We asked the visual artists from our latest issue what questions they would want to ask their fellow Volume 9 contributors. A few then answered those questions, delving into their craft, their inspirations, and their approach to creating. Read on to learn more about Chris Richford, Beppi (the artist behind "Strings & Attractors" in the fiction section), Sapira Cheuk, and Alexandra N Sherman. And make sure to check out their work in Vol 9: AGENCY!
Alexandra N Sherman: What kind of themes do you generally address in your work?
Chris Richford: Though my favourite mode of creation is still a sort of spontaneous flow state, there are of course strong themes which run through my subconscious inspiration, however it ends up manifesting. It might sound cliché but the easiest way to sum it up is the two big questions: What are we and why do we do the things we do? The human creature and the human labyrinth I suppose. As a younger artist I was more preoccupied with looking inward, both biologically and psycho-spiritually. Lately I've been more interested in looking outward and drawing connections between the various superstructures of the human collective organism. The things that connect seemingly disparate individuals and signify a sort of larger, emergent consciousness.
ANS: How does the medium you employ inform or enhance the subject of your work?
CR: My interest in printmaking began when growing up and seeing the colour woodcut work of my great grandfather John Edgar Platt. I always marvelled at the alchemy of turning flat planes of colour, mark-making and a mechanical process into the depth and sensitivity in his finished works. It's one of the oldest methods of making fine decorative art available to the masses. I've been fascinated by the dialogue between artist and medium as well as its socio-historical context. So I dabble in many different mediums and search for different narratives in each. Taxidermy has a very singular type of cultural baggage which I enjoy subverting. Since I've created a living from turning my illustrative work into textiles prints, I've become interested in the intersection between the many industries which utilise the beautification of commodities and the cultural art and decorative traditions which underpin them.
ANS: How does your art represent the theme of agency?
CR: I could say, how can art fail to represent agency? Perhaps it can in the work of 1920s soviet artists, striving only to please the authorities and giving up their agency to serve the communist ideology? But even under such rigid constraints, there must still be the will to create and an individual's ideal of beauty. As I have been considering an organismal view of societies I'm interested in the possibility of a form of emergent agency that springs from the spaces between egos or as currents within societies.
ANS: What is your favorite aspect of being a visual artist?
CR: Really it's the act of creating a piece, being in that possibility space and becoming part of a dialogue between my cells and the universe from which I'm sculpting an image.
ANS: What are you working on now?
CR: As a self supported artist I'm continuing my search for the sweet spot between art and decoration. This time focusing on my obsession with insect totems, new print-work which is in fact a fresh iteration of older works. It's good to be nourished by a sort of self-produced compost of the imagination.
Chris Richford: Is your creativity a compulsion, a catharsis or a calling? (catchy huh?)
Beppi: Is it greedy for me to say all of the above? Not gonna lie, I have a tendency to Compulsively schedule my days, including time dedicated to art. My Virgo mug says some rather shady things about this... however, it starts with, "Virgos - some of the sexiest people alive..." So, all is forgiven. My dad - also a Virgo - wrote his schedules on legal sized sheets of paper which he taped to his living room walls along with my sister Mary's & my phone numbers & addresses in bold block lettering. I'm not there yet. But a little compulsive- check! As for Catharsis, I would assume most artists work through things from their life in their work. There have certainly been some autobiography happening in my work. However, there is no crying... A Calling… creating is everything for me. I have figured out a way to make art at all times regardless of my circumstance - no money, pregnancy, small children, 40 hour a week jobs, etc. I have been told I'm a total Bitch when I cannot work on my art... Yes... I'm sure it's true, but luckily for everyone, I'm willing to wake up at 5:30 am just to create for an hour before starting any drudgery.
CR: Whats the earliest piece that you're still proud of making & why?
B: I really wish I could honestly say the elephant I colored plaid in Mrs. Voss' kindergarten class (see below), but... I have no idea what became of it. This is a bit of a tough one for me. There are definitely pieces of art that I have made throughout the years that I look at & think to myself... that was the right call, I wouldn't change a thing. However, most of the time, I feel that I would do things differently today. If you were to ask me today, “What is your best work?”, I am always excited the most by whatever I am doing at this point in time. I'm about now. I expect myself to always be learning & evolving - I want to hear new music, read books I don't even know exist at this moment, talk to interesting people, look for crazy happenings in science, etc. Thank you, Jaime Sommers! The Bionic Woman - we can rebuild her better than she was before. My older work was from the me of that time who might have been listening to "Busta Move" & reading "It".....and from a biological standpoint, I'm not the same person as I was - all my cells have renewed.
CR: Did your parents encourage/discourage your creative output & how did that affect your development as an artist?
B: Okay kids, time for a trip down memory alley. Enter if you dare. The elephant in the room - Mrs. Voss called my mother into school to tell her that I was mentally challenged. Because I was considered a bit challenged, I was just given art supplies & allowed to think my thoughts without pressure even after the testing. But when I would try to show mom my drawings, she wouldn't look at them. She would not avert her eyes from her book & just say, “Great." If I challenged her, she would slam the book down & look me in the eye & say, "GREAT!" She still won't look at most of my artwork. I can get her to look at the quilt I just made by talking about how her quilting inspired me. FYI I'm fine. I make art for myself & it makes me happy! (Even though I don't feel the need for positive feedback, feel free if you want.) Despite what my high school diary says, there are some really great things about my mom & I love her. She's just mean, but she also allowed me to try different things, to have plenty of supplies for projects, to take lessons. Most importantly, I had the freedom of thought & ideas.
CR: What do you think is the role of an artist in society? Should there be one?
B: Artists of all kinds (visual, literary, fashion, crafts, music, Just Dance!, etc.) are extremely important. They paint a picture of what the people of that time were really like. Before recorded history, it has been cave paintings, hand-crafted items, textiles, architecture, etc. that have given historians, archeologists, sociologists insight into different cultures. It seems that Dictators throughout the world love museums dedicated to their likenesses… This unto itself says something about these places. Imagine someone 100 years from now finding hundreds of paintings of Pinochet... But art, unlike a simple statement of historical facts, reflects the raw emotions of the current events; art can use symbols to create a truer history. Sorry... Artists are super important!!
CR: Peanut butter & jam or marmite & caviar?
B: Afraid I'm going to have to honor my mother after the things I have shared, a health food peanut butter sandwich (be sure to thoroughly mix in all the oil that collects on the top) on wheat bread with some of her homemade jam (made from fresh fruit from the garden).
Beppi: A signature look is what artists strive for in their work. In art history, we find many artists that translate their visuals to their personal style. Do you find that your visual work also translates into other aspects of your life?
Sapira Cheuk: Absolutely! My work is rooted in black ink and most of my wardrobe is in greyscale. I find that color communicates very intensely sometimes when one only works with black ink on white paper.
B: What are some of the visual influences that inform your work (outside of the genre)?
SC: Contemporary Dance - I am so drawn to bodies compiling in ways outside of everyday life. The movements often translate directly into the figures of my work.
B: I love the whole "Lost Generation" mythos. The idea of salons of other creatives. Who would be in your salon (artists, writers, film makers, influencers, etc.)?
SC: My salon would be my instagram saved section, it's filled with short reels/videos of performances. I'm particularly obsessed with Alice Klock (@klockonian) at the moment. I've also been staring at Gordon Parks' works.
B: In the arts, I have always felt bad for musicians. Your entire career having the audience clamoring for "Creep" even though you have just created new work. Have you ever had a fear of exploring new themes or techniques for fear of your audience response?
SC: NEVER lol. I would hate it if I have to continue making towards a trajectory that I dread or is uninteresting to me. It's already hard for most creatives to find time between their day job(s), family, and friends to make work. I wouldn't waste that time making something I don't want to make.
B: As someone heavily influenced by stories, is there any news story, book, historical figure, event, or whatever that you have been compelled to repeatedly explore in your work?
SC: It's not so much a specific narrative but a narrative that can be found in multiple stories or events. In my work, the theme of how the physical body relates or translates to an idea, event, or occurrence. Right now, I'm exploring the history of divorces in Nevada, how physical separation and distance equates to lawful separation. I live by these "Divorce Ranches" that were popular in the 40s - it's fascinating!
Sapira Cheuk: What time of day do you make your best work?
Alexandra N Sherman: In the afternoon. After I swim in the mornings and take care of paper work, I am able to focus in the studio for a couple of hours in the afternoon before my son gets home from school.
SC: Do you have a good work/life balance?
ANS: It depends on the time of year and whether or not I’m working on an exhibition or another event. In my experience being an artist demands flexibility and the willingness to throw everything into your work. I love that intensity, but it’s easy to over-do it and pay the consequences later.
SC: What is a weird or surprising influence on your work that you want to share?
ANS: Religious kitsch and devotional items have played an important role in my collage work over the last several years. I love how over-the-top the images of Catholic prayer cards can be. I particularly enjoy the contrast of the elements that are saccharine and other passages of beautiful painting contained within the same card. Early Disney animations such as Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Robin Hood affected me deeply in terms of aesthetic. The Pink Panther and Scooby- Doo vintage cartoons have also deeply influenced the way I treat color.
SC: What comes first, concept or form?
ANS: This is a difficult question for me, almost chicken or the egg... I tend to work intuitively but I usually have some notion of the direction I’m heading. My “Altered States” series, some of which are published in Fatal Flaw, were all created by putting my brush to the polypropylene, making a few marks and then softening my gaze, and using my inherent pareidolia to make sense of the image. I knew I would be painting a figure, but not what her mood would be. This I left up to my subconscious. The yupo paper allows you to work subtractively since it is non-absorbent. This sets the stage for very fluid, rapidly changing work.
Born in London in 1986 Chris Richford grew up in the countryside of Buckinghamshire & to a certain extent Cornwall. Not formally trained in the arts, Chris completed a BSc (hons) in Biology at UEA and an MSc in Plant Genetics and Crop improvement at the John Innes research centre in Norwich. Driven by a lifelong fascination with the natural sciences and what he describes as “our schizophrenic relationship with nature” he compulsively pursued many artistic outlets and now his practice spans & combines many mediums including taxidermy, assemblage & sound as well as traditional printmaking techniques. “Nature is the original source of boundless wonder and horror. As conscious animals we must create narratives, myths & theologies to contextualise our experience of life within it. When studying nature in situ or under the microscope you experience moments when you're faced by something you do not yet understand. Its confounding and intriguing and beautiful and sometimes horrifying! The mind struggles to catch up with the reality that's presented. It's those moments that affirm my life and its something I seek to convey in my work. Despite its ability to elucidate the human condition I feel the most valuable thing to take away from an artistic experience is an unanswered question.”
Alexandra N Sherman’s art explores the landscape of the mind through watercolors painted from her subconscious, installations with found or created objects, and collage using vintage and antique ephemera. She seeks to give the viewer an intimate experience through works that explore the uncertainty and mystery inherent in life, ourselves, the environment and the need for conservation. Her work depicts the spaces in-between, the seen and unseen through ambiguous narrative that invites the viewer to complete the story.
Beppi has been making art almost since birth. Her work has appeared in galleries, schools, restaurants, magazines, walls, books, & various zines. Her work is informed by pop culture, movies, aliens, gossip, Joan Crawford, harassments, True Romance, books, conspiracy theories, fashion. Look for the Easter eggs! When she is not making art, she spends her time thinking unfortunately wearing something tragic for 40 hours of her week. Recently, her driving has been criticised.
Sapira Cheuk is an ink painter and installation artist interested in proprioception, ways of knowing through the body, and how these modes of knowledge reflect or internalize external experiences. Cheuk has exhibited in numerous exhibitions, including those at the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Orange County Contemporary Art Center, Center for Contemporary Art Texas, Masur Museum, The Netura Museum, Yellowstone Art Museum, Rochester Contemporary Art Museum, and Culver Center for the Arts. Cheuk works for the Nevada Arts Council, serves as the Art Editor for the museum of americana, and teaches at the College of Southern Nevada. She received her BA at University of California, Riverside and MFA from California State University, San Bernardino.
We asked the nonfiction writers from our latest issue what questions they would want to ask their fellow Volume 9 contributors. A few then answered those questions, delving into their craft, their inspirations, and their approach to creating. Read on to learn more about Emma Foley, Mandira Pattnaik, Annie Williams, Rachel O'Sullivan, and Nadia Barghout Brown.