Week 9 Artist Interview : Lesley Nishigawara and Sheila Ann Rodriguez

Art 110

This week I ended up meeting not one, but two amazing artists at the SOA galleries, Lesley Nishigawara and Sheila Ann Rodriguez.

Lesley Nishigawara’s work in the MFA Advancement show was incredible as it put emphasis on the actual process involved in creating the work – a concept I had never previously imagined possible. This created an almost entirely abstract, breathtaking work. The entire process seemed incredibly complicated, but on a basic level, Nishigawara described it as creating and following a set of systems. She described these systems as sets of rules to follow, and hers involved many steps, taking different images from reality and creating line drawings of line drawings and playing on the juxtaposition of positive and negative spaces. She took these “built environments” and through further processes and systems, patterns emerged and became the work on display.

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Nishigawa’s work focused on following systems and created beautiful pieces in the process

She described one such system involved requiring different nail and string colors. Nishigawara said most of the nails piecing her work were green, but the orange nails showed mistakes she made while she was mapping it. These were then connected with bright string, sometimes running through green nails to get to their orange destinations.

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Looking at the work, it was amazing to believe the layers of translucent shapes and bright strings had a method behind their madness. While the processes involved may have been lost to the viewer, the formation they created was truly astonishing and admirable. 

From talking to her about her background, I learned Nishigawara had attended three different schools for art studies, her first being Kansas City Art Institute, and her last being (quite obviously) Cal State Long Beach. Along the way, she had stopped for a break and in that time had designed a fashion line. With a strong background in art, especially with fibers and textiles, it made quite a bit of sense for her to translate work from galleries to showrooms. She said she always loved playing with positive and negative shapes, and while she had been looking at more traditional patterns before, she was glad she had taken the opportunity to create her own systems for the show. She said most of the time, a systematic artist’s process involves thinking about conceptual ideas and giving themselves a direction, usually in the form of the rules they create or follow. While the entire process seemed lightyears ahead of any art I’ve encountered or even attempted before, Nishigawara made the idea seem incredibly enticing. Who knows, maybe the next art project I attempt will involve my own systems and might create such unique and interesting work as hers.

After talking to Nishigawara for quite a while, I somewhat accidentally began talking to the artist Sheila Ann Rodriguez, whose show, Uprooted, I had just seen across the courtyard and loved. After learning she was the artist, I was eager to find out more about her work.

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Rodriguez posed for a picture inside her gallery

Rodriguez said she got her start as a Drawing and Painting major, though now her focus has shifted to fiber arts. Her first work with textiles resembled costumes, but since then she has expanded her vision to be more abstract. For this show, she used not only her experience with textiles, but also photo emulsion techniques similar to those used in screen printing. Many of the photos she used featured a “barrier” like a fence to add an extra layer to the images and give the work much more depth as well as break the idea of the house as a home.

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Wood blocks featured emulsion images of abandoned houses from her current neighborhood. Rodriguez said she actually liked the less perfect, more experimental prints from her first tries the most. The more realistic, perfect prints she made she ended up painting over in white.

Since she had moved a lot as a child, she viewed the idea of “home” much differently than most. She thought it was strange we put so much emphasis on appearances, and we laughed at the house flipping shows in which they basically just repaint and cover up aesthetic problems. We talked about how we value the idea of home so much and think of our houses as almost sacred places, where we can relax and unwind and keep our things. Yet, we forget or cover up the fact that it has not only ever been ours; often many people have lived in a home throughout the years, yet we tend to think of our houses as belonging to only us. As someone who has lived in virtually the same house all my life, it was interesting seeing the view of someone who’d been so “uprooted”; her work offered many observations I had previously not truly seen, much less deeply thought about, and it made me love her pieces even more.

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Rodriguez said she wanted to make a cul-de-sac in her gallery, since she always dreamed of living in one as a child. At the end of her “cul-de-sac” were three white houses with cut out windows full of advertisements for remodeling services and new appliances, again playing off the aesthetic obsession. The houses were strung together to what looked like a bag on the floor (which would be funny since “cul-de-sac” translates to “bottom of the bag”).

She liked the idea of repurposing things, and therefore many of the pieces she used were either found or bought from places like Habitat for Humanity. The wood blocks she used were offcuts from reclaimed wood used for housing, which further played into the theme of the show. The fibers, Rodriguez said, were mostly remnants found on the floors of places she had moved into over the years. It’s amazing how much hair, strings, dust, and other things we leave behind, and talking about it (and maybe too much binge-watching of late night serial killer shows) gave me an eerie feeling about living in ‘my’ house (and gave me a deep need to sweep). Perhaps Rodriguez intentionally used these “reclaimed” fibers to promote such a feeling, but it seemed more to show how we put all of ourselves – almost literally – into where we live. With these fibers, she created yarns, then used processes like weaving, sewing, and lacing to create the intricate textile nests currently on display. In the room, many of these intertwined yarns connect to either the ceilings or floor, which adds to the feeling of “rooting” and may suggest the levels of history beneath the houses exterior.

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The fibers Rodriguez used seemed almost like birds’ nests, with pieces of hair, string, and other random fibers woven together yet still somewhat exploding apart. Perhaps this was intentional – playing on bird’s “houses” does seem to fit quite nicely into the theme of the work. Some of the strings were painted over white to again show how much we cover up.

Overall, I had a truly amazing time talking to both Nishigawara and Rodriguez about their exceptional work. I got to discover new artistic techniques I had never heard of and think in ways I may never have imagined. Their pieces are not just beautiful, they are also incredibly inspiring, and I wish them both all the best in their artistic endeavors at CSULB and onward.

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