Michael Hook’s works are often dry media on paper, but will occasionally introduce wet media like paint or watercolor for contrasting marks. While he was educated in Missouri and now teaches in South Dakota, his works maintain a fondness for landscapes – more specifically, “farmscapes”, and the horizontal compositions that these environments suggest. Drawing also from microscopic marks and forms, his final pieces read like serial processes and comparisons, lending themselves happily to abstract thoughts or melding of scales and realities.
In a cramped studio apartment (sometimes more “studio” than “apartment”), Audrey Stommes’ makes artwork illustrating dreams and the moments before sleep. The close-proximity between her bed and easel is reflected in the format of her works; measuring roughly the size of a mattress. Don’t let the large scale fool you, though - these works are intimate. Dark colors, careful textures, and erratic forms illustrate the fantastic landscapes that permeate our subconscious. Audrey grew up in South Dakota, received her MFA from UNL, and has participated in multiple artist residencies before her current position teaching in Minnetonka.
Cultural appropriation is a sticky topic for any creative or ethno-curious individual, and all the more difficult in the melting pot of America. Zach DeBoer’s work places a spectrum of religious and cultural icons against each other using High Art and Low Art materials which illustrate the often chaotic meld of ideas that we use to develop a worldview. Formally, the pieces maintain balance, single perspective, and the reverence that we often associate with altars, busts, and other religious artifacts.
Zach owns and operates “Exposure Gallery & Studios” in downtown Sioux Falls, where he hosts shows and studio space for emerging artists. Zach’s work can be seen in his upcoming exhibitat Ipso Gallery in Sioux Falls, November through January.
The Local Artist sat down with Matthew West in his studio at Exposure, downtown Sioux Falls. Above the arrhythmic chatter of his 3D printer, we talked about the distinctions of being an artist and a “maker,” ecology, and spirituality. Matthew grew up in Sioux Falls, graduated from Rutgers in New Jersey, and has lived around the nation before moving back to South Dakota.
The Local Artist [TLA]: It’s great to see your studio. Do you make all your work here?
Matthew West [MW]: Unless I need other tools that I keep in my mom’s garage. For my larger works, I make parts here and assemble them elsewhere.
TLA: What medium do you work with mostly?
MW: I work often with ceramics, plaster, or cement, and try to reclaim materials when I can. Cement and plastic can’t really be reclaimed; I’m making 3D printed plastic things because I’m in this small space.
TLA: So, why cement or plaster?
MW: The tactile material itself. The feeling. The process of sanding it, and the physicality of the final piece in the end resonates with me. I think it has a richer history than plastics. I love taking new technologies and bringing them back to old processes. I think if we went to an all-digital way of making things, we’d lose both the process that built things, and the way of thinking that led to those processes.
I own many books published by people who worked in mold factories, making tile or whatever. Those kinds of makers blow me away more than artists do. I think of the relationship to materials and physical labor that I found in ceramics and building houses with my dad… those are things you can’t fake, and those are the people who are doing real things. I had the chance to see Buckminster Fuller’s work in the Whitney in 2007-8 and it was mind-blowing to see an entire person’s vocabulary in a single space. That man was a thinker in a really sci-fi way. He thought “this is the world I want to exist, so I’m going to make it.”
TLA: You talked about makers being cooler than artists. The artist’s hand, your own hand, etc. How did you come by those thoughts?
MW: I worked for the company that Jeff Koons bought to do stone works. Advanced Stone Technologies, and now it’s something artisan, and we made his pieces for him. I think makers are artists, but they just don’t get the credit for it. “Blue chip” artists like Koons will sell out before they even open a show, and that’s interesting to me. But, as someone who doesn’t necessarily value those commercial components (I’m not rollin’ around in a BMW or anything), he’s a good producer. He’s just not, to me, the artist who makes his work. The people I know who are making his work are amazing artists. They make better work on their own, but you’ll never see it, unless you know them and they have a show. They think about ideas that are bigger and grander than Koons.
Richard Serra is someone that has more of a hand in his work, but I also think that the things he makes are just better. That’s my opinion, but his body of work speaks to me much more than Koons’ work. when you walk into a room with Serra’s work… you’re confronted with something that speaks to human beings’ relationships to objects that are usually much larger than their bodies.
TLA: How does a ceramacist like yourself end up doing 3D printing?
When I was at Rutgers I ran into a digital fabrication class. I built a CNC mill, and got a job doing fabrication for a few artists before I graduated. That’s when I realized the computer could be just like a piece of clay if you learn how to manipulate it right. I think that’s possible for everybody, you just gotta figure out how to open that door. Like people who say “I cant draw.” Well, yeah… you can draw. You just have to learn how to draw. Someone has to walk you through it in a way you understand.
TLA: Why move back to South Dakota from the east coast?
MW: Primarily for my 2-year-old son. I thought “why live somewhere else when I have roots here already?” My friends, my family live here, and some acquintances. To go somewhere new and put down roots is a lot of work.
TLA: What do you think about being back?
MW: Sioux Falls is on the cusp of a really good local foods movement, and farming/growing is a big interest of mine. We’ve also got a relatively progressive culture. Don’t get me wrong; we still have a lot of work to do, but Sioux Falls has a lot of love for Sioux Falls. That’s sort of what I love about this town. When I lived in NYC we put on rad little art shows, but it was hard work getting people to come to your space. But here, on one of the busiest streets in downtown on a Friday night, you can just say “hey we’re having this event, you should come,” And then a boatload of people will come to hang out and chat. That’s mindblowing to me. So as an artist here, I’m super happy.
TLA: A lot of people have the idea that it’s the other way around, but…
MW: No, no. For sure. Some people the other night told me how they wanted to go to Portland for the great art scene, and I said “yeah, you’ll be one person of many people just like you. But here in Sioux Falls, you’re the only person like you, and you can make your space and develop your own following here. You can actually change a city or the state for the better.” Portland doesn’t need any more of that, but Sioux Falls needs more people like that. I’m amazed at how much art… and GOOD art is here. There’s poor art all over the world, but there’s a lot of good art in Sioux Falls.
TLA: In your opinion, what makes something “local?”
MW: I think having a personal connection to a place makes something local. Knowing people and people knowing you. You develop narratives about each other, and I think that’s when you start to break the ground of being local. I see my 2-year-old son relating to the world around him, and going to a Sertoma park just like I did. That’s awesome. You can’t really place a value on that. But being a white male and moving back to Sioux Falls is fairly easy. I won’t deny my priviledge as a white male – I try to keep that in mind.
TLA: How has South Dakota effected your development?
MW: I grew up on 57th and Marion, shamrock circle. It had large cornfields and spaces with big oak trees and lilac bushes; that was awesome. You could run around and play. Everything was big, the buildings were big, the ideas were big, because the sky was big. And that’s probably true anywhere, but I think South Dakota is especially vivid and playful. I think art is playful. My art and the things I do are about play. And that’s not to say play isn’t theoretical or academic. I don’t want to dumb it down; play is a very dynamic thing… it’s undervalued.
When I moved back, I realized the landscape was so engrained in my being that as soon as I saw it, I couldn’t really quantify the feeling. When a person grows up in an area and it begins to permeate them and define them as a human being, because you make things, you remember images, you tell stories. When I left Sioux Falls, I had that conversation with myself, what does it mean to be someone from South Dakota out here in New Jersey where it’s completely different? I looked up in the sky and instead of seeing stars I saw airplanes. I’d think I saw a star but then you look at it for awhile and then it starts moving.
TLA: Are you showing or selling your artwork anywhere?
MW: Yeah! I open up my studio at Exposure on every first friday, and I’m selling these 3D printed buffalo at Zanbro’s in downtown Sioux Falls.
Having grown up in Hawaii, and relocated to South Dakota to study photography, Leah Schretenthaler has experienced a blunt contrast in landscapes. Where she previously saw infinite oceans, she now finds vast cornfields, and where she held comfortability with tide pools, she now sees rural lakes. This variance in landscapes allows Leah’s figures to interact with foliage, stone, water, etc. At some points they blend, and at others they fall into contrast. Furthermore, the prostrate pose is in some shots unified with the environment and in others, disparate, but in all photos, emotional.
Leah’s current work revolves around a series entitled the “Body Weight Project” which can be seen at facebook.com/bodyweightproject, with a forthcoming exhibition.