Your work varies widely in content - can you talk about your different bodies of work and how they are formed? Discuss your alternating style and approach.
Sure—and thanks for asking me to discuss my work! Over the past two decades my art practice has involved the following disciplines: 2D and 3D artwork using traditional and non-traditional media, and performance art. These distinct explorations are connected by my interest in the art process—howart gets made and how audiences see/interact with it.
In recent years, I've focused primarily on performance and video documentation. Performance art interests me because of its ability to bring people together, as well as provoke public engagement, action, and creative collaboration. Participatory action and interactivity are often present in my performances as I construct environments where communicative and social encounters between the public and the artist/artwork can take place.
Some of the themes I explore through performance include spiritual histories, interpretations of ancient rites and customs, and abuses of power. I’ve also recently done performance work on police brutality and racial profiling, immigration and the cruel and inhumane conditions that immigrant families and children face at the Mexico/U.S. border, and the way Covid has disproportionately affected people of color. These are important issues, but they’re also ones we sometimes avoid because they can make us feel uncomfortable. My performances are designed to hold space for participants and observers to come together in gestures of protest, solidarity, remembrance, and healing.
My 2D and 3D artwork on the other hand is primarily driven by formal and sensory explorations and exists in many forms: painting, sculpture, mixed media, photography, and installation. I use tactile and sensory elements such as wax, light, sound, layers of paint and found materials to create works that deconstruct materiality to discover new meanings. While my performance work fulfills my interest in working with people and communities, my 2D and 3D work is more personal, intimate and abstract. But both bodies of work are important to me and reflect the different ways I think about and make art.
What inspired the featured body of work? How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
This new body of work is a return to the art I was making around 2007 while living and working in New York City. The inspiration comes from many things, but primarily it reflects my interest in reducing materiality to its purest form and energy. Using sensory elements like color, texture and translucency, I'm interested in communicating impressions we often feel (like love, joy, desire) but because of their nature remain unseen. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry writes in The Little Prince, “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.” I believe what makes us most human is not merely our capacity for logical understanding, but our aptitude for love, compassion and empathy.
When we allow our hearts to take the lead, we change our understanding. We give ourselves permission to be less confined by logos, less rational and more receptive to feelings —our own and others — and to form emotional connections more effectively.
I've been thinking a lot about Covid and the many forms of injustice we encounter in the world. While my performance work directly responds to political and cultural tensions that come about from social and racial injustice, my 2D/3D work is more personal. I'm still thinking about things like race and identity, but I'm approaching these concepts less from a place of criticality and activism, and more from a subtle place of love and universality - thinking about and celebrating difference as something beautiful that makes our world unique and interesting. Through this work, I'm attempting to bring forth joy, beauty, pleasure and sensuality. This work is not really meant to be political or intellectual, at least not overtly. It's meant to resonate with the viewer on an energy level. I want people to feel the work first, and then think about what it makes them feel. Any readings and interpretations are personal and important. I hope that when looking at my work, the viewer experiences a sense of curiosity, awe and wonder.
You often use a variety of materials in your work. Can you talk about your selection of materials and how that influences the works you are creating? Walk us through the process of creating a piece, start to finish.
For my 2D and 3D works, I use a number of tactile and sensory elements—such as wax, sandpaper, sound, layers of paint and found materials—to deconstruct materiality and discover new meanings. I'm interested in getting to the core of these materials and do this by melting, pouring, carving, layering, and using various reductive techniques to transform a surface. Also, the Zen aesthetic (especially its emphasis on simplicity and naturalness) plays a significant role in my work as I strive to attain purity in form. Thus, I create patterns and grids that involve geometry, and through repetition generate rhythms, harmonies and vibrations. Similar to Zen, much of my work is based in contradictions: the organic and the technological, the corporeal and the spiritual, order and chaos.
Through the use of wax combined with other materials like paint and organic resins, I am able to explore the sensation that something familiar elicits when it is viewed through a window or from behind a veil, revealing something new about its character. Wax, in particular allows me to achieve a level of transparency, depth and fluidity, which I use to communicate some of the ethereal qualities inherent in color and forms. In these works, controlled accidents also become an important part of the process and infuse the work with a sense of playfulness. The textural and tactile qualities of the finished work reflect the mark-making process and the environment in which the artwork is created.
I often begin a piece with a feeling rather than an idea or mental image of a finished product. I meditate on that feeling and try to embody it as I work to create something that captures it in abstract form. I work with my materials to try and capture and communicate this feeling - something pure and honest that feels right to me. Along the way the materials do their own thing and often guide me to where I need to go. My process is really a conversation or exchange between myself, the materials and time. It is in the act of making that the meaning is revealed.
How has your experience as a curator impacted your work?
Curating other artists' work is an important part of my practice and one that brings me great joy and satisfaction. Most of the shows I curate have something to do with what it means to be human. And this part of my work allows me to tell stories and create narratives inspired by artists whose work I respect and admire. I love researching and learning what other artists are doing. Curating the work of other artists impacts my own work by helping me be a more thoughtful and understanding artist and human. It's always an honor to get to work with, collaborate and learn from artists.
I also enjoy working with and learning from the people that run the spaces and institutions that commission me to curate. Making sure that my vision for an exhibition aligns and supports their goals and missions is always an exciting challenge and makes for more meaningful projects. Learning about others’ work expands my appreciation for nature, art, culture, and society. Curating the work of other artists makes me smarter and more sensitive. It makes me a better artist.
Following this exhibition, what projects will you be working on? What direction do you hope to take your works in the future?
I'm really enjoying spending time in the studio and plan to continue making 2-3D work in a similar vein to what you see in the Variant show. That being said, I find that the materials, process and experimentation often drive the direction my work takes, so we'll see what comes of it.
I'm currently working on a new Corn Mandala installation for the Projects Space at UMOCA, which opens on June 4th—and preparing a new performance that deals with the artist's body and the landscape for an exhibition curated by Kristina Lenzi.
On the curatorial side, I’m building an exhibit for Ogden Contemporary Arts and Weber State University's Department of Visual Art and Design titled Vida, Muerte, Justicia / Life, Death, Justice, an exhibition of Latin American Contemporary Art that will open in October and run through November. This exhibition features artwork by twenty-five contemporary Latin American artists whose practices directly respond to social justice issues locally, nationally, and internationally. It will include an ambitious visiting artist and lecture program hosted by Weber State University and designed to create opportunities for engagement with various Ogden communities. The show is co-curated with my friend and amazing colleague, María del Mar González-González, assistant professor of global modern and contemporary art history at Weber State University.
Lastly, I'm in conversation with a few art museums and nonprofits about consulting with them on their equity and inclusion work, as well as helping them reimagine their institution's public roles and how they can better engage with and develop more meaningful, long-lasting relationships with the communities they serve.
You have a residency coming up at the Kimball in Park City. Is there a specific subject that you plan to focus on during this residency?
Yes, I'm very excited about this! I will be the first artist in residence at the Kimball Arts Center so, in a sense, I'll be their guinea pig and helping them think about how to build their program. In speaking with their director, curator, and head of education, we all saw an opportunity to utilize my residency to help develop a new program focused on public engagement and creative collaboration.
I've worked for years to help transform museums into more inclusive spaces, so this seemed like a natural continuation of that work. My community-based work is all about using art and participation to bring forth societal change through more inclusive ways of being and operating. For this project I’ll be building off of my My space project (2008-2009), a series of durational performances that took place inside museums and galleries where the public was invited to participate in a series of interactive, community-building projects.
With The Kimball and Park City communities I’ll be working to build a space where transformative social encounters can occur. I'm excited to develop an art project that will culminate in an exhibition made with the community. Also, Park City has a vibrant, growing, multigenerational Latin@ community. So while my project is intended for everyone, I'm especially excited to use this project to connect with and help facilitate meaningful and lasting relationships between the Latin@ community and the Kimball.
What inspired the featured body of work? Did you find yourself working in a new way because of the pandemic?
There are two bodies of work represented in this show, line paintings and transparent paintings, and they are very tied. Both start with a series of oil glazes over raw birch-wood, painted with rags to make the transitions subtle, and exposing some of the gorgeous grain of the wood. The inspiration for both was a desire to move from a more explicit representation of my record of living, with lots of words, symbols, marks and shapes buried in the paintings, to a simplified, clean, minimal painting with a simple statement of intent at the end.
I was working on the transparent series as the pandemic started, and found it well suited to moving into emotional territory. In my statement about this body I said: Howard Hodgkin describes his work as “representational pictures of emotional situations”. This pegs my desire for this work. I want these paintings to remain open to holding my dialogue and a viewer's dialogue as well.
Can you talk about the departure from a subtle to a more emphasized style in your works?
The transparent paintings grew from the line paintings, and are probably a more emphasized style. While the ground and the primitive lines are developed over the course of several weeks, with chances for me to modify and build, the final rectangle in the center containing an image happens in one shot, in about a half hour to an hour. It starts as a record of whatever is on my mind in that moment, and then develops in process, often shifting dramatically to something I didn't expect at all. They are like reverse Rorschachs. It occurred to me in conversations at the opening of the show that they resemble photographs: hard edged rectangles containing an image. My years of photography practice are seeping into these spontaneous compositions.
Your work often involves a performative element, whether it is blindfolded or intentionally visual. Your act of mark making integrates the use of your body significantly can you talk about this process?
Both bodies of work depend on a last minute stab at expression. The line paintings are very body oriented: they are a visual record of a movement, all done without looking at the painting. They range from recording a run down the sidewalk in front of my home studio, hitting the painting with a large graphite pencil as I passed, to standing on my head beside the painting (my wife Gretchen spotting me so that I didn't fall into the wet oil-paint), and recording with one hand my movement as I stood on my head and other hand.
It seems like you have finalized this body of work and that the most recent pieces have sparked a new idea. What direction do you see you taking your work in the future?
The last couple of transparent paintings came away with much cleaner images in the center, moving from the blurred images that I have described as "trying to be something, but not quite getting there yet". These cleaner images are still mysterious, they really aren't anything yet, either, but I'd like to keep exploring them for my next move.
Artist InterviewWhats your favorite playlist to work to?I listen to a variety of things when I'm working in the studio - sometimes a little NPR to catch up on what's going on in the world, but for inspiration and energy when I'm working, I like to listen to our local alternative radio station here in Philadelphia - WXPN, they always have a nice playlist going when I tune in. I also listen to electronic/dance/hip hop, which really helps me get into a groove, especially when I am focusing on a tedious drawing..and classical music too, to help me relax!What currently inspires you and how has it influenced your work?I think, because of the pandemic, a lot of arts organizations/galleries created online platforms to stay connected to their audiences, and thankfully I have discovered many of them! I've been listening to weekly zoom conversations with curators and educators at the DIA Art Foundation about the artists in their collection, which has been really fascinating. Another source of inspiration is the Gagosian Quarterly, where I'm able to find terrific interviews with contemporary artists, playlists, writings, and discussions on a variety of art forms. What I love about it is that so many artists, no matter their level of success, still struggle with the same questions of "what's next? is this any good? what am I trying to say?" etc. It is easy (at least for me) to feel somewhat isolated in the studio, but listening to artists of different genres talk about their work/successes/failures reminds me that, on some level, we are all in this together.Are you working on a new body of work? If so, what's the medium?Since the pandemic I've been working on a series of drawings of fallen trees. I take photographs of them on walks here in Philadelphia, and also when I'm in Utah. For me, they are so majestic and sculptural, and possess a quiet beauty and elegance, especially in the patterns in the bark. I've been thinking about their transformational process - from these massive standing structures, to decaying sculptures on the ground, and all of the ecosystems that they nourish through the entire process. I pair the drawings with intricate designs along with gold and silver leaf to add a sense of reverence to these natural wonders - essentially taking them out of one environment and creating a new context.
Like most people I use my cell phone camera to capture impressions from travels, hikes or every day situations. But for me it's like a sketchbook that I can read through when I am back home in my studio.
Using Photoshop, I then create a kind of an ideal, sharpened reality from these snapshots. So the composition of my picture is always ready when I start working on the printing plate.
The template has to be mirrored before I print it out on a 1:1 scale and transfer it to the printing block with chalk.
The first cut is the most important in the entire process because all other cuts are based on it. I choose a central focal spot and first of all cut out the contours of the subject. The chalk lines are always only a suggestion and never stop me from finding new, better lines. I especially love this part of my work and try to get into a flow where the knife moves along the white lines almost by itself.
Every line that I cut has to be found and is irrevocably gone at the same time. In contrast to painting, I take away material and thereby create white, sometimes I think of it as “reverse painting”. I have to cut a separate printing block for each color, sometimes up to 10 different printing blocks.
Now I'm starting to mix the colors. I transfer samples to my color book and note the mixing ratio. When the color selection is done, I do a test print on the material that I want to use for the finished picture. I usually print smaller pictures on handmade paper, large formats on linen. After the test print, I often trim something until I'm satisfied.
The printing itself is done by hand or sometimes with my printing press.
Many of my pictures have become so big that I have to work on the floor of my studio. Once a color has been printed, it must first dry before another layer can be applied on top. So I work my way from light to dark until I get to the master printing block, the last plate with the contoures. I then hang the finished picture in my studio, and only if I still like it after several days I will print the rest of the small edition. Very often I have to change some little things and the process starts all over again.
What inspired the featured body of work? Did you find yourself working in a new way because of the pandemic?
Simply said, yes the pandemic and the events of this past year has steered the direction of my work. The Borders and Boundaries Series began in the early part of 2020, and my initial focus was on how borders or boundary lines, both visible and invisible, alter landscapes, in particular as seen through maps and satellite images. I was looking at maps where borders rendered huge swaths of land empty or uninhabitable spaces, and wanted to draw attention to these. Through this concept, I started to incorporate the empty spaces in my work. As the world went into lockdown, and we were all forced to examine our own personal boundaries, my focus shifted and started to incorporate fence lines, as well as imagined protective space.
Can you discuss your process in making your most recent work? The colors featured are notable and an obvious departure from other paintings. Can you talk about this decision?
The green sections in my new body of work represent gardens and green space. The idea of how important and comforting our domestic green spaces have been to us, yet at the same time represent the freedom of endless fields or rolling hills. The Millcreek works are directly inspired by a memorable day spent in Millcreek Canyon during the Fall. I sketched all day surrounded by incredible glowing Fall colors. The shapes in these works are sections from my sketches, and the colors representative of the turning leaves.
What do you find inspiration from and how do those things influence or impact your work?
My inspiration comes from many sources. I’m continually observing, reading, researching, listening to podcasts, sketching and writing. Ideas for my work are developed as a culmination of all of these. Quite often I’m working through ideas as I run, piecing things together like a jigsaw. Each new body of work builds on previous works.
Following this exhibition, what projects will you be working on? What direction do you hope to take your works in the future?
As the academic year is just wrapping up, my most productive studio time is throughout the summer months. I’m currently working on a project called ‘A Sense of Place’, which examines the concept of belonging, particularly here in the West. The works I’m creating for this project are a ‘side step’, however they feed into previous bodies of work. I hope to exhibit the Sense of Place works in the Fall. I’m also working on a piece that is made of multiple different colored squares, which will be the start of a new body of work.
Why did you decide to apply for this residency?
I’m Amelec Diaz - I recently moved to Salt Lake City, Utah from Phoenix, Arizona. In order to have a broader understanding of the Arts in the Western States, I found this gallery (Modern West) was aligning serendipitously into my life through the friendships I began developing around art in Salt Lake City. I saw Rebecca Campbell and Angela Ellsworths’ work in Modern West’s roster and that pushed my interest forward into working with Modern West. I first became familiar with their work in Arizona and very much respect the works they make. Therefore, I can appreciate when a gallery takes part in leading conversations that potentially change pre-conceived notions of members in society, arriving at a enlightened view toward each other. I see the artist in residency program to be a start in beginning to acquaint myself with the people who make Modern West function, which can allow me to bring an educated perspective into the conversations about art in Utah. I am happy to get my foot in the door and continuing my body of work during this artist residency program.
Your work involves many separate layering components, can you talk about this multimedia process?
I started this multimedia process in 2012 with paintings and sculptures from my series called HB2281. These current paintings are reflective of the layers involved in social interactions. When we begin to know a person we begin to uncover the different layers and social contrivances until we understand how each layer relates to each other. As well as how the entirety of the layers from first glance are understood as we live with the art it begins to unveil its energy to the viewer. I really enjoy using acrylic, spray-paint and oil paint with archival integrity in mind. I allow the surface of the painting to embody the sense that these different materials can work toward the strength of each material to make an impactful painting.
What are some artists that you are influenced by?
I am directly influenced by the great Eric Fischl. His work enlightens social psychological aspects of suburban culture to the viewer in a remarkable style solely his own. Besides his work, his philanthropy also inspires me, he continues to create a noteworthy legacy in the Art world. He is a mover and shaker in creating opportunities for young artists in New York State and Arizona State. I am also influenced by other great artists such as Frida Kahlo, Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Ai Wei Wei- our generations’ Marcel Duchamp.
Is there a specific subject that you plan to focus on during this residency?
In brief, I have a few series that I have created and one series which has proven over time to have a potential to continue is HB2281. HB2281 was a law that was passed in 2010 in Tucson, Arizona. HB2281 banned ethnic studies in the K-12 education system and it is what my work reflects.
The law was passed in 2010 and since then similar laws such as HB2281 and SB1070 have been enacted in several places in the United States. Besides the law, the work is a reflection of the systematic approach toward turning a blind eye toward the effort in understanding the complex and rich history that The People of the United States of America have created on this great Continent. The series is a material reflection of the law and the complex relationship between people of many ethnicities/cultures on this continent. I reflect the sanitary practice of lime washing my paintings similar to the lime washing of barns in the United States in order to remove bacteria. I source children’s tv programs that are projected onto the youth across the planet.
Specifically cartoons that project racial stereo types which in a young mind define and create an understanding, of a youth of colors’, environment. Cartoons such as 1950-2000’s Disney and Warner Brothers productions. I reflect graffiti which also is painted across the planet by drones of artists or writers that paint their craft in the same psychological space we view daily such as McDonalds, Walmart’s and at times historical monuments in Europe. These are juxtaposed with ancient artifacts from the Americas. These ancient artifacts are ignored in history classes. They’re important because as people - as Americans we all need to know we are represented in order to live more civilized with each other. In order to know where we are going we must learn where we are from. This body of work is more than just about identity politics in the United States it is about defending and protecting the Constitution of the United States. HB2281 was deemed unconstitutional in 2017 and now the Tucson school district is allowed to teach about the regional history in advanced placement classes in their schools. Dropout rates of students from the Tucson school district decreased to 2.5% a significant contrast from the 56% dropout rate of Latino students nation wide.
These paintings from the HB2281 series are meant to be a reflection of the law not a judgement. It is pleasant to know in my own mind that the body of work I embarked on in 2012 had tapped into a national educational dilemma that reached the Supreme Court. What started in Tucson is an example of a microcosm that in reality reflects a macrocosm in this case an underline cultural belief that (in consequence of distributing similar media) Americans have toward each other. How this body of work currently relates to the broader perspective or macrocosm of the United States is as follows. A new law passed by the 2016-2020 Presidential Administration, put into place a similar law to HB2281 but now targets Universities nation wide. Therefore, Universities and professors across the country are plagued by having to delete books and entire curriculums from their classes. The law reads as followed:
(A series of White House memos and an executive order have issued an immediate mandate to investigate and ban anti-racism and diversity training to federal contractors and federal grant recipients. The memos and executive order, listed below, obstruct efforts by corporations and universities to support diversity and anti-racist endeavors. • Office of Management and Budget (OMB), September 4, 2020, “Training in the Federal Government” • OMB, September 28, 2020, “Ending Employee Trainings that Use Divisive Propaganda to Undermine the Principle of Fair and Equal Treatment for All” • Executive Order 13950, September 22, 2020, “Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping” • Office of Personnel Management (OPM), October 2, 2020, “Mandatory Review of Employee Training under E.O. 13950” *) Senator Mitt Romney has taken several stands against the 45th Presidential Administration and I believe Senator Mitt Romney and his entire team don’t necessarily believe in the long term benefits of approaching the United States with such a demeanor as the current presidential administration is doing whether from the dominating republicans or democrats.
Can you talk about some of your previous projects?
Previous projects before HB2281 - were works leading up to HB2281. I was making paintings on tent awnings, and objects collected from gentrified areas. They were personal discoveries of regional histories on this large continent known as America. I was mastering my ability to realistically render objects in a general European oil painting tradition. While innovating with the materiality and space the work took on in Phoenix art galleries.
The structure of your work often involved a grid, repetition and symmetry - what is the intention behind this as a stylistic choice?
The grid that is repeated in my work is reflective of the grid Phoenix, Arizona was structured in. I find a similar grid here in Salt Lake County which I learned starts in the heart of the City, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints Temple. Repetition is reflective of the bombardment or propaganda we receive through watching television programs. There is symmetry and asymmetry in the work but that comes naturally the relationship between the work and I navigate that sense you feel.
Can you give us a little bit about your background?
I was born in the 90’s at a time where our continent began under going a great shift. George Herbert Walker Bush promoted a New World Order September 11, 1991 which came into vision. I was making my way to the United States at 3 years old from Michoacán, Mexico (where avocados originate) to where I lived most of my life Phoenix, Arizona. Since globalization started and NAFTA was enacted our ability to have a chance of survival was in the United States where we would have an opportunity to get an education, where we wouldn’t be oppressed by violence enacted by feuding criminal organizations trying to meet the demands of a global black market. I made it through many trappings the lower classes are oppressed with and received an education from my teachers and most importantly Femtors and Mentors at Phoenix College and from the art magnet school I attended before Phoenix College.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
Well being targeted by laws such as HB2281 and SB1070 inspired me most importantly - The first time an appreciation for art was evident to me was when I was flown out to Washington DC to tour the White House, tour the many important monuments to our nations history, watched a Wizards game and visited the local mall. From my childlike perspective I thought, all this for winning a state wide water color competition in 7th grade? That experience made a great impact in my perspective of Washington DC and in my life since then. I felt appreciated, honored, cherished in an environment where kids would get into fist fights over chips or adults taking advantage of powerless kids. To this day those moments influence me. Because of that experience I gained a respect for this great nation. I decided that for the next four years of high school I would travel 15 miles on the city bus to learn how to make sculpture from my mentor during my formative years. I seen my purpose to make relative artwork for this growing nation and since then I have a Betsy Ross painting in my portfolio commissioned by a direct descendant of Betsy Ross.
Fidalis Buehler is an artist living and working in Mapleton, Utah. In honor of his upcoming solo exhibition, we sat down with him at his studio for an interview.
Esther Voisin is a French photographer who is living and working in the U.S. Her work and vision are “still-frame” moments captured in the daily panorama of modern life. The bare poetry of every day, in the subjects of little matter that our eyes no longer see. Driven by a cinematic vision, her work ponders on the subjective emotion of isolation, composition, texture, and light.
“I first discovered photography through cinema. Then, I just grabbed my camera and started to shoot. At that time with a Nikon & 50 mm. I had my first collective gallery exhibition at 22 years old: B/W works selected by the Kodak Foundation and the museum Nicephore Niepce, by a group of art critics and photographers.” In 2009 Factory editions, Paris published 2 books of her work « Argentic & Cinematographic » Sold in le Centre Pompidou and Le Palais de Tokyo, Arcana in L.A, specialty bookstores, and galleries.
Voisin is developing a new body of work that will be on display Upstairs at Modern West in February 2021.