5 questions with Matthew Shelley

Matthew Shelley is a friend and colleague at Moravian College where we both teach. He's been an incredible addition to our faculty. When I first encountered Matthew's work he was making meticulous graphite drawings of what appeared to be sublime arctic landscapes. They were mesmerizing. His new body of work has the same magnetic pull but has  since evolved into 3-dimensional collage that ultimately widens the  conversation around images, space and form. 

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

I just recently moved to Philadelphia.  Prior to that, I lived in New York and Washington DC.  I keep a studio at Moravian College where I work, but that’s about an hour outside the city, so I’ve been setting up a studio space here in Philadelphia for the days that I don’t teach.

My day-to-day experiences rotate between teaching and studio.  My girlfriend is also an artist, so we spend a lot of time talking about studio life and different ideas we want to work with.  During our free time, we go out on drives or check out different parts of the city because we’re pretty new here.


What’s an average studio day like? 

On the days that I teach, I work in my studio at Moravian College.  Every other workday is spent at my studio here, in Philadelphia.  I spend the first hour or so getting organized, sorting through images, and preparing surfaces to work on.  My studio work is full of different routines, so I try and follow a consistent order of operations.  Like a lot of artists I know, I have a tough time committing to one idea, and maintaining that commitment long enough to let the piece really develop.  The routine helps me work on a problem without getting overly critical too soon.  When it’s about a series of steps, I can kind of coach myself through the process without constantly changing direction.

Because I work with pre-existing pictures, I can change things a lot at almost any stage in the development of a piece.  The process is really flexible, so I can set up a goal and execute it, then evaluate it, then rework it, and try it again from a different perspective.  I try to photograph the work at its different stages so that way, I can revert to earlier arrangements if needed.  At some point, something will click and I’ll start fastening everything down. 

All of the different routines really help me be patient throughout the process, which is great because I have time to really consider what I want out of the image.  With this method, I find I can spend time with the idea, instead of rushing toward a finished product, which was a problem for me in the past. Strangely enough, I find a lot of freedom in being systematic.  When the process is ordered, you don’t always have to worry about doing it right.  You can just do the steps.

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

Unexpectedly, I have been really into sculpture lately, which is strange because I’ve always been a 2D person.  I’m not sure what contributed to that interest, but every project lately, has been something Dimensional.  A lot of what I’ve been making over the past couple years has been sculptural in some way, but I never thought it would move off the wall completely.  At first, the sculptures were more like armatures that supported a dimensional framework, but now that’s starting to dissolve.

The realization that there isn’t a strict boundary between 2D and 3D work gave me a nice sense of freedom.  There was a turning point when I realized that a picture could be a part of a sculpture, and the two things could communicate with one another.  In fact, trying to bridge the gap between the pictorial and 3-dimensional has become a big part of my work.  I’ve been thinking a lot about different ways to soften the transition between pictures and real space.  Because the illusory nature of pictures is something that I work with a lot, it seems natural to look for ways to try to get the image to confront real space.  Recently, I’ve been folding the paper that I work with and finding ways to physically act out the geometries and perspectives in my work.  Depending on the situation, I think that the folded picture plane either extends the fiction of the piece, or deactivates it. That really fascinates me because it’s a little disorienting. 

I like working with photographs because you can make small changes to the format, and totally distort what happens inside the image.  By changing the frame, you can either compress or expand the space in the photograph.  I really like playing with moments like that.  There’s a kind of vertigo that occurs when a photograph no longer seems reliable.  I think that kind of spatial confusion is somehow relevant to our relationship with landscape and location.  Our sense of direction and orientation has become really abstract.  I don’t think I’m ever able to really visualize where I am spatially or regionally.  That’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. 

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

When things get dull in the studio, I often repeat things that I’ve done in the past.  I’ll remake old compositions, or make another version of an old piece.  At least that way I’m still making something.  It never hurts to re-examine old ideas, and sometimes that leads to a tangent that spurs me in a new direction.  If I sit and stare at a blank wall, I loose my confidence really quickly.  At that point, nothing is good enough and every direction is a dead end.  I have a tendency to get uptight about my work.  It’s pretty funny from the outside looking in, but because of those anxieties, I’ve learned to just focus on whatever steps are right in front of me.  I usually locate that I’ve been in a slump some months after the fact, when I look back at a bunch of really dull work and realize that it wasn’t going anywhere.

I also rely on the feedback of other artists to put things in perspective.  When you’re making something, you loose a sense of objectivity really quickly.  That’s one of the reasons that I like working around so many other artists.  They’ll always see something that you don’t, or help break apart some distraction in the work.  Lily is someone that I rely on constantly for feedback.  Aron Johnston is another great voice in my practice.  I think having that kind of community is really essential.

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

Teaching has been great because it’s really connected to my life as a studio artist. You go to class and talk out a set of principals, and then you try to stay true to that when you transition into the studio.  It doesn’t always happen that way, but I think through teaching others, you also learn to moderate yourself.  Many of the lessons my students take on are applicable to studio practice at all levels, so there’s some comradery with the students there.

But before I came to Moravian, I did all kinds of jobs.  I did administrative work at a number of different galleries, but I was really terrible at it, so I stopped after few years, probably to the relief of my bosses.  I was comically bad it.  I worked as an art handler and on installation crews, which I liked a lot.  I also did some totally non-art related jobs.  I worked in a barbershop for a while.  I also worked in coffee shops and kitchens.

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

Find your people.  Find some kind of community that you can be a part of.  Shows are great opportunities to present your work to a wider public, but it’s the work that happens on a day-to-day basis in the company of your peers that has the biggest impact.  As long as you have a community of other artists to interact with, then you have an audience and a conversation to be a part of. At that point, I think that you discover that it’s not really about originality, or branding the next big thing, but more about being a contributor.  If you have dialogue with other artists, then you are a part of something bigger than your perspective, and I think that’s a richer experience.


Matthew has a solo exhibition up through December 22nd at AAC in Arlington.  He'll also be participating in the Transformer Auction at the Katzen Art Museum in Washington, DC on November 22nd. 

check out more of Matthew's work at www.matthewgshelley.com

5 questions with Bryon Finn

Bryon Finn and I met at Yale during the first few days of grad school. I've been enamored with his approach to making ever since; the way he thinks, the various applications he employs to make his dynamic paintings, all the- what ends up in a painting- and-how it gets there...  Luckily he shares a lot of those ideas and processes with us below. Enjoy!

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

I live with my wife and daughter in Kensington – a neighborhood sort of in the center of Brooklyn, NY. We spend quite a bit of time sitting on the front steps or leaning on the fence talking to neighbors. It’s the kind of place that when I look up I can see bagpipes being played or colorful Bengali dresses. There is a horse stable around the corner so you often see a line of horses going by.

My daughter is almost 7 years old and did not fall far from the tree. So we spend a lot of time playing strategy games, figuring out string figures, and singing old hand clap songs.

My studio is in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It’s the neighborhood where “On the Waterfront” is based. I like passing over the bridges and canals to get there. When you’re there, you can hear the seagulls and smell coffee and squid. When I look out my window, I can see the cranes working against the lower Manhattan skyline. I feel sensorially very lucky.

What’s an average studio day like? 

I usually get to the studio around 10 in the morning. Then, I make coffee, flip on NPR, and change my clothes. At some point I’ll put on music.

Music is really important to me. I’m a bit of an obsessive collector. Lately I’ve been pulling out all these old mix tapes. I seem to function best with a bit of noise, and the familiarity of the mixes helps me come in and out of focus and nudges my thinking at opportune times.

I usually have 4 or 5 paintings hanging up proper and a number of fragments scattered around that I’m mulling over. I work on plywood and because of the logistics of bracing the work up and that they accrue parts sometimes hung at a distance temporarily with string, tape or written notes on the wall – it’s time consuming to move them around. So paintings can be up from a month to more than a year. I never know which one I’m going to work on and rarely concentrate on more than one a day. So, I clean.

If the surface is dry, I’ll most likely trace or do a rubbing of their current state. If a painting is done, I make diagrams and take measurements, which can lead to a whole new series of drawings, often generating the next set of paintings.

Often when I’m cleaning I get carried away with some peripheral activity. I spend quite a bit of time folding or rolling material up or around the room, sorting scraps of paper and wood, looking around through a hole in something or into mirrors or through gels. All this can trigger hours of making films and drawing. This kind of playful activity becomes really informative and at some point I’ll catch a glimpse of a painting and start painting.

I don’t really keep books in the studio. I do have a few fashion magazines and some print outs of paintings that may currently be on my mind.  Of course I have that typical wall with a battery of newspaper clippings, photocopies, etc. I keep a transparency of a Breughel wood cut that I occasionally project across the entire wall.

I try to leave by 5:30. I always take photos at the end of the day. I try not to look stuff up online while at the studio. So, I gather up my notes, usually phrases from science or economic news, song titles or lyrics, and associations I’ve made during the day. I tape some around the studio and bring the rest home to look up at night.

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

There have been a few notions floating around the studio lately. They seem subtle but have been productive. One has been acknowledging the difference between “making the work” and making the “conditions” for the work. Another has been moving away from thinking about a picture tectonically and more in the way of “condensation.” A few thoughts that keep running through my mind at different times are, “be spectral,” “be explicit,” and “be atavistic.”

I’ve been working to repurpose all this dislocated documentation that I collect over the course of finishing a painting. I wind up with all these stencils, transparencies, pounce patterns, photocopies, maps, and masking. Often these extrapolations are developed independently and worked back into their source paintings. Sometimes I’ll exchange parts with an adjacent painting. Lately I’ve been weaving separate sets of information derived from the same source but dropping the armature. Other works are developing from overlaying fragments as I mine the boxes upon boxes of scraps I’ve kept. It kind of feels like an exercise in mocking serendipity.

I’m working to expand the methodology I’m using to disorient my drawing and installation process to how I approach color design and light of the painting. 

These and so many of my recent moves (from increased carving and relief construction to an interest in reflective and metallic surfaces) relate to wanting to leave a sliver of in-between space – somewhere waiting to be occupied. I feel like I’m working around the picture plane.

This relates to the paintings I’ve been involved with lately: Stuart Davis’ “Combination Concrete,” Manet’s “Boating,” Titian’s “Bacchus & Ariadne,” Poussin’s “Arcadian Shepherds,” and Ingres’ “Madame Moiessier.”

I’ve been thinking about the marble in 15th century Italian paintings. What I’m intrigued by seems really prevalent in annunciation scenes. I’ve also been looking at a lot of camouflage, tattoo flash, and “crypto zoology” blogs.

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

I sort and inventory.

Sometimes I mess around with another material – especially if it's one I wouldn't normally choose. I’ve made plenty of drawings with bottles of nail polish I found.

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 work as a Scenic Artist for T.V., movies, commercials, music videos, and fashion shoots.

I use a lot of my prior work experience: faux finishing, sign painting, window display, framing and art restoration.

I still get a bit amazed at the choreography of putting together a set on a soundstage. My jobs have also taken me to some amazing locations that I wouldn’t necessarily seek out or have access to on my own -- from the glitzy to the derelict.

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

Don’t rehearse misery.


You can see Bryon Finn's work by appointment, until November 16th, in:


Diagonal Triangle

a Group Show organized by Chris Joy at Artist House Party Presents - 424 East 83rd Street - 2W - New York, NY 10028. Make an appointment and go! Don't miss it.


and be sure to check out more of Bryon's work on his website:


5 questions with Krista Steinke

Krista and I met at Moravian College. She was one of the first people I met on my interview and quickly became one of the reasons I wanted to teach there. Unfortunately for us, she has since moved back to Texas, her home state, where she now teaches at Texas A&M. She's one of my favorite people and I miss her everyday. I know Houston is welcoming this great artist with open arms, as well they should.  In fact, Krista has an exhibition opening tonight, October 24th, 2014 at Sam Houston University! Check it out. Her work is incredible.

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

I live in Texas most of the year and during the summer months, I live in rural upstate New York.

I am originally from Texas, and after a 20-something year hiatus living elsewhere, I recently moved back to the Houston area. Because my husband and I both commute an hour away for our teaching jobs, we have to live on the outskirts of the city, basically where suburbia meets the country. We have not yet completely figured out our living/work situation, so in the meantime, I set up a temporary studio in our garage and small office space in the house.   For us, the bad news is that we are not near the cultural hubbub of the city, while the good news is that we don’t have to deal with the busy hubbub of the city. Our master plan is to buy a small plot of farmland and build a barn-type studio out in the country. We have had this barn-studio fantasy for a while but now that we are back in Texas, it can actually become a reality.

People in my day-to-day world: My husband, Sherman Finch (also an artist), my lovely daughter, Ava, my rambunctious son, Eli, and a grouchy but cute cat named Fella.  (students, colleagues, friends, and other family members of course, factor in as well)

What’s an average studio day like? 


During the summer months, I am able to keep a very strict studio schedule.  My day starts with an early morning walk or run (this routine is important to my process – it allows me to download the daily noise in my head so that I can focus on what I want to accomplish that day.  I also scout locations to photograph, collect specimens for my project, and pay close attention to the natural light and weather). I then usually spend most of the day outdoors, I photograph, prepare for shoots, make my homemade filters, or else I am at the computer, where I edit video, scan negatives, look at test prints, and optimize images. During the school year, my schedule is more chaotic and has to be structured around teaching and family obligations.  I teach two days a week and have three full days that I can commit to my art practice. The rhythm of my studio time really depends on where I am at with a project or what type of shows or deadlines I have looming.  Because much of my work involves being on the computer, I can usually sneak in extra studio hours while at work or in the late evenings after my kids go to bed.

I love listening to music when I work (via Pandora or Groove Shark) but usually I am so focused on my work that I forget to turn it on.  I keep an “inspiration folder” on my desktop for each project that I am working on and refer to it frequently during studio time. Basically it’s a collection of anything that can help inform the work – snapshots that I took with my cellphone, scientific images of the universe, a close-up detail of a painting that I stumbled upon, maybe an unresolved project that I did while in graduate school.


What are you working on now? 

Lately, I have been obsessed with: the Texas sky (its so expansive and dramatic at times), collecting bumblebees and other dead insects, art that is made from unconventional materials, photographers and filmmakers who are breaking the rules, and the colored spots that you see after staring into bright light.

I have two main projects in the works. Purgatory Road is a series that I have been working on since 2010.  It is based on the place where I live in NY and I mainly focus on this project in the summer. My plans are to continue working on it for a several more years, with the intention of turning it into a trilogy and hopefully, publishing as a monograph.  I’m curious to see how a body of work, along with the changing nature of the landscape, can evolve and transform over a long, extended period of time.

I am also working on a new project called “Fire Ants Under the Texas Sky” which consists of photography, video, audio, and sculpture.  For this series, as the title suggests, Texas is used as a backdrop to explore the physical and cultural landscape and how it intersects with personal and collective memory. Here, I am not so much interested in telling my own history but instead, how the process of remembering can distort or influence one’s experience of the present. I have been experimenting with combining cellphone photography with other media and thinking about how technology can function or malfunction as a surrogate for memory. As a compliment to this, I am in the early planning stages of a collaborative project with my sister Rene Steinke (who just published a novel about Texas) and my brother Matt Steinke (a musician and artist based in Austin). It will be exciting when the collaboration gets off the ground but right now it is moving rather slow because we are all super busy with our individual work.

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

Because I am always working on several projects at once, when things aren’t going so well, I will switch my focus to something else so I can continue to feel productive.  As a temporary fix, I find that taking a long walk or going for a run helps to get my mind off the work.  I also sometimes will switch to working in another medium and try approaching my subject or questions from a different vantage point.  Mostly during these “falIow periods”, I try to be patient with myself because I strongly believe that incubation is critical to the creative process.

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

Past jobs: many, many years of waiting tables, some gallery and museum work, and other miscellaneous non-profit jobs.

Currently, I teach in the Visualization Department at Texas A&M University.  I have been a college professor for over ten years and I absolutely love teaching.  For me, it has been the perfect compliment to being a professional artist.  It offers the flexible schedule that I need, a creative and intellectual community, and I get to talk about my favorite subject everyday at work.

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

Here are a few mantras that I repeat to myself and often tell my students:

Failure is critical to success (we hear this a lot these days – but so true)

Embrace constructive criticism.  Its ok to disagree, but be able to articulate why.

We live in a fast-paced environment, ours is a culture of the immediate or instantaneous. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that good art takes time, be patient and work hard.

When building a body of work, not every piece needs to be a home run. Sometimes the small, quiet pauses can be an important part of the conversation.

Everyone gets rejected…acknowledge that its part of the routine and keep moving forward.

Progress involves taking risks, both small and large.

Don’t be afraid to go down the rabbit hole…go way, way down to the point of getting lost.

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 – www.monyarowegallery.com

Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas, TX – www.talleydunn.com


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.