Interview with Artist

The following is an interview with ZINCcontemporary Gallery in Seattle Washington.

February 2021

Zc: When did you become first interested in art? What was your childhood like did you make art then?

Cb: I wasn’t aware of “Art” until I was 12ish, but I was very interested in making things at seven or eight years old. I built mud cites, drew, painted and tinkered with stuff in my family’s garage. My father was a drawer, a photographer and a tinkerer. My mother was a painter, a cook, played several musical instruments, sang and had a huge weaving loom. There were always, what I thought of as curious, fantastic things and gadgets around to tinker with, especially in the garage.

Dad gave me a hand-me-down camera, access to his darkroom equipment and photo chemicals, when I was about 10. Mom taught me how to garden and cook what we grew. She was very involved in the local creative community and took me to museums, gallery openings, theater events and musical performances. She treated my creativity, others creativity and ‘Art’ as very important. She would introduce me to her adult, accomplished friends as though I was legit – she was an incredible support to who I am today.

Zc: What inspires you?

Cb: Maps, scientific phenomena, puzzles, architectural renderings, plants, gardens, tools… especially old tools, musical scores, stories/words, numbers, calligraphy….

One of my first “inspiring” experiences was seeing Alexander Calder’s mobile in the National Gallery’s atrium. I was in my early teens and so taken with how a sculpture could have the ease of drawing and the weightiness of a massive sculpture.

Zc: Tell us about your formal training?

Cb: I earned an MFA from The University of Washington in what later became the “Interdisciplinary” department. Professor Layne Goldsmith of the Fibers department, mentored folks like me that didn’t fit into an already fixed department. She was a great teacher. She pushed us to challenge ourselves and be our best.

During that time, I focused on drawing, building installations, using wire as a way to draw in three-dimensions and to learn new techniques like welding, casting, and kinetic sculpture. I TA’ed as a Drawing teacher; I loved that work – I got to teach the ABCs of visual language- the basics, the foundation.

I earned my BFA from The University of Delaware. I majored in Printmaking and Photography, specifically stone lithography and black and white photo. I had a little closet-sized darkroom that was paradise to me. Byron Shurtleff, Rosemary Lane Hooper and Rosie Bernardi were amazing teachers for me there.

Zc: Who are your favorite artists? Genres of art?

Cb: I’ve always favored drawings and mark makers of all kinds. As for specific artists, in no particular order: Julie Mehretu, Albrecht Durer, Helen Frankenthaler, Vincent van Gogh, Francois Boucher, Cy Twombly, Jean Tinguely, Faith Ringgold, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Hilma of Klint, Liu Dan and Frank Lloyd Wright’s drawings – these are artists whose drawing works I have returned to over and over and am still enchanted.

As for genres, I am fond of Chinese and Indian landscape painting – even those centuries old paintings feel fresh and intimate to me, those works make me love drawing all over again. Early Twentieth century Abstraction and some Illustration…I love how Quinten Blake’s quippy drawn lines wiggle with aliveness.

Zc: What is the concept in thought process behind the body of work?

Cb: Asking myself questions is where I start a body of work. For this one, the questions have been: How can I animate a drawing or space without having it literally have to move? Can I write a story as layers of drawn lines instead of layers of words? Can a drawing be a living story or document of a time and place? What if it’s only an imagined place? Can I create a 3D experience in a 2D experience? How can I play with the sense of scale?

As an adoptee, often my questions about language, place and history stem out of wondering how does nature/nurture define me?

Zc: What do you struggle with when creating work and how do you approach it or face it, overcome it?

Cb: I think staying loose, fresh, playful, not overworking it. Listening and stopping at the best time – knowing I can always go back and add but I can’t take something out.

Zc: Being an author and a visual artist is a unique combination. How do you synthesize those practices?

Going to a library is a lot like going to museums and galleries for me. I go looking for fodder. I experience words and stories a lot like I experience visual art. Whether it’s a line that forms the letter that makes a word or a line that suggests the beginning of a visual phrase, it’s all ‘story’ to me. I collect up words and phrases a lot like I collect up sticks and natural ephemera – I find them suggestive and potent; Where did they come from? How do they go together? or stand alone? What if you said that word with the emphasis in a different place?

I do love to go to my books and randomly open to a page and then point to a word or line and see what combinations happen spontaneously. I haven’t been titling my work recently but will begin to again as many of the drawings have come from this random picking a word or phrase.

Zc: Do you have any rituals as an artist?

Cb: I move around a lot at first, walking, doing qigong, moving stuff in the studio from one spot to another in preparation. Once I find how to enter the work, I remain focused and still, except for my arms of course, for long stretches of time. Fortunately, my watch buzzes to remind me to get up and move around again!

Zc: When you’re working in your studio describe the experience and what takes place?

Cb: I have lots of stuff mostly natural stuff and some old tools that I’ve collected over the years and I’ve put it on a shelf, kind of my own natural history museum. I look at them closely, take mental pictures of them while I move them around. I try to forget what it is that I think I already know about a thing that I am to draw. At times, I’ll see a drawing in my mind before I start to make the marks. Once I’m on the page, I respond to what happens there. It’s a lot like a conversation. I put down color areas and build on those, then I build on lines, going back and forth. If I get lost, I go back to the source and start the conversation again there.

In my studio practice, I aim to capture an instant in time and get it down on paper before we both change into the next thing.

Zc: How much time do you work a day? A week? A month?

Cb: Every day for at least a couple of hours. Over a week, about three days a week from four to five hours a day. I find that if I didn’t work for a month, I get pretty antsy. My spouse knows that I’m not a fun person to be around if I haven’t been in the studio for a month.

Zc: When you’re looking for inspiration what do you do?

Cb: Go for a walk, go to a museum or a library. The most important thing is to move and get some fresh air.

Zc: How do you know when a piece is complete?

Cb: It’s mostly a feeling I get, something says to stop and so I leave it for a few days and return to see it then and notice and if there is more to do. Distance and a little time are literally and figuratively always helpful. I don’t function well in a hurry – for me, slow and steady gets it done.

Zc: What is the best feedback you ever received about your work? How did affect you in your work?

Cb: I suppose the latest positive feedback is likely the sweetest… and there have been several unrelated responses to these latest drawings that have affirmed what I had experienced about them as well…. the drawings are a mental adventure, a meandering sort of thing; they are light, joyful, calligraphic and fresh. Feedback, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can be truly valuable, but I do my best to see what I can learn from it outside the studio and then let the process of making guide me once I’m back engaging with the work.

Zc: What is your career as an artist look like in five years?

Cb: I am focused, collected, happy and motivated. I am healthy and productive. I am open, engaged and curious in the studio. I am continuing to be a member of a vibrant creative community.

Zc: How do you want to feel about your work and career and life at the end?

Cb: That I showed up to my fullest ability, that I enjoyed the ride, and I did what was mine to do.

Zc: What do you think the best part of being an artist is? The worst?

Cb: The best part is that I have this way to express and engage with a creative process – it allows me to process the world around me – I am never bored! The hard part is balancing all the other parts of life.