By Deb A.
Danielle Gillespie wrote her first story in kindergarten and believes that it may have involved a party with a polar bear and an octopus. Now studying creative writing and literature at the University of Evanville, she's added short stories such as "What's Measured in Miles and Meters", which appears in the most recent issue of Agave Magazine, to her portfolio of novels, poetry, and a few non-fiction pieces. This week we talk to Danielle about discovering the unfamiliar, getting language right, and what comes next.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: Why did you start writing?
DANIELLE GILLESPIE: My parents read to me and my sister when we were children. I became an avid reader (as did my sister) and writing seemed like a natural progression. As silly as it sounds, I started simply because it seemed fun.
In "What's Measured in Miles and Meters" you bring the reader onto the sprinting track, where you spent six years of your own life. How much of your personal experience finds its way into your writing?
I think a good deal of my life finds expression in my writing—though it tends to be less obvious than in “What’s Measured in Miles and Meters”: aspects of a family member’s personality, a place I’ve visited, a feeling I’ve had. I like to use what’s familiar to me to explore what’s unfamiliar. For “What’s Measured in Miles and Meters” I took the experience of running track and dropped it into a family dynamic that was very different than anything I had ever experienced.
What do you think is important for putting a reader, even for a brief moment, into a character's experience?
For me, it’s language. The right words used in the right combination can be so evocative. When I’m editing my own work, I spend hours cutting lines and rearranging sentences and replacing words in the hope that the finished product will allow the emotionality of the moment to come through effectively.
What would you like to write next?
I think I'd like to try tackling something a little bit larger in scope than the short stories I have been writing. A couple of years ago I wrote a short story that I realized was actually the beginning of a novel after I had completed it. I've been really wanting to tackle it, and I think that's my next move.
What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading A Game of Thrones [George R.R. Martin] for my Tolkien class and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman [Mary Wollstonecraft]. A bizarre combination, but enjoyable nonetheless.
By Deb A.
"I stick stuff to other stuff and kid myself about the rest," claims collage artist Cory Peeke. But as his work, including A Higher Education: Suits in the latest issue of Agave Magazine shows, there's a lot more to it than that. Cory's wit and insight are readily recognisable in every piece, whether it's examining masculinity, sexuality or education. And for all those who are tempted to take a pair of scissors to their copy of Agave and do their own recontextualisation, you have Cory's blessing to "make it yours."
AGAVE MAGAZINE: What got you started in collage?
CORY PEEKE: I have been doing collage seriously since I lived in San Francisco in the early '90s. I was a painter, though a very mixed-media oriented one, when I was in undergraduate school in Michigan. However, when I moved to San Francisco it was so expensive just to live that art supplies like oil paint became an unaffordable luxury. I still had the need to be a maker so I began collecting ephemera, stuff I’d find on the street or for cheap in junk shops.
The experience was very freeing. I didn’t have any preconceived notions or expectations for the work so it was a way to experiment and learn a way of working without the constraints of history and material limitations I felt as a painter.
Where do you find the material you use in your collages, and what draws you to the bits and pieces you collect?
I find most of my materials in junk shops or antique stores, but I’m not above scavenging stuff off the street. I also dig office supplies so office supply stores are fun to shop. The white spots in many of my pieces are created using correction fluid.
I hoard materials. I collect things wherever I find them. I have drawers, boxes, flat files and tables piled high with old photographs, scraps of paper, transparencies, etc. Part of the fun of collage is digging through the hoard to find just the right item for the piece I’m working on. Collage is like putting together a puzzle without knowing what the final image is supposed to look like. Searching out the correct pieces for that puzzle is a fun little treasure hunt.
I’m not sure I can exactly pinpoint what exactly draws me to a particular bit of ephemera. I will say though that I’m often attracted to vintage images and papers, something that seems to have an age to it. They’re remnants of another time that I hope to reinvigorate and get people to notice and value again.
Do you first have an idea and then look for pieces to use, or does the material you come across inspire a particular idea for a collage or series?
I used to work with an idea and then search for the material I needed. I don’t think I hold to a strict conceptual agenda anymore, the work is more organic in its creation. There are certainly particular types of imagery and themes of sexuality, masculinity and education that I’m drawn to so they reappear again and again in my work.
I tend to make the work and then go back and look for the common thread/ideas that holds them together as a series.
Your most recent series "explores the duality that is the transient, disposable nature of our culture through the lens of the book and the status of higher education." How did your position as Professor of Art at Eastern Oregon University inform your work?
I’m sure it is no secret that higher education has gone through some big changes and tough times the last several years. I have very different students today than I did just a decade ago.
One of the things that I’ve noticed is a growing reluctance on the part of students to read. They seem to have an aversion to the printed page or at the very least seem to lack any meaningful appreciation for the written word. Libraries are places they only reluctantly go, they hope to find everything on line and in quick easily digested snippets.
These observations have led directly to my reconsideration of the importance of the book and printed matter. I wouldn’t say my work exactly explores these ideas but the observations and the turmoil of higher education have influenced the making of my most recent bodies of work.
You write for Kolaj, a magazine on contemporary collage, and curate as well--what is the power of collage as an art form, and what artists do you think are particularly adept at wielding that power?
I believe people respond to collage differently than they do other mediums. The materials are drawn directly from the world around us which I feel makes them more approachable, perhaps even democratic. One the one hand I think it can be a negative in that collage is often not taken as seriously as other mediums, but on the other hand I think helps make collage less class-oriented and easier for people from all strata to relate.
Writing for Kolaj and being addicted to social media such as Instagram and Tumblr have introduced me to scores of new (to me anyway) collage artists. A list of folks out there right now working that I admire would include Evan Clayton Horback, Anthony Zinonos, Hollie Chastain, Katrien De Blauwer, Flore Kunst, Ross Carron, Eli Craven and John Hundt to name just a few. I could go on and on. This is a great time for collage, lots of good work is being made right now all around the world.
By Deb A.
Yanuary Navarro appreciates the unique allure of gouache and watercolours, noting that "they don't require much more than a cup of water and a brush. The older I get the more I appreciate simplicity." Yet her beautifully vibrant illustrations are part of a fantastical world where fairy tales, science fiction, and a childhood growing up in the Honduras collide--anything but simple. Agave Magazine is proud to feature Yanuary's A Coyote's Dream in our most recent issue, and to speak to her about being an artist, the power of ideas, and her series of invented short stories, 'The World of Wolli'.
What is 'The World of Wolli', and how did it come into being?
The 'World of Wolli' is the title of a series of visual short stories depicted in no chronological order. I have been building the story one painting at a time over the years. The concept began during my last year in college where I had an independent study class where I had the safe space to explore any subject. The narratives that began to naturally demand a voice were autobiographical, illustrating how my family and I immigrated and endured a dangerous journey through Central America. This is something I never really felt comfortable talking to people about and made me feel ashamed.
Over the years the narratives have expanded to include a network of people around me and their life stories and how they inspire me. I exaggerate people into characters and their details because storytelling is more interesting to me when truths are costumed in metaphors and when people are entertained they pay more attention to what is being said.
Where else do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in other forms of art such as film, literature, music etc. and seeing other artists move forward with their ideas despite social disadvantages and failures. Their courage to share their human experience creatively motivates me to not be so afraid of doing the same.
Your work is influenced by fairy tales and science fiction. What are your favourite stories?
My favorite stories list is always changing and growing. Currently, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and Star Wars by George Lucas are some of my favorite fiction stories because they depict relatable human struggles within a fantastical setting that asks the human mind to leave logic and exercise the abstract concept of imagination. I believe that practising this helps us to become more skilled at empathizing with other people in real life and imagining what joys and sorrows they may be experiencing and therefore have a more appropriate response.
When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?
During high school I began to seriously practice my painting. I did not have hopes of becoming an artist or even make a living from it. I did it because being in the flow made the world make sense and brought a sense of inner peace that I could not get anywhere else. I think that the arts have shaped me from a frustrated teen into a peaceful and confident adult.
If you couldn't be an artist, what would you be?
I think I would enjoy being a scientist building machines and gadgets out of my Science Fiction dreams.
To be honest I feel that one cannot just be an artist hiding away from the world in a studio and perhaps that is not the worst fact in the world. Art is the voice of the people, it comes from a place of struggle seeking to be heard and the only way to hear what people's concerns are is to go outside and live life.
By Deb A.
Jason Willome's art is a search for "the place where things start to break down and contradictions emerge." One of the fascinating results of his investigations, Matching Concealed Patterns (The Seam Grows When You're Not Looking), appears on the cover of Agave Magazine Vol. 3, Issue 2. This week we speak with Jason about transience, diegesis, and what can be found on middle ground.
You've created sculptures and sketches but predominantly, you paint. Why?
Painting, as a context, is all about models, references and analogues. It's this weird specificity of sculpture, when you get down to it, that is tied to a history of utilizing materials (paint) and objects (panels, surfaces, screens, substrates, etc.) in a very particular way. Painting has such an immense history that these aspects of it have become an invisible burden, but really it's always been this way of probing the edges of perception. You know, it's very much a mental thing, but it's also about the object of the painting itself, and the space between the object and the viewer. So, it's a really good context for exploring the things I'm interested in. Actually, it could be I'm interested in these things because of painting....
What motivated you to play with flat and three-dimensional spaces in works like Matching Concealed Patterns (The Seam Grows When You're Not Looking)?
Those works were a way of distilling these ideas down into a more precise presentation. Previously, I had made a set of paintings from stills from the Frank Capra movie, It's A Wonderful Life--specifically from this moment in the film where the filmmakers double-exposed the scene with footage of snow falling. I suppose there wasn't enough snow in the original take, but it was always jarring to me to see what basically amounted to these two independent spaces sharing a moment in the time of the film. They work together enough that you can ignore it, and proceed with the narrative, but they also present a moment of revelation in a way, where the artifice of the film becomes visible, and the screen was suddenly there, where previously there had only been space. It was a moment that ever-so-slightly broke with the diegetic space of the film--and this reminded me of the gold leaf you frequently see in Catholic altarpieces: the gold leaf is on the surface, and asserts its difference from the narrative of the illusory space, providing emphasis for the viewer, while simultaneously playing a role in the space of the painting. So I made these snow paintings where the areas of the image that were occupied by snow were built up with this relief of paint material that both asserted the surface, and paradoxically played a role in the image, as an analogue of that moment in the film. The painting you referenced was a way of taking a more focused look at that idea. The atmosphere of objects around the figures in those paintings oscillate between diegetic and non-diegetic, functioning in the space of the image, casting shadows into the illusion, but also asserting the surface for the viewer and calling attention to the illusion. To use another movie as an example, it's like that moment in Say Anything, where the film music begins to warp, and John Cusack's character fixes it by shoving a matchbook into his car's cassette deck. The music reveals the artifice of the film, but also brings the viewer into a deeper involvement with the narrative illusion. The atmosphere of objects around the figures in those paintings are attempting something similar.
What themes are you currently working on, and how are they taking shape?
Right now, I'm trying to use these ideas as a way of framing and adding emphasis to other issues. I'm moving further off of the surface, and thinking more about how to emphasize the space between the image and the object. I'm using more temporal materials like salt and ice, which have their own time and phenomenology, and pairing them with images to emphasize an idea. For example, I have a set of works that appropriate images of the ignition contrails from the old Gemini and Apollo missions, where I have grown salt crystals in the areas of the contrails. It's that Carl Sagan idea of space exploration as self-investigation--we are all made of stardust.
What role does transience play in your work?
Lately, using these more obviously temporal materials is a way of juxtaposing different layers of time. There is the time of the image or the painted image, and then there is the time of the material. The salt contrails, for example, are framed behind glass, which slows the decay of the crystal forms, but allows in enough moisture that they continue to grow. This occurs in contrast to the rest of the static image, but also reflects the time intrinsic to the experience of the viewer. Every time I look at them they are different. It's somewhere in between Dubuffet's notion that his paintings were alive, and having an ant farm.
Having explored the nature of experience and reality in much of your work, where do you believe truth in art lies?
In the middle! Somewhere in between, where the mental and physical rub together. In spite of a photographic experience being a limited one, there is still something there that cannot be discounted, and which would not be available if the situation were otherwise. Images tell us something about the limits of our perception--how we build whole, complex models of the universe based on the little information we understand or have access to. I think that artworks give us a model or analogue to hold onto--art serves as an access point or an interface to an idea about the world. There's truth in that relationship--in the friction between acknowledging these two facets of experience.
By Deb A.
Margaret Morrison traces her love of painting back to a childhood of visiting museums with her family--decades later, she still has vivid memories of standing in front of a Dutch still life and vowing to learn the techniques behind bringing drops of water and luminous reflections to life on canvas. A professor at the University of Georgia, Margaret continues to keep her art and her family life happily intertwined: she and her husband, a fellow UGA professor, teach chemistry through art in a course that they developed together. Agave Magazine is proud to feature her painting, Both Ways: Drive Home in Vol. 3, Issue 2, and thrilled to speak to this overwhelmingly talented artist about her still-lifes, her departures from them, and her incredibly fulfilling artistic journey.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: Your recent works are meditations on the zenlike aspects of driving and that point just beyond the horizon. How much time do you spend in your car, and what ideas do you tend to contemplate while you're behind the wheel?
MARGARET MORRISON: These little meditative paintings were a departure for me, a returning homeward, literally and figuratively. My parents had always been the center of the family solar system, with a gravitational pull so strong that my sisters and I orbited around them. As my parents reached their nineties, their health declined rapidly. It's funny, but we all thought they were immortal. My father passed away in 2013 after a brief illness and not long after, my mother’s health began to fail and she passed away the following year. During those two years, I made the cross-country drive a number of times from Georgia to Utah. I felt compelled to say goodbye to my parents and to spend whatever time they had left with them. Over hundreds of miles, I had the time to meditate and reflect, to rehearse all my memories. I suppose you could call it a melancholy life review. As I traveled, I found a profoundly rich, yet bittersweet closure.
Your series have examined everything from the glistening comfort of sweets to child's play that reflects an adult world to your extensive travels as a child. Have you already had any thoughts about the next theme you'd like to investigate in your work?
Right now, I am almost finished painting an enormous six-foot high, eight-foot wide still life jammed with dozens of sterling silver objects from the famous antique market in Arezzo, Italy. Gorgeous, super shiny silver bowls, pitchers, and candelabras are packed so tightly together that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The reflections are fascinating to paint! Not only are all the objects reflecting each other, but they reflect the cityscape, sky and people too. It’s like working on a five thousand piece jigsaw puzzle and is, quite likely, the most complex and challenging painting that I’ve ever attempted. I’m planning to build my new body of work on more of this subject matter: reflections, transparency, eye-popping highlights tied up in a dense tapestry of “bling.”
Painting realistic reflective and transparent surfaces is a major analytical challenge, and one that you seem to take on with aplomb. What do you enjoy about this aspect of your work?
Oh my goodness, I LOVE painting bling! It’s the greatest logic puzzle I can possibly imagine and I’m absolutely addicted to it. And yes, it is very much an analytical challenge, but so very satisfying when I get my head wrapped around it. I love it when people ask me how in the world I paint glass. “Is there a particular kind of paint you use?” The answer is no, there is no tube of paint out there that says “glass” on it. I explain that I don’t paint the glass, I paint the distortions that I see through the glass and then it materializes on its own… like magic. As I’m working, I’m completely absorbed in creating a lush, juicy surface using plenty of wet oil paint. I work with a sense of immediacy so that I can lay down a particular field of color and then start pumping more paint right onto of the surface of the painting. I’d say that most of the color mixing in my paintings happens on the canvas rather than the palette. I work from general to specific, dark up to light. I think of the highlights as the frosting on the cake.
How long does it take you to complete a painting?
Truth be told, I’m actually a pretty fast painter. I’ve got a lot of pent-up energy and I throw the paint down as quickly as I can before my ideas evaporate. Nothing shuts me down faster than a pristine, white canvas, so I cover the entire canvas with paint right away. It helps me to see if the piece is holding together from the start and establishes a visual language that I can hang the rest of the painting on. For me, starting a painting is much more challenging than finishing a painting. Often I’ll juggle several paintings simultaneously in various stages of completion because, once my ideas are fleshed out, I can set them aside and come back to them later with renewed energy. I’ve found that if I’m working on one painting at a time, I run the risk of getting bored or overworking it. I also prefer to paint while standing up because it allows me the freedom to pace around and to step back to check the “gestalt.” I probably log a few miles a day just pacing up and back as I paint. One painting that I remember coming together faster than any other was Candy Apples. At the time, I had been working hard on a body of paintings for my Larger Than Life exhibition at the Woodward Gallery in NYC. The week before shipping my paintings to the gallery, I decided that I just HAD to paint ONE more for the show. I had so much built up angst that I started and finished that massive painting in three days.
What has been the most valuable thing you've discovered through your art so far?
This whole journey of mine has one of deep satisfaction and joy. I’ve seen all my dreams as an artist and a mother come to fruition. Years ago, as a newly married couple, Richard and I flew to Chicago to see a John Singer Sargent exhibition. One early evening, while strolling through the campus at Northwestern, we chatted about our respective “bucket lists.” We both dared to dream of being old college professors teaching at the same university and laughing at the improbability of it. As we walked, I clearly remember seeing a row of glass front galleries on the next street over. And as the sun went down, and the lights came up, I could see an art opening going on in one of them. People were crowded into that little space with glasses in their hands, deep in conversation with track lights sparkling. I remember a twinge of longing, wondering if someday I might have a opening just like this, filled with people who had come to see my paintings on the wall. Now in hindsight, what I thought was unimaginable all those years ago has come to pass for me. Not only have I seen my dreams become reality, but I’ve been able to include and share them with my husband and children. As a mother, the first time I held a newborn in my arms, I experienced the ultimate expression of the sublime. My work has become my vehicle for channeling and expressing this sublimity.
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