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.