How do you situate your work in the context of the current moment?
Kristine Donnelly (KD): In working with paper, my sculptures are fragile and ephemeral. Production is sometimes lonely and always laborious and time-consuming. It’s been a very strange experience to be in my studio, literally cutting holes into paper for hours and days, while outside the world is facing a pandemic and social unrest. Sometimes it feels meaningless. Most times, however it feels so incredibly meaningful and necessary. Over the past few months I have seen my work starting to change as I process and navigate through this new world.
Harry Sanchez Jr. (HSJ): I situate my work directly in the context of the current situation since most of the images I work with are taken directly from news stories and events that are currently happening. I feel like the images I am making of families being broken and deported or put in cages are images that are needed in order to capture what is happening right now because there needs to be a historical record of what this administration is trying to do to people who look like me. So, for me, the current situation is very personal.
What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
KD: I recently finished work for a summer show Paper Routes: Women to Watch 2020-Ohio (presented at the Ohio Arts Council’s (OAC) Riffe Gallery in collaboration with the Ohio Advisory Group of the National Museum of Women in the Arts). Ideation, design and material production of the work happened in the winter. During this time, I shared the ideas with several people and welcomed in person feedback. I began cutting and assemblage in the early spring as the pandemic was setting in. I was teaching from home and spending most days completely alone in my house/studio. My work and process are incredibly solitary and meditative by nature. Although surreal, I found it comforting to work in my studio during this time. To cut the same design out of paper again and again, that repetitive, choreographed act brought a feeling of control and peace when everything else felt so out of control. The exhibition at the Riffe is up, although not open to the public. The gallery has created several virtual opportunities to see the show, works and curator talks.
HSJ: Currently I am working on a series of paintings that are fully textual made with cake decorating tools that address the issue of police brutality and excessive force. I change the common police rhetoric, the same excuses we hear over and over like, ”I was in fear for my life,” and make them satirical, as if they might have been said on twitter or on Facebook, changing the phrase to “I was scared…lol” and including emojis. This is my first semester as a printmaking instructor, so I am also working on random prints in multiple mediums for the semester as examples for my students. Social distancing has been tough for me since everyone was forced to be separate and I had just spent six months recovering from a broken leg. I wanted to get back to working with my friends when things got shut down and that was not awesome. So now I am working out of the garage instead of a studio and the projects I am working on have limitations because of storage and other factors.
What advice and tips can you give to other artists during this time?
KD: As artists we have the unique opportunity to observe, reflect and create. Take advantage of this time: collect ideas, observe surrounds, and don’t be afraid to pause. Give yourself some grace during this strange time. When you are ready, be open and allow your work to take form and be viewed through a new lens.
HSJ: This answer for me is based on my past history of being an alcoholic, getting in trouble, and being involved in illicit activities, which is the reason why I became an artist. I would tell any artist to adapt to the situation you are confronted with and to think about and cherish those you care about more than you ever have. Maybe you lose access to your studio, your classroom, or any other place you could do art: then use a different medium that allows you to keep creating in any form. Trying to find a way to collaborate with other artists always helps. We usually have many artist friends and if you know someone who has access to tools you need, like a printmaking press, just get in contact with them.
How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
KD: I am trying my hardest to stay connected via video, text and social media. At times it has also been really important for me to completely disconnect and spend alone time in my studio working out new ideas while reflecting and trying to process the world around me. As a community we have to support the places and spaces that we love. This might take form in a visit, a donation, a phone call or a social media posting. They won’t be around if we don’t continue to support them.
HSJ: Right now, cultivating community is not easy with social distancing but I try to keep in contact with my friends online and text them as much as possible, and we still meet once in a while to talk about projects. It is always easier to cultivate when we can attend openings and such without worrying about catching a virus and we can meet many more people. Things that community can do support artists is, obviously, attend their openings and buy art. But I feel that more money from city budgets needs to be redirected towards art programs, including projects for children and support for professional artists. This is something that can directly be affected by the voters with the people they vote for and the things they vote for or don’t vote for. It would also be great if there were more places such as ArtWorks in Cincinnati that employs hundreds of kids for the summer for murals and other projects throughout the year.
Kristine Donnelly lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and teaches art at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Her growing interest in pattern and design was sparked by an artist residency in Prague, Czech Republic. While studying the ornamentation that saturates Eastern Europe, Donnelly began creating small cut paper collages from abstracted patterned forms. Her work has since evolved into large-scale paper sculptures and installation. She is the recipient of a Summerfair Individual Artist Grant. Donnelly has exhibited locally and regionally, including the Carl Solway Gallery, the Carnegie Arts Center, and Taft Museum of Art, University of Cincinnati Galleries, and 21c Museum Hotel.
You can follow Kristine Donnelly on Instagram @ kristinedonnellyart
Harry Sanchez Jr.
Harry Sanchez Jr was born in El Paso, Texas in 1980. He has spent much of his life on the border with Mexico, but he also lived in many parts of the country doing menial jobs such as working in construction and the restaurant industry, providing maintenance to a golf course, and ushering at a movie theater. His mobility allowed him to experience and understand life and this society from the perspective of people from different social classes and races. His nomadic life had many unexpected paths: he went from playing college football to struggling with alcoholism and drug abuse. To escape that life, he started a cake and cupcake business with his mother and finished his B.F.A. with a major in painting. His path to art was also unusual for a contemporary artist: Harry discovered his abilities and passion for art through making and decorating cakes and cupcakes. In his earliest works, he used the same tools and techniques he learned as a cake-decorator, but replaced the icing with oil paint. He squeezes oil with a pastry bag over the canvas to explore the relationship between painting, sculpture, and abstraction. In his most recent work, Harry has used installations, prints, and other media to make artistic statements from the position of a racialized minority in the United States. He uses his artwork to comment on global matters such as the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the double-identity of whistleblowers who are hailed as heroes or condemned as traitors, and to denounce the separation of families following the deportation of undocumented migrants. Harry received his BFA from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2015 and his MFA from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. His work has been exhibited in such cities as Cincinnati, Seattle, Dallas, and Paris, France at the Louvre. He is currently living and working in Dayton, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati.
You can follow Harry Sanchez Jr. on Instagram @harrysanchezjr