Artist Interview with Zinc Contemporary

 The following is an interview with Zinc Contemporary Gallery in Seattle Washington.

February 2021

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

Cb: I was seven or eight years old, when I became aware of “art”, before then I made stuff but the whole museum, gallery thing wasn’t in my thinking. I just made things. My father was a drawer, a photographer and a tinkerer. There were always curious, fantastic things and gadgets around to tinker with, especially in the garage. My mother negotiated that in order for me to bring more home I had to part with something else. “Every day throw away!”, she said…. I really did try to, but some stuff…well, you know…(laughing), I had to keep…stash it for later. I think I might have been a dog in another life!

Dad gave me my first camera, access to his darkroom equipment and photo chemicals, when I was about 10. My mother was a terrific cook and gardener. She taught me how to garden and cook what we grew. She was very involved in the creative community nearby and took me to museums, gallery openings, theater events and musical performances. She treated my creativity as an important thing. She introduced me to her adult, accomplished friends as though I was legit – she was an incredible support to who I am today.

Zinc: What inspires you?

Cb: maps, puzzles, architectural renderings, plants and gardens, tools especially old tools, musical scores, stories/words, numbers, eastern / Indian / Chinese calligraphy. When I was a kid, I was mesmerized by that heavy duty Alexander Calder mobile in the National Gallery’s atrium, it was one of the first large scale sculpture sized pieces I had seen. I was so taken with the question of how he could present the ease of drawing as the weightedness of a massive sculpture. The pictures of his studio workshop still fill me with glee- so many gadgets and wires and drawings and wacky stuff waiting to be.

Zinc: 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 the already fixed departments. 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. I was also highly motivated to learn new techniques like welding, casting, kinetic sculpture.

During school, 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 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.

Zinc: 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, Agnes Martin, Vincent van Gogh, Francois Boucher, Cy Twombly, Jean Tinguely, Faith Ringgold, Yayoi Kusuma, Franz Kline, Motherwell, Hilma of Klint, Liu dan and Frank Lloyd Wright, his drawings – these are artists whose drawings and mark making 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 in the way that makes me love drawing all over again.  Also Twentieth century abstraction and some illustration… Quinten Blake’s quippy drawn lines wiggle with aliveness. 

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

Cb: Asking myself questions is where I start. In this body of work the questions have gone something like this: how can I animate a drawing or space without having it literally have to move? How can I create a 3D experience in a 2D experience? How can I play with scale? Other questions have been about language, place and history. Can I write a story as layers of drawn lines instead of words on pages? Can a map be a living story or document of a place? What if it’s only an imagined place?

Zinc: 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.

Zinc: Tell us something that might affect your work that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent?

Cb: To me, my work looks like music would be a significant part of my studio atmosphere, but I find music really distracting to work to mostly because I end up singing with it. (laughing) Spoken word, like audiobooks and podcasts are my favorite background to work to.

Zinc: 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 see and experience visual art, even if an artwork doesn’t literally utilize words. I think our stories are our stories, whether it’s a line that forms the letter that makes a word or a line that suggests the beginning of a visual phrase. 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? Ha, what fun it would be to have shelves of just words in big piles, like my shelves of found sticks n’stuff. I could schmooey around words and see what combinations happened spontaneously. I have some pretty awesome dictionaries that I collected from thrift shops, dated from late 1800’s to contemporary editions. I love that a word’s meaning, like an art object’s can change over time and in different contexts. A dictionary publisher, like a historian, captures that meaning at a point in time and feeds it back to you in this concrete format, like it’s done. Hahaha. Look at the word: “silly”… being called that in 1200s meant a whole different thing than in 1950 when “Silly Putty” was invented. 

I collect up and am inspired by natural ephemera, including words and stories, then I try to capture an instant in time and get it down on paper before we both change into the next thing.

Zinc: 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! (laughs)

Zinc: 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. If I get lost, I go back to the source and start the conversation again there.

Zinc: 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 (artist laughs). My spouse knows that I’m not a fun person to be around if I haven’t been in the studio for a month.

Zinc: 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.

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

Cb: It’s mostly a feeling I get, something says to stop in that moment 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 literally and figuratively are always helpful. I don’t function well in a hurry – for me, slow and steady gets it done.

Zinc: 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 response to these latest drawings that have affirmed what I had experienced in them as well…. the drawings mark a mental adventure and meandering, they are light, joyful, calligraphic and fresh.

Zinc: 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 and engaged and curious in the studio. I am also continuing to be a member of a vibrant creative community.

Zinc: 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 then I did what was mine to do.

Zinc: 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.