MAKERS: Corrie Slawson
“It’s all about the stairs” said Corrie Slawson as I entered her lovely Cleveland Heights century home where both her studio and her printing outfit “Ping Pong Press” are located. I wasn’t sure what she meant about the stairs until she said, “So I think we should go top to bottom”. So off we went up two staircases to reach her attic studio, but this is no ordinary garret. The beautiful eaved room was bathed in sunlight, with a view of the treetops out the large window at the end of the long room.
Most of her studio is taken up by a large table – a workspace filled with works in progress, tools, photographs, scraps, paints, etc. This is the kind of controlled chaos that I expected, being familiar with her multi-media creations. Some people refer to Slawson as a print-maker, but that’s only one aspect of her creative output. She draws and paints as much as she prints, her photography is actually quite outstanding, and her use of delicate gold leaf is a repeating motif.
It’s all here – the gold leaf, old screens, paints, pencils, you name it. Slawson is surrounded by the tools of her trade, so I asked her what her favorite tool was – the one thing she couldn’t live without. Slawson explained:
“Ha ha! The dilemma of the mixed media artist. ALL of them? Ok, desert island, I could just have a pencil honestly, but a camera is pretty important (secretly, I am a pretty ok photographer). My vacuum cleaner is pretty important for metal leafing. I will use whatever is available where ever I am. I have tricked out my house to have all of the things I need, but when we did a family residency in Tijuana, with limited traditional studio access, I used paper litho and paint because it was readily available (there are Office Depots everywhere, I learn). I like the challenge of being limited to figure out how to communicate the ideas in my work, which goes back to some of what I started with above.
There was some quote by DeKooning that I always liked about the AbEx artists “not having to be a baseball team” – I think he was referring to the idea that they all were lumped together as if they worked one certain way when really, they changed their own practices as they grew. I entered art through drawing, then painting, then, because of the GPA I had to maintain at Parsons to keep my scholarship, I basically had to overload my schedule each Semester so I would take Print and Photo. I am so grateful because those classes made me a better artist.
I have hamster brain, in many ways, the different media allow me to focus, and I always end up back at painting and drawing…”
I don’t want to reveal too much – but above is a detail of some of these new pieces, that are loosely themed around sci-fi stories and scenarios created by Slawson’s husband. As for technique, Slawson explained: “the skeletons are print-based but the ‘labor’ was largely painting and drawing.” This is obvious when you look over the surface of these new works, covered with luxurious textures, shapes, and colors – all created by hand with paint and colored pencils.
Slawson doesn’t do any of her print-making in the attic studio – you have to go down three flights of stairs (yes, more stairs) to reach “Ping Pong Press” her small print studio in the basement (aptly named as you can see – the ping pong table has been transformed into a work surface).
Having her own printmaking studio allows her the freedom to experiment, and also to collaborate with others – most recently she worked with Darice Polo on her “Seeds of Colonialism” exhibition.
Slawson is clearly a highly skilled print-maker, but her willingness to abandon/switch/change-up her techniques is refreshing. I don’t get the sense that she is tied down to any single process of way of making. She approaches each project as a problem to be solved, and finds value in setting aside something she is comfortable with to try something new:
“A very wise and influential professor of mine once suggested that as soon as I ‘know’ my process that I take steps to willingly upset that – e.g., if I start with a screen print, try starting with litho, or make etchings on roofing aluminum, it changes things….and if I don’t know a process I will pour myself into learning it.”
Getting outside one’s comfort zone is difficult for anyone, but the fearlessness with which Slawson works reveals some serious courage and strength – but I always knew she was strong. The very first time I saw Slawson’s work it was on a 70-foot-long glass partition for the occasion of MOCA Cleveland’s move to their new space. There is an excellent video showing her working on this giant glass canvas – you can watch her meticulously screen and delicately apply gold-leaf. I imagine it takes a lot of guts to lay down that first screen, looking at the vast expanse of glass that you will eventually cover – I wonder what her secret is… Maybe it’s all those stairs…?