Gretchen Frances Bennett | To catch something moving, And make it still

Essay by Aidan Fitzgerald | Photographs by Andrew Waits

Gretchen Bennett’s drawings are dense collections of marks, pulling from all colors of a neutral palette. From far away, her drawings emit a low hum, as if she’s caught static energy on paper, the greyness of a screen with the brightness turned all the way down, low contrast, eyes half open. From up close, one realizes that the marks that make up the piece are vibrant and uniform. They are the work of someone concentrating more on the nature of mark making than on the purpose of the marks themselves. As she explained in her lecture to Evergreen College last year, “Drawing with deliberate attention given to the mark is critical to this process. Through drawing, I want to show my thinking.” She continues, “These works first appear to be photorealist colored pencil renderings, but the second read shows that they are actually interventions between daily moments and gestures, and everyday life experiences.”

Bennett works from photos and digital stills, usually from television shows, movies, or home videos. Her work asks a fundamental question of identity: how do we relate to those on the screen? How do we relate to others through time, through space, across distances?

Her body of work titled “The Killing” was inspired by stills from the television show of the same name. She saw herself reflected in the character, in the solitary exploration and investigation of the harshly beautiful Pacific Northwest landscape. Her work since then has reversed tack: “I used to take popular cultural references in order to understand the personal, and now I’ve flipped it, where now I’m taking the personal to join in a larger conversation, to understand a broader view, and since I do want it to be a conversation, that’s where I want people to resonate. I think it’s really important for me to remember that I am empathic, and I am empathic in the way that I feel experience and that’s how I place myself.” Her piece in the Vignettes collection, “Untitled (after Bruce Nauman)” is one such piece. It is a drawing from a still of a home video taken of Bennett while she was immobilized in bed after an injury. Bennett made the piece as homage to Nauman, another artist who deeply examined the body, everyday life, and physical actions in his work. And while the piece may be a nod to a conceptual artist, it is rooted in the process of drawing: the palette stretches to all colors, but the values are consistent. Each object and detail is perfectly rendered, but not so perfectly described so as to become the focus of the piece. Bennett is recording the pattern of light in the image, and not concentrating on her own image reflected back at her. She’s concentrating on relaying the information of the moment, not her own memory. She’s allowing us into her personal moment, filtered through the lens of 20th century conceptual art, the long tradition of self-portraiture, and the expectations of the female body in art.

This kind of conversation with the world through art is a strong through-line in Bennett’s recent work. She has long been an artist without a defined medium, and lately she has been incorporating her writing, found objects, and sculpture into her studio practice. In one body of work, entitled “M Diary,” she enters into a conversation with herself, following the structure and tone of Roland Barthe’s Mourning Diary and Lover’s Discourse. “I treat the drawings and the writing both as textual entries, they’re both diaristic, and that said, I think they are both abstract enough that they become a space for other people to join in. I’m not pointing specifically to things and saying ‘you specifically look at this,’ but if I can abstract it enough and make it a neutral space, meaning my drawings and my writing together, then it’s abstract enough for other people to see whatever they see.”

I kept coming back to the idea of distance in Gretchen’s work. She distances herself from her own process of drawing by compartmentalizing sections of the drawing rather than approaching the drawing as a whole. “I want to catch something moving and make it still, filter that still so that it can move elsewhere, differently, giving a slow read. We make things iconic because we want to study and get caught up by something. We’re always as viewers and makers fixating and studying in order to close distance, to cross distance. This is pleasurable but futile, but it is a kind of movement, to try to bring something closer and make it iconic.”

Gretchen and I talked for over an hour, intermittently interrupted by the boisterous rattle of a work crew on the roof. Going over the interview, I began to notice new things about her words and her work. Transcription is a strange thing for me. How we take language and approximate it on the page, abstracting and distancing it from ourselves, but also laying words bare for others to interact with, magnifying certain points while glossing over others. Body language, setting, inflection, verbal tics—these are lost in the transcription process. In their place we are left with a record of thought and communication, and also concrete evidence that these ideas have been transmitted and are continuing to be transmitted (by way of someone reading over a transcription).

I mention this because as I was transcribing our interview, it dawned on me that this transcription process—the distancing of the artifact from the event it is recording—is central to Bennett’s work. She is examining pieces of her life up close, but presenting them in a drawing with a neutral tone, as objective fact, untainted by her own bias. There is no dramatic shading, no theatrical mark making. And in this way she allows us in to her life, but also encourages us to examine our own, to see our personal histories in hers. “In drawing, I think as I’m noticing something, I’m wanting to relay it. And so therefore my work is for me, but because I have the impulse to relay it, it’s for others. It’s me showing my thinking, and showing questions. It’s almost like in the moment that I receive the information, I’m transcribing. I’m recording out what I see.”

Queer Resistance, Queer Resilience: The ‘Mo-Wave Art Exhibition

 Naomi’s Birthday Song | Leigh Riibe & Lynda Sherman
4 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ | Movable type on doilie,text by Rosie “Awesome Witch of Rad” Melero | 2014

Written by Steven Dolan

The urgency of the current moment pervades seemingly every facet of modern life.

Davora Lindner and Steven Miller aimed to capture this energy in their curation of the forthcoming ‘Mo-Wave Artist Exhibition, now in its third year. The curators cite Okwui Enzewor’s introductory essay for the 56th la Biennale di Venezia as a starting point. In the essay, titled “The State of Things,” Enzewor details the Biennale’s proximity to massive and transformative global events and social movements, acknowledging the necessary presence of art alongside tumult. Lindner and Miller envision their curation as a “graphic and sensual call to action inspired by the Occupy Movement, Black Lives Matter, Transgender Activism and the use of social media in the pursuit of social justice.”

Since its inception in 2013, ‘Mo-Wave, a queer arts and music festival in Seattle, has been about disruption and resisting assimilation. By exhibiting artists that challenge and transcend normative ways of being, the festival has cultivated community that honors a queer heritage and imagines a compassionate, vital queer future.

The exhibition at Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar, will play close attention to text pieces, as well as “the most constructive forms of human bedrock”: nude bodies, painting, and encampments. The space they will create is inspired in part by another imagined by Benjamin Gazy and Anouk Rawkson, artists and bartenders at the local queer bar Pony, one of few holdouts of what some see as Capitol Hill’s storied past. Reimagining Mortville, the derelict, dystopian fantasy of John Waters’s Desperate Living, Gazy and Rawkson transformed Pony into part gallery, part artist flea market. A banner quoting Waters hung at the bar’s entrance by Grant Rehnberg expressed the unrest felt by many: “ONLY THE RICH SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO LIVE.” In conversation with the changing landscape of the Hill, the neighborhood that Pony occupies, the spirit of Mortville offered a biting critique.


The lineup of artists showing at Vermillion represent a diverse scope of identity and aesthetic sensibilities, connected by their capacities to actively engage in a discourse surrounding queer living in a state of emergency.  The following highlights four distinctive voices the exhibition will showcase.

Medusa Head | Andrew Lamb Schultz | Walnut ink on paper | 11 x 14 inches | 2015

Andrew Lamb Schultz’s illustration merges the saccharine with the deadly serious. With an often simple, linear style that reveres the naive and the cute, Lamb engages ideas ranging from the existential to the political. Some of Lamb’s subjects are aesthetic objects, like potted plants, swimming pools, and pink flamingos. These are in fact, not simply objects, but symbols of aesthetic legacies, passages into alternate, created worlds. Other subjects are historical figures that Lamb interrogates and subverts with their playful hand. In classical mythology, Medusa’s hideousness is meant to incite terror. As Lamb renders her, with circles signifying cheeks and a gentle visage, her misogynistic smiting by history melts away. It’s not that she has been drained of her power. She has just been recognized as part of the depraved family.  With whimsical irreverence, Lamb rebukes the canonical understanding of “serious work.” It is through this critical tenderness that Lamb liberates.

Live Through This Limited Edition Mix Tape | Leigh Riibe
screen printed cassette shell, hand made cotton sleeve, ink, moveable type, 32 minutes | Sleeve Printed at Bremelo Press | 2012

Another acolyte of tenderness exists in artist Leigh Riibe, who will be showing photography, as well as a text piece. Leigh’s work, which has had incarnations ranging from photography, illustration, and art objects speaks to a certain tangibility and physical relationality. Printed matter and the written word are among the most essential facets of her work. This sensibility has been instilled in mixed media sculpture and art objects, lending a poetic quality to these works. “Resurrection,” a piece composed of an alarm clock with a face that reads “Stop Waiting” in script, speaks to the urgency of living and creation. Riibe often makes grand gestures with text, enacting what some might construe as melodrama. An illustration featuring a nude and the text “Sometimes I Dream You Came Back from the Dead Just to Hang Out With Me” comes to mind. With Riibe’s work, however what may read as hyperbole is exacting expression that shows a vulnerability that people are often too afraid to allow themselves. 

The 2012 retrospective exhibition, “Live Through This,” featured photography, handwritten memories mimicking diary entries, mixtapes, and other such personal artifacts. Recalling formative moments of the artist’s past, the exhibition recounted discovery and rebellion against imposing Catholic tradition and patriarchy at large. Tracing a feminist awakening through the music of riot grrrl and shared sisterhood, Riibe does not simply document. Portraits of the artist and those close to her capture the revolutionary act of girl love and the creation of space in time. In the spirit of sharing and information dissemination, much of the work was compiled in a zine by the same name.

Avatar: Fannon & Decca | C. Davida Ingram
single channel video installation | 2015 | currently on view at The Frye Art Museum | Genius 21st Century

Visibility also arises in the work of C. Davida Ingram, an artist whose work spans mediums, but is specific in its attention to the experience of being black in America. A recent photographic work, featured at Out of Sight this summer, placed multiple images of (presumably) the artist’s rear in fluorescent bottoms, accompanied by the title, “WHERE CAN MY BLACK ASS GO TO BE SAFE?”  The mind reels, as harrowing news stories abound, detailing police brutality against black women, like Sandra Bland and the student at Spring Valley High School.  It is this kind of confrontation, an upending of the gaze traditionally imposed on feminine black bodies, that makes Ingram’s work so vital. Elaborating on the vast reach, even absurdity, of misogynoir, additional text included, “Define: safe. Is this location actual? In this country? In this world? In this universe? This dimension? In my house? Maybe in her autobiography? Or epitaph?” In an interview coinciding with her exhibition “Eyes to Dream: A Project Room,” at the Northwest African American Museum, Ingram discussed marginalized people “being unimaginable to people in power.” With a social practice and love ethic, Ingram asserts her existence and breaks down the walls that make some invisible.

 Excerpt from ‘bust. a meditation on freedom‘ | Rafa Esparza | Performance

Further calling attention to communities on the margins, Los Angeles-based Rafa Esparza will be elaborating on a past performance, titled “bust. a meditation on freedom.” For the performance, which he enacted facing The Twin Towers Correctional Facility, reportedly “the world’s largest jail,” Esparza encased himself in a pillar of concrete and other materials, using the duration of the 2 hour performance to break himself out with a hammer and chisel. Having surrendered his shoes in panic to the hardening concrete, Esparza plans to salvage them and create a sculpture for the exhibition. The shoes, Nike Cortez, are historically popular among Latino gangs in L.A. Esparza uses them to create “Love Birds” sculptures that serve as an ode to 1990s era Echo Park.  With these sculptures, Esparza nods to the gangs and growing gay community that populated the neighborhood. Photographed in open air, perched above eye level, they act as aesthetic guardians and markers of a fading history, as Echo Park becomes increasingly gentrified.


Answering the call to disrupt the violence of erasure, the artists exhibiting at the ‘Mo-Wave Artist Exhibition incite action and demonstrate the values of communities that an increasingly normative society infringes upon. In the spirit of action and expression, the show runs through December 5th, 2015.


Thursday, November 12th Opening Reception | 6pm to 10pm

Exhibiting Artists :
Andrew Lamb Schultz | C. Davida Ingram |
 Free Witch Quarterly | Grant Rehnberg | Joey Veltkamp | Leigh Riibe | Liana Kegley | Lynda Sherman | Mario Lemafa | Rafa Esparza | Rio Abundez | Tara Thomas | Topher McCulloch | Storme Webber

Live performances by Mal DeFleur and Storme Webber
DJ Ozma Otacava

Joe Rudko | Folding time in lines and layers

Interview by Jon Feinstein | Photos by Megumi Shauna Arai


Joe Rudko is one of the hardest working photo-based artists in show business. Since this past summer, he’s become a full time artist, buckling down in his studio full time to make some of the most painstaking and meticulous collages and found-photo interventions I’ve seen in years. His continuously evolving “Object Drawings” turn vintage photographs into multi layered drawings and three dimensional sculptures that reinterpret the experience of looking at static images, as well as the world around us. In advance of his upcoming exhibition at Roq La Rue gallery in Seattle, I caught up with Joe to learn more about his process.


Jon Feinstein: Rumor has it that you’re making work full time now. I love hearing when artists, especially young artists are able to dedicate all of their time to making work. What’s your typical day look like? 

Joe Rudko: Yeah, I quit my day job about 3 months ago. That really felt great. I don’t know if I have too typical a day, other than being in the studio for 8-10 hours, and giving attention to whatever is directly in front of me. I’m here by 11 in the morning and work on various projects until dinnertime. Over the last year I’ve really fallen in love with the time in the studio.


That’s great, and it’s really shown in how quickly your work has evolved. Before we get too deep into your practice, the music nerd in me has been dying to know — how did the Death Cab album cover come about? 

Glenn Newcomer, who I knew when I lived in Bellingham WA, works for a design firm in Seattle called Hum. They were doing the album design and packaging work, and he saw connections between the work I make and the process of Kintsugi, which the Death Cab album was titled after. Kintsugi is the Japanese word repairing an object with a precious metal, highlighting the break, and in turn honoring the past history of the object.

(Left to right) Exploded View, Big Artifact


Can you tell me a bit about your own process – start to finish?

My process seems to always be shifting. Sometimes it starts with an image, and other times I’ll be propelled by a new working method. It’s largely informed by a mixture of the photographic content, and the general language used to make and describe photographs. For example, the x shape that makes up Exploded View is reminiscent of the geyser eruption that makes up the subject of the image. The separation of the corners from the center of the image refers to an exploded view diagram that is commonly used in camera instruction manuals. If I’m lucky, the manipulations will reveal my initial attraction to the image.

The camera/ manual / photo history references come up a lot in your work….

I think there’s an interesting culture that surrounds photography, it is more widespread and approachable then other art- probably because it’s so tied to technology and everyday use. There’s something silly about pictures of cameras- it makes me think of Magritte’s paintings of paintings. The ephemera that surrounds photography provides a contextual awareness for the images. I think it makes the pictures more object-like, pulling them away from illusional space.

How did you connect with PDX Contemporary? Are they representing you exclusively? 

In 2013 I was invited by Sharon Arnold to participate in a “Recent Graduates” booth at the Affordable Art Fair in Seattle. I think that’s where Jane first saw my work. I did a group show with them, and then my first solo show in February of this year. Now they represent me in the state of Oregon, but occasionally they will take my work to fairs like Seattle Art Fair this past summer, and PULSE Miami this coming December.


Does being a “full time” artist — meaning one who survives on your art as your source of income — impact your practice?

It’s freed up a lot of my time, giving me a much more fluid schedule and ultimately reducing my level of anxiety. My goal has always been to make the work that I want to make, market or no market. At the same time, selling the work opens up a door to more freedom and experimentation. I think that I’ve always been a bit cautious about what I decide to put out into the world.


Do you think your work has changed now that more eyes are looking at it?

It’s definitely been changing. As I’ve worked more with the limitations I’ve set for myself I think the work has broadened out from being about one thing. Initially when I started making the Object Drawings, my thinking was more in line with the object-ness of the photographic image. Something that seemed very pertinent and opposite to the ubiquity of the online image experience.

Who are a few artists inspiring you right now? 

Lawrence Weschler did a book called “True to Life” compiling 30 years of conversations with David Hockney that is really good. It’s largely about Hockney’s investigations into visual perception and how we view and represent the world.


Other people I am currently stoked on: Lucas Blalock, Erin O’Keefe, John Divola, Gordon Matta-Clark, Letha Wilson, Jessica Eaton, Curtis Mann, Richard Tuttle, and Richard Aldrich.


Since I moved here in 2013, I’ve noticed that Seattle has a particularly tight-knit art/photo community. How does this influence, help, and impact your practice? 

I’ve been in Seattle for 2 years now and yeah it is pretty tight-knit. It’s natural that all the artists find each other pretty quickly. I’m really happy to know several talented and driven artists; I think it makes you step up your game. They can also be a great resource to keep learning and building on the approach to my work without the cash required for grad school.


For some reason, photographers specifically can often separate themselves from the “rest of the artists”. Maybe it’s something expressly about the medium that always seems to be on trial. I think the benefit of the smaller art community is that there’s room for you to do your own thing, and for that to cross over a variety of mediums and approaches.


I completely agree. I think that’s been a problem historically with photography – the larger art world dismissing it as “art” for much of the 20th century, and in turn, photographers putting themselves into a photo-ghetto that helped to reinforce that idea. How did you move from straight photography into collage/ “mixed media” based work?

I blame it on the Internet. During my last year of college I was having difficulty defending the photographs that I was taking, and being active on sites like Flickr and Tumblr wasn’t helping. I felt like I was adding to this massive stack of forgettable digital photographs. Making work using existing photographs was a way to comment on the conventions and contradictions within photography without adding to the pile. I was thinking about how my physical gestures were a way to recycle and retire images from the world, one by one.
This work is so much about the folding of time in how we experience viewing images/ how technology has changed that. As you get deeper into this work do you see these ideas broadening/ shifting?

Something interesting can happen when you look at an object from the past with the conventions of the present. I’m interested in that always-shifting history of the object, and how it makes the photographic information vulnerable.

Lately I have been tapping into the ways that personal association can shape interpretation. It’s sort of an internal diptych, in which the treatment and placement inform some sort of relationship. Occasionally Ansel Adams reproductions are making their way into the work. For me, he is the quintessential photographer to reference, someone whose images are so engrained in the collective psyche that they could be read as symbols of photography itself.

Why is Adams so quintessential for you?

Ansel Adams was probably the first major photographer that I was exposed to growing up. I think that I’m attracted to using his work because it’s familiar and so ubiquitous that his images can become a stand-in or prop for the medium of photography itself.

There’s also the connection that Ansel Adams has with the darkroom and photographic manipulation. His darkroom processes added intense contrasts and depth to American landscapes, provoking one of the first widespread conversations about editing and truth in photography.


You’ve mentioned your inspiration coming from being overwhelmed with the sheer number of photographs you see every day — I imagine it’s even more daunting now/ this far into the series.

Making this work in an analog fashion is some sort of escape route from the screen-heavy experience of digital photography. It makes me slow down my engagement with a photograph, and try to understand why I’m reading it the way I am. That’s where the work happens–when I’m able to shift the focus of an image to address the nature of the medium, and the potential an image has to communicate a variety of ways.


Does your process still hinge on manipulating vintage photographs with collage, drawing, and other techniques?

I’ve started to zero in more on some of the ideas, and that determines my approach on a case-by-case basis. I’ve recently been using sculptural attributes to reinforce or negate the subject matter in the images. It’s an attempt to combat the flatness in photography and painting, by adding a layer of sculptural language. Maybe it’s an attempt to condense Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs into a single object. Using photography and sculpture in tandem seems like a concrete way to bridge the abstract space between the virtual and real.


How do you go about selecting the found photographs that you later manipulate?

Lately I’ve been attracted to images that feel like they could be described in one word- like a flashcard. Or sometimes seeing one image will trigger a connection with a previous image I’ve seen, and I’ll want to put them next to each other to see if I can understand that tendency to connect new things to things we already know.

(Left to Right) Color Layer, Venn Diagram


Does digital play any role in your process?

I’ve worked a little digitally, but not too extensively. I started learning about photography at the moment when the digital/film conversation was in full-force. I’m more attuned to reading photographs in a digital context, and that has seeped into my process.


Last we spoke you were not editioning/ making prints of your work — each piece existed as a unique object. Why that decision? Is this still the case?

Editioning is a bit contradictory to the initial drive of the work, which was to reduce the huge pile of photographs that already exist. But, in my current show Broken Image at Roq La Rue, I have a pseudo-edition of pieces that all utilize the same image treatment, but come in b/w or color, and in 3 sizes. I was thinking about the decisions that a photographer has to make after the fact: How large should I print it? Should it be in b/w? etc. and how these questions are often incidental. I want to point at that absurdity and make it essential to the reading of the work.


Do you consider yourself a photographer/ artist/ does it matter? 

Sure, I’m a photographer. I’m also an artist. I don’t know if it matters what I consider myself to be, but I do like working in a space that isn’t easily defined.