Artist/Artist: Jessica Pinsky interviews Christi Birchfield & Christi Birchfield interviews Jessica Pinsky
Jessica Pinsky interviews Christi Birchfield
Jessica Pinsky: You have a background in printmaking, and your undergraduate and graduate degrees are both in print.
Christi Birchfield: Correct.
JP: But drawing is such an important part of your process.
CB: Printmaking has given me the formula for building a piece. Layers become important—thinking about not only a singular image, but how, visually, your eyes can blend different layers together. My goal is to make a drawing where you’re not looking directly at something, but creating this visual experience where it feels like maybe you’re looking at something through the corner of your eye or through a veil.
JP: The practice of repeating informs your process. I was thinking about your old studio—
CB: The Clark studio?
JP: —drawings with graphite powder and their fuzziness. Is that “seeing peripherally”? Where the viewer contributes their energy to bring something into clarity?
CB: I want an experience of discovery for the viewer…where the work isn’t taken in immediately, where there is a reveal that takes place in the viewing. For example, if I wanted to draw the image of a star hanging from a windowpane, the shadow of the star becomes almost more important than actually creating the star—a kind of offset of light—so that we understand the world not by seeing it, but by seeing the effects of light. This is how I like to think about framing the world, too.
JP: I’m thinking about after you actually, physically cut out the wall of your studio. Can you talk about performance and physicality?
CB: Yes. The act of making work is this physical experience: being in it, the interaction with materials, and the labor of making work. I Give, I Take happened when I was being forced out of the studio I had been in for many years by the management, who were raising my rent.
I’d built up this patina on my studio wall where I made my drawings, and that portion of the space, at least, was more mine than it was theirs. Their authority made me feel like the space that was so much mine, was not mine. So I was at least going to take my wall with me.
It seemed like this easy act—I was just going cut out this portion of drywall. And it became clear that you can’t remove drywall so easily. I ended up showing the portion of the wall in a show. And I very nicely replaced the wall.
JP: But the replacement wasn’t the original wall. Do you think that that piece helped you get off the wall, literally? Is that when your work became more sculptural?
CB: At that point, the fabric pieces were already coming off the wall onto the floor. But that piece felt liberating. It was a literal removal. But the graphite drawings led into all of this other work, too, because of scale.
JP: It’s a way of moving forward. The removal of color in the black pieces is so haunting. It’s interesting to think about how physical the work is, because the experience feels so elegant. The result just seems like it was magically placed. You can’t feel the labor and that heaviness. The work just feels so light.
Can you talk about how the transition to the fiber pieces happened?
CB: In the prints where I use flowers or plants to create the mark on the paper, it’s a question of what is actually the work. In running flowers through the press, there’s crunching and oozing, a visceral experience; there’s pleasure and satisfaction in producing the pieces. But what I show is the aftermath or the result of that act. Then the work captures what happens in the making of it, and that destruction.
JP: That happens with all the flower pieces because of the bleeding. It becomes this translucent, flowing painting stroke, that gives the viewer knowledge of the action.
CB: The flower pieces started with a blank piece of paper, and then building up information. But the way that I was approaching image making before was by adding this haze of graphite and then erasing to make an image.
So discharging black fabric was related to the way I was making an image with graphite: additive and reductive. Weaving is for you meditative, as cutting is for me. To make a mark on fabric and then have that be the map for where marks get cut is how I approach the fabric pieces. Things get exciting when they’re cut and then combined, and that’s when I think the work starts to become bodily and skeletal, when they start layering. Then they start to take on this feeling of the interior of a body or something.
JP: You make a bunch of decisions, and then you have this map that you just react to. Then when you start layering, you start making decisions again.
CB: That’s when work starts making itself, in a way. It’s not about decision making anymore, it’s about whatever the thing is, taking over.
JP: How are you thinking about adding new elements to collage?
CB: I started cutting out different books. One book is The History of Sculpture that has all of the heavy hitters in sculpture from the beginning of time, and a book about gardening, where I liked the vintage quality of the image. Photographic elements create a narrative, or make the work feel less about the design, but the design as a map to hold these photos. The piece has its formal qualities, but the photographs can take you a step further, to act as an explanation.
There’s this back and forth between hard-edge geometry and botanical images that play together.
JP: They feel almost cinematic, because of the whole environment of the image, and because you’re sort of traveling from image to image, getting a bigger experience. I love that.
JP: I love them.
CB: Thank you so much, Jessica.
Christi Birchfield interviews Jessica Pinsky
Christi Birchfield: Let’s start by talking about how weaving kind of came into being for you. You studied painting in school, right?
JP: I did. When I was painting, I started cutting up all my paintings and sewing them back together again. You know how when you’re sewing there’s the bobbin thread and the top thread? Colors can go on top and underneath. It’s this totally different way of blending color, when painting is just like building on top, on top, on top. This was being able to go under and over.
CB: Sewing sort of led you into that idea of weaving. You moved from CIA into Praxis, a studio that is completely based in fiber practice. How do you think about Praxis in relationship to your work?
JP: I was at this weird transitional point before Praxis opened where I could’ve gone in many directions based on any number of variables, but when Praxis opened, the focus was on looms and weaving. I was moving looms, and taking looms apart, and putting looms back together. Every time I got a new loom to work, I had to test it out and make a weaving. Practical decisions define directions of your art in so many ways. Of course, it’s about the ideas, but those kind of shift and fit into the practical parameter.
CB: It seems like you’re thinking about weaving in a sculptural way. Where is the work coming from on a personal level?
JP: I was thinking about the concept of equality in a mathematical sense, but also in a personal sense, and at the same time, I started dating my current partner who I’m marrying in two weeks from today, who is a woman. She opened my eyes. I thought, yes, of course everything should be equal and women are strong and incredible, but I never really saw the inequalities day to day…and in an empowering way [our relationship] made me even more proud to be a woman, but also more aware of some of the imbalances. So, half of the weavings are made with commercial yarn and half of the weavings are made with handspun. I would spin the yarn to be very over-twisted, so that in the weaving it would contort and constrict, but the commercial yarn would lay flat. It’s the same exact amount of yarn so it’s just about how two things that are very similar or even the same can behave very differently. My work is formal, but I think having that personal thread helps me continue.
CB: It seems like they’re combating each other, but in the end, there’s harmony and it feels really right. I think there’s something elegant about how they hang—the gravity and the way that I think they really take up space. As somebody who’s coming from this world of painting and thinking about color, how does that play into the work?
JP: In a 2016 series of sixteen weavings, I tried to narrow the colors to primary color. The warps have color and the wefts are all black or white, to mute or desaturate the warp colors a little bit. They’re all about blending.
CB: Do you feel like with each weaving you learn more about weaving? How much can you exhaust what you’re doing?
JP: There’s this unanticipated result from not knowing how to do something that you can’t recreate once you know how to do it. I consistently challenge myself technically so that those magical happenings happen…like my work is relying on that unknowing.
JP: I just go for it. It’s like I can’t do a sketch. I just have to make a 10-foot piece. There’s no practice. Do the huge thing first and then figure it out, second. Maybe that’s what the work is about, that leap. That’s how Praxis happened and how most of the great things in my life have happened, by just taking these huge leaps first and then figuring them out later.
JP: I’m going keep doing that.
CB: It’s like we have these things that we try to pursue or make. So it’s real.
JP: These recent pieces are twelve-inch-by-twelve-inch squares that are overdyed and then dipped in resin so that they have all these weird frozen gestures, like they’re embalmed.
CB: I love how textured they are. They feel paused in motion.
JP: Yes, they’re so weird. Like, stuck. Tiny little buddies.
CB: That’s really yummy.
JP: I think that my show in November at Hedge will be two hundred of these in the entire gallery.
CB: So you have a show at Hedge in the fall. That’s so exciting, and you’re getting married in two weeks. Praxis is getting this new digital weaving house, and you have the indigo garden going. There seems to be so much energy around the community of Praxis. For me, your work is so intertwined with your life. What’s next? Where do you see things heading?
JP: I’ll start doing more digital work after the opening of the digital lab. So I’m trying to shift into the techy stuff. Then with this indigo vat that we’re making, I’ll make all my work blue and…there’s the Hedge show. To make the series of small weavings is exciting for me because I think about it as a big installation, but I’ve never made a lot of small works, ever.
CB: It seems really right. There’s complete commitment, and investment, and focus on the things that you work toward—this grand gesture of a lot of the same sort of small thing over and over again. I can’t wait to see the show.
Union, 40″ x 12″, Cotton warp, half commercial and half handspun wool weft, 2017
Pythagorean, 60″ x 60″, Synthetic warp, half commercial and half handspun weft, 2017