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  1. 10.31.14
    Studio Visit
    Father Magnus Wenninger, Mathematician

    The folks who rank as internet celebrities in Sight Unseen’s world — usually those with a killer eye and a massive following on Tumblr or Instagram — would no doubt seem obscure to most. But even our regular readers might be surprised by today’s unconventional yet equally influential story subject. A few years ago, after stumbling across some articles about mathematician Father Magnus Wenninger on the web, we added him to our “Minnesota” file, whose sole other occupant at the time was RO/LU; earlier this summer, we finally had an occasion to open said file when SU contributor Debbie Carlos asked if she could shoot anything for us there. Carlos was game enough to track down the nonagenarian priest — who became a cult figure in the mathematics world (and later in the online world) for his elaborate paper-polyhedron models — in his home at St. John’s Abbey outside Minneapolis. Not only did she photograph Wenninger and his works, she got him to open up about his history and his methodology as well.

  2. 09.24.14
    Studio Visit
    Jennie Jieun Lee, Ceramic Artist

    Jennie Jieun Lee makes plenty of glossy, pretty pieces that would look lovely alongside other objects in your home, but there’s a real depth of feeling that distinguishes her work. The large ceramic masks she’s been showing in galleries have a visceral, unsettling quality and a sly humor. But even her more practical goods — plates, bowls, cups, and creamers — convey moodiness and urgency, something you don’t often find yourself saying about tableware. “I think it was because of all those years I was stuck,” she says. “It was dying to come out.”

  3. 07.16.14
    Studio Visit
    Otaat / Myers Collective

    If the best reason to know the rules is to be smarter about breaking them, then consider the year-old collaboration between designers Albert Chu and Jennifer Myers not so much a violent upheaval but an exercise in playfully tweaking the system. Chu and Myers met while studying at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design — an institution they say reinforced their respect for constraints — and each worked in architecture and launched an accessories line before combining their shared pedagogy into a series of leather and brass pouches. “I think working within, and rebelling against, a set of parameters is actually the ultimate in design fun,” Myers says. Chu agrees: “We love working with fundamentals and trying to introduce a slight deviation,” says the designer of Otaat, which stands for “one thing at a time.” “Harvard was about being restrained in the conceptual and design intervention, that sometimes the most effective and thorough result could arise from a minimal, subtle act.”

  4. 07.10.14
    Studio Visit
    Kate Miss

    The fact that Los Angeles designer Kate Miss has, since we shot her Koreatown workspace last fall, chopped off her hair, adopted a dog, and moved studios not once but twice — the second time abandoning her freelance graphic design life altogether for a full-time position at Karen Kimmel — may tell you just how busy we’ve been around these parts. But it could just as easily be a reflection of how much Miss craves change. She’s the only person we’ve ever heard utter the words: “I love moving.” And yet that peculiarly peripatetic quality is what defines Miss — it’s what brought her from Seattle to New York and finally to LA, and why she’s equal parts known as a blogger, a photographer, a jewelry maker, and a graphic designer.

  5. 07.01.14
    Studio Visit
    Ilana Kohn, fashion designer

    “It was running joke as a kid, that all I wanted to wear were cut-offs and T-shirts,” says Ilana Kohn. “My mom would buy them by the pack, and I would cut the sleeves and the neck.” Of course, Kohn is now known as the creator of a rabidly collected, Brooklyn-based, cult-favorite clothing line, so was fashion always the master plan? Sure, she was interested in clothes, she says, but her teenage self would be more than a little surprised at this turn. At 18, she says, she did not want to be a “fashion person,” intending rather to study fine art and spend her life of painting. But after high school — in a move that would appease parents who worried about her making a living — Kohn left her native Virginia for New York City to study illustration at Pratt.

  6. 05.16.14
    Studio Visit
    Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza, Art and Design Duo

    This week, we’re featuring a series of designers, brands, and exhibitors participating in Sight Unseen OFFSITE, our brand new design fair taking place in New York City this weekend, May 16-20. Click here for more information.

    Partners in both life and work, Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza share a studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where they run an art practice together as well as a design company called Chiaozza. Yet the first two things they ever collaborated on belonged to neither of those disciplines: One was a stew they made for dinner soon after they began dating — which took so long to cook that joking about it inspired their eventual website name, eternitystew.com — and the other was the pancakes they made the next morning. “We were fascinated by their topography, so we took some printmaking ink, inked up a pancake, and started making monoprints with them,” Frezza recalls. “That was when it began, this idea of turning our everyday life and domestic play into some kind of product or work.” Two and a half years later, it’s still the motivation underlying many of their colorful projects, which they characterize as existing at the “intersection of imagination and the natural world.”

  7. 05.07.14
    Studio Visit
    Upstate, fashion designers

    If there’s one thing we’ve learned here at Sight Unseen, it’s that a lack of training can sometimes go an awfully long way. Such was the case with Kalen Kaminski and Astrid Chastka of Upstate, who started their popular Brooklyn-based, shibori-inspired womenswear and accessories label back in 2010 with nary a day of fashion training between them. When they first met a few years earlier, Kaminski was an anthropology major turned prop stylist and Chastka was an architecture grad turned unhappy architect. Soon after bonding over an appreciation of handcrafted items, they found themselves trawling New York fabric stores, trying to replicate one of Kaminski’s vintage scarves. “We couldn’t find anything we liked, and we probably had no idea where to go,” Chastka told me when we visited the pair’s Greenpoint studio a few months back. “At the time, Kalen was living with an artist, and he had a shibori tapestry on his wall. We saw that, and we were like, ‘That’s perfect.’”

  8. 04.17.14
    Studio Visit
    Sally England, fiber artist

    Until recently, you couldn’t hear the word “macramé” without it conjuring up visions of thrift-store place mats, summer camp friendship bracelets, and Mama Cass’s bolero vests. But thanks in part to Sally England, the masterful, Michigan-based, macramé artist who has made distinctly modern, large-scale commissions for the likes of Nike and Ace Hotels, the once nostalgic medium is having another day in the sun.

  9. 04.07.14
    Studio Visit
    Katy Krantz, ceramicist

    Katy Krantz likes to leave things to chance, at least when it comes to making ceramics. She has a method, but it involves working with a “wild and crazy collaborator” — a giant gas kiln that can fire clay at extremely high temperatures. “When you fire that high, the clay and glaze react in ways that are unpredictable. You get a lot of weird, random spotting, things that I would never be able to paint on.” That element of surprise and transformation runs through her colorful, abstract sculptural objects and jewelry, as well as her block prints and recent forays into fabric. Though she’ll establish “loose parameters” at the outset of a project, she says she’s “never been able to work with a real detailed plan in mind. I can work like that, but I tend to make really boring work that way. When I have too much control, it’s less interesting.”

  10. 03.07.14
    Studio Visit
    Mel Nguyen, Artist

    As an artistically inclined teenager feeling bored and marooned in the suburb of Vadnais Heights, Minnesota, Mel Nguyen did what any millenial in her situation would do: She turned to the internet for creative stimulation. “Even as a high schooler I was looking at all these graphic design blogs, seeing how the field was changing, and thinking, wow,” she says. As soon as she enrolled as an art student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, she started her own tumblr, showing off her experiments sliding from 2-D into to 3-D and back again. She managed to build such a following on the site that her work went viral in certain online art and design circles — so much so that it’s hard to believe she’s only 21, and won’t graduate until this spring.

  11. 11.27.13
    Studio Visit
    Renato D’Agostin, Photographer

    Renato D’Agostin was born and raised in Venice, Italy, “where for most people photography in those days meant weddings and passport pictures,” he says. Yet the city did manage to nurture his future career, if only inadvertently so: After falling in love with a photograph of an elephant that his mother won in a town prize drawing, he commandeered his father’s Nikon, signed up for a local photography class, and spent his teenage years documenting scenes from everyday Venetian life, a process he’s hewed towards ever since. Still, he considers his first foray away from home in 2002, on a road trip through the capitals of Western Europe, to be his most formative experience. “I took that trip to see if interpreting reality was what I really wanted to do,” D’Agostin recalls. “From that moment on, I never had any doubt. I felt like traveling was the place where I wanted to live, and the camera was my extension.”

  12. 11.20.13
    Studio Visit
    Adi Goodrich, Set Designer

    Instead of making things as a way to survive obsolescence, the physical remainders that will outlast us all, Adi Goodrich’s work lives for only a few days before being broken back down into pieces. “I’m not really into all that ego of trying make stuff that stays forever,” the Los Angeles-based designer admits. “I’m much more interested in the cycle of creativity, in making things happen, and surrounding myself with everyone who wants to come with.” Which means that Goodrich, who was just honored with an Art Directors Club “Young Guns” award, might have willed herself into a perfect job: set design.

  13. 11.08.13
    Studio Visit
    Jake Longstreth, artist

    If you’re familiar with the work of Jake Longstreth (which we weren’t until it was brought to our attention by our newest contributor, Laure Joliet!) you probably know him from a series of paintings that made the blog rounds a few years back. Hyper-realistic depictions of empty suburban landscapes and architecture — think tennis courts, drive-thru pharmacies, and red-roofed Pizza Huts — the paintings were unsettling, both in their flat anonymity and in their technique, which rendered them eerily photographic. But a few years ago, Longstreth’s focus shifted.

  14. 10.24.13
    Studio Visit
    Heidi Norton, Artist

    “Being a photographer and being an artist working with materials like resin, plants, and glass — those two worlds should not really mix,” says Heidi Norton. “You have the camera and you have film and you’re trying to keep things clean and archival, and then you have dirt and glass shards everywhere.” Such contradictions are at the core of Norton’s work, from the immaculate glow of her photography to the dirt-under-your-fingernails feel of her sculptural pieces, which typically feature houseplants in some form or another. Norton started incorporating plants into her photographic practice several years ago in a series of still lifes. It was partly a way to bring the natural world she grew up with, in rural West Virginia, into the urban setting of Chicago, where she’s lived since getting her MFA at the School of the Art Institute in 2002. Those photos eventually inspired her to make plant-based sculptures that explore how we create, cultivate, and change ourselves. Therein lies the central paradox: “The idea of preservation, and trying to save the plant while at the same time killing it through that preservation, became really interesting to me,” she says. “All of the mediums I use deal with that idea in different ways.” Even her studio itself, shot by Debbie Carlos for part two of Sight Unseen’s series on Chicago artists, is part of the process.

  15. 10.23.13
    Studio Visit
    Stephen Eichhorn, Artist

    As a four-year-old living in Lenoir, South Carolina, Stephen Eichhorn refused to learn how to read. While everyone else in his class was singing their ABCs, he’d stubbornly deemed it unnecessary — he already knew he was destined to be an artist, communicating through images rather than words. “People asked me, how are you going to read your show cards or write press releases?” Eichhorn recalls. “My answer was, I’m going to marry someone who knows how to read! The resistance was so heavy they put me in a special ed class.” His protest didn’t last more than a few months, luckily, but his uncanny commitment to his future career did: At 14, for example, he interned for a group of Star Wars toymakers who taught him freehand drafting and craft techniques, and at 17 he attended a summer art program at SAIC before enrolling there a year later. Since graduating in 2006 he’s been living the dream instead of planning for it, working independently from a studio he shares with his wife in Chicago, which is where SU’s newest contributor Debbie Carlos visited him this past spring for our two-part series on Windy City artists.

  16. 08.05.13
    Studio Visit
    Christy Matson, textiles artist

    In the parallel universe of false starts, where every cabinet is filled with tools you’ll never use again and every heart with ideas that didn’t stick, artist Christy Matson is a welcome presence, a reminder that sometimes lost things have a way of finding you again. Matson bought her first loom before she’d ever woven, certain that she would take immediately to the repetition and logic of it: “I was, like, I’m going to love weaving, I just know it! I had never met a textile-related process I didn’t like,” Matson says. “And then I took a weaving class the next semester and hated it. I thought, this is it? This is boring.”

  17. 06.27.13
    Studio Visit
    Matthew Shlian, paper engineer

    Knowing what we do about Matthew Shlian, it’s hard to believe that the Ann Arbor, Michigan–based artist ever thought he wanted to be a ceramicist. Ceramics is a medium of imprecision and risk, full of frequent failure and a high degree of unknowability. Shlian, on the other hand, can be found these days doing one of three things, each of which requires an almost uncanny amount of precision: drumming; working with scientists at the University of Michigan using paper to visualize structures at the micro and nano scales; or folding and gluing paper into intricate sculptures that range from 11×11-inch editions for Ghostly International to an 8-foot installation in the window of a New York Levi’s flagship. “I’ve always loved geometry,” Shlian says. “I understand spatial relations and I can envision the leap from 2D to 3D pretty easily. That kind of led the way to paper, and paper became the medium by which to execute a lot of my ideas.”

  18. 04.16.13
    Studio Visit
    Heather Levine, ceramic artist

    If designers are especially complicit in adding things to the world — and for stoking our desire for more and more stuff — they also get first dibs on the act of destruction. “I smash my own pieces all the time,” says Los Angeles-based ceramic artist Heather Levine. “You have to make quite a bit to get what you like, and I don’t keep all the tests. I’ll destroy them or try to make them into something else. I don’t want to see things in the world that I’m not happy about.”

  19. 04.04.13
    Studio Visit
    Jessica Hans, ceramicist and textile designer

    If you think about it, most ceramicists are obsessed with perfecting the clay — wedging it to get rid of bubbles, erasing seams that might come from using a mold, shaving off excess little bits. Jessica Hans is not that ceramicist. Her pots and planters are lumpy and misshapen. They have uneven mouths and aggressively irregular textures. When we visited her sunny, third-floor studio, on top of the South Philly row house she shares with her filmmaker boyfriend, our first thought was that her ceramics all looked like they’d walked out of the prop closet from a Tim Burton movie. (Which, if you read our site with any regularity, you know is one of the highest compliments we could give someone. We’re pretty into weird.)

  20. 04.02.13
    Studio Visit
    Ben Fiess, ceramicist

    Before he moved to Philadelphia in September of last year, Ben Fiess was living on a Minnesota farm, 20 minutes south of St. Paul, five miles from the nearest small town. “One of my friends in graduate school’s parents had recently retired and inherited the family farm,” Fiess says. “No one had been there for a decade or so, so it was in disrepair, but they actually had a lot of kilns and equipment because my friend’s mother taught art. It was a good opportunity to live for free and keep making work.” When he wasn’t making ceramics, Fiess spent his time planting asparagus roots, working at farmer’s markets across the border in Wisconsin, and ripping up sod. “I could go a week without seeing anyone unless I drove into the city,” Fiess remembers. So how is it that when we visited Philly back in January, every other artist and designer we met knew exactly who Fiess was? (“That guy moved to Philly? That’s so cool,” was the typical refrain.)

  21. 04.01.13
    Studio Visit
    Julianne Ahn of Object & Totem

    Like most ceramic artists we know, Julianne Ahn didn’t originally train at the wheel. “I went to school for undergrad in textile design, and then I got an MFA in the Fiber Materials Studies department at SAIC — which is a way more conceptual major,” the Philadelphia-based designer told us when we visited her studio this winter. “I did that on purpose to complement my undergraduate degree, which was about technique and craft-making. Somewhere in the middle, I’ve managed to find a balance between concept and design.”

  22. 03.29.13
    Studio Visit
    Nick Van Woert, Artist

    Visit Nick van Woert’s massive studio in Greenpoint, and in all likelihood you’ll find a cluster of white people standing in a corner, naked and clutching each others’ butts — these artificial neo-classical statues have been a recurring theme in the Nevada-born artist’s work since shortly after he began his career in earnest in 2006. Many of them get tipped over and enveloped in a cascade of colored resin that hardens in mid-drip; in one series, he hollowed out their midsections and let the wind give them garbage guts. “It was like a little trap, and the wind would blow weird shit in there that accumulated outside my studio,” van Woert says. “Anything from Doritos bags to Monster Energy drink cans. The DNA of the world outside.” It was his most literal manifestation of the mantra that drives most of his practice: You are what you eat.

  23. 02.20.13
    Studio Visit
    Bari Ziperstein, Ceramics Artist

    To know a ceramicist is to see their test pieces, and Bari Ziperstein has the kind of overflowing studio that doesn’t happen in a minute, that comes from years of private experiments and the hard work of learning not to care so much. “I think of these pieces as sculptural doodles,” she says, referring to a series of small, accidental ceramic sculptures. “They’re such a discrepancy from how I usually work, something no more than two inches. It’s really free and immediate.”

  24. 02.18.13
    Studio Visit
    Landon Metz, Artist

    To the extent that we cover art on Sight Unseen, it makes sense that we’d naturally gravitate towards action painting — artists may always have plenty to say about the relationship of their work to the viewer, or to philosophy, or to the context of art history, but most of the time we’re interested in something a little more prosaic than that, like how they get their hands dirty, and why they’ve chosen one medium over another. With gestural works, it’s all about the process, and the liminal moments just before and after materials cease to be ordinary and paintings transform into something more than the sum of their parts. The work of the Greenpoint-based artist Landon Metz is a perfect example: His paintings are about painting, and how colorful enamel shapes laid down on a tilted canvas will move and evolve as their surface interactions and drying times are influenced by factors like humidity, daylight, and temperature. Sight Unseen contributor Paul Barbera visited Metz’s studio recently for Where They Create, and — oh lucky day! — he did our work for us, creating his own podcast interview with the artist which you can listen to after the jump.

  25. 01.11.13
    Studio Visit
    Silo Studio, Furniture Designers

    Oscar Wanless and Attua Aparicio certainly aren’t the first design students to have clashed with an industrial manufacturer, showing up the so-called experts by proving a seemingly impossible process quite possible after all. But the RCA grads—who now collaborate as Silo Studio—are certainly the first we’ve heard of whose triumph so impressed said manufacturer that they were asked to move into the factory. At an industrial park 45 minutes outside the center of London, Silo operates out of a small warehouse room on the premises of Jablite, the U.K.’s largest maker of styrofoam insulation panels. “They’ve got steam, which is how we produce what we produce,” explains Wanless, that being lumpy polystyrene furnishings once compared to “stage scenery for a production of Hansel and Gretel on acid.”