Q&A with Jennifer Ellison, Kristy Peet, and David McClain
Interview by Olivia Neal
The Trojan Box, currently on view in the Front and Hallway galleries at Art League Houston features work from current residents at Box 13 Artspace, a local artist run nonprofit innovative located on Harrisburg Blvd in the East End. The exhibition features a diverse selection of sculpture, photography, painting and installation/video by an exciting group of Houston-based emerging and established artists.
I had the chance to pick the brains of three artists featured in the show: Jennifer Ellison, Kristy Peet and David McClain. Here is what they had to say!
Q. Tell me a little bit about yourself... Education, background, how did you get into art?
JE: I grew up with a passion for drawing from life as well as lots of original characters that I continue to invent. From drawing I went to painting, and only recently have I focused so much on sculpture. I have other passions like geology and herpetology but art and teaching won out when I was deciding what to do with my life. I incorporate my other interests into my art and use it as my way of continuously learning.
KP: I went to undergrad at Austin College in Sherman, TX. I doubled majored in math and computer science but I took a photo class my junior year and fell in love. I wound up minoring in art, taking a semester off and then going to grad school for photography at Savannah College of Art and Design.
DM: I have a BA from Rice University (a triple major in English, political science and sociology), a JD from the University of Houston Law Center and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). My parents ran a photography studio when I was young and I started photographing as a child. I have always drawn and painted.
Q. What are your influences and inspirations? How do they play a role in your work?
JE: The broad questions I had as a kid and the unanswered questions I still have are what are driving my art most these days. The more knowledge I acquire the more I realize I don’t know, and the more I obsess over the things even the greatest scientists I look up to are unable to explain. My extreme curiosity on how things work has driven me to incorporate hidden elements to my pieces, like electronics, which have hidden wires and components of their own.
KP: I look at a lot of photography and sculpture. The ones that I relate to the most are generally the more influential. I really like Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz, especially their Travelers series, and Chema Madoz’s cleaver still lives.
DM: Major influences are probably rooted in literature, especially 20th century poetry and modernist novels. Good writing is often very visual. I’m also heavily influenced by personal narrative. I agree with many other artists who believe that the personal makes for the best universal statements. I’m interested in visual storytelling and implied narrative. When I’m making photographs, I usually am trying to make visual poems. When I’m painting, I’m influenced by dreams, language, and color.
Q. What is the meaning behind the show title "The Trojan Box"? How is this concept incorporated into your piece in the show?
JE: I actually joined Box 13 after the show was titled, but I think it was named this way because none of us knew what anyone else was bringing to install. It was all a surprise. Since no one knew what I was bringing either, my piece fit right in!
DM: The title was designed, as I hear it, to reference a box of Trojan brand condoms. So I picked a painting with a giant red penis in it.
Q. Tell me about the concept behind your piece.
JE: The piece I have in this show is called “The Absurd Escape Device.” In short, it represents my frustrations with people who are willfully ignorant because of religion, and on the other hand, people who are so far in the other direction that they think they know everything there is to know. The white room is where I “live” in my head; it’s my escape from taking either side. Another title for this piece is “Escaping Sartre’s Hell.”
KP: My piece is from my new series called Evidence. You know that one person you can’t be friends with? You love them, but you just can’t seem to get along? Maybe you thought they were someone they turned out not to be? This series explores that type of hurtful friendship.
DM: My painting is untitled, but it loosely resembles a Greek Chimera (usually depicted as a lion with the head of a goat arising from its back and a snake for a tail). The strange thing is, only after the painting was made did I realize it bore any relation to the Chimera. One thing I like about the painting is that the forelegs can also be read as the head of an anteater calmly munching on its lunch, and I’ve hidden an antebellum woman in the chest of the beast.
Q. What does your creative process involve?
JE: I always start with a detailed pen drawing. I draw my idea over and over again on transfer paper, honing in on everything from what it will look like, to where the batteries will go, what materials I will use and the process I will go through to create it. I keep all my drawings and might eventually have an exhibit with the drawings alongside the completed project because the drawings hold a lot of content in themselves.
KP: My images are generally based on whatever was going on in my life at the moment. I try to make them universal enough that everyone can relate.
DM: The creative process is continuously reading, looking, and thinking about art. The moment of creating a work is a part of that, not the culmination of it.
Q. What is it like being a resident artist at Box 13 ArtSpace? How has this collective experience/environment affected your art practice/creative process?
JE: I joined Box 13 in July this year but so far it has definitely been a positive experience. It was the perfect place to go to keep the creative ball rolling right out of college and introduce me into the Houston art community, which is thriving from everything I’ve seen so far.
KP: The biggest effect that having a studio at Box 13 has had on my work is that I can work bigger. Previously, most of my work only included part of the body or a tabletop still life. The larger space has allowed me to set up larger things.
DM: Box 13 is not a collective in the ways that some people may think. We are a nonprofit with a dual mission: exhibiting challenging art in our three galleries, as well as providing economical studio space for nontraditional artists. Working in the midst of an organization with those missions makes for an intellectually stimulating environment.
Q. What have you learned through this experience and setting of the group show?
JE: I learned how passionate this group of artists are. Every member has a life, jobs, and responsibilities, yet most of the work for this show was brand new and made for this show. There was no hesitation to pull a few all-nighters to get everything perfect. We are all extremely grateful to Art League for this opportunity to exhibit in their front gallery.
DM: I was surprised to see how visually cohesive most of the work is. The show wasn’t curated (we were each asked to contribute any piece we wanted) but most of the color palates and forms (whether painting, photography, sculpture, etc.) seemed to work well together. Also, I was surprised at how clean it all looked! The studios at Box 13 are usually a mess! It was fun to see the work cleaned up and presented so well!
Q. What is next for you?
JE: I will be working on my latest ideas that are beginning to burn a hole in my sketchbook. My new work will require more of the viewer. People who are curious and not afraid to ask questions will get much more reward out of the piece than the passive observer. Other than that, Box 13 has some upcoming fundraising events like Boxtoberfest and an online fundraising campaign that I am helping with. I was also lucky enough to score a Retablos tin from Lawndale Art Center so look for my piece on the wall!
KP: I am curating a show at of Austin College alumni that will show during homecoming this October. We will also be giving a panel discussion. I also have two solo shows in the Spring. Evidence will be up at Lonestar College – Tomball in February and Introvert will be up at Lonestar College – Montgomery in March in conjunction with Fotofest 2014.
DM: A snack?
Jennifer Ellison is an interdisciplinary artist who recently received her BFA in Studio Art from Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas in May 2013. “Her work is meant to engage a wide audience and entice curious questions from the viewer’s minds.”
Kristy Peet is a large format conceptual photographer from Dallas, Tx. She received her BFA from Austin College in 2002 and her MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2004. She has exhibited vastly across the U.S and Her work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Savannah College of Art and Design.
David McClain is a photographer who received his BA from Rice University, a JD from the University of Houston Law Center and an MFa from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). He has exhibited Nationally in solo and group show in places such as Houston, New York and Austin.