Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Interview: Joseph Grigely and Amy Vogel

Installation views from 'Joseph Grigely and Amy Vogel: Inside the Outside,' courtesy of Alderman Exhibitions

Joseph Grigely and Amy Vogel are both accomplished artists and full-time faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. They're also sincere collaborators, both in generating art and in raising their adopted son, Girma. Joseph Grigely, who has been deaf since the age of ten, uses a variety of media to investigate the visual manifestation of sound. He's represented by Gallery Air de Paris and his work can be found in the collections of museums including the Tate Modern, London; the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Amy Vogel is a painter and multimedia artist exploring themes of nature, solitude and desire through layers of pigment. Her work has been exhibited widely, including shows at Larissa Goldston in New York, Paul Kotula Projects in Detroit, Edward Mitterrand Gallery in Geneva, and Gallery Air de Paris in Paris. 

'Joseph Grigely and Amy Vogel: Inside the Outside' opened this December at Alderman Exhibitions. The duo has since continued to reconfigure, reinvent and even re-title the exhibition, now called 'This Isn't How it Looks,' over the past month and a half. Featuring the warmth of a wood burning stove, the work of hunters, fly-fishermen, and fellow artists, and the lingering scent of pine needles, this multisensory show ends on February 16th. Catch it while you can!

CR: To start things off, describe your son in your own words:

Amy:  Girma is five, and he's in constant motion.  He's, boisterous, funny, loving, happy, rascally, social, dramatic, and -- intense.

Uh -- can we just show pictures of Girma instead? 

CR: You each have a distinct artistic practice for which you’re known, but you’ve also worked collaboratively for years. How do you approach collaboration, and how is this different from your individual work?

Amy: Our collaborations are never planned or scheduled; they just happen from discussions and both the material and subject matter ranges extremely.  We don’t collaborate that often officially but unofficially, with each other’s work, continually.  We keep saying we should do more collaborations and then it doesn’t happen as, again, they seem to happen when they happen, as opposed to our individual work which is simply ongoing. 

View from 'Inside the Outside,' courtesy Alderman Exhibitions
Joseph: As Amy said, most of our work is imbricated in one way or another--we're constantly conferring with each other about projects, and so there's implicit collaboration in pretty much everything we do.  We share a studio also, and it's a comfortable situation for both of us.  I'm lucky I like Amy's work so much, I get to look at it every day.  Our recent show at Alderman started off as a two person show, then evolved as a collaborative curatorial project when we invited other people to participate, and then evolved further in terms of an individual collaboration within the show: a glass model of Duchamp's "Air de Paris", which we retitled as the title of the exhibition itself--"Inside the Outside."  Amy did a lot of work on making the wax maquettes for the glass, and I did a lot of legwork getting them fabricated--it took over 6 months--so this is an example of how our collaborations sometimes simply happen.

CR: Speaking of collaboration, how do you strike a balance (or attempt to) between artmaking, teaching, and family? Any strategies you’d share with new parents struggling to maintain a creative practice while raising young children?

Amy:  I’m not sure there is a balance, just the need to do all three: teaching, art and family.  One person always ends up taking on more of one responsibility or another and one of the biggest challenges is not competing for who is doing more.  For me it’s crucial that your
Family Portrait, Fall 2011
partner values the work you’re doing (in all areas) and that there is a give and take in whose work takes priority etc.   I really don’t have any strategies to share –  I’m not sure how working moms do it and I suppose I’m doing it.  If I would say anything it would be to be fair to yourself, find what works for you, your child and family and not think that there is one way to do it.

Joseph:  When we became parents, we didn't think it would be too hard to keep working our usual way--we imagined having a pack-and-play in the studio, where Girma could sleep and play as we worked.  We were so naive, we actually believed ourselves!    And we were so bloody wrong.  We just try to do what we can when we can, and sometimes we have to drop something for the sake of something else.  Once, when I was truly exasperated, I asked Stephanie Brooks: "does it get easier?" And Steph replied--"well, not easier, it just gets different."

CR: Do you find that parenthood has affected your creative practice and/or the work itself? If so, how?

Amy: In terms of subject matter it hasn’t, I think what it has done is make me re-question and re-value what I am doing.

Joseph:  As Amy said, I don't think that being a parent has changed the subject matter of our work.  But it has changed how we work: I don't travel nearly as much as I used to, either to do projects or give lectures--because they just don't pay for themselves in terms of time and money.  If you do a lecture for $1,000, and have to fly to NY or LA, and it takes two or three days, it means the additional cost of baby sitters, dog walkers, and familial stress--it just isn't worth it.  There's less time available for art, so you try to make the best of that time--time is the Holy Grail.

CR: Who have been your role models for artist-parenting / parent-artisting?

Amy:  Unfortunately there really weren’t many role models for me – even in the capacity of
Amy reading to Girma and his friend Tsinat, 2012
working mothers. There were few women artists in academia and fewer that were mothers and those that were never really brought it up. In graduate school I studied with the ceramic artist Viola Frey who never married or had children and even cut herself off from her family because she did the math and figured that family visits took a total of 2 weeks a year away from the studio and that was too much.  I would hide the fact I had a boyfriend around her.  The one bit of advice that I did hear and that stuck with me was when Betty Woodman once answered a question from a student about how she balanced being an artist and a mother and she said that you have to treat the studio like a job – which means setting a schedule and adhering to it. You wouldn’t be late for your job so if it’s your studio day and you plan to be there by 9:00 but the house is a mess and the dishes and laundry are piled up, you just leave it all and get to the studio.  I try to follow that though it’s not always possible when it comes to doctor’s appointments etc. You can’t miss teaching for those things so it has to come from studio time.

For a long time I didn't know many artist-parents--especially older artist-parents like us-- so I don't really have much to go on.   When I lived in NY, most of my artist friends didn't have children.  I have many more friends in Europe who have kids--Maki Suzuki, Marco Poloni, Olafur Eliasson, Carsten Holler--and when you look at the kind of child care and health care you get in Europe, it makes sense.  I think the challenge when you're teaching and making art and raising a family is to be happy with more subtle and more modest things. 

CR: How has parenthood impacted your relationship to the art world... and how does the art world shape the culture of your family?

Amy:  We use to go see a lot of work – openings, exhibitions, lectures – and that certainly has changed.  I had imagined we’d simply bring our child with us as I’ve seen some parents do, and then quickly realized that this was not to be with Girma; so we certainly are less involved then we use to be.  We could probably rotate more nights out but when you are away 5 to 6 days a week it’s critical to me to spend time with Girma.  I know this is important for all families but perhaps I had felt it more acutely with an adopted child.  Bonding isn’t just a biological thing, it takes time and developing an intimacy.

Fishing in the Adirondacks, 2010
Joseph: Plus, in our case, Girma is also learning sign language, and this makes the bonding process a little more complicated than if we all just spoke English.  Also, as Amy said, we don't go out for openings or travel for projects as much as we used to. But we do other things that are important in other ways -- we spend a month every summer in the Adirondacks, hiking, fishing, swimming, and spending time with friends -- Girma has two friends who were adopted from the same orphanage who live there.  We don't get much done in the way of art when we are out in the sticks--but we write, and plan, and look at the world from a different angle -- and this ends up in our art in various ways.

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