How do you situate your work in the context of the current moment?
Skylar Smith (SS): As an artist and a curator, my recent projects focus on voting rights, which are so important—especially in this moment—with 2020 being the Centennial of the 19th Amendment and also a presidential election year. To this end, I curated BallotBox, an art exhibition that considers voting rights and democracy—currently on view at 21c Louisville. I also recently finished two paintings (on view at Quappi Projects) that highlight voting rights history in the United States and in 196 countries. For me, it is important to be aware of politics locally, nationally, and internationally because all these things interconnect.
Jennifer Maravillas (JM): My art practice has completely changed during the pandemic. Walking around New York City and collecting trash or paper in order to create a block by block catalog in the form of maps was the main focus of my work. Clearly touching things and being out in the world as much as that requires is not a way to stay healthy at this moment.
Finding a new way to collect and share voices across our shared land will be my focus as I reimagine my practice. I could see myself further exploring the line between the emotional aspect of data such as in my work for BallotBox through cartography. Wherever it leads, my work has the aim of finding a means of reflection as a community through cartography by creating portraits of our collective lives.
What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
SS: I am working with an instructional designer to create an interactive presentation of BallotBox for the K-12 school system to use as a teaching tool. Some of these schools are still participating in distance-learning, while others are in-person. Normally, I could visit schools as a visiting artist and share the exhibition, but now I have the opportunity to learn how to make my presentation completely digital, while still being interactive. I’m also working on a series of geometric drawings that I hope to translate into textiles and ceramic tiles.
JM: Throughout most of the pandemic / quarantine I’ve been creating a series of puzzles for my illustration commission work. They are dense, imagined cityscapes and landscapes so most of my time has been spent researching and drawing buildings, vehicles, people, animals, and amusement rides from around the world. It’s wonderful to have work at this moment and I feel incredibly lucky. Putting my life on hold has been rather hard on me—life in NYC is all about meeting people in tightly packed rooms or subway cars. So I’ve mostly been mourning that life and drawing other places simultaneously as a means of meditation and honestly, escape from the interior of my apartment if only in my mind.
Sketchbooks have always played a large part in my work as I took the train extensively for my walks. I’d like to translate some of those pages into larger works in the coming months to reconnect with my life before these times.
What advice and tips can you give to other artists during this time?
SS: The pandemic forced me to focus on working in my studio, which is in my home. Despite being home with two young kids and homeschooling, I have been very productive in my studio. My advice would be to use the limitations of the pandemic—which for me meant less socializing and working in-person with community groups—to your advantage, and get everything you do online. In many ways, we live in a virtual world now.
JM: Do what you need to do to stay sane and alive—these are extraordinary times. It’s okay to not always share the things you make or to make things to post.
How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
SS: I try to participate in online artist networking opportunities whenever I can. I am active in my neighborhood community, and try to organize safe gatherings. The community can help artists by buying art from local artists, hiring artists, and supporting online artist endeavors and events. Brick and mortar art galleries and non-profit art spaces need support as well. Instagram is a great way to find artists and most artists are open to selling their work, or even working on commissions.
JM: I am planning on leaving the city within the next year because of a work situation so my community will be shifting. Like a lot of other artists in my community, it’s just not sustainable to stay in the city any longer so many of us are moving upstate. Perhaps that’s partially the time of life and partially just really wanting to be in forests. It’s sad to leave the community I have here but I look forward to meeting other artists in our new home.
I’m happy to have lived in a number of U.S. cities which truly support their artists—I definitely list Louisville as one. There are a million ways to support artists in your community: commissioning a piece, allocating resources within your job for original work, viewing shows, reposting with credit, or just even email a person to tell them you enjoy their work. A number of years ago in conversation with a woman I was thanking for a painting commision, she pointed out that unless people support the arts, artists will either move or change careers. For her it is a point of pride she has in her community, which is a beautiful thing and makes a difference.
Skylar Smith is an artist, curator, and educator. Her work deals with micro and macro perceptions of the natural world, and human-scale politics that influence perception. Smith’s work has been exhibited regionally and internationally, including at The Parachute Factory, Lexington, KY; The Anne Wright Wilson Gallery at Georgetown College, Georgetown, KY; The Barr Gallery at Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN; Quappi Projects, Louisville, KY; The 1926 Gallery, Chicago, IL; Sanskriti Kendra Foundation, New Delhi, India; and at the Sanbarbh Residency, Partapur, India. She has completed Artist Residencies in India at Sanskriti Kendra and Sanbarbh Residency; and Colegio Trener, an elementary school in Lima, Peru. Smith has curated several exhibitions, including With Child at The Huff Gallery, Louisville, KY; Hangar Show at Cardinal Wings Hangar, Louisville, KY; Wallpaper at Stray Show, Chicago, IL; and Suspension at 1926 Gallery, Chicago, IL.
Most recently, Smith curated BallotBox, a contemporary art exhibition examining past and present voting rights with funding from Kentucky Foundation for Women and in partnership with Louisville Metro, Louisville Visual Art, and What is a Vote Worth Louisville. BallotBox was on display in Metro Hall and is currently on display at 21c Museum Louisville through January 31, 2021. In 2019 Smith was selected to participate in the ‘Hadley Creatives’ program, and grants include Kentucky Foundation for Women ‘Artist Meets Activism’, ‘Artist Enrichment’, and ‘Advancing Democracy, Building Power’ grants, Great Meadows Foundation ‘Artist Professional Development’ grants, and a Great Meadows Foundation ‘Curatorial Travel’ grant. She is a founding member of Kentucky College of Art + Design (KyCAD), and she has taught college-level art studio and art history courses for over a decade, in addition to teaching at non-profit and alternative-education venues. Smith has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art and a Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is also a Certified Yoga Teacher. She has taught at the University of Louisville and Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC). Through JCTC, she also taught college-level courses to men and women in prison. Smith resides in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and two daughters.
You can find Skylar Smith on Instagram @skylarsmithart
View the BallotBox educational site here: https://spark.adobe.com/page/bJyi5rFhjM29j/
Sklylar’s work can be seen at Quappi Projects in the exhibition We All Declare For Liberty: 2020 and The Future of American Citizenship through November 21. More info can be found at Quappi Projects.
Jennifer Maravillas is a Brooklyn based visual artist. She creates portraits of our land in media ranging from found paper to watercolor. Her aim in this work is to capture universalities and connections across disparate communities by studying social structures from histories, landscapes, and visual design. In 2015, she completed 71 Square Miles: a map of Brooklyn compiled from trash she collected on each block to represent the cultures and voices of the community. She is continuing her mapping work with her long-term project, 232 Square Miles in which she will walk the remainder of New York City while collecting trash as well as exploring connections throughout historic maps and data. Her background includes studies in anthropology, painting, graphic design, cartography, and mass communication. Jennifer also works as a freelance illustrator creating color-filled works about life and the world.
You can find Jennifer Maravillas on Instgram @jennifermaravillas