Thursday, October 17, 2013

Interview with Joell Baxter

Interview With an Artist: Joell Baxter
Lower East Side Printshop

Joell Baxter was a 2012 recipient of the Printshop's Special Editions Residency. She is currently participating in the Studio Rental Program and working towards an April 2014 solo exhibition at Real Art Ways, Hartford, Ct.
This interview was conducted by Oscar Montenegro and Paulina Beron, who spent the summer at the Printshop as part of the Studio In A School Internship Program. 

What is your creative process like? Would you describe it as tedious and labor intensive? 
In the early part of any project things are very open and exploratory. I typically start with a very general idea and start collecting images, making diagrams and charts, and playing with paper.  At some point I settle on a color system and a form, and then it is really about just executing the work. The piece I am currently working on is in the production phase, so I will be printing, cutting, glueing, and weaving for the next 2 months. I can calculate pretty exactly how long each part will take. Some days this feels tedious, and other days it feels liberating. Throughout this whole phase, as my hands are moving, I am thinking and, hopefully, germinating new ideas for future work.

Most of your work is colorful, can you tell us why they are so colorful? 
Color is the mechanism by which our eyes make sense of light hitting an object.  It simultaneously describes the surface of an object and its shape, allowing us to understand our physical relationship to the things around us. I like to play with this duality--color's decorative nature on the one hand, and it's utilitarian, physiological function on the other. I always use color according to the sequencing of the visible spectrum (R-O-Y-G-B-P), and develop systems to build the work based on that. The spectacular patterning that results is actually a by-product of my attempt to organize colors in ways that make sense to me.
I am equally interested in working in gray-scale and have done several projects that don't use hue at all. In these works I can focus more explicitly on the effects of light. I also like the slightly fictive experience of looking at a gray-scale object in real space. Something in gray-scale looks almost like a photograph, or like something that is slightly outside reality.

What do you like better, sculpture or painting? 
I like them exactly equally! I am most interested in work that sits, perhaps uneasily, right between those two disciplines. I love the ambiguity of sculpture. The differences between a sculpture and a utilitarian object, like a basket or a rug, can be subtle. In both cases the object exists in the same space with you, and there is a lot of room to play with that and raise questions about what you are seeing and how you are supposed to interact with it. With a painting, you know right away what it is and what your relationship to it should be. But I am interested in the varieties of fictional space that can be created in a painting.  
 A lot of my current work, the woven pillow forms in particular, can also be seen as paintings in real space. The weave itself relates directly to the canvas of a painting, and I incorporate illusionistic painting techniques, such as greying down the colors in shadow areas to create the illusion of raking light. But the “illusion” is redundant, since the piece actually exists in real space and is effected by real light. I like playing with those contradictions to create some uncertainty around the object.
You work beyond the boundaries of a printmaker, can you explain your work beyond paper? 
I primarily use printmaking to generate material, printing full sheets of color that I then cut down and weave, fold, or stack.  So I don’t really think of myself as a printmaker, but I do think printmaking is a perfect bridge between painting and sculpture.

 Untitled (Magic Carpet), 2013, screenprinted paper and glue 5" x 96" x 96"
Out of all your work our favorites are “Didn’t I, Didn’t I, Didn’t I (Two)” and “Reclining Figure”. Can you go into details about both of these pieces? 
Didn’t I, Didn’t I, Didn’t I (Two) was produced as part of the Special Editions Residency at the Printshop. For this project I wanted to challenge myself to do a more traditional print. My work is usually labor intensive and takes a long time and sometimes I need some instant gratification, so I’ll make a colored pencil drawing in one sitting to work out some ideas. The edition grew out of one of these drawings. I liked the idea of taking this very spontaneous and intuitive thing and then subjecting it to the careful analysis necessary to recreate it as a print. The print has an intensity that comes from that rigorous breaking down and putting back together the parts.
Reclining Figure was also a kind of experiment. It is actually made using the same woven structure as extremely large pieces like Untitled (Magic Carpet), but I was curious to find out how spare the weave could be while still creating a form that could support itself.
Reclining Figure, 2012, screenprinted paper and glue, 14" x 14" x 28"
How did you manage to transition from sculptural creations to editions yet still maintain a consistent theme and style? 
Since I always think of the sculptural work as drawings or paintings in real space, it was actually interesting for me to then take those ideas back to two-dimensional space. The edition still works with a woven structure, but instead of strips of paper physically moving over and under each other, you get an illusion of layering from the overlapping areas of transparent color.  The final prints almost feel like pressed flowers--like an object with a shallow dimensionality that has been flattened by pressure, which makes sense since the basis of most printmaking is applying pressure to an inked surface.
At the moment, do you have any ideas for your next piece? 
I'm working on a solo project for Real Art Ways in Hartford Ct. It will be my largest installation so far. I will be making two large-scale forms (1 x 8 x 8 feet each) which will then appear to be effected by two different kinds of light. The pieces will fill the entire room and the viewer will be able to negotiate between these two objects. I will hopefully also be showing a series of related drawings.
What are some common myths about your profession? 
I am not sure what the myths are, but I think the reality is that it is a really gratifying way to spend your life if you can make it work on a practical level. I’m stealing this from an artist I heard give a talk recently, who said one of the best things about being an artist is that anything you encounter over the course of your day might be relevant to your practice. And I love that idea, that any mundane object or event can become charged and important.
Stack Overflow, detail, 2011, screenprinted paper, hand torn and stacked with tape, 1" x 72" x 72"
Do you plan to travel back to your hometown of Evanston, to contribute your amazing talent to all the residents of the town? Maybe create a mural or begin an art program if there aren’t any already? 
I live in Brooklyn now and consider that my home. I have a son in elementary school and I have done some great art projects with the kids at his school, which has been very inspiring. I plan on doing more projects at his school this year and will hopefully continue to do that over the coming years.
How has your connection to the Lower East Side Printshop fostered your art making and evolution as an artist? 
I first came to the Printshop in 2008 to take a screenprinting class, with the intention of making some wallpaper. At the time my artwork was primarily drawing and sculpture, and I had never done any printmaking.  I quickly realized that this was the perfect medium to bring drawing and sculpture together, and at that time I began the body of work that I am still working on today. The restrictions of the Printshop—such as limited storage, and having to be very neat and organizedhave been paradoxically liberating for me, forcing me to really focus my ideas and work in a productively disciplined way.
BONUS: Did you enjoy this interview, if so or not explain why.
I very much enjoyed this interview and really appreciate the thoughtful questions! I think it’s a challenge for any artist to talk about what they do, so it’s actually very useful for me to have to sit down and try to be clear about my ideas and process.

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