5 questions with Ann Toebbe


One of the best things about this blog, for me, is learning new things about friends I've known for years. Ann and I met in grad school and I've loved her playful narrative abstractions ever since. Looking at her paintings makes me feel like I'm eavesdropping, or reading someone else's mail, while reveling in the quirky, delicious color arrangements. Ann has recently received some well-deserved love from some of our favorite arts writers for her exhibition at Monya Rowe (please see end of post.)  Congrats to Ann and many thanks for sharing with us. 

Where do you live, where is your studio? Who makes up your day-to-day world? friends? partners? pets? kids?

 I live in Hyde Park, a neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago. My studio is in a one-bedroom garden apartment. It’s just two minutes from our home in our condo complex. My day-to-day world is centered on my family. My daughters are 4 and 6 and my stepson is 16. The kids have school and various activities. My husband, Eric, is a lawyer so I do most of the heavy lifting for the household. I’m very involved in my daughters’ schools as a volunteer and a public school activist. We live right on Lake Michigan so we spend our summers swimming. No pets. We had a fish, Heart, for two years but she died. Occasionally I go out with a friend and, as often as possible, to an art event.


What’s an average studio day like? 

My studio workweek and day is very regimented. During the girls’ school year I work Monday -Thursday. Weekdays I wake up at 5:30/45am to run or swim. Between 6:30 and 8:10 I get my daughters ready for school and straighten up the house. I drop them off, pick up my coffee, and arrive in my studio at 9am. I come to the studio very prepared with a packed lunch and I have tea and a dessert on hand so I won’t need to leave during the workday or procrastinate. I listen to University of Chicago’s djs until noon then switch to NPR. I work until 3:10pm then pick up the girls from school. If I’m on a tight deadline I go back to the studio and work when Eric arrives home around 7:30/8pm and stay no later than 11:30. More often I eat a late dinner with Eric, burn out watching a tv series, or catch up on household stuff and emails. I work weekends when necessary and sometimes have to juggle part-time teaching. Eric and I are always negotiating our weekends to make sure I have enough time in the studio.


What are you working on now? (What are you most excited about/ confounded by/ obsessed with?)

Last year I worked on back-to-back solo shows in May ‘14 and January ‘15. So I’m not working much right now. A friend and curator/consultant is starting an online gallery and asked me to make prints from original work. I’m working on finishing several preliminary drawings for paintings to be scanned for prints. I often finish drawings after an exhibition while I decide what’s next. I’m scheduling a show with fort gondo in St. Louis. It isn’t a commercial space so it’s an opportunity to experiment and take some risks. Work larger? Make drawings? Large drawings?

Art-wise I’m confounded about how I want to approach my next few paintings. I always want to be more expressive, looser, faster but I’m not at my best this way. I’ve found ways to work process painting and looser painting into my work with collage and in window scenes. I love Soutine and Bonnard. How could I be little more like Amy Sillman or Dana Schutz?

I’m obsessed with order. I’m always organizing my house, my life, and my paintings. Only my paintings seem to reflect this, the rest is chaos.

What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?

Since I have a family there’s less time for things to not go right in my studio. Once I commit to a painting I rarely set it aside. Instead I fight it, coax it, curse it until it’s good. I have so much time outside the studio I tend to work out bad ideas before I have a chance to act on them. All the stress happens when I’m trying to go to sleep, cook dinner, grocery shop. This will change as my life dynamic changes. I look forward to mucking stuff up and having ideas worked out in the studio again.


How do you sustain your creative life? (How do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?)

 In my twenties I was a server, art mover, and art preparator. I was always with artists and dated an artist for many years. During this time I didn’t have much money, job security, or health care. Grad school took me out of NYC and I never returned. During grad school I applied for grants and a residency in Berlin. I met my husband at Yale. I moved to Chicago after a year in Berlin and have been here since 2005. I haven’t had a full time job since I lived in New York. I’ve received grants, part-time teach, and sell work. I don’t make a lot of money, but if I was only supporting myself, I would be able to sustain my art career. I would have to live on a tight budget, no frills - yet.  

My husband is a lawyer at a small firm. It was total luck or fate that I met someone who loves art and kids and is willing to be married to an artist and is not an artist! Being an artist is lonely and I only like to mix in any art scene in small doses. My daughters keep me company and give me a purpose. They keep me from myself and in the world. My role as a mother has been integral in sustaining my art career. 

What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?

There’s no recipe for success. If you want to exhibit and be in the art world, pursue every opportunity. Don’t be afraid to ask, to fail or be shot down. Expect it and move on to the next thing. In the beginning make your own opportunities. Write for small publications, curate, and apply to everything. Get up early, exercise, and don’t drink too much! If any of my answers seem easy going or I have it figured out, I don’t. I’m as anxious as ever and that’s what drives me to keep making work.

Monya Rowe Gallery, New York

Steven Zevitas Gallery, Boston

Check out all the amazing press Ann received for her exhibition "Remarried" at Monya Rowe below. The show is up until February 22, 2015. Don't miss it! Ann will have an exhibition in 2015 Miami – not sure which fair yet, stay tuned and in 2016  at fort gondo, in St. Louis.


New York Magazine

New York Magazine

Print Magazine

The Huffington Post

The New York Times



5 questions with Brian Porray

Brian and I met at Bemis in the summer of 2012. I was a teetotaling 8-months-pregnant lady, convinced I would have zero fun watching everyone do what artists do best at residencies (umm...drink... shh), while I would grumpily shed salty silent tears into my already sodium laden seltzer. But alas, in walks Brian Porray, an incredible artist and a hilarious new friend who became yet another fantastic addition to an already wonderful cast of characters I would meet in Omaha. I have rarely laughed more, while sober, than I did that summer. Brian is blowing it up lately with a recent spectacular, attention grabbing, exhibition at Western Projects in L.A., as well as several  shows lined up for fall (see list below).

Where do you live, where is your studio? Who makes up your day to day world? friends? partners? pets? kids?

I'm currently living in Los Angeles with my partner Kyla and our pug-mix Duncan. We live in the Highland Park neighborhood just northeast of downtown LA, which is a historic area with a significant concentration of creative people. Our dear friend Sarah lives next door, an amazing artist who looks after all of the feral cats in the neighborhood - - anyone who has spent time in Los Angeles knows what a luxury it is to live within walking distance of a friend, so we feel fortunate. Kyla and I share a studio in Downtown LA - right by the river on Sacramento Street. It's in a big warehouse and several other artists have studios in the building, all of whom we admire and consider our friends. It's a good vibe.

What’s an average studio day like? please be as specific as possible. 

An average studio day for me doesn't start until around 11:00 am. I like slow mornings with lots of coffee and a long walk with my dog. I don't sacrifice these things. Commuting to the studio is one of my favorite parts of the day and I try not to take it for granted. We spend so much time driving in LA, I decided  a long time ago to make peace with it and try to find some small kind of magic in the experience. I like to avoid freeways when possible so I typically drive south through Boyle Heights along Soto and connect to Downtown via the double-decker Seventh Street Viaduct - - which, in my opinion, is the most interesting of the LA bridges, both architecturally and politically. 

I spend the first few minutes in the studio going through small mundane preparations - turning on and warming up the lights, getting new water for brushes, putting sharp blades in my cutting tools, laying out paper and fabric, etc. I think these types of things are fairly typical for most of us, and they always feel important. I try to spend the first hour or so in silence, except for the humming of the fan. I like to look at everything without sound. The work always tells me what to do, so if I'm not quiet I can miss things. If I try to paint before I'm paying attention I can really fuck things up.

Once I'm plugged in I start working. I listen to whatever feels right, but only through headphones which help me stay in my own head and dampen distractions. I cut a shitload of paper in the studio and I usually start by thinking in collage first. While I'm pasting the paper to the surface I start thinking in paint. It's a proximity thing. I need to get my hands on the work before I can tell what needs be painted and what needs to be paper. I don't really understand it. The cycle goes on like this for the rest of the day. Most of the time I paint by taping and spraying, but occasionally I will hand paint with a brush - my muscles know what to do better than my brain, and I'm always reminded of this when I start painting by hand. 

I don't keep any reference material in the studio - just books and magazines that I use for collage. I don't take a computer or tablet with me. My phone is there, but I try not to look at it. I work until I don't feel like working anymore, sometimes three hours, sometimes ten. I don't ever try to force anything.


What are you working on now? (what are you most excited about/ confounded by/ obsessed with?)

I'm currently making "portraits" of plants, but they don't really look like plants at all. They look like paintings that have the DNA of a plant. I collect and care for something like 140 different succulents - it's one of my favorite ways to spend my time. Looking after plants is super enlightening - they teach me all kinds of things. I can't fucking believe how amazing they are. It's crazy. I'm hardcore about it - I make logs and records, I measure the soil PH, moisture, light levels, all that stuff. I love them all and try really hard to not fuck anything up.

Anyway, I'm hoping that my new images will somehow approximate or embody my experience of these plants. Paintings that attempt some kind of cellular connection. I don't really have it all figured out yet, but I think there is something fundamental there. I just want to give them their own power and then step out of the way. I've been painting them with the slightest suggestion of eyeballs. Not eyeballs explicitly, just a hint. Maybe eyeballs is the wrong word - I want them to have tunnels that feel like there is something unseen on the other side. Like windows into the interior of the painting. I'm hoping to stand in a room with these new plant paintings all around me, so that I can see them and they can see me too if they choose to look back. I want to feel like I had nothing to do with making them - like I'm looking at something new for the first time, or looking at something that has been there all along. I hope it works - I get excited thinking about it. It's still kind of fuzzy in my mind.

What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?

I just work. I don't stop. Really...I never stop. If something isn't going right, I just cover it up with paper and keep going. I don't punish myself. Everything comes from working. I don't take breaks. I hate taking breaks from painting. 

How do you sustain your creative life? How do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?

I just recently transitioned to having the studio be my primary gig, which is exciting, if a bit scary. I still work one or two days a week in the fabrication shop at Art Center, which keeps me from going crazy and spending too much time alone. I've always worked in shops. I've never really wanted to teach but I also don't like working outside of the field with people who don't care about art, so shops are a perfect middle ground for me.  

What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?

Honestly, I don't know. I'm not very good with that sort of thing. It's so hard to give advice because we all have such different paths. Someone told me this once: "The world finds its artists and artists find the world." 

That kind of thinking makes a lot of sense to me.

5 questions with Holly Coulis

I've been following this lovely lady's fantastic work for some time now and was elated that she agreed to share her thoughts and images with us this week.  


Name: Holly Coulis

Where do you live, where is your studio? 

Studio and home are in Brooklyn. Both in the Williamsburg/East Williamsburg area. We recently bought a used car, but before that we would walk everyday between the home and studio, which I miss. I've lived in the same apartment since 1999. It's starting to look like a real NY apartment. People always bring in more stuff than they get rid of I guess.

Who makes up your day to day world? 

My husband, Ridley, mostly. We share a studio. Periodically I see friends, usually at openings, sometimes for dinner. But my favorite is to meet out for breakfast.

friends? partners? pets? kids?

We have no kids. I wish I had pets. I love animals. It would be great to have a dog and a cat. But NO PETS ALLOWED in my building. I have to resort to watching Youtube videos.

Butter Knives and Lemons,   11 x 14",   oil on canvas,   2014

Butter Knives and Lemons, 11 x 14", oil on canvas, 2014

What’s an average studio day like?

Usually I get to the studio between 8:30 and 9:30 am and stay until 6 or 7pm. In the summer I leave a little earlier because there is no air conditioning  and the heat makes it difficult to concentrate. I have a low tolerance for summer.

What do you listen to? 

When I worked alone, I listened to documentaries. Now it's the radio and Spotify. It's a mix of Howard Stern, To the Point, Marc Maron. Music can vary from something classical to something country. The World Cup has just ended, sadly, and that was great studio listening.

What do you look at etc?

We have a small collection of art books. Some of my go tos are Milton Avery, Gary Hume, Jane Freilicher, William Nicholson, William Scott (the Williams). Sometimes I troll Tumblr. People put up some great images that I probably wouldn't find on my own. The thing about the internet is that you can end up with an inspiring image that you didn't go looking for.

Lettuce, Peas and Knife,  16 x 18.25", oil on canvas, 2014

Lettuce, Peas and Knife, 16 x 18.25", oil on canvas, 2014

What are you working on now? (What are you most excited about/ confounded by/ obsessed with?)

Right now I'm investigating these still-life paintings (how can I make a new one that is interesting to me...) and trying to find a way to bring the figure back into this new-ish way of painting. It's a bit tricky, but it's starting to make sense, I think. The newer paintings are so much about color, shapes and edges. But I'm not sure I want to paint the figure in that same way. I've been trying to make sense of it for myself.

Lynn and Lemons ,  18 x 16" ,  oil on linen ,  2014

Lynn and Lemons18 x 16"oil on linen2014

What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?

This is happening now, at least on one front. Usually, I start a drawing project of some sort. Either in pencil, ink, or oil pastels...any other medium besides paint, but those are my favorites. Sometimes these projects can last a while (a few months). Sometimes they feel like a colossal waste of time, but end up being fruitful in some important way. Plus I really enjoy drawing. Other times a trip to a museum or gallery will help, but not always. The Met is usually good for a boost - the Asian Art galleries are fantastic. There's a show up now called "Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy" through August 17 that I really want to see.

Lemon, Bowls, 11x14", ink on rice paper, 2013

Lemon, Bowls, 11x14", ink on rice paper, 2013

How do you sustain your creative life?

When I first arrived in NYC, I had a Photoshop retouching job. That lasted about 10 years or so, maybe a little less. After about 5 years it turned into a freelance job, which gave me more time to paint. But that skill set was valuable for picking up other freelance work over the years. At the moment, I am teaching adjunct at Pace University in Manhattan. I teach drawing, digital design, and illustration.


What advice would you give a young artist just starting out? 

I'm sure young artists are tired of advice, but here's the only advice I have: Find a way to focus on your studio. Make your time there as clear and as meaningful as possible. 

Bowl and Cups, 9 x 12", oil on canvas, 2014

Bowl and Cups, 9 x 12", oil on canvas, 2014

You can see Holly's work in a group show at Sargent's Daughters, called "Sargent's Daughters", up until July 26th. In August, she will have a painting in a show called "Tossed", curated by Jennifer Coates and Rachel Schmidhofer, at Jeff Bailey Hudson.