This body of work focuses on the dialogue between the conscious and unconscious. My entire life I have dreamt intensely, so much so that sometimes it is difficult for me to discern between real memories and dream memories. Using dematerialized bodies paired with discernible faces, I reflect the strangeness of memories not understood or explained. I balance the duality of the imagery using simple elements of color, composition, and space.
Currently, which artists are you obsessed with or inspired by? Why?
First I need to say I am inspired by so many artists, too many to ever name. I look at images constantly. In college I was absolutely obsessed with Bacon, Rothko, and Sally Mann. Their work is so captivating it becomes almost meditative for me. My most recent favorites are Egon Schiele, Francesca Woodman, and Edward Hopper. I find their work haunting. I love Schiele’s lines and use of negative space. Hopper’s paintings are the quietest paintings I’ve ever seen. There is such a strong sense of setting. They’re stories that draw you into somewhere you don’t belong.
Most bizarre exchange with a stranger?
When I was in high school I worked at Charley’s Steakery in the food court at the mall. A man with a blue suitcase came up and proceeded to take a “dry” shower using our malt vinegar bottle. I let him pour it all over himself while I went to the back and called security.
Our most loved quotes help define who we are. Do you have any favorite ones?
“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” –Poe
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” –Rumi
“There is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportion.” –Poe
“We must strive to be like the moon.” –An old man in Kabati, from A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
“One need not be a chamber to be haunted, one need not be a house; the brain has corridors surpassing material place.” -Dickinson
I like to ask artists what they have on their bedside table, but since you and your partner sleep in a tent instead of a bed, what’s on the table outside that magical, little space?
Lolita by Nabokov, The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence by Martin Gayford, facial cream, a lamp, and two brushes.
What are you currently reading?
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
What’s some worthy advice you’ve been given?
“Do what makes you happy.” – Mom
“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” – Joseph Chilton Pearce…I guess this wasn’t actually given to me, but I definitely repeat it to myself daily.
What music are you currently listening to?
There is so much going on in my head constantly it’s very hard for me to get anything done if there are any words in the song. I listen to a lot of classical music, mostly composers from the Romantic and Impressionistic Era and Gypsy Jazz. On days when it rains I keep the lights low and play Gregorian Chants. And some days I just play the rain app on my phone through my husband’s amp and pretend it’s pouring outside. I’m definitely a pluviophile.
Artists usually have such sincere admiration for objects. Any favorites in your home or studio, or a favorite collection of things?
Our house is filled with things we’ve collected over the years. We have a ton of books, plants, random knickknacks, and thrift shop art. I love being surrounded by so many objects. There are endless stories in each one. My favorites are the ones passed down by my family: my mom’s vase that she made in college, an old picture of my great uncle at a costume party, paintings by my grandmother and great grandmother.
Lastly, why do you do what you do?
Making art makes me happy, so I make it. When I was in high school I wanted to be a poetry professor. By the time I started college, the mind behind the poetry interested me more and I wanted to study psychiatry. After two years of being a biology major, I realized that my studies were more factual than romantic and interpretive. I switched my major to studio arts and here we are. No matter what you make, when you’re done, something exists that didn’t before hand. I love that. It’s addicting and satisfying. Creating also forces you to constantly look at everything in a different way. It keeps your imagination big and your heart young. It eventually becomes who you are, not just something you do.
Chambers Austelle is an artist and educator born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She received her BA in Studio Arts from the College of Charleston. Her work has been exhibited nationally. Recently, she participated in Piccolo Spoleto’s 2014 Juried Exhibition at the City Gallery and was the recipient of the President’s Choice Award for Photography from the College of Charleston in 2011. Austelle currently serves as Redux Contemporary Art Center’s outreach coordinator. She works from her home studio, as a painter and photographer.
Here’s a link to her blog, where one can view her photographic works among other lovely, interesting things.
I have always made things and wanted to be an artist, but first, I married and had children because I wanted to do that too. It is the combination of these two things that is at the center of what I do and make. My life has been rooted in family issues and household concerns. These experiences are what shape my art making as I call into question embedded attitudes, opinions and beliefs regarding the value of woman’s work, the messages and myths regarding family, as well as how longing and nostalgia influence our memory.
About this body work:
I use memory as a resource to explore and reveal my ideas about grief, longing, home, family, motherhood and gender roles. Inspired by vintage photographs from my birth family and vintage objects I collect, I make images, vintage style clothing and stop motion videos. The questions I ask myself are, “How do we make sense of a life, our parents and now ourselves, as we age and physically decline? How did our childhood and family of origin shape our choices?”
Let’s begin with why do you do what you do?
I am trying to figure out the true value of being a woman, what is my life as a woman worth? We absorb so many messages about gender characterized in terms of cultural roles not biology -the value of motherhood and children and family and our responsibility for it. But when you stand back and look, these things are only valued when you are able to conform to a very narrow definition – stereotypes of what is acceptable behavior for women. All the things that women do well are not rewarded in an equal way that the things that men do well are – and yet we all appear nostalgic for those domestic ideals. I am fascinated by this question of value, so therefore, I see the work I do as a pursuit – a quest or a mission if you will, a search for answers, by revisiting the stereotypes in my own family, to tease out where I fit in and to claim my worth.
What’s some worthy advice you’ve been given?
“It’s not the best one, it’s not the worst one, it’s just the first one.”
I think favorite quotes say a lot about someone. What’s one of yours?
“A woman inside the steamy energy of middle age runs and runs. She finds the houses and streets where her childhood happened. She lives in them. She learns as though she was still a child what in the world is coming next.”The Long Distance Runner – Grace Paley.
What surprises you?
Artists. I am always surprised and amazed at what artists do.
What music do you like to listen to while you work?
Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach cello suites, Arvo Part – Lamentate, Natalie Merchant – Motherland & Leave Your Sleep
Have you just finished reading anything good?
Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What breaks your heart?
Which artists are you inspired by:?
Kara Walker, Fairfield Porter, Vuillard, Giotto, William Kentridge, Fra Angelico and numerous, unnamed manuscript painters/masters.
If you had to choose one teacher or mentor who has made an enormous impact on you and your work, who would it be?
The teacher who had the most impact on me was Barbara Duval at the College of Charleston. I took printmaking and painting from her and she was my first studio teacher. It was Barbara who taught me how to “see,” and that printmaking studio remains the most magical memory of my time at the college.
Kristi Ryba paints, sews, gardens, photographs, cooks and makes prints and videos in her studio and home in Charleston, South Carolina. Trained as a printmaker and painter, Ryba graduated Magna Cum Laude from the College of Charleston in 1988. Continuing to work and study Ryba, received her MFA from Vermont College in 2006 and has participated in residencies at Vermont Studio School in Johnson, Vermont, Studio Camnitzer in Valdotavvo, Lucca, Italy and The McColl Center in Charlotte, NC. In 2012 Ryba was selected as the SC Arts Commission Alternate Visual Arts Fellow. Exhibiting since 1990 Ryba’s early work has toured the Southeast in painting and printmaking exhibitions. Her video animations debuted at Silo in New York City in 2004 and 2006, Contemporary Charleston in 2004 and have been included in film festivals across the country. More recently, Ryba’s work has been exhibited at ArtFields, 701 Contemporary Center for Art and Columbia College in Columbia, SC; Southern Ohio Museum in Portsmouth, OH; Waterworks Visual Arts Center in NC; The City Gallery at Waterfront Park, Charleston, SC; Sumter Gallery of Art, in Sumer, SC; and Dialect Design in Charlotte, NC. In 2015 her work will be included in a traveling exhibit The Red Suitcase, one of 11 artists, whose work will all fit into a red suitcase.
I’ve collected and cataloged bits of things my whole life. Mysterious little pieces set my imagination on fire; I wonder what they are, who they belonged to, what their story was. When I was five, my mom accidentally wrapped up a roll of Scotch tape in my Christmas present. The day I got my hands on adhesive was the day that I became unstoppable. My love of found objects and their stories led me to archaeology and anthropology and I grew into a traveler, a writer and an artist. To me, bits of cultural artifacts are the words and sentences that make up a whole story – and the story is always changing!
In 2004 my own story changed when I went to Africa as a scriptwriter on a documentary film project. The day I arrived someone said, “If we could just get a papermaker here, the HIV+ women could make notecards and make a living. We can give them medicine but they are starving to death because they don’t have money for food.” So I taught papermaking and never wrote a word for the script of that documentary. My best friend went back to refine their process and today Imani Workshop notecards are sold all over the world. I taught them papermaking, but the African women that became my friends taught me how to live. For me, that experience cemented the idea that when you set an intention and do whatever it is that you do with love, it is shared on a quantum level with others. It is my intention to share hope, wonder and childlike happiness with everyone that sees and owns my art.
About this body of work:
This body of work is inspired by small moments. Whether at home in Charleston, traveling in Europe or working in Africa, the components of these pieces are visual representations of happy minutes. I’ve found that it’s not really the big moments I remember most in life, it’s the small ones. For example, I remember going to the top of the Eiffel Tower and visiting the Louvre, but when I think of strolling through the Sunday bird market and bargaining in French with vendors at Clingencourt, suddenly I am there all over again. If we can manage to stay present the small moments are the ones that matter. When we make a habit of noticing the small moments, and even creating beautiful small moments for ourselves, we begin to create a beautiful life full of happy memories. This body of work is about potential, wonder, being unique and deep gratitude for the present.
What’s some worthy advice you’ve been given?
“Don’t be afraid to be poor, but don’t be afraid to be wealthy either.”
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” ― Jack Kerouac
What cracks you up?
Movies with talking animals.
What makes you cry?
Sincerity. Hope. Courage. Love winning.
What music are you currently listening to?
Yo-Yo Ma collaboration: Goat Rodeo Sessions and Solas: Shamrock City
What are you currently reading?
The Rosie Project
What would your last meal be?
Pasta on the patio of Albergo Milano in Varenna, Italy or the vegan menu at Circa 1886 in Charleston.
Do you consider these pieces assemblage?
I do. Assemblage is a better descriptor for my art than mixed media because I do very little manipulation of the materials I use.
Could you explain where you get your materials/images/photographs/
People give me things, I find things on the street, sometimes I buy things from salvage stores. I’m always on the lookout.
I see you use “hand-dyed wool”. Could you elaborate a bit?
Charleston has a long history in hand-dyed textiles, especially indigo. I like experimenting with hand dying. I’m always sneaking around my neighborhood in the dark snipping at flowers.
You also use a lot of wine corks. Do you love drinking wine as much as me?
Yes! I’ve learned to less and better if you know what I mean. Those corks remind me of good times with friends.
I’m curious about where you found your cases/miniature displays in the pieces “Someday I’ll Be a Butterfly” and “Happy Days”?
I’m always on the lookout for old wooden cigar boxes and small primitive drawers. I will shamelessly disassemble your grandmother’s spice cabinet.
Did you make each of those tiny canvases? Also wondering about your idea/inspiration to flip them and burn the middles? That process creates mysterious little frames for all that imagery.
It was a flash of inspiration. We’d just gotten home from a trip to France where we visited the Paris flea markets. I had all these awesome little trinkets I didn’t want to moulder in a box so I mounted them in the canvases and screwed them all together. That was the first in the “Oddities” and “Ukwala” series. The frames in Ukwala and Oddities are small pre-stretched canvases. I bought a bunch of them for another purpose once then when I saw how cool the back looked, I just flipped them over, gave them a gesso wash and used them as small shadow boxes.
How long did you live/work in Africa and how did you connect with the Nandi tribe?
I was there about three weeks. Every time I think of how the universe conspired to get a paper maker to Kenya at just the right time, I’m in complete awe. The film crew was inducted into the Nandi tribe by the Nandi midwives who are fighting every day to save mothers and babies. One day when we were filming a man came running up to our van yelling something in Swahili. We thought he was drunk. Our driver said “No, he sees your cameras and he’s saying “If you have knowledge, share it!” He was absolutely frantic that we understand him. We felt pretty helpless in the face of the epidemic, but we did resolve to keep telling the world that every 13 seconds someone dies of AIDS. A big part of that is the stigma of HIV and AIDS, sexism and controlling behavior, shame and an unwillingness to talk openly about sex. You may feel like you can’t do anything about it, but you can. You can be an example of compassion, you can take responsibility for your own actions and be willing to have frank discussions about sex with the people you need to have them with. When I was in Kenya the girls wouldn’t even say the word “sex” but recently I saw a picture of them dancing in the streets wearing condom dresses during and AIDS awareness campaign. It took me years to understand what the man was trying to tell us but now I get it: Knowledge sets people free.
Lastly, I always ask the “why you do what you do” question (which I always find the most fascinating)?
I’ve been making assemblages literally as far back as I can remember. My grandmother and mother are Raw Artists in their own way, making “art” with things they salvage or can recycle, so I get it honestly. In the rural south and midwest, it’s just something people do. I mean – people who have an artistic bent but no money for formal training or supplies. It’s a practice that goes beyond craft – it’s a raw expression of real human experience and the artist has to use whatever they can find to birth their idea. Usually “raw” or “outsider” artists have no concept of art theory so getting the composition right is a process of trial and error in order to find the balance that trained artists know as the Golden Mean. It is gritty, laborious and frustrating to create art without materials or training, but it also results in pure works of vulnerability. The materials also give the viewer a peek into the daily life of an artist. When you look at raw assemblage, you’re probably going to find out what kind of coffee the artist drinks and all kinds of personal details like that.
As for the why, honestly – simply because I can’t help it. It’s almost a compulsion. I’ll make art for a couple of years then I have to take a step back for four or five years because the publicity, the exposure and the interaction overwhelms me. In those times I box everything up and say I’m done, and I’m nearing one of those points again. However, what happens is I’ll find something interesting and then something else that goes with it and before you know it I’m arranging it on a board that washed up on the beach. It is wholly outside my control. In the last decade I was able to avoid the cycle by just opening my studio to a small group of collectors who bought entire bodies of work. That way I didn’t have to do public shows. However, part of what is fulfilling for me is seeing the delight on someone’s face when they really connect with one of my pieces – then discovering they can afford it. It’s such a pure moment to share with another human. I wasn’t getting that with people who were storing my work as an investment, so I started showing publicly again late last year. In that sense I am still, and always will be, an Outsider artist – an artist who operates outside the lines of the formal art world.
Robin Howard is a full-time artist and writer who experiments with words, found objects and adhesives in her Mount Pleasant, South Carolina home studio. In her art, Robin explores the roles between science, nature, magic, language, myth and storytelling through mixed-media works that incorporate language and found objects. She invites the viewer into imaginary worlds through vignettes that are inspiring, mysterious and playful. Born in rural Indiana, Robin was inspired by the outsider artists of the rural South and Midwest. After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Anthropology and studying papermaking at Columbia College in Chicago, her art evolved to incorporate traditional techniques with the innocence of the outsider genre. Robin is a former member of the Indianapolis Chinese Lion Dance Team, an honorary member of the Nandi tribe of Kenya and was christened Adi Shakti (God’s Primal Creativity) by the late Yogi Bhajan.