USING PERFORMANCE, PAINTER CEDRA WOOD EXPLORES
HER SUBJECT MATTER. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to create
realistic paintings of sort of surreal situations. When I was a kid these were much less interesting
ideas of things floating in the air. But it’s really important to me that the scenes be
conceivably plausible, something that someone could actually happen onto because things
that are that strange, maybe not even specific things, exist everywhere all the time. It’s
all about just stumbling onto these things out of context and I just happen to manipulate
these things out of context to create a moment. I think of the performances, like sketches
and the performance for me is a lot like photography in that I take a lot of pictures, but I’m
not a photographer. There’s so much I don’t know about photography and I don’t know the
history of photography. And I feel the same way about performance, I’m sort of stumbling
blind into that. So I don’t feel like I’m contributing to the conversation in any way
that is current because I’m not aware of the conversation. I’m just taking these actions
in order to bring myself closer to the things that interest me.
Often, when I start work, I don’t know why the things in it interest me so much and sometimes
I find out later, or sometimes it sparks an interest that I investigate and it becomes
more important later. Part of me wanted to figure out why it was so important to me to
make these 1850’s ranching costumes out of materials I could find in the planes or low
mountains and part of me thinks I don’t really want to know until I’ve made it because I
might realize it’s something not that interesting at all. And I don’t want to interrupt the
process of making it because it feels like something that I need to discover.
In this particular set of costumes, there’s a lot of extremely tedious activity. I try
not to think about the amount of hours that have gone into processing the raw materials.
Pounding the yucca or splitting the grass or any other number of things that have gone
into it, because then I’ll think of it like, what could I have accomplished in these hours
of painting? Why am I doing this incredibly time consuming thing for what might result
in one drawing or painting at the end of it? There’s so much you don’t know before you
start a process. Once you start, you see all the complex ratifications of one tiny task.
So I do want to understand the things around me, but I also have a sense that there’s so
much to understand that I could never even begin to predict what there is out there to
get, much less get it. It’s finding a way to sort of wriggle into a niche where I can
expand and butt up against something important is part of the fun. Futility is part of the
fun, knowing that I can only know a very small amount is pretty exciting. Getting to a place
where I can see a broader scope or bigger horizon of what it means to understand is
pretty intriguing to me. There’s the joy and the interest and the sacrifice of making the
thing. And then later, if you’re really lucky, there’s the chance to have gained something
important from it. Either from connections with someone else, or learning something about
yourself, or learning something about the place that you live.
A few years ago, for the first time, I started using my body to get imagery to incorporate
into the paintings. A friend and I were out in the desert in Utah, Muley Point, and we
had gone for a walk and there were very small puddles of water and some little creatures
swimming around, which I later looked up and found were tadpole shrimp. At the time I was
just really amazed that anything could survive out there, so I wanted to go back the next
day and draw them and when we got there the water was completely gone. There was just
mud caked to the bottom, but there were little, not shells, but skin casings to indicate that
the animals were still living in there. So when there wasn’t water they just went into
the mud to survive and when there was a wet spell then they would get up and just swim
around some more, I presume. And I like the idea of trying to adapt to those survival
tactics. I myself, I had gotten sunburned really badly a couple days before and I thought
it would be kind of fun and interesting to bury myself completely and see how that worked
as a survival tactic, even though I knew my body wasn’t the same. So my friend Lauren
Greenwald helped to bury me, which was a very extensive process. From face down I’ve got
like a little cavern of air here I could breathe through, but my hair was on top forming the
shape of the echoed form of the tadpole shrimp. And after, this became more and more significant
for me and I started thinking about the different ways that we try to understand each other
as people, how difficult it is to communicate even the most basic things and the gulf between
us and each other and the gulf between us and animals, which are really like us, the
gulf between us and animals, which are really unlike us and then plants and the environment
in general. And so I genuinely wanted to connect with other animals and people and at the same
time recognize the folly in trying to bridge that gap by trying to imitate the way they
communicate or survive. I went to Australia the year after that and
found myself thinking a lot about invasive species and the roles that they play. The
idea of forcing myself to get really close to this thing that was really unwanted in
this area, that if people had their druthers would be eradicated maybe.
The idea of camouflage comes up a lot. In the same series as the Paddy Melon, I did
a piece where I tied calla lilies all the way around myself with this idea of sneaking
up on other people who where in the scene. This idea of involving myself without imposing.
And of course it’s completely ludicrous, it’s obviously a girl with flowers wrapped around
her, no ones being fooled by this, but that fascinated me even more, the idea of failed
camouflaged in the same way I like the idea of failed communication.
It brings up questions. Why would I want to hide? If I just followed these impulses through,
about why would I want to be invisible, then I need to ask myself why that
is interesting to me.
I guess the experience of trying to understand the rules of the environment by processing
it in this visual way, is that I’ve realized there is no answer at all and that any one
that one comes up with is permeable and fluid and temporary at best. It doesn’t keep me
from looking, but it makes me aware that there doesn’t have to be an answer, even if there
were one, I wouldn’t necessarily have to find it nor would with viewer. It’s the act of
thinking about it that’s important to me. JASON ROHLF USES LAYERS TO CREATE HIS WORKS
AND GUIDE VIEWERS ON AN ARTISTIC JOURNEY. JASON ROHLF: Abstract artists have their own
language. It’s non-representational, so you’re describing and activating a, a space, a 2-dimensional
space with, with any mark-making you want that doesn’t have to show depth, or light,
or form. And all those things are the rules of a traditional landscape or still-life or
portrait don’t exist. My name is Jason Rohlf. I am an artist from
Brooklyn, New York. I was born in Milwaukee in 1970. My parents were, were young hippies
here. And we lived all over the state of Wisconsin until I went to college here in Milwaukee
at UWM. And after about 10 years of making art in Milwaukee–we had a loft down on Old
World Third Street by the Bradley Center–and, we moved to, uh, Brooklyn about 15 years ago,
and that’s been our home ever since. The full name of the exhibit is “Navigational
Aids”, and I was really thinking about the things that help guide you through the decision-making
process. And right now in the information age, we get a lot of conflicting information,
so you’ll get a piece of information that, that takes you to what you want to do, and
then you’ll get a piece of information that might lead you away from that. And then it’s
up to you as the individual to, to reconcile those two experiences and, and then make you’re
decision. And I think the way the work looks is that
there’s a lot of information coming at you, and then you as a viewer figure out your way
to navigate through that space. I love it when magical mistakes occur in a
painting. The inspiration comes from just about everything
that I experience in my day to day. So it can be a construction site, it could be, um,
some piece of graffiti on the street, it could be, like, a sticker that’s slowly eroding.
And just seeing the different layers of how everybody interacts with that environment.
And then trying to capture that as a feeling: I’m not really illustrating it, but I’m more
trying to get the essence of it. (music). And I wanted to kind of have that growing
and decaying and growing and decaying. And a lot of that is, is almost a combination
of what I experienced here in Wisconsin and out in Brooklyn where things sort of age and
rust and patina, and then they’re repainted and re, you know, re-sanded and reclaimed.
And I wanted to show that whole transition process happening in the new work.
I’ll start with a, with a raw panel or a canvas panel. And start to add layers of, of collage
and thick, impasto layers of paint where the, the paint almost looks like cake frosting.
And then I will start to, um, incise. I’ll draw into the back of the paint with a paintbrush.
And I’ll start adding layers of tape and cut pieces of paper collage, and it starts building
up. Once I’ve got what I think is the outermost
layer, I will start to sand and, and use razor blades to, to sculpt back into the painting
to reveal the things that once had been hidden underneath.
There’s a star-like pattern that I use that, that’s just more like a wind star or a compass
rose. Some of these images feel like, like lunar landscapes, like uh, uh, uh survey of
a planet where they’ll be sort of geographical markers. Some feel like um, uh a map where
you’ll have like a little designation, a dot where an intersection is or a population center
is. And I like taking all of those symbols and taking them out of their original context,
and then putting them in as uh, as a visual element.
So people who are engineers or map makers will look at these things, and they’ll kind
of have a feeling that they’ve seen this stuff before. But I’m using it almost for its aesthetic
quality. The birds were always, um, a little side project.
My, my studio here on Third Street in Milwaukee when I started making the birds was on the
second floor right on the tree line. And the birds were always hopping around on our windowsills
or on our window boxes. Then I realized that I kinda wanted to draw the birds interacting
with the paintings. And so now I’ve made the inside of the bird
mimic whatever the subject matter is in the abstract paintings. So it’s as if the birds
have seen the abstract paintings, gotten back together, and are having a conversation about
what they experienced. A favorite painting for an artist might be
different than a favorite painting for the viewer. Uh, my favorite paintings are the
ones that were the most challenging, that maybe gave me the most trouble. Uh, uh, the
“squeaky wheel gets the grease” sort of thing. You know, sometimes there’s a painting that,
that was just not coming together in the way you imagined it. And then you make those last
few decisions that it, it just starts to glow. And then there’s the piece that we used for
the show card called “The Fortune Teller” that was really resisting being done for many,
many, many months. Then when we, um, decided to use it for the show card and we came up
with a title, all these, these disparate elements came together to give us something that, you
know, I felt very proud for. And when you put something on the show card,
usually that’s your, that’s your darling. You know, that’s sort of the, the, the bright
star. In the digital age, it really, I think, is
important to remember that, that things are, can be made with your hands. And that somebody
stood over a table with, with tape and paint and brushes and, and tools and actually constructed
something from nothing. To step away from, from your desk or from
your day to day, and just to come and ponder on something visual that’s in front of you
that’s actually made by another person. That that person is bringing something that the
only purpose of that object is to give you something to reflect on, and look at, and
see new ideas and react to. That would have to be my joy: that there’s
still somebody out there actually doing something with their hands and bringing it to a viewer