Wave Hill Curatorial Fellow Anna Robinson-Sweet shares some of what she has observed as the first session of the Winter Workspace 2013 residency comes to a close.
In mid-February, during Open Studios for Winter Workspace 2013, visitors to Glyndor Gallery viewed the work of six artists—some of the work finished, some ongoing and some just commenced— who have spent the past six weeks transforming the gallery into studio spaces. The artists—Manuel Acevedo, Zachary Fabri, Asuka Hishiki, Maria Hupfield, Paloma McGregor and Linda Stillman—were present to explain the projects they have been developing at Wave Hill. Visually, the work on view in the studios varied enormously, from Maria’s felt suit to Manuel’s photographic alphabet to Paloma’s sculptural stage set for a dance piece. All of the projects, however, have their roots in the unique natural environment of Wave Hill. Prior to the Open Studios, I had been able to observe the varying ways the artists drew inspiration from the gardens during the occasional visit to their studios, and even better, while strolling around the grounds with them.
The artists, like many of us this time of year, gravitated to the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory as a welcome burst of green in the gray of winter. I joined Linda Stillman on her daily visit to the conservatory. During her time at Wave Hill, she developed a sort of collaboration with gardener Jennifer Shovlin. Every day Jen left a flower pot nestled inconspicuously in the Tropical House. It contained petals that had fallen or been clipped from plants in the Conservatory. Linda took what is for the gardener detritus and returned with it to her studio, picking up some bright-orange flowers that had fallen from the Flame Vine (Pyrostegia Venusta) on her way. These fallen petals were on view during Open Studios, each flower’s pigment rubbed onto individual squares of watercolor paper.
Linda has been making these flower rubbings for a few years now, a practice that began as a way of preserving the flowers she grew in her own garden, but never before had she had access to the diversity of plants (and, therefore, colors) that she did at Wave Hill. Linda wasn’t expecting to be able to collect petals from the Conservatory , but once Jen started leaving her the pot of petals, Linda was so excited by the opportunity to experiment with this new material that she abandoned her plans to use store-bought flowers. Over the course of her six-week residency she compiled an entire wall filled with rubbings and flower pressings, ultimately forming a kind of diary of her daily visits to the Conservatory.
Linda wasn’t the only artist in the first session of Winter Workspace whose plans were disrupted by her experience of the gardens. Toward the end of the first session of Winter Workspace I stopped by Asuka Hishiki’s studio and was amazed to see an entire wall of her studio covered with butterflies.
Dozens of copies of a hand-drawn butterfly had been printed on vellum and pinned to a delicate, pencil drawing of a tree, appearing almost like leaves or flowers. I was amazed by this piece, tentatively titled Butterfly Tree, not only because of its beauty but also because it was so unexpected. In the past, Asuka has usually made small watercolor paintings in the style of a botanical illustrator, mostly depicting vegetables and insects. The scale, use of collage and subject matter in Butterfly Tree was such a departure from Asuka’s previous artwork that I had to learn what had prompted her to make it.
Walking through the grounds with her the next day, I asked Asuka about Butterfly Tree. She explained that she had always kept the idea of the collage in the back of her mind as a project she would one day work on. She wasn’t planning on making it during her time at Wave Hill until, on a walk through the gardens, she found the Saucer Magnolia tree (Magnolia x soulangiana) and felt that she should draw it. This drawing ended up being so successful that she went full-steam ahead and worked with a printer to make the butterflies, which she individually hand-cut and then attached to the tree drawing using insect pins. The completed piece made a big impact during Open Studios, though I learned while talking with Asuka that the gardens had affected her work in more subtle ways, too.
Like Linda, Asuka spent much of her time during Winter Workspace in the Conservatory. Also like Linda, Asuka found a way to document these visits. Each day, she picked a small section of a plant, perhaps a recently bloomed cactus flower or an orchid that had opened up its petals, and made a small drawing, using her skill as a botanical illustrator. While she had already mastered watercolor technique, she had to invent a different process for making these daily drawings. This is because she is used to drawing from life—having the plant she is drawing right in front of her—and in the Conservatory there wasn’t enough room for her to set up her materials. Instead, she relied on photography, often revisiting her subject matter throughout the day to make sure the camera had correctly captured the color. In order to complete a drawing each day, Asuka had to work much more quickly. In the past, she spent months, even years, working on a single drawing.
Asuka, Linda and everyone else in the first session of Winter Workspace left with a body of work impacted by Wave Hill. The artists participating in the second session of the residency have begun to arrive, settling into their studios and, more importantly, familiarizing themselves with the grounds. Already we are eager for the next Open Studios day, when new interpretations of our landscape will certainly be on view.