This past August when I was in Washington D.C. for a few days, I was able to schedule studio visits with two artists whom I’ve both long admired and respected. I’m happy to be able to post my visits with them this spring (finally). One of them is mix media artist Roxana Geffen whose studio is currently located at the Arlington Arts Center in Arlington, VA and where our rapport first began over four years ago during one of TSV’s critiques that was, at the time, being hosted by the Arlington Arts Center. (See Programs link).
Hailing from Boston University’s MFA program (and before that BFA from Columbia University), it wasn’t surprising how she initially navigated her canvases in a very formalist and painterly approach that was distinctly representational. Shapes of color built the space up until there were clear planes of form and space. What made her paintings stand out was her use of the photograph. Clearly inspired by Gerhard Richter, the space of the paintings were flat, the imagery blurred and fuzzy making an unmistakable nod to that ‘arrested moment’. Before I left for Berlin in 2012, I saw a massive change in her work where collage started to become a part of her painting process. It was refreshing to witness and when I returned this past summer 2014, I was excited to see not only how sculptural the work became, but how diverse her source material was. A sheet of thin yellow plastic was loosely wrapped around one of the canvases, rattan baskets were stacked on the floor becoming an extension of the wall and even the inclusion of layers of lace or tissue paper fluttered and shimmered on some of the surfaces. Based on our recent correspondence (see below), it seems Roxana is returning to a degree of figuration in her work again.
What remains however, is the freedom to play in her work. She continually engages with a visual language that is tactile and ephemeral teetering between sculptural and painterly abstraction as well as literal and illusionistic narrative. To see more of Roxana’s work go to her website at: www.roxanaalgergeffen.com
Roxana’s studio this spring 2015.
IM: Your work has evolved a lot since I first saw them at a TSV critique over four years ago at the Arlington Arts Center. Back then they were mainly oil on canvas and they included your children [she has three!] in many of them. What changed to the more abstract, mix-media and sculptural pieces you are doing now?
RG: At the time of that critique I was struggling to make work about life with small children. I was using photographs and painting the children themselves, but I never felt that I was getting at what really interested me. I figured out that my real subject was the experience of being in a family, of being part of a system of interactions. I needed a new way of working for this new subject, something more immediate and fluid, and less involved with figuration. I found myself working with water-based paints on paper and Yupo. I started adding collage and mixed-media after seeing Chris Martin’s show ‘Big’ at the Corcoran. I was amazed at the powerfully direct way he stuck things onto his canvases, since it seemed to allow representation and abstraction to co-exist as equals in the piece. I wanted representation in my work, but I wanted to make clear that it wasn’t more important than the abstract marks.
IM: What are you working on now since I visited your studio this past summer 2014?
RG: I am now trying to bring more figuration back into the work, without upsetting that balance. I’ve become interested in the slower changes within the family: children moving towards young adulthood and parents moving away from it, so the work has gotten slower and more thoughtful, too. I’ve also been curious about the worlds the kids are creating and exploring for themselves, especially on-line.
IM: There is fearlessness towards how you approach your work that I’ve always observed and loved — your use of color to name one aspect. I know it’s difficult to really name or describe how one goes about building a work, but maybe you could talk about how a work begins for you?
RG: I try to find an initial spark, something from my experience that I don’t quite understand but can be emotionally honest about, something that feels juicy and complex. Then I try to find a visual interaction that feels related: a color relationship, or the juxtaposition of two materials. I try to do it without thinking about it too much, just putting some paper on the wall and jumping in. If something interesting comes out of that and takes root, then I can think about it critically and do some rigorous editing. Both parts of the process are crucial: if I start with something intellectual, the work often dies immediately, but if I only approach it intuitively, it stays amorphous and incoherent.
IM: What artists have influenced you the most and continue to do so now and why?
RG: I’m especially pleased that you find my work fearless, because I think that’s a common thread among the artists I love. Philip Guston, Gerhard Richter, Pierre Bonnard, Sally Mann, Nicole Eisenman, Dana Schutz, Amy Sillman, and Jeff Koons are all make work that is beautiful, technically masterful and amazingly honest. They also have a sense of humor and humility in their work that I love.
IM: What’s the best part about going to your studio? Do you go everyday? Can you talk about the routine you have for studio time?
RG: The best part of being in my studio is being completely alone. It’s private and I can sink into my thoughts. At home, I don’t have much privacy or time to do anything without interruption. I try to go to the studio five days a week, but life with three kids is by nature unpredictable and there always seems to be doctor’s appointment or snow day or special assembly to throw off my work schedule.
When I get to the studio, I usually goof off for a little while before I can get to work. I’m starting a project that uses imagery from Minecraft, so lately I’ve been playing that. Then I sit and stare at whatever I’m working on. If I’m in the middle of a project, I figure out what direction I’m headed in pretty quickly and then I can get to it. Once I’m actually working on something I have a hard time stopping–even for lunch–and the end of day comes as a shock. When I’m between projects or just starting something, there’s a lot more puttering and lying around involved as I wait for ideas to float to the surface.
IM: What are some of the exhibitions you’ve recently participated in?
RG: In 2015 I’ve been in Emulsion 2015 at the East City Arts at Gallery O on H, Icebreaker 6 at the Ice Cube Gallery in Denver, CO, and Here To Go at the Mint Gallery in Atlanta, GA. I was also a semi-finalist for the Bethesda Painting Award this year. Last year I was in the Transformer Gallery’s annual fundraising art auction, and 8×8, the Washington Project for the Art’s show at (e)merge art fair.
IM: Wow, you’ve been busy! Any future exhibitions coming up?
RG: I have a solo show at the Arlington Arts Center that opens July 11th, 2015. I have a tentative title for the show: ‘Screenshot’ and I’m really looking forward to putting it up!