The Queens-based artist on the eroticism of armor and why she loves seeing the labor in her work.
The armory wing of The Met has been a point of fascination for you lately. What is it about armor that's drawing you to it right now? And what are your goals with that amazing cat-based armor that's in the works?
For some time, I've flirted with the subcultures of fandom and cosplay. I've made my own "fursuit"; I attend the new york renaissance festival yearly in full costume; back in Chicago, I was an annual spectator of International Mr. Leather, a big leather/fetishwear convention. The creativity and mastery of materials some of these guys have is incredible. I've learned so much regarding fabrication and material manipulation from cosplay and historical reenactment forums.
This obsessive and erotic adornment of the body makes me think a lot about what medieval armor does–specifically the kind used in military parades or worn by royals and generals. It's technically functional, but the intention is to convey the power and strength of the wearer–and in some cases, completely transform them. Armor, like wearing a mask or a costume, can protect, disguise, or manipulate the body to reflect an empowering persona or character.
And you see a lot of eroticism in medieval armor that has those same elements of fantasy and obsession as, say, a fully articulated furry wolf suit. For example, there is some incredible armor at the Met–I think it's flemish?–that has a tiny waist, huge shoulders and hips, and a giant codpiece that curls up like a coat hook. I've been going to the armory wing a few times a month, studying the suits, and taking what I see back to the studio. This medieval/catgirl-inspired porcelain suit of armor is the manifestation of that theoretical bridge between fandom, fantasy and protection.
So much of your work includes industrial materials, even when the work is on a small scale, and you spoke about how you like seeing labor in the work. How did those kinds of materials first come into your practice, and what is it about seeing the labor that appeals to you?
When I graduated from school, and for many years after, I worked in art labor–as an art handler, preparator, and installing artworks in the most mental high-rises–so, materials like concrete, drywall compound and plaster were always around, and naturally made their way into the studio. The amount of time before the material cures is very short, so it lends itself to really expressive mark-making and gestural, loose sculpting.
For a while, the appeal was exactly this short window of workability. Creating maximal expression with minimal material in a constrained working time means that very little editing is possible when making a sculpture, and part of my practice really thrives off of that challenge. I like that it relentlessly shows the hands of the maker and that the viewer has to confront this guttural tactility. In my paintings, I'm only using lamp black gouache (right now). It also dries very quickly, allowing for fast mark-making, and has a similar "memory" as plaster where it contains the history and mistakes of all your previous marks.
You lived in Chicago for a decade but resettled in the neighborhood you were born in in New York. What drew you back? And how do you compare and contrast life in Chicago to life in New York?
Chicago was an amazing place to fuck around and find out as a young artist. I had access to a lot more space than you can find in New York, and I think that freed me up to experiment with making really large-scale work. The spirit of the DIY is alive and well there too, and the apartment gallery scene is a sort of historic thing about the Chicago art community, so it was really formative to have these spaces to play around and present work in. I moved back to New York because it's amazing and I love it! I was the last of some very close friends to come to New York from Chicago; it was hard to tear me away from all that space. But I have a big family in New York, blood and chosen, and I'm really grateful to be close to all of them.
Many of your works–drawings, sculptures, ceramics–have really strong teeth, tongue and mouth motifs. What inspired you to bring that into your practice and what does it mean for you?
It's often said that portraits of other people always resemble the artist. I have a big mouth and messed up teeth, so this may be the case.
One of the works in your space, the human-like sculpture base of a table, seems to bridge art and design. How do you distinguish those two things for yourself?
That work, in particular, is definitely a riff on those 1960s Allen jones S&M furniture pieces, which were so controversial at the time, specifically because of their objectification of women's bodies. There is something captivating about them to me, however, in their unabashedness and completely unhinged playfulness. Anyway, my version is a sloppy plaster figure sculpture of a guy wearing a mask with a glass bar top ratchet-strapped to his back. All of the materials I used can probably be found in the back of a contractor's van. So in a way, it was less of a subversion of the subject matter of the Jones works, but rather of the materials–swapping high-end for low-end, smooth and hyperrealistic for abject and tactile. In my practice, I think less overall about design, I would say, and more about function or narrative.
You mentioned that one of the beautiful things about having a studio is the opportunity to be in a space with objects and an aesthetic that you might not normally want to live with full-time in your own home. How do you cultivate your actual living space in comparison?
My studio is definitely dungeon vibes. It's in my basement, a really raw, unfinished space with very little natural light. The stone block walls kind of look like my sculptures, and I keep a lot of my little collections of photos and things down here as well, things that I use for reference or that I just keep around (like the big collection of old plaster teeth casts). A lot of "test" sculptures and some older works live down here. Some have said it's a little bit macabre. My home is right above on the first floor, which I share with my girlfriend. It's bright and airy, with paintings by friends and fresh flowers and lots of homemade ceramics. Our dining room is painted pink and we have a kitten.