Ceramics artist Martina Thornhill discusses her journey through motherhood and establishing her presence as both an artist and a business in March’s Visual Arts interview.
ELEVEN: What’s your medium?
Andy Phillips: I’m a painter, I guess. My process is a little bit like falling in love. I will see some image and I’ll know I have to make this image. . . just see the face and know. That’s why commissions are so hard for me. I can see an image and visualize the end result ahead of time. Each piece takes about a month or so. I’m a cheap ass—I like to use found objects and think it’s interesting to put beautiful images on cheap canvas or garbage. The neatness isn’t what makes it good to me. It’s the interest of the artwork that makes it good.
11: What was the last image that you saw that made you feel captivated?
AP: Actually an old picture of my ex that I took by a lake in like 2003. Her hair was blowing in this hoodie, and so I’m in the process of scanning the image.
11: What’s the process like for your current series of works?
Stencil and spray paint on repurposed foam core, 2013
AP: I find images in different places, or take my own photos and then create stencils all by hand and use found objects as canvases. This foamboard came from Scrap. I then use spray paint and hope the stencil stays together [laughing].
I’m also working on a mural right now for a bike shop in the Hollywood district called Velo Cult. It’s a really cool bike shop because it’s a bar and a venue also. The mural is almost finished. It’s not exactly my kind of style, but I met these guys through Reddit. They saw my work and liked it and asked me to make them a mural! I use a projector to create the larger image from what I already made and have siting around in my house. I like painting walls. I really like the outdoor space. I thought I was going down to shoot up a stencil in a few hours, and then when they walked me out back and showed me the wall and told me about the cityscape they wanted. I thought, “Hey, I’ll do that for you. I do that.” I really wanted to test myself and say, “Hey I just painted a giant wall!”
11: How is the process different from the smaller paintings when you do a mural?
AP: Well the smaller stuff—I use X-Acto knives and everything is controlled and careful. And with the mural I’m rolling and brushing on a ladder. I mean, I think the mural is like 60′ by 24′, so I’m up on a huge ladder and it’s a lot of freehand.
11: You have a really defined style with stencils. How did you come up with that?
AP: I created stencil shapes that worked with a lot of negative space. Instead of putting an image on a background, I got rid of the background and attempted to control the light source—sort of opposite of the traditional way of using stencil to create image. I came up with the shapes in my stencil by trying to mimic crosshatching.
11: Have you had any catastrophes during the stencil process?
AP: Yeah, I mean the damn things are so thin. Totally. The first one I sprayed—it just got totally destroyed and ripped apart. A total disaster. Any of the stencils could get ruined on the next spray. It’s pretty sketchy.
11: Who are some of your favorite artists right now?
AP: I’m really influenced by this French artist c215. He is like the stencil genius. He does eight-layer stencils that look so complicated. When I saw his work it really changed my idea of what you can do with a stencil. He takes the stencils and makes it so interesting by using the stencil to create images that look like photographs.
11: What was your medium before painting and stenciling?
AP: Paper. I was always making art with cut paper. I always thought of it like a paint by number with paper. I guess that’s how I think of most of the work. It’s kind of how my brain works. Reducing images to light and value so the brain recognizes a face. I did a scene of a stamp and a series of small birds out of paper not too long ago. I started really doing stencils in 2010 when my son was about 2. I had split up with his mother and was in school to be a physicist and mathematician. I had a teeny tiny nervous breakdown of sorts, and so art is a positive byproduct from that time in my life.
11: Do you have a current obsession?
AP: Steinbeck! Audio books. I really like John Steinbeck.
I just read Cannery Row. It really made me think about how people used to actually hand write letters, mail it, and then wait for the response. No texting—you can’t have an immediate response at all. It took like four days for each letter back and forth. Now, if you don’t hear back from someone in like an hour it’s like, “WTF?” Steinbeck is the shit.
Also, I really like small birds, because they are awesome. They are so incredible because the are this little dinosaur-like creature. They are like the Ferrari of dinosaurs. They’ve lasted forever. My favorite are the juncos—dark eyed juncos.
11: What’s it like being an artist in Portland?
AP: Well, hmmm. I guess it’s pretty cool. There’s a lot of places to show your work for free, and you can always hang your art in coffee shops or do the Last Thursday thing. But it’s kind of over-saturated, too. I mean everyone is kind of an artist somehow here, you know. I like it. I’ve never been an artist anywhere else, so I don’t know what to compare it to. I grew up in Parkrose. Although I did live in Seattle for two years, but I wasn’t really making art then. I was just writing bad poetry.
[interrupted by a motorcycle gang revving engines and driving over medians, Andy and I pondered continuing the interview on the back of a motorcycle, cruising down Williams. Ultimately for the sake of sound control, I decided against it.]
11: Do you have any poetry you want to recite for us?
AP: Well, I DO have some Robert Frost I could recite:
When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.
And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words
A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.
I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.
I was on a really big Robert Frost kick recently. His stuff is so old that all of his online audio stuff is public domain. I do another kind of art also that’s pretty geeky. I make Nintendo sprites out of Legos and glue them together, and then I’ll put a sticker on the back of a QR code that if you scan with your phone it takes you to a Robert Frost poem. I put these little Nintendo guys wherever, you know, like on the street or in a bar so that people will find them. If you scan the QR code, you can have a Robert Frost poem read to you out loud. I’m in the process of Frosting the world.
11: Shout-outs for your homies?
AP: Rosy England Fisher. She’s a great artist and you should check her out. »
– Veronica Greene