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ANDRAS BALITY

By In the Studio

In the Studio

"I believe if Monet were painting today, he would set out in his van full of canvases and paint."

Much like a modern-day Monet, Andras (Andy) Bality is dedicated to the land and his eyes, the adventure and the process. He has painted for close to 40 years now; the Richmond-born and -based artist has become a well-known name in the arts scene, specifically plein air arts. You might spot Bality standing alongside the James River with an easel and smudged rag, blocking out color on the canvas as he paints a lively scene. He has covered endless Virginia vistas and travelled up and down the east coast, painting from life and taking the studies back to the studio.

The artist just opened a large solo show at the gallery in July, presenting paintings from Southwest Virginia, Richmond and various areas of Maine. Let’s dive a little more into this work and Andy’s practice both inside and outside of the studio.

What does a typical day look like for you in the studio?

My work days vary greatly. If it’s a studio day, I get up about 6:30, have a quick breakfast and get to work. I like to paint early, when I feel my sharpest. As my studio is in my home, I usually try and resolve things that I was thinking about while studying the paintings before bed. I mix in jogs, various exercises and dog walking about every 2 hours.

Why do you paint outdoors, or from live observation, as well?

Joseph Campbell said that the artist/painter is an alchemist. It’s observing something closely, getting down to its essence and then re-presenting the idea, turning it into gold, giving the viewer a possible path to get through a moment, a day, possibly a life.
With that idea, my plein air process is working on location outdoors. I like to either make 10” x 12” studies outside, which I then bring into the studio and enlarge, or I work on larger canvas sizes from 20” x 24” to 36” x 48” on location. It’s a very exciting and challenging approach to painting. There is no dilly dally, you make quick decisions and they work, or not.

How has traveling inspired your work? Any future trips planned?

I have always been drawn to Monet’s paintings. I found it interesting that he would take three- to four-month-long trips to find a new location to paint. I believe if Monet were painting today, he would set out in his van full of canvases and paint. A few weeks ago, my kids and I drove our van from Virginia all the way out to California for our summer trip. Inspired by the Western scenes, I made small watercolor and oil paint studies along the way, capturing views of Lake Tahoe and the Pacific. Next summer, I plan on making a solo trip out west to just focus on New Mexico, Colorado and California.

A series of studies the artist painted while in California (2020, oil on canvas, 10 x 12 inches, each):

Pacific Coast Sonoma County CA

Lake Tahoe II

Lake Tahoe I

Why do you like to work with oil paint instead of acrylic paint?

The main disadvantage for me with acrylics is that they dry a different color than when they were wet. Also, the drying time of acrylics is very fast, especially if you are painting outdoors in the sun and wind. So I use slow-drying oil paints instead. And when traveling, I prefer to use watercolors for quick studies.

Installation view from Andy’s current exhibition, “Silver Lining”

Studio shot

What landscapes are you exploring in these new (exhibition) paintings?

The paintings in my current exhibition “Silver Lining”, depict subjects I have focused on for most of my career. Some of the landscapes are based on scenes from Monhegan, Maine, where I was inspired to go after learning many of my favorite American painters went there to work, including Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer and many others. The rest of the paintings are based on Virginia scenes. I find that wherever I am--in France, Cyprus or Virginia--I look at the landscape and am constantly thinking how I would resolve the scene before me. I am especially drawn to the little, seemingly inconsequential things.

What’s next?

I am very excited to be working on two large paintings, which will then be enlarged to 10’ x 16.5’ installations installed in the James Center in Downtown Richmond. The subject matter will be two views of the James River from about the same spot, with one view looking East and the other West.

To see more of Andras Bality’s current work on view in his exhibition “Silver Lining” click HERE

Cow Pasture River in front of Camp Mount Shenandoah , 2020, oil on canvas, 12 x 10 inches

Andy capturing the James River Park System in Richmond

Self Portrait

Studio shot

Silver Lining installation view

Painting around Virginia

At the 2019 Bath County Plein Air Festival

Andras Bality grew up in Richmond, Virginia, where he currently lives and works. In 1986, he completed his undergraduate work at Virginia Commonwealth University and later enrolled in graduate classes at Cyprus College of Art, Lemba, Cyprus, in 1987. Since then, Bality has mounted exhibitions at venues including Jack Blanton Fine Arts and 1708 Gallery, both, Richmond, VA; the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, Newport News, VA; Wall Street Galleries, New York, NY; the Ernst Museum, Budapest, Hungary; and the Ora Gallery, Nicosia, Cyprus, among others. His work is held in collections throughout the country, including The University of Virginia Healthcare System, Marsh Art Gallery at the University of Richmond, Federal Reserve Bank, Medical College of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Markel Corporation, and The James Center. He is a recipient of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Professional Fellowship and a Theresa Pollak Award in Visual Art.

SANDY WILLIAMS IV

By In the Studio

In the Studio

“The candle, and the act of melting the form of the monument, works as both vigil and effigy. They incite both forward action and the backward bounce of reflection. The attention that a flame requires is a form of meditation, and through meditation we are able to conjure visions for the future.”

– Sandy Williams IV

Sandy Williams IV is a Richmond-based artist working in multiple media: sculpture, film, performance, painting, photography, text and the public. After graduating from The University of Virginia with his BFA in 2016, he moved to Richmond, receiving his MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media from VCUarts in 2019. For the past year he has taught at University of Richmond in the sculpture department and currently lives and works in Richmond.

Sandy’s work has continually addressed ideas of history, time and agency over ideas imbedded within both of those concepts. With recent work that resizes and deconstructs imagery of historically American monuments, Sandy’s practice proves particularly powerful and poignant in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and removal of confederate monuments in and throughout Virginia. We’re thrilled to learn more about Sandy’s practice and background and celebrate a rising talent and voice.

Before Richmond, you lived and worked in Charlottesville...how has being here affected your practice?

Charlottesville is where I finished chemotherapy, attended college, and where I became an artist. It was an important period in my life when I was given space to be sick, feel hurt, make lifelong friends, heal, and become myself in a lot of ways. In Charlottesville I also experienced and witnessed a lot of injustice, specifically at - but certainly not limited to - the University of Virginia, and my last day living in Charlottesville, by certain coincidences and quick luck, was when white nationalists flooded the streets and killed Heather Heyer. Moving to Richmond in a lot of ways began a new phase for me. Richmond is bigger and more diverse; and by effect, I think the move widened my lens and the work I feel called to make.

Sandy in his bedroom studio

As a sculptor creating a diverse range of work, what does your studio look like?

I’m actually still looking for a studio, I haven’t had one for about a year now, so by necessity my “studio” is kind of everywhere. I make films and perform outside. I use my bedroom for the cleaner parts of my practice. I also work by planning and meditating on ideas, and I do a lot of that while walking, talking and traveling in the car. Additionally, as faculty at the University of Richmond I have access to a number of beautiful spaces and fabrication shops with essential resources that enable my experimental art practice.

What about your site-specific and performative work...do you consider these different spaces a part of your “studio” as well?

I think what is great about working in the public on site-specific projects is that it is very specifically not my studio. The studio can sometimes be like a bubble, which is important for nurturing certain ideas and spaces, but working within the public not only gives my work vital/different/immediate context, but it also gives “the public” the opportunity to be an audience, a witness, or sometimes even accomplices or performers within a choreographed series of simultaneous relationships – a performance – many elements of which are outside of my control.

A still from Sandy’s piece Five Years Later…, performed at VCU’s Institute for Contemporary Art in Richmond as a part of their Provocations Performance series in 2019.

Have you always worked in performative ways?

If you had asked me in high school what I would be doing now, I probably would have told you that I would go on to become a doctor or an orthodontist. When I dropped out of school after my first year of college, in order to finish chemo, I came back unfortunately uninterested in learning more medicine, and therefore desperately in search of new purpose, and I fell into art. In fact, I started taking art classes as a type of therapy, I had some amazing professors, and between then and now life has been somewhat of a whirlwind. I went from not really knowing anything about contemporary art to it being almost all I talk about. When I started, I wanted to know how to do and make everything, and because of this my practice has always been very interdisciplinary, blurring lines between film (video), sculpture, and performance.

See Sandy’s most recent performance HERE

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Wax Monuments #01, 2020, wax, wick, 3D scan of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, the Robert E.Lee Monument in Richmond, VA, and Thomas Jefferson Monument in Charlottesville, VA

Can you tell us about your recent Wax Monuments? When did this series begin?

I started the Wax Monument series in 2017, after witnessing so much violence at the Unite the Right Rally, which was centered around Charlottesville’s Lee monument. The Wax Monuments are small wax candles made from 3D scans of existing monuments, such as the Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue. Monuments are often made to sit and collect a patina, withstanding change in order to maintain popular histories. As a sort of anti-monument, my sculptures are small, non-permanent, malleable, multiples. They give their holders agency over forms that exist in our public spaces, but until recently were untouchable by law. I am interested in building monuments meant to change with the physical and cultural landscapes that surround them, monuments able to keep a living record of activity. In the fall, I will be installing a large Wax Monument at Socrates Sculpture Park as part of a group show called MONUMENTS NOW.

What’s the significance of using candles?

The candle, and the act of melting the form of the monument, works as both vigil and effigy. They incite both forward action and the backward bounce of reflection. The attention that a flame requires is a form of meditation, and through meditation we are able to conjure visions for the future. The amazing propensity that wax has towards fluidity can also be understood very beautifully as a metaphor for the timelessness of evolution. To shrink down these bronze statues and pour them back to wax is a sort of slippage – much like time travel – turning back the clock, and returning these monuments to the malleable wax form that they short-lived before being permanently cast in bronze (via the “lost wax” process).

Recently, you installed and melted your wax monument on the confederate statues in Richmond. What did that mean for you?

I had already been making videos of my wax figures melting in front of the monuments they were modeled after, but after I saw the Lee covered in graffiti, I called a few of my friends to help me and went to the monument the next day to melt a candle right on the monument – something I was of course forbidden to do at any of the monuments I had visited previously, or prior to this community intervention. It was a moment of empowerment for me, and for a lot of people, and I think its effects are still in echo.

With performances and a few interactive pieces, like "Unattended Baggage," accessibility seems to be a crucial theme to your work. How does the viewer engage with your work?

I like that you asked me to touch on this topic, because yes(!), a lot of my work is meant to be touched/ held/ owned/ felt. I like helping people experience the power I felt standing on that monument, to feel like they control a piece of destiny. The Unattended Baggage (Time Capsules) I and II are good examples of that. The timers on these suitcases have the potential to count up from 0 to 100 days. Equipped with motion sensors, their clocks reset whenever these bags are moved or unplugged. The clocks therefore tell you how long these objects have gone untouched, allowing them to keep track of their exact time in a specific place, and gathering the inertia of stored time as they sit. To touch one of these bags after any period of time is a moment of agency, which feels especially important if they have been sitting for a few days. Same thing can be said for the melting of a candle.

Where do your ideas come from for such conceptual works?

I really draw inspiration from everywhere. From the music I listen to, the news I hear, to the people whom I allow to influence me. My friends, mentors and family are constantly inspiring me to do more. Art began for me as an academic pursuit, so I also get a lot of inspiration by reading and doing research, two things that allow me to better understand the world I am living and working in. I think I get a lot of inspiration just by trying to pay attention.

Unattended Baggage I, 2017, suitcase, timer, accelerometer.
Unattended Baggage II, 2017, backpack, timer, accelerometer. Both in collaboration with Jack Doerner.

What is the importance of family in your practice? How does identity play into your work?

I gather so much of my sense of self by learning about my family. The more I get to know about the people in my family – both those that I know and the ancestors that I never met – then the more I get to know about myself. So the formation of identity in my work informs itself through an understanding of my personal and family history. Of course my identity is also informed through an understanding of regional, national, and global histories and the more I know about history. A lot of my more recent work has been to learn, mix, or insist that these histories all be thought of as in parallel, and with equal importance, without pejorative ideologies being able to oppress or suppress one by putting the other on a pedestal. That American histories and African American histories and contemporaneities are part of the same thing, and shouldn’t be taught, thought of, or shown separately or in different rooms.

I Get It From My Mama, 2018, black & white photographs of Sandy’s grandmother, mother, and himself, riding horses in Virginia – over a span of many decades – in the same manner so many figures sit atop monuments.

What can you teach us about Black liberation?

I think to really understand my work you have to understand that I am a nerdy, Black, North American, cancer surviving, artist, poet, student, professor, human being. All of these things inform my perspective, my voice, and the things that I take interest in. It would be a mistake to overlook the Blackness of my work, but it would be worse to misinterpret my work as being within a binary that only deals with Black(White) issues. I am complex, and so follows the work. I think Black liberation includes a true, deep, felt, meaningful, excited embrasure of the idea that all of these things are related; that we are all related not separate, and therefore those of this human family with privilege are responsible for the care and elevation of the others, in order to level this playing field that has been so historically uneven.

Sandy Williams IV received his BFA from The University of Virginia in 2016 and his MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media from VCUarts in 2019. He has held teaching positions at VCUarts and The University of Richmond, where he is currently an adjunct professor in the sculpture department. His work has been shown at Guadalajara 90210, Mexico City, Mexico; Public Pool Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach, VA; Co-Prosperity Sphere, Chicago, IL, and a forthcoming group exhibition at Socrates Sculpture Park, New York, NY. 

RICHARD ROTH

By In the Studio

In the Studio

“I’d say 90% of what I do in the studio

never becomes a finished painting, but,

alas, that’s the only way I can get to the

10%.”

– Richard Roth

Richard Roth has shown with Reynolds Gallery for decades now, having first entered the Richmond art scene in 1999, when he began teaching at VCUarts in the Painting + Printmaking Department. The artist, author and furniture designer was originally scheduled to open his seventh solo exhibition at the gallery on April 17, 2020, which has been postponed. Now existing as a special online preview HERE, we are excited to have an accompanying Q&A with Richard below to dive even deeper into his process and studio practice. 

You somewhat recently moved from Richmond to Camarillo, California. Has this changed your studio practice?

My formative years as an artist were in New York City, and I think I’ve pretty much carried those early New York School values wherever I ended up. On the other hand, living in rural Virginia for 17 years reintroduced the natural world in a very big way. And my time in California seems to be a continuation of that. Nature is simply the best. While it can never be outdone, it is an important new source for me.

What is your approach to the 12 x 8 x 4 inch “box paintings”?

The small 3-D polychrome paintings are arrived at in a pretty traditional way, they evolve from the process of their making. I start painting on panels I use as prototypes — they are identical in size to the final paintings and they are quite roughly painted. I want to develop ideas as quickly as possible and the paintings change rapidly, I often use colored tape to change forms, whatever’s fast ­­— things get messy and I usually just paint one side and the front, just enough for me to understand the painting. I follow ideas as they appear, most forms get painted over, but it’s a great day when I’m totally surprised by where the painting has taken me. I photograph every stage in the process and have quite a large archive of the work in various stages, configurations I don’t yet fully understand. When I find the painting, when it’s right, I repaint it carefully on a new panel. I don’t love this final part of the process ­— re-fabrication — but I believe it is necessary for the idea of the work to be read clearly and without any kind of nostalgic patina.

Where does the imagery come from in these painted sculptures?

Everywhere really. Since I began working on the 3D polychrome paintings, I realized that the entire world was 3D form combined with a surface of color/pattern. Nature, the built world, design, clothing—everything is 3D polychrome! So, there’s no shortage of inspiration. For recent work, I’ve been interested in West African fabric patterns, Zulu baskets, Navajo blankets, early American quilts, Day of the Dead masks, bird decoys, Shaker furniture, Indonesian bamboo fish traps, Prouvé chairs, George Ohr pots, Carlo Scarpa glassware, Japanese rice boxes, Luis Barragan houses, Raf Simons fashion, Cervélo racing bicycles, contemporary Ghanaian coffins, street fashion, and monster trucks – to name a few.

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What about the couple "flat" paintings we see hung in your studio?

During the last fifteen years I’ve been making flat paintings (what a novel idea!) from time to time and in a variety of different formats. My follies! These 38 by 30 inch paintings are developed when I have ideas that are not born from the relationship of the two-dimensional plane to three-dimensional structure. Some ideas live more fully in flatland.

Have these ideas always been expressed through 3D and flat paintings?

I painted for many years beginning around 1969, then in 1993 my practice became more conceptual—I created collections of contemporary material culture for more than ten years. In the early nineties, I expected too much of painting; felt it could never live up to what I needed it to be. I decided to steer far from painting, and instead study and learn from the world, the endlessly amazing world, through making collections. Anthropology teaches us that all activities and artifacts express a culture, not just the “highest” — quotidian customs and rituals are as significant as exalted religious ceremonies. 

I love custom cars, fashion, and the culinary arts, but in 1993 was embarrassed by the pretentiousness of my own culture—painting. It wasn’t until I could see painting as just another subculture, not as the culture, not as high culture, that I could re-enter it with full enthusiasm and without cynicism. I returned to painting in 2005 with a renewed and revitalized interest, fueled by conceptualism and informed by postmodern attitudes. Now, painting for me is like returning home.

Collection of thread, yarn, and rope spools inspiring Richard’s new work

What has been the inspiration behind your continued painting?

For me, the play of the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional is undoubtedly the horse that pulls the cart. The paintings can be informed by such things as the exposed form that results from slicing through a layer cake or a melon—red inside juxtaposed with a green skin outside; the rectangular hole in a concrete block; striped high-heel shoes with red soles.

You’re also a published writer. How is writing a part of your studio practice, if at all?

Recently, I wrote a novel—NoLab. Its characters are mostly artists. In NoLab I created many artworks that would be quite difficult, if not impossible, to create in the real world. NoLab might be understood to be a conceptual project in its own right.

For the last few years, my ideal studio day has consisted of two distinct halves. Usually, in the morning I write. In the afternoon I’m at my studio, following hunches, making and altering form and color. What if I stretch this form? Make that corner darker? Turn this section upside down? The mysterious process of arriving at a painting is intoxicating. That’s my ideal studio day. Words, words, words in the morning. color/form in the silent, wordless afternoon.

Richard with an “Everything Must Go” print, one of the found objects in his collection of  Sale Signs, which was shown in his first exhibition at Reynolds Gallery

Early painting stages of finished works, Out of the Blue and Shocks and Struts

In progress shot of finished work, Plumb Loco, which was shown in his group exhibition at Valletta Contemporary alongside Damien Hirst and others.

Richard Roth taught in the VCUarts Painting and Printmaking department from 1999 to 2015, serving as department chair for eight years. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Cooper Union in New York and Master of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. In 1991, he was awarded a Visual Arts Fellowship in Painting from the National Endowment for the Arts, and later received a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Fellowship in Painting (2008–09). He has exhibited at select venues including Margaret Thatcher Projects, David Richard Contemporary, OK Harris Gallery, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, all, New York, NY; Highland Institute of Contemporary Art, Loch Ruthven, Scotland; Rocket Gallery, London; UCR/California Museum of Photography; Museum of Modern Art, Saitama, Japan; and Valletta Contemporary, Malta. His work is held in the permanent collections of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Try-Me Collection, both, Richmond, VA; de Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH; The Chase Manhattan Bank Collection and The First National City Bank Collection, both, New York, NY, among others. He is the co-editor of the book, Beauty is Nowhere: Ethical Issues in Art and Design and co-author of two books – Color Basics and Design Basics 3D. In 2019, Roth published NoLab, his first novel. Roth currently lives in Camarillo, California.

RAUL DE LARA

By In the Studio

In the Provincetown Studio

I’ve spent the last 6 months as a Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown surrounded by poets, writers, and artists. We live in a sleepy town where on a cold Sunday night, one can smell bonfires, hear the ocean waves from your window, and study the constellations above. I have made life long friendships, discovered new directions for my work, and developed a new, distilled kind of relationship with words and objects.

We were first introduced to Raul during his MFA candidacy show at VCUarts in 2019, when he exhibited a modular installation of over a hundred wooden leaves mounted to the wall. Born in Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, the artist immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 12, and has been a DACA recipient since 2012. He received his BFA from the University of Texas at Austin in 2015 and MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media from VCU in 2019. Recently, he was awarded a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown – a prestigious residency which has housed artists including Alex Katz, Elizabeth Murray, Martin Puryear, Judy Pfaff and others. As the residency has come to a close, we’re excited to take a virtual look into Raul’s studio while he was there, while learning a bit more about his charismatic, sometimes spiky and even tooth-embedded, wood sculptures.

What does a typical day look like for you in the studio?

I start my day in the studio by cleaning the work tables, sweeping the floor, putting tools back where they belong and taking out the trash. Once the studio is clean, I start gluing up parts, sanding and planning the projects for the week. I try to be in the studio from 9am until 10pm everyday except Sunday. No work on Sundays. One of my favorite parts of my day is when another fellow knocks on my door, and we end up having a long conversation. My day in the studio almost always ends with what I call an Artist Shower. It’s basically me dusting myself off using compressed air. I dust myself off multiple times a day. During my seven months here, I worked on the upcoming solo show for Reynolds Gallery, my Fellowship solo show I had in January, my first group show in my home country through VCU, a group show with the rest of the FAWC fellows for the museum in town, a few commissions, and sculptures for Volta Basel in Switzerland.

Do you listen to music or podcasts? Is it quiet or loud while you work?

I am definitely the loud one here! I use all kinds of power tools to make my work, so noise and I have a long-term intimate relationship. I am Pro-Noise. Most of the time, I work in silence because I enjoy listening to the tools, learning their language, and noticing the different sounds materials make. It teaches me to notice when tools are tired, when too much force is being applied, and if you listen closely, you can tell when something is working as you intend it to. Like musical instruments, each tool has a certain range of sounds they project when you play them right, and a range of sounds that tell you if something bad is about to happen.

You have several shrines hanging in your studio. What’s the story behind these?

Growing up in a Mexican catholic family, I was exposed to religious wooden figurines placed inside these wooden shrine frames that symbolized either a saint, an event, or a deity. I grew up fascinated with the idea of being able to capture certain kinds of energy into chunks of wood. Once we moved to the USA, my family only brought a few of these shrines with them. I found two empty wooden shrine frames in my parents' garage, and that gave me the idea of placing materials, objects, and reminders of important ideas inside them. I now reference that wall for inspiration or guidance. The shrine with the necklace of red beans and clay skulls holds materials I use during my full moon mask making ritual: a plastic bottle filled with sand I retrieved from swimming across the Rio Grande river onto the Mexico side, a roll of red string symbolizing the red string ritual my mother performed during a lunar eclipse the day before I was born, and a bag with Tzi-Te beans and pods. There is a ceramic cup that says "Live Laugh Love" on top of a block of Zompantle wood. Those two are probably my favorite duo on that wall of objects. I went through a very long and magical journey to acquire that block of wood. After a long series of unsuccessful events, what worked was tracking down a willing farmer to cut a perfect rectangular block out of the specific kind of tree I needed, sand it, paint it a solid color, and write on it "Live Laugh Love" then ship it to the USA as "Art" and it worked! The cup was a gift from my incredibly gifted former gradschool studio assistant and close friend, Joe Gindhart.

What draws you to working with wood?

Wood is generally my first choice to work with. Some pieces of wood I use are from historical sites, some are from Home Depot, some pieces are cursed, while others are rescued, and others are smuggled into the country. Some sculptures simply need it for volume, and others depend on something hidden within the grain to make sense. I also work with sand, concrete, textiles, seeds, metal and occasionally found objects. I've been loving using Provincetown sand because the grain is much larger than commercially available sand brands. The connecting thread of all my material choices is that each of these materials let themselves be as malleable as clay - not as fast though. Each material calls for totally different set of tools and ways of processing them. I kinda have the tools of a hobbyist woodworker, a retired construction worker, an off-season tourist and a failed plastic surgeon. Some tools I have to invent, and of course that's the best part.

There’s a taped up-drawing in your studio that looks like a map of your work...Do you create drawings or small studies for each piece?

I generally draw very little, or more precisely, if I draw, it only lasts a few seconds. I keep a large piece of paper on my studio wall where I do quick sketches of forms that cross my mind. Seeing dozens of ideas all at once makes me feel calm and lets me notice what common threads exist, and how to dissect them. It feels like I am putting together a puzzle where all the parts are the same color but different shapes. What takes up most graphite is technical drafts for how a sculpture will be put together. Each part is individually engineered, and I really enjoy figuring out the puzzle of bringing it all together seamlessly.

There are painted and stained elements to your work. How does color play into your sculptures?

I ask different questions from added color than what I ask from inherent material color. I see added color as a moment where I get to guide the viewer's thoughts towards communal associations. For the most part, I use added colors that make sense with the form I'm seeing. With my leaves, I don't paint them to replicate exactly the real thing, I only paint enough to suggest a connection. I find more joy in thinking how to paint “Spring” as an idea into a leaf rather than replicating a leaf as it grows during that season. Not having to color match anything lets me be more intuitive and personal with my choices. The word “color” makes me think about the appearance of the most outer layer of information something has. But how often do we think about the color of the insides of a sculpture? There are just as many decisions and colors inside my sculptures as there are on the surface. That's why I lean more towards transparent paint - what the type of clothes we wear say to a stranger versus going tanning to the beach.

Now that your residency has come to a close, what's next?

My life right now is at a strange place because I am in the process of figuring out if I will continue to live in the USA or move back to Mexico. Not knowing what will happen with DACA is an excitement of a different kind. I am about to move out of my current studio in Provincetown, and what excites me the most is figuring out where the next studio will be. I love how every new studio ends up making me want to reimagine my practice. Of course this whole virus situation has shifted my plans, but I think I will be working from Texas and California this summer. I plan to load up my car with a specific set of tools that can do much but don’t take up too much space and hit the road.

Raul De Lara immigrated from Mexico to the United States at the age of 12, and has been a DACA recipient since 2012. Growing up in Texas as a non-English speaker, feeling neither from here nor there, his work now reflects on ideas of nationality, language barriers, body language and the sense of touch. His sculptures explore how stories, folklore and rituals can be silently communicated through inanimate objects, tools and foreign environments. De Lara often works with wood, a material that always shows the passing of time on its skin. His aesthetics and materials are inspired by the shared backyard between the United States and Mexico.

De Lara received his MFA in Sculpture + Extended Media from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin. He has been awarded the Ox-Bow School of Art Fellowship, a Chicago Artists Coalition HATCH Residency, the International Sculpture Center Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award and currently, he is a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.

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Leigh Suggs

By In the Studio

"I would imagine most people think my work is orderly or rigid, but looking at the entirety of my practice and my work, I would say the orderliness was born out of a necessity to control the chaos"

– Leigh Suggs

April 7, 2020

Cutting Paper: Start to Finish

Leigh Suggs is a paper artist who we’ve been lucky to work with for over five years. The North-Carolina native earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from UNC Chapel Hill in 2003 and later moved to Richmond, where she pursued her MFA in Craft & Material Studies at VCUarts. She’s lived and worked in Richmond since she graduated in 2015 and has mounted several group and solo exhibitions over the years, including two solo shows with Reynolds Gallery.

We’re excited to take a closer look into Leigh’s studio practice and have her answer a few questions about her process and relationship with the work.

How do you decide on your patterns and how have they evolved?

I think there is some form of a circle in the majority of my work. It can be obvious or subtle – but the circle or focal point tends to be the start of my process. Rules of geometry, randomness, organization, and “what feels right” all come into play. My patterns tend to be very deliberate – I typically map them out on the back of the work. The parts that most people don’t get to see are all my drawings/edits/changes which are on the back side of the piece. That is where I work out design issues. But randomness comes into play when I actually start cutting. Each line that my hand incises (or draws) becomes its own organic or random opportunity for chance. My cut might not be straight, it might not follow the line I originally drew, etc.

Also, I don’t use any sort of computer program to aid in my pattern production… it is all hand drawn and hand-cut to be figured out by trial and error.

Can you touch on "making sense" of things in your practice? And how the organic versus inorganic
and order versus chaos come into play?

I think tension between the organic and inorganic is at play in my work.  I would imagine most people think my work is orderly or rigid, but looking at the entirety of my practice and my work, I would say the orderliness was born out of a necessity to control the chaos.  A blank sheet of paper can be pretty intimidating to me and make me feel like I have no idea where to start! Also, I can’t tell you how many people have asked if I’m OCD (I’m not by the way)!  … but aren’t all those things just trying to make sense of chaos or control of what we can’t control? Trying to find centeredness? trying to “circle” back to the balance of things? So from one, comes the other – and vice versa – constantly playing with each other.

Why always paper-based?

I think of two major turning points during my undergraduate education.  First, I worked in the conservation lab at my university’s library as a work study.  I repaired old books and manuscripts and made boxes for the rare book collection.  Occasionally I got to observe the lead conservator work on pieces of paper that were thousands of years old.  It was such an intense glimpse into an unknown world of paper and information, and it has stuck with me. Secondly, I had an art professor who introduced me to the “art world” of paper.  He helped me get a summer position at Dieu Donne (an NYC institution dedicated to serving established and emerging artists through the collaborative creation of contemporary art using the process of hand papermaking).  There, I got to see so many crazy new things, and work with several artists.  So, I guess that’s how paper became so important to me.  I think I might be fairly close to putting in my 10,000 hours with paper… but there is still so much more to learn!

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How have your materials changed throughout the years and why use Yupo paper?

I think specific material choices have shifted over the years because of access or knowledge. My first “paper cuts” were with paper I made at Dieu Donne. I loved working with Abaca – a long natural fiber paper – but you can’t buy it in stores, you have to buy it from small papermakers or make it yourself. And slowly over the years with testing other papers and finally coming across Yupo – I don’t think it was a widely known paper until the early 2000’s. Yupo is a synthetic paper which is tear resistant, and isn’t susceptible to the same degradations as natural fiber paper. I tell people it’s like cutting through softened butter. It’s much easier on my hand!

Your most recent exploration was in hand-made paper at Penland...what is next?

I have been working with the South Dakota School of Mine & Technologies for a project that was to come together this fall – now I guess pending due to the pandemic. But they were taking my drawings and images of finished work, using their computer programs to scan and trace, and then cutting my work out of steel. We are in the sampling phase at the moment; trying to decide on scale, thickness, finishes – all to culminate in a show and hopefully a sculpture on campus. I’m really excited to see how my cuts translate into a completely different material!

Can you tell us about the design and layout process, how you lay the tape and then use an exacto knife?

I usually do a full drawing, either in my sketch book or on the back surface of the work – most of the time I do both. I like to be able to see what the piece will look like from a design perspective before I spend the laborious hours of cutting.  So once the drawing is done, I use the tape to “trace” the drawing.  The blue tape helps my eyes and hands navigate against the surface.  I move fairly quickly, so having the contrast of the blue against a white or red background helps!  Once everything is cut, I then pull up the tape.

How many hours can you cut?

That all depends on how many days I’ve already been cutting.  But I try to limit it to 5 hours a day – to not cause injury.  Some days more, some days less.  I also usually have several pieces going at once… so one might be cutting, another is prepping/painting, and maybe a drawing or collage.  I alternate amongst them all if I find myself unmotivated or fatigued.

What inspires you?

I gain inspiration just from paying attention to my surroundings – that includes the weird optical things I might experience.  A sunset (a deep navy or turquoise) or a sunrise (bright yellowy-orange) can completely influence my choice of color.  But I am always returning to blues and navys – which I think are directly linked to my environment as a child.  My mom has blue everything and striped everything.  It’s definitely imprinted in my mind’s eye.

What makes you excited to get back into the studio?

Fortunately, I don’t ever have a problem of not being excited to go to the studio!  But also, as I mentioned, I am a creature of habit and routine, so I enjoy coming every day.  I do think life experience has taught me that I’m finally in the right lane – I love what I do!

Artist Resources

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For our incredible community of artists both local and national, we hope this list below provides supportive links to currently available resources during this time.

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