Glimpse: Christopher Lee

doris-mae stopped by New York, RISD-trained artist Christopher Lee’s Takoma Park studio.

Christopher Lee pulls from culture, politics, conspiracy, sport, and Americana to realize a complex vision – a place that reconciles television landscapes, tribal masks on lilac beds, ships sailing on desert landscapes, and caballeros whispering lost nothings. It is a dense, energetic environment that suggests a framework building towards a perfect vision where everything finally finds its natural place. All images untitled.

To see more of Chris Lee’s work, please visit his website.

Conversation With Amanda Kates

Amanda Kates sits down with doris-mae to talk about her work, influences, paint, and inspiration

Is that an Us Weekly reference in They’re Just Like Us: Larry Ellison Eats a Hot Dog?

Yes, sort of. I’m poking fun at those types of headlines.

There are some very specific references in the titles of your work (Young Kochs and Mother, Ether RoomOrtega). Are these starting points?

The titles themselves are not starting points, but for most of the work in this show, the photographic (from the internet) source images are starting points, and the titles are direct references to those images. For example, the source image for Young Kochs and Mother was an early photograph of the Koch brothers with their mother. Ether Room was taken from a photograph of one of the first surgical procedures performed using anesthesia successfully.

That said, the specificity of these titles is a bit out of character for me. I usually title the pieces after they’re finished—sometimes long after. These titles are frequently references to something I’ve recently read, or I’ll try to find passages in books that are important to me that seem—however vaguely— to relate to the painting/drawing.

What prompts you to stop everything and begin a painting? Where do you start with a large canvas like Picnic (60×60 inches)?

There’s not any one thing that prompts me to begin a painting. It’s just what I do when I go to the studio. As I mentioned, the paintings are usually instigated by some kind of digital image, though I don’t try to replicate that image too closely. The paintings tend to get away from the source material pretty quickly.

Knowing when a painting is finished is based purely on formal elements. Every part of the painting has to be considered. Colors and textures need to interact in a way that is satisfying to me, and there need to be enough visual interruptions—agitated areas —by way of shifting patterns or colors to keep my eye moving. That’s all very vague, I know, but it’s different every time, and I guess the real answer is that a painting is finished when there isn’t any one part that persists in annoying me.

“[…] a painting is finished when there isn’t any

one part that persists in annoying me.”

60×60 is not really a large canvas for me—I prefer to work large when I’m working with paint on a canvas (as opposed to with markers on paper) because painting is a physical activity. However, I have been working a bit smaller for the last few years as I don’t have a large enough studio to make really big paintings. The canvases usually start with some really simple big-brush mark-making with a fairly wet, thinned-out acrylic paint. Sometimes, it’s a very simple drawing meant to outline the subject matter of the painting. At other times, I start out with some kind of abstract loose pattern— a grid or just splashes of paint. These beginning moves are meant simply to give me something to work against as I move forward with the painting.

Who or what do you find yourself inspired by?

This is cheesy, but I’m inspired by art and by paint. I say all of these things, by way of explanation, about anxiety and digital communication, and all of that is true, but it’s secondary to paint itself, and color. I love the smell of oil paint and the sounds that paint brushes make as the drag across a canvas. I use acrylics, too, but I don’t get as much pleasure out of the process. I usually feel most invigorated and excited to get to work in the studio when I’ve just seen some really good painting shows. I love Nicole Eisenman, Dana Schutz, Barnaby Furnas, Philip Guston, Francis Bacon, Amy Sillman, Bonnard, Soutine… the list goes on.

Your statement speaks about the “omnipresence of constant communication” and “unrelenting visual activity.” Do you think it is overwhelming to be a visually-oriented person in this age of incessant visual communication?

I love to be visually overwhelmed! It’s exciting! The constant communication I’m talking about in the statement is really social communication: the internet, social climbing, electronic noise—a general lack of quiet. The unrelenting visual activity is something I deliberately impose upon my paintings and drawings. I do this in part because, as I said, I find visual overload exciting but also as an attempt to convey the viscerally anxious relationship I (and I believe many people —city dwellers, at least) have with our collective lack of privacy. There’s a weird and disconcerting disconnect between who we truly are as individuals and the person we choose to present to society. This has probably always been the case, but it seems greatly exacerbated by social media and other aspects of technology. People present improved versions of themselves on Facebook and Instagram. I understand this, as a mostly rational person, whose world didn’t include social media until adulthood, but I still find myself comparing my real life to the Facebook lives of others.

The unrelenting visual activity is something I deliberately

impose upon my paintings and drawings.

I find the space in your work to be always shifting. Like going down a rabbit hole, I keep noticing things that are farther back, hidden, behind. Is this calculated or does this come about as part of your process?

I think I addressed this somewhat in my answer to the previous question. Simply put, I prefer artwork that takes a little while to explore I like it when you don’t see everything right away. I would say that this is deliberate but not calculated. I don’t have much in the way of a system, nor do I have expectations at the outset for what a painting will look like when completed.

There are not many artists in the area working with color the way you are. The color in your work is exciting and has changed over time. How do you see you use of color change over time?

This is sort of a weird one. My work from a few years ago is all muddy browns, reds, and yellows but, at the time, I thought those colors were really vibrant. Then I went to grad school, and my work changed really quickly. I “discovered” fluorescents and had to figure out how to make and arrange colors that could compete with such bright harsh colors.

Are you involved in the Washington art scene? Can you recommend any local artists we should watch?

I am trying to become involved in the Washington art scene. I’m not the best at socializing and self promotion, but I try to attend as many art events and openings as I can and talk to other artists when I’m feeling comfortable enough. I think doris-mae has been putting on really interesting edgy shows. Project 4, The Fridge, and Catalyst Projects have done great work, too.


Amanda Kates’ website.

Conversation With Hsin-Hsi Chen

On the occasion of her immersive installation at doris-mae (May 16 to June 21, 2014), Hsin-Hsi Chen took some time to answer some questions about art, evolution, and experimentation.

You have done “flat” works on paper, sculptural work on paper and wood, and now Ulterior, a full-room installation. It is an immersive experience – like stepping inside one of your sculptural pieces. Seeing Revealment next to the installation seems like a natural progression of your practice. Was the shift to installation difficult? What were some of the challenges you faced?

It’s yes and no… I’ve done a smaller installation, Transition, in VisArts’ solo 2012. Transition was also a site-specific installation but only showing the 3D structures without images. The difficult part of my installation is always be finding the right material. Since my work is based on pencil with gradation, it’s very time-consuming to do a large installation. The challenge that I gave myself years ago was to use only one very basic tool – pencil — to develop my ideas from 2D to 3D and more. We’ll talk about this later. But at this stage of my progress, pencil seems no longer to hold its own role, other material must be involved.

My work has been related to architectural forms, and I always want to find a way to combine my work with actual architecture. My previous small 3D works are indeed the natural progression of my practice to the large-scale installation. I constantly like to play 3D virtual sketches in my head…whenever I’m walking or driving. So I guess it’s not that difficult to shift the idea of my smaller pencil work to large-scale installation. It’s like the natural growth in all creatures, it always has a certain mysterious path transforming into the final form. It’s just the matter of time.

“[…] like the natural growth in all creatures, it always has a certain

mysterious path transforming into the final form.”


The challenges in Ulterior were how to execute my idea/design and some technical issues, such as the measurements of the room, accuracy of the grayscale tone in printing my work into large panels, and how to install them in the room. This is my very first full-room installation. I thought about it many years ago, but didn’t know how to do it at the time and didn’t have the opportunity to have an actual room until now.

This is quite a big project, although I planned it ahead, there are many unexpected issues that came up in the end. For example, we measured the room, from ceiling, walls to the floor many times and still got different measurements before I started designing my small-scale 3D model drawing. Finally we got all the correct measurements we thought, but the printed panels in the stair-wall section turned out to not match. It’s because the whole room, walls and floor are kind of not straight/flat, a bit curved and tilted… somehow from one point to another one seemed to never be the exact size. So I had to cut the panels in order to match and mount them on the stairs/walls. Because this is a full-room design with all images connected to each other, it became more difficult after discovering they couldn’t be matched in a very short installation time. But we did overcome the challenges and completed the installation. This is a very challenging and valuable experience and certainly a great lesson for my future projects.

On your website, you have documented your recent work with these meditative, long take videos. They allow the viewer to experience the work’s surface and I wonder what encouraged you to start creating these videos?

I was taking photos for my work two years ago and felt something was missing in those photos. Although still-images could show very detailed parts of the drawings, they couldn’t really represent the actual 3D drawings as I walked through them from far to close-up distances. I wanted to have the real-time experience for the audience, especially my 3D structures which should be viewed from different angles. I wanted to show the close-up details and textures of the pencil marks, gradation of graphite, paper, and wood surfaces as I was examining them through the lens in motion. Besides, not many people can actually come to the exhibitions these days from their busy schedules and see the artwork in person. So, I had the urge to video my artwork because it seemed to be the best solution to present my 3D artwork after each exhibition. Plus, I have always had a very strong interest in movie/film-making and love the transitions in cinematography.

I read that you use the most basic tools “to see how far one medium can take me to different scales, formats and other possibilities.” How do you see those basic tools as relevant today? Are there other artists working in the same medium or method that inspire you?

Yes, it’s the challenge that I gave myself to see “how far” by using just one basic medium to develop it into different scales, formats and other possibilities. I love to use pencil to create the gradation in my illusionary style and want to show only black/white because certain color will present a certain meaning, but in the tone of grayscale, there is no limitation in imagination.

In the very beginning, it’s about drawing and one medium. I didn’t know what my work will become to the end, and I didn’t actually want to know either. It’s a long journey and reflects my interest in the unknown.

I’ve always been interested in the subjects of certainty and uncertainty, real and unreal, known and unknown, expected and unexpected in this universe. Those elements are invisible, puzzling, and fascinating. The progress of connecting every bit in our lives builds our characters and forms the way we are today. But through the process of my work, from 2D to 3D and large installation, this task that I challenged myself seems to have come to a turning point.

“The progress of connecting every bit in our lives builds

our characters and forms the way we are today.”


While working on Ulterior, suddenly I realized that my pursuit in pencil drawing all these years has actually just a very small tool and practice in order to develop something larger. It’s beyond drawing. It’s the “space” that I am actually concerned with. And it’s interesting to see how people interact with my work when they step into the room, they became the small elements in my artwork. After seeing the human scale versus my room-sized illusionary images, I’m definitely giving myself another new challenge now.

Although I work with one medium, I get inspiration from all, not only limited to people or artists, but more from man-made structures, nature, universe in different dimensions and unknown forms. Concept is the core in each artwork; media and technique can only serve as the tools.

You are based in Rockville, MD, right outside DC. Are you involved in the Washington area art scene? Do you find the DC area informs your work? Are there local artists that you look at?

Yes, I’m interested and involved in DC and other area art scenes by participating in many solo and group exhibitions through the years. I appreciate the benefits that we can get in our art community here. I do look at the amazing creativity from all local artists and other areas as well.

What are you working on now? Can we look forward to more large-scale installations from you in the future?

I’m continuing my development in 2D/3D architectural drawings with pencil and other media, but will create more large-scale installations and structures at the same time for sure. I would be very interested in collaborating with architects or the field in public art, because my ultimate goal is to present my 3D formats and the idea of light and shadow which reflects the human soul in the illusionary space into the reality – combining the illogical spacial puzzles with actual buildings, surroundings, and cityscapes.


Here are links to Hsin-Hsi Chen’s website, YouTube, VimeoEtsy, and Facebook profile.

Questions with Piper Grosswendt

Piper Grosswendt answers questions about her work, studio practice and influences in this short Q&A with curator Thomas Drymon.


How would you describe your work in the project space at doris-mae? Tell us, in particular, about the large piece that is installed there and the short stack of paintings.

The work in the project space has a lot to do with production. The large piece I painted left to right, one color at a time. I use acrylics partly due to their fast drying time. To me, “rather than or else” was a sort of self-challenge to have confidence in my mark making and to build a composition through a pattern of quick reactions to intuitive gestures. The long narrow shape aids this process, in that, standing as close to the surface as I do to paint on it, I can only focus and look at a portion of the whole.

The short stack of paintings is built out of works that were created as a response to “rather than or else.” Looking at the large piece in my studio, I studied moments I liked that were initially created without much thought. So in the small works, I aimed to make conscientious compositions taking cues from colors and shapes I’d made in a different state of mind. The preparation of the surfaces, with pleats and other sewing manipulations, was more calculated, too. The stack was a suggestion from Tom–one which I liked because it’s a kind of insouciant, fun way to consider the paintings and use them to further play with composition.

 In your artist statement, you talk about the dichotomy between the private and the public that studio-made work demonstrates. Can you elaborate on that dichotomy? Can’t any artists’ work created in a traditional studio environment claim this as part of its oeuvre?

It’s not a complex dichotomy, nor a unique observation. I find the compulsion to make art fundamentally strange and indulgent, and I’m interested in the motivations of myself and others that drive creation. The compulsion to share those creations with an audience is perhaps more interesting  to me, because it requires a boldness and self-assurance that what you are making will hold the attention of someone other than yourself. I’m still made fairly uncomfortable by what I see as the inherent attention-seeking that is wrapped up in all of this, which is why I suppose I’m so preoccupied with considering my work within this private-public framework.

We tentatively touched on the associations people have with your surface materials. What is the most important takeaway for a viewer about the choice of this surface material? How does the line/color/shapes of the textiles you choose impact your work?

A hope is that the second-hand linens evoke first a familiarity and then provoke questions of past lives, so to speak. The look of the textiles and any manipulations I make to them serves primarily as a jumping off point for the painting. Having something to respond to from the beginning is very stimulating to me. I edit those starting points through the selection of a particular fabric and how I make it into a surface.

What then becomes the most important aspect of your work—the way you use the paint or what you’re trying to convey about the studio practice?

The way I use paint, definitely. The endless opportunity for invention, which I find most exciting through the use of paint for the time being, is what I find most motivating.

Can you claim anyone as a particular influence on your own studio practice and work? (Provide some visuals/examples if you have them.)

Having a studio practice is still a relatively new concept to me, but my art professors at Bowdoin—namely Meggan Gould, Michael Kolster, Carrie Scanga and Mark Wethli—were fantastic influences because they took my ideas seriously and critically, which encouraged me to dig in and take myself seriously as an artist and to develop a disciplined routine of making. Now, I’m in a group through DCAC called sparkplug with seven other area artists; we meet to discuss common concerns and give feedback about what we’re working on the the studio—I lovingly refer to it as my support group. And my studio neighbor Alex Peace is constantly making and experimenting, which is good energy to be around.

A quick list of artists who have been influential to me at important moments: Robert Rauschenberg, Eva Hesse, Sigmar Polke, the quilters featured in “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend,” Amy Sillman, Charline von Heyl, Diana Molzan.

How does a dual degree in English and visual arts inform your practice.

More than anything, I think this background, which naturally involved lots of close reading and analysis, has allowed me to be self-critical of my art making in a way that is productive rather than discouraging. Also, I developed a terrible habit of writing essays blindly, without outlines, which I am now realizing is somewhat similar to how I paint. This was not encouraged by any faculty member but I found that it usually worked for me if I was prepared with an understanding of the points I wanted to discuss.

Tell us about some of your title choices and what they mean.

I title works fairly light-heartedly, with a key goal being to amuse myself while creating some sort of reference system. “shallow, empty, no ideas, nothing interesting” is co-opted from a scene in “Annie Hall” in which Alvy Singer asks a good-looking couple on the street about their compatibility. The painting itself is sparse in terms of paint I actually laid down, and the title made sense to me at the time. “makai bumbai” takes two words from Hawaii: “makai” being a directional term meaning “oceanside” (the oppositional term, “mauka,” is “mountainside”)  and “bumbai,” a pidgin term roughly meaning “sometime later/in the future.” Mostly, I like how the words sound together and that they will read as nonsense to most people here.

Has installing work in the project space at doris-mae encouraged you to look into a full room installation?

Certainly—some of the larger work I make is a bit amorphous and unwieldy and I think only benefits when considered with particular attention to its surroundings. I also have been starting to play with the idea of works that allow and invite multiple options for installation and it would be interesting to explore this idea at a larger scale.

Does your exposure to other artists and their work in your day job influence your decisions in the studio in any way? If so, how?

Not directly, though it is stimulating to work closely with such a wide variety of art. I particularly enjoy making studio visits and hearing about the process that leads up to an artist’s exhibition.

doris-mae and Knowledge Commons

Earlier in the spring, doris-mae hosted an event for Knowledge Commons DC in her space. As described on its website,

“Knowledge Commons DC is a free school for thinkers, doers, and tinkerers—taught anywhere, by anyone, for everyone. As a floating school hosted throughout Washington DC, we are dedicated to forging unusual intersections and conversations by providing a platform for free and hospitable knowledge sharing. We partner with existing organizations, individuals, and communities to foster collaborative learning and community exchange. Classes run for one-month seasonal sessions throughout the city.”

doris-mae shares many of the same values with Knowledge Commons DC and welcomes them back to her space with two separate events this month. You can register for these free events by following the links below:

Learning to Look: A Primer in the Visual Language of Painting
Quand la France s’ennuie: Revolt, Situationism, and 1968

Questions with Joy Every

Joy Every answers questions about her work, influences, studio practice and critique in this short Q&A with curator Thomas Drymon. 


Joy, describe your journey to becoming a painter through the path of corporate America.

I was a painter in high school and college but during college I felt that I could have more of an impact through filmmaking. So I went to film school and received my MFA in screenwriting/directing from Columbia University. However, I was unsuccessful in selling my screenplays or making films and had to eat so took a job at Walt Disney as an assistant. I was told I was an awful assistant and thus promoted to Creative Director. I loved the job, as I was able to work with artists as they created characters, backgrounds, storylines and music for animated feature films. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to leave the corporate world of Hollywood and AOL to return to painting.  At that point, I was finally ready to be alone in a room with my paints, canvas and brushes.

How has your previous profession influenced your work (Hanna Barbera, Disney)? What are your other significant influences?

I was very taken with the artistry of animation. Animators and background painters are extremely talented artists. I had no idea. I have definitely been influenced by the concept of anthropomorphism. Bringing inanimate and landscape elements to life on canvas is an interesting challenge. The American Modernists have definitely influenced my work—the simplification of landscape elements by Arthur Dove for example—as has Asian/Indian art and textile patterns.

You mentioned that you are engaged in regular critique sessions with other artists. How has that impacted your work? Can you give an example of criticism and how it changed something you were working on in the studio?

It’s important to me to engage with other artists on a regular basis. Working alone I have a tendency to not see where the work is going or to be more negative about a direction than I should be. The crit group helps me see the bigger picture—how a new direction is not totally new but a logical outgrowth of work that I had been doing. They are also helpful in figuring out when a painting is done or there is more to be said. I often found that something about a painting—maybe a line or area—would be bothering me but it would be more of a nagging sense than a clear thought. The crit group would inevitably find the same place and mention their discomfort with it. Then I know I do have to deal with that area and inevitably I’ll be happier with the outcome. I also really enjoy talking about other artists’ works as well. It gives me insight into my own work and sharpens my observance skills.

Tell us more about the painting Labwork and its significance to you.

Labwork was a turning point, a new direction for me. A “seminal painting.”  I had been using the black ball icons in larger ways previously which started as a way to cover an area of the painting I was unhappy with. I decided to try and make a tree out of the balls to see what developed. I dripped multiple times on the canvas first then let the balls go where they wanted to go to signify a tree. When it was done, I felt it looked to me more like the models of atoms kids are given in science class. That’s where the title “LabWork” comes from. But to me it still symbolizes the life force of a growing tree.

In our studio visits, we discussed your cultural influences. If I remember correctly, you don’t necessarily seek out visual references from other cultures, yet they seem to exist. Can you talk about those influences?

I’m always amazed when I look at indigenous art from Aboriginal, Native American and primitive cultures that the marks I make are the same marks that native peoples made thousands of years ago. I don’t set out to copy those marks like spirals or pattern lines, but they seem to be there anyway. I believe human nature causes us to create lines that come from somewhere deep inside, something that signifies human existence. One can also see these patterns and lines in nature like a snail shell, ripples in the water, veins in a leaf, etc.

We also briefly discussed moments of transformation in the studio. Can you talk about your most recent work and how it is influenced by the past but also what it says about where you might head?

I’ve lately been trying to get to the essence of a concept—simplify, simplify as in “LabWork.” In order to simplify that concept even further I decided to remove the distraction of color. You will see this in “Trio,” my most recent painting in the show. “Trio” also pushes the anthropomorphism concept. It is simple, but the stacks of balls seem to be communicating with each other, moving and vibrating. I love this idea of showing movement and communication in a flat plane. I’m going to keep working on that concept until I’ve played it out and need to move on to the next thing. I get bored of a direction easily and am always experimenting with where the next canvas will lead me.

streaming income

By Liz Georges

For a while in the 1990’s, my best friend and I ran a DIY music magazine. Record labels sent me CDs. I didn’t pay for a concert ticket for almost five years, and I got to talk to all the artists I most admired about their craft. I learned a lot about how the music industry worked.  Making it meant getting a record deal — the artist placed his trust in the record company to market and sell his music, so that he could focus on creating it. It’s an arrangement that should sound very familiar to most visual artists.  It’s the same principle that drives most representation agreements with galleries.

When the digital music revolution began, everything changed.

Online music sharing sent the record industry into a tailspin. Artists chose sides. Some embraced the new technology. Others decried it. Everyone was confused. Record labels, desperate not to lose their dominance, resorted to all kinds of draconian legal means to assure the continued economic viability of their product. But there was no turning back the clock on file sharing technology.  The Napster apocalypse had destroyed the tried and true economic model for music industry success. Over a decade later, musicians still have the same question: just how does one make money as an artist in this brave new world?

To answer that question, in 2010 the Future of Music Coalition initiated an epic research project that surveyed musicians from 25 different musical categories using several different vectors including oral interviews, online surveys and even review of participants’ actual financial records.

The findings of the study were eye-opening, and instructive. Many of the protestations of doom for musicians and the music industry in the post-apocalyptic era were shown to be myths.  Most importantly, the study identified no less than 42 different revenue streams that are available to someone trained in music, including everything from old school income like royalty payments and record company advances, to revenue sources that no one had even heard of a decade ago, like You Tube partner programs and persona licensing in video games.

The new landscape for musicians after the Napster apocalypse is diverse and surprising. The mythical band that makes all its money off of touring? Of those musicians surveyed, 42% hadn’t played live at all in the prior 12 months, and those artists that did only recognized about 28% of their annual income from touring. Among those making a living full-time from their music, few sub groups recognized more than 20% of annual income from touring.

It is true that most musicians aren’t making much money from selling their music — but digital sales among most musicians in most genres is reported mostly as increasing over the past five years, with things like satellite radio and the iTunes store actually becoming legitimate revenue sources for a number of artists. Branding is becoming more important to some musicians, and fan-funding (yes we’re looking at you, Amanda Palmer) is increasing.

What does all this mean, and why should visual artists care?

There has been much whining by bloggers about the purported death of the gallery system and the rise of market-warping hedge funders skewing the environment for intelligent collectors.  And yet, for all the hand-wringing and bloviating about how messed up the gallery system is or how hard it is for an artist to even get representation these days, the art world has not suffered near the kind of upending that the music industry has.  And yet musicians survive and even thrive in the post-Napster apocalypse. Why? Because they were willing to be creative, not only in their craft but also in their revenue streams, embracing the new ways of making money.

The full evolution of the traditional apparatus that supports visual artists has yet be realized. But with emerging technologies, social media, and online retailing (to name a few), one thing becomes clear — change is coming — and when one thing disappears into the void, another thing will emerge to replace it.

As such, artists can’t depend on the gallery system to bring them wealth and fame anymore. The challenge now for visual artists is to exercise creativity, not just in their artistic practice but in how they sustain their livelihood.  It’s up to artists to find the income streams that are available to them — the ones that have always existed but they’ve never tried, and the ones that are so recently invented that no one’s ever tried them.  If the music industry can teach us anything from its experience, it’s that even if the apocalypse happens, what comes next need not be a zombie-filled wasteland.


doris-mae questions her identity

Thomas Drymon sits down to talk about how doris-mae is different from the average white cube art space and what goes on beyond its walls.


How did doris-mae come about? Where did the name come from? 

doris-mae is a spinoff from the harmon art lab project, which I established with Peter e Harper in September 2011, and operated through May 2012. We presented eight exhibitions in that time and showed work by 15 artists.

Doris Mae is my mother’s name. I took her name because she embodies the values and attitude that I want in the space. She is a strong, determined woman who has worked very hard in life. She has a tremendous sense of justice and fairness toward others. She has a quirky sense of humor. She also has a twin sister named Dorothy Fae. Unofficially, the project space is named for her. It’s fitting, I think, that these two women who were often in conflict with one another share the name of the spaces where a dialogue can occur.

It’s clear that doris-mae shares a lot with your last project, harmon art lab,including the physical space. How is doris-mae different from the harmon art lab and/or other arts venues in the area?

When I reopened the space in September 2012, I re-examined some of the ideas  that I’d wanted to incorporate into harmon art lab. For starters, it was important to assemble a group of people who shared the mission of the space and who wanted to participate in its operations. Running an art space is a huge undertaking, so the people who are volunteering their time are an extremely valuable part of doris-mae. I want them to feel as much ownership of it as I. So, doris-mae is more of a group effort rather than a lone undertaking.

Another difference with this project is the blog on the doris-mae website. doris-mae wants to create and contribute to the ongoing dialogue about art and art-making in the city. On the blog, we’ll have interviews, essays, critiques, and the like. We’ll take submissions from others for content, but that content will undergo critical review by an editorial board before it is published.

Our Caged Artist series, which will begin this spring (2013), is designed to engage the public in conversations with artists who are literally placed in a cage at the entrance of the building housing doris-mae. We hope these informal opportunities will encourage people to visit doris-mae and other galleries in the neighborhood and raise awareness that these art spaces are a vital part of the changing landscape of the 14th and U Street neighborhoods.

Finally, we are beginning our reading series this spring, as well. It is designed to expose people to new ideas and provide additional opportunities to get an audience into the space to see the work.

Do you see doris-mae as more of a personal, artistic vision or a project that fills a wider void in the local (national/intentional) arts and culture community?

I’m not really motivated to fill a void, as much as I am motivated to do things for myself and others that have meaning. I was fortunate enough to be at the right place and the right time to open doris-mae. Am I trying to do something different? Of course. I wouldn’t have spent so much time struggling to define it if I didn’t want it to be part of something greater. I want doris-mae to be remembered.

In the end, though, the only things that will matter are the experiences people have and how they feel about them. I’d like people to come away from doris-mae feeling like they’ve been challenged, changed.

You describe doris-mae as a curatorial project, what does that mean exactly? How is a project differ from a gallery or museum (especially in terms of the  roles and relationships between the curator, work, artist, audience)?

By framing what I’m doing at doris-mae as a curatorial project, I shift the emphasis off commerce and place it on ideas, conversation and relationships. That’s not to say that galleries and museums are devoid of those things. Just that for me, I needed to find a way to activate the space that resonated and energized me.

Curators typically begin an exhibition with ideas culled from their own experiences and interests and find work that clarifies or exemplifies that. Or they are inspired by work and find meaning in its context with other work. With a venue secured, the job is done for the most part. You’ve assembled the work, wrote about the work, and shown up. I do much the same, but I wanted more from the curatorial experience than that.

When an artist exhibits at doris-mae, they should expect a dialogue with me and others. I’m not just hanging pretty pictures on the wall. In my definition of curation, I am placing greater emphasis on the relationship between the artist and the space. I want them to feel invested in the success of their own exhibitions and tell others about their experiences here. I want to help them articulate their ideas to an audience of artists and average folks, too.

I’ve turned greater attention to the conversation that occurs with work in the solo and project spaces as well. Before, I was happy to see what would emerge from our choices for exhibition, but now I want that connection to be more apparent, more provocative, more engaging. I encourage the artists in each space to share ideas and critiques, to enlarge their perspectives on their own work and that of others.

In a sense, then, the space offers an opportunity unlike other curatorial ventures because it asks the artists to actively engage in an ongoing process. An exhibition may begin with idea, but once artists are chosen for exhibition, that initial kernel can change and expand. We won’t know how that is without a conversation. That’s pretty exciting for me because I discover something new in the process also.

An ongoing dialogue like this is good for the audience as well, because we have a better chance to articulate what the work is about. I think people who come into an art space like doris-mae are naturally curious and open-minded. Our ability to engage them in a lively way will give them permission to express themselves freely. The dialogue becomes more comprehensive, swooping up more people. New perspectives can be discovered and new ideas might emerge.

There seems to be a real emphasis on physical space at doris-mae which is unique considering that so much daily social interaction happens online. Was this physicality intentional? If so, how is it tied into the goals and success of the project (and the community)?

I think it is rather sad to limit one’s social interactions to an online environment. It is such a dispassionate and cold place. We need to be around other people.

One of the reasons our space feels so good is because it has long been a hive of creative human activity. It has housed musicians, artists, actors and the like since the 80s. Visitors to doris-mae have told stories of living here, watching movies and listening to live music on the roof in the back. That creative spirit informs and enlivens the place. You get a sense of it when you visit, of what might have gone on here before.

I feel a responsibility to maintain this spirit, especially in a neighborhood undergoing such a radical transformation and add to it in any way I can. Much of our programming is designed to get people inside and engage them in a way that encourages repeat visits. We’re building a new community in the space.

doris-mae reads

“Gidney has crafted a beautifully assured and insightful debut novel detailing the heightened surreality and emotionalism of teenage life. This book is full of heartbreak, humor, and most importantly a deep humane sense of empathy.”—William Johnson, editor, Lambda Literary Review and publisher of Mary Literary Quarterly


On Sunday, March 3, doris-mae was happy to host a reading of author Craig Laurance Gidney’s new book, Bereft. Bereft is a haunting and deeply moving story of one teen’s struggle with racism, bullying, and homophobia.

The book launch party and reading served as a soft launch of the doris-mae reading group designed to be a forum and community open to all people interested in the creative life—artists and non-artists alike. Routine readings will range in form from theoretical texts and critical essays, to novels, to who knows what.

Our first reading will be Thursday, April 4, at the doris-mae space at 1716 14th Street NW. The short text we’re reading and discussing is from “Reading as Poaching” by Michel de Certeau from The Practice of Everyday Life, pp. 165 – 176. You can download the selection here to read in advance. Come prepared to discuss. Drinks will be available.

For questions about the selection or information about the reading group, contact Paul Pietsch.