s never like that. I wake up, I have 30 good minutes, and then I’m just walking around with a bit of paper in my hand, just trying to fumble through the day.”

LW: “What about time for email, does that factor in?”

KN: “It’s funny because that’s something I do everything morning in New York, and here I don’t and I’m really behind on email. It’s chronic; it’s terrible. But I’m here now, and I just want to get out of the apartment. I just feel like I’m so excited to get to the studio and to get to work. And I’ve got all these time constraints because of firings and drying times. I’ve been very physical and doing all this other stuff, where in New York I do email all the time.”

Kate Newby, The January February March, 2015. Porcelain stoneware, earthenware. Courtesy of Michael Lett Gallery (installation view: Margaretville, The Catskills, NY)

LW: “That’s great. That sounds like freedom. When did you first think of yourself as an artist?”

KN: “It developed incrementally. I had this moment when I was 15 and I thought— ‘Oh, this is a way I can look at things and make sense of the world,’ and for the first time I intentionally became involved with art. It became my full focus when I was in high school and then I went to art school and then I went and traveled for several years. I wasn’t exhibiting—I wasn’t traveling as an artist. I was traveling just as a person. I was ironing sheets; I was waitress-ing; I was whatever. When I came back to New Zealand, I thought about it, and that’s probably the moment I became an artist, because that’s the moment I basically looked at art and thought, ‘What’s here, and what do I want out of it, and what do I want to do with this, if this is what I am going to do.’ Before then, art had been something that I carried around like a backpack. In my mid-twenties, it became something bigger and harder, and not so convenient. This is the minute that things became quite alive for me.”

Kate Newby, Try it with less pennies and direct light, 2017. Glass, Jute. Fabricated by Jake Zollie Harper. Originally commissioned and produced by Artpace San Antonio. Photo credit: Adam Schreiber

LW: “Is it more important for an artist to be in a big city with a strong cultural scene, opportunities to show their work, lots of people, etc. or to be in a place maybe more like San Antonio or even quieter where you’re just focused on making?”

KN: “I think it’s both. I’m from New Zealand and I grew up at a beach and in a valley with a lot of trees. I grew up with a lot of solitude and I really need that. Strangely I get a lot of solitude in New York still. But what I do really need is the landscape. I need my work to be involved with the landscape. When I think about my work, I don’t think about it in terms of galleries; I think about it in terms of how can I take it back outside to where it came from, and how can I work these elements that are so crucial to my thinking back into the work.

So, that’s not answering your question, but I’ve done some really remote residencies, like Fogo Island, which is off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada. You can get more remote than that, but it’s very remote. Once I was in a town called Worpswede in rural Germany, which is this tiny little village. I was there for 5 months alone while I worked on an exhibition in Bremen. It’s weirdly exhausting, because you just have so much to do with yourself. But I think it’s both. I love going back to New York. I wouldn’t change that and I love leaving just as much.”

LW: “I’m interested in this idea of landscape that you mentioned, especially if you’re going to such different landscapes and then going to a place like New York. Are you think of an abstract, generalized idea of landscape or does New York City as a landscape feed into your imagination?”

KN: “It’s just whatever experience I’m having. In New York, it’s a huge influence on me in terms of how I work, because I’m pretty obsessed with sidewalks and the residue from people and the residue from wear and tear of us just being alive. I’m not looking at nature too much in New York City, but what I am looking at is this experience that we have every day. Even the tilt of the sidewalk or something, I find these kinds of things interesting. I don’t know why, I just do. These tiny, tiny things. The first time I made them I put them in this community garden in Brooklyn because it was kind of protected and they could be outside. They lasted for several months and they didn’t break and they made a sort of gentle sound. I like this idea that my work is a collaboration with weather and with elements and with these things that come in to complete the work. I’m only half making the work and then I’m putting it in a situation where these other things might come in and infiltrate it and work with it. So, when I say landscape, sometime it is a big general thing, like being on a ranch in Texas, but it doesn’t have to be.”

Kate Newby, Let me be the wind that pulls your hair, 2017. Assorted clay and glaze, bronze, cotton, wire. Originally commissioned and produced by Artpace San Antonio. Photo credit: Adam Schreiber

LW: “Who has influenced your practice?”

KN: “That’s a tricky questions. I don’t know. But I will say that less than a year ago I went on a trip from Los Angeles through Nevada up to Utah and I saw a lot of these land art pieces. I was blown away by this Nancy Holt piece called Sun Tunnels, which was phenomenal but also really challenging. She worked on it for four years and she was out there in the desert working on this thing. It’s a totally deep meditation. I come to a site and I could bang a work out in a day, that’s the way I work. It was interesting to think about what if you just made one thing but made it really, really well while keeping it simple. That was the thing, it was just really simple. She’s come to me at a really good moment—it’s making me question things a lot more. Especially in New York, where I feel like I’m exclusively making work that could fit in my backpack.

Roni Horn is really interesting. She also has a type of this deep awareness of what’s going on. I want to be careful about that, because the last few years for me have been very busy and I’ve had to perform for these deadlines. I just want to be aware, keeping an eye on my work in a way that the thoughtfulness, the considered rigor of both of their practices is something that I absorb and keep in mind.”

LW: “Is it a coincidence that they are both women, or is that something you think about as well?”

KN: “It’s something I think I need; I really want that. I listen to a lot of music, and more and more I want female voices around me. It’s because they make phenomenal work and it’s because I need more female voices around me.”

Kate Newby, Let me be the wind that pulls your hair, 2017. Assorted clay and glaze, bronze, cotton, wire. Originally commissioned and produced by Artpace San Antonio. Photo credit: Adam Schreiber

 

LW: “What’s next—you have two months in Texas and then you’ll be back in New York—what does your upcoming future look like?”

KN: “Someone mentioned to me years ago, ‘Kate, how are you going to keep working like this? Turn up somewhere, make a show, and move on. How are you going to keep doing that?’ My next year is already feeling a bit like this. But I’m doing things I really want to do. I’ll go to Stockholm for an exhibition at Index, which is great, which is phenomenal, and the project is the second extension of a project I did two years ago at the Arnolfini in Bristol, by the same curator Axel Wieder. He’s doing the second chapter of an exhibition called The Promise, and it’s all in the public space—that’s a dream come true—when you can gain permission to work in public space and have support to do this. You’re not making necessarily public sculpture, but you’re able to work outside with the support of an institution. How do you utilize that? I’ve just got a lot of questions. How do I keep doing things with integrity? That’s the stage I’m at. How do I maintain this, and how do I keep it honest? Funnily enough I have a second residency this year in Texas at the Chianti Foundation in Marfa. I think this will be an interesting opportunity to re-visit a lot of the ideas that I may open up while working here in San Antonio.”

LW: “But that’s a great place to be, because it’s a sign that what you’re doing is working, right?”

KN: “Yeah. I think so. I’m just aware that the work has to lead. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but this time here is good.”

LW: “Well, thank you. This has been great.”

KN: “Thank you for talking to me.”

Phone Tag: Interview with Walter Scott

Walter Scott, Excerpt from Wendy

Walter Scott, Excerpt from Wendy

The former Phone Tag participant, Tiziana Le Melia, put me in touch with Walter K. Scott, a Canadian artist perhaps best known for his Wendy comics. Walter speaks with me about creating Wendy, a fictional character trying to navigate the art world; his sculptural practice; and his recent move to Guelph, Ontario to pursue an MFA in this Phone Tag interview.

Phone Tag is a generative interview format, where I ask each participating artist five questions (plus others as the discussion meanders). At the end, I ask him or her to introduce me to a working artist whose attitude and work they find interesting and inspiring, who I then interview with the same five questions.

***

LW: “If you had to briefly say what your practice was, what kind of work do you make?”

WS: “I started making comics again in 2011. I have this comic series called Wendy. It’s a fictional narrative of a person named Wendy who strives for art stardom but her life keeps getting in the way. She tries to access the art world and continually try to define herself as a successful artist without really knowing what that means. So it’s the story of someone’s personal life but it’s set in the art world.”

LW: “Does this relate to what you are seeing in other people when you were out at openings, or is this more a personal feeling as well?”

WS: “Wendy is based on me. Wendy started as a story of a girl who wants to be an artist but she lives in this punk community like I did in Montreal. As Wendy’s adventures have continued, they are inspired by the things that have been happening in my life, to me. They go from the punk loft to galleries, openings, parties, conferences, all the art milieu places.”

Walking Across Campus With a Form to Fill Out, Acrylic and Watercolor Pencil, 14x17", 2016

Walking Across Campus With a Form to Fill Out, Acrylic and Watercolor Pencil, 14×17″, 2016

LW: “In terms of who has influenced your practice, are you looking at other comic books? At life?”

WS: “My first influence was Kathy Acker. The first Kathy Acker book I read was Don Quixote. I like how the main character speaks but then the dog will speak, and the prose was inspiring to me. I wanted to channel that punk spirit. But at the same time it was influenced by Legally Blonde and the idea that a person on the surface can be conventionally attractive and well-dressed but in fact is a mess. That’s where Wendy came from. Formally, because I picked up drawing comics where I left off, when I was 16 years old, the same formal inspiration is there. Like Matt Groening’s Life in Hell or Ren and Stimpy.

Then from comics, I started to make sculptures. But I wasn’t totally sure where the sculptures were coming from. They felt a little bit forced and too autobiographical. But then I had a really good studio visit, where this curator said, since I already made this fictional universe with Wendy, that it was actually totally OK for me to jump from fiction into sculptural practice, and that it didn’t have to be a sculptural practice that was a direct one-to-one translation of my life. In that way, it’s more interesting because it gives a third space for both me and the viewer to draw from and more opportunity for complexity in the reading of the artwork.”

LW: “Yeah. I could imagine—or you could tell me—that you chose a comic format because you wanted to use narrative. But then, narrative doesn’t always work the same way in sculpture. Do you think about narrative with the sculpture?”

WS: “I do. Although, because Wendy is about a person, Wendy has an emotional dimension to it. Each of the characters in Wendy are a different representation of me—different facets of my identity—so I think there’s a kind of shape shifting or drag performance going on in a way, some process of embodiment or transformation. With my sculptures, I use the opportunity in working with physical materials to draw out that relationship more: between the artwork and between the body and transformation. For instance, I had a sculpture that I made in 2013 that was called Wendy’s MFA Application or I think it was called MFA Application 2016. It had this weave hair attachment all around the outside of an envelope. It pointed to this idea of the physical embodiment of fiction, or how I use fictional characters as a costume or a cosplay of myself. I’m trying to play with ideas like that in my sculpture. Lately I’m realizing while I’m doing my MFA that I’m more interested in the embodiment of fiction and visual metaphors and allegories for embodying fiction, where intestines can also be a line coming out of a pencil, and things like that.”

Excerpt from Wendy

Excerpt from Wendy

LW: “When did you first think of yourself as an artist?”

WS: “Maybe when I won a drawing award or something? When I was like 3 or 4.”

LW: “That’s super young. So you were always drawing as a kid?”

WS: “Yeah, I was the one in school that could draw. That was my thing.”

LW: “And you were making comics when you were 16, and then you stopped for a while?”

WS: “I was drawing since I was very, very young and then maybe around 14 I started to make my own zines. Later on I would start selling them at school. I had these comic series I would make, editions of comics, and I would Xerox them on my lunch break in high school on the Xerox machine at the corner store down the road. So, yeah, that was my thing. I think I really needed it at that time to define myself.”

LW: “Did you go on to get an undergraduate degree in painting, drawing..?”

WS: “I got an undergraduate degree in studio art at Concordia University in Montreal. I graduated in 2009. I specialized in printmaking. I was interested in the screenprinting process. During undergrad I was also interested the punk DIY music scene. I was making posters for events. I wasn’t screenprinting them, so they were either photocopied or colored digital images, but they used the screenprinting process in the way that they images were layered.”

LW: “That’s a solid gap between undergrad and grad.”

WS: “2009 to 2016…oh my god, yeah, it’s been seven years.”

In the studio

In Walter Scott’s studio

LW: “Do you have a new studio at the school? What’s an ideal day like in the studio?”

WS: “I have a pretty big studio. We all have pretty nice studios here. I’m slowly breaking it in. I’m kind of welcoming the mess. A perfect day in the studio is not very long. I don’t like to work very long. Maybe I’m lazy, but if I get four hours in the studio, I’m OK.

In the four hours, there’s room for sitting and staring and walking away and then toward the objects and textures and stuff that I’m working with. I like to collage or edit. A lot of my sculptural practice, the first parts of it are me drawing textures or using watercolors or acrylics on paper and then putting them on the wall alongside fabric or material. Then walking away from it, moving around, and walking around my studio moving pieces and seeing the relationship. Just trying to feel out the spatial relationships between the objects, the textures, the fabrics and then how they exist in the space also—whether something is better lying on the ground or hanging off of the wall or somewhere in the middle. Because these things that I’m making will eventually determine their own space in the gallery in the way that only they could.”

The Pants of Law and Order, Acrylic and Watercolor Pencil, 14x17", 2016

The Pants of Law and Order, Acrylic and Watercolor Pencil, 14×17″, 2016

LW: “Do you feel it’s more important as an artist to be in a city, where its expensive or tough or whatever, but there’s a strong cultural scene where you can see art and you can show art; or, like you are now, to be a small town, a quieter place, where you can really focus on making?”

WS: “I think it’s OK to have both if you can manage to do both at different times. Because I see people in cities struggling constantly and I see more isolated rural people struggling in a different way. My solution has been to try to do a little of both; it’s almost like seasons in a year where I will try to spend some time in cities and some time more isolated. It’s not easy to do because people have different responsibilities.

But I work best when I know that I can enter and exit. I’ve been a nomad and home has been a difficult thing to define. So I decided that every place I’ve been in, is just another room in my house. When I go back home, to my hometown, I say, this is one room, like the guestroom or bedroom. And a big city like Toronto or L.A. is like the living room, and maybe Vancouver is the bathroom…I don’t know. Because every city also has its own spatial, empathetic, psychic character. You know how, when you walk into a church, there’s a certain protocol? It’s just like in a city, there’s a certain protocol in the way that you behave with others. Somewhere like New York it’s crazy and you just could do whatever…that’s kind of like being in a nightclub. Yeah, every city is kind of like being in a different room. I’m not really settled anywhere, nowhere is home right now, just yet. The way I try to feel at home now is to imagine that every city is just a room in the home of myself.

So after the last 3 years of being in these huge random cities, I really really welcome these two years in this small town. I think that I’m going to draw a lot from these experiences I had being in Chicago or L.A. or Tokyo, and really put it to good use while I’m hunkering down in Guelph, Ontario.”

LW: “These past few years of moving around—presumably a lot of it was residency driven—this is a strange model for a lifestyle. I know other artists who cobble together different residencies and they do it for a few years. Its sound really amazing but really draining.”

WS: “Oh, it’s difficult to get any work done! I expect to not. Sometimes I see a few months coming up for an arts related residency but I don’t expect to get any work done there and then I’m going to be in this other city, and I’m definitely not going to get any work done there. You sort of have to decide that some cities are more for experiencing than they are for actual production. It’s a matter of balancing out when during the year you have time and space to be productive, if you can, and when you’re going to say OK, these next few months are for experiencing life only and logging that and later maybe turning that into an artwork.

It’s kind of why I started to make comics again—the beginnings of this nomadic life. I stopped having a studio and I stopped having space to create larger psychical objects. I would literally just plop down in whatever bedroom I was staying in at the time. It didn’t take that much space to take out a notebook and a pen and an eraser and make artwork in a very transportable modality.”