Saturday, February 21, 2009

Art Space Talk: Emily Maddigan

Emily Maddigan creates sculptural forms and collages that reflect aspects of her youth-- a childhood of knitting, crocheting, sewing, and beading. However, these forms convey a foreboding sense of decay that is beyond the nightmares and innocence of a child. Her adult-size figures play on our curiosity for the macabre-- while exposing our tendency to be attracted to the tragedy of others where otherwise we would not have cared.

Maddigan’s artwork invites viewer interpretation-- one can almost imagine peeling away the flesh-like surfaces of her figures in order to investigate their inner-workings. An artist on comment on Maddigan’s art, stating, "Familiar and safe objects/materials have never been more eerie." Emily Maddigan received her BFA from Michigan State University and her MFA from California State University Long Beach in 2004.

Brian Sherwin: Emily, you studied at Michigan State University and California State University. Can you tell us about your academic background? Did you have any influential instructors or peers?

Emily Maddigan: Sure, I studied ceramics at Michigan State and traveled abroad a few times. I studied ceramics at Cal State Long Beach and illegally lived in my studio for a year and a half; I suppose the teachers that new this was going on were some of the most supportive. Influential teachers gave me the freedom to do whatever I felt I needed to make.
They were interested in watching me progress without trying to show me down a certain path. I guess they understood that I had a loud voice and I didn’t need some of the things that the other students needed, OR maybe they knew I was just going to do my own thing no matter what. Guess it’s debatable!

BS: Can you go into detail about your art? Give us some insight into the thoughts behind your work…

EM: If I feel a certain way, see something unjust, or maybe I’m feeling angry I make work about it. I aim to understand the best I can how I think and process my thoughts and opinions. Some of the ceramic work dealt with my interpretation of my traditional, reserved up bringing in Michigan.
The latest “Ladies” series came about when I moved into an apartment were the last tenant Mary Brown had been committed to a mental hospital. No one came to pick up her stuff. Stacks and stacks of suitcases just sitting outside for days. Finally I just started using the materials inside. At the same time a friend of mine was calculating her ovulation to get pregnant and then jumped off the deep end and became obsessive about her pregnant body. I just react to the life and situations around me.

BS: You work between mediums… you work in collage, sculptural forms, ceramics, among others. How does one body of work inform the others? For example, does your work in collage influences your sculptural work?

EM: I would say they all inform each other, I’m the one making the stuff so I think that might be inevitable. It has been awhile since I had a facility were I could make the type of ceramic forms I would want to make. So I did something else I made the ladies. My living room and kitchen are studio spaces. I have one chair. I live with all of it; it covers the walls, hangs out in the corners, and fills the closets. I see them all together so when I first read this question I had a hard time even separating them from one another.
Some of my work I see as art and some are just things, not sure what that is about. Making things has been such a consistent thing in my life since I was a kid. I hardly have any shows, I just make things, and when I need room I throw it out, or donate it to the thrift store, one time I sold some work at a garage sale.

BS: What is the specific message you strive to convey to viewers concerning your art? Are there any specific themes that you explore?

EM: I want viewers to have an experience. See something for the first time, or see something in a different way. I suppose, to inspire some curiosity. I get bored easily; I always need to be doing something. So I strive to make something people actually will spend time looking and exploring. I really could care less if they feel about it the way I do. If they feel anything at all I’ve done a good job. I suppose that is the aim.
Everyday we pass by tons of people and feel nothing for them? If something or someone is pathetic enough, like an extreme tragedy on TV, all of a sudden we care. That isn’t me. I care all the time. I suppose my sculptures at times are tragic enough that you feel for them….a sculpture.

BS: Can you tell us more about your influences? For example, are you influenced by any specific artists, world events, or movements in art and culture?

EM: Oh, I suppose the educated side is suppose to ramble off all the artists who have come before me that have paved the way for me to even think and consider making work the way I do, but that doesn’t necessarily relate to anything. I’m drawn to artists who perhaps live in their own art world, like Lenard Knight, living out at Salvation Mountain, the mountain he made. I go out to Slab City and visit him every winter and Noah Purifoy whose property, out in Joshua Tree City, is flooded with outdoor installations and other sculptures.

BS: What can you tell us about your process in general? Give us some insight into how you work…

EM: Let me tell you about some of my studios/homes and that should explain something. In Graduate school I shared a studio with 4 other students. I moved in. My studio floor was covered in about two feet of fabric, random plant material, and trash barrels full of paper slip. Paper slip begins to rot after awhile and grow mold and at that time I would pull all kinds of stuff out of the trash and drag it into my studio. The space was about 11 feet by 10 feet. I slept on a cot, had to hide it every morning, but the studio had sculptures hanging from the ceiling and covering every inch of the place, so a simple cot was easy to overlook.
Next was my apartment in Glendale. I made the “ladies” series there. I just decided to plunge into it and start making 4 of them in the living room. The kitchen was already dedicated to making lights out of hair rollers, so I laid down some cardboard and just went for it. Paper Mache madness in the living room, those pieces are seven feet tall. I’m sure my neighbors had a lot to talk about.
The floor got so crowded with tons of fabric, and every other material I needed, and then there was a bit of a cricket problem, I was glad to move out of there. The funny thing is I don’t even see it until I look back at photos I took, or someone comes by and there is no furniture to sit on, and they say something about how “crazy” my house is. I just live it.

BS: Do you have any concerns about the art world at this time? For example, there has been a lot of debate recently about copyright and the rights of artists. Do you have an opinion on issues such as that?

EM: As far as copyright goes… I think it is all so sticky. I use old “master” paintings. I was making clothing for awhile and a friend said that someone will see the style and just change it a little and make millions off it. I’m not sure I care. I had a professor once who made more money suing people than making his own work. Not the kind of road I care to go down. I guess a shout out is always nice.

BS: What about the internet? One could say that the art world is starting to catch up-- more galleries are turning to the World Wide Web in order to further exposure for their artists. How do you think the internet will impact the art world in say… a decade? Can you see a meshing between the traditional market and alternative (online) markets taking shape?

EM: Sure I can see a shift in the arts with the help of the internet. I think it is a great thing. The Internet provides new work to look at, less of the same people deciding what is good/gallery worthy and what isn’t. I think that is important. For me, I am a hermit. I hardly have shows, so the internet, especially your site, has been great for me. I can share my work with people all over the world, to me that is what is important.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?

EM: My goals….Well someday soon my work will travel around the world!! HAHAHA! Seriously my goal is to just do what I do. I’m now the influential teacher. I give my students the OK to follow what they want, It was important for me as a student and now I can provide that to others, it’s a great gift to inspire people.
You can learn more about Emily Maddigan by visiting her profile, Here . You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page,
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange
London Calling

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