Posts in Issue VI
The Space in Between: Interview with Morgan Ward

I have always retained an interest in the concept of the painting’s picture plane, and significantly, how this can be manipulated. In my practice, I aim to investigate the relationships between colour and the interaction of forms. Questioning how one might choose to fill the space of a canvas as an object, and whether paintings can communicate and inform themselves. A key aspect is the expansion of a space, both physically and as an abstract illusion.

I have adopted and developed a practice that allows me to constantly interrogate problems and outcomes. Persistently working from preliminary studies in a sketchbook and allowing them to inform, but not dictate, my paintings. Thinking about communication between paintings and how paintings can be viewed as an object in space, not just a flat surface that reacts only with the eyes. Wanting the paintings to interact as a body of work, interconnecting within itself, translating forms and using colour suggestively to signify space and build these networks. Using the space around a painting to play an equal role in how the painting is consumed by the viewer as the content of the picture plane. Where a painting begins and where it ends, your entry point of a painting, and where you are allowed to enter a painting. How adjacent space can alter how paintings communicate and how the viewer can be manipulated in a space to react a certain way towards specific works.


What is your artistic background?

After living in London my whole life, I decided to take the plunge and completely change scenery and study Fine Art at the University of Chichester in the South of the UK. I returned to London where I live and work in my studio and from then on my practice has continued to grow.

When did you start exploring the idea of paintings in relation to their space and environment?

Like most artists, you start from a very early age producing works from visual stimulation of what is around you, be that your friends or family, scenery, or anything you can get your hands on. But, I always found myself so much more interested in the space in between and how that changed the space/object(s) adjacent. I suppose it derived with the formal thinking of compositions and the curating of a visual plane.


We love the intensity and installation-like effect of your work. What would you say your current work is about?

The central questioning of my practice has been that of what constitutes the space of painting. How one might choose to fill the space of a canvas as an object, and whether paintings can communicate and inform themselves through relational proximity. In thinking about communication between paintings and how paintings can be viewed as an object in space, not just a flat surface that reacts only with the eyes has led me to explore work in series wanting the paintings to interact as a body of work, interconnecting within themselves both singularly and across the sequence as a network in actual space.

Your palette is absolutely stunning. How do you come up with the color in your work?

My colour palette has derived from many many studies and paintings and it’s a continually growing thing that I carry around in my brain. Its kind of organically grown from itself, testing colours and knowing what works and what doesn’t and manipulating these good and bad relationships between colours to open and close and illusionistic space in a fixed object in reality. But I do get into phases of really overly enjoying a specific oil paint colour, it sounds like such an odd obsession, but its so satisfying finding a colour that’s just exactly what you are looking for.

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Give us a glimpse into your process. What is a typical day in the studio like for you?

I always like to get started with just throwing a colour down into a sketchbook and pushing to see what I can do with it. Give myself a line on a page and make myself produce a composition relation to that specific line as a focal point. Once I get started with investigating one tiny idea or a colour it always leads to something hopefully substantial, I find myself spending a whole day just exploring one form or one colour to the limits of what it can or could be.

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What are some of your interests outside of art-making?

Now this may seem a little odd, but I have a slight obsession with collecting plants… Wherever I go I always find myself picking up a plant or two or a type of pot for them to go in, it does a great job of brightening up my studio, I always enjoy buying the plant that looks a little worst off than its counterparts and bringing back to life.

What is the best piece of advice you received as an artist?

Keep going, everyone always says to just keep producing what you feel is right, never forget your artistic direction wherever it takes you, trust your own judgement, always question things and just go with it!

Marna Shopoff

Marna Shopoff is a visual artist with an emphasis on abstract painting and intuitive drawing. Interested in the concepts of design and spatial relationships, her work explores the idea of perception, place identity, and visual memory. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and Master of Fine Arts degree from Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN. She has led panel discussions on abstract learning and haptic drawing at the Foundations in Art Theory and Education Conference (US) and the International Drawing and Cognition Symposium (UK). Marna is the recipient of various honors and awards, including The Individual Artist Award | Indiana Arts Commission, the Mildred Darby Menz Award, and the Stutz Resident Artist Award. She has taken part in artist residencies at locations across the US and abroad, including the Vermont Studio Center (VT); Teton Artlab (WY); Taliesin, The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (WI); The International School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture (Italy); and Leveld Art Centre (Norway).

Her exhibition portfolio spans both nationally and internationally (solo, group, and collaborative), and she has participated in art fairs including PULSE New York (NY), the Miami Project (FL), and VOLTA12 Basel (Switzerland). Marna is currently represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans, LA.


What happens when we set aside the need to represent what we see and instead respond with how we feel? To me, life is fragmented and layered, a mosaic of experiences interwoven with reflection and intuition: the places we visit, the homes we live in, the countries we explore – each overlap and influence one another.

Blending contemporary and classical approaches to painting and composition, I examine how human experience, place, and personal memory affect my perception of self. What memories or feelings do these places spark and what sort of energy do they project?

I use abstraction to move through and define the two-dimensional picture plane, and color to express a certain idea or mood. Perspective, saturation, transparency, together with glazing and layering, create an illusion of depth and space, while visually conveying the fusion of memory with experience.

I investigate whether someone can access and experience a new view of the world through my work and explore whether, through art, we can share our individual perceptions.

Constructed Environments by Jeremy Miranda

We love the way you create dream-like scenes by combining the landscape and interior. When did you initially get inspired to paint these images?

Thank you. That was a series I did back a few years back. At the time, I was interested in memory/time and trying to construct spacial environments that gave the sense of those things folding into themselves. I worked in that vein for a few years, panning for gold, and then honestly one day I walked into the studio and it all just looked like someone else’s work. I'm not sure why, but it just didn't fit anymore, which is great. I like moments like that in the studio, because they signal that you're being honest with yourself and that something exciting and new is about to happen. From there, I switched back to acrylic paint and began to revisit past ideas and ways of working that I actually felt ready for.   

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When did you first decide that you wanted to be an artist?

Growing up, I always was in love with drawing and thought I’d be a children's book illustrator or something like that, but I owe it to a handful of artists from my hometown (Sue McNally, Luke Randall, Tom Deininger) for exposing me to the idea of being an artist with a studio practice. They were awesome teachers and were nice enough to let a high school kid visit their studios, which were these big mill spaces with paintings and sculptures everywhere, and I was just completely hooked from there. Tom took me on as his assistant when I was a junior in high school, while he was in the midst of working on a solo museum show, so that really gave me an intense and intimate view into the daily life of an artist.  

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Tell us about your process. How does each painting come about from reference to execution? 

Pretty much everything is invented. If a painting is too mapped out, I get immediately bored. So, the only references I use are some pretty ugly, grubby sketches I make in the early morning.  I usually have a handful of paintings going so I can balance them against each other, and I’d really describe the process as intuitive, or maybe trial and error is a little more accurate. 


What advice would you give other painters for breaking through barriers and trying something new in their work?

I would refer them to Diebenkorn's "Notes to myself on beginning a painting" (provided below):

Notes to myself on beginning a painting

1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.

3. DO search.

4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.

6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.

8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.

9. Tolerate chaos.

10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

What are some of your favorite things to read, watch or listen to that inspire your work?

I guess kind of everything? I haven't finished a book since our son was born, but I was working my way through all of Michael Chabon's books (whom I find very inspiring). But honestly, anything that's well made makes me want to make things in response.   


Tell us about some of your other interests aside from art-making.

It’s not a super interesting list. Hiking, gardening, cooking, those kinds of things. I’ve been playing guitar since I was very young, but it’s all self-taught and not proper in anyway.  Honestly, I'm interested in anything that gets me out of the studio for a bit.  If you asked me to go play golf in the rain, I’d be pretty excited to do that.  

Do you have a daily ritual?

I do. My wife and I split the week up watching our kid, so when it’s my work day I get up at 7:00, make a pot of coffee and talk with my good friend Tom on the phone for half an hour (which we've been doing for about 15 years).  When I get into the studio, I spend the first hour making very loose drawings. The drawings are what I end up making the paintings from, so it’s important that they're made right away when the images are fresh in my mind.  From there, I'm usually juggling a few paintings that are all in various stages of completion. Also, I listen to the same 2 albums on rotation all day. I'm hoping I'm not the only one who does this, because it feels pretty weird. But I can't paint in silence, and podcasts and spotify are too stimulating and tend to pull me out of the work. So I just repeat an album I like until it becomes this rhythmic, meditative, white noise. 

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What would you say your paintings are about and how do you want the viewer to feel when they experience them?

I have a handful of different series going on right now and each one is about something a little different. I have series going of shelters (I guess you could call them cabins really) which are, on one level, about the play of interior vs exterior and space and light, but they're also about how the making of art is its own kind of shelter or insular world one occupies. I have another series of studio interiors with fictional "works in progress" which are my version of a self-portrait. But sometimes I don't know what something is about.  I have a group of these sink paintings, one of which is the largest painting in my studio right now, and I feel compelled to make them, but I really am not sure what they're about. All in all, I’m equally concerned with the content as I am with the physical surface, and I spend a lot of time thinking about paint handling and line quality and texture.  My hope is that the balance of those things creates an immersive experience for someone viewing the work.      

What would you say you are most proud of up to this point?

The fact that I'm still painting. 

Interview: Threadwinners

Threadwinners is the moniker for the crochet collaborative comprised of Liz Flynn and Alyssa Arney. They began working together in 2013 as interns at the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) and started making art as Threadwinners in 2016. Flynn has an Art History BA from University of California, Riverside and works in LA. Arney has a Printmaking BFA from the John Herron School of Art and Design-IUPUI and works in Orange County.

Threadwinners, a play on the concept of the typically masculine term “breadwinner,” aim to subvert the patriarchy and status quo through the vehicle of crochet. They examine American and pop culture, the body, psychology, nature, gender roles, and femininity in their work.


First, let’s get to know a bit about the two creative minds behind Threadwinners. Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds as artists? What common creative ground do you two share that brought you together for collaboration?

A: I graduated with a printmaking BFA and art history minor from the John Herron School of Art and Design - IUPUI, Indianapolis, IN. I’m originally from Terre Haute, where there’s not a whole lot of culture or entertainment for adolescents, so I always loved reading and art class in school. All of the other kids and teachers supported my work and it was one of the only things I felt confidence in. Additionally, my parents were over-protective, and I had go to a babysitter until the age of 12. Creating art was a great distraction from dealing with the kids who were younger than me.

When I graduated from college, I was working at a few restaurants in Indiana, not really exhibiting my work and just trying to make ends meet. I re-met my high school sweetheart, after seven years apart, at a house party and we instantly fell in love again. We moved out to California, where I began to make some big life changes.

L: I attended the University of California, Riverside, where I studied art history and education, with an emphasis on special education and reading remediation. I don’t have any formal artistic training, but I’ve been creating things by hand since I was a young child. I would constantly create collages, scrapbooks, and paintings that would crowd my room with color. Making things by hand has always been a release for me, a way to express myself visually rather than verbally. 

In terms of common creative ground, I think we share a love for outsider art, the bizarre, and the ridiculous. We met in 2013 when we were both interns at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, CA and almost immediately began bonding over those things. Through the course of the internship, we discovered that we worked really well together in a collaborative environment and from there eventually developed our artistic partnership.


How did the crochet collaboration come about? What inspired you to start Threadwinners and create your own creative platform?

A: When I moved to California, I decided to try my hand at knitting for a side hobby. It had always intimidated me, and as a kid my mom tried teaching me crochet and other needlework forms, but I was never able to understand it. Finally, I just hopped onto YouTube and dove headfirst into it. After I picked up knitting, Liz and I were talking one day and she told me that she was learning how to crochet with her mother and suggested I try it too because it was easy. Again, I got onto YouTube and Ravelry, put my knitting needles in the closet, and became obsessed with crochet. 

At the end of the internship, Liz and I were part of a team to organize a student night at the OCMA, where we learned we were able to work really well together. After the internship ended, I was independently curating with our friend Natalie Mik, who then became a curator of my solo show Pleasure Objects. I asked Liz if she wanted to be my assistant for the project, but because she was putting so much time and effort into the pieces, her role grew to a partnership, and from that exhibition, we became a team!

L: After the joy of seeing Pleasure Objects manifested and experienced by others, we knew we had a unique and special opportunity to work on an extended body of work, so we began thinking long-term in regards to what our partnership could become. We adopted Threadwinners as our moniker in November 2016 while we were working on There Is A River Here, a yarn bomb project conceptualized by curator Carolyn Schutten and the Riverside Art Museum. Monikers are commonly adopted by artists in the yarn bombing and fiber arts community, so we wanted to follow that tradition. The creative platform that Threadwinners provides us has largely been inspired and supported by the online and local maker and fiber art community. We have received so much generous support from other creatives since the very beginning of this endeavor, and that support has been so humbling and has inspired us to further explore and develop the methods and themes employed in our work.


How does Threadwinners aim to challenge and transform the traditionally feminine craft of crochet into a powerful fine art medium? What are some topics your work confronts?

A: Most needlework practices, until fairly recently within the art realm, have always been relegated to the “craft” world and not really recognized by the “fine art” crowd. And while Threadwinners would never look down on that label or would ever want to disassociate from that term, we also don’t want to be completely defined or limited to that. To say that something is a “craft” rather than “fine art” is a bifurcation arbitrarily created by and implemented by the patriarchal Western hegemony. It’s a term to subjugate and oppress women, and especially working women, from creating “serious art.” Just look at haute couture; men run that gamut, and while utilizing traditional embroidery, crochet, knitting, lacemaking, and sewing techniques, they are allowed the privilege to elevate themselves above fashion, into the high art world. We won’t recognize or abide by those terms, nor do we need their permission to be artists. As long as people are creating things and ideas and self-expressing in one way or another, it’s all art, and should be recognized as such. 

Threadwinners will continue pushing the boundaries of the crochet practice to create fiber sculptures and installations. We want to show the art world that recognizing the potential of a medium, instead of making a snap judgement about where its place lies in society, has the capability to reach across multiple spectrums and intersections of race, gender, and class. We also utilize the platform of crochet to talk about darker themes, but in a “soft, accessible, and approachable” way. The inherent soft and fuzzy quality that yarn possesses allows our audience to directly interact with the art objects. They act as psuedo-stuffed plushies, or nexuses, that can be easily handled while having a dialogue about the art, and not getting too depressed or grossed out by the themes.

Now that I’ve gone off on my tirade about sexism in the artworld, you can see that topics we like to address within our works include the inequities that women face within the art community, gender roles, the body, psychology, nature, classism, racism, and politics.


Congratulations on your most recent exhibition Reveries at Branch Gallery in Inglewood, CA! Can you tell us a bit about the variety of work included in the show? Your intricate crochet pieces often include installation work, which can be found at Reveries. Can you tell us about these pieces as well as other site-specific installations you’ve done? What happens to the material after an installation is finished?

A: Thank you! It’s been half a year in the making and it feels so good to finally see our work installed in the gallery. Sometimes we don’t get to see the scope of our work until it’s all hung in the space, and it’s really monumental to see how much we’re able to create in such a short time span. 

L: Thank you! Like Alyssa said, it’s been such a rewarding experience to see our mental images and ideas manifested on the walls of Branch Gallery. With this body of work, Alyssa and I wanted to explore the world of landscapes and our bodily relationships with such sensory environments. Whether it’s a mental landscape, a dreamscape, a natural environment, or a constructed space, each environment that we experience and interact with as humans elicits a mixture of feelings unique to each individual. As defined by Merriam-Webster, a reverie is a daydream or a state of being lost in one’s thoughts. Along with externally occurring landscapes, we wanted to explore internal dreamscapes, spaces where one can get lost and explore the inner workings of their mind and consciousness. Our seven wall tapestries and installation pieces included in this show explore the synthesis of, and tension between, manmade and natural environments, and how human emotions relate to and form them. 

A: With these installations, as well as other ones we’ve done in the past, we tried to reuse and recycle where we could. We stuffed a lot of the pieces with plastic bags, made armatures out of reused chicken wire and cardboard boxes, and sourced some of the yarn from local yarn stores that were willing to donate to our exhibitions, as well as fiber and acetate from Trash for Teaching (T4T) in Gardena, CA. 

Personally, for me, this was a cathartic endeavor, to heal from the past 8 months in politics and to create something beautiful in the ugliness of it all. Although it’s hard for us little people to do anything about what’s happening in Washington, we have taken a gentle stance of resistance by donating a portion of art sales to the Sierra Club - Angeles Chapter, which serves Los Angeles and Orange Counties here in California.

L: Along with smaller scale yarn bombs that we attach to publicly available “canvases,” like chain-link fences, we have done large-scale site-specific installations as well. One of our most recent installations was There Is A River Here, an environmental installation curated by Carolyn Schutten and the Riverside Art Museum, in which we covered about ten boulders with handmade needlework pieces sourced from the local community through workshops and donations. After an installation is finished, we try our best to reuse the materials in other pieces and installations. The waterfall in Chromatic Cascade, for example, is made from yarn used in our There Is A River Here project. Other pieces from that project were restitched into blankets and scarves and donated to a local Riverside charity. We’ve also unwound other pieces to reuse the yarn, or cut up elements to use as stuffing for our sculptures. Other than that, we have most of our pieces and installation elements in storage for now! We’re always looking for other galleries or nontraditional spaces to show our past installations.

A: Succulent and Florid Flora were sort of vanity pieces. We both simply wanted to create large scale flower and succulent beds because we both have never seen anything like that in the crochet or fiber world before. I am a dog walker on the side, so for me personally, I walk through these wealthy neighborhoods where people have the privilege to hire landscapers to come and create these beautiful succulent and cacti compositions. I think I wanted to capture the beauty that these blue-collar workers create juxtaposed with the dichotomy of the trends that the rich are able to afford, and how both parties are able to realize this garden vision together. 

A: In referring to Chromatic Cascade, I like to think about the waterfall creating its own music as it splashes into the pool below. We had musician Eric Flynn create a soundscape for this exhibition, so it adds another immersive element by bringing in the auditory aspect.

A: Coral Confection obviously talks about coral bleaching, and we again utilized recycled materials to create this installation. We also used traditional clothing materials like buttons and pins to decorate the piece that relate back to the last definition in the description above.

A: Earth Tome references back to being able to explore sort of ickier themes without really having to get your hands dirty. 

A: We outlined Liz’s body to create the piece Verdant Quietus, and we’ve nicknamed her Ms. Skully Moss. We try to infuse a lot of humor into our work, even when we are talking about very serious themes. Laughter is a coping mechanism after all!


What is it about crochet that has captured your heart—enough to create a body of work exclusively based on this technique?

L: For me, the tactility of crochet is really appealing. There are so many different types of yarn you can use to explore texture and color. I’m a workaholic, so being able to keep my hands employed while talking, listening to podcasts, or watching TV makes me feel more productive. The repetitive nature of crochet is also very calming and therapeutic, which is what drew me into this practice to begin with.

A: It’s fun, easy, and you create so much work in so little time. I remember when I was knitting that it would take forever to finish a project, but you can easily make a hat or a scarf with crochet in an hour or two. Also, changing colors and creating three-dimensional shapes are a lot easier for me to conceptualize in crochet versus knitting.

Do either of you create artwork in any other mediums?

L: I personally do not. As of right now, I am juggling artistic production while working full-time, so I’ve found the most creative success channeling my extra energy into working with yarn.

A: My primary focus is the output from Threadwinners, but I do have an Etsy shop that I run that makes more affordable jewelry, prints, and functional art for the public.
What is something you’ve learned about yourself as an artist by working as a collaboration? 

L: I’m very introverted, and throughout my school career I always preferred working in solitude. Group projects were the worst. I never thought I’d flourish in a collaborative work environment. However, working with Alyssa has shown me that I do, in fact, work better on a team. My ideas and methods are better defined when I’m able to bounce them off of Alyssa, and she will improve my concepts and take them to the next level. I hope I do the same for her! I still need time and space to go off and think by myself or create small independent projects, but overall my work is stronger and my mindset is healthier because we work as a team. Being one half of Threadwinners has shown me that I can be open to improvisation, collaboration, and letting go of some control (because I can be a neurotic control-freak at times).

A: I’ve learned that I have to be friends with the people I work with in order to create. If I’m not enjoying your company, then I won’t be in a good mindset to make the work too. I try to infuse a lot of humor into our interactions, and I don’t want what we do to feel like work. I want it to feel like we are hanging out, venting about politics, sharing, etc. AND that we are making something cool at the same time. I’ve also learned to listen better and compromise, because it’s not just my vision, it’s our vision as a team. People have said before that our work looks like it was made by one person, and that’s because Liz and I are constantly talking about how we each want the artwork to manifest itself, and we both get to arrange and make alterations to the work. Crochet and sculpture are forgiving in that sense.

What would you like to see for Threadwinners in the future?

L: We have so many ideas! We would like to create another Pleasure Objects show that explores sexuality and gender in the near future. Personally, I would love to create works that explore and discuss themes concerning space, time, and infinity. We would also love to contribute to and grow the local fiber art communities in the areas we live through collaborative projects, crochet circles, and educational workshops. On a more holistic scale, we want Threadwinners to subvert and change perceptions of crochet as simply novel crafts that belong in the home. People have been creating highly-skilled works of fiber art for centuries and were never given proper recognition, simply because the majority of them were women or female-identifying individuals. Through our work, we hope to pay homage to these unnamed and unrecorded fiber artist that have been lost to history.

A: Exactly what Liz said. She’s so smart, I just love her!

Discovering Elements of Reality: Interview with Senem Oezdogan

Senem Oezdogan is a Brooklyn based artist and is currently working on paintings and wall-based rope and wood constructions.

Her goal is to make work that is an invitation to observe the world through form and color. To discover elements of reality — depth, flatness, tension, structure, color and time — she uses materials that are accessible and tactile and combines them into an arrangement of shapes and compositions that feel complete and harmonious. Her rope and wood constructions emphasize elements of the work that are not just about pure geometry but also about preserving a textural quality that conveys the softness of fabric or tapestry.


Tell us about your artistic background. When did you decide to pursue this path?

I always knew that I would work in the creative field and really enjoyed exploring various aspects of it–design, illustration, and painting. Looking at it now, all of the steps in the past have served as a foundation for the work I’m doing today. Prior to studying Design & Illustration at FIT in New York, I have also worked at several galleries in Germany and New York. Those were great opportunities to meet other artists, go on studio visits, work on fairs and just get an overall idea of how the art world works.


 How do you come up with the shapes and geometry in each piece? What inspires your paintings?

Even though I am not a figurative painter there are a lot of references to figures, nature, and architecture in my work. I draw a lot of inspiration from my surroundings – the city, my relationships and other interactions I have with people. We move through our days and see so much–people are on the move, objects are moving, moods are changing. 

I’m translating these fragments into extremely simple forms and I’m interested in how primary structures can be visualized. Combining all of these elements into compositions that feel complete is the challenge and beauty of abstract art. It forces me to constantly reevaluate my artistic vocabulary when creating meaningful work that communicates emotional depth. Each piece is an invitation to observe and investigate the choices that have been made. A lot of the work is intuitive but I always ask the same questions: How does one form, relate to another? Does it touch, exclude, or frame it? Where is the visual tension? The shapes on the canvas seem like cutouts – in a way you get the feeling that they can be shuffled around and that the images are not static. 


How do your rope and wood construction pieces relate to your paintings? How are they different?

Developing the fiber works took a while. I wanted to make wall based fiber art that could be created without having to use a loom. I was looking for ways to approach the pieces more like paintings with the freedom to work from all sides. I started to experiment with paper – when I wanted to go up in scale I needed more durable materials and started to work with wood and rope.

The rope work is more physical and at times it feels like building a sculpture. The wrapping of the rope and the time it takes for the image to emerge gives the work a physical and temporal experience. It’s a slow process and it can take days for a form to take shape whereas on the canvas I can do that quickly and see the results instantly. There is a sense of instant gratification when painting.


Name a few artists that influenced your work.

The Bauhaus was a huge influence and still is – architecture, product design, textiles there are so many great things. Especially Klee’s theories on art and design – not to imitate nature and objects but to observe the process that shaped/created them. It is a fascinating way to look at our surrounding, study form and shape and a reminder not to be too literal when using visual language. I’m also a huge fan of Sean Scully’s work, Ellsworth Kelly, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Alexander Calder, as well as Friedel Dzubas and Ray Parker.


Describe your process. How do you prepare for each piece? 

Half of my sketchbooks are filled with text and the other half with drawings. Most of the time I will write out what a painting should look like or how I imagine several shapes next to each other. I also make collages with torn and cutout paper to create relationships in color and form. When the relationship of elements becomes more than the individual parts, and the shapes move across the surface, everything finds its place.
Once I move to the canvas I usually have a clear idea about how I want to place elements and the colors I’m going to use. The sketches and collages are very loose and I leave a lot of room for experimentation. Working on the canvas is the opposite—it is a very controlled environment.
What are you currently working on and excited about in your studio practice?

I’m currently working on a new series of gradient paintings. I had previously worked on a gradient series inspired by the dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. The new paintings are a variation of that technique – while the earlier work was a visualization of movement – the new work is about the interaction of light/dark and sound/silence.
This work has been exciting in many ways - finding the right balance in color, refining the technique, and working on a larger scale.


Share a piece of advice that helped you in your artistic journey so far.

Just keep working - there are always ideas that work and some that don't but it is important to work your way through it and see how far you can push your ideas.

Nicole Mueller

Nicole Mueller is based in San Francisco, California and works out of a studio in East Oakland. She holds a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. She has participated in artist residencies throughout the United States and abroad, and exhibited her work in Maryland, California, and New York.

She makes large mixed media collages, murals, and installations exploring dichotomies, and asserting the importance of play, surprise, and experimentation.

Her work aims to draw parallels between animation and abstraction—which both simplify, exaggerate, and select from reality—while further emphasizing painting's unique and defining relationship between surface and space.

Within her work, she is pursuing a balance between chaos and control, the spontaneous and intentional, exuberant and complex. Each piece includes moments of punctuation, sometimes comically loud or abrupt, colliding colors and shapes, and depicts a world of continuous convergence, dissipating boundaries, and in celebration of paradox.

Tong Zhang

Tong Zhang's dark watercolor paintings bridge his personal memory with today’s life to raise a question, “what those given moments from daily life could mean?”. After moving to the US from China in 2011, he started to value his memory and devoted to contextualizing the moment of awareness and to revolving the sensation of certain memories through his practice. Tong is the recipient of many awards, including The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant 2017, The Sam and Adele Golden Foundation for Art Grant and George J. Vander Sluis Award. His work has been shown nationally and internationally, including Swansea College of Art, United Kingdom; Attleboro Arts Museum, USA; Tucson Museum of Art, USA; CAFA, China. He received a BFA in Printmaking and a MFA in Experimental Art from China and is a MFA candidate in studio art at Syracuse University.


What is the emptiness between physical objects about? Is it really existing or just mentally created inside of mind? If the space exists, how to reach the moment of emptiness? They are like a mysterious energy flowing around me, which makes my ordinary life full of potential of being sublime and opens a new way of looking that triggers a sense of curiosity and wonderment to the real-life. I always have a strong feeling that part of world has opened to me, but I never realize they existed. It is an experience that makes me step outside of lived daily life creating a moment that is both emptiness and awareness. The moment of emptiness is flowing between the physical objects. It is so uncertain that I have to find a way to approach the surface of the mystery. The moment of awareness transforms phenomena into mental energy, in which the normal ways of behaving, rules, laws no longer apply. Lived experience has been shifted to an awareness that the familiar part is disappearing and unknowing is left. I am defined by moments. The daily world to me is saturated with affects, sometimes it might be sufficient to isolate motifs in the everyday that are so basic that they capture the reality of basic emotions. I’m curious what has happened and what I was missing at the moments because I believe there is always a space to realizing the emotional potential

"Bad Order" by Brett Flanigan at Athen B. Gallery

Athen B. Gallery is excited to announce the debut solo exhibition by Brett Flanigan, "Bad Order" opening this Saturday, October 14th at 7pm. Brett Flanigan’s new paintings expand on the tug of war between order and entropy present in much of his previous work. In this series, he dives deeper into a system of games that draw parallels to the way he approaches life.  

The gallery is located at 1525 Webster St. conveniently off of both 12th and 19th Bart stations in Downtown Oakland.  The artist will be present. Photographs by Athen B. Curator Brock Brake. To receive a preview of the exhibition contact!


The impetus for this body of work is "the game". Games are a way for me to navigate a series of decisions through terms that I understand, because they are devised in ways that mirror my life.  They can involve pattern, probability, logic, language, representation, or repetition. Some are funny or awkward. Although games can contain rules, they are not rules in themselves. They can accomodate dichotomy and cognitive dissonance. Any agitation or mistake can change the game or set a new game into motion. When a game can no longer be played, the information gained can be used to formulate a new game, and the process continues. It is a reductive process, which is repeated until I have created something that I no longer understand. 


Brett Flanigan was born in Great Falls, MT, and holds a degree in Biology from the University of California. He has lived and has lived and worked in Oakland, CA since 2009. He works primarily in painting, sculpture, and public art. His works are often driven by processes influenced by his science and mathematics background. Since 2010 his work has been exhibited in San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, Portland, Atlanta and Chicago, as well as internationally in Hamburg, Germany and Warsaw, Poland. Flanigan has also completed a number of public artworks, including a mural at the Museum of the University of Nevada, Reno, and a large scale public sculpture in downtown Oakland.

Painting Patterns in Nature: Interview with Kelly Johnston

Kelly Johnston earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from the University of Washington in 2000. In addition to painting, she has worked in the interior design industry and created a line of handmade jewelry. Kelly returned to painting in 2013 and has exhibited her work throughout the Pacific Northwest. She was recently featured in Luxe Interiors + Design Magazine, HGTV Magazine, and Her work can also be found in three collections of limited edition prints available on, McGaw Graphics and through Sebastian Foster. 

Kelly lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington with her husband and two children. 

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Tell us about your journey as an artist. 

I like that this question references a journey. That’s exactly what it is. A twisty, winding path through life and experiences. So many starts and stops along the way. I’ve always felt the most stimulated when making things and have painted on and off since I was a kid. I went to art school and graduated with a BFA in Painting. After college, I got a desk job and barely made time for painting, which made me kind of miserable, but I was also mystified as to how to actually become a working artist – because that definitely wasn’t covered in school! After a few years I got married and with the encouragement of my husband I finally decided to quit my job and try to paint full time. But we started a family shortly thereafter and caring for young children definitely took precedence in my life for a good ten years. Finally, when our second child began full day Kindergarten I rented a little studio space near our house and just jumped back in. That was five years ago and I’ve been working steadily ever since. I’ve come to realize that art feeds more art and I’m just following along, going where it leads me.


How do you feel your work has evolved since you started painting?

It’s become more complex and there’s more depth. I often feel that I’m a little all over the place with lots of ideas and I always want to follow all these different tangents, but I’m slowly figuring out what my work is about over time. And I’m always searching and learning. I can’t imagine painting the same thing over and over for the rest of my career. I’m ok with the work changing because it’s a reflection of my growth as an artist and a person.

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What inspires your current work? Tell us about your process and references. Where do the landscape images come from?

I’ve always painted landscapes and abstract landscapes with a focus on color and light but lately I’ve become fascinated with the patterns I see repeated in nature. Organic ovoid shapes found in the reflections in my water paintings, in wood grain patterns, topographic maps, rocks and minerals, seashells, clouds in the wind, riverbeds, the whorls on my fingertips, the list goes on and on and I’m drawn to the similarities inherent in all of this natural growth. In terms of process, I take a lot of photos and use them for reference. I’ve also tried painting from other peoples’ photos in the past but I find I’m not as connected to the image if I didn’t experience it firsthand and the resulting painting is more of a struggle. So, I’m thankful for my iPhone in that I almost always have it nearby. Now I have a basket of photos in my studio that I often sift through and use as starting points.

What do you love to do outside of the studio? 

Spend time with my husband, our two kids and our dog. Go outside. Travel and explore new places. Practice yoga. Enjoy my friends and family. 

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Are you part of your local creative community? Tell us what the art scene in Washington is like. 

I try to make it to art galleries and museums when possible. I enjoy meeting other artists and feel lucky to live on an island with a small town community where art is really valued and celebrated. I’ve always lived in Washington state, so it’s my only experience, but I’ve heard we have a much more supportive and cooperative art community in comparison with other places. I’m grateful for that open mindset and try to foster it by spreading the word about artists who I admire or inspire me. And I actually just signed the lease on a new studio space in our town and I’m excited to host some open studio events in the coming year.


What do you hope the viewer experiences through your paintings? 

I always want my paintings to be a treat for the eyes – to be optically exciting – there’s a visual buzz or vibration that I’m after. I think that spark opens the door for escapism and then I hope the viewer feels a moment of peace. Reflection. And a connection to the bigger picture.

You received some notable recognition in magazines and publications. What advice would you give other creatives looking to get some press?

Put yourself out there. Submit lots of applications to open calls. And just keep working!

Kate Klingbeil 

I make objects and paintings that celebrate movement, intimacy and emotional intelligence. The work is figurative and feminist, investigating a humanity that blooms and dies again every day. I tell myself that I should always search for pleasure, so I make ceramics to honor the sometimes mundane and sometimes ridiculous moments of daily existence. 

Kate Klingbeil (b. 1990) is an artist currently living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated in 2012 from California College of the Arts with a BFA in Printmaking, and has since attended residencies at ACRE and Kala Art Institute. She has shown across the US at Andrew Rafacz Gallery (Chicago), Athen B. Gallery (Oakland), Hashimoto (SF) Harpy Gallery (N.J.) and had a solo show February 2017 at Crush Curatorial (NYC). 

S. Tudyk 

The Message Series was inspired from my belief that people connect personally to specific letters and numbers, each for their own reason. I begin with one long poetic billboard phrase and paint only the non-repeating letters from the message. By obscuring the original group of words, my intent is to encourage the viewer to slow down and study the work. 

S. Tudyk is a 2001 graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, with a BFA in Illustration and a BFA in Graphic Design. She also attended The Illustration Academy hosted at Ringling College of Art and Design in 2009. 

Xi Zhang 

Xi Zhang’s paintings manifest the psychological weight experienced in moments of turmoil and tribulations. In his oneiric narratives, melancholia is a familiar companion – overbearing landscapes and foreboding atmospheres suppress his lonely protagonists, obscuring the delineation of fantasy and reality. Conflating the styles of the East and the West, Zhang’s luscious brushstrokes recall water-colored mountains of antique Chinese scrolls, but also the staining of the Abstract Expressionists such as Helen Frankenthaler. It is upon Zhang’s cathartic vistas that such polarities congeal. 

Born in 1984 in Kaifeng, China, Xi Zhang completed his studies in painting at China’s Beijing Institute of Art and Design. He moved to the United States to further his artistic training at Denver, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from RMCAD in 2008, and that same year was recognized by then Denver Post art critic Kyle MacMillan as the “Emerging Artist of the Year” for his “well-developed, surprisingly mature vision.” Zhang continued from there with his masters studies in painting at the University of Colorado, Boulder, receiving his MFA from the institution in 2011. 

Zhang’s work had notable shows including Song Zhuang Multimedia Art Exhibition at Song Zhuang Art Museum in Beijing (2006), URRA in Argentina (Buenos Aires 2012), Ornaments at White House (2012), and Biennale of America in U.S. (2013). His work was featured on media as CNN (2011), Art ltd Magazine (2012), PBS (2013), NPR (2013), and Juxtapoz Magazine (2014). Zhang also was awarded Emerging Artist of Year (2008), The Pathmaker (2011), Top twelve artists under age 35 (2012), The Catherine Doctorow Prize in Contemporary painting (Nominated 2015), The John Moores Painting Prize (China, Finalist 2016), and Gold Award Winner in painting from Art Forward Contest (2016). 

Zhang is represented by PLUS Contemporary Fine Arts Gallery in Denver and Marc Straus Gallery in New York. 

On The Verge: Capturing Nature Through Contemporary Art With Mya Kerner

Originally from Philadelphia, PA, Mya Kerner completed her BFA in Interdisciplinary Sculpture and Environmental Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD in 2011. Since then, Mya has worked as an artist in residence nationally at Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum in Solsberry, Indiana and Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama, and internationally as a visiting artist at Akademia Sztuk Pięknych in Gdańsk, Poland. She has shown her work in England, Canada, Poland, Latvia, and, here, in the United States. In 2016, Mya completed a Certificate in Holistic Landscape Design at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Working out of her Seattle studio, Mya continues her art practice full time, partnering with designers across North America. 


I think about the individual in the context of the mountains and their immense scale. As we have continued our supposed domination over Nature, regarding Nature as resource rather than Source, we have forgotten these concepts are constructs, built in recent history through the deconstruction of mythology. 

My studies in permaculture influence my art practice, expanding my perception. I regard the mountains as stoic icons reflected by mortality, records of the movements of the earth and the torrents of the sky. They represent a collision or maybe a collaboration of the elements and the forces of life. Though continuously rising or falling, the mountains stand, silent, weighing on the shifting fragments of the earth, moving at an incomprehensible rate. 

I depict geological disruptions, carved moments and parts within the landscape. Records of denudation captivate me, as these notes present a segmented image of the whole. The mountaintops stand crisp against a stark white, for the peak is both the destination and the departure - reaching for an infinite sky. Descending are scratched lines, which break through the slopes, while flecks of white dapple on eroded surfaces, recalling cooler seasons. Light moves across planes, marking time with stretched and shortened shadows. 

Recording these moments by drawing and writing, I return to the studio to paint in attempt to capture this vulnerability, leaving the rest in the haze. Often, my finished pieces linger on the threshold of completion, for what memory is complete upon its conception? Form denotes the flow of water through rocky slopes, and the image often disintegrates as it nears the base of the painting, referencing the deposition of mountain and mythos. 

Often, my finished pieces linger on the threshold of completion, for what memory is complete upon its conception?
— Mya Kerner

Tell us about your background. When did you become interested in mountains, nature, and geology? What inspired you to start exploring these subjects in your art? 

There are so many ways I could answer this question, but I will say:

When I moved to Seattle in 2014, I found myself in a completely foreign landscape. Thinking about earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, wildfires, etc., as a real threat, I was finally confronted by the Sublime in a way I could not comprehend while living in the North East. This contrast awakened a silent terror within me, which I think most people in the developed world have forgotten. However, my education in permaculture design has allowed me confront the naiveté of being a human within nature, and to begin to truly read and respond to the landscape.


How does each work come to life? Tell us about your process. 

I begin with drawing and writing, with the pencil as an extension of my sight. I trace lines with my vision and translate those directly onto paper with line or letter. This either happens in the landscape, or in response to photographic references, which provoke the memory of a distant experience. Sometimes, I use photographic references while I paint, but mostly, I apply the paint in response to the marks of the pencil, guided by my graphite code. By combining paint and graphite on birch panel, which accepts both forceful and gentle application without distortion, I explore a language of texture. As I work, I manipulate the paint, projecting my sculptural perspective onto the surface of the canvas. 


Is travel a big part of your studio practice? How do you collect imagery for your pieces? 

I find it incredibly rejuvenating to explore the unknowns of a new place, in both urban and natural landscapes. I sketch and draw in the landscape. I also take photos, which I bring back to the studio for reference. Most of what I take from travel, however, is the memories and the sensations, which I attempt to embed in my work.


What has been the most exciting moment in your career as an artist? 

Here, I will get a little spiritual. When the interconnectivity of the universe reveals itself, I know I am on the right track. Each morning, I set an intention for the near future, and I conclude each day setting an intention for the distant future. Although at first, there was little yield to these hopes, earlier this year, I finally began to see little pieces fitting together, leading me towards something larger than before. This was the most exciting moment ­— I realized that I was heading in the direction I had set for myself and that I had the ability to decide that direction for myself.


What do you hope your work communicates to the viewer?

In my work, I attempt to recall the Sublime. I hope to evoke the beauty and terror of nature, with the goal of remembering our forgotten role of stewards of the earth.

How do you recharge? Tell us about a few of your favorite activities outside of art making. 

Being in outdoors (hiking or just sitting) is a favorite activity of mine. I love to sleep outside, no matter the weather, because I want to wake up and remember how it feels to be in the hands of nature.


What are you currently working on and excited about? 

I am working towards two solo shows, which will open this autumn. For the last year, I have mostly been working on commission work, which is wonderful, and I challenge myself within the parameters outlined by my clients. However, I love the freedom of creating work based on my own impulses and am excited about these self-guided pieces.

The newest endeavor in my work is creating wire drawings, on the wall, and on panel. One of my shows will feature an installation piece in wire, while the other will showcase a handful of large wire drawings on panel.

Lastly, I have been working towards making my own paints. I have collected soils, which I will grind, sieve, and mix into oil paints. These paints will begin finding their way into my finished pieces by the end of the year.

Suzanna Scott 

b. 1974, Pennsylvania, United States. 

Suzanna Scott is an artist living and working from her home studio in northeast Louisiana. Her work has been exhibited nationally and can be found in private collections worldwide. 

Suzanna's current work explores feminist themes and visual ideas that are in and of the body. She continues to work with a range of materials—stone, wax, fiber and paper and frequently incorporates found objects into her pieces. 

Suzanna resides with her husband Patrick and twelve-year-old daughter Elizabeth in Ruston, Louisiana. 

Booshra Mastour 

Booshra is a self-taught artist. Born in Casablanca in 1974, she grew up in Belgium, where her parents introduced her to painting when she was a small child. It is in this medium she always works. Rooted in two cultures, Booshra spent her childhood between the nuns who ran her catholic school and the mosque.

A liminal figure on the periphery of culture haunts her African portraits. The amalgamation of culture is apparent in the portraiture with which her style has become synonymous. Booshra’s Humanism is informed by her observation of cultural Misanthropy. Witnessing the social and religious conditioning has forced her to investigate the notion of Culture and Identity and the strong connection we as humans retain to primitive, or arguably wordless cultures.
“How do these people exist, cut off from our so-called advanced civilization, from our societal programming, our ‘indispensable’ technology? What lies at the bottom of their hearts, their souls? Are they content? Are they happy?” 

She packs her brushes, and she sets off on a journey of discovery that will take her to Asia, Africa and Oceania. In these (isolated) backwaters, she experiments with new techniques while developing her unique and iconic style. Working with local ingredients and natural pigments, she creates organic textures, which she lays on whatever support she can acquire in the vicinity. 

The magic in ritual and connection to nature reveals a wealth of spiritualism lost on the Modern man. The profound connection these cultures have towards the earth and its life-forces celebrates the magic and mystery of the Unspoken. The moment just before though becomes word and the infinity of possibility is timelessly preserved. 

While on her travels, her work remains relatively small. When she finally puts an end to these journeys, her paintings take on monumental dimensions. Almost as if she needed to further broaden her horizon. The narrative is no longer stifled by size but embraces space, as well as colour, to depict these timeless portraits. This shift coincides with the appearance of her first large scale Prussian and Cobalt blue African portraits. 

Throughout her monumental paintings, Booshra expresses her deep fascination with the human condition. She explores two main subjects: the gaze of human being, and the vast beauty of imperfection. She works on scars and scarifications. Jumping between the tribal and the modern, she contemplates the very humanness and the beauty of fallibility that we all experience as human. There is a contemplative almost philosophical aura about her portraits. They seem to be capturing the silence before any words are spoken. When something is spoken in words, it formalises and concretises the multitude of thought-chaos that remains in the few moment before the words are spoken. This limbic stillness seems to be on the lips of her subjects as they struggle to formulate and manifest in words the chaos and ambiguity of thought. Her aim is to convey the ancestral bond that ties us all together, the emotions that are spoken by and revealed through the eyes. The artist’s monumental portraits are etched in layers of texture and 3D sculpture. They stare back at you staring at their tribal souls and modern scars. 

Her aim is to convey the ancestral bond that ties us all together, the emotions that are spoken by and revealed through the eyes. “The universal truth of our shared origin(s) cannot remain hidden. There is no shying away from our underlying wisdom or savagery. There is no denial.”