Trevor Harrington is a Visual Arts Curatorial Intern from Bennington College, who is at Wave Hill for the college’s seven-week winter semester, helping the Visual Arts staff with the Winter Workspace program and other projects.
Gwen Fabricant’s practice encompasses painting, collage, assemblage and scanned imagery, while directly utilizing found organic material. The preservation, changeability or fragility of natural forms is a topic of interest for the artist. In Fabricant’s compositions, objects are arranged and depicted as emblems of raw nature encountered in the context of urban life. In the process of finding, seeing and recording reality, her work also investigates the underlying themes of memory and the uncanny. During Winter Workspace 2016, she is scanning natural materials collected onsite and incorporating these digital images into her compositions on paper.
Trevor Harrington: You say that much of your work begins with your “astonishment at the beauty of natural fact.” Can you talk about that and how it influences your work?
Gwen Fabricant: I wish to merge my human self into the natural world through the process of making art, without imposing a biographical or psychological narrative or interpretation upon the simple fact of the earth’s existence.
TH: What natural materials do you find yourself most attracted to, and why?
GF: I’m attracted to materials I can collect. They can be common or unusual—eggshells from my kitchen (common), for example, or castor bean pods from the Wave Hill compost (unusual). Compost is a wonderful concept, as well as a source. Anything from a tree: leaf, bark, seeds, pods or flowers is an object of desire. I am drawn to all plants, especially when they are preserved by drying, and when they can be taken apart, so that their shape is transformed. Also, shells, seaweed, fish, bones.
Of course, I am attracted to the places these things come from. Nature transformed into food and medicine attracts me—especially from Chinese groceries and apothecaries.
TH: Do you ever find yourself using human-made, synthetic materials in conjunction with organic materials found in the natural world?
GF: In the paintings, I have sometimes included objects that could have come from almost any time or culture—cloth, candles, glass or metal containers, tools, small icons, carpets. The collages/assemblages include only natural materials.
TH: How do you make your compositional choices?
GF: There is an uncanny attraction between the things I choose to work with. One thing strikes up a conversation with another, so it enters the composition. It’s not set-up at the beginning—eventually a unified whole emerges, if I’m lucky. Everything I have seen in museums and galleries over many years enters into this intuitive process of composition. I’ve always worked outside of any identifiable art movement or style.
TH: How has your work evolved over the years?
GF: Looking at my recent paintings, I see them becoming spatially more open, less dense.
TH: How has your earlier work informed your recent endeavors?
GF: For many years, I worked exclusively in painting, from direct observation, in strong daylight. As a way to work in the darker winter months, I began to make assemblages, framed by wooden boxes, from material foraged from the kitchen, beach, woods—I call them “composts”—they are a kind of bas-relief in form. A few years ago, I discovered the digital scanner. (Everyone else already knew about it.) That opened up the possibilities for capturing and saving ephemeral stages of plant life, and later combining them with hand-drawn images, or actual physical material, next to or layered over the laser-printed scans. It is a free, spontaneous way of working, especially when compared with the slow, exacting painting process. It juxtaposes a mechanical mode of representation with an intensely hand-made one.
These days, in my studio, I work both ways, alternately, using the scarce strong daylight for painting. In the Winter Workspace program, I am combining laser prints with collaged plant material—all from material collected at Wave Hill. These are very different processes, but both are ways of exploring the physical reality of nature and its expression in visionary form.
TH: What are you working on next?
GF: What I’ve started to do in some of my arrangements is to use painting as an under layer and then I integrate that with digital images as well as physical collage, adding more layers to the piece. However, making it work compositionally is a challenge. Also, the images would come from a different source other than nature.
Fabricant’s paintings are currently on view in the exhibition Looking at the Overlooked at Westbeth Gallery, New York, NY, through January 30.
Pictured above, from the top:
Gwen Fabricant in her Winter Workspace studio, 2016. Courtesy of Wave Hill.
Gwen Fabricant, Pokeweed, 2016. Plant material collage, laser print, 14” x 10 3/8”. Courtesy of the artist and Wave Hill.
Gwen Fabricant, Map, 2016. Plant material collage, laser print, 13 1/2” x 10 3/8”. Courtesy of the artist and Wave Hill.