Tuesday, November 5, 2013

“All the world’s a …studio”? Jered Sprecher, Guggenheim Fellow in Fine Arts, 2009, could give a new spin to Shakespeare’s famous words. As he explains in the following interview, he envisions possibilities for his art in every person, place, and thing he encounters.

Amy Skinner:: I wanted to ask you about a comment in your Artist’s Statement. “I am a hunter and a gatherer, constantly accumulating images produced by the people and cultures around me. Segments of this collection of images then emerge in my paintings.”

Jered Sprecher:: I remember one of my mentors, John Dilg, talking about being in the studio without physically being in the studio. There is a freedom in recognizing that each moment of the day is loaded with potential. A rusty chain-link fence, an internet pop-up add, a Moroccan rug, a child’s wooden puzzle, or a Fragonard landscape give me the sliver of an idea, a handhold to begin a painting. To regard an image or object is to regard an idea.

AS:: Can you describe some of the stages of your creative process before you begin to paint or draw? How do you collect these images? Do you make notes, take photographs, or sketch ideas when you encounter something inspiring in your environment?

JS::  I have sketchbooks filled with words, phrases, notes, sketches, and diagrams. I catalog what I find online, in books, and in magazines. I take many photographs. These photographs document the way that humans interact with the world, leaving our mark with such things as architecture, city infrastructure, advertising, monuments, graffiti, grottoes, and domestic spaces. The process of combing back through the sketchbooks, torn pages, jpegs, scribbles on napkins, and other remnants is integral to my time in the studio. I see all these things that hold potential meaning and resonance and I want to draw them out. There are so many paintings waiting to be made.

Often the starting point for a painting is one idea. The impulse to make a painting that is so thin that it is practically a ghost or my fascination with a found photograph can be the place where I begin painting. I allow myself the indulgence of starting with disparate sources or impulses. Allen Ginsberg said, “First thought, best thought.” I love this flat-footed bravery. Often it results in painting oneself into a corner.  “I need the next painting to start with a large pink heart in the middle of the canvas.” Then I have to reckon with that image, its implications and what I have just done to the canvas. This is the beginning of negotiations and negations as I deal with each contingency as it arises.

AS:: You recently participated in the Chinati Foundation’s artist-in-residence program. Aside from the obvious benefits of time, can you describe your experience in West Texas?  Did you find the location and atmosphere of Marfa inspiring? Were there any unanticipated challenges working in this space compared to your typical studio practice? After you leave a place like the Chinati Foundation, do you find that you carry a part of your experience forward, incorporating elements in future work?

JS:: There is really no way to fully describe West Texas. It is really amazing. It is hot and dry during the days and then it cools down to 60 degrees at night. There is so little light pollution that at night the sky just opens up. I had never seen so many stars. The contrast between the mountains and the open spaces is something everyone should see.

One evening we were driving from Alpine back to Marfa and we came around a turn in the road, where the expanse of the desert opens up right before you. As we scanned the horizon before us we could see six separate places where it was raining. When you see something like that you totally understand what artists like Thomas Moran or Albert Bierstadt were trying to harness in their paintings.

It was great having a studio in the center of Marfa, to watch the trains go by, to walk next door to the Marfa Public Library. The studio had huge storefront windows, letting in this brilliant light. I was right there at street level. It was nice to be part of the community. It is a small town, but there are so many layers to it, so many things to discover.

I would walk around and pick up rocks with my sons. I watched them stack and arrange the rocks we collected. There is something so basic about their actions. Taking time to contemplate these rocks and other treasures is absolutely necessary. I am not sure how my time in Marfa will surface in my work, that usually takes time. I am looking forward to seeing what arises in my work from this time.

AS:: Your list of credits and achievements is impressive. Do you think these recognitions have had an impact on your creative process?

JS:: Each credit or achievement is a result of someone who took a chance and offered support to my work. I feel gratitude and I always strive to make the most out of each opportunity that is presented. I try to give generously of myself and my work, to be wiling and open to share what happens in the studio.

AS:: Are there other artists, students, or specific painters that inspire you? Is the work of other artists something you consider with any regularity?

JS:: One can be alone in the studio, but not be alone. The work of other artists, poets, writers, filmmakers, musicians, composers, scientists, and thinkers can populate the studio.  Lately I am thinking about Edouard Manet and Edvard Munch.  Both of them have paintings that seem as if they are about to fall apart. I am fascinated by this and think about how to push a painting to that teetering edge. Munch has what he calls his “kill or cure” treatment. It is all or nothing. I admire the fearlessness and the sense of necessity that he invokes.

Through my position at the University of Tennessee, I have the privilege to work with many talented students. They keep me honest. They ask “But why?” and I say “Let’s figure it out.” In teaching I can take nothing for granted. I learn from each student, especially in his or her struggle to understand something new or challenging. Each thing you learn builds on the thing before it. Nothing is easy. Nothing should be easy.

There are many artists who are currently working that I really admire. It is a really wonderful experience when you find an artist or work of art that really shakes you to your core. Charlene von Heyl and Amy Sillman loom large as amazing artists who speak thoughtfully of their work and the world.  I am interested in artists who are active writing, curating, teaching, and in other ways extending the dialogue.

AS:: I have asked you about the stages of your creative process, but I am also curious about your work environment. Do you find that you need quiet space when you work, or do you listen to music and enjoy the occasional visitor or interruption? How many hours do you typically spend creating before you need or want to take a break?

JS:: Several years ago we converted our garage into a studio space. Having a family, I wanted to be able to help put the kids to bed and not have to commute back to the studio. Now my commute is across the driveway. I have three walls for hanging paintings and the fourth wall with windows to let in some indirect light. I work on several paintings at a time. I often have source material spread out on the floor and pinned to the wall. All that source material sometimes gets to be too much and I put all the pictures and drawings away and simply concentrate on the paintings. The occasional visitor or interruption is a good thing. They help me step back from what I am working on, ask me a needed question, or provide a necessary distraction. I like to have music, an audio book, or the radio playing in the background. I often find myself working in silence, absorbed in my painting, not noticing that the recording ended an hour ago.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Houston Cinema Arts Festival and Aurora Picture Show are pleased to present Barbara Hammer and Cathy Lee Crane, Guggenheim Fellows in Film-Video (2013) on November 8th at 7 PM for a night of Pasolini-inspired films. Follow this link for more information about the screenings.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Stacy Schiff, Guggenheim Fellow in Biography, 1996, joins the Foundation's board of trustees

Biographer Stacy Schiff won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov). She is the author as well of Saint-Exupéry, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, awarded the George Washington Book Prize. Her most recent book, Cleopatra: A Life, was published to ecstatic reviews in 2010. Praised for her meticulous scholarship and her witty style, Schiff has contributed frequently to The New York Times op-ed page and Book Review. A fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, she was the recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named a 2011 Library Lion of the New York Public Library. Schiff is a graduate of Williams College, from which she holds an honorary doctorate. A 1996 Guggenheim Fellow, she joined the Foundation’s board in 2013.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fellows Erik and Martin Demaine, (Computer Science), Bill Hayes, (General Nonfiction), and Ian Olds, (Film-Video) are featured in our latest issue of the newsletter.
Mad Science or High-Tech Art?
What do you get when you combine a computer scientist, a multitalented artist, and a shared love of puzzles and problem solving?  Erik and Martin Demaine’s beautifully rendered origami sculpture—and promising advances in mathematics and engineering that create a whole range of practical applications.

Hayes' Anatomy
Every day we’re prodded by the media, celebrity endorsers, doctors—and our own guilty consciences—to exercise, but how did this idea become so all-pervasive, and why?  Bill Hayes will be answering these questions in Sweat: The History of Exercise with the same clarity and accessible style that made Sleep Demons and The Anatomist popular with critics and readers alike.

An Interview with Ian Olds
Don’t tell Ian Olds that film is a two-dimensional medium: in both his documentaries and fictional stories, he brilliantly reveals the full humanity of people too often dismissed with stale stereotyping.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Carl Sander Socolow, Guggenheim Fellow in Photography, 2006, is a prize winner in the Art of the State (2013), an annual juried exhibition presented by Jump Street and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Socolow was awarded first place for his photograph Winter Beach I.

This photograph was made the day before Thanksgiving 2012, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. I was visiting my parents, as I've done for many years, but with my 92-year old father's declining health I knew it would be the last time we would be together as a family. The few brief free moments that were available to me were spent in solitary walks on the nearby beach.

My ongoing body of work, "Scenes from Civic Life" is grounded in the human. Rarely do I make photographs that do not depict aspects of human experience, influence or effect. My pictures contain a certain lyricism coupled with a tense expression of form. But scenic photographs are not my usual voice. I had been feeling disconnected from my photography for awhile yet continued to carry a camera with the hope that my usual subject material would resonate again.

And I can only presume that with most epiphanies awareness, serendipity, experience and perhaps, foremost, the openness of one's heart-space all coalesce into that flash of recognition. I am confident that whatever the process this photograph was a rebirth of my own work in a most unexpected direction. The use of the panoramic camera has long interested me because of its challenges in organizing space. I look for different ways to work with it; in the case of this photo as a vertical. Most importantly, the sun, the fog, the tide and the texture of the waves cooperated. So this picture- a vertical panoramic- of a fog-shrouded winter sun on a desolate beach marks an embarkation point toward a new body of work; one that has me re-energized with the possibility of discovery; with making poems again.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Q&A from Jane Landers<, Fellow in European & Latin American History, 2013

Where were you when you received the notification of your Fellowship?
I actually had the first inkling via an email saying my name had been forwarded to the Board...but I wasn't sure I was actually a recipient until the letter came later. I was thrilled, of course and began then to tell my friends and administrators about it.
How did you celebrate?

The fellowship was promptly announced via Vanderbilt News & Public Affairs and it was also announced at the next faculty meeting, to much applause. It means so much to have your project evaluated and found worthy by the distinguished scholar/reviewers and this award carries a prestige like no other.

What will it allow you to purse in terms of research or artistic creation?
I will use this fellowship to travel to Spain and Brazil to try to complete research on my maroon project.

Jane Landers created a digital archive of the oldest records for Africans in the hemisphere...taking teams of her graduate students to Cuba, Brazil, Colombia and St. Augustine, Florida.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Guggenheim Fellows Share Their Expertise at Rare Book School

During this summer’s Rare Book School, Fellows in Bibliography David Vander Meulen (1996) and Paul Needham (1984) will be teaching, respectively, principles and practice in scholarly editing and 15th-century books in print and manuscript (jointly with Will Noel); and Matthew Kirschenbaum (Literary Criticism, 2011) and Naomi Nelson will offer a course entitled “Born-Digital Materials: Theory & Practice.” And on June 19, Jerome McGann, a Fellow in English Literature (1970, 1976) will speak on “"Archival Memory and the Philological Conscience." Founded in 1983 at Columbia University and based at the University of Virginia since 1992, RBS offers courses and lectures not only in Charlottesville, but also in New Haven, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.