GRIN- Your work in general evinces a strong commitment to process, and I think that’s especially clear in an exhibition like this one, which spans sculpture, painting, video, drawing, and writing. I’m also noticing new relations between pieces; for example, the resin pieces seem like you are taking bits of your large paintings and allowing those individual components to develop on their own- like one of those TV montages where a scene gets zoomed in more and more, and with each new level of magnification, a new, smaller scene is revealed.

You often use these large orange pours in your painting, both in the ones we see here and in your previous work— and now the pours have turned into these newer epoxy resin pieces, where you've removed the ground (canvas) altogether. The ground is now the medium itself, like you've inverted the compositions of the paintings. What was it about the physicality of the pour that led you to build this new body of work- or did it come from an interest in developing what art historian Daniel Marcus has called the "bottomless pits" of the paintings?

HEATHER LEIGH MCPHERSON - I think my interest in this material emanates from both of those things: it’s a kind of next-step logic leading from the poured paint to the poured epoxy, as well as a desire to thematize the puddle, or pit. I began using casting materials like silicone for a separate project, and then I quickly realized that clear epoxy could serve simultaneously as adhesive, substrate, and expressive liquid. It is a liminal material, sharing some properties with glass and others with paint; its presence is both liquid and solid.

I am trying to foreground the feminist art historical connections of the spill, creating obvious bridges to Helen Frankenthaler, Lynda Benglis, and Eva Hesse with the aesthetic of wetness—something from the inside leaking to the outside. I’m also aiming to create moments of pictorial boundarilessness, where the physicality of the surface belies a real porosity, a sense that information crosses through this transparent plane in all directions.

I like that you brought up that cinematic form of scale shift, like in Ray and Charles Eames’s short film “Powers of Ten,” where the camera zooms out exponentially from a body into outer space, then back down to Earth and into the micro-scale of the body’s interior.  There is a piece in this show called Dolly Zoom, which is the name for another cinematic trope we would all instantly recognize: it’s the effect of the subject remaining at a consistent scale in a given shot, while the background either grows or shrinks. I think it was first used in Vertigo, to create a material index for the feeling of height-sickness and psychological turmoil. I love that we have a specific filmic marker for eeriness and emotional intensity; when it’s converted into language as Dolly Zoom, of course, it loses its visceral, expressive potency but gains the special associative quality of language. Dolly can now also signify a child’s doll, and zoom photographic or physical velocity. I want each element to carry multiple valences, just as the epoxy resin seems to exist in between two states.

I'm so curious about the written language. Where does it come from? How did it develop? Tell me everything.

I have always relied on writing to sort ideas in the studio, and about a year ago I started to concentrate on it as a legitimate part of my broader set of concerns. I was doing a residency in the desert, and did not have access to my usual studio materials. I began writing semi-autobiographical things that picked up the tone of various forms of personal writing: a letter to a pen pal, an entry a dream journal, the kind of scribbling someone might do to transcribe their own acid trip or report back from the astral plane. I always feel an earnest connection to these voices as well as a distance from or skepticism about the characters they represent.

In my previous body of work, I was using more found text in the epoxy pieces—fragments from self-help and recovery literature, manuals of mental illness, and pop bromides for cis white women. I think the presence of caricature, or ambivalence about my own demographic, was a little stronger in that work. In general I am deeply invested in ideas of identity and the expressive possibilities of a role, but I have only a shallow tolerance for my own irony, which seems to be such an appendage of privilege. There are layers of self-awareness, for sure, but I am ultimately trying to say something genuine.

I always love the digital moves in your paintings and am happy to see you are blurring the lines between pixels and paint even further with Flower Therapy. This new piece has a decidedly different mood than your gifs. It reads like the viewer is getting a look at what happens when someone is able to work and let their mind wander at the same time. Is that experience personal for you at all?  It seems like a visual manifestation of your own thoughts while you were making it. What was it like moving from gifs to this more narrative piece?

The gifs I have made in the past function more like animated, flashing paintings; in this video, I’m using the element of time to squeeze some new qualities from a reading or viewing experience that unfolds gradually and changes from second to second. I’ve spoken before about the similarities between faces, paintings, and screens—all thresholds that divide one zone from another, and that translate one kind of information into another. I like that faces, as sites that both transmit and occlude meaning, can operate as a communicative model. Likewise, this video both transmits and occludes, offering the logic of one narrative only to dart away to another thought.

One of the textual threads in the video came out of a dream I had. In the dream, my friend tells me about a new kind of desensitization psychotherapy, “flower therapy,” meant to treat social anxiety and/or hypersensitivity—the therapist presents the client with a bouquet of flowers and they have to come up with an appropriate response, in the face of high social pressure to behave graciously. I thought this was as good a starting point as any for both a writing project and a video. In the dream, flower therapy existed alongside other recovery models, like Alcoholics Anonymous and old-school psychoanalysis-- the flower-centric process lost some of its strangeness when presented as just one more avenue to wellness in the face of desperation.

This way of making a video is new to me, but I think the aesthetic of the novice—the overuse of filters, combined with the clunkiness of a limited toolkit—is appropriate to my work, which often invokes states of adolescence, for example, in the loopy text and doodled syntax of my drawings. I am attracted to the format of the video because, for me, it’s akin to the feeling of being alive. There are several stories to follow, and though they’re all there for a reader to take in, they can’t be easily separated and considered. They braid confusingly, twisting into a hybrid. Different ways of seeing vie for attention, as images crowd out legible text and narrative resolutions drop away. I think your observation--that the video is the record of its own making-- is right on. We see the handwriting crawl across the frame, the info-bars at the bottom of a Microsoft Word document appear and disappear, and the flashing cursor spit out words, complete with the red and green squiggly underlines of “mistake.” There is a line toward the end that says, “Breaking down the doughy bulk of sensation / the stretching of process underway, not position taken.” I think of this as a description of the piece itself and maybe also of the exhibition as a whole.


MARCH 1-6, 2017
Room #2243

leah piepgras

We are all made of stardust. We are as old as the stars. 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Under different heat and pressure, we could have been rocks instead of people.

In Gateway, we present a solo exhibition of work by Leah Piepgras who deals with how subtle shifts in a conscious state affect the relationship with the seen and unseen environment. Under a veil of cognitive science, physics, cosmology and the human time scale, she examines indefinable universal truths. Taking the concept of a black mirror (or "Claude mirror"), a small personal object that provides an individual viewer with a pointed reflection of the world,  Piepgras turns it outward- providing the viewer with tools to instead reassess their position within the universe. Gateway uses Piepgras' autobiographical works not only as a way to force the viewer to see themselves in someone else's reflection, but as a way to encourage consideration of their place in the visible universe.

Consider that there are two timelines; the human timeline, one which has humanity at its center and pushes everything else outside of consideration. The other is that of the universe; one of rocks and trees and sky and earth. Gateway is of the latter: a separate experience that exists in tandem with our own, found through a search for personal phenomena. It is Piepgras’ belief that we are more than the individual, more than a single self- but instead, connected through unseen tethers.


Leah Piepgras received her MFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 1997, and has since exhibited and performed throughout the United States.  She has work in the permanent collection of, among others, Wilmer Hale, New England Biolab and Fidelity Investments, and has been featured in Beautiful Decay, The New York Times and The Boston Globe.



Passenger with Horizon by Scott Lawrence at GRIN



ALEXANDER CASTRO: You refer to minimalism as a “misnomer” when discussing your work. What separates your work from minimalism proper? Thinking of your use of objects of supreme banality (wire hangers, chairs, business attire), you do seem to interrupt the self-seriousness of a reductive aesthetic. But why the hesitation to associate yourself directly with minimalism? Does it imply a philosophical or discursive mission you don’t share? Would you say you create art that’s anarchic or disruptive?

SCOTT LAWRENCE:  I try to achieve a level of visual clarity or directness in my work. I try to strip away the non-essential. I’ve casually (confusingly, maybe) called this a minimalist approach. My interest in minimalism proper - the canonical work of Stella, Serra, McCracken, Smith and the others – is more satirical, to be honest, and I’ve referenced it pretty directly in a number of pieces. The values I associate with that minimalism, like the domineering approach to space, its declarative attitude as opposed to receptive or sensitive, its embrace of commodity and alignment with industrial capitalism, are values I question. So you’re right that there’s a disruptive impulse at work. My motivation there is more in the spirit of David Hammons’ Shoe Tree from 1981, where he tossed all these pairs of sneakers up on top of Serra’s giant steel sculpture T.W.U.

There are a few reasons I choose the objects that end up in my work. Universality is maybe the most important. I want them to be recognizable to practically anyone. Instead of the high-end corporate interior look, as in Judd’s brass boxes, I’m doing something a little bit pathetic, more human – while still working in this reductive A. These aren’t high-design objects pulled from the consumer landscape. Their forms are engineered for the bottom line and in that sense I think of them as being impoverished, or desperate, in a way. The exceptions to this are the pinstripe pants and dress shirts which I intend to be associated with a more white collar environment and to make this connection between minimalism and corporate hegemony more explicit.

AC: You mention Max Weber’s idea of “disenchantment” --the loss of mysticism to positivism-- as an influence. The asceticism, efficiency, organization and bureaucracy that defined Weber’s sociological concerns were arguably instrumental in establishing the world we have now: one in which ontology is grounded in predictability, rationalism and forms (visual, social, or otherwise) whose contents are clearly defined. How does your work engage or tussle with disenchantment Aits metaphysical implications? Furthermore, how do you see disenchantment expressed in the arts? Thinking of Weber’s Protestant Ethic, one does find some overlap with the goals of minimalism.

SL: Weber’s thesis of rationalization has been a useful framework for me because I think it’s an accurate, relevant picture of the world and it describes what I imagine is commonly thought of as progress. Basically he said that the entire history of western civilization could be summarized as the gradual disenchantment of the world, and the replacement of magic with rationalism. The end goal of rationalism being security, via control, predictability, description, convenience. But I’ve always been struck by the extent to which art is the exact inverse of rationalization. Like, I can’t think of a less interesting quality in art than predictability. And when I’ve ever made anything that’s very hard for me to describe to someone, I know I’m onto something. Or, all the art that gets its power from the amount of care that went into making it - efficiency would kill it.  Wolfgang Laib’s installations with the pollen he collected, for example.  But obviously there’s this very long history of artists thwarting the rational in all sorts of ways, trying to access the subconscious, doing anything to allow something other than their conscious brains to take the wheel. Dreams, stream of consciousness, Mark Tansey had his spinning wheel of random subject matter and Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt had their Oblique Strategies. And then on the other hand there was this group of minimalist artists fully embracing the values of rationalism. So I’ve tried to use this odd window where art and rationalism overlapped as cover in some of my work.

Exit, 2016. Painted stacking chairs. 18" x 34" x 70"

AC: You reference a minimalist or reductive aesthetic, but the objects you create seem to contain a jouissance that spills outside the boundaries of pure form. So what place does the euphoric or visionary experience have in your work? Are your pants sculptures writhing in ecstasy, perhaps, rebelling against the utilitarian purpose for which they were created?

SL:  This is a great question. I’ll start with the easy part. I had wanted to find a way to make sculptures of people in suits falling down, in a slapstick way. I realized I could do this with just the pants. For me, those sculptures have always been about... well, falling down.  Pain (in a funny way) more than ecstasy. But they are really ambiguous and get a range of interpretations. Dancing is one I hear sometimes. If you look at them as objects, they’re very static and architectural. Each one is its own design problem. But if you look at them as figures, they’re writhing or falling down or crushed. So there is this structure/ anti-structure interplay, not just in these but in a lot of my other work, too. I read once that Victor Turner said we conserve through structure and grow through anti-structure, and that always stuck with me.

As for the visionary experience – it’s always the place to try to get to, right?  Proof that there’s more than just rationalization. I think it happens but it’s unpredictable, at least in my experience. But processes, and seeing materials do unexpected things, can be like a hard-earned substitute.

Pants Sculpture XII, 2016. Dress pants on aluminum, carpet. 19" x 32" x 18"

AC: You mention R.H. Quaytman as an artist who personalizes her work despite its ostensibly “rigid and formal” nature. Your art seems to exist in the same realm: personal without being confessional. So how —or through what— do you express your self in your work?

SL:  Quaytman set up her practice as a sort of open system. She imposed a set of limitations to work within, like setting standard painting sizes for herself. Her work progresses in ‘chapters’ within an overarching archive or book. But within these set decisions she incorporates shapes or images taken from the locales of her exhibitions. She doesn’t have to reinvent what she’s doing every time, but there’s space built in to incorporate her life. In my case, I’m sort of an ‘everyman’ in my own work. The same way I pull in ubiquitous objects as subject matter, I pull in some of the more mundane details of my everyday life. And it’s not in an ironic way but more of a way for me to make those otherwise insignificant times count for something, to give them significance. Part of the way I want these pieces to spill outside the boundaries of their restricted forms, as you said, is to give them a narrative quality, to tie them to a larger story outside themselves.

Passenger with Horizon_Passenger with Horizon_Scott Lawrence_ GRIN_September 17-October15-min.jpg

AC: Did your experiences commuting between Providence and Brooklyn for several years inform Passenger with Horizon? More broadly, how can an artist represent or visualize their interiority —even through the detritus of mass consumer culture?

SL: They did. I moved from New York to Rhode Island and then started commuting back and forth once a week, because I kept my job and my studio there. The 3 ½ hr train rides along the coast became really valuable time for me and the details of that commute started finding their way into my work. For example I had been having this odd feeling that I wanted use an ellipse. Then I realized that the mirrors in the Amtrak bathrooms are all ovals and I was sure that’s where it came from. So I traced the mirror and used that shape in the coat hanger piece. Other imagery too, like the backs of people’s heads.  I saw so many amazing sunsets over the ocean on those trips and I took all these snapshots of them. I looked at them a lot and the gradations of color sort of took hold. It got me thinking about the Light and Space movement in California, and also the way that those gradations can be used to show motion or dematerialization. All those elements worked their way into this show.

You’re absolutely right that in general, and especially in New York, so many things compete for our attention that it’s really difficult to ‘listen’ – or to be open to subtle possibilities. In a lot of the art I like the most, I find myself asking, how did the artist even hear that? In those several years, my studio space was not necessarily a fixed physical spot but more of something I had to carry with me internally. The time on the train was quiet and was its own sort of empty space. I would rush to finally make the train, then just sit there, decompress and watch the landscape go by for an hour or more. I’d think and think until I basically had no more thoughts and then I could just keep watching the landscape. That emptying of thoughts helped me to get down to a receptive place.

I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that Amtrak actually has a residency program, like a cross-country trip, that they offer to writers, because the train is such a good place for that. You should apply!!

AC: Ha! Very neat. I just looked up the Amtrak residencies. What a fascinating program. Like you describe, those long train rides certainly invite both stillness and daydreaming -- definitely a good place for a writer. Thanks for the interview, Scott!

SL:  I’ve enjoyed it. Thanks Alex.

ALEXANDER CASTRO Alexander Castro is a journalist and writer based in the Providence/Boston area. He regularly covers the Rhode Island arts scene for publications like Newport Mercury. He won First Place in the 'Arts Review or Criticism' category at the 2015 Rhode Island Press Association Editorial Awards.