When Something Passes

A conversation between Gretchen Frances Bennett & MKNZ

Derelict, you’re not coming back, I mean that in the nicest way, rest almost sounds like a bittersweet parting note to Vignettes as we know it. And we know it most intimately in Sierra Stinson’s one bedroom apartment on the 4th floor of El Capitan. The series of one-night shows in this space came to an end on the night of Gretchen Bennett’s opening.

We pack ourselves in the unit one last time, surrounded by the chirping of Bennett’s quiet drawings, xerox copies, and sentimental ephemera; all tacked sweetly to the walls, high and low, like little clues to a lush and secretive life. In the mix, there are faint portraits, including a large, faded xerox drawing of Angela Davis, with starburst creases, like something found and kept in the box of all your priceless notes from the past. In fact, the whole show feels that way; little treasures more important for them to be touched, moved around, repinned, carried in a pocket, to feel the full life of their influence. This feeling reverberates off the wall, when Gretchen reads aloud a poem that accompanies the show, breathing clues of their significance into the room.

In this moment, I am taken back to fall of 2004, to when Sierra and I (18 and 17 years old, respectively)  were meeting for the first time in Gretchen’s Foundations class at Cornish College of the Arts. It was her first time teaching at the college, and it was our very first class. She would read passages from other artists, critics, scholars, and poets, to us in the mornings. With my head usually buzzing from the anxiety of living in a new city, I remember feeling soothed then, as I do now, 13 years later. I never would have thought that I would be interviewing her today about a show curated by Sierra. But Gretchen always held us as peers, rather than students, so perhaps this is her prophecy fulfilled; or perhaps we all stayed here, in part, to hold one another up; either way I’m grateful.

MKNZ: I love a good title and this show has a great title. Can you elaborate a little on the origin of this text?


Gretchen: So the title, “Derelict, you’re not coming back, I mean that in the nicest way, rest” is in haiku form. And as I understand haiku, it’s giving great credence to a moment; letting the every-day be holy. And I love that. I wanted to talk about my inability to make objects; to face my inability to make objects. And I guess that is because, when my parents passed away, the objects from their house that I had lived with were suddenly gone. And that makes sense, of course, but now I have empirical knowledge of it and it just stopped me for a while. So, in order to start making objects again, I had to talk about the ones that stay with me, the ones that are beloved. They give me courage. And those happened to be the objects that were closest to me in my studio.

While I was exhuming these objects, I was also asking them to go away forever, in a sense. The word “derelict” is also a word for the objects that you throw overboard a ship when it is listing and you don’t want it to sink. Unlike “jetsam”, “lagan”, or other maritime words used to describe objects thrown from a ship, “derelict” are the objects you have no hope to ever see again.


M: Do you think that in the process of bringing these objects into the light for other people to observe was a process of you letting them go?


G: Yes. Definitely. Sometimes literally when they are purchased and go away. And it’s also letting go in a way that’s equivalent to acceptance. Things were kind of falling apart, disintegrating, and, with the promise of reforming later, I had to let them drift.

I was letting go of expectations as well. I was letting go of my persona as an artist. I actually think maybe I don’t have that persona anymore… yeah, I let that go.

M: That’s scary.  


G: Yes. It doesn’t mean I don’t perform that persona sometimes, but when I’m performing it’s so my voice can come in louder, literally. It feels different. It feels like I’m being more myself in that moment. So yeah, the show is letting go of some things and claiming others. Maybe these objects are a threshold.

“Another Very Small Universe,” rag rug made from braided repurposed clothing from the artist and her father.

M: I think sometimes we can imbue objects with a lot of meaning when we are alone with them for a long time. Sometimes letting other people see them that does this thing where it takes the air out of them a little bit. I can become so superstitious about an object, to the point where it becomes really one-dimensional. And maybe letting it out into the world can allow other people to put their own projections onto it, which makes it a little less your own, but maybe less scary.


G: Yes. When someone recognizes something to the point of wanting to take it home, it’s such a relief to me.


M: There is a lack of preciousness to the way you chose to exhibit these drawings. They are so delicate and fragile, but also folded, crinkled, or fingerprinted in places. This give them a feeling of age, of temporality.


G: It’s interesting, right away sometimes I say that I don’t like something, that I don’t want something, and it’s a build up to wanting it or liking it. Today in the studio on my List Of Problems, I wrote, “I’m not creating drawings to comment on the act of drawing, sorry”. Both laugh. I was looking at how the photocopier draws and I wanted to collaborate with that machine, and I really became attached to the aesthetic of those shifting greys and the way they slide across the paper. I would draw in response to that relationship for a lot of the pieces. And I guess that is commentary on What Is Drawing.

I think the folding, too – I had this brief conversation with Tim Cross about how a photocopy can be a real material, and that’s how you keep those objects, by folding them. And the folds on the Angela Davis piece are this radiating starburst shape, I like that. I have this feeling that archiving is futile. Maybe that’s an adolescent thought.


M: I think that’s the mature thought. The way that you’re talking about treating these drawings sounds like performance to me. You have to let go of the idea of archiving things to make a really present performance. And they sort of share that quality. You can tell that they have a lifespan, you can tell that they are going to whither away. I feel that there is something undervalued about storytelling; sharing the idea or memory of something rather than the physical thing. That’s when you start to build mythology, you know? When something passes.


G: Oh that’s nice, I love that, “when something passes”. And passes is the perfect language for this body of work. Its an intersection for many meanings. I want to keep thinking about what archival is when I use that word.

There are artists I was paying homage to, like Vija Celmins repeating the rocks as an action of devotion. Mine were very off-hand, or deliberate to seem off-hand. And then I was thinking of Morandi, whose objects are always just coming into the light. Those all feel like they fit into the idea of the temporary. If I bring them into my studio practice, I’m letting them live even more. That’s an action of wanting something to last.

“Ruby Beach Honeymoon Rocks” Found stones. 14″ W.

“Ripple Effect.” gathered unaltered, arranged sticks from PNW tree varieties. 24″ W.

M: In your footnotes, you state “The Angela Davis drawing holds the room, just as it’s been a ballast in my studio. Many of these works are created between the photocopy and I, both of us drawing”. This is a very beautiful and relatable sentiment to me. And feels even more powerful, when standing in the room anchored by the starburst folded Angela Davis drawing, and immediately across the room is the giant, “Vesna is Spring, Venus is Venus” of you as a child, sheepishly front and center in an urban Slovakian landscape. What is the dialogue between the two pieces?


G: It started out as a historical fact and alignment of events. I started thinking about a childhood trip that happened in 1972 when I went to Eastern Europe with my family. And I started remembering that I was greatly affected by certain world events, even though not directly. Angela Davis is one of those events, along with the build up to Watergate, the Vietnam war. In that year Angela Davis was freed from jail and taken off Nixon’s most wanted list. And I saw her in the context of European publications, where her image was the only thing legible to me. So that’s where it started. And also because her image is so relevant, but her image and her person are two different things. And, how humbly for me, I have to understand that she’s walking among us. So she’s opposite this photo drawing of me when I was 12, while my self image was just forming. This was when I was forming my cultural and creative sensibilities.


M: Your poem, “A blue that keeps moving” accompanies this show. It chronicles the day you broke your knee at the beach, and the spreading of your parents’ ashes. I am reminded of Maggie Carson Romano’s show at Glassbox, with her text recalling her accident in the ocean, and the quiet pieces of her show holding a tremendous gravity as evidence to her survival and recovery after the fact. Do the pieces of this show serve as a kind of “evidence” for you?


G: I think it’s interesting to think of it alongside Maggie’s show. A lot of those choices on my part were intuitive and I just trusted that they were poetic both with the objects and with the words; in that way that poetic space is elastic. I think heavy stories sometimes need to be talked about lightly, so that you can talk about them at all…and talk about many things that you might not know you need to talk about. So I approached it in a more meandering way and ended up presenting a constellation of objects up against really substantial words.

So I would say that yes these objects are evidence for me, but that they needed to be light.

Like talking about the weather, when I really mean my knee.


M: It reminds me of the feeling of existing in the reverb of something traumatic happening. You can fixate on something to ease your mind, which makes everything sort of dilate. When my mind is happy I’m not noticing every little thing. But then in the aftermath of a traumatic event, I can obsess over an object, and it could be anything, and then it becomes precious.


G: The object becomes a place for memory to reside.

Graphite pencil drawing on Japanese screen paper. 38″H X 72″ W. Vesna is Spring, Venus is Venus,” a self-portrait, drawn from a 35mm slide of the artist as a 12-year-old on a seminal trip to live in Czechoslovakia.

“Windfall Alphabet (extra-lingual version),” which appropriates found fallen twig materials, in this case an extra-lingual fir font, into a human lexicon: from the order of the tree to the order of language, letters, sentence and sign.

“Garland” Color pencil drawing on hand-cut paper, tracing objects on the frontier of existence. 16″ H.

“Oregon Grape” Color pencil drawing on hand-cut paper, tracing objects on the frontier of existence. 14″ H.

Photocopy and color pencil drawings on paper, tracing objects on the frontier of existence. 11″ W. “Obama, Smoking.”

“tru truth” Photocopy and color pencil drawings on paper, tracing objects on the frontier of existence. 11″ W.

wisdom of the underworld

Essay by Ben Gannon | Photographs by Sierra Stinson

Arriving at Joey Veltkamp’s February 2017 Vignettes exhibit, it was clear from the street looking into Rachel and John’s house that this show was dealing with the supernatural. Hanging in the front room window were sheer fabric panels with appliqué patches of heavily shadowed and made-up eyes announced the other-worldliness. Spirits are present and in many forms. A haunted space, like all indoor spaces at the end of winter, so charged with telekinetic and telepathic energy of its occupant(s). A haunted house, but in January (unlike October) we are familiar with ghosts, and in the January of this year the powers of naked death ascended to the leadership of the world.

Once inside and in the first room of the show there hangs, along with the sheer panels, a large black quilt. It is composed of spells and talismans, each smaller square housing a symbol of power and protection, an anchor point from which to journey into darkness. Skulls, crystals, pentagrams, the word “protect” in appliquéd ‘wood’ letters—homage to Gretchen Frances Bennett’s found stick word art.


Sharing the space with the eyes and the spell quilt were a pair of pillows placed on chairs, each with a broken heart emoji, invoking the kind and tragic power of Laura Palmer, another symbol of strength and resistance. It becomes clear that wherever the journey of these artworks is headed, grounding in power is necessary and some danger is present or lies ahead.

In the next room more sheer panels hang in the windows and more eyes look out from the gauzy material. Along with the eyed panels there was a table full of small ceramic ghosts painted up like the cosmos and sitting on small, round mirror disks, the infinity of their motif reflecting into infinity. There is little distinction in Joey’s work between outer space and the underworld – vacuum and death both infinite and un-survivable phenomenon.

Binding this second room with the first was a pair of flags and a new motif for Joey’s work – a black cat appears on the flags, almost identical to each other—the latter done by memory, on opposite faces of a wall, each with the phrase Déjà Vu appearing on it, the lettering the same but the colors slightly different and the cat figure in slightly different positions. This diptych is a direct reference to the movie The Matrix, where the repeated sighting of the same black cat as an experience of deja vu is revealed to be an indicator that there has been a significant change made to the fabric of the world of the matrix. Not only a personification of the phenomena of change, the cat is our familiar and our guide while traveling through the dimensions.

Also hanging with the eyes, the cats, and the cosmic ghosts is one of three quilts of its kind in the show. Multi-tonal, textured blacks patched together, the chorus of darkness interrupted with flashes of heat and light in the form of randomly sized triangles, trapezoids, parallelograms and rhombuses of color. Two more of these burning landscapes hang on the walls leading up the stairs to the final room of the show.  Akin to the blending of the underworld with outer space depicted with the ceramic ghosts, the landscapes depicted in these three quilts is both of the fire of space and the fires of hell. Accompanied by the indifferent harbinger in the form of the black cat, we are walking with Joey through the cosmic underworld.

The final space of the show, past the watching eyes and glittering ghosts and burning voids, is the bedroom upstairs. The sole artwork in the room is a quilt lying on the bed. The cats again appear; this time en masse and in distinctly different poses, on the quilt upstairs, the resident housecat Brigitte having found a comfortable spot for itself on the bed as well.

But what are the lessons from hell and the vacuum, of walking through this heartbreak simulation? Joey’s work participates strongly in the realm of the pop culture oracular, pulling in and manipulating the signs of culture of the moment, playing in their subtleties and shifting them around before casting them back in to the infinite sign constellation in the form of fabric objects with meanings made from Joey’s particular alchemy of working with sadness and elementally reconfiguring it into joy.

But all oracles have limits to their vision into the ocean of possibilities. And it is the brave or unprotected oracles that, in the midst of confusion, go deeper, towards the leveling wisdom of infinity and death, and the freedom brought forth from acknowledging that wisdom. In the face of the cruel madness and absurdity so evident in our world at this time, the reminder of our death is a reminder of our life. In the face of the infinite void of space, we are able to refocus on ourselves with a grounded perspective.

But it is not all grim contemplations of death and freedom and endless emptiness, and the cats in their various poses on the final quilt in the show remind us of that. With each change or glitch in the fabric of our worlds, with each appearance of the cat as a harbinger of change, there nonetheless remains the infinity of other worlds with other changes and glitches occurring all at once. If the wisdom to be gained from passing through hell and space is the infinite of the void, the wisdom to be gained from the multiplicity of black cats is the rich infinity of being, existence and possibility.

Erin Frost | Soft Work

Interview by Adam K. Woods | Photographs by Sierra Stinson


Erin welcomes me into the peach light of her Capitol Hill apartment. It is the evening, late winter, and her home feels like a reliquary for precious objects. Heavy, sculptural drapes line the wall, blurring our current space and time. Pink suitcases nest together under a seating area in her bedroom. Jewelry hangs wherever it can; meticulous but organic. A closet door ajar allows a keyhole glimpse into her infamous collection of vintage dresses and party attire. The picture window in her apartment frames the glittering rubies of tail lights heading down I-5, creating a scintillate quality to the room.

If you make art here in Seattle, you have most-likely seen Erin Frost’s work. She is a versatile artist, creating successful pieces in numerous mediums. Meticulous embroideries clinging to intimate fabrics, blushing lipstick kisses sequenced at an arresting rate and proportion, sumptuous performances involving the use of her body and what she has chosen to activate with her presence. Erin is part of Seattle’s “empathic movement” as it is being called, and she gleans inspiration from the soft work of being human.

Most recently at the group show, Go On Take Everything, I experienced a collection of her ceramic duplications of corks. The champagne cork chosen for the replicas was the type you might clean up the morning after a celebration, maybe squeeze in your fingers remembering the party the night before. Featured in different stages of the firing process; many of the corks bared patches of rough white skin, some shone with a glossy clear glaze, others were scumbled with a solid gold coating. Over 80 corks were piled on a tray, and gallery-goers were welcome to handle the corks and purchase them. The piece was called “Is That All There Is?

Adam K. Woods : Talk with me about using your home as a studio space.

Erin Frost : It makes sense for me. I’ve never done it any other way, and it adds a certain amount of intimacy to my work. Working at home lends itself to a fluid state, where you can start making in the space between waking and sleeping. It allows for a more intuitive process. This is my art practice, this is my space, with no separation.

AW : I can see that inseparability. You’re living and you’re creating art and they are happening simultaneously.

EF : Sometimes I struggle with that; when is it art, when is it my life? I used to know that separation more, like, “Oh I’m working on a show, and it’s photography, so I’m shooting, then I’m processing the film, now I’m printing. This is the act of working on art.” At times I miss that clarity, but where I’m at right now is just constantly trying things, and in some ways bridging that divide between life and practice. Allowing myself room to be uninhibited in experimenting.

AW : Let’s talk about your connection to craft, in regards to your work like your “Golden Light” series, and also your embroidery & mending pieces. Do you feel a connection to American craft, and ‘traditional’ gender roles?

EF : I feel there’s this domesticity that arose from necessity. When I was recovering from a pretty serious back injury that was all I could do- I could sit and alter photographs I had already made.  And out of that mending eventually came the Golden Light series once I was recovered. That series reads as joyful; a celebration of relationships that were helping me heal. That original set-back opened up that exploration.

AW : There is similar iconography in those pieces as in your piece “Shift“, from Vignette’s Collection, but your medium changed to watercolor. What was happening?

EF : Shift was the first piece that happened after a breakup, and I was really thinking about the way you can alter your perspective and move through things – move through grief with grace, hopefully. Still working geometrically, but doing something that was new and unknown; creating organically. That piece is really important to me.

AW : Your home has a lot of warmth, and is meticulously decorated with vintage objects. How do you take care of your home and collect the things in your life?

EF : The majority of what I own I’ve collected over the years second hand. Because I’ve found it in this way, and seen the beauty in what’s been discarded, and elevated it in this surrounding, it gives me a wonderful pleasure. Things are just things, but I believe objects carry weight of what is projected onto them. I collect objects that are precious to me; beautiful things that become sacred, treasures from those I love. As a kid I always secretly loved cleaning my room because I’d have to go through everything on my dresser, all my ephemera, and touch everything. I can still get lost in that really easily, there’s memories attached to everything.

AW : Your home feels like a body; both your physical body and your body of work.

EF : That’s beautiful, I really like that. I’m easily influenced by my surroundings, so it’s important to have a sort of sanctuary. I do feel intentional about my space, and since i create here, it is an extension of my physical presence. It’s intimate space.

AW : If you don’t mind me asking, how have you responded to the grief and loss in your life in the last year (Erin lost a dear friend and her first love within a short period of time).

EF : It’s been a major part of my work. The most obvious being the video I created for Out of Sight 2015 (That Which Has Been Your Delight, 2015). That piece is about making space for pleasure. Something I’ve learned from loss is that you can only experience as much pleasure as the pain you’ve experienced. And pain is transformative. I took that to heart and tried to create from that space. I sat with that pain and in turn felt my own physical presence that much more. It made me bigger, more capable.

AW : It’s a very encompassing piece. I can see a lot of different elements of other works in there. There is also a connection to “beauty” as a concept. I would say you are a very beautiful person, and I would say that sometimes you project a timeless, vintage beauty too, and in your work this beauty exists, but also an escaping from this beauty. A documentation, but also a leaving. Talk with me about this.

EF : I use myself for my work because it’s the most intimate way I can create. It’s true in that I’m documenting myself in this space and time, so it’s a form of testimony. But at the same time, I’m creating altered realities that are in part about heightened beauty, sensuality, looking into my own mysteries. I’m generous with what I reveal, but at the same time creating protection for myself. So this work I make is simultaneously true and false. These elements seem at odds with each other and I don’t think there’s a tidy explanation for any of it. I know what I make is mostly done out of creative compulsion and that I want to add more beauty to the world, but I feel that in waves alongside the weight of impermanence. And I think that’s the thing about transforming, you get to, in some sense, choose your reality, even if only briefly.

AW : This reminds me very much of an interview with Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius) I was reading recently where Mike talks about how he was finally able to create a character that allowed him to leave what had happened to him- his vulnerability, his drug abuse, etc. He was able to put it away for a second and put on this outfit that allowed him to create. Do you resonate with that?


EF : Yes, and I think many of us do create characters in some form or another to strike a balance between self-preservation and self-expression. As someone who’s been enormously shy most of my life, the personas I adopt bear witness to many facets that need an outlet. I’m quiet and private, but I’m also an exhibitionist who wants to perform all the parts of myself. The curious thing about being a creator is then sharing that bold intimacy into the public realm, bridging the gap between private and public. I also think that allowing ourselves to creatively enact fantasy is both healing and can act as a form of exorcism.


AW : Your outfits are not just an extension of your artwork, they really are pieces of art. You put your artist’s eye on what you wear, and it’s amazing. A lot of people don’t do that here in Seattle as much as they do in other cities like San Francisco or New York or LA. When you go into your closet, talk with me about what you see and do.

EF : Oh, the magic closet! I feel parties and possibilities in there. While I tend to wear a sort of daily uniform, these other garments are a different vehicle. I never outgrew playing dress up, and when I walk into my closet it feels like I’m looking for not only what will make me comfortable in my own skin, but that slight magic that, again, allows for transformation. Costuming is key for transformation, it’s own form of communication. Late night parties at my house sometimes end up in the closet, everyone squeezed into that little room, emerging in a different outfit. It’s one of my favorite things.

AW : I feel like you are an “insider-outsider” artist in that you are less concerned with world-wide art trends or what’s happening in Seattle’s gallery scene, but you are inside this tight-knit group of creators, what is being called the “lyricists” or “empathic movement” here in this city.

EF : I feel like an outsider artist. It’s not that I don’t care what’s going on, but it’s hard enough to create without the roadblocks of wondering whether or not something has been done before. My work is not trying to be anything other that what I need it to be for me, what I need to be creating in the moment. The empathic movement of people making tender work allows us all to find our true voice. It could totally fail or it could be the best thing I’ve ever made, but I’m going to try it and see how it feels. It’s been feeling pretty good.

AW : You created “That Which Has Been Your Delight” on an Iphone 4, which is amazing. I feel like we are living in a time when everyone is so capable, has so many tools, that it can be overwhelming to create.

EF : Yeah, if you think about the intimacy of your phone, it’s almost an extension of yourself; it’s on your body, you’re rarely without it. I think that made it less scary to test the waters of video art. I agree that having access to so much can be overwhelming, but I think in this instance, because it was an intimate tool, it wasn’t daunting. If I would’ve thought about it and felt the need to use fancy equipment, that project probably would never have happened. But using something that was familiar and available made it feel like more of a sketch. It gave me both permission and a restriction to work with, which is something that I’m realizing I need in my work. I have to get creative within the limitations i have.

AW : Do you consider yourself a Seattle artist?

EF : I feel like an outsider in a lot of ways in this city, in the art world at large. But I am a Seattle artist in that I’ve lived here for over a decade, even if I don’t really know quite where I fit. Vignettes has helped changed how I think about my work and my place in this city. As a space that gives a platform to so many heartfelt creators, it’s given me courage to experiment and carve out more space for myself.

AW : Do you feel like your work is feminist?

EF : I don’t think of my work as necessarily a feminist statement. But as a feminist maker, I certainly do consider my work feminist. My work is about claiming my body- my physical and emotional space in the world. It’s about how and what I want to reveal. It also touches on domestic space, declaring that and giving that weight and validity. And I think anytime women reclaim the gaze for themselves, it’s empowering, and that is something I’m very interested in.

AW : We’ve talked a lot about death in previous conversations. What are you trying to do before you die?

EF : I thought I had it figured out at one point, like when I was doing my photography, I was on this clear trajectory with what I wanted to accomplish. This idea that when I died I would leave this encapsulated body of work. And that work I was making felt good for a long time, it felt strong and complete. I did that for so long, and then my Dad died, and everything changed. I stopped making work for a long time. And now, I don’t know. It’s so much less about the work and more about the experience. I have a fair amount of existential crisis, and I’m also more aware of the beauty in my life. I hope, if anything, that I would impact people in a loving and gentle way.

But really the answer to your question is, I want to experience as much love as I can.

Erin most recently took over the Vignette’s Weekender on instagram to create and pilot new ideas for work. Follow Vignettes here (#erinfrostvignettes) and catch up on the intimate pieces she created.

Curator’s Corner : OUT OF SIGHT



When I met Greg Lundgren, it was six years ago at his solo exhibit ‘I am from Bellevue‘ in Open Satellite (a contemporary art space which no longer exists). From that day on I wanted to collaborate with him and this is technically our first official curatorial project. After not receiving other project grants from the city, it makes sense that Out of Sight is an independent venture. Greg dreams big and he just so happened upon a space that enables that dream in plain sight at the center of Seattle’s arts district. Out of Sight is an exhibition of Pacific Northwest artists in conjunction and responce to the Seattle Art Fair this July 30th – August 2nd. It is a Vital5Production (Founded and run by Lundgren himself) and co-curated with Roq La Rue’s Kirsten Anderson, Sharon Arnold and myself.

Serrah and I asked co-curators and facilitators Kirsten and Greg to have a conversation about this large scale exhibit, it is brief because we are all literally running around building and painting walls while also heading to studio visits of over 100 artists in the region. It’s an exciting time for all of us and it’s hopefully only the beginning!





Greg Lundgren : Hi Kirsten. Two weeks left before Out of Sight opens. How are you feeling?

Kirsten Anderson : Hi Greg! Pretty great! Only slightly panicky but there seems to be a vibe that started around this show since day one that assures me everything is going to be great! I guess that start is a good place to begin- how did you start conceptualizing this show? I know when we first started talking about it it was a very different animal…

GL : I think it grew out of Walden Three and my interest in securing the Lusty Lady building as a contemporary art space for PNW artists. That one didn’t go as planned, but my desire to highlight the enormous creative talent we have in this city has been a constant since I moved back to Seattle in 1995. The Seattle Art Fair was just too big of an opportunity to miss.

We started out on the same block in Belltown 17 years ago. How has Roq La Rue changed over the years? You’ve always championed the region, but it feels like you represent more PNW artists than ever before.

KA : Yeah, I still remember the night Vital 5 and Roq La Rue opened in the summer 1998 quite vividly! Who’d have think we’d be working on a project all these years later. I feel like you’ve really championed NW artists most of the time. I’m only more recently showing more local talent because there is an influx of artists showing the type of work I deal in, also bringing in Sharon Arnold at Roq La Rue (also a co- curator of OOS) exposed me to a lot if local work I might have overlooked. And of course Sierra Stinson has been showing local work for years too.
This show was put together really quickly- it felt like we really needed to get something together in time to take advantage of the Seattle Art Fair occurring. Care to speak to that? What do you feel were the negatives about doing a show this fast? And how about the positives- because I feel like there are many!

Before the walls were built, June 19th
GL : Everything is happening so fast. We got the keys 3 weeks ago! We were so close to pulling the plug, to calling it quits because the time line was so short. We had to make a lot of decisions fast and we didn’t have the luxury of investigating the rest of the PNW deeper, let alone our own city. I really look forward to next year (hell yes) when we can have a whole year to explore British Columbia, eastern Washington, Portland and our own backyard more thoroughly. But when faced with the decision to throw in the towel or rise to the occasion, I’m really glad that we said yes. Even if it meant I had to basically live in a train station. As for the positives (there is no time for negativity right now), I love how many artists that were not invited still rallied around what we were doing- be that volunteering or Home Depot gift cards. That’s the community that has kept me here- we want each other to succeed. That is really exceptional an so different from my years in Los Angeles.
Got any good stories about Out of Sight? Seems like people see how rare of a moment the Art Fair is.
KA : Really I’ve been most taken with how involved- almost possessive, some people feel about it. I’ve never worked on a show with this level of heightened emotion surrounding it. Really impressed how artists not picked this time around are volunteering to help anyway! I think there has been a desire to see something like this happen in the NW for a long time. I see the artists in this exhibition really knowing they have to bring their A game- and I think there’s something to the fact we’ll pass on work that doesn’t meet our expectations. The artists know we’re dead serious and that causes them to be too. It’s totally great! It really feels like the groundwork for a seismic shift in Seattle’s art scene is poised to happen.
As you mentioned- it’d be great to make this a yearly production. Do you have a vision on how this could grow?

GL : The more time I spend building walls and hanging lighting and wrapping my head around Out of Sight, the more excited I am about seeing this as the beginning of an annual event. This first year is happening so fast, but I already look forward to next year. It allows us to look at art through a new lens. It makes me want to explore what is happening in different parts of the PNW – Vancouver, Eastern Washington, Portland, Spanaway. And of course take a deeper examination of the art that is happening in our own back yard. Out of Sight was inspired by all the great artists we did know and I think future years will be fortified and made greater with the inclusion of new talents that we do not yet know. It has created a really exciting, deeper motivation to explore our region and shine a light on the brilliance that is not so easily discovered. Sometimes sequels are worse than the original but I really feel this has the capacity to just get better and better.









Q&A : Elizabeth Stinson

Interview by Sierra Stinson | Photographs by Megumi Shauna Arai

Elizabeth Stinson is my mother. She is an artist, a therapist, a nurturer, an empath, and a force to reckon with. Throughout my life she has welcomed individuals from all communities and backgrounds into our home and lives. She was one of my first influences growing up taking me on trips to reservations in North America to work on human rights issues with Unrepresented Nations. She taught me that if you have anything to give; space, compassion, time, insight, to simply do it because you can. It is a service to exist in this world in a nurturing way. She has literally saved lives in the work she does and I couldn’t speak more highly of her accomplishments. Here is a Q&A with my mother, Elizabeth.





Sierra: Hi Mom, Will you tell our Vignettes audience a bit about yourself?

What is it that you do professionally and creatively? In life?

Elizabeth: Hi Honey,

I am a therapist, working mainly with deep trauma.  I am able to continue to do this work because I paint, play and pretend. I work in oil, latex and watercolor paints. I play with my wonderful granddaughter, who is a creative, and we pretend and become whatever she imagines.

SS: When did you begin creating? What enabled you to create?

ES: I began creating as a child, glue and crayons were my first tools and probably scissors.  My world was a collage that grew into a love to paint.  I think that I was lucky to be influenced by cousins that helped raise me and taught me to value painting as much as any interest or career and later on by art therapists and injured clients who taught me the restorative power of creating art.

SS: Are there any exhibitions or artists currently that are of interest to you?


ES: I am hungry for what is on the horizon.  I am nurtured as a therapist and an artist by the exposure to artists featured in Vignettes. I also go to every museum I can access, most often the Portland Art Museum and San Francisco MOMA, since I can’t go to TATE London that often. I often check to see if, say a Franz Kline retrospective is ANYWHERE?  I am very drawn to the ledger work of Michael Horse and more recently to work that is done in grids, abstract but many pieces combining to create a whole.  I think life is like that and my work reflects that, I hope, so I am currently stimulated by art that is intentionally multidimensional.

SS: What are you most excited about this year? In the world at large or in your community/family?

ES: Well, I think I am most excited about the members of our clan who are pursuing their dreams, despite the obstacles.  Holding them tightly and nurturing them to life.

SS: What was an exhibition that moved you in your life? A piece or body of work that shifted your way of thinking / feeling / experiencing life or art?

ES: Without a doubt the Rothko exhibit at the Tate in London.  Originally Seagrams had requested a mural for a restaurant.  There was some disagreement and Rothko took them back, part of  the series became property of the Tate Modern in London. The experience of standing in a dimly lit room, with only Rothko’s work in the room and staring for a long time at one particularly riveting piece was transcendent for me as an artist.  What was first seen as the surface became the depth, what was the exterior held me and the painting as one.

SS: What kind of work do you collect and who?


ES:  I collect work by artists who I feel push the edges, challenge their medium to do something new. I also collect art that is culturally representative and has survived colonization and represents the struggle, as do zuni fetishes, Navajo (Dine) rugs and Seri Ironwood carvings. i also collect art in nature, I have stones and stick and shells around me as well as images of clouds.

SS: When you reflect on your life what do you feel are the greatest moments or movements that you were a part of?

ES:  My strongest intention for my life has been to support the realization that violence is not a solution…to anything. I came of age in a time of war, deeply concerned that my older brother would be drafted and sent to Vietnam.  Many of my peers are permanently damaged by their exposure to violence, both inside the U.S and in foreign countries.  It is heart breaking to me that my children have also been exposed to violence as a failed solution by more wars. My repulsion to violence accompanied by need to create art as a restorative act helped me formulate a life long resistance to all violence as a solution. I went to jail many times for civil disobedience.  Many times I was in a position to help build jail solidarity and sometimes able to negotiate for a “catch and release” policy for those arrested. I worked hard to learn to dialogue with judges and courts and police to establish restorative justice programs in communities rather than jail as a solution.  This country is way out of balance, building more prisons and ignoring the outcomes of lives lost and undeveloped.  What an extreme waste of spirit and loss of potential and honor of diversity.  I hope to see more art and music and gardening and meditation options within community service settings as alternatives to imprisonment.  As you know, I have for years counseled many impacted by military sexual trauma and by rape both within the military and civilian community.  I could not productively work with such high acuity cases if I was not also painting, speaking to painters, listening to musicians and treasuring their societal impact.  Art, all forms help me find balance within a very disturbed and damaged culture. I have a long history of human rights work.

SS: Do you feel like there is a current movement that you are excited about?

ES: Our art continues to be a reflection of that wondrous gift of life all around us.  This is a very important transition time for artists. The D.I.Y movement has liberated art and its creators. It is very exciting to see art that is not inhibited by agents and museum standards, very exciting.  I am learning a lot from this next generation that refuses to objectify its work or let the system do so.  The presentation, experience of art and artists is more personal, reflective and engaged than ever. It can only serve to push open even wider space for  a much needed influence and experience.

SS: Thanks Mom, it was a pleasure chatting with you about art and your life. Thanks for being you.

ES: Thanks honey

Departed | A Conversation with Graham Downing

Graham Downing:  hi yo!

Sierra Stinson:  Hiya!

So let’s jump right in – you’ve been away for a few days now.

GD: yes slowly approaching a week

SS:  I would love to discuss the four works you’ve created for ‘I’ll Never Understand the Difference Between Arrivals and Departures’ currently on view at Glass Box Gallery can you describe each one to someone who hasn’t been to the show?

GD:  totally, its a fairly sparse show, usually my work has to be dismantled afterwards so its a relief to create something i feel has high impact but also couldn’t fall onto someone.

SS:  haha

GD:  the show is a video, a book, a sculpture and a performance all of them discussing themes of time both moving forward, looking back and right in the middle too the heart of the show is the performance, a piece called “land of the lotuses”, represented by a calendar on the wall the performance is attempting to leave seattle and not come back for three months having been born in Seattle beating the previous record for time my body has left the city.

SS:  yes, I recall your first and (only?) artist statement you’ve written

‘Graham Downing was born, raised and plans to die in Seattle’

GD:  hahaha, thats every statement I write usually with the addition of “Graham is also sorry he never got back to your texts or emails”

SS:  hahaha and its very apparent in this exhibit.

GD:  i was born here, I’m here now I’ll always come back

that is sort of the idea

The second piece is two book ends, facing away from each other so there book pressing pressures shoot away from each other. It is called “pre birth post death”  and i love that it represents everything in time thats not myself – if that makes any sense its everything but you

SS:  exactly.

GD:  In thinking about my own future and past I realize thats even squished in between two things

SS:  I love that piece, it’s something that has come up in your practice in the past as well.

You tend to create these spaces / installations for individuals to take time in. And I feel like now you are taking your own time. You are the installation or in it.

GD:  Certainly, many of the works I have made before- specifically installation, has a sort of “crawl in this hole and see how you feel” thing going on, Here’s a whole box you can get inside, here’s a thing you can play with, I don’t really know the answer to the equation but I have the components to the problem..

SS:  haha

GD:  in this piece i think I’m crawling into the hole myself

though i kinda love crawling in the whole too

SS:  Yes. And so where does that hole / whole exist now?

What are you looking for?

GD:  oh god


i think i didn’t know until I left.

and maybe i still don’t know

SS:  Well in art practice, it can be the action that helps you find out right? I always thought so.

GD:  I knew that I couldn’t answer it until i was out here

SS:  Yes -the act of creating allows you to understand why you are creating to begin with.

GD:  like guessing felt like trying to predict the future

SS:   indeed.

so you left Seattle, to go where?

GD:  I am in Eastern Washington now, staying on a ranch in the Methow Valley – opening a store and gallery in town with my collaborator Max Kraushaar

SS:  That sounds dreamy.

GD:  it is

Today i went rock hounding and watch rushed hour

SS:  haha, sounds like the duality of being out on your own.

GD:  haha

SS:  What will the store / gallery be like?

GD:  right now were calling it an inconvenience store

SS:  haha

GD:  i sort of see it as an installation of a store

SS:  nice.

GD:  Max and I are both very interested in those glass cases at gas stations with all the whippets and lighters and sex drugs, the kind of dumb things you collect on your dash during a road trio

SS:  What every trucker might need or want.

GD:  Totally

i think that if we pursue it as a flexible installation and not a rigid store we can be more opportunistic to ourselves and the community

SS:  Definitely.

GD:  we do want to sell lighters, but i will be painting mostly and hoping to sell them

GD:  i think to answer the question of why a large part of it was to paint in a large studio in a space that would enable me to possibly sell it

SS:  So rather than simply being the city slickers out in Eastern Washington you want to integrate yourself into environment and see where you fit in the town?

GD:  Absolutely, I’m waring of using Eastern Washington as a rustic background to foreward our hip city look

SS:  Makes sense.

there aren’t many large studios in the city these days. How large of a space are you working on out there?

GD:  its a large space, like really big, i think its around 2000 square feet

SS:  wow, that’s great!

GD:  I don’t think i could throw a baseball all the way across it

though I could probably whip a penny that far

so it is that big


SS:  Haha, Nice. I can see it now

So back to what you’ve left behind. Just for a moment then we can travel back to where you are now.

What else did you create for the exhibit currently up at Glass Box?

GD:  I created a video during the install of the show called “breakdown during install thinking about leaving”

It is a just a 40 minute long loop of me having a panic attack while you and Serrah take the last show down

SS:  yeah, I’ve spoken to a lot of people about that one. It seems to really draw them in, watching you in that pink light.

GD:  the light was perfect

like heat stroke

SS:  yes

GD:  what have people said about it?

haha, its strange to have not been at the show with anyone and not know how the opening even went

SS:  Well, the opening went really well.

people took time with each piece it seemed.

Some individuals closed themselves into the video installation room and just sat with it

Watching you in the video stressing out sitting on that floor, fidgeting away

GD:  haha so good

i bet seeing me sit makes people wanna sit

SS:  definitely.

GD:  like oh yeah, i could just give up on this whole standing thing and be on the ground right now

SS:  yes – they are sitting with you. eye to eye

GD:  i think that video makes a lot of sense too because I was crying in public a lot before I left, it made sense that that vulnerability would be a part of the show

SS:  definitely, it felt necessary to me too.

GD:  but regardless that piece came about as the blunt answer to how I was feeling during the install, freak out, and we had a camera so i just sat down and we filmed it

SS:  Your presence in your absence and your last moment to really express how hard this is to do.

GD:  toootally

its my placeholder at the show

as everyone remembers me



SS:  haha

and then the autobiography.

Where you are most present in history.

GD:  Truly, for the show I knew I wanted to try and write my autobiography, not only because i want to write more and it seemed like the perfect prompt, but for the joke of everything up until the show – the last entry is “and then i wrote this, and then i left seattle”

it is almost 280 memories and stories from the last 26 years of my life starting at birth and ending two days before the show

SS:  There was a que for it at the opening,  it’s also fairly illegible if someone doesn’t know your writing, so people were helping one another in reading it aloud.

GD:  hahaha

oh god

most of it was written pressed against my knee drinking coffee so there are all sorts of stains too

SS:  And its a few notebooks right?

I had to clarify to people that none of the text was written back then from when you were a kid.

How long did it take you to write it?

GD:  Three different ones, written over the month before the show

SS:  Your memory of your childhood is so clear.

GD:  It took a month, with sporadic writing, sometimes memories would unpack other memories and it would be like a vein

SS:  definitely

GD:  i think it helped that i had been telling stories from my childhood for most of my life

so it was easy to remember these very choice moments that ive used to relate to people before

SS:  You have, I was surprised how many I actually knew.

GD:  haha

i believe it – Everyone’s heard that Frida Kahlo story

SS:  true. It’s so classic.

There is a lot of crying, confusion and self deprecation. Like any good comedian.

it’s like your stand up act

GD:  truly

so much crying

i was scared of a lot as a child

SS:  What do you think triggered that fear? Or was it just there from the beginning?

Your text makes it seem like it was always there.

GD:  Boy, I think I’ve just always been very sensitive, especially as a child

luckily I grew up in an environment where that was okay

SS:  definitely, Seattle with your family – I can see that.

GD:  it has helped my comedy for sure

i got that going for me

SS:  You’ve always used it for your advantage

vulnerability makes the best comedy.

but i feel this way with art too

Hence why this show feels poignant to me regarding your practice.

You aren’t hiding behind any smoke n mirrors, it is very raw.

Even the metaphor of the ‘land of the lotuses’ isn’t accurate, it’s the way you remember it.

GD:  haha

i like this show because it relies on zero impressive construction or material

SS:  true true

GD:  I like to create things that are emotional beyond their physical state. I think that is a big part of my comedy coming into visual art. How to take what you have and rearrange it bigger than itself

SS:  I love that idea.

GD:  It’s the same confusing way that jokes make us laugh, is why art makes us feel

SS:  indeed. So with this exhibit, why now?

You’ve had the idea to leave Seattle for a long while

but then to integrate it into a piece…and these other works too.

There are a lot of threads that have come together here.

GD:  Certainly having somewhere to go helped, a place I could go and work on things

Making it a piece was in some ways a way to paint myself into a corner and do it

i sort of wanted to trick myself into leaving

because i was afraid i never would if i didn’t.

That is the whole idea of the ‘land of the lotuses’ – it is so comfortable you never leave

I was trying to pull my face outta of the flower a bit just to see what else is out there.


It’s really weird out here


SS:  it’s always healthy to rattle your own cage a bit.

shake things up to see what you find.

GD:  Performance art is all about examining your comfort zone

SS:  Definitely.

GD:  My comfort zone is Seattle

My comfort zone is Seattle in bed

SS:  Yes. I can see that.

How do you feel about being out there?

GD:  Sometimes really scared

Like really starting to admit I’ve moved, I’m not sure I’ve done that yet.

SS:  Committed to 12 weeks.

GD:  I keep thinking things like “oh ill just grab that at art primo when im back” and things like that then realizing i wont be.

I think it is the fear many of us have (that we should let go of) that the choice we are making is not the right one (even though it has to be)

I’ve been moving around a lot lately, in the last few months and am ready for something to feel like the right choice

hopefully out here does

though it probably will.

I went for a hike today and found Eagle feathers and now I’m sitting in my studio surrounded by rubble that will be a store soon

SS:  that doesn’t sound like such a bad choice yet.

I think you can do it. But it always comes down to if you really can and want to.

GD:  yeah, I am more sure now then I was before leaving

more sure that i could

SS:  definitely. You will go through stages and that’s okay.

Well I’m wondering what else I have to ask you…do you have anything you really want to talk about?

GD:  every single parking spot in this town has oil stains

every single one

SS:  haha. I know exactly what that looks like.

I believe we will be sending a couple writers out over to you two once the studio is set up to do a studio visit.

GD:  that’s exciting to me

i cant wait for them to come!

SS:  I know what that looks like but will you still take a photo for us?

GD:  yes! should i send it now?

SS:  Yes!

GD: onnnneeee sec

GD: wait

how do i send a pic?


i emailed it to you

SS: Got it! so serious

GD:  haha, feeling serious

SS:  I understand.

GD:  If anything else i just wanna thank people for checking out the show and wish me luck! look out for info about the store in the future! Thanks!

SS:  Will do! Good luck and talk to you soon Graham!  xs

GD:  bye! x


A conversation with Sierra Stinson & Serrah Russell

Vignettes has partnered up with artist and curator Serrah Russell. We decided to have a casual conversation regarding our goals with Vignettes, Seattle’s community, what we find exciting in the world at large and a little back and forth banter via googlechat.  No edits were made to this dialogue except for links to what we are discussing – Enjoy!


Sierra:  Hiya!
Serrah:  Hey!
Sierra:  So, lets begin. I was thinking we can chat a bit about you and me now working together with Vignettes, sound good?
Serrah:  Absolutely!
I’m so thrilled to be working together!
Sierra:  Cool,  ME TOOO! I am really excited to have you now on board and yes, we’ve had a few conversations about things we want to do in the past but what is it that you want to be involved in and feel is the future for a malleable project like Vignettes? You come from such a great background as an artist and running Violet Strays for the last few years now.
Im curious what are you currently inspired by and want to do?
 Sent at 3:34 PM on Monday
 Serrah:  It feels natural to work together. From the first time we met for tea at Oddfellows back in 2010, maybe,
I felt like we totally got each other’s vision and sensibility. And we began to have plans to collaborate together right
away. And what I’m so excited about is that it feels like some of those plans are happening now with Vignettes.
I remember us talking about the idea of import/export, scheming up ways to support local artists and create
connections between artists and alternative exhibition spaces outside of Seattle.
Sierra:  Yeah, import/export has been there from the beginning.
There are so many great spaces in and outside of Seattle and we could use the exchange part to happen.
 Serrah:  I think I’m currently inspired by the potential of what Vignettes can be, of what Seattle can be, and really
a more connected art experience, less insular.
 Sierra:  I was thinking about the insularity the other day, how bummed I am that people based in Seattle don’t often attend gallery exhibits of artists not based in Seattle.
 Serrah:  And I think what I have always loved about Vignettes, was the way it isn’t fixed, it shifts and grows.
 Sierra:   Yeah, that’s the goal, since our world is constantly shifting so do our ideas, needs and projects.

 Sent at 3:40 PM on Monday
 Serrah:  Yeah, it’s tough. I think because we’re still a small city and we all get to know each other, art exhibitions are social scenes. I think the studio visits are hugely important on Vignettes Collection because I think that creates an emotional connection between viewers with the artist, so whether you personally know the artist or not, you start to feel like you understand them and their process.
 Sierra:  Definitely, it’s actually my favorite part right now.
 Serrah:  Which is going to be hugely important as we expand to artists and an audience outside of the Pacific Northwest
Sierra:  Vignettes began with studio visits back in 2010.
 Serrah:  I was photographing at Chandler Woodfin’s studio last week and I said the same thing to her, that this is my favorite part, because it becomes about conversation and getting to know the work better through photography and the written word.
Sierra:  I did a studio visit for nearly every artist and it’s one of my favorite things to do in general, see what people are
up to creating and where their brain and heart are in their work.
Oh yeah, Im excited to see those images of Chandler’s space, isn’t it beautiful?
 Serrah:  I think studios are like a home. I always loved visiting friend’s childhood home because you can tell a lot about them. It’s like you see their space that they create in and you intrinsically understand the work better.
 Sierra:  Exactly!
 Serrah:  The space is amazing and she is doing some really exciting new work. She’s cutting up her paintings and collaging with them. So naturally I’m obsessed with that  🙂
 Sierra:  haha of course.
I spent a lot of time in my dad’s woodshop as a kid and I just watched him create so much, I was always fascinated with process.
So this series is definitely fulfilling that interest of mine.
At the same moment its offering a venue to other writers.
Serrah:  Yes, and the writers have been so amazing. So uniquely different but really giving you a sense of the person, their space, and their work.
Rich Smith wrote of my condo building that it smelled like “bubblegum and weed” and I’ll never forgot that description. haha
 Sierra:  ahhh sooooo goood.
Rich had never written about an artist in that way before. I’m looking forward to Amanda Parker’s Q&A with Lindsey Apodaca, those two are going to be good friends after that one.
I can tell.
 Serrah:  !!! YES!
that’s the other thing that I’m so excited by with Vignettes, the connections that are being made. It’s a way to play match-maker for artists in a way.
 Sierra:  which is my favorite thing to do.
Serrah:  I think Vignettes has been doing that all along, thinking of collaborative shows you’ve curated, the Vignettes/APRIL collaboration… I mean, Adam Boehmer and Maggie Carson Romano…come on, it’s just too perfect!
 Sierra:  hahaha well they were a match made in heaven.
and the APRIL folks are fucking perfect.
I love everything they do and with such enthusiasm for words
Serrah:  100%. YES!
Sierra:  That said what last year took place for you that shifted anything inside of you either goal-wise for you as an artist or
curator or business woman? I know you travelled a bit, went to Frieze London…exhibited a lot.

Did you feel a shift? My year was full of shifts including this big launch of the site and Im curious about you.
 Sent at 3:53 PM on Monday
Serrah:  Great question. I did feel a shift but I think it was a bit more gradual than marked by big events, aside from traveling to Europe. That was huge. Since my husband Robbie was traveling for work, I tagged along and pretty much spent as much time as I could, for three weeks, seeing art. And man, the art world is big. I went to two international art fairs, Frieze London and FIAC Paris and it just expanded my view of what art is out there, that people are buying it…I loved it.

Honestly, seeing so much large art in the museums was thrilling and I think has made me want to expand my practice to a larger scale.
Sierra:  That’s great!
Serrah:  But what I remember loving was that I didn’t know anyone there and I often didn’t even speak the language so
it was just about looking at art. It was really quiet and focused. And I feel I don’t get that as often here.
Sierra:  I went to Frieze NY last year and it was so fascinating.
Talk about a name dropping fair.
Serrah:  But it was powerful to look at art that I didn’t always have a context for, where I didn’t know the background of the
individual, and didn’t feel like my viewing was about a social context.
Sierra:  It’s great, to just fill yourself up with it.
 Serrah:  I would also say that this year was also a shift of wanting art and art projects to be sustainable, and to be profitable.
 Sierra:  I’m happy there is a market around, and do want to find a way to tap into it.
In a different way though.
Sent at 4:00 PM on Monday
Serrah:  Definitely. I think what is exciting is that there are so many pockets, so many groups.
And I think what I most love about the internet is that you can reach people in those sub-groups, all over the world.
Sierra:  exactly.
and I’ve been thinking about our subgroup.
Last night MKNZ and I were having a heart to heart about all of the brilliant artists we are in the company of, after having co-curated ‘In the absence of…’ at Greg Kucera and working with so many different individuals in the last five years.
We decided there is a movement happening here.
And it’s important and beautiful
Serrah:  It truly is. That’s why I’m here. and why I’m staying here.
me:  me too, and its why I have to leave to gain perspective.
Serrah:  I wanted to ask you what keeps you here in Seattle? I know we’ve talked about how important travel is to your
life and your creativity.
Sierra:  its so important
Serrah:  Maybe you can touch on that a bit…
Sierra:  definitely, well….
honestly I have attempted to leave Seattle and thought about leaving it repeatedly throughout the years.
But I always find myself staying.
at my own will.
I think it’s actually this movement, this community of artists that keeps me here.
They are inspiring, as MKNZ calls them – they are lyricists.
Serrah:  oh, that’s lovely.
Sierra:  Yes, its actually the perfect way to describe what is going on here. They are artists who are working in the same way as a lyricist, they are creating short poems expressing emotion.
Serrah:  It’s really fitting that travel is so important to you, because it really speaks to what Vignettes is and what Seattle is as a city, sending people out into the world, but bringing them back to a beautiful home-base.
Sierra:  They are reacting to the changes in the city thoughtfully and emotionally and through beauty and to their own relationships around them
we all are really.
 Serrah:  You’re right! Artists are making work that is emotional and personal, I’m particularly thinking of how true that is of “in the absence of…”
Sierra:  that exhibit was really moving to me, and it just happened. Klara and I thought of the artists and they all delivered pieces that resonated that were new or needed a space to house them in their entirety.
It was a once in a lifetime experience I feel as far as group exhibits go
 Serrah:  I also think something is really cool about a city where it is starting to become a norm for spaces to share their spaces with other artists/curators. There is a lot of overlap and collaboration
Sierra:  There is.
Seattle is a city full of collaborators.
Hence why Im here, its one of my favorite things to do.
And why I really needed another person involved in Vignettes because I want to create something greater then myself and that is through collaborating.
It’s the same with relationships.
 Serrah:  Agree.completely.
I know I wouldn’t want to do anything like Vignettes or Violet Strays alone.
Sent at 4:11 PM on Monday
Serrah:  It’s made stronger by two voices, opinions, visions and man power.
And also, I think it’s a lot more fun!
Sierra:  so true.
so much fun!
and you like earl grey tea!
Match made in heaven.
Serrah:  And I think we all know that there’s no point in doing any of this, if we’re not enjoying the process of it.
Sierra:  hahaha definitely.
Serrah:  oh girl, I’ve had about 4 cups of earl grey today already. I’m so glad we get each other on that front.
Sierra:  hear hear!
I’ve had two cups of earl grey and two mint.
Serrah:  side note. I always thought hear hear! was here here!
Sierra:  is it?
Serrah:  I literally just learned this week that I was doing it wrong.
Sierra:  hahaha
 Serrah:  no. you’re correct. I was wrong for years
Sierra:  I never knew.
was just guessing.
its easier to say then type out ya know?
Serrah:  Well, the reason why I think it’s correct is because I saw Rich Smith post it on Facebook.
So I’m pretty sure he would know.
Sierra:  im sure he would.
Serrah:  Hear here! is nice though
Sierra:  well you know how I feel about the word ‘here’. 😉
 Sent at 4:15 PM on Monday
 Serrah:  oh yes!
 Sent at 4:16 PM on Monday
Serrah:  I love every word that has multiple meanings. Well, that’s kinda obvious, almost every word has multiple meanings but words like “entrance” “leaves” “rose”
Sierra:  oooooo good ones.
I know what you mean.
Serrah:  I’m curious about a ritual or tradition that is part of your life…
Sierra:  haha i know where you took that one from.
Hmmmmm let me think.
Serrah:  Yes, I’m stealing your own question from the symposium panel at Bellevue Art Museum.
I read this book “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” and ever since I am fascinated by the details of artist/creatives daily living
Sierra:  ritual is very important.
i was raised with a lot of ritual, in its different meanings.
 Serrah:  The book is really a range but some that are memorable are so many people who incorporate a daily walk into their life, specific meals/drinks. I think it was David Lynch who would have a chocolate milkshake and 7 cups of coffee at a diner before writing.
I also think it’s fascinating that there is both conscious and unconscious ritual, and they both matter.
Sierra:  I think now as an adult I’ve grown more accustomed to weekly rituals, I’m a creature of habit but I don’t often make time for myself daily, it happens every few days a week where I take time.
in a conscious way
I do drink tea daily and that feels intentional. And I’ve been writing daily. But it can occur at any hour and it doesn’t have to be for a length of time, it just has to happen.
Lately being around certain people is very important to me on a weekly basis.
 Sent at 4:24 PM on Monday
me:  to walk around with, have dinner with, go to Vito’s and listen to Ruby Bishop every Sunday with.
Serrah:  sounds lovely.
Sierra:  To be in good company and learn from one another, to converse and discuss and learn from one another.
I recently was out of town at a residency, gone for a month and it was difficult to spend so much time solo. I do like to be around people, it feeds me and inspires me and I learn a lot from others.
At the same moment it was good to create solo rituals.
Like a morning walk and tea time and then go to a hot spring and just take time, like Olafur Eliasson’s practice ‘take your time’
Serrah:  I think that solitude is good but it is difficult. Definitely a shift. It’s an opportunity for growth but can be a struggle at the time. Even in Europe, although I definitely had an amazing time, I felt a disconnect.
Sierra:  and disconnect is really interesting, you learn a lot from it.
Serrah:  daily hot springs! sigh…sounds magical.
me:  haha yeah well I was lucky I happened to be in a town that used to be named ‘Hot Springs’ haha
Serrah:  I think that quiet solo time is so important to being energized and creative. I want us to be able to create that for artists in the future.
Sierra:  Definitely.
I’ve always been interested in creating a space for artists to create work, not only exhibit.
When I was in school my practice was all about displacement and situational luck.
Serrah:  Tell me more!
Sierra:  I went abroad because I wanted to feel that is see what it did to my practice.
and to*
Serrah:  displacement is so related to traveling and to import/export. There’s something so powerful in that movement.
Sierra:  it really is. You learn a lot and it kind of stunts you and then releases you
and the inspiration arrives.
Serrah:  RIGHT!
stunts you and releases you. that’s the truth.
 Sent at 4:32 PM on Monday
Sierra:  thats why when one is displaced it is good to take time because you will go through the motions of adjustment then find a place to create
at least that is what I experienced
Serrah:  So what is situational luck?
Sierra:  ah…well
 Sent at 4:33 PM on Monday
me:  situational luck is sort of a phrase I coined a long time ago as a term to explain serendipity or synchronicity
perfect timing.
 Serrah:  perfect!
Sierra:  it was born out of a game I used to play which we called ‘two word derby’
and we would come up with combinations like ‘jesus adhesive’ or ‘free-range citizen’ or ‘tarpaper loveshack’
those were some of my favorites and ‘Situational Luck’ became my thesis
Serrah:  nice.
Sierra:  What do you see happening with Vignettes? Do you have goals beyond what we are currently up to?
 Serrah:  I did a similar thing once with a friend where we both came up with our favorite words and then we created pairings
with them and some of them were just so lovely. They were like little word collages in a way.
 Sierra:  oooooo nice!
I love that idea.
I did something similar with Adriana Grant for Violet Strays way back when.
Her words and my images and their random order / happenings.
 Sent at 4:39 PM on Monday
Serrah:  I want Vignettes to be THE place for art online. I want for collecting art to be a part of everyone’s lifestyle, just like
fashion, home decor, food. I want  us to bridge the gap in a way and make art collecting enticing and accessible and possible.
Sierra:  !!!
Serrah:  Yours and Adriana’s Violet Strays was so beautiful! Of course, I loved it!
Sierra:  awww shucks.
Im excited for this different venue of sorts. I do think physical space is necessary too but online there are possibilities and a
bit more freedom in scheduling and what you can put out and how often.
 Sent at 4:43 PM on Monday
Sierra:  and your audience can be larger. That is a major goal. We need this to not just be a Seattle centric thing.
 Serrah:  I definitely want to find ways for us to use Vignettes to connect with people outside of Seattle, but also to be able to
build Seattle into a place for creatives, for collaboration and that artists would be drawn here, whether physically or virtually. It’s such a great place to make work in
Sierra:  it really is.
Serrah:  And like you said, the community is what makes it great.
Sierra:  and the people, the landscape, the FOOD.
Serrah:  That too 🙂
Sierra:  #bestfood
Serrah:  #mountains and #islands
Sierra:  yessss
Serrah:  It’s an inspiring place. I’m excited to see how the city continues to grow. And I am trying to think big. I think that’s what I felt when in Europe, just think bigger!
Because, Why not?!
Sierra:  Yes, I just had a meeting with Greg Lundgren and he is thinking BIG and it’s really great, seriously why not?
I mean Seattle is becoming a global city
Serrah:  And I love that! There is so much to be gained from that. I’ve been a bit frustrated by the pushback to the shifts in the city.
Sierra:  we are even getting an art fair this year. I mean Vignettes can’t afford to be a part of it but you know we will be somewhere as a satellite around it. DIY is a big part of Seattle culture.
and its where we come from.
Serrah:  I mean, I get it, but I also just see so much potential in expanding in size and increasing the diversity.
 Sierra:  there can be so many approaches.
Serrah:  I think there will always be the DIY element. You have to have both sides for there to be an alternative response.
Sierra:  exactly.
for there to be a petri dish of culture.
Serrah:  And yes, the art fair. Looking forward to seeing how that develops and what that brings.
Sierra:  yeah I hope it imports a bit. that would be refreshing.
 Serrah:  It’s very true to the city to have both sides of the coin, and hopefully we can all get to a place where the different
outlooks and approaches aren’t divisive but are instead supporting and balancing
 Sent at 4:51 PM on Monday
Sierra:  honestly they feed one another and respond to one another.
 Sent at 4:53 PM on Monday
 Serrah:  I’ve always liked juxtapositions anyways.
 Sent at 4:54 PM on Monday
Sierra:  It’s good to have it them!
I just want institutions to start inviting me to things though, I mean I’ve been curating in this city for over five years and still never an invite to an opening. sigh 😉
Serrah:  Yeah, that’s strange. But like we talked about before, maybe you just have to ask. Or we start deciding what we need and just take it.
Sierra:  I’m learning, sometimes Im slow at these things, like how to ask for things.
or for help.
its good to realize you don’t have to do it alone.
Serrah:  Oh totally. Me too. I’m learning to have more of a voice and find the strength in that.
Sierra:  There are a lot of people who will step up and help ya out, I mean without them the vignettes collection wouldn’t exist! For that I am very grateful.
 Serrah:  Megumi and I were talking yesterday about how the best advice to give younger artists is to just reach out, ask for what you want,
collaborate with the people you look up to, if you wish something existed, make it happen.
Sierra:  Definitely.
I was telling a good friend the other night to not act out of fear because if you do it wont get you anywhere, its similar.
Serrah:  Completely! I mean, I started Violet Strays with very little experience and even fewer artistic connections but people trusted me,
got on board, and created beautiful, new work
Sierra:  You gotta be open and ask for what you need and want and put yourself out there.
Serrah:  Yes! No fear.
Sierra:  yeah and it was such a brilliant concept.
there really isn’t anything else quite like it around.
 Serrah:  I purchased a rose leather wallet from Vignettes by Lindsey Apodaca that says No Fear three times on it. It’s on my drafting table so I look at it on the daily. It’s such a good reminder.
 Sierra:  I love that wallet.
That’s why I want to approach the gallery artist relationship differently.
to give the artist more because they deserve it.
to enable.
 Serrah:  As a curator it’s humbling and amazing that people are willing to share their art with you. To trust you to care for it. I take it seriously.
 Sent at 5:02 PM on Monday
Serrah:  I like the word enabler so much better than curator. Just because it feels more true, at least in my practice.
me:  definitely, I feel more like a facilitator and an enabler.
Serrah:  It’s like ‘how can I help this person be their best?’ ‘how can I care for their creations?’
Sierra:  true and its about creating space and room and trusting the artist
That is currently a theme in the next two Vignettes off-site exhibits.
We will be guest curating at GLASS BOX gallery, which is the old OHGE LTD. space for the month of March.
Serrah:  I love the risk and trust that comes into play within the relationship between curator and artist. To me that relationship can make or break an exhibition.
Sierra:  that is so true.
Serrah:  I’m so excited for those exhibits! And that the Glass Box gallery exists. New spaces are important. I was just talking to Paul
Komada and he was saying that it feels like there is a real revival and good energy happening, what with Glass Box, The Alice (at the old LxWxH space) and Interstitial having a physical space in Georgetown as well.
Sierra:  Yes, I’m always happy to see new spaces. We can always use space.
Sent at 5:07 PM on Monday
Sierra:  There is always someone to exhibit!
 Serrah:  and Rafael with Studio 126 Seattle.
Sierra:  yes!
Rafael is such an inspiring artist in this city.
Serrah:  I think that’s going to be important too, creating a space for artists to be commercially viable, creating community.
 Sierra:  He is young, originally form outside of the country and exhibits both in and outside of the city.
Serrah:  He’s smart and poetic and just the sweetest as well.
Sierra:  yes and yes!
and yes!
Well you know thats a big part of artists selected for Vignettes, they are brilliant artists and compassionate people. Or at least that’s my impression of them 🙂
Serrah:  gosh, we’ve been so gushy about Seattle and it’s people and Vignettes artists.  🙂
Sierra:  seriously.
talk about a love fest.
well I have an excuse I was recently not here and fell back in love with it, haha
 Serrah:  totally. I was going to say that. I know I wasn’t involved in Vignettes back when the artists were selected but I look through them and I love all of them and I wouldn’t change a one!
Sierra:  however I am getting really hungry sitting here and typing.
I wouldn’t either.
Serrah:  You need to get food!
 Sierra:  haha I do!
Okay, this was a lot of fun.
Serrah:  The best.
me:  I’m excited for the future and the unknown.
and drinking lots of tea.
Serrah:  I’m so glad to be working with you. Thank you for picking me to join you and Vignettes!
yes! The now and the next!
 Sierra:  It just made sense to me. I didn’t think much about it.
Situational Luck.
You were the perfect other half
now lets do this.
Serrah:  Go!
onward and forward. xo
Now get yourself something to eat, my dear!
Sierra:  will do! Talk to you later xx
Serrah:  Always! Thank you! xo

Maggie Carson Romano | Of Light and Weight

Interview and Essay by Adam Boehmer
Photographs by Joel Kvernmo and Sierra Stinson



The earthquake was cream-colored and we felt buoyant in its heave. Maggie’s eyes met mine and the 5.0 held us breathless for a few seconds as her house felt made of driftwood, absorbing the force before settling back into its sparse charm. Full of peace and a sense of adventure, we immediately wanted it to return. Later on she would say, “Wasn’t that earthquake beautiful?”


Welcome to the world of the artist Maggie Carson Romano.


Last spring I visited her Culver City home and studio in Los Angeles for a week, hoping to observe first-hand her process of charging simple materials with concepts so well-honed the objects and installations become needed, missed, connected to the modern person’s sense of aesthetic and survival.
Simply put, her work is transformative: to the materials and to the viewer. An antique misery whip is rendered useless but gorgeous by being dipped upside down in the rubberized white material intended only for the tool’s handles. The missing leg of a seaside motel’s bedside table is healed with sand cast solid from just outside the motel room’s door.  Long-standing cracks of a neighborhood’s worn street are filled with 24k gold leaf.  Maggie’s work is both heavy and uplifting, and her intimate process often leads to a public shift of consciousness.


“Especially on windy days, it feels like a box kite,” Maggie says about her home and backyard studio, connected by a huge swath of almost-white concrete that has become an exposed part of her studio practice. “I’ve been exploring the strength and fragility of concrete,” she says, as she lays organic clippings from trees and flowers next to long, erratic fractures in the driveway, photographing them for studies. “The tossed-away fragments echo the cracks. I love when two opposite things echo and mimic each other, their differing states of growth and decay, but also their common fragility.”


Walking with Maggie in her neighborhood is an exercise in acute beauty. The tectonic plates of the sidewalk, the subtle shift of off-white tints of paint on nearby buildings, sunbeams over the old industry of Culver City all become impetus for aesthetic discussion, or simply just appreciation.


What is inspiring you to create these days?


MCR: My days are currently filled with surfing and flower arranging, and while disparate in many ways, they are both solitary activities amidst two of natures most fascinating elements, and in opposite scales. The power of the ocean has cast a significant spell over me and occupies an enormous amount of my headspace. After surfing in the morning, whenever I close my eyes later in the day I see the swell of a wave building behind my eyelids, but never breaking.  
The work I am making now stems directly from consistent experiences of that infinite immensity. When I am not in the ocean I am working with flowers under the influence of their delicate and fragile beauty. In my floral studio I am constantly concerned with controlling the climate. The wrong temperature or humidity can be catastrophic to the work at hand. I powerlessly watched some beautiful lilacs perish in a heatwave in April and there was nothing to be done about it.
So the balance between control and a powerlessness is something that I wrestle with on a daily basis. Finding this paradoxical balance has been at the core of my studio practice since the beginning and is intrinsically tied to many themes present in my work. There is often times an element of meticulous control responding to an element of reckless chaos in my work, and at the center I usually find a sensitive subject hanging in delicate balance.
In the past, Maggie has also integrated technology into her work in surprising but calibrated ways, building responsive systems of decay in contained environments. In her piece, “What made the wound, wound the thread” a heavy rubber balloon breathes in and out from a helium tank, responding to the noises inside a gallery space by filling with both gas and saltwater, dripping the water onto a foundation of concrete, which frosts over time with crystalline salt.


Talk with me about your past use and current connection to technology:


MCR:  I grew up in a house full of gadgets and from a very young age have had a sense of wonder around the usefulness of new technology and how it can be applied outside of it’s intended purpose.  I have always been interested in how the tools we make mimic our own human design, sensors mimic our own responsiveness, cameras mimic our vision, etc.  Technology that allows us to explore and understand our world beyond our own human ability fascinates me. I allow technology into my work when it allows me to accomplish something I couldn’t do without it, and it’s inclusion must be both pragmatic and elegant.
Another facet is that I have always been intimidated by technology and it takes an enormous amount of willpower to circumvent what would otherwise be a crippling anxiety that I have surrounding complex systems. There have been years of my practice when I have abandoned technology altogether and resorted to solely working with physical materials, but it always returns.


Maggie is sitting on the stitched-together concrete planes of her driveway, half in sunlight, half in the shadow of her studio, delicately applying gold leaf down the central vein of a straw-colored tumbleweed. “This is such an intricate process, and this bush is so thorny!” We both laugh. She tells me this piece is about untethering, which is inherent in the essential archetype of the tumbleweed. She’s realized she’s been unanchoring her work incrementally since she graduated from University of Washington with her MFA and moved to New York City.


Untangling from past systems, allowing more poetic assessment of her pieces and process, Maggie is moving forward into a spaciousness and simplicity, echoed by her California environment, which involves an intense connection to nature, movement and the ocean.



What was your practice like in New York City? How has location and city affected/changed your work?


MCR: My studio in New York was an incredible sanctuary from the rest of my life in the city.  It was an hour commute from where I lived which included a mile of walking on each end of the route. I really had to earn my time there.  In the winter, the concrete floor was heated and I kept the space almost entirely empty. The ceilings were high with wood beams and the windows were big, and there was a loft. I spent a lot of time on that warm floor, a lot of time thinking and tinkering on a small scale to avoid filling the space with anything.
The luxury of space and privacy was unmatched, but the remoteness also meant it was difficult for me to obtain materials and get them to the studio so most of what I worked with I got from the hardware store on the corner.  I made a cat whisker radio, which I see now spoke to the isolation I felt out there. My work really pared down from complex systems to simple explorations of mundane fascinations.  As with anything though, it wasn’t perfect. It was above a kale chip factory and reeked sweetly of the stuff.  In the summer, little green flies would come in through the windows and eat me alive, but I loved being there.
Now I commute barefoot all of 5 yards from the back door of our house to the barn doors of my studio. But to be honest, my entire life here is my studio. The ocean is as much of a creative space as anything.  I do most of my brainstorming in the shower and in the car. Water, salt, wind, and sunlight are all elements that are returning to my work in new ways. Getting these things back gives them a new life in my work that is really positive and exciting.  At the same time, isolation has gone from a pure luxury to a constant. The bliss of working from home is often tempered with a persistent solitude.
Early in the morning after coffee, eggs and fresh oranges from her yard, we decide to explore Malibu. We drive and drive and Maggie leads me to a hidden beach. We climb up an arduous ravine where we must use our hands on the sides of the wind-sculpted walls to steady ourselves. At the top, we see our destination, a hidden cove, and after a serpentine downward hike, we find ourselves laid out next to the great blue Pacific, white water breaking across a stretch of marbled rock slick with dark green seaweed. Above the cavernous walls that protect this place, a few 10 million dollar homes sit like monuments. The sun is blinding and we quickly get hot enough to wade into the water.


You are a photographer as well, and work with light. How does this affect your more sculptural, object-based work?


MCR:  Almost all of my sculptural work has a reflective element to it so that I can capture the light within a space and pull it from context to enable it to become even more than it already is.  I am extremely sensitive to light so reflective material holds a certain fascination for me. At the onset of my migraines when I first begin to experience auras, my eyes will be caught by anything reflective. It can be anything from the head of a nail in the wall, or the sliver of a mirror almost out of view, or a gum wrapper. These little details are never something I would have otherwise noticed. You will often see mirrors, foil, gold leaf, pyrite, salt crystals, and glass employed as light sources within my sculptures to pull light out of context and make it tangible for others.
After a day of sun-worshipping, we return to Maggie’s home, a space alive with light and air: all-white walls that carry and hold the contents, including us, in an effortless way.
There is finesse in her life here, and a seamlessness between living and working.  She brings out two glasses of rose that I notice immediately are crystal because of their fragility, weight and tone. We cheers and hydrate and start to clean up for the night.  Los Angeles is quickly turning into it’s dusty-evening self, and later we will meet up with several other artists also living and working in the city. We’ll share stories of success, hardships, and the burgeoning LA creative community. The chilly desert air will pass over us like rudders out on the sidewalks of Los Feliz, each of us a working piece in the complex system of the city.