This is the third installment of the capital lives artist interview series. capital lives features work by Bo Chen, Sydney Gray, Sarah O’Donoghue, Brea Soul, Christine Stoddard, and Nevada Taylor.
Brea Soul | Multimedia artist, photographer, and designer in the Maryland DC area | Exhibiting in capital lives from May 30 to July 4, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Grace DeWitt
Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where did you grow up, and where are you based now?
I am a multimedia artist and photographer who is dedicated to highlighting new, blossoming and vibrant artists, and the cultures of minorities in Maryland and D.C. I am originally from Trappe, Maryland, a small town located on the Eastern Shore. Since moving away to attend University of Maryland, College Park, I am now based out of College Park, MD.
You graduated from UMCP with your Bachelors this past December. What did you study, and what are you up to now?
I studied Studio Art with a minor in Art History. I currently work as the in-house graphic designer for Brentwood Arts Exchange, a contemporary art gallery in Maryland, and as a photo contributor for Capitol Standard Magazine, a magazine for young professionals in the Washington, D.C. area. I hope to move in the direction of multimedia production and directing.
Could you briefly describe your artistic practice?
I always felt like I didn’t belong, but in reality, relatable representation just lacked around me. So, in my photography and webseries, Soul Series, I choose to capture the essence of a person’s true identity and natural lifestyle. I seek modern representation of African Americans and other minority groups because I want to highlight the identities and stories of those that are still often overlook or ignored. My goal is to encourage the world to observe these races and cultures closely and then to connect in a way they have not before. I love working with color, natural lighting, composition/framing and movement. My influences include Gordon Parks and Roy Decarava, music, and cultural relativism.
What is your personal experience with D.C. at this moment? To what extent do you have ties to this city?
My personal experience with D.C. comes from my relations to its people and its culture. There is a renaissance happening in D.C and around connecting parts of Maryland that most are not ignoring, but rather, overlooking. Knowing this and a lot of the young upcoming talent that is based out of DC or close to it, I believe it’s a job of mine to constantly capture the culture: whether it’s related to art, music, fashion, or simply the lifestyles that DC produces.
How would you describe D.C., or the D.C. vibe, to people who have never been to the city?
D.C is a traditional place with a lot of history. When you visit D.C. and learn more than what is shown on TV and through articles, you learn about all of the rich culture D.C. produces. D.C. consists of a lot of creative activity, networking, and opportunity. D.C. is not as big as NY but D.C. consists of endless industries and because it’s smaller, you have plenty of room to connect, learn and grow here.
Let’s talk about your photographs in capital lives. Do you know any of the subjects personally? Were they all taken in the district?
I only know two of the subjects personally and the others I connected to through networking. This may come to you as a surprise, but only one photo was taken actually in the district. Can you guess which one? The other three were taken relatively close to Washington, D.C., in places such as Hyattsville and College Park.
Do you consider these images to be portraits of individuals, or a more collective observation of a regional city culture?
It’s hard to answer that question because it’s technically both. Although these images are simply portraits of residents/performers of the area, the people involved are important to the creative history of D.C. at this specific time. One is an upcoming wordsmith and poet who is known for his skill all over the city. The model in Liberation represents the Latino community that is being directly affected from the current state of the United States and its presidency. Kweku Collins, is a rapper/singer performed at an annual D.C. festival called, All Things Go.
I understand that the prints exhibited in capital lives are part of a larger series. What is your intent for that series?
My intent is to constantly portray the lives existing in Washington D.C. and the surrounding area, and create a series that shows who is living in D.C. and what they are doing. Basically, I want to document the current times and culture.
What was the reasoning behind the titles for Dazed 1 and Overtime 2? Were these planned images, or candid?
Dazed 1’s title stems from the expression presented by the subject throughout the entire photoshoot. A woman is shown wandering aimlessly and although she is giving direct eye contact, one can assume that there is something on her mind. Something has her distracted or stuck.
Overtime 2’s title comes from personal background of the subject and plays off of that narrative. The subject was a UMD dropout and then after a year, decided to return back to UMD. Throughout the photos from this photoshoot, he can be found in a classroom, outside on campus and walking through hallways. Wherever he travels, he is focused on the task at hand. In Overtime 2, he is seen with a black notebook and pen on campus with an alarming look. I like to believe this photograph embodies when a lightbulb goes off for a person and that usually happens after a while of focusing on a certain subject.
Can you explain what’s going on in All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2 and Liberation 1?
In All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2, Kweku Collins had just finished performing and starting a meet and greet. I wanted to capture his presence while meeting his fans. He is normally shown on a stage and singing so I thought it would be cool to get another perspective of him and his style. Even while not on stage, he kept the same aura and presence of light and joy with him.
In Liberation 1, I was on a mission to portray a new-found sense of freedom. I selected an aspiring model and did a photoshoot at an isolated hotel. The location was chosen for the narrative of one running away or being forced to be on the move. During the subject’s time alone, she reflects. So Liberation 1 portrays the outcome of her journey when she has finally come to a point where she is prepared and ready to take on whatever is next.
Music culture seems to be an intertwined part of some of your photography work. What part of the D.C. music scene do you interact with in your photography, and do you feel that your photography is meant to bring attention to or comment on that scene?
I find myself in rap and R&B spaces within Washington, D.C. because that genre of music is a heavy part of my own personal culture and I know more people within that space than other genres. However, I hope to break into other music scenes because although Rap and R&B is special to me, my goal is to capture creatives and artists of all sorts of backgrounds. There are a lot of talents out there and I want to capture as many as I can. I guess I just started off in a familiar space. My photography, in those scenes, serves as a way to capture timeless moments that the people never get back; but through my photography, they will never forget it.
What do you hope viewers take away from your photographs, perhaps in conversation with the other works in capital lives as a whole?
When people visit capital lives, I simply hope to introduce them to people and/or cultures that are blooming here in the area and start a conversation there. Media coverage and photo documentation about Washington, D.C., is usually centered on politics, protests, sports and or fancy landmarks. I want to introduce people to people. Simple. Real people that you can learn from, bond with and or help in some type of way. I hope that in combination with the other photographs from the other artists, visitors will get a complete 360 realistic perspective of DC. For example, Bo Chen successfully and effectively captured people protesting on the streets of D.C. while my photos show the residents of D.C. Having this imagery together shows a complete image of the time right now in D.C.
Which of your photographs in capital lives do you connect with the most?
I connect with them all but if I had to choose one, I would pick All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2 because the imagery involved is someone of color and a flower. In my opinion, a sunflower embodies a source of light. Within my photography, but more importantly within my life, I try to radiate positive energy and show others love.
What camera did you use to shoot the images in capital lives, and what are you shooting with now?
Since gifted, I have been shooting my photography through a Nikon D3400 and it’s been amazing to learn and practice on. I have plans to upgrade in the near future, either to another Nikon or Sony.
You’re also working on a webshow called Soul Series. Can you talk about the project and goals for the show moving forward?
Soul Series is an original web show that follows me, a 22-year-old spirited artist from Maryland, as I navigate throughout the DMV/DC area interviewing other artists and creatives. In season one, Brea comes across an illustrator, a fashion brand and one painter. Season two involves more musicians: ranging from a music group, a disc jockey and percussionist. The goal for the show is to constantly discover and highlight talents, in this area, who are steadfast in their skill whether its related to visual arts, music and or fashion. The biggest goal for this project is to get the show picked up by a local production company or studio, in hopes to reach a bigger audience, which could result in income, connections, and exposure for the artists and creatives interviewed.
Any future shows or projects that you would like to promote here?
Through my photography and webshow, I meet a lot of artists who are so fresh in my mind. I thought about a show I would love to curate even at the Stamp Gallery, involving a showcase of artwork by the people I have interviewed and will meet. This project would provide opportunity for those creatives to have a professional chance to exhibit their talented work.
We’ll close with a question that powered the creation of capital lives. In your own words, what do you feel lies behind the image of power?
The image of power is in direct correlation to the person that produces that image. For me, the power is in the people and that’s why it is important for me to capture D.C.’s people. People fighting for rights and succeeding in their individual lives is power to me, so I choose to show that.
Soul’s work is included in capital lives at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from May 30 through July 3, 2018.
For more information on Brea Soul, visit www.breasoul.com.
For more information on capital lives and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery
This is the first installment of the (Sub)Urban interview series. (Sub)Urban features work by Amze Emmons, Yoonmi Nam, Benjamin Rogers, Nick Satinover, Christine Buckton Tillman, and Sang-Mi Yoo.
Matthew McLaughlin | Artist, Professor | Curator of (Sub)Urban from October 30 through December 16, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Grace DeWitt
Let’s start with some history. I understand that you’re a professor here, at the University of Maryland, College Park. Where did you grow up, where have you studied, and what brought you to this campus?
I grew up in Greenbelt, MD, just down the road from College Park and the University of Maryland. I received my BFA in Fine Art from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL and my MFA in Printmaking from Arizona State University. I became connected with UMD after meeting Professor Justin Strom at an opening and his inviting me to the campus to meet with Professor Richardson, the Chair of the Art Department. A few months later, I was contacted about my interest in teaching foundations courses for the department.
Could you talk a little bit about the curatorial process behind (Sub)Urban? Is this your first curated show? How did the exhibiting artists come to your awareness?
(Sub)Urban is my curatorial debut and I’m quite happy with its reception by the local community. My curatorial process has a strong connection with my personal interests and areas of research for my own artistic practice. My own work focuses on the human relationship to its environment, mainly focusing on suburban and urban spaces and our alterations. So for this exhibition, I was interested in bringing together artists I admire for their practice and their conceptual exploration of similar subjects to my own.
Some of these artists are friends I have gained since graduate school, like Benjamin Rogers, who went to ASU with me, and Amze Emmons, who I met through printmaking conference events. The others have been on my radar through the suggestion of fellow artists, conference exhibitions, and Instagram.
How do you feel your word choice in the show title connects to ideas about suburban and urban spaces?
I think my show title reflects on the connection that urban and suburban spaces have, even though many try to deny it. Whether the connection is through the white flight of the 1960s or the overlapping cultural connections of television, music, etc, these two spaces that try to be separate have a strong relationship, and I wanted the title to reflect that.
It seems that you provided the (Sub)Urban artists with a certain level of exhibitory freedom while curating this show. Did the decision to work in this way create any challenges for you?
The only challenge that came from this freedom was the challenge of bringing all the work together in a comprehensive exhibition, once I knew exactly what I was going to receive. When I contacted each artist, I had some specific ideas in mind, but knew there would need to be some flexibility because of availability. I have run into this issue with my own work and having it in multiple exhibitions close together, so I understood the hassle of giving them very specific requests versus generalities. Yes, there may have been a print or piece that I would have preferred, but if it was designated for another exhibition first, I was happy to get another from the same series.
You’ve mentioned in person that your practice exists in the same conceptual conversation as many of the works in (Sub)Urban. To what extent did your artistic practice play a role in the curatorial process of this show?
My personal practice and conceptual interests had a massive role in the curatorial process for the exhibition. As I mentioned earlier, all the artists in the exhibition are people I admire and have followed, in one way or another, for some time. Just as researchers in other fields read articles by colleagues at other institutions, artists pay attention to those creating art in similar conceptual and visual avenues to know what is being explored already and how it might inform their own work.
This show covers a variety of media, often within individual artists’ practices. Was it important to you to display, say, sculpture from self-described printmakers, or prints from self-described sculptors? Or did this element to the show come about organically?
This element of the exhibition came about organically as a whole, but was more specific for each artist. My intention in requesting some of Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded sculptures was not to specifically present sculptures created by an artist traditionally trained in printmaking, but to show work that I found compelling and interesting for its conceptual and material ideas. That the exhibition has installation and sculptural works by artists with MFAs in printmaking and drawing, alongside their more traditional works, came about when I brought all the works together and realized what I had done.
Were there any subtler themes, phrases, or concepts not marketed with the show that you either intended to visualize in (Sub)Urban, or found yourself revisiting as you compiled the show?
Nothing that I intended or found before hand, but upon installation, I made some connections between some of the work that I hadn’t previously. There was a subtle theme that questioned the reality of urban and suburban spaces through the reality of Yoonmi, Christine, and Amze’s sculptural pieces. Each of these artists made work that re-created elements of urban and suburban spaces and life, but with materials that alter the audience’s interaction with them. Specifically considering Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded sculptural series, the two in the exhibition have such a life-like quality people easily think the artist is displaying actual takeout bags and containers, but once they approach the work, the reality of the material nature of the sculptures immediately alters their relationship with it. This subtle switch brings in larger questions for the audience about their relationship with their own environments.
In your own words, what happens in terms of the viewing experience when elements of the suburbs are taken out of context, like in Amze’s Street Life Flat Pack series?
To me, when elements of urban and suburban spaces are taken out of context there is a sense of importance that is typically glossed over when seen on the street, but also the viewer is exposed to the item and forced to interact with and consider it from a perspective they had not considered before. Especially when this is taken to the next level, by an artist re-presenting the known item in a new material context, as with Amze’s Street Life Flat Pack and Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded series.
It feels like Christine’s Clay Paper Chain comes from a different corner of the suburban experience. Could you touch on your intent in including her work in (Sub)Urban, or the area you feel that her work covers in a show that covers so much about the suburbia as we know it?
I chose to invite Christine because I felt her work touched on a more interior connection with the suburban experience, similarly to Benjamin and Nick’s works. Christine is a mom and a school teacher; I felt both works spoke to that experience and its personal nature, while also relating to Yoonmi and Amze’s works through the material nature of each and allowing the viewer to question both the reality of the artwork, but also question the idea it’s presenting.
Would you consider (Sub)Urban to be a critique of suburban or urban spaces and/or their social purpose?
No, I consider (Sub)Urban to be more of a survey of urban and suburban spaces, the concepts that we apply to them, and how we relate to each environment. I look at the exhibition as a tool to expose the audience to new ideas and perspectives of spaces they know, maybe rather well, and try to engage the viewers in re-thinking their own relationship with these environments.
This show is one of few in recent history at the Stamp Gallery that features multiple artists who collectively, and vastly, span across the U.S., and even includes some who work from international backgrounds and influences. What was your intention in curating a show here that comes from so many regions?
I wanted to expose the student body to a larger idea of the art being created in the country, and I wanted a greater representation of the work being created around the concept of the exhibition. The suburban and urban experience may be considered more universally understood, but there are subtle differences from regionally specific traits that affect the culture of suburbs and urban spaces around the country. I felt an exhibition of artists that spanned a larger swatch of the country would give a better overall interpretation of the suburban/urban experience to the audience.
I also prefer to see exhibitions that bring a more varied group of artists when considering their location and background. An exhibition of local artists on a specific concept or theme can have repetitive elements that make it only relatable to that region, while an exhibition like this can connect to a large contingency of the population.
A connection within (Sub)Urban that has fascinated me is the many ways that the suburban experience is outwardly homogenized, and yet remains internally idiosyncratic. Has this show, and seeing these artists’ work all together, expanded your perspective of suburban and urban experiences in any way?
Not really, as my own work has been examining and reconsidering the nature of these spaces through those idiosyncratic characteristics that many others gloss over. But it has expanded my perspective on how these ideas can be explored, and thus it is beginning to form new ideas on approaching my own artistic practice.
The exhibition vinyl in the Stamp Gallery contains two quotes: “This world is but a canvas to our imagination” (Henry David Thoreau), and “For to Thoreau the significant relationship is not that between [hu]man and [hu]man; it is the relationship between [hu]mans and [their] environment” (JB Jackson). Could you share some insight about your inclusion of these quotes in the show?
The JB Jackson quote was the main one I wanted to use for the wall text, but I felt it would be a little hard to understand without a little context about Thoreau. So I searched for a Thoreau quote that would give the best general insight into his thinking that could be expanded upon by the JB Jackson quote.
JB Jackson is a writer who, from the 1950s forward, focused on writing about the American landscape and the development of urban and suburban spaces. He greatly influenced the development of contemporary cultural landscape studies.
When someone walks into (Sub)Urban, what do you hope a person will grasp from the show?
I hope they find the humor in the work, the intrigue in the material use of some pieces, but overall, gain a fresh perspective on suburban and urban spaces.
What is one thing you have learned from curating this show?
Solid respect for curators and gallerists who do this for a living. To come up with one exhibition theme, coordinate artists and the shipping of their work and then lay it all out is one thing, but to do it over and over again. Wow.
To close, is there anything else you’d like to promote here? Any current or upcoming shows you’re participating in, either as artist or curator?
I have a few new ideas for other curatorial exhibitions, but currently, I’m focusing on a residency to get a lot of work completed.
McLaughlin is the curator of (Sub)Urban in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from October 30 through December 16, 2017.
For more information on Matthew McLaughlin, visit http://www.matthewtmclaughlin.com/.
For more information on (Sub)Urban visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.
Difficult Ordinary Happiness
Those Girls Clenched So Many Hopes, Dance, Dance, Dance, Thrice
Line Up! Take It Like a Man, But Don’t take it up with ‘The Man’
Lower the Pitch of Your Suffering, Soundless Invisible angels
As a fun experiment, I made a collage poem out of the titles of the artworks currently on display. The creative process was quite intuitive. Similar to how these artworks visually and conceptually complement each other, their titles happen to poetically complement each other and collectively take on a meaning that captures the essence of the New Arrivals 2017 exhibition.
I find that I like processing ideas in my mind through drawing, writing, or creating music playlists, whatever the subject matter is. It helps me gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for what I am trying to learn, especially when it comes to art. That being said, visitors are welcome to bring a sketchbook to the Stamp Gallery. Did any of the artworks remind you of a song? Tell a docent and perhaps it will be added to the playlist of Art Hour, Stamp Gallery’s own radio show. Whatever the case, getting creative and acquainted with the artworks is highly encouraged!
Come experience the New Arrivals 2017 exhibition in The Stamp Gallery, happening now through October 14, 2017.
Written by Cristy Ho
Art has the intriguing ability of capturing certain moments in time. For instance, you may recall certain memories while watching a film, looking at a work of art, or listening to a song. This may happen to an artist when they look at their own work, which may function a bit like a time capsule. A lot of artists are compelled to create art when encountered with intense feelings or experiences. In this way, art may serve as a reminder to the artist of how things were in the past. Art tends to capture the experience of the artist through a subjective lens more so than an objective reality. Strong feelings have the tendency to distort and cloud memories, and creating art is a way for artists to navigate their emotions and make sense of the past.
Creating art can be a way to document important events. It can be similar to writing in a diary but without the confining nature of words. Consequently, art may serve as an ideal coping mechanism. An artist may choose to focus their art on their current hardships or choose to focus on occurrences that haunt their past. Artists may pour their emotions into an artwork to put their past to rest.
Artworks affect the artist who make them as well as those that view them and can relate to them, whether sympathetically or empathetically. Perhaps viewing the “I’m Fine” exhibition may stir up emotions and memories of a distant time, and cause you to reflect on your own growth.
Written by Cristy Ho
Art galleries can be intimidating places. Walls of silence. No photography. Don’t touch the artwork. These unique environments can lead to some second-guessing, especially for those who are new to galleries. “Am I being too loud?” “Does anyone find any of this modernist furniture comfortable to sit on?” “Can the gallery attendant tell that I have no idea what that piece of art is trying to say?” If this sounds like you, take a breath, and relax.
Art appreciation can seem like a high-brow hobby, but it certainly doesn’t take years of art history classes to react to something emotionally. Some artistic elements may not be completely accessible without an art background, but only in the same sense that the average person wouldn’t fully grasp a grad student’s final thesis without some context.Yet there is always a basic level in which art can be accessed; saying “I don’t understand” is still a response and furthers the conversation. Art is made to make people feel and think. So remember: a gallery isn’t just for the art majors or art collectors, it’s for you.
If you’re interested in visiting such a place, the Stamp Gallery—found on the first floor of the Stamp Student Union—is a conveniently located art space available for students and visitors alike to stop by in the midst of a busy day. Aside from the new exhibition, a few other changes to the gallery have been made this semester. A lounge area provides seating apart from the art. This is an ideal place to do homework, chat with friends, or to browse our provisional library and read one of its books, all of which are in conversation with a piece in the gallery.
A chess table has also been moved into the space, providing a place not only to play chess, but also a variety of board and card games made available through the gallery staff. And if you would like to save and share your experience in the gallery with your friends, we allow non-flash photography of the art.
So, why all these changes to the gallery? A common viewpoint towards galleries is that they are refuges from the day-to-day grind. While the gallery staff wants to make the area a more welcoming environment, we also want it to be a place where you can both appreciate the art yet also retain your identity. We want a person to feel like he/she can coexist with the art rather than just stop by and visit. We want this space to be comfortable enough for people to do homework, go on dates, have arguments. A gallery should not be a place to escape life, but rather to live it.
So sit down and stay awhile.
Written by Christopher Bugtong
So you’re walking by the Stamp Gallery one afternoon. Peaking through the glass exterior, you see that there are boxes and packing paper scattered throughout. You see some power tools on the benches, and a ladder leaning against the corner. You notice random walls that seem to be hanging out in limbo in the middle of the space. Walking past the entrance, you find a sign taped to the door: “Closed for installation, please come back for our opening next week!”
Ever wanted to know just what goes into the installation of a gallery exhibition?
The past week at the Stamp Gallery has been quite a busy one, with the installation of our current exhibition featuring new arrivals for the Contemporary Art Purchasing Program (CAPP). As a docent, I get to take part in this installation process. As such, I thought I’d offer a little glimpse into a few of the more subtle, never-occurred-to-me-before-I-started-working-here types of things that go on behind the scenes of an installation.
When you first walk into the Stamp Gallery and start reading about what the exhibit is about, you are reading the vinyl. I’d like to start off by admitting that, before I started working at the gallery, I was under the impression that someone had to come and actually hand-paint the words onto the wall…which I’m glad is not the case! After the exhibition overview is typed up in a Word doc, it is sent to be blown up in size and then printed out on a kind of sticker-like paper. Before sticking this onto the wall, we measure the length/width of the sheet, take a ruler to the wall, level it, and make light pencil marks for guidelines. Next, we peel off the outer layer of the sheet, which uncovers the sticky part that goes onto the wall. Once we have the sheet up on the wall, we smooth out any wrinkles and press it against the wall as much as possible – this makes it easier to peel the paper off without peeling the actual letters off as well. The final step is to do the actual peeling!
In the gallery, we have “moveable” walls that are stored in the back. The wall holding Titus Kaphar’s The Jerome Project (Asphalt and Chalk) XII is a moveable wall.
These walls allow us the mobility to create new, smaller spaces within our existing gallery space. They also provide extra surface area to accommodate more pieces, draw attention to particular works, as well as provide general interest and variability to the eye. For this exhibition in particular, we added a wall behind the podium holding Wafaa Bilal’s Perseus Beheading Medusa and Pink David in order to direct focus onto the pieces, since they are relatively small objects in comparison to the space.
Tracks along the ceiling of the gallery provide grooves that the lights hook into. There are three tracks spanning the length of the space, and five tracks running widthwise. The lights themselves consist of a bulb attached to a frame that can be maneuvered to adjust the angle of the light accordingly. In addition, there are metal bars within the hook of the frame that conduct electricity and make the light turn on when attached to the track. Depending on the needs of the exhibition/pieces, the lights can be placed so that they either “spotlight” or provide a softer, glow to the work. When spotlighting, the lights are generally placed closer to the piece, which provides a very direct focus. Setting the light farther back creates more of an atmosphere and harmonization for the piece as well as the space surrounding it. Other things to keep in mind when setting up lights is reflection, shadows, and the color casted by the bulb. For the pieces that contain a glass covering, we had to consider the effects of possible reflections caused by our lighting choices. In addition, we can control the degree and location of shadows by light placement. For Ellington Robinson’s Oath of the Imperialists, we played around with the distance of the lights from the work in order to “shift” the shadows around.
Finally, some bulbs are older than others and cast a softer, more yellow hue than the newer ones, which typically cast a very bright, verging on greenish tint. We usually try to match the shades of light throughout the exhibit.
Of course, there are many other aspects that go into a gallery installation that I haven’t mentioned here – each show is unique in terms of the methods used to bring it together. For a closer look at the results of our installation, be sure to check out the opening reception of CAPP New Arrivals 2015 this Friday, September 25th between 6-10pm.
See you there!