Studio Visit: Jennifer Printz

Jennifer Printz is an artist and educator living and working in Roanoke, Virginia. Her work can be seen in PLEAT’s January 2019 exhibition as well as jenniferprintz.com.

Please describe your work, both visually and conceptually.

My work is an interplay of drawing, photography, and paper surface. I intentionally select paper surfaces, some of which are antique and others new or handmade, for how they interact with the media in which I am working. The older paper used for the work shown at Pleat, is smooth and feels luxurious under my pencil, but is not very absorbent causing inkjet to pool and create subtle patterns on its surface giving photographs a texture similar to the craquelure of an old painting.

Once printed, I layer drawing on top of the inkjets of photographs I have taken. Controlled passages of graphite, either rendered with the most delicate of hand or densely pushed into the paper to create a dark void, seamlessly merge with a photographic backdrop of the sky to create new illusions of space and form. A single line across a vibrant rose sky suggests the edge of a three-dimensional space. Flat planes of mirrorlike darkness reinforce the flatness of the picture plane from which a thunderhead cloud dramatically springs forth.

Conceptually my work engages with both physics and contemplative practices and how these disciplines try to understand and explain the universe in which we live. In many ways, my work also focuses on observation as it combines the mechanized viewing process of photography with the slower more nuanced seeing of hand drawing. When combined they remind of us how as observers we affect what we see, even if it is only bringing our assumptions to the act of observing. Ultimately my intention for the work is to create a beautiful contemplative moment, a pause for the viewer with the gentle question, is it so?

What motivates you in terms of your art practice?

My entire life I have been a maker. I return to the studio again and again because of a love of the act of making. That is what guides my practice – love of making, of materials, and the loving focus of drawing. This extends through to my goal of making generous art that gives the viewer a hushed, dare I say loving, moment of beauty.

More and more I feel as if the barriers between my art practice and the rest of my life have been eroding away and what I am trying to do outside of the studio is similar to what I am doing within. My practice has become more meditative and I work hard to act from my inner knowing with my creative pursuits and daily activities. Agnes Martin’s directions to artist and others conveyed in her writing Beauty is the Mystery of Life reflects on this. “Take advantage of the awareness of perfection in your mind. See perfection in everything around you. See if you can discover your true feelings when listening to music. Make happiness your goal. The way to discover the truth about this life is to discover yourself. Say to yourself: ‘What do I like and what do I want.’ Find out exactly what you want in life. Ask your mind for inspiration about everything.”

Who are your influences? What role do they play in your work?

My earliest influence was my extended family, a clan of Southern mountain women who were makers first out of necessity and later from a desire to create beauty in their lives and homes. At an early age my great aunts and grandmother taught me to sew, cook, to be proud of the tangible things I made my own hands. Like the thousands of tiny stitches in the quilts they hand pieced, my work gravities towards laborious processes that impart an intrinsic energy of the creator into the finished product.

Along with this energy, elegance and a refined simplicity are also something I strive towards in my work. Many of the artists I am most inspired by push their work towards minimalism and in doing so delve into spiritual concepts and concerns. The drawings of Agnes Martin, the lyrical landscapes of Yves Tanguy, and the merging of art and the meditative experience in the work of Mark Rothko are a few that immediately come to mind. I am also influenced by the work of Hilma af Klint and Emma Kunz who were early pioneers in abstraction which they blended with their own mystical practices.

How has social media impacted your studio practice?

I have thought a lot about this question and at this moment I do not think social media has affected my studio practice or my work directly. I try to put my phone away while in the studio something that is , of course, much easier said than done.

Social media, however, has given me a greater community and a platform for exchange that is amazing. I love seeing the creations of artists around the world and exhibition highlights from museums and galleries I adore, but due to geography can’t easily visit. I appreciate all of those who take the time to see my work and read my posts. So surely my work has grown stronger in a more indirect way from being part of this dialogue.

Studio Visit: Bethany Johnson

Bethany Johnson is an artist living and working in Austin, Texas. Her work can be seen in PLEAT’s January 2019 exhibition as well as bethanyjo.com.

Please describe your work, both visually and conceptually. 

We Live on a Planet, the body of work included in this month's Pleat Gallery show, is a visual meditation on our natural world, as well as on our human attempts to capture, understand, and translate geological and weather phenomena. The works are document-like in scale and format, and through the collage of science book illustrations, photographic imagery, printer artifacts, office ephemera, and drawn interventions, a series of specimens are generated that feel both familiar and alien.

The images of We Live on a Planet, while compiled with a scientific earnestness and the orderliness of a specimen collection, remain unstable, slippery, and elusive of concrete categorization or interpretation. Otherwise grounding, stable horizon lines are flipped, duplicated, and stacked to generate at once serene and disorienting landscapes. Flat visual patterns and noise intersect with deeply spatial components, creating compositions that are both artifact and invention, image and diagram, visual solution and perceptual problem. This reveals a subjectivity, tenderness, and subtle anxiety of the body of work, despite the cool tidiness and data-like regularity of the collection’s format. 

This body of work is consistent with my studio practice as a whole, which is always in some way an exploration of the relationships between nature and measurement, documentation, and representation.

What motivates you in terms of your artistic practice? 

When I was a young art student I was advised that a studio practice that one doesn't enjoy isn't sustainable long-term. Conversely, I think sometimes as artists we get the message that intellectually rigorous work begins with a pure and urgent concept, leading us to the resulting processes and materials. However, I've found that this can result in joyless, awkward experiences with making, which I've found confirms the first point: that to sustain a studio practice, the process of making must be pleasurable. For me, my artistic successes are found when I am able to find a marriage between interesting conceptual content, with a process of making that irresistibly draws me into the studio every day. I love paper, I love tidy, analog drawing, I love repetitive mark-making and pattern. On a most basic level, my motivation is an engrossed pleasure, both for myself and (ideally!) my viewers.

Who are your influences? What role do they play in your work? 

When I have ten seconds, I tend to quip that my work is a cross between of Agnes Martin and Vija Celmins (grids and worlds, systems and spaces). These influences are a bit more visually apparent in my drawings than in these collage works, but I also refer to these two women more generally as models of a certain calmness, steadiness of vision and self-assuredness in an artistic practice overall. 

Otherwise, there are a ton of other artists I love! Artists I've been looking at lately include Abdelkader Benchamma, Brion Nuda Rosch, Gertrud Preiswerk, Delaney Allen, Jim Verburg, Saul Becker, Michael DeLucia, Anni Albers, Marcela Magno, Andreas Gefeller, Mary Temple, Mario Kolaric, Victoria Burge, Mark Lombardi, Yoonmi Nam, and Charles Gaines. 

How has social media impacted your studio practice? 

I've certainly been using social media as a tool to share my work, discover others' work, and keep up with various art events and calls. I am always happy to have new tools to discover what others are making. Other than that, though, social media doesn't have a profound impact on the making of my work. That said, there is a sense of glitchy, rolling juxtaposition of imagery in my collage work that is at least partially inspired by and/or referential of digital and online environments more generally.