Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sandra Vista

Sandra Vista and Lewis Jorge

in front of Francisco's Vagabonds (2006-07)


Solo Exhibition, February 9- April 26, 2013


1301 Avenida Cesar Chavez
Monterey Pk, CA 91754    323-265-8841

The paintings in your show, “Meow Buddha” are large and unstretched and represent almost a decade of redacted painting. The effect is cumulative and process is palpable, could you talk about your process and where it comes from?

 Detail Cattail Buddha-Gabriella (2005) 
     The process for this painting series began while I was in graduate school during the Pattern and Decoration period of the late 70's and 80's. Initially I focused on the formal issues of color (dissonant colors, complementary colors) and patterns. I was also influenced by in instructor who emphasized the Memphis style with a variety of high contrast stripes. Currently this series incorporates personal content. Because I have been working with mixed-media and exhibiting primarily my mm work, I wanted to return to pure acrylic paint on canvas without other mediums except matte medium in the paint. 

Why are the pieces hanging rather than stretched canvas?

     The paintings hang on unstretched canvas because they are referring to my interest in weavings, quilts and tapestries that I research for my pattern paintings. Also, the unstretched canvas creates more of an object vs a painting on stretched canvas. 
Initially, I began using unstretched canvas in the l970's in order to paint more. Back then I used to make my own stretcher bars and my painting desire was surpassing my skills of building my own stretcher bars.

Francisco's Vagabonds (2006-07) 5'x5' acrylic on unstretched canvas

The title of the show suggests that there is a spiritual subtext to your work. Could you talk about the influence of Rothko on your work and the genesis of Buddha or sacred imagery?

      Definitely a spiritual journey. This series began in May 2005 after a traumatic experience at work where I taught art. Three teenage boys got into a fight. One of the students was placed into my room as he bled profusely. I had to mop up the blood on the floor. I remember the smell of iron. This experience affected me so much that I took three days off from work and had to modify my work schedule for 2 weeks. 
In retrospect I see the blood as giving birth to a new series of paintings. There is always blood...with every miracle there is a sacrifice.

Detail Bull Stupa (2008-10)

I found tremendous connections between this work and the work of Mattise, could you explain the influence of decorative practice on the work and its conceptual content?

              Mark Rothko was actually the artist that inspired me the most. When I was a kid in seventh grade my English teacher Mrs. Morgan took us to the University of Arizona art museum. I had never been to an art museum before. When I saw a Rothko painting I was transfixed. 
His color field paintings are spiritual icons that continue to inspire me. I had an aesthetics professor say to me that he felt I was attracted to Rothko's work because of the definitive horizon lines I experienced living in the desert of Arizona. The direct delineation between the earth and sky of the desert also exists here in California with the sky and the ocean. 
I often create a specific horizon line in each painting, they are important elements in my work.

        At this time I was looking at the image of the Buddha along with my meditation practice in my interest in Eastern religion. 
I began my first painting "Cattail Buddha-Gabriella" with a buddha image. I thought all the paintings would have an actual buddha image in them but after the first painting the buddhas took on different images. In "My Bodhi's" the trojan horses and the cactus are Bodhi-satvas.

Bull Stupa (2008-10) 6'x8' acrylic on unstretched canvas
Could you explain where the meow comes into the title of the show?

Cattail Buddha-Gabriella (2005)
      The title was originally "My Buddha Series" but it sounded to ordinary..."Meow Buddha" encompasses my spiritual quest and my daily meditation practice. The "Meow" title is two fold: My beloved cat "Lewis" needed to be included in the series. He's been the mascot since the series began. Also, I sing the "Meow Mix" song to a student in each class everyday. This is a way of celebrating each individual. Years ago I had a colleague that was having trouble at work and I recommended that he sing the "Meow Mix" song before work. No one can be sad singing this song. I used it as a mantra...If I sang to you, I would sing Mary Anna Pomonis, Mary Anna Pomonis...with the Meow Mix tune. This idea is better live than in writing. 
The title was originally "My Buddha Series" but it sounded too ordinary..."Meow Buddha" encompasses my spiritual quest and my daily meditation practice.

-This article is dedicated  to Sandra Vista's father: Robert M. Ramirez
(July 4, 1924-April 29, 2013)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Micol Hebron

 "Reverse Engineering" 

  Jancar Gallery

photo by Allison Stewart, 2013

March 09 - April 13, 2013

Gallery hours: Wed.-Sat 12-5 PM

  • This show is a departure from your show at Jancar in 2011. Can you talk about the evolution of your practice over the last year and a half?

Reverse Engineering, 2013
I can understand how you might perceive this is a departure from previous work, given that the work looks very different than the work in my last show. I don’t consider this show as a conceptual departure at all, however – in fact, for me it’s a very direct continuation of themes of intimacy and the overlapping between the personal present and the historical past that I have been addressing in my work all along. My last show (Sisterhood is Powerful, 2011) was about physical essentialism, and this one is about emotional essentialism. Each of these shows derived from thoughts about what aspect of my mind or body are the most intimate and private and vulnerable. Each show explores my relationship with other women artists for Sisterhood is Powerful, I looked at 1st and 2nd wave feminists, and for Reverse Engineering I am looking at contemporary women artists) as well as my relationship to the heteronormative male perspective in history.

Angry Feminist, 2013

I agree that my use of materials is different in this show than in the last show – but then, each of my bodies of work have explored different media. It’s never the same, and rarely consistent, if you’re talking about aesthetic formalism in my work. The materials change to suit the content and concept of the project.  In Sisterhood is Powerful I was responding to a legacy of painting, particularly hard edge and soft edge abstraction – which, in America, is a very male-dominated history. In Reverse Engineering, I am adopting the structures of conceptualism and relational aesthetics – through text, sound, performative videos, and performance.

  • Reverse Engineering is a term that usually refers to product development. Can you explain the title's conceptual relationship to the show?
We Are Here For You, 2013

Reverse Engineering is the idea of taking something apart in order to understand it. Of deconstructing or undoing – moving backwards, looking back in time – in order to understand a present, and possibly future, state. I consider myself to be excavating the history and strategies of feminism in order to understand my current relationship to artmaking, particularly with regard to notions of essentialism. “Essentialism” refers to a form of feminism that emerges in the 1970s – as created and championed by artists like Judy Chicago, who encouraged consciousness raising, collective activity, social practice, and artists making art that was directly from and about their lives and experience. The term essentialism has historically been used as a pejorative one – at least in the way that it was introduced by critics in the 1970s. I see it, however, as a really positive and important tactic – it’s more direct and honest and difficult, actually. It’s not embedded in the semiotic, in the same way that post-structuralism is.

  • The show greets visitors with a promise to give. The wall text states "I'm here for you" and the outline of the conceptually based project, I Would Do Anything For You, offers personal services to female artists. I know that working collaboratively is a huge part of your ethos, can you discuss the implications of starting with generosity as a construct?

Yes, collaboration has been really important to me throughout the history of my practice. I see art as an important tool for community building, for creating support structures, for problem-solving, for proposing alternative realities and perspectives, and for exploring the human condition. For me, it’s hard to think of doing those things alone. I consider art to be a very social activity – requiring interaction with a viewer, in the simplest sense of the word. I have always worked collaboratively – whether in an actual collective (The Elizabeths, the LA Art Girls, Fontbron Academy) or with the support of other artists in helping to make the work, or in performing in my performances and videos. I learn different things from working with other artists than I do from working alone. One learns to negotiate, to let go of singular authorship, to share. It’s often possible to accomplish things collaboratively that could never be done with just one person.
I like to think of an artistic practice as one of giving. Artists give themselves to their work, they put their work ‘out there’. I don’t mean this in a narcissistic way. I am personally very interested in the idea of gifts, generosity, empathy. I like the idea of art as gift. Gifts are tricky, however, because in our culture, they rarely come without the expectation of reciprocity of some sort. They might be given out of reciprocity, or with the expectation of reciprocity, or out of expected protocol or obligation.
The statement “ I am here for you” refers to my role as an artist, in the gallery, putting works there for people to see; but also in a more personal sense, as much of the content of the show involves me not only offering depictions of my most intimate, vulnerable states, but also offering myself, literally, as an assistant to women artists.
The art world can be very difficult and very competitive. I hate it when women are competitive with each other. We have enough challenges as it is – we need to support each other! It can be so difficult “doing it all” (job, family, art practice, relationships). I wanted to offer my services – as an artist, friend, community member – to women artists as a gesture of support, love, and encouragement. I want my performance to say “I support you; what you’re doing is valuable; you deserve help and support and validation”.
I have learned a lot about giving from artist collectives (LA Art Girls, Fallen Fruit), from my parents, and from my closest friends. The people to whom you are able to give unconditionally, and from whom you are able to receive unconditionally, are the ones you are the most intimate with.
The wall text, “I am here for you” comes from thinking about statements exchanged between people who are in intimate relationships – as friends or lovers. The statements might be explicit or implicit. To be there for someone as they need and want you to be is one of the greatest gifts we can give. 
A friend recently suggested that I offer the love that I wanted to receive. So, this is an attempt at that. It’s like Ghandi’s quote “Be the change that you want to see in the world”. I want more community and support in the art world, I want intimacy and support in my personal life, and I want to see more women artists receive attention and support for their work in the art world. So, those pieces are trying to engender those things.

  • Could you discuss the performance piece? 

We Are Here For You was a performance that I did with 16 other women, during the opening of the exhibition. For the three hours of the opening reception, we each stood or sat around the gallery and held a single smile for the whole time. This piece originated from thinking about women as hostesses, mothers, wives, partners, and the clichéd expectations that women “put on a happy face” and grin and bear it; that we do not reveal out true opinions or emotions.  We are expected to be accommodating and welcoming. I was also thinking about gallery openings, and the petty small talk that happens as people exchange trite smiles while pretending to like the work, and don’t have enough time to really delve into meaningful conversation in the midst of the pomp and circumstance of the opening reception.
Over time, the smiles that each woman held began to look more like expressions of anguish or pain or insanity. Our faces began to twitch, and some women drooled. The gesture of smiling interminably alludes to a nervous breakdown – as an expression of joy morphs into one of pain or discomfort, and the façade of a social gesture is revealed as a construct rather than a genuine expression of emotion.The performance also yielded a very strange experience for the viewer who entered the space to encounter a room full of women smiling silently and unflinchingly. During some points, it was hard to tell who was a performer and who was a viewer, and people weren’t sure if they should talk, or smile back, or look away. After a while, the women in the performance began to develop a silent language with each other. We were all communicating throughout the evening, without ever changing the expression of our mouths. It was a consciousness raising session of a sort.  

  • I am intrigued by the cd compilations Songs For A Lost Love 1 & 2. Can you talk about your inspiration. They remind me of the kind of mix tapes that are designed to seduce a crush and expose vulnerability. The strong undercurrent of feeling is carried pretty directly through the songs.

Yes, the CDs are definitely inspired by the idea of an old school mixed tape, circa 1980s. These are the songs that I sent to an ex-lover over the course of our relationship. It was a very personal and intimate gesture (and yes, admittedly, sometimes juvenile) – and to make public that part of my personal life is intended as an offering, of sorts–my most intimate, personal inclinations, sent out to a generic, unknown public. Love songs, when unspecific, are meaningless. When the intended recipient isn’t there…what are they? This is like art, to me. The idea of trying to express sentiment in the form of someone else’s lyrics/songs is also ironically impersonal and cheesy. In sending a song in lieu of one’s own words indicates an attempt to find voice for that which cannot be articulated. Perhaps it is like the Lacanian real.

Songs for a Lost Love 1 and 2
I like the idea of a narrative arc told through appropriated songs. It’s an appropriation piece. The order of the songs is very intentional and specific: CD 1 charts the development of a relationship – the falling in love and being blissfully happy and turned on…it’s an ascent; CD 2 charts the disillusionment, the disintegration of the relationship, the separation, and the struggles with wanting to leave and be free, but also not wanting to let go of what was good.
Songs have historically served as gifts – to sing happy birthday to someone, to sing a child to sleep; to sing hymns in church, to go caroling door-to-door at Christmas time. I am offering copies of these CDs as gifts to each visitor.

  • Could you talk about Reverse Engineering, the crying video? It's really powerful and I'm sure it was an ordeal to make. In each scene you stare directly at a laptop camera and cry. There are moving boxes around you at different points and it seems like a really raw look at grieving from either a break up or death. At different points the crying is really loud and seems to take over the entire gallery. I'm curious to hear what led to this piece and how it operates in concert with the rest of the show.

The video is an hour long. There is a half an hour of clips of me crying, and then the footage is reversed, and viewers see a half an hour of me crying backwards (oddly, it’s often hard to tell which part is forward and which is backwards). The footage was culled from over 4 hours of video which was recorded over the course of 6 months. This piece was made during what I called my “great depression”– as I struggled with some serious personal challenges and life changes. I was in a paralytic state, and was unable to make work in the studio. I have always made work from and about my life and my experiences, and this time I felt totally immobilized. Somehow, I had the impulse to record these moments (I had nothing else) – thinking that they were the ugliest, most embarrassing, most raw expressions of who I was at that moment. The things I am most scared to reveal publicly are: me singing, me crying, and me in the middle of having sex. I have revealed myself in my work in many ways, and much of my practice is looking at the most difficult and private parts of my identity, as I question where they come from and how they are functioning.
To me Reverse Engineering is about honesty and vulnerability, and admitting the things that we are socially trained to hide and deny. We are not allowed to openly discuss depression, suicide, longing, despair, self-doubt. Revealing honest, deep, ugly, vulnerable emotion is one of the things most taboo in our society. It’s unpredictable, and there is no ‘road map’ for interpreting the revelation of such emotion.  People don’t know what to do with it. But at the same time –I have had several women tell me that they really related to and understood the emotion expressed.
I was also thinking about the Freudian notions of the hysteric – the woman who talks too much; who reveals too much about what she is thinking and feeling. I think that declaring and revealing emotion is still often thought of in that way. One is deemed crazy or weak or unprofessional if they reveal too much emotion.

The other videos in the entryway each deal with the complexity of intimate emotions and pride. Perhaps the most dramatic piece features a clip from superman looped where Lois Lane is continually revived and killed by Superman's circling of the planet. It's hard to tell whether his anguish is sad or violent and her face remains impassive and detached. Could you expand?

The suite of three videos is titled Daddy Issues, collectively. I think of them as one piece, but also as a side-car to Reverse Engineering, the crying video.

Daddy Issues, 2013

The video in which I use an appropriated scene from the movie Superman is also called Reverse Engineering. In the scene, Lois Lane has been killed by an earthquake which was set off by a missile from Lex Luthor, Superman’s arch-nemesis. In his despair, Superman defies his father’s mandate not to interfere with human history, and changes the direction of the earth’s spin in order to reverse the course of events that lead to Lois’ death.  That scene is really amazing to me, and it has been in my mind since I first saw the film in 1978. I was six years old. At the time, I remember being dumbstruck at the idea that Superman could reverse time by reversing the earth’s spin. I was learning about planets and orbits in school, and I spent hours trying to understand the astrophysics at play in that scene. Did the earth’s direction cause time to move forward? If the earth spun in the opposite direction would that actually reverse time?? Later, I would understand and accept it as ‘fiction’, but would still think of the scene: of Superman’s anguished yell, when the love of his life died; and his desperation being so great that he defied his own ‘destiny’, and he turned back time to bring her back to life.  I identified with his yell upon first finding Lois dead – the expression of anguish, frustration and sadness so great that it resonated into the universe. It was his insides coming out.

I have played that scene over and over in my head for years.

In this iteration of that scene in my video, I condensed the scene and stitched it together with it’s ‘mirror’ – the as the scene ends, it loops into a visual palindrome (just as Superman reversing the spin of the world) and as Lois Lane rolls down her window to see Superman standing outside her car, she just as quickly rolls it back up. She turns her head away from him, he yells again, flies back into space, and re-reverses the world, initiating mass destruction, and effectively now killing Lois Lane, rather than saving her.  When he loves her, he saves her, and when he is angry at her rejection of him, he destroys her. In a larger sense, I thought of this video as a metaphor for my desire to go back in time, and undo the injustices that women have faced for centuries. It’s meant to be archetypal, similar to the way that the Superman character derives from Nietzsche’s Ubermensch.

The video that contains only text is titled Angry Feminist. This video is a sequence of alternating phrases from four sources: clichés about feminism; famous feminist slogans and quotes; stereotypical phrases exchanged between two lovers or ex-lovers; statements that artists make about their creative process.  I thought there was interesting overlap in the language of these cannons, and I think it’s difficult, problematic and really interesting to propose a blurring of the historic, personal, and professional influences that I consider, as an artist, on a daily basis. By interspersing these phrases with each other, subjectivity is confused and conflated through the punning that results.

The third video in the suite doesn’t have it’s own title. It’s twenty minutes long and throughout the video there are 1-minute sequences of cute-animal pictures punctuated by textual statements about historic feminist actions or inventions by women. In most cases, the text references incidents or inventions that are under-recognized in history. The cute animals are intended to provide a visual reprieve from the difficulty and labor of learning about these neglected heroines.  I have a lot more to say about ‘cute’, which I have been working with for a while as a strategy. But…you may just have to wait until my next show before I really unpack that one!

-Special thanks to Micol for her lengthy answers to my modest questions. More information is available at