artist interviews

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 Natasha Bowdoin

Natasha and I met at the Bemis Artist in Residence Program in Omaha, NE in 2012. We were Omaha besties, often breaking up the hours of working-on-end with gym sessions, coffee and trips to the unique local eateries. She's super awesome, smart and fun... and an incredible artist. 

Name: Natasha Bowdoin

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

 I’ve been living and working in Houston, TX for about 6 years now. Originally I came to Houston to participate in the Core Residency Program, which provided me a studio at the Museum of Fine Arts’ Glassell School for two years.  Then, for several years, my husband Josh and I shared an attic studio space above the carport behind our apartment. As of last October I’m in a new studio about 5 minutes away from our apartment, which has given me more space to work on larger pieces.

My husband Josh and our cat Coyote make up my day to day. They are my great familiars. We’re thinking of adding a bird to the family too, maybe sometime soon. In all honesty if our apartment were a bit bigger I would add in as many animals as possible. It’s a goal to work towards anyway.  I also have dear friends in my current studio building whom I see day to day.

Garden Plot,   2013 ,   Gouache, acrylic, and pencil on cut paper and acrylic on wall,   28' x 10' x 1.5'    Site-specific installation at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, NM

Garden Plot, 2013 , Gouache, acrylic, and pencil on cut paper and acrylic on wall, 28' x 10' x 1.5'  Site-specific installation at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, NM

Detail of Garden Plot,   2013,   Gouache, acrylic, and pencil on cut paper and acrylic on wall,   28' x 10' x 1.5' 

Detail of Garden Plot, 2013, Gouache, acrylic, and pencil on cut paper and acrylic on wall, 28' x 10' x 1.5' 

What’s an average studio day like? 

My studio days vary. I think I have a pattern of working in bursts. There are periods of intense activity involving many long hours and many late nights. Other times I work on more of a 10 to 6 schedule, come home for dinner, and then go back for more. Things have changed a bit since I’ve started teaching. I try to be very active on the days I’m not at school. I do especially love working at night. Things feel more possible when the sun is down. Plus I enjoy sleeping in when I can.   I usually get right to work when I arrive – drawing or cutting. Often times I break up my day by reading or pouring through the source material that is currently feeding my work. I also read as I draw, since much of my work is inspired and created from the act of transcription.

I do listen to music while I’m working, when I’m not reading. Right now I enjoy, in addition to my own music library, KCRW, sometimes the news, and often an array of podcasts. My favorite of all time being Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm.

As far as source material goes I’m always hunting for images. I prefer the old fashioned way of discovering source material: wandering the stacks at the library. I also occasionally poke around on the internet. I really love Will Schofield’s blog 50 Watts, a great treasure trove of book-related design and illustration. At this particular moment I’m captivated by images of Antonio Rubino’s Fiorella. Rubino was an Italian illustrator that lived from 1880-1964. I’ve also recently been collecting images of old astronomical drawings and prints of the moon, specifically from the 1600 and 1700s. So far my favorites are moon maps drawn by astronomer Giovanni Cassini in Paris in the 1670s.

Studio shot

Studio shot

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

Much of my work for awhile now has been centered around the idea of using found text as raw material, in an effort to re-imagine the intersection of the visual and the literal beyond our traditional expectations. I currently have a few things in the fire. I’ve begun work on some large-scale cut paper installations. Since I don’t start out with a final form in mind, initially this work involves making many drawings, cutting them up, and then trying out different combinations of layers and intersections. I’ve also been working on a series of small cut paper pieces that are moving towards three dimensions, influenced by Rubino’s flower drawings and transcriptions of naturalist texts. Lastly I have a series started that is my attempt to draw the moon. I was inspired by a series of star map prints my husband Josh has been working on and I thought it might be nice to try and make a companion piece to his night sky. So far, the gouache and ink drawings transcribe stories about the moon into the moon’s surface. The most recent, lovely story I have been transcribing is “The Distance of the Moon” by Italo Calvino. The moon series is moving back towards more traditional drawing for me, and offers a meditative relief from the more aggressive large installation work. Since I don’t know exactly where things will end up I like to have different bodies of work developing at the same time, in the hope that if one doesn’t work out it can feed right into another.

Atom A,   2013,   Gouache, ink, and pencil on cut paper,   42" x 42" x 1.5" 

Atom A, 2013, Gouache, ink, and pencil on cut paper, 42" x 42" x 1.5" 

Atom A, Detail   2013,   Gouache, ink, and pencil on cut paper,   42" x 42" x 1.5" 

Atom A, Detail 2013, Gouache, ink, and pencil on cut paper, 42" x 42" x 1.5" 

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

I’m not much of a planner in the studio. In fact it’s usually the times when I come in to the studio with a particular plan or vision that things really don’t work out.  It’s always a tricky balance for me to maintain the space to work intuitively, without preconceived notions or constrictions. It’s almost required, especially when I begin a body of work, that I don’t know what’s “right” or “wrong”. This mindset is sometimes hard to maintain and involves really embracing self-doubt. If something doesn’t feel like it’s headed in the right direction I literally cut it up. The piece becomes fodder for future work. I like to save everything: that way failed works retain the potential for transformation.  When I’m feeling confused about the thinking behind new work I usually gravitate towards reading. Reading from my pool of source material usually lets me refocus and find the crux of the work. I try to constantly replenish the books I read – outside the realm of visual art – from poetry, mythology, fiction, naturalist accounts, etc. That keeps things fresh, visually and conceptually, in the studio.

Moon map in progress

Moon map in progress

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’m very grateful for my current and still relatively new job teaching at Rice University. For a while I was hopping from residency to residency to sustain and support my work. Then I began adjuncting in Houston as well. Now I’m teaching at Rice as an Assistant Professor in the Painting and Drawing Department. In my earlier life I’ve had the random collection of odd jobs to stay afloat.  I spent many years working at art museums as a preparator. I’ve worked on construction sites, as a landscaper, and as a third shift warehouse worker at L.L.Bean for a spell (I’ve always loved the nighttime!).  Perhaps my most memorable job was working as sternswoman on my uncle Mike’s lobster boat between undergrad and grad school.

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

I’m not sure I’m qualified myself to give this kind of advice but if I were to presume to impart any kind of wisdom to young artists, I would say stay connected to what you do and feed your practice. I think at the end of the day it’s ultimately easy to make something, but why you want to make it and what it might be about is a lot more difficult and maybe, I suspect, requires an artist to take more responsibility. I would say feed your practice every day with images and ideas that you find compelling and that feel important to you. Even if your source material resembles nothing of what you actually produce it’s still in there somewhere and helps you to figure out what’s important for the long-term life of your studio. I also think a little humility goes a long way. Doubt can be an important productive force in the studio: if you don’t let it in I think you can miss out on making something unexpected.

Natasha is represented by: 

Monya Rowe Gallery, New York, NY –

Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas, TX –


Natasha is currently working a site-specific installations at the Old Jail Art Center in Albany, TX which opens in February 2015 (about three hours outside Dallas). The work will occupy two old jail cells built in the 1870s, now turned into art spaces. She is also creating a new large-scale installation at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, GA to open in May 2015.



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.

5 questions with Beth Gilfilen


Beth and I met last summer at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in a lithography class with Devraj Dakoji (a true master and one of the kindest souls you'll ever meet). She was a printmaking fellow and I had just moved into my studio at the EFA. I was enamored with her gorgeously raw, yet smokey prints. Her paintings are even more incredible.

Name: Elizabeth Gilfilen

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

I live in Brooklyn, and my studio is just a neighborhood away. I have a few friends in my studio building that I feel a comrarderie with, and that I can reach out to and break up the isolation of working alone. My world revolves around my family, my husband and my son, and their world revolves around my frenetic self-imposed deadlines and painting schedule! We adopted a dog last summer, and she has been a terrific stress-antidote; forcing us to get to the park twice a day. And she's sweet.


What’s an average studio day like? 

Typically I get to the studio between 8 and 9am, after checking email and a few strong cups of coffee. During the school year, I work until about 2:30, then get my son from school. When I'm deep into the work, I schedule after-school, so I can work late into the evening. I also teach drawing, so I'll schedule other types of work on those days; such as priming canvases or doing an application, or just looking. At night, I like to catch up on reading, and I have a desk at home where I do ink drawings. I have a love/hate relationship with the radio, I flip it on to feel more connected to the world, and then pretty quickly turn it off. It tends to distract me. Music goes on and off sporadically during the day; gets me going, but mostly I prefer the hum of workers, trucks, cars outside. My work is very strongly tied to a marking, or tracking of time, so it's important for me to stay aware of the temporal structure I'm building within the painting, rather than what is imposed from another artist's composition.



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

Right now I'm trying to more clearly translate the forms that emerge in my ink drawings into the paintings. The paintings evolve in a very rhythmic way, and are directly related to the scale and movement of my body. I am trying to harness this kinesthetic approach a bit more, and allow the more concrete structures of the drawing forms to inform the paintings. While making the drawings, I have an "overlord" type of relationship to the paper, and there is more foresight involved as the improvisation unfolds. This orientation can't really be duplicated with the large-scale canvas; nor do I strive for a one-to one reproduction. It is more of an internalized knowledge of the form that I can hold in the back of my head, while the mechanics of the painting act take over. I'm searching for a kind of tension between the structure that is built through the scaffolding of painting marks and the momentary grasping of a more concrete, tangible entity that slips in and out of recognition.

I'm very excited to spend a few weeks just drawing this summer, then I plan to get back to the big canvases in August. I have about 12 big ones started that I'm working on in a more interrelated group.


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

I go for a run! I try to get out of my head and into my body as much as possible. I also try to reconnect with what inspires me outside of art; reading, exploring the city. Sometimes I get lost in the labyrinth of internet searches in science, psychology and whatever else pops up.

Other times it's just a matter of moving everything around in the studio and seeing the work fresh. I typically have a "lost" painting that is the worst one going, so there is really nothing at stake should I mess it up. I'll start here, a warm-up of sorts, and then get in the groove with the other works. I work on a large group of works at once, so transitioning from one to the next allows for an interdependency between works, and allows me to parse out and isolate contradictory moves or sequences among these works.

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 have transitioned from full-time mom when my son was an infant to part-time teacher pretty seamlessly. Prior to his birth, I had a huge range of jobs. I spent many, many years waitressing, bartending and have worked in lots of administrative positions. I did the grunt work for lobbyists, gallerists, non-profits, hotels, medical-supply companies, you name it. When I moved to New York, with a new baby coming soon, I knew I had to structure my time a bit differently if I was going to meet all the demands of making work and raising a child. I found ways to work part-time; teaching art for kids, so I could could bring my son along. When I was accepted to the Marie Walsh Sharpe Space program in Brooklyn, my son was entering kindergarten, and I was able to spend more time in the studio. The exposure there led to some sales of work that allowed me to secure a studio, and now I'm teaching drawing at one of the SUNY colleges out in Long Island. 

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

Don't be so critical of your failures! There is so much loss in making work, and that's such an important part of the process. Don't edit yourself prematurely. DO say yes to whatever comes to mind, there is something valuable in every misstep.

Where can we see your work next?

I'll have a painting in the exhibit "Conversations" curated by Sharon Louden at Morgan Lehman Gallery opening July 9, 6-8pm. There is a gallery talk July 28 from 6-8pm. I'm also working toward a solo exhibit at Fred Giampietro Gallery in New Haven, CT in early 2015.

5 questions with Shona Macdonald


I first met Shona while at the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program. There was a view of the scraggly barren desert, the company of scorpions and mule deer and lots of quiet. Shona and I were fast friends sharing a love of painting, teaching and vegetarian fare. You can see her work at Gridspace in Brooklyn, NY through June.


Name: Shona Macdonald

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

South Hadley, MA.  My studio is in the main Art Building at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  I work alongside the students I teach.  The people in my dad-to-day world are my family, husband, Eric Salus, and children, Isla, Bram and Fenno.  I have a litany of artist friends and colleagues scattered all across the country and into parts of Europe.

What’s an average studio day like? 

It's always different due to time restraints.  In the summers and at the end of the year break from the academic calendar, I go in all the time, 8 hours a day. During the school year, I work in smaller stretches of time - two, three hours.  Since I make laborious work that is layered, these smaller spells of time work very well.  I listen to many things:  i-tunes, democracy now, pandora, podcasts, cd's and sometimes, silence.


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

My work, during the past three years, has relied on paying attention to and noticing the landscape as I drive around the area in which I live.  I stop and photograph but I also memorize scenes that will later be transcribed into paintings and drawings.  Once back in the studio, I develop the work utilizing a layering process that merges these disparate sources of imagery.  The newest body, Around: New England, depicts odd, usually isolated objects popping up amidst the lurid greenness of this area.  Many of these objects are anthropomorphized:  I view them as surrogates for figures or bodies, nestled within the landscape.  The second body of work, rendered in silverpoint on a very small scale, Ground Coverings, depicts similar prosaic moments within the landscape, though the absence of color shifts the meaning in the work from evocative, lush greenery, to ghost-like gray forms.

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

I rework them until they do work. I don't believe in things 'not working.'  For me, if the piece isn't working, then it's me that is not working, not it. I stick with it until it does what I envisioned in the first place.  

I don't allow for fallow periods -- I work all the time because I don't feel right if I am not working and with the time restraints of having a family and a full-time job, I can't afford for this kind of time.

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 am very fortunate to have a full-time academic job teaching brilliant and enthusiastic students.  I have run our graduate programme for the past five years and very much enjoy this. Although I have been teaching full-time for sixteen years, I have done every kind of job under the sun, including bar-tending, waitressing, house-painting and one summer, I actually painted garden gnomes for a living !

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

Get a studio straight away, or establish a place to work (a spare bedroom or room in your apartment, for example). Without this grounding, what Virginia Woolf called, 'a room of one's own,' it is very easy to look for excuses not to work.  Paying  monthly rent and utilities on a studio is strong motivation to get in there.  Also, you have to learn to like your work and be content with that because if you apply for five grants and three exhibitions, for example, and coincidentally, none of them come through, your belief in your own work will cushion this blow and provide the foundation to go into the studio the next day, despite what other people may or may not think. Don't compare yourself to other artists: no two artists out there have had anything remotely like the same career path.  Read widely, outside the field of art, art criticism and art history. Art is a small, esoteric field so connect yourself to others in other fields.