Artist Interview: Mark Newport

Mark Newport is based in Michigan, but he flew to Santa Fe for the opening of his form & concept solo exhibition, Mending. The show features torn muslin cloths that Newport patched back together using intricate embroidery techniques. The painstaking task was an opportunity to meditate on the vulnerabilities of the human body, and the miraculous process of scarring. In our previous interview, Mark discussed his inspiration for the Mending series. While he was visiting Santa Fe, we sat down for a second conversation about his career, the fiber art community, and how his bodies of work link together.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background in art-making?

I did my Bachelor of Fine Arts work at the Kansas City Art Institute, and took a few years off and then I went to the School of The Art Institute of Chicago for my graduate education. I graduated in 1991. Since then, I’ve lived in several different cities and made work in all of them. 

What are you up to now?

Currently I live and work in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where I am the head of the Fiber Department and Artist in Residence at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, which is a graduate program for people studying in my department. I maintain my studio practice there. 

Mark Newport Fiber Art- Form and Concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Mark Newport, Mend VII (detail), embroidery on muslin, 20″ x 15″

What do you mean by ‘Artist in Residence’?

The term Artist in Residence at Cranbrook is kind of equivalent to an assistant or associate professor at the university. It denotes that we’re teachers, but also that we’re mentors. So, Artists in Residence is meant to assert that I’m an artist, and I work there teaching. Cranbrook is kind of based on the old mentorship-guild way artists were trained in Europe in the pre-modern era.

What inspires you about the contemporary fiber art community right now?

I think what’s interesting about fiber right now is that it’s hard to identify what fiber is in some ways. If I take for example some of my students, there’s people doing video work that looks performative, there are people doing fashion work, there are people that are weaving and quilting. And, obviously, with the weaving and quilting you recognize that it’s coming from fiber and textiles. But, as has been the case for many years, there’s this sort of expanded idea of what that can be.  And it becomes much more about the concepts and the ideas. And of course technology plays into that. You could be weaving with a Jacquard loom that is basically running from a computer program. Or doing digital work in video or doing something that’s completely digital and doesn’t have a physical presence but it relates to either the manufacture of or the history of textiles and what that means in the world right now. 

Mark Newport Fiber Art- Form and Concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Mark Newport, Mend VIII (detail), embroidery on muslin, 20″ x 15″

In your work, you tend to chew on the same question or themes for years. Could you talk about your different bodies of work?

This year when I had to start school and give a lecture about my work, I jokingly said that I’ve worked on the same ideas for 25 years. That’s true in the sense that I’m interested in gender and how that relates to how we as individuals get to operate in the world or understand the world. I’m also interested in how the body relates to those ideas. The body can project a certain kind of idea about, say, masculinity or femininity or the continuum in between those two poles. The body is also not just a symbol but a kind of tool for recording experience. Our sense of touch and the way our skin works… records information through scars or wrinkles as we age. With the superhero costumes, I was using the idea of the pumped-up body deflated through the knitting, and relating it to an idea of gender in the body. With the new work, it’s this idea of scars.

Does your fascination with the body translate into scientific studies of the body? Are you on WebMD looking up skin conditions?

The fascination with the body means that I look at old anatomy texts. I love those old illustrations. I’ve done a lot of reading about how ideas of gender relate to how people depicted images of the body. At one point, scientists described the male and female genitals as the inverse of each other, even though they cut open bodies and saw that that was not the case at all. I love the idea that how we conceive of something isn’t always what we’re actually looking at, and how there’s slippage and contradictions there. I don’t go to WebMD, but I look at all sorts of videos about how surgeries happen and stuff like that, just to see what it is and figure out how things could be more informed in the work. 

Mark Newport Fiber Art- Form and Concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Mark Newport, Mend IX (detail), embroidery on muslin, 20″ x 15″

How do some of your more grotesque interests translate into this really subtle, gorgeous, detailed work?

The work’s not grotesque but the inspiration is, and I think that’s largely because I like to work with metaphor in this body of work. I like the idea that the muslin I start with is like my skin, but different. It holds things, it wrinkles, it gets torn, it needs to be fixed just like my body. And so, I’m using the tools that I’m trained to use to make something, and I don’t necessarily want it to be grotesque. I kind of like the idea that the reference to the wound on the body gets made kind of seductive and beautiful. People have the opportunity to process that idea in a different way. 

Is there still a sense of wonder for you that wounds on the human body embroider themselves back together through scarring?

It’s absolutely fascinating. And to think about that in terms not so much of me, but my son who’s kind of accident prone, and watching that and how something heals. The body’s frustrating and amazing all at the same time. 

You’ve been meditating on your own body and aging lately. Does that relate to your current body of work?

I don’t think that it’s an accident that this body of work is happening now. And after the costumes, I think I’m sensitive to the fact that being in my 50s makes me more aware of healing and of tending or taking care of myself and trying to last a little bit longer. I’m wondering how much can you tend, or fix, or repair, and how much you just have to accept and deal with. And I don’t think I would’ve thought that when I was making the other work, just because of how old I am now. 

Mark Newport’s Mending is on view at form & concept through May 20, 2017. Click here to view the full exhibition on our website.

Mark Newport Fiber Art- Form and Concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Mark Newport, From Within II (detail), embroidery on muslin, 33″ x 66″

Ask Judy Chicago.

Judy Chicago appeared at form & concept on February 10 for a presentation on her work by Chad Alligood, curator of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The event was sponsored by the Women’s International Study Center and their Fellowship Program, which brought Alligood to Santa Fe to work on an essay about Chicago’s life for a forthcoming monograph from the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

After Alligood’s engaging talk, Chicago ascended the stage for a Q&A session featuring written questions from the audience. Check out the Youtube playlist above to hear her answers to each question, and scroll down for her most quotable moments from the evening.

On responding to criticism.

I simply never have, I just kept working. I got interviewed with Eleanor Antin […] and she was telling this story about how when she got bad reviews she would write these long missives, or call up the critics and yell at him. It was usually a him. I was speechless. ‘Really? It never crossed my mind!’ I just kept working.

On art fairs.

John Baldessari said, ‘For an artist, going to art fairs is like watching your parents have sex.’ […] It sounds like a great quote, but then I was reading Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton, and every art fair she went to John Baldessari was there. So I guess he didn’t take his own advice, but I took it. I’ve only been to one or two art fairs, but we walked through Frieze that year, and I was just horrified by the work. I mean derivative, boring. It was a lot of young work. So I really changed my attitude. […] If I were young now, I think I would stay out of the market until I had found my own voice.

On changing her name to Judy Chicago.

My favorite was when somebody said I changed my name to Judy Chicago so my initials would be J.C. But my maiden name was Judy Cohen, so I don’t see quite how that worked.

On the next steps for the feminist movement.

Why shouldn’t little boys study women’s history the way girls have to study men’s history? Why do we have to have the ghetto classes? Similarly in museums, why can’t I see Alice Neel next to Lucien Freud. That institutional change hasn’t happened yet. […] We have to see, after having the thrill of being with all these like-minded people in public space, if young people now being the hard work of making change.

Thanks to the Women’s International Study Center for collaborating with us on this wonderful event! Click here to learn more about the presentation.

Preview: Mark Newport’s Mending

Mark Newport Artwork- Form and Concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Mark Newport, From Within (detail), embroidery on muslin, 75″ x 33″

This February, Mark Newport will return to form & concept for a solo exhibition that cuts to the heart of the Michigan textile artist’s practice. His new body of work, Mending, features torn muslin cloths with meticulously embroidered patches, a symbol of the scars that life etches on the body and psyche. Mark will be in Santa Fe for the Mending opening reception on Friday, February 24 from 5-7 pm, and will speak at our gallery talk the following day.

The artwork in Mending stands in stark contrast to the artist’s first exhibition at form & concept. In our ReFashion group show, Mark presented hand-knit superhero suits. We spoke with the artist by phone about the new series, and how it evolved from his earlier work. 

Mark Newport Artwork- Form and Concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Mark Newport, From Within, embroidery on muslin, 75″ x 33″

Tell us about the inspiration behind Mending.

I’m exploring the idea of repair and scarring, to make a connection between textile and the body in that way. I’ve been researching and using traditional textile mending techniques that I examined on trips to New York, Boston, London and Amsterdam. 

What’s the history of these techniques?

I first learned about mending samplers when I was in college. People, mostly women, were taught these things to learn a trade, so that they could take care of themselves. Frugality and economy were part of the culture then, which we don’t have as much now. I’m using the same process to repair tears in off-white cloth, and examining the relationship between stitches on a cloth and stitches on a body.

How did you make that connection?

I’m interested in this idea of reconstructing something better than it was. Maybe there’s a lie in the textile; it’s not what it originally was. If you have a stain on your favorite shirt, or you patch up your favorite jeans, they’re not the same anymore. But maybe they’re even better now because they lived through that.

It’s the same thing with the body. When it’s scarred, it might not be such a negative thing.

Do you have a lot of scars?

I was a very accident-prone child. I have some scars. I have always thought of scars as this record of where you’ve been. ‘That was the time I fell on my bike, or that’s when I had appendix surgery.’

Mark Newport Artwork- Form and Concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Mark Newport, Mend 6, embroidery on muslin, 17″ x 13″

The work in Mending is very different from the superhero suits you exhibited in our ReFashion show. How did that transition happen?

It took a while for me to get to this point. I had worked on the costumes and other pop culture-related work since around 1995. When I had been working on the costumes for 8 or 9 years, I got to the point where I had explored that line of thinking and that way of working to its fullest. I gave myself time to think about new ways of working, and wrestled with that for a couple of years.

Underneath the pop culture trappings of the earlier work, the body was always part of it. The costume suggests the body, masculinity, armor. With Mending, it’s more about vulnerability and exposing flaws. I’m flipping that coin on its head.

Has this project lead you to confront your own vulnerability?

I’m at a time when I’m a little bit older, so my body isn’t as certain as it used to be. As I age, I think about how things have changed and what that means.

I love being an artist, because you have this ability to explore things in a way that you don’t always have the opportunity to do. The work slows me down, and gives me a chance to think.

Join Mark Newport at the opening reception of Mending on February 24, and attend our gallery talk on February 25 to learn more about his work.

Mark Newport Artwork- Form and Concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Mark Newport, Mend 4, embroidery on muslin, 75″ x 33″

Studio Visit: Debra Baxter

We’re excited to announce that Debra Baxter is joining form & concept as our newest represented artist! Debra has exhibited her DB/CB Jewelry line in our gallery shop since we opened, and her sculptures were featured in our ReFashion group show. We visited her studio in Eldorado late last year, and had a wide-ranging conversation about her jewelry and sculpture practices.

Debra is originally from Nebraska, and earned her MFA from Bard College. She lived in Seattle for 18 years, but made a big move to Santa Fe in August 2015. While she was in Washington State, she created a series of crystal brass knuckles and other wearable sculptures that went viral online and landed one of the works in the Smithsonian Collection (read about it in our previous blog post about Debra). For this special announcement, we spoke with Debra about coming to New Mexico, experimenting with new materials and other fascinating topics.

Check it out below, and make sure to check out Debra’s new work in the form & concept collection. If you’re in Santa Fe, her sculptures are on view now in our upstairs galleries.

A forest of sculptures in Debra Baxter‘s studio.

Have you always been creatively inclined?

I’ve pretty much been interested in art since birth, and naturally been drawn to it. I happen to be pretty good at it. Early on in life, it was mostly drawing. I just kind of stood out in that way, and I’ve always wanted to be an artist.

Did you have a lot of collections as a child?

Throughout my life, I’ve had rock collections. My mom has a pretty good one, too. My late grandma was a science teacher, and her husband was an electrical engineer. They had a lot of samples from her science class, so I got some of those that say what mineral it is. I don’t know that I’ve collected found objects so much as just rocks.

Debra Baxter sculptures- form and concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Debra Baxter, Untitled (open/end), alabaster, quartz crystals, grandfather’s leather belt

Tell us about your move to New Mexico, and how it has influenced your work.

I had been in Seattle 18 years, so it was a little painful because I love a lot of people there and have a really strong community there. But I was really ready for sun. I think Santa Fe is this crazy, magical place and probably one of the most beautiful places in the world. I just went to a conference, and when I told people I was from Santa Fe, they were like, “You get to live there?” It’s an honor to be able to live here. It’s kind of a miracle. Me and my husband worked so hard to figure out how he could get a job and we could do this.

A lot of people have asked me, ‘How has living in New Mexico changed your work?’ One of the main ways has been working in bronze and having access to a foundry. I also got a residency at Bullseye Glass there, so I’ve been able to access new materials and people. I think it might take time to figure out how it totally influences my work. It would be more obvious if I was a landscape painter, but it has definitely influenced my well-being. I feel like I have a really high quality of life. I don’t ever sit in traffic. That’s amazing, if you’ve lived in Seattle.

Give us a rundown of the materials you’re using in your sculptural work right now.

Sculpturally, I work in a lot of materials. If I tried to reel it in to make a list, it would be alabaster, bronze, iron, crystals and minerals, wood, glass. They’re all pretty traditional sculptural materials. I’m drawn to permanency and things that will last, but I have this longing for tradition. I’m trying to take something traditional, and use it in a very strange, new way.

Inside Debra Baxter‘s studio.

It’s quite an arsenal! You work with so many contrasting materials.

I really like combining materials that make no sense together. Like having crystal shoot out of alabaster. If I embed it well enough, people believe they actually grew out of the alabaster. I kind of love that I can actually make it almost look natural.

How do materials play into the concepts you’re exploring?

A lot of it is about materiality, and how much I love beautiful crystals and minerals and metal. Most recently, I’ve been exploring glass casting at Bullseye Glass, because I have a residency there. Content-wise, I’ve been interested in this idea of vulnerability. Partially in theory embracing vulnerability, but then the strength that can come from the bravery it takes to be vulnerable. You wouldn’t guess that by looking at this, but a lot of my pieces are purely formal. I like playing with beautiful objects and trying to solve a puzzle with how to put them together.

Debra Baxter- Crystal Brass Knuckles- Form and Concept
Debra Baxter, White Knuckles, bronze, crystal quartz

So you’re using the parameters of your materials as a kind of creative inspiration.

It’s good for my brain. I really enjoy the puzzle. I get really excited when I have pieces where I need to figure out the solution to make it visually nice. I find it super fun to try to problem solve, by getting this back from the glass studio and saying, ‘Now what do I do with it? It’s gorgeous, what is it?’

How did you develop an interest in the concept of vulnerability and power?

At Bard College, my thesis was partially written about this whole idea of vulnerability and how it could turn into power. Years later, there’s this writer and researcher, Brené Brown, who talks about how the only way to make leaps in your life is to be vulnerable, and how much we hate it.

When I’m in the middle of something horrible that makes me feel vulnerable, I’m usually not having a good time. But in order to make the jumps in life, you have to make yourself vulnerable. To fall in love with someone, you have to open your heart. That’s terrifying, because they could just destroy you. And I have been destroyed. But it’s such a big part of being a whole human. Brené Brown calls it “whole-hearted.”

I’m a really sappy, sentimental person. When I love, I love really hard. I think in some ways, it’s okay for that to come through in my work. It’s not cool to be sentimental in the conceptual art world, necessarily. But I just really believe that power can come through being vulnerable, even though when it’s happening, I despise it. I just think it’s really interesting that there’s research that backs that up. Brené Brown has done all these studies that back up how much you need to be vulnerable to grow.

I think I always have been drawn to delicate, breakable materials. Using fragile materials to talk about fragility makes sense. I had a glass balloon that was broken, and I built it all back together in this show I had in 2009. It was called False Hope.

I’ve always been interested in that, even though something like bronze is very solid. But that’s part of why I love glass and I’ve always loved glass, is that the material itself is vulnerable. It makes it tricky to work with, and tricky to show.

Debra Baxter sculptures- Form and Concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
A glass tongue in Debra Baxter‘s studio.

How do you feel about your recent explorations with glass casting?

It’s kind of a discovery. There’s this mathematical equation for figuring out how much glass needs to be in the cast. I’m kind of playing with what happens if you don’t put enough in. It makes a cool edge if it’s just dripping. It drips in the kiln, and it might make a cool shape and might not.

I’m pretty into these accidents. I’m really more interested in not doing things the right way, which drives some people crazy about me. But I think with the experiments, sometimes you discover more than if you were trying to totally control the process.

Have you made connections with glass artists through your residency?

I am starting to collaborate with a glass artist in Oakland, California. She sent me some of her duds that I’m trying to make something out of. We went back and forth, because I wanted her to blow glass on one of my alabaster sculptures, but then we both realized that it would probably crack and destroy the alabaster.

Debra Baxter sculptures- Form and Concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Debra Baxter, Meet in the Middle, bronze, amethyst

Tell us about your found object sculptures.

Some of it falls into this Duchampian history of found objects in sculpture. Once he started using found objects, that changed everything. I started noticing that I’m drawn to similar objects and shapes. I’m very interested in natural materials. I did a project called 100 Days of Sculpture, where I made a sculpture every day for 100 days. Those are 90% found, because you can’t carve a piece of alabaster in a day, every day. What was interesting about that project was that I was always looking for objects. I’m just like that now.

How do you feel when the materials you’re working with suddenly fit together into a piece?

Oh man, it’s so exciting. When I’m working with different pieces, and when they actually fit together, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, it worked!’ I love that process, and that’s part of what was fun about 100 Days of Sculpture, is to play with these objects every day. It’s all about experimentation. There isn’t a right way to do things, so you need to trust your intuition.

Inside Debra Baxter‘s studio.

Studio Visit: Heather Bradley

“I touched each one, and decided each one was worthy,” says Heather Bradley. She’s standing above a canopy of ceramics, clustered on a long table in her studio. The elegant porcelain vessels she’s created represent over a year of her artistic output, and some of the last pieces have just emerged from the kiln. “I think of them as ‘the family,'” she explains. “Today, some of them are meeting the other ones for the first time. It feels complete.”

Heather is originally from Tennessee, and studied art history at the University of West Florida. She first came to New Mexico on the National Student Exchange, completing an BFA in painting at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. “I was just going to stay for a semester, and then I stayed for a year, and then I decided to stay here for the rest of my life,” she says. After completing her MFA in Ceramics at NMSU Las Cruces, she moved to Santa Fe and has fostered a prolific career.

Now Heather is part of form & concept’s permanent stable of artists. During our studio visit, she talked about passing her 20th year of making ceramics, engaging with the New Mexico landscape, and confidently defying the expectations of the ceramics community. Read the full interview below, and make sure to browse Heather’s artwork in our online store.

Heather Bradley Ceramics- form and concept- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley’s new body of work is the culmination of 1.5 years of making.

You presented a brand new body of work for your first display at form & concept. Tell us about selecting the pieces.

I switched to porcelain about two years ago from stonework. I loved the porcelain so much that I wanted to, for the first time, not make many marks on the surface. But then when I started working with the porcelain, there was lots of cracking and breaking. It’s fragile. For each one that I chose in this body of work, there were probably three or four that didn’t make it. They either broke, or died, or weren’t worthy.

So this is the culmination of a long-term experiment?

It is. I’ve been hoarding these for a special show. I really wanted to show them together because I think of them as ‘the family.’ Today, some of them are meeting the other ones for the first time. It feels complete. I feel like the colors are talking to each other more now. The porcelain itself is just really new and special for me. I feel like I’m finally able to handle it.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics Studio Visit- Santa Fe New Mexico

What are some special considerations that you have to make when you’re working with porcelain, versus other mediums that you’ve worked with in the past?

You have to work faster, for one thing, because the porcelain won’t handle a lot of manhandling. It holds up for a certain time, and then it gets too wet and just flops. I have to go fast when I’m throwing it, but then when it’s drying it has to dry really slowly and carefully. I have to be patient with firing. I’ve had several that I fired too soon, that exploded because there was too much moisture.

I also have to be a bit more sensitive with my fingers. The porcelain has a memory. If I make one little move, if I sneeze or something while I’m touching it, then it remembers that. I just have to be really focused because the porcelain is so sensitive.

How does it feel when a piece explodes in the kiln. Is that a little tragedy, or is it just another casualty of your work?

I’ve had a lot of time to analyze those feelings. Just the other day, I opened the kiln and the top part of the kiln made me very happy. I was like, ‘Oh, those are beautiful.’ Then I could see shards around the edges. On the bottom part of the kiln, they were all exploded and broken. I felt awful. I don’t know how else to explain it, it’s very disheartening. I guess in a sense after you lose so many of them, the ones that I do have become a bit more precious, because they feel like survivors.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Vessel 10, porcelain, 11″ x 6″ x 6″

In your artist statement, you talk about finding these imperfections in the final products that give them their personality or essence. How do you balance that with your desire for perfection?

There’s something imperfect about each one. Maybe there’s a mark that I didn’t intend,  or the hole isn’t perfectly circular. At first, I’ll say, ‘Oh, reject pile.’ But then it starts growing on me.

When I’m throwing, I feel like I’m always trying to do a variation on the same form. I try to find some perfection or get close to something that I feel is elegant, but it never quite happens.

I start to relate it to being human. There’s nothing perfect about any aspect of me. I can find an imperfection about every single thing, so I just kind of accept it with the work. I notice that when people interact with it, a lot of times it is the imperfections that they’re drawn to.

How do you feel when someone notices an imperfection like that, and falls in the love the piece because of it?

I’ve noticed that over the years. A lot of times I’ll show someone something, and I’ll start to apologize. I’ll say, “Oh, I don’t know what I was thinking at this point.” Or “It touched another piece in the kiln.” or “It has this mark on it that I didn’t intend.”

They would usually not really enjoy that apology, because that’s what they were connecting to. I’ve tried to also accept those imperfections, and see them as what makes it human-made rather than machine-made. That’s a good thing.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics Studio Visit- Santa Fe New Mexico

You’re originally from Tennessee. How did you end up out here?

I went to school in University of West Florida, and was studying art history. I wrote a paper about Georgia O’Keeffe, and then I came on a national student exchange. I chose New Mexico because of O’Keeffe. I went to New Mexico State in Las Cruces. I was just going to stay for a semester, and then I stayed for a year, and then I decided to stay here for the rest of my life.

You studied painting before you were in ceramics. How did that transition happen?

I was studying painting and I was also studying ceramics. One day I brought my ceramics to my painting critique, and it was a completely different response. Everyone in the room was like, “You should be doing this. You can keep [painting] but we don’t really care, but you should be doing this.”

It was a relief, because that’s where I really wanted to be. Painting felt more like labor, and ceramics was what I could do when I was finally finished painting. I took it as a sign, and started focusing more on ceramics. I got my BFA in painting, and my MFA in ceramics.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Vessel 26, porcelain, 9.5″ x 5″ x 5″

New Mexico seems like such a perfect place for a potter, because you can pick up the earth and shape it into something. The structures around us are made from the earth. Could you talk about connecting with this landscape, and the initial feeling of making pottery here?

In Las Cruces, I was definitely blown away by the landscape. It’s so different from Tennessee because you can really see the earth. There are a lot of ceramics going on down there too, so I was inspired by other potters. Being in Santa Fe, I spend a lot of time in the mountains. I went up Santa Fe Baldy a lot this summer. I feel a lot of connection with the sky, too. Some of the surfaces and colors of my ceramics are inspired by that connection with the sky. Sunset and sunrises.

Something about having your hands in the clay makes you feel more connected to the earth. With the porcelain, it feels so refined. It’s expensive clay, and you have to go to a particular store to buy it. Sometimes it doesn’t just feel like I have my hands in the mud, it feels like I have my hands in expensive, refined, imported materials.

Could you talk about your current thoughts on color, and how you chose the palette for this body of work?

I made some pieces before this that were all black and white. I worked in black and white for quite a while before I started adding the color. At first I felt a little bit afraid to use pastel colors, because there are a lot of cultural associations with pastels. I was worried that people were going to have a connection to pink in a different way than I saw it. But I just went with it, because there are a lot of these colors in nature.

There’s something about the subtlety of them that spoke to femininity for me. There’s a softness, but also the gradation of color reminds me of nature and things that happen on the ocean, and in the sky, and on rocks. I’ve always loved what copper can do, so there’s a lot of coppery colors. I feel like it’s a pretty broad palette. It kind of does cover the spectrum, but for me I needed them all to speak to each other. They needed to be balanced. It’s really nice to finally see them all together today.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics Studio Visit- Santa Fe New Mexico

They do feel like organic forms, perhaps eggs or seed pods. Was that part of the intention?

I can relate to the seed pod part. I’m definitely inspired by Native American ceramics, and the pots that have the tiny holes that they used for seed pots. I’ve always been drawn to close the top of the pot. I’ve spent so many hours of my life in pottery classes, where they were teaching me to make bowls and teapots and cups and plates. My teachers can’t make me keep the form open. I just can’t do it. I want to close the form, I think it creates a more sensual look to me.

Sometimes it reminds of the top of cathedral spires, or they have these beautiful Buddhist stupas that they use in graveyards that have this spirally top as well that inspire me. I don’t really think of things growing out of them, necessarily.

The work is just at the edge of being fully functional. You could put a flower in them, but you couldn’t fit a whole bouquet. Are you referencing functional pottery?

Yes, sometimes I’ll be really inspired by amphoras or different water vessels in Africa, or things that people use. I think there’s sort of a rebellion in me that’s like, “Try to use it. I don’t know, put a stick of incense into it.” I really just want them to be art.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics- Santa Fe New Mexico
Heather Bradley, Vessel 32, porcelain, 14.5″ x 8″ x 8″

You mentioned the “memory” of the pots earlier. Could you talk about your tactile memory when you’re making work, and also the memory that the pot itself preserves afterwards?

It’s interesting, because I’ve been noticing how long I’ve been doing this lately. I just turned 40, and I started doing it when I was 19. I’ve always closed the form, and all my teachers have tried to make me not close the form. A lot of time when I’ve been throwing the long necks, people will ask me how I do that, and I can’t really seem to put it in words. But my hands know, and I like that. I can take a break from the pottery, and it’s like riding a bike in a way. I’ll think maybe I’ve forgotten, but my fingers remember how to close the form

I think for each piece I make, it does sort of encapsulate a moment in time or a day. I can remember which ones I made when I first went to the studio, and what was happening in my life. The clay is so sensitive, and I can remember taking the needle tool and making that mark, and feeling like I have that freedom to mark the clay.

So, for you, the work really chronicles all sorts of moments in your life?

I do feel like that. It is almost a diary ,in a way. I have no idea if that’s conveyed to the audience or not, in any way. But this is a year and a half of my life. That’s how I feel.

What would you call that era in your life, if you had to label it?

I guess “40.” Turning 40 was like, “Whoa, good job me.” I stuck with it. I remember, when I first started when I was 19, walking back from pottery classes and feeling so defeated. It was something I wanted to be so good at, but my hands were incompetent, and I was so aware that I was incompetent. But I had to keep doing it. This year, I realized that I don’t feel that way anymore. That was nice.

Come view Heather’s new work in form & concept’s upstairs gallery, and click over to our online store to see the whole collection.

Heather Bradley- Ceramics Studio Visit- Santa Fe New Mexico

Studio Visit: Matthew Mullins

Matthew Mullins is one of form & concept’s newly represented artists. His artwork will appear in our 4 New Artists opening reception on Friday, October 28 from 5-8 pm, along with the creations of Heather Bradley, Heidi Brandow and Wesley Anderegg. 

“When we moved here, I was so excited that I’d be working in a greenhouse,” says Matthew Mullins. “There’s so much light, and also the possibility of actually growing some things in here.” He’s tending to the small jungle that occupies one corner of his home studio, just off Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Surrounding the real greenery, there’s a series of mixed media paintings that echo the natural patterns of the plants. Matt starts by painting a landscape or natural detail in watercolor, and then overlays a human-made pattern—like a quilt or tile design—atop the natural scene using acrylic ink. Then he works back and forth, sharpening details in the scene or strengthening the pattern in a compositional push-and-pull. “I’m really focusing on the interconnection between humans and nature,” Matt explains. “The patterns, they’re kind of like our filters of how we’re interacting with nature. It’s a metaphor for the connections of humanity and nature.”

Matthew moved to Santa Fe in 2011 from Berkeley, California. He spent most of his childhood in the Bay Area, and attended Sonoma State University and the University of California, Berkeley. “When I was at UC Berkeley getting my MFA, I was around all these archives and labs and machinery,” he says. His fascination for hidden corners of the school’s research libraries inspired a series of photorealistic watercolors of stacked books, dusty typewriters and tangled scientific equipment. Now, he paints fragmented nature scenes and mandalas of the cosmos. In this Q & A, we spoke with Matthew about his transition to New Mexico, how the landscape has transformed his artwork, and his current inspiration.

Matthew Mullins- Artist Studio Visit- Santa Fe New Mexico- form and concept

When did you first start working with watercolors? 

My first painting class was a watercolor class at a community college in the Bay Area. I loved it, and really connected with it right away. It was during a period where I wasn’t necessarily planning on being an artist. I was going to school to be a chiropractor, and taking a lot of science classes. The art class was really where my heart was. I took beginner’s and advanced watercolor classes, but when I went to Sonoma State I started painting with oil and acrylic. I didn’t really touch watercolor again until I got to grad school.

I started using watercolor again because […] I wanted to force myself into a really fluid medium, and practice being looser and painting the whole composition at once through layers rather than piece by piece. Once I started getting into that, it felt like that was the way to paint. I was able to get into these painting flows much better, rather than a really punctuated process of doing these little sections. With the watercolor I can just have my palette there, and the paint doesn’t really dry out the way that acrylic does. I can just be there for hours, painting and getting into this really great flow, which is why I paint.

Tell us about your progression from photorealistic watercolors to natural scenes with bold, abstract patterns. 

That transition in style had a lot to do with what I was doing in my life, and where I was. The archives and more photorealist work, I was doing when I was in grad school in Berkeley. I think that kind of environment lead me to these places that are repositories for all of this information. It was all of these artifacts that kind of embody peoples’ work and knowledge, and the human body of knowledge growing. 

Then when I moved to New Mexico, I was going outside all of the time, spending a lot of time in nature. I’ve always had an interest in science, and when you look at plants or stars, there’s these patterns and systems, and there’s this organization at every level—macro to micro. There’s some sort of organization and pattern. There’s also chaos, but there’s some sort of predictability or way that these things are being organized.

Matthew Mullins- Chicoma Artwork- Watercolor and Acrylic Ink- Form and Concept
Matthew Mullins, Chicoma, acrylic ink and watercolor on paper.

How did moving to New Mexico change the way you look at the world? 

It was a big shock, with the amount of space. I think one of the bigger surprises was how far you could see, and how crisp everything is when you see it far away. In Berkeley when you’re looking over the water, which is pretty much the only place where you could have a far vista, everything gets really diffuse pretty quickly from all the fog in the atmosphere. All the colors get muted and turn gray. Here it’s crisp 40 miles away, a real vista. My palette got much more vivid after moving here. 

Did you start painting the landscape right away? 

At first, I was resistant to change. Being aware of the art history in Santa Fe and predominant styles around here, I didn’t want to paint landscapes. I wanted to avoid all of my preconceived notions of what I thought art in Santa Fe was. So I was pretty stubborn at first, like, “I’m going to paint these archives and these machines. This is what I do. I’m not going to really be influenced by what’s around me.” Then I couldn’t help being influenced by what’s around me.

My initial watercolor studies [of the New Mexico landscape] were monochromatic. I was painting monochromatically because I was really teaching myself how to paint the landscape. I had never really painted landscapes that seriously before. I was painting a lot of machinery and human-made things before. With all of the edges and the way the light works, it’s much harder to paint the landscape. The monochrome made it easier because I was only working with value and form rather than color relationships as well. Once I dialed that in a little bit better, then I started incorporating color. I love color and I want to use a lot of it, so the monochromatic stuff was just practice.

Matthew Mullins- Artist Studio Visit- Santa Fe New Mexico- form and concept

When you discuss your influences, you often reference photographers as well as painters. How does photography influence your work? 

I look at a lot of photography, and there’s a lot of photographers that I really like. Andreas Gursky is a big influence, for all of the detailed information that’s in those photos. All of my paintings start from photography, but they’re my own shots. I treat it mostly as a tool to get to the painting and to be able to record nature and bring it back into the studio. It’s the first step to kick the painting off, kind of like a sketchbook.

It usually starts with light or something that just catches my eye. Then I might get my camera out, and from the camera lens I’ll start composing. I don’t really compose in my mind that much. I just go after what catches my eye and then look a little closer.

Matthew Mullins- The Creation of Iron Artwork- form and concept
Matthew Mullins, The Creation of Iron, watercolor and blood on paper.

In your mandala series, The Creation of the Elements, you incorporate unconventional materials into the works, like a drop of blood or a bit of copper. Tell us about the conceptual reasoning behind that. 

With the blood, it was a surprise. I wasn’t planning that until the very end. I started that painting working from the outside in. I was like, ‘How is this going to resolve?’ When I was getting close to the middle, I was thinking that stars are where all of the elements are created except for hydrogen. Everything more complicated than hydrogen is created inside of a star. I was thinking that the iron, copper and the elements in my body are actually made in stars. I wanted a human connection to that.

In your works that blend human-made patterns with natural scenes, you use watercolor and acrylic ink. What are some differences between handling those two mediums? 

The acrylic ink is much riskier than the watercolor. The second it goes on, it stains and you can’t really get it off. With watercolor, you can kind of loosen it up and dab it out and lighten it. It still stains the paper a little bit, but not like acrylic ink. With the ink, every little waver of your hand is recorded. I like how it records that detail, and it makes it waterproof so when you go over it with the next layers it doesn’t smudge or soften up.

I just try to get into a flow. I don’t focus too much on making the lines perfect, I just try not to second guess myself. Once I start slowing down, I start editing too much. The paintings are really structural and I could get bogged down in all the details, but I want to not be too strict on myself and just roll with the process.

What are you working on next? 

I feel like I’m just getting started [with these series]. There’s three different avenues to go down with this work. I’m just pushing the snowball down the hill, and I feel like everything I’m doing can take on a lot more. The deadline of this show, and the excitement of getting my work out of the studio has lit a fire under me. 

Meet Matthew Mullins and experience his work at the 4 New Artists opening reception. RSVP on Facebook to show your support.