Studio Visit: Falon Mihalic

Falon Mihalic is an artist living and working in Houston, Texas. Her work can be seen in PLEAT's December 2017 exhibition as well as falonmihalic.com

Please describe your work.
I work in several disciplines - painting, sculpture, installation, and land art - and all are driven by the core idea of what I call the landscape experience. I think of my practice and each piece I create as a kind of test or experiment in how we perceive the natural world. I make sculptures informed by rocky terrain and paintings reminiscent of leafy glades and barrier islands. The work is not representational. Instead, it's a process of building up layers of form and color that are landscape abstractions of ecosystems, cycles, growth, and light. I explore atmosphere, climate, decay, terrain, and the notions of time embedded in these landscape-based phenomena. 

What internal and external factors motivate your conceptual choices? 
I take every opportunity I can to be outside observing natural processes. Water and ground are constant inspirations. The rock sculptures were made after spending time immersed in the Texas Hill Country, a rocky landscape that occupies an ecological niche in the region. So they were informed by this idea of rock as time-keeper and as a massive form with mysterious parts. We will never know the interior of a rock. We only experience its exterior shell, so rocks represent a kind of unknowable abyss contained within. With that concept driving the sculptures, the task was then to make forms that felt right proportionally and materially. I wanted them to feel solid without actually casting immensely heavy objects. 

After a long trial and error phase with different materials and techniques, I figured out a way to mix concrete and textiles in a way that would absorb pigments and layer colors. This process is initiated by conceptual ideas about what rocks mean and how they look, but it's really driven by intuition and what feels right about an overall gesture in form, material, and color.

Who are your artistic influences and what have you learned from them?
Katharina Grosse and Julie Mehretu are some of my favorite contemporary artists. Grosse does a miraculous job of exploding color into space such that the color has its own power and agency that overwhelms its setting. I like thinking about how my work might punch you in the face with that type of color experience. When I was in grad schoolat RISD I got to see Mehretu speak and she described her process of working and the layered meanings behind her paintings. She is extremely articulate about the conceptual basis for her work. Just hearing her talk and later reading about her work has taught me to discuss my own work in more precise terms. 

I’m lucky to be surrounded by Dorothy Hood’s work in my city. She was a Houston-based painter who created large scale abstract expressionist color field paintings. Her work has careful attention to the edge of color forms, like the edge creates the character or indicates what that color means and how it behaves. I’ve learned that it’s the relationship between the things that tells us what the things mean. I've also learned about scale of color experience from looking at her work. I'm very interested in how the scale of a work creates a one-to-one relationship to the human body. 

How has social media affected your studio practice?
I like to share process photos on social media instead of finished work because I think the work I'm making is large and related to the body and the space where it resides in a specific way; it needs to be experienced IRL. Social media has helped me to be more lighthearted. Creating new work is no small task as I'm often experimenting with scale and combining new materials and things don't always work out. Sometimes I am just physically exhausted from working with my hands and stressed about making deadlines while working with gooey, dusty, sticky materials. Checking in with social media actually helps me have more fun with the work and take it a little less seriously.  Like, how can I be so upset about this failed sculpture when I'm posting a progress shot of it in a social media stream that includes baby elephants and hilarious memes about eating too much pizza? For that, I'm really grateful for social media because it makes me feel more connected to our big, messy, weird, and wonderful world.

Studio Visit: Annie Morgan Suganami

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Annie Morgan Suganami is an artist living and working in Wales.  Her work can be seen in PLEAT's November 2017 exhibition as well as anniemorgansuganami.com

Please describe your work
My work is mostly figurative, though I sometimes produce abstract work. Next year, I will do a six-week residency in a very large mansion, where I will exhibit my work in a solo show later in the summer. The brief is to go outside my comfort zone. This is a wonderful opportunity to do something a little different and to develop ideas I have already begun, but not had the space to exhibit them. There may well be representational work, but it will be a mix of 2D and 3D where I’ll be exploring material beyond my usual range.

I paint more than I produce drawings but find that if I have an exhibition I like to make drawings to satisfy my curation. I enjoy 3D very much, though studio size restrictions definitely impede more than a certain amount of experimentation. I do find that once set in to painting on a daily basis, I am perfectly happy to continue to paint, so that also precludes other ways of working until I need to do so.

I definitely have different ways of painting and drawing, from reasonably representational work where I work from photographs or characters I make up, and these can be much freer. I enjoy the change and can almost guarantee that if I've been working on say a detailed face, I'll go into a made-up piece or abstract directly having finished days of extreme concentration. It's like jamming and improvising as a musician having been playing Bach previously. The variety informs my mark-making and ways of using material. I paint with brushes, cloth and fingers and happily overpaint old work which can often influence the next piece.

In my figurative work, I aim for characters that show a certain tenacity, thoughtfulness, perseverance and beauty. They are my personal icons in uncertain times.

What internal and external factors motivate your conceptual choices?
Global warming is the constant external factor pressing on my internal thoughts. It is my reality, and despite my concerns, I find it very difficult to express them in my art work in any direct fashion. It is too dark a subject and I don't want to be literal. I don't consciously concern myself with 'concepts' as such but work from a series title. My internal concerns are directly transferrable from music-making as in composition, texture, dynamics, line, colour, feeling and arrangement as in what medium, which ground and the endless possibilities at my disposal. Choosing is a constant practice. Sometimes my choices end in a ‘finished’ piece, one that I’m happy to leave, exhibit or sell. So far, I have not particularly explored narrative pieces as the story is definitely written in a person’s face. Perhaps this will change the more I work. If I lose the sense of authenticity, I begin again.

Who are your artistic influences?
There are too many to mention, from lesser known contemporary artists from all disciplines of creative practices to those from the past, but I will touch on a few painters who struck a chord with me instantly.

I started my visual art practice seven years ago having been a musician all my life. In my first week of Foundation course, I was introduced to Peter Doig, Per Kirkeby and William Kentridge.  It's as if my tutor knew what I needed to see and what I would like. They appeal to my musically developed sense of line and composition and my love of colour. Well, that’s my take on it anyway.

Being a singer-songwriter, figurative work definitely satisfies my need for feeling emotional responses to the work. Alice Neel definitely covers that one and her work will always encourage me to go with my unmeasured figurative work. She reminds me to consider my figure in space and that you can paint anyone, anywhere, though most good painters do that. Joan Brown also encouraged me to consider locating my characters though generally speaking I tend to stick with the figure alone and rarely locate them in a scenario, though I am beginning to place my people in context now, either sitting in a chair or standing in front of mountains. Major developments for me!

I am currently really enjoying Peter Blake, Henry Taylor, Kerry James Marshall and have just discovered Amy Sherald, to name but a few. I often go back to Hockney, particularly his work from the 60s and 70s and his etching and drawing. I don't know whether I've learnt anything from these wonderful artists that I can honestly say has positively contributed to my work. I can only do what I do. I still face my shortcomings no matter what other great art I view, but that art certainly inspires me and keeps me searching on obsessively happily on a daily basis.

I can't say I enjoyed practising as a musician, but I find it nearly impossible to stop painting for at least ten hours a day! I'm lucky to have come to paint in my 60s as I don't have to work a job, I can literally do whatever I please. I feel blessed.

How has social media affected your studio practice?
It's Instagram that I consider to be my studio mate. I live in West Wales in a little town called Machynlleth. I have two small rooms as my studios in our converted chapel. Social media has allowed me to converse with and contact artists and interested followers from all over the world and I get to view miles of art every day. Quite extraordinary really.

I found PLEAT on Instagram! It's wonderful when people comment positively on my work. It's very encouraging and creatives need feedback. As I barely leave my studio I can be in contact with the outside...literally....world. I will often find faces that I can use on Instagram too. If I feel the face I find is going to be highly recognisable, I will contact that person for permission, but if I'm borrowing a nose or an eye shadow, I just go ahead and take the help.

I've always worked alone, practising daily, music or art, so Instagram is a positive boost that doesn't interfere with my time, but keeps me in contact with daily inspiration, remarkable art and wonderful people and sometimes I'll be invited to contribute to an exhibition. That's always a bonus.