By Leslie Simon
This fall, the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities and Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art are proud to partner to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the seminal 2009 book Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture with exhibits highlighting the history and continuing tradition of abstraction by local artists in the state. The Arvada Center exhibit Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey highlights the work of 70 local abstract artists, and opens September 12 at 6:00pm with a reception and exhibition discussion with book co-authors Mary Voelz Chandler and Michael Paglia. In the second installment of our series of conversations with featured artists, we spoke with Martha Russo about her influences, process, and advice for young artists. For more details on the exhibition visit the event page here: https://arvadacenter.org/colorado-abstract-10-a-history-a-survey
- Ever since Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture came out in 2009, how has your work evolved?
Most of my investigations involve activating space. I challenge myself and the viewer to be engulfed by thousands of objects that create an eerie and unknown gestalt. I abstract materials and forms to the point that it is difficult to name them and, thus, one has to stay longer to conjure up a sense of place, feeling, or perhaps some ancient story.
- What was your journey to abstract art like?
I started thinking about what goes on in the interior of the body, specifically the stomach, when you react to what is before you. It is all about the “id” and the Autonomic Nervous System, which are both responsible for giving our bodies/minds immediate signals to either stay with something or leave- otherwise known as “The Fight or Flight Mechanism.” The suspension of language and activating the primal senses are what initially drew me abstraction and has had a grip on me for over 25 years. I see no end in sight-happily.
- What is your process in creating new work?
I start with a notion. I give myself a parameter to push up against with some sort of timeline. Then I find patterns or trends in the work, do some research and start making more. Sometimes I refine it if needed, or make it more raw. All depends on how the idea is coming into focus.
- Who are the other artists that inspire you?
Started with Toshiko Takaezu, slid into Eva Hesse, forever grateful for Scott Chamberlin, rejoicing in Louise Bourgeois, always hearing the words of Garrison Roots and Toni Rosato, incessantly marveling at Antoni Gaudi, mesmerized by Ann Hamilton, continually astonished by Henrique Oliveira, smitten with Studio Ensemble and Hypersonic, continually inspired by my graduate school peers, and in awe and admiration of Eric Mesple, Joe Riche and his Demiurge team, John Lupe and Steve Osborne and the Denver Art Museum curatorial and installation teams. And the list could go on and on and on and on. Lucky me.
- What do you want people see when they view your non-objective art?
I want them to be able to relate to the abstracted organic forms in a way that draws them in from a distance, and continues as they get closer and closer to the works. And even by looking and experiencing the work for a good bit of time, my hope is that they can never quite fully understand it. I want to activate something deep inside that is about our basic human instincts and conjure up moments about growing up and being in the natural environment. I want them to feel slightly ill at ease, interspersed with moments of sheer delight or wonder. Abstracting forms, materials, and colors, gives me this freedom.
- What cool projects do you have coming down the pipeline?
I am thinking about all things “in between.” Making sculptures and installations that are physically, emotionally and intellectually liminal. All this “in between-ness” will culminate in a show at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Sept- 2021- Jan 2022, curated by the very smart Joy Armstrong. I am really looking forward to it all especially a new installation that has elements that are inspired by redwood tree canopies and some disruptive fungus, having a sense of oddness, airiness, and faint light.
- What advice do you have for new artists out there?
Show up every day and night in your studio or away from your studio and really pay attention. Sometimes it is good to have solid plan about what you are making, and other times it is really important to do some serious play and not worry if something is going to survive or not. Give yourself time and space to find out what lurks below the surface of your consciousness. It is always a never-ending surprise.