Thanks for joining me today for another artist studio Sneak Peek. There have been some fantastic creative events and exhibitions here in Charleston over the past month or so and we just wrapped up Spoleto festival which is always a favorite for locals and tourists. One of the great exhibits on display right now at Redux Studio’s is the work of Texas artist Hollis Hammonds::Worthless Matter. I knew after reading an article or two about her work that I had to see the exhibit and was really hoping she would agree to this interview and she did, yeah for all of us! Here is a short blurb from straight from Hollis’ bio page and this pretty much makes it clear why I was fascinated by her work and how her experiences have shaped it.
“Exploring consumerist culture through evidence of accumulation, hoarding and collecting, piles of rubble permeate the works of Hollis Hammonds. Growing up in semi-rural Kentucky, the youngest child of depression era parents, her surroundings were those of cold war stockpiling, nick-knack collections, and junk-yard recycling. After surviving a house fire in her teens, piles of burnt keepsakes created a lasting impression on her, of the impermanence and worthlessness of superficial possessions.”
HKPS::What age did you suspect or know you were an artist?
HH::Not sure, but I always drew from a very young age, in church, on the bus, in school. I was told in the 5th grade that I had talent. I guess I was particularly good at drawing horses that year. I didn’t have any formal art classes though until high school. I think I was always an artist, although as an undergraduate I loathed the term, finding it pretentious and seeing it as something that was possibly unattainable. It has only been in the last few years that I’ve become comfortable with the title of artist.
HKPS::What mediums do you work with?
HH::I use all types of media, but favor drawing over all other forms of art making. I’ve used traditional drawing media like charcoal, ink, pen, graphite, litho crayon on substrates like paper, canvas, vinyl fabric, and Mylar. I also have used hand cut strips of wood veneer to create wall drawings and installations. Although the works I make using wood veneer are 3-dimensional, I still conceptually think of them as drawing with line.
HKPS::Where do you make your art, how big is your studio and how long have you been in this space?
HH::I have a studio in Austin, Texas. It is modest, 4 white walls, concrete floor, 400 sq. ft. I moved into this space in June 2013, and hope to stay there for a while. It is a neutral space that’s usually organized. I enjoy the white walls as a buffer for my usually complex work.
HKPS::When you began working in this space did you plan any systems for the overall set up or did you let things evolve organically? How did past studio spaces or systems influence this space?
HH::This studio was a fresh start for me. I hadn’t had an official studio, outside of my home, since I moved to Austin in 2007. So it was a clean slate, and I knew that I needed 3 things: solid worktables, 2 chairs, and a shelving unit. It was that simple. After a few hours at IKEA I was all set. I have rearranged these few items several times since I moved in, added a few items, including a donated desk and rolling cart. My creative work tends to determine the layout of the space. If I’m making a large installation on the wall then my tables move to the center of the space, and if I need to make a suspended piece in the center of the room then my furniture migrates back toward the walls. I like to keep it minimal, simple, easily moveable and adaptable.
HKPS::Do you consider yourself to be an organized person?
HH::I would say somewhat. I do make a lot of piles, that I tend to deal with much later. I like to sort things, grouping similar things together. You can see this in my drawings as well. I like those see-thru plastic organizers where I can sort all of my tools and materials.
HKPS::Have you ever worked with another artist or gallery? If so did you learn any systems for organizing?
HH::Yes, but not really.
HKPS:: How or where else have you learn your organizing habits and systems?
HH::Probably all of my organizational habits came from my parents. My father saved everything, and organized those things by type, size, and usefulness. In the pantry were piles of plastic and paper bags filled with other like bags. In the basement of our home there was an entire walk-in closet-sized room filled with empty plastic milk and juice jugs, and 2-liter soda pop bottles. Outside, he had filled an entire shed with rusty metal tools, chains, thousands of rusty nails, nuts, bolts & screws, all sorted and in their place. It was overwhelming, since every usable space became filled over time, yet organized. It was clear that there was a system in everything he did and in everything he saved/recycled. In that world, nothing was new. Everything had a past and future purpose, even if those were completely different. Every piece of old trash or junk was a treasure to my father.
My mother on the other hand valued new and officially collectible items, designer dolls, Lilliput houses, and ceramic figurines. Each of these items was grouped with their own kind, adorning shelves and the tops of cabinets. She had a box filled with greeting cards, organized by holiday, type, age, boy, girl, and so on. Several closets in our house were stocked with gifts for birthdays and holidays to come, often wrapped in advance and labeled for whomever they were destined. The inside of the house, was just as filled as my father’s shed of metal treasures.
Organized chaos. That’s what I grew up in.
HKPS::What types of schedules, systems, tools or processes do you use to help maintain organization in your studio? Would you like to share any tips?
HH::Honestly, I purposely keep it simple. The less stuff you have in the studio, the fewer things you have to manage, and the more productive you can be. My advice is to cleanup and pack-up when each project is completed. I do like to document my work as soon as it is finished, and digital photo files are edited and organized as quickly as possible, so that the packing process may begin. Packing may entail rolling a large drawing on a tube, wrapping a framed piece in bubble wrap, or simply moving work from the working space to a temporary display space. That might be a tip… having multiple zones in the studio… working, storing, works in progress, and displaying. These zones sometimes run into each other, but it helps keep the overall studio in order, and satisfies my need to see progress, as projects move from one zone, or step in the process to another.
HKPS::What kinds of materials/tools do you find challenging to keep organized or locate when you need to use them?
HH::It is always the miscellaneous items that disappear when you most need them. I mainly use plastic storage containers, and I have one medium size bin for miscellaneous tools and large bin for miscellaneous larger items, like glue, tape, and twine.
HKPS:: How many projects are you usually working on at once? Is this due to space constraints, creative process, organizing systems or other influences?
HH::I would say that I always have at least 2 projects going on at any time. I like to be able to switch back and forth between varying tasks, which make more efficient use of my time. For instance, I’m currently laminating paper and canvas to Masonite, working on a marker drawing on vinyl, tweaking a pen drawing on Mylar, with a pile of small oil paintings that also need my attention. While one thing is drying you can tend to another, or if you get tired or bored with one project, you can easily pick up something else to work on. Being organized and having the projects I’m working on visible or easily accessible is really important when juggling several things.
HKPS::How often do you purge, clean or de-clutter your supply stash and space due to space or other constraints?
HH::At home our general rule is if you buy something, like a new pair of shoes, then an old pair needs to go in the donation pile. At the studio it’s different since sometimes you need to collect a pile of furniture or materials for an upcoming project. So, sometimes the studio can seem cluttered. I do a massive re-organization and cleaning probably once a year, for a major studio tour event, and smaller cleanings randomly for curator visits and open studios. I don’t clean and put away my tools daily, but do always do so before I begin a new major project.
HKPS::Please describe how creative cycles of organization or dis-organization affect your creative process? Are there certain phases of projects that are more or less organized?
HH::I think that I need the white walls of the studio to be able to work. Clutter, the kind I grew up surrounded by as a child would definitely keep me from being productive. It’s funny when you look at my work, since it looks like the work of a hoarder. My studio is the opposite, a sanctuary of sorts for creating art.
HKPS:: How much thought do you give to your artistic body of work in terms of historic value and the overall legacy you will leave behind? How do you store/archive your work or records?
HH::I never cared much about archival quality and longevity in my own work until recently. I was interested in all things fragile, ephemeral and fleeting, and so chose materials and practices that were sometimes impermanent. These days I do care, and hope my work will stand the test of time. I do also document everything through digital photography. I keep all of my original files, edit and save large versions, and small versions for web. I keep an inventory list that I update regularly. I reference my list all of the time, for title, size, date, and value information. I also note where the work is now, who owns it, what exhibits or publications it has been featured in, and so on. You can buy a program for this, but I just made my own system using a table in Microsoft Word. I also keep my website up to date, and use social media more and more these days. I have several ongoing series/bodies of work, and I tend to title things as part of that series. I sign and date each piece on the back… I can’t stand signatures on the fronts of paintings. I do believe that we need to archive our work as best we can, through preserving the physical pieces, but also through digital archives.
My greatest wish is that through seeing how other artist work we can learn from one another. There is no ONE correct system or way of organizing. There are as many creative systems as their creative makers! My aim is to highlight these unique makers in each interview. I was thrilled to be invited to see inside the studio of Hollis and thanks to her for providing all the excellent photo’s that illustrate how her studios space is arranged and organized, as well as how organizing affects her creative process. Please check out her work over at her website and visit Redux Studio if you are in Charleston to see Worthless Matter while it’s still open-until June 28th. As for this series, please check back here or better yet, sign up for my emails on the top left of any page so you don’t’ miss any of the amazing artists in the near future ‘Inside the Studio’!
* Inside the Artist Studio was my brainchild in 2011. There are a lot of popular studio features on the web and in magazines but I’m specifically interested in showing how organizational process influences the artists studio work. These photo’s are not styled and are typical of how the artists working studio looks. I request that each artist leave their space as it would be on a daily basis (just like I ask my clients). This series is meant to highlight how artist REALLY work rather than showing STYLED shots (popular in home and organizing magazines and blogs). I’m sure just like me, you are fascinated by the “behind the scenes” sneak peek into these artists working lives!