ASK THE ARTIST

Each month, an artist from The Avant-Garde Collection  is selected to answer questions left for them by museum visitors. Participation is welcome on-site and through social media: #OCMA #AVANTGARDE

DECEMBER: FRED EVERSLEY
Fred Eversley grew up in Brooklyn, NY and studied electrical engineering at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. In the early 1960s, he moved to Southern California to join the aerospace industry, but retired at age 25 to pursue art. He was appointed as Artist-in-Residence at the Smithsonian Institute in 1977, and for three years had a studio at the National Air and Space Museum. His work is held in the collections of institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. He currently works out of Venice, CA and New York, NY. 









 


Nikki PressleyNOVEMBER: NIKKI PRESSLEY

Nikki Pressley was born in 1982 in Greenville, South Carolina. She graduated from Furman University with a B.A. in studio art and received her M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts. She lives and works in Los Angeles.

Round 1:

Q: What is your inspiration?
A: For the work in the show, my inspiration was my interest in belief systems, language and the history of my home state, South Carolina. I also wanted to find a way to have a drawing do more than hang on the wall and also to attempt to use as much of the surface area of the drawing to create an experience. My strong¬est inspiration recently has been the natural world.  I am currently doing a residency in upstate New York and the landscape and environment are so complex and beautiful. The natural world can be a reflection-provoking space where you can experience both a sense of history and sublime. Often some of my materials/forms are organic in nature. 

Q: Do artists live in reality?
A: I think artists have to live in reality to some degree since they are usually making work for an audience to view. Reality is also crucial for an artist in order to respond to the world as it is. Straddling a line between past/present/future and reality/non-reality can be beneficial to create relationships between those different states. While their minds and contemplations may inhabit other realms, I believe the act of making/responding must happen in reality to truly join a discussion with the rest of society. 

Q: If you could be any animal in the next life, what would you be and why?
A: I would be a bird. I would enjoy the luxury of having a perspective of the earth that few beings get to have at any moment’s notice. It would afford me the opportunity to move freely from space to space. The idea of being able to communicate differently would also be fascinating. 

Q: What made you like art?
A: I took a few art classes in elementary/middle school (outside of regular curriculum). I remember enjoying the labor of making art. The reality of spend time working hard on something and seeing the results develop before your eyes. I was very in sports as a child and spend most of my summers running track or playing basketball. What I remember most fondly about those years was practice. Putting in time to get better and seeing the results. I see the art the same way. I love the process of making. Often there is a plan, but the outcome is unknown. The space of mystery and experimenting is liberating. As you develop a mastery of skills, then that process becomes even more interesting as you can manipulate materials with more ease. Art has always been a space for me to think and work ideas and life out. 

Q: What kept you motivated?
A: Being an incomplete and imperfect being is a great motivation because there are always things to learn, ideas to better grasp and new forms to create. Having the chance to make art in spaces where I have had support and peer review reinforces this motivation. Being a part of the world does this also. Art is process and there are always new things to process in the world. While exposure is a great motivator also, the excitement of developing ideas and making forms has to exist since exposure and recognition can frequently be elusive and fleeting in this world. I am constantly motivated by wanting to know or understand or represent an idea and how it does and can exist in the world.

 

Round 2:

Q: What social, political, or economic events of our time inspire you? If any at all.
A: I have always been inspired by history and the production of meaning and truth in our society, both directly and indirectly in my practice.  Comparing and contrasting movements and energy from previous eras to what is currently happening is good way to begin investigating human behavior and it’s effectiveness then and now. I am currently fascinated with the illusion of fairness and truth in our society. It is an illusion that is actually admirably well-crafted and advertised. I think that today’s generations have been innovative in attempting to ‘lift a veil’, but often those efforts are short-lived and relegated to the digital world. It will be interesting to see and engage with how we can actually BUILD sustainable spaces of critique and valuable meaning production that will stand the test of more than just our current age.

Q: What is the importance of the relationship between your work and the viewer in that space?
A: For this particular piece I was really interested in finding a way to pull the two-dimensional work I was doing off the wall and to add another ‘layer’ to the experience. Finding a great framer who could craft the standing double-sided from in a short amount of time was key. I was really interested in having the viewer actually physically experience the two narratives being presented by having to move around the object; so their bodies were always in two different positions as they were viewing both sides of the works.

Q: As an artist, have you faced any financial restrictions towards potential creative ideas? If so, what was the result?
A: Yes, I definitely face financial restrictions for my ideas. Especially coming out of school working various studio assistant jobs. In addition to this, working extra jobs/hours is a difficult compromise with having time to spend in the studio making one’s own work. So far, I have faced these challenges in a number of ways. One, by coming up with different solutions for a work that may be more cost effective. Sometimes that can be a detriment to an original idea, but often, the solutions I have stumble upon have added new meaning and dimension to the work.  Another source, is smaller funding , perhaps from galleries or institutions in order to fabricate works. I have found that there is always a way to accomplish the idea.

Q: How many pieces of art have you made?
A: I’m not exactly sure. I definitely can’t count them on my hand. Maybe hundreds? Often I will throw work away or perhaps re-purpose work that was not as successful in its original form. The works I make tend to exist in iterations, often some parts/pieces from one piece resurfacing in others.

Q: How do I get my art into a museum?
A: Usually this is a very difficult process. For me, I had a meeting with the curator who was doing a specific show and she decided to include my work. That meeting was preceded by some information or ‘buzz’ she may have heard about me from either other artists, curators or professors from grad school. With that said, a lot of the traction one receives in the art world is based on connections and relationships. Going to shows, staying connected and having studio visits is a great way to continually be putting your ideas out in the world. And now the advent of social media, it may be even easier to infiltrate those channels. The biggest thing is persistence and continuing to make work, because you never know when an opportunity will arise.

IMAGE: NIKKI PRESSLEY, WORD, 2010, GRAPHITE, EMBOSSING ON PAPER, 43 1/4 X 53 1/4 INCHES, COLLECTION OCMA, MUSEUM PURCHASE WITH FUNDS PROVIDED THROUGH PRIOR GIFT OF DR. AND MRS. GARY FISH

 

Alan RathOCTOBER: ALAN RATH
Alan Rath was born in 1959 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming an artist. His sculptures are inspired by technology, video, and music, and have been featured in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the Whitney Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum. He currently lives and works in San Francisco.

Round 1:

Q: Many curators and critics today say the time of Avant-Garde art is over. What would you call today’s contemporary art that is created by artists who are trying to be “edgy” and innovative?
A: There will always be artists who are "ahead of their time", it is just difficult to know who those people are in the present. I don't really think there is such a thing as artists who are trying to be edgy or innovative. Viewers will have quite varied opinions as to who is edgy or not.

Q: Whose work are you inspired by?
A: A long time ago I was greatly inspired by Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog Synthesizer. It was because I wanted to build an electronic music synthesizer that I began to teach myself electronics. I was also inspired by NASA, the Apollo (moon landing) program, and Thomas J. Kelley who was the principle designer of the LEM (later called LM or Lunar Module). I think the Apollo 11 lunar lander is the most beautiful sculpture of the 20th century.

Q: In Watcher II, 1999 the cord appears to be a nose. Is it intentional?
A: Yes, that was the plan. I admit that it is a little bit silly, but I couldn't resist.

Q: What do you see as the role of the arts in communicating the threat of climate change and global ecological destruction?
A: I don't see any reason for art to be subsumed by propaganda. If an individual artist wants to make work "about" any issue, he or she should feel free. But, I think art is a fairly inefficient medium to be "about" anything.

Round 2:

Q: What is your favorite piece of art you made? 
A: One of my favorites is Wave from 1989. At that time, I wasn't sure how to build such a piece, or how to write the required software. The piece has five screens, and my ideas for the video animations required careful timing among all five channels. But, I felt if that I just started, I'd figure it out along the way. It went together rather easily, and in the end, the video animations looked just as I imagined. The piece is now owned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.

Q: How much do you keep up with mobile technology? Do you have an iphone 6? 
A: Funny that you should ask about this. I don't have an iPhone 6. I don't have an iPhone. I don't have a smart phone. I don't have any cell phone at all. One of these I will get one, but so far, I'm totally repulsed by the way they are marketed. I have no desire to have any more contact with telecom companies than necessary.

Q: Who was the model for your eyes in Watcher? 
A: Those are my wife's eyes. She wasn't too happy that I slanted the picture tubes on this sculpture. But, the angle was actually an accidental result of the way the tubes are supported. I decided to keep the slant since it looked more interesting than what I originally planned.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Watcher? 
A: The sculpture in this exhibition is Watcher II from 1999. The first Watcher was built in 1998. Both of these sculptures are related to a two eyed sculpture I built in 1988 called Voyeur.  I was interested in suggesting an artwork that viewed the viewer, while being viewed. Such a thing was just becoming possible in the 1980s, but only the military could afford such technology. I expect some young artist to build the real thing soon: a sculpture that will recognize you, and remember you, such that it will say 'hello' if you ever see the sculpture again.

Image: Alan Rath, Watcher II, 1999, Aluminum, custom electronics, acrylic, two cathode ray tubes, 30 x 33 x 15 inches, Collection OCMA; Gift of the Curator's Circle, © Alan Rath

 

Alexis Smith

SEPTEMBER: ALEXIS SMITH
Alexis Smith grew up in Whittier, California. She studied art at UC Irvine and graduated in 1970. Her collages and installations have been shown at numerous galleries and museums, including the Whitney Museum in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. She now lives and works in Los Angeles. 

Round 1 Visitors’ Questions:

  • What quality is essential for an avant-garde artist to sustain over the life of their practice?
  • How do artists come up with cool ideas?
  • What emotion is your biggest inspiration for completed works?
  • What art inspired you?
  • Do you listen to music while you work, and if so, which songs do you find yourself listening to the most?

Alexis’ Response:
These are good questions, and frequently asked ones, because they reveal one of the most misunderstood concepts, which is the idea that a good artist has a coherent aesthetic even if they work in different media. A good example of that would be that I am mostly known as a collage artist, but when I was younger, I made a lot of public art, which was large and expensive and hopefully permanent like the terrazzo floors at the L.A. Convention Center, and the Snake Path at UCSD. 

Coming up with cool ideas is the most fun we artists ever have, because there are usually hurdles that we have to get over to execute the idea...some are monetary, and some are physical and technical. There is also the problem that everything does not speak to everyone, not to mention a lot of things have been done before by other artists and are pretty untouchable. The emotion that is the biggest inspiration is "hope," hope that the work will look good, but not just like anybody else...Hope that it is technically sound. Hope that someone who will appreciate it and take care of it will buy it.

Inspiration for me comes from found images and objects, which are the sources of my found materials, which I glue together in a figure ground arrangement to reveal the hidden meanings and beauty of each. And I do listen to the radio while I work. I enjoy it without it being a distraction.

Round 2 Questions & Answers:

Q: What are three things in life you couldn’t live without?
A: I couldn’t live without my husband, my studio, and my friends.

Q: What is your dream if you had no restrictions? 
A: I already have no restrictions except my own. But I try to stay in character.

Q: What do people mean when they say avant-garde doesn’t exist in the contemporary art world today? 
A: They mean that there are so many artists that being ahead of your time is almost impossible.

Q: What’s your view on the current state of the art world? Is avant-garde art being made in this day and age?
A: There are three generations of artists. There are older artists setting precedents. There are middle-aged journeyman artists, and young brash artists trying to do something new and revolutionary.

Image: Alexis Smith, The Promised Land for Peggy (from Porgy & Bess), 1981, Mixed media collage, 16 x 271 inches, Museum purchase with additional funds provided through prior gift of the Sidney and Diana Avery Trust, Donald A. Collins, Mrs. Bea Gersh, William A. Graham IV, Mr. Felix Juda, Donald Judd, Newspace Gallery, Mrs. Harry Rathner, Donald L. Thal, and Mrs. W. Daniel Woodruff