Nirmal Raja & Leslie Vansen • Accumulation
March 12 – May 6, 2017
Accumulation is a mixed media exhibition featuring current and recent works by Nirmal Raja and Leslie Vansen. This show has evolved from their shared interest in accumulation and complexity, and investigates their understanding of the present moment. Themes of figurative presence in space, perspective shifts, layered and simultaneous experiences, and dualities are explored using repetition, accumulation, scale, and medium manipulations.
The intangible and the ever changing are fascinating places to explore in my work. As a transplanted individual living between two cultures, I am constantly trying to identify where and how I fit into a place. Liminal concepts like memory and perception of time and space are natural extensions for this exploration. I address remembrance as transitional: how we add to, subtract from, and refract our memories and our understanding of location. I do this through experimenting with materials and techniques. The Shadow Accretion series explores the slow accumulation of experiences as we pass through life and how each experience impresses its shadow on us and changes us in incremental and often unnoticed ways. I mimic this process using a printmaking method (diffused relief printing) that is an accretion of impressions that are translucent, layered and sometimes barely noticeable individually. Gathering Moss is a tongue in cheek response to the age-old saying that “a rolling stone gathers no moss”. I believe our lives are a slow accumulation of experiences that impact and change us in incremental ways. Simple forms when multiplied become strong statements much like the cairns by the beach that personify balance and stability. In this body of work, I respond to collected silk and cotton sari fabric, manipulating them with dye and screen printing.
The images in my paintings are literally, concretely "constructed" from obvious "abstract" components of visual forms - surface, lines, color, space. These embody a repetitive continuum of memory and association with nature and architecture as experienced daily in an urban context. No reference to one place or moment is intended; cumulative sensations of existence become visual force fields and remembered repetitive interactions. Cyclical events which shape space, control form and encourage or inhibit change are evoked metaphorically through methodical applications of paint which conceal and reveal their layered identities. The paintings’ scale corresponds to my own physical presence in space; their surfaces report the actions of my body. The paintings are chaotic meanderings intersected by imposed structural grids. The juxtaposition of meander and structure generates "time," postpones solution and avoids hierarchy. The dynamic limbo and inherent contradictions within order, chaos and inexorable outcome give the work its associations with nature and the familiarity of social interactions. Where expression is possible here, it is accessible via analogy, metaphor, tactile presence, and viewer confrontation. Every procedural tactile step taken in the construction of the paintings is made insistently visible, recording the “work” that has made the existence of the finished painting possible. At the same time, the logic of that visible process is “hidden in plain sight” in the final image. Duration and methodology consume themselves to disappear into the history of their own making and become something else, obvious, unavoidable and quite different from the original intentions.
NIRMAL RAJA is an inter-disciplinary artist living and working in Milwaukee, WI. Raja received a Bachelor's of Arts in English Literature in India, a diploma in Graphic Design from the Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting & Drawing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is a mentoring resident at Redline Milwaukee, an urban arts incubator and community print shop, and teaches at the University of Wisconsin and other institutions on a part-time basis. She has participated in solo and group shows in the Midwest, nationally and internationally. She has won several awards and grants including a recent grant from Wisconsin Arts Board and the Milwaukee Arts Board supporting an exhibition at Redline, and a grant from the Mary Nohl Suitcase Fund.
Most often, her work deals with concepts of displacement, cultural negotiation, and memory. www.nirmalraja.com
LESLIE VANSEN teaches painting and drawing courses from introductory through graduate levels. She makes acrylic paintings on canvas, paper, and paper board that are presented regularly in invitational and juried exhibitions, and are held in numerous public, private, and corporate collections nationwide, including both the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Racine Art Museum. The paintings present metaphoric investigations into the functions of work, time, and repetitive figurative movement through space, suggesting, by analogy and abstraction, the residue of human action on its immediate environment. Her work was most recently featured in the “Systems for Abstraction” exhibition at the James Watrous Gallery in Madison, Wisconsin and the 2015 exhibition, “Interface: Meetings of Art and Technology” at UWM’s Union Art Gallery. During 2014/2015 she produced the animation projections for the UWM Dance Department’s restaging of Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset. In 2008, Vansen collaborated with Luc Vanier (Dance) and Christopher Burns (Music) for the Peck School of the Arts production, Triptych, and was the subject of a solo exhibition at Lawrence University’s Wriston Art Center Galleries.
The following questions are intended to provide insight into the artist's process, how they got started and what inspires them.
What was the first thing that you made? Do you remember why you made it? What materials did you use and why?
NR: Some of the first things I made are not really defined as “art” in the conventional sense of the word. I grew up in India with a rich culture of indigenous aesthetic traditions that are embedded in ritual, religion, and culture. I grew up making ephemeral sand drawings every morning with my grandmother during the summers when I visited her. These drawing are called rangoli, muggu, or kolam depending on the region in India. Rangolis are made using lines that either go around or connect a grid of dots. White sand is used on freshly mopped earth in front of the home and these designs slowly disappear through the day as people walk and drive over them. Fresh designs are made again in the morning. Notions of ephemerality, impermanence and change still remain strong influences in my work.
LV: My earliest memories of making things are a kind of constant activity in my childhood home where “making things” happened all the time. The materials were usually paper and crayons or tempera paint. Linoleum cuts for Christmas cards were added materials once the “sharps” became tools and not dangerous weapons.
How and when did you know you were an artist?
NR: I felt the creative impulse for as long as I can remember. The art classes at school were very minimal but I remember enjoying them tremendously. I didn’t have much access to art materials and I enjoyed making drawings with simple graphite pencils on notebook paper and loved doing scientific illustrations for science classes. I knew that was the only thing I wanted to do when I grew up.
LV: Sometime in the first two years of undergraduate school, I stopped resisting my mother’s background and career activities as a painter to accept the fact that I was going to follow in her footsteps (very hard act to follow!)
What was the event/person that got you started creating your art? Does that event/person continue to influence the work that you do?
NR: I started using materials in an expressive and communicative way only after coming to the United States about 25 years ago. Migration remains one of the most important influences in my work. Notions of displacement, the passage of time, and the malleability of memory continue to be persistent themes that I explore. None of my work would have been possible without the support of my husband. His continued and unwavering interest in my work is what keeps me going. He is my first critic and my sounding board for ideas. Our conversations are rich with explorations of the big and small questions of life that eventually make their way into my work.
LV: My mother was a constant influence from the beginning (artist, art activist, art teacher, art fund raiser, community art organizer, exhibition juror, newspaper art critic, art mentor, you name it!) Two teachers were also instrumental. One was a seventh grade art teacher who encouraged me to go to a Summer Art and Music camp at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. That experience made me realize the people my age took art making very seriously and were extremely inventive and skilled. The second teacher was as printmaking faculty member at the University of Iowa, Virginia Meyers, who talked constantly about how one never stops being an artist and what that could mean outside of a classroom.
Who or what inspires you and why?
NR: Other artists inspire me a great deal. I learn different strategies of approaching subject matter. Mostly, I like to listen to artists talking about their work and how they resolve certain obstacles in their work and careers. Some of my favorite artists are Bill Viola, Clyfford Still, Agnes Martin, William Kentridge, Kiki Smith, Zarina Hashmi, etc. I am also inspired by indigenous art forms and materials from India and other cultures. I continue to read about various subjects such as philosophy, culture, physics, and spirituality. Research is a big part of my work.
LV: Being in all kinds of landscapes (walking, biking, hiking, camping, cooking) has been a constant source of ideas and imagery for my work. Desert and mountain trails have been especially important for their duration, light, and simultaneous visual continuity and surprise. Other people’s art and the arts of other cultures and times also play a constant role in my thinking and making. Much of this kind of influence came about in my first full-time teaching job with regular access for six year to museums in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York and with travel to museums all over the U.S.
Are there any programs or opportunities to learn that you wish you had had as a young artist?
NR: Early childhood art education in elementary and middle schools was non-existent when I grew up in India. It is very different now of course. I wish I had more access to art materials and guidance in how to express myself during my childhood and teenage years.
LV: I was extremely fortunate to have had so much opportunity as a child and student and then immediately after my degree programs when acceptance into juried shows (those are not very frequent anymore!) and teaching were immediately part of my life. It’s hard for me to ask for “more” when younger, when “more” was a lot of what I had, even though it took me until I became an adult to realize the value of those experiences.
What would you say to a young person to encourage their study and practice of art?
NR: Never give up. Keep on trying and pushing forward however minuscule the progress might be. Nothing beats persistence and hard work. Connect with other artists. Never stop learning and trying new things.
LV: Do it! Don’t stop. Every day.