As I'm putting this post together, the sun is shining brightly outside and it's starting to feel a whole lot like spring. So it's fitting to share the bright and colorful work of Chrissy Scolaro, who chats with me about her education, influences, and a famous letter that she keeps pinned up in the studio that motivates her to work. More at the links below!
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I'd love to know a bit more about you! Where are you from, and where are you based now?
I’m originally from outside of Chicago. I’ve moved around quit a bit since graduating from college in 2010 but I’ve most recently relocated to Philadelphia. Rents are cheap and the community is wonderful so I plan on staying here awhile.
What first interested you in making art? Did you initially begin with painting, or sculpture, and eventually combine them, or have you always been interested in what you describe as "hybrid" work?
I’d say it was an eventual combination. My interest in art began with acrylic and oil painting; I attended Boston University’s College of Fine Arts and was in the painting department there. It held up its reputation of being a program that really instills a foundation of more traditional, representational painting (lots of Lucian Freud and Euan Uglow books floating around the classrooms).
My paintings were always created with geometric shapes of flat color. Over the course of my Junior year I became interested in painting masks, and my studio walls were covered in them...it looked like a Halloween gift shop. I think this is where my relationship with objects and materials took off in a significant way and I became more interested in the set up of installations more than the painting of them. A distinct memory is being in a large group critique with visiting artist Dana Schutz. She referred to my paintings and said, “whoever painted these--are you making sculptures? Because you should be.” During this time, I had been hanging around the Sculpture studios far more frequently and had already been considering switching departments. Her words were encouraging and I transferred my final year. Senior year was busy, but I was able to complete my BFA with a major in Sculpture.
I went on to make sculptural objects with or heavily influenced by ready-made objects for a few years, and was doing work of this nature when I first arrived at graduate school. The transition to the sculptures I am creating now came about halfway through my first year at Cranbrook Academy of Art.
What has your arts education been like so far, whether formally or informally?
As mentioned, I attended BU and graduated in 2010. I met my core group of closest friends at BU; we’ve all continued our practices and most of us have either been through or are currently enrolled in a graduate program. We have an active group text thread and frequently share photos from our own studios as well as other work we’re looking at, shows to go to, calls for entry and job/residency applications. It’s been helpful and encouraging to have this sort of intimate, candid support system.
After college I spent some time working at a bronze foundry before moving back to the Midwest, where I took a couple years to work and gain some experience. I held a studio practice in the Near West Side of Chicago and was an artist assistant for a public steel sculptor as well as a welder and painter at a set design and fabrication shop.
I knew I wanted to attend graduate school for Sculpture at some point, but needed some space, time and guidance to develop my portfolio. I attended MICA’s Post-Bacc program in 2012-2013. This was a defining moment; I understood Post-Bacc as being a step between undergraduate education and graduate school but did not want to rush the process. I took another year to figure out my next move and research schools. I settled in Philadelphia to work and had a studio in Kensington.
Completing my MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art was, hands down, my most challenging and rewarding academic experience. My Department Head, Heather McGill, is incomparable, and was a significant part of my decision to attend the school. Due to the nature of the graduate program at Cranbrook (there are no classes), you have a lot of time to be in your studio. In addition to the education I received there, a big take away has been the familial nature of the alumni network, which I’m hopeful will be a source of continued support and growth. Because Cranbrook sort of operates like more of a residency or commune, I think it’s common to be significantly transformed by the program in some way. When you meet another alumni I think there’s this moment of, “Oh, you survived that strange place too!” before continuing to share stories and experiences.
Your work is very concerned with "patterning" -- can you elaborate a bit on how that plays into your practice?
The inclusion of patterning has been a way for my work to continue exploring themes of memory and fabricated memory (these ideas were at the forefront of my ready-made sculptural works as well). The graphic shapes act as cartoons, and nod to art history, nature and the body. My general criteria for the shapes I use is based on their ability, or rather lack thereof, to be quickly categorized. I’m interested in how language functions and the human desire to label something that presents itself as abstract. A minimal reference to a certain color or shape might allow viewers to be rushed by different personal associations. I’m not sure saying that something looks like “this more than that” really helps anyone reach a conclusion, but it’s fascinating that this process of identification helps us feel like we are closer to understanding or “figuring it out,” which I think we’re all a bit desperate to do.
Do you have any particularly significant influences, or mentors who have had an impact on your work?
Over the past couple years I’ve looked a lot at the work of Anouk Kruithof, The Memphis Group (Nathalie DuPasquier is a goddess), Heidi Fasnacht, Robert Morris, Elizabeth Murray and Polly Apfelbaum.
On a personal level, native Detroit artist and curator Ben Hall was a visiting artist at Cranbrook Academy of Art my first year and I was lucky enough to have a studio visit with him. His voice came at a pivotal moment, and he pushed me to explore the potential of my cut paper collages, which I had been quietly making alongside other work. At the time I had felt uncomfortable and unsure of the 6x6” explorations, but they ended up being directly responsible for the transition in my work that soon followed. The steel and vinyl sculptures were my way of “scaling up” the feeling that I have while making the collages, specifically during the point of cutting that happens into the vinyl. The collages have continued to be an imperative part of my practice, and a primary source for discovering shapes that are then painted on the surfaces of the larger sculptures.
It’s impossible to not mention Heather McGill again. She is a brilliant artist and her dedication to both her practice and her students is an inspiration. She really encouraged me to explore and embrace Formalism as well as the conversations my work has with the history of Minimalism.
What is your process like? When do you know you've finished a piece?
I’ll speak to the steel and vinyl structures...in general, there is some necessary planning and then space given for more improvisation and rapid decision making. I fabricate my steel frames with precision so that they are structurally stable; there isn’t much wiggle room in that part of the process. I then stretch vinyl around the frames, which is done similarly to how canvas would be stretched onto stretcher bars. I install grommets for zip-ties wherever necessary connections will need to take place between the panels. I’ve always liked how the zip-ties convey a sense of immediacy.
The next bit is the part of the process I enjoy the most; I make large swatches of different color combinations and patterns that are taped to the panels and rearranged until I’m satisfied with the coloration as well as the effects of the layering that is occurring. Since I can never truly predict how these patterns will work together until the surfaces are painted in their entirety and I can walk around the whole piece, I’ll occasionally have to scrap a panel after it is fully painted. I think the most important thing I’m looking for when determining if a piece is “finished” is the effect of the stacked patterns within a piece as well as between pieces, if works are sharing a space. Between the transparency of the vinyl as well as the various cuts that are made and present these sort of “windows,” I want the piece to have a pay-off for the viewer from multiple angles. It’s important to me that the experience of looking truly shifts as one moves around the work and that unexpected moments occur.
The panels are never permanently secured together. Since the frames are always able to be rearranged, or entirely remade (stripped of the vinyl and re-stretched/re-painted), the work has the potential to have several different lives.
What is your studio space or workspace like?
I’m actually currently in the process of moving studios. My new space is located in Port Richmond and I’m really excited about the amount of natural light that comes in from a wall of windows. My studio is private but is part of a larger space that is split between five other artist friends. I have a small desk for computer work and making collages and then workspace for the sculptural pieces. The studio is big enough to carve out some space for photographing work, so in the next couple weeks I’ll be cleaning and painting an area for that purpose.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
This is a segment of text from a letter that was sent to Eva Hesse from Sol LeWitt in 1965. I have a printed copy and it is the first thing up that goes up on the wall in any studio I occupy:
“Learn to say 'Fuck You' to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, gasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, rumbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose-sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eying, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding grinding grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO.”
What do you need most as an artist?
That’s a great question. Outside of more initial, obvious thoughts: time, money, space, something else I really need is dialogue. This doesn’t necessarily mean in my studio and about my work, but in general, conversation is a big portion of my fuel. I always keep notebooks from talks, events and critiques. Both inside and outside of my studio I’ll revisit conversations or presentations that deeply effected me. Two that stand out immediately are Molly Zuckerman-Hartung’s heartstring-pulling talk at Philadelphia’s ICA in 2013 and Daniel Joseph Martinez’s sobering lecture that literally made me squirm in my seat and essentially question my entire life’s purpose at the Cranbrook Art Museum in 2015. In a similar vein I try to keep up with events and happenings around town, both in PHL and NYC. I keep a running list of shows, openings, closings, lectures, film screenings, etc on my desktop and I try to make these outings a priority. I think artists of all mediums and levels have a sort of obligation to show up and support each other.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally--or both?
Naturally there are varying levels of obstacles at different times but something I am facing at the moment is sort of figuring out where I’d like my place to be in it all. My practice casts a fairly wide net, in addition to my sculptures and sculptural installations, I make cut-paper greeting cards, I’ve made a small pop-up book, and I’m currently writing a proposal for an outdoor public sculpture (which comes with learning and mastering grant-writing). Finding where to focus the energy, and considering the potential trajectories of each of those paths, can feel a bit overwhelming when you factor in logistics and internal and external pressures. It’s too early to close doors so my plan is to continue trying to do a-bit-of-everything, all-at-once.
How do you describe "success?"
A few years ago I was essentially following a formula to make my work...thankfully, this “system” felt like it combusted while I was in graduate school. When you know something works, you know it works...which is fine until it gets boring for you and then you can be absolutely sure it’s boring for your viewers as well. So personally, I currently think of success as remaining open to allowing my work to surprise me and following it even when I might not be sure where it’s going to end up. I think it’s harder to do this than it sounds.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects you're currently working on?
I will be participating in a large group show this summer at The Wassaic Project in Wassaic, NY. The exhibition will be on view from May 20-September 24.
Additionally, I’m a member at an artist-run space called FJORD Gallery in Philadelphia; I’ll be curating a three-person show there for August of 2017.
Anything else you would like to add?
Many thanks for your interest and dedication to emerging artists, Kate!
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