Saturday, May 13, 2017

Studio visit with Syed Hosain

When we’re not in the gallery, you’ll often find Alison, Britt, and Carolyn checking out exhibitions and artist studios. There’s so many interesting artists and projects, we’ll be sharing some here with you. If you are interested in a studio visit or have an exhibition coming up, please email us at Britt and Carolyn had the pleasure of visiting Syed Hosain’s studio and home a few times last month. 


Syed Hosain and his studio assistant Sadie

Syed Hosain is a working artist, stay at home father, and political activist that lives in Minneapolis.  Hosain received his bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of Karachi, Pakistan. He has exhibited in the Twin Cities, New York and Pakistan. You can see two of his paintings at the MSP Airport in Terminal 2 in the SooVAC installation case.

Q. Where do you work?

A. I work at home. In the basement or garage, depending on the weather. I work in the basement during the winter and the garage during the summer. Typically, I work on bigger works in the summer and smaller works in the winter.

Q. Why work at home?

A.  I am a full time stay at home dad. I raise the kids (3 kids). I run into the studio when I have time its not only accessible but It’s also affordable.

Q. What are you working on right now? 

A. I’m working on abstract paintings, landscapes. The landscapes are somewhat referential: my childhood around mountains and sea in Pakistan from memory and at times is political: colors representing anxiety. The large size represents the idea of freedom. Freedom of painting and abstract dictates how the narrative happens. I think a lot about space: Minnesota and Minneapolis feel so spacious and vast to me. It feels suburban not urban. I also think about occupying space. I feel free to make muscular paintings with a lot of paint and not be so concerned with the outcome.

Q. You currently were awarded the MSAB grant, what’s your project for that?

A. I’m working on painting portraiture that are very painterly and a multi-layered penetration of individuals in the Somali community. My family and I go to mosque, not just for prayer but also for relationships and community. Most mosques in MN are predominantly Somali. When we moved here 4 years ago from NY, we started to meet a lot of Somali people at the mosque. I don’t pick people randomly; it’s people I have relationships with. I am taking photographs of these people within their home because I’m interested in Interiors and love that each home offers a different experience. The objects people surround themselves with tell a lot about their culture and community. 

Gaza- Capital In Wreckage 
Capital In Wreckage
Delights and Liabilities  

Culture and Wilderness 


Q. Where do you see art and artists in the current political climate?

A. Actually, I believe great things will happen now because of the 2016 election. People are paying attention to art, there's a lot of discussion around it right now. It is time for us to fight. We’ve been complacent. Our backs are against the wall. Artists should reach out. They should invite their neighbors, invite the bodega owner they see every day to openings. Share the art. That is what community is.

fanning the flames

SooVAC installation at the MSP Airport, Terminal 2. Syed's paintings are on the left and right of the case. Also featured is work by Alison Hiltner, Terrence Payne, Andrea Carlson, Aaron Dysart, and Michon Weeks.

Want to see more of Syed's work? Follow on Instagram:  Syed Hosain

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Now here, nowhere: An Interview with Tim Tozer by Lisha Kirpalani

1. Would you tell me the process of your paintings and how you see them existing in the world?

The paintings are made with acrylic and spray paint, wet over wet to create layers that can be peeled or sliced. Because the process is quite physical and the illusionistic space within the paintings is restricted, I want them to feel somewhat like objects rather than windows onto another world. However, there is enough ambiguity in the scale of the forms depicted that the paintings have a pictorial space separate from the one they inhabit as objects. 

Black Hand, 2016 (Triptych)

2. Your work seems to have changed significantly just in the last year. How do you view the work at SooVAC in terms of representation and abstraction?

I’ve been oscillating between abstraction and figuration for a number of years. Having just completed a body of figurative painting for my show at the Groveland Gallery last year, it felt right to do something different. Both sides of my work inform each other, and ultimately they are both forms of representation. There are received and invented forms in both, and the tension that exists between them is the place I try to operate as an artist. Whatever the subject matter, painting is essentially abstract; it’s simply a question of emphasis or the baggage one brings as a viewer that decides the way in which a painting can be read.

Black Mass III, 2016

3. How do you come up with inspiration/ideas/concepts for your work?

I try not to make anything with a preconceived idea or concept. I have many sketchbooks that provide the fuel for a lot of my work, I take photos and look around me; this is the visual nourishment I need. I need forms for my imagination to feed on, and the ideas I pursue develop from the process of making.

4. What does your studio look like? What is your studio routine?

I work in my garage, which I converted to a studio a few years ago. Generally, it feels too small and too dark, but it’s convenient. I’m always grateful that I can duck out of the house and work when time allows. This sometimes means before my children get up, or after they go to bed. Once I’m in the studio, I listen to music, drink coffee and stare at the work, breaking this routine up with bouts of frantic painting.

5. What are some distractions in your studio?

I try to keep those out. Besides, there’s no room.

6. When do you consider work finished? Is there a planned outcome?

Black Mass IV, 2016
Completing a work is difficult; it can happen quickly or it can take months. Sometimes it never happens. I paint in order to avoid plans, and I’ve become skeptical of outcomes that can be predicted in advance. Completing a work is usually a surprise, and occurs when the work refuses any further discussion. If it’s a successful outcome, I immediately don’t know how I arrived at the 

7. You seem to be exploring a new process, could you take me through how these paintings have come to be?

I’ve been experimenting with what acrylic and spray paint can do for some time, trying to find a way these materials can keep the qualities that make them so distinct from oil paint; I wanted to exploit their synthetic character, using it to make surfaces that are simultaneously graphic and unstable. I’ve been pouring liquid acrylic over panels, then spray painting over that; the spray paint dries quickly while the paint beneath remains wet. This means the upper layer can be cut into and peeled away. When hung on a wall, the remaining shapes slowly migrate towards the ground, buckling the surface and rearranging the composition in unpredictable ways. All these states of matter and movement felt like rich metaphors to me.  

Untitled, 2015

8. What is the reason and significance of reducing your color palette?

I love color, and have always been obsessed with its interaction in painting. I eschewed it for this work as part of the process of letting go, stripping down and distilling. An earlier work in the show (‘Untitled’) uses grey, as well as whites of different temperature, and allows for an atmosphere within the space. I eventually rejected this direction as I wanted all forms to feel more compressed, and the unequivocal contrast between black and white provided that.

9. Has the interplay between your work and Mike Calway-Fagen’s work affected how your view your work? What do you think of this juxtaposition?

Mike’s work deals with direct and somewhat unpredictable interactions between him, his work and the world it occupies. There’s an unmediated quality to it that cuts through aesthetic consideration in a way, although I think it’s highly visual. I think there are strong parallels between the intentional and accidental aspects of my work and, say, a pile of scrap that’s been documented and reconstructed. I want some of the paintings to feel as though I’ve vandalized a perfectly good painting underneath, which never occurred to me until I saw my work next to Mike’s.

Installation View of No here, nowhere

10. Does your experience as a professor influence the way you work?

Always, although I try to keep my teaching voice on mute when I work. The painting should be a step ahead of what I’m able to communicate through teaching.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Now here, nowhere: An Interview with Mike Calway-Fagen by Lisha Kirpalani

1. What experiences of collective vulnerability happens from the mobile stage installation in the exhibit? 
             The installation deals with how perceptual tools shape the world as it appears to us, individually and collectively. These tools are: sight as it picks apart imagery and the cognitive process of recognition, the subjective nature of taste, as in the "sour" grapefruit juice, language's ability to enable understanding and dislodge it through communication and through the text-video component of the installation, the exhibition platform/stage I've created and the dissolution of the third-wall which takes place when the viewer and performer discuss their individual sensations while drinking the juice. 

Through these various constructed modes each of us formulate our own understanding of the world. The installation asks us to individually shed these filtering and cognitive processes and arrive at a state where shared understanding necessitates shared vulnerability.
Mobile Stage Housing The Full Sight and The Remainder

2. What is the role/significance of the grapefruit in your performance? Why is the interaction with the audience important in this work?
I have found that grapefruits and grapefruit juice are some of the most contentious fruits/juices. On the friendlier end of the spectrum they've been deemed an "acquired taste" but other opinions are far more vitriolic. Ultimately, the contention lies in the fact that they are sour, an unorthodoxly appealing flavor. Sour is experienced in a purely subjective fashion and to try and convey sour as a quantifiable measure is pure conjecture and futile, similar to a doctor's pain-scale. Individuals discussing the nature of the flavor they're experiencing will never know whether they are on the same page or ships passing in the night. At best, they can only hope for a shared understanding that they will never truly comprehend the other and arrive at a space of restless empathy.
Performance making grapefruit juice on opening night

3.There seems to be a connection with the grapefruit and the ‘Honeydew Cantaloupe’ piece. Can you tell me more about this? 
Translation is dealt with in both works. Honeydew Cantaloupe employs a similar gesturing at a perfect facsimile or translation but ultimately is only as good as i can do. From the initial purchase of the loose pile of scrap to the welded object-pile a lot of information is misplaced, inadvertently altered, approximated, or left out completely. I attempted perfection by trying to recreate the original using documentation but ultimately fell short. The final translation lies in the art object's reentering the scrapyard and he flow of materials. It goes from trash to art back to trash and all that's left is the photographic trace which neither lies nor purports to tell the truth gaining, losing, and gaining value again during the process.
Honeydew Cantaloupe

4.Can you tell me more about the film Resurrecting Revolt that will be screened during the exhibition? 
There isn't a film. I never made one. Just the photos.

The project was very cinematic in nature as it exhumed a vital historical moment, a moment when groups of dispossessed Indigenous peoples, including members of the Cupeno Indians, rose up to assert their Native rights. The moment has been omitted from most mainstream historical narratives including its absence at the National Park in which it took place. The project was an attempt to resuscitate this effort and the leader of the Cupeno Indians, Chief Antonio Garra's brave and poetic attempt to assert his people's rights while ameliorating guilt, guilt that he positioned, humbly, as a human condition. He was killed, directly after speaking the phrase included in the project, by the American invaders.
Resurrecting Revolt

5.How is the sense of humor and play vital to your work? Is it always deliberate?
Humor and play directly influence how I formulate, conceptualize, and realize projects. I think of these tactics less as having a good time with the work and more so as vital survival and adaptive strategies for thinking about the world in a less linear fashion. Questions, which play, humor, and chance exercise, flex and bend customary thinking, normative behaviors, and cultural standards. This is art's role for me.
6.How do you come up with inspiration/ideas/concepts for your work?
I have a site-sensitive, site-responsive approach and I think about site in a very expansive sense. A site is a physical place, a site is an idea, a site is a body, a site is a historical moment. 
First and Last and Midst and without End

7.What does your studio look like? What is your studio routine?
It's a disaster and so am I. I have no routine. I work when I feel compelled to, which is usually all the time, but mostly in my head. 
8.What are some distractions in your studio?
Everything, but mostly love. Also, the longer I consider myself an artist the less I seem to be interested in a studio practice. I wouldn't call myself a post-studio artist but I do draw most energies and ideas from existing in a world that is external to the rarified space of the studio.
First and Last and Midst and without End-detail of Kidney Stones

9.When do you consider work finished? Is there a planned outcome?
I like to think of everything I do or think as provisional, as unfinished. Or maybe more accurately, as unfinished but resolved.
10.Has the interplay between your work and Tim Tozer’s painting affected how you view your work? What do you think of this juxtaposition? 
I'm not sure that it has affected how I produce my work but definitely for possibilities in how I think about it. I think the union of the two disparate bodies of work, Tim and mine, sets up a very interesting dialogue about space, frameworks for relationships, and provisional imagery that allows meaning to develop and grow.
Detail of Cast Bronze Ginseng

11.Does your experience as a professor influence the way you work? 
Absolutely. I entered academia thinking very seriously about how to shirk a lot of the baggage that academic spaces are saddled with; institutionalized critique, stylistic trends, market influence and maybe more importantly, authority and university hierarchies. I try and approach the classroom as a space of exchange, challenging my position as professor of ideas, opting instead for facilitation, question formulator, tool-giver, inspiration, and enabler.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Terra Incognita: An Interview with Shannon Estlund and Aaron Squardroni

Terra Incognita, the Latin translation of unknown lands, pairs the paintings of Shannon Estlund and the drawings of Aaron Squadroni. Both artists explore how landscapes are transmutable narrative histories, revealing human impact through an ever altering terrain. Terra Incognita also references how the phrase is used metaphorically to describe any unexplored subject or field of research, in this case how traces and disruptions in land forms develop into chronicles of human existence. 

We checked in with both artists to get a better picture of their process and inspiration for the work....

Shannon Estlund and Aaron Squadroni:
1. What is your connection to the land? And has your work always centered on using landscape to explore human narratives and sense of place?

AS: Land and nature have always exerted a strong influence on my personal identity. I tend to focus on places rather than people in my work, thinking of myself in the places my art represents. I describe my current drawings as land portraits because I want people to relate to the land in the way that they might relate to another person - unobjectively. However, the drawings are also self-portraits in the sense that the spaces depicted are extensions of me. In the images I am unseen but not absent.

I draw heavily on the notion of personal identity when considering the identity of a place. For a person to have a strong sense of personal identity they must be able to link together the successive stages of their lives in a story that makes sense. I use this idea – linking together past, present, and future in a coherent narrative – to inform my depictions of places. In regard to the second question then, I would say that rather than using the landscape to explore human narratives, I use human narratives (including my own) to develop the identity of a place. 

Aaron Squadroni  Kawishiwi River: Bough

SE: I became interested in landscape after moving from Jacksonville, Florida to Minneapolis. I started using photographs that I had taken in Florida, and then when I took trips back to Jacksonville I would take hundreds of photos as potential source material for paintings. It took some distance to really appreciate how alive it is, and how in comparison the growth and decay is so accelerated. It is intense. The beauty is very robust; the trees are taller, the shapes are sharper. If you go for a walks in the woods you’ll see banana spiders and snakes and alligators. There’s more at stake. I have been working to find this same connection to the land in Minnesota. It is taking more time than I expected. We just moved to a house on Rice Creek, and this area has been very inspiring to me. The paintings in this show are a mix of Floridian landscapes and areas near my new home.

2. For the most part both of your works in the show intentionally depict scenes absent of the human form.  However there is one exception for both of you, Shannon’s piece Gate and Aaron’s piece Kawishiwi River: Bough, which makes the presence of the human form even more pronounced.  Could you both explain why those pieces in particular needed the presence of a figure?

AS: I am developing a narrative about the Kawishiwi River. Human interactions are simply one element among many that shape the story of the river. I want to imply that the identity of the river in many ways supersedes human presence. In terms of logging, hunting or other resource extraction, the parts that are removed seem more important to me than the human acts required for their removal. The piece titled, Kawishiwi River: Bough, however requires a human presence because it represents the closest that human beings have come to being a part of the river, a branch floating in the current.  

Shannon Estlund  Gate

SE: In the piece Gate I painted my daughter, who was three at the time, coming down a hill with an overgrown tree partially blocking her from view. Her small body is balanced against the massive mess of branches, and I liked the contrast in size and shape. The scene is recognizable as a small side yard, with the chain link fence and air conditioning unit indicating the parameters of the space. The addition of her tiny form hints that this area has the potential to be more than a space between houses- it is also a site for an adventure, with more than enough wildness and shadow to captivate one’s attention if looked at from the right angle.

3. Is there a particular location that provides inspiration for your work? Or somewhere you like to visit to recharge creatively?

AS: I like to wander and find a place that surprises me in some small way. Then I sit and just watch what takes place there.

SE: I love natural spaces near suburban areas, I think because these were the sites of all of my childhood adventures. Places that can be explored without taking too much trouble to get there. Places that are a part of the fabric of everyday life, that also hold some mystery, that are just out of reach of civilized society.

4. This is the first time your work was shown together and the first time either of you have even seen the other ones work.  Did showing your work together reveal any unexpected aspects of your own work? 

AS: In combination with the title of the exhibit, Shannon’s work makes me think about the specificity of a place and how “lands unknown” applies to me.

Shannon’s paintings are anonymous to a certain degree which also makes them universal. I don’t recognize the actual location but I understand the place because these locations are common in the urban/suburban landscape. The settings and elements in each painting are familiar, yet their origin is unknown. Because of the dual impact of the familiar and unknown, her work evokes a movement into dream and memory for me.

When thinking about my work in this context I realize that I am trying to differentiate the Kawishiwi River from other rivers in the state. The river is known in a general sense but unknown to most as a specific and distinctive entity. I want to uncover and establish a robust identity that personifies the Kawishiwi River. I hope to transform the river from a stranger to a friend.

SE: What has been interesting for me is that my work looks almost loose next to Aaron’s very refined style in these pieces. And then when I look at the work by Joel Janetto and Jesse Ruiz in the other gallery, my work seems very reserved in comparison. When I am working on a piece in my studio, I tend to think of particular pieces as being either very spontaneous and loose or very controlled. Seeing my work in this context helps me to see that there are vast amounts of space in either direction, which helps me to broaden the way that I think about making.
5. What’s next for both of you? And what direction do you see your new work headed? And how does this current body of work differ from what you have done in the past?

AS: I have a number of drawings in this series that I still want to make. I am also interested in starting a group of drawings about a different location on the iron range. I may try using taconite and raw iron ore as drawing media.

SE: I plan to continue working with landscape but pushing the boundaries of what I feel comfortable with in terms of inventing more of the imagery. I also have some objects that I am playing with in the studio. I have a solo show coming up at the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum in St. Augustine, Florida in May 2016. It is a very large space, so that is what I will be working toward in the coming months.   

Aaron Squadroni  Kawishiwi River:Sky
Aaron Squadroni:
1. Your drawings are created with copper, which has a strong conceptual link to your subject matter. Could you talk about your process in creating the work and about your connection to the Kawishiwi River?

AS: I start by painting Stonehenge drawing paper with silverpoint medium. Silverpoint medium is a variant of gesso that is abrasive. When metal objects come into contact with the paper surface covered in silverpoint medium, metallic flecks rub off. This drawing process was popular in the renaissance but artists tended to use gold or silver since these metals showed minimal tarnishing. I use copper wire that I place in a lead holder for drawing. I then file the end of the wire to a point to allow for more detail and control. Once I make a mark on the paper it cannot be smeared or erased. 

Copper has been contained in the rocks of the Kawishiwi River for many thousands of years. It is now highly sought after by mining companies. Using copper as a drawing meduim is important to me in this series because of its role in the history of the Kawishiwi River and its impending impact on the river’s future. Copper also has a certain delicacy due to its lack of value range. The resulting lightness of the drawings require the viewer to approach close to the image. A narrative of the Kawishiwi River is revealed slowly and formed from a series of intimate exchanges between the viewer and the artworks.  
Aaron Squadroni  Kawishiwi River: Mask

2. Each piece in the show is actually 2 images combined into one. Can you talk a little about how you decided which images to combine together and how they inform each other…you can use just one of the works as an explanation since the background on each of the images is very detailed. 

AS: Each portrait merges an image of the landscape with a symbol or object from the landscape. I begin with research. I then choose topics I consider to be important for creating a narrative. Currently, I have a number of topics that I want to address in additional drawings. One is the method of underground mining that is proposed below Birch Lake. For this drawing I plan to use an old diagram of the Soudan underground mine as a base image. This becomes a symbolic map, showing how the foundations of the lake will be hollowed out. Then I will consider what kind of experiential image of the landscape might be overlaid with that to act as either a complement or foil. In this case, I intend to start with images inside mine tunnels as well as images of mine shafts where they emerge from the earth. I will play with various combinations through sketching and digital manipulation. During this phase of experimentation, accidental discoveries and unexpected combinations lead to new ways of envisioning the subject matter. If I end up with an image that I anticipated from the outset then it usually is too predictable, causing me to start the process again. Once I have created an image that I am satisfied with, I make a drawing of it using copper. The drawing process is important to me as a means of softening and reinterpreting the unrefined parts of a digital image.

3. How do you see being an Architect intersecting and informing your work?

AS: Architecture can be very freeing because of its restraints. The precision and rigor that is possible and even expected in architecture is something that I appreciate and translate to my art making process. Unfortunately, architecture has also made my process of creating artwork more cerebral, less organic, and less intuitive. In the future I hope to strike a balance between the logic of an architectural approach and the spontaneity of an intuitive approach.

Shannon Estlund Jones Creek
Shannon Estlund:
1. Your paintings use a variety of application techniques to create your natural spaces. Can you a talk a little about how you decide what mark making techniques to use and how it varies from painting to painting?

See answer to #2

Shannon Estlund  Golden Hour
2. In your statement you say the natural spaces are a combination of real and imaginary…How do you see the balance of real and imaginary informing the viewers experience with the landscape?

SE: Everyone brings their own filter on reality with them wherever they go. Recently I’ve been interested in how narrow that filter is for humans. We can’t know what the world is like to a creature using echolocation, electric or magnetic sense, or to a creature whose sense of smell is the dominant sense. And then there are imagined senses, and the potential for subtler senses that can be developed. The way that these pieces are painted makes the filter more visible by exaggerating it. For me, the mark making is as much the subject of the painting as the source imagery. Each painting is executed differently based on the experience of the place. I want to make the sensory experience more immediate for the viewer.

3. The scale of your work varies from fairly small to large canvases, do you immediately visualize a space in a specific scale and how do you think that affects the viewers experience with the work?

SE: Both small and large pieces begin with an idea of wanting to explore something about a moment or place. It’s in the execution that they diverge. The larger formats allow for more exploration in the process, because it just takes longer to get an idea down on a large panel and my thinking and moods change as I work through it. The smaller pieces are sometimes more direct, the thinking through the process a little simpler. I think this is appropriate and relates to the experience of the viewer because the smaller pieces can be taken in all at once, while the larger ones need some examination of the parts as related to the whole to fully understand the image.