Studio Visit: Dominic Terlizzi and Curtis Miller

Dominic Terlizzi and Curtis Miller: In Conversation

Baltimore, MD. May, 2018 

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Dominic Terlizzi, “GLOBES”, 8×10’, acrylic on canvas, 2015

Dominic in conversation with Amy Boone-McCreesh

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Hampstead, MD, about 45 mins north of Baltimore. After graduating from Cooper Union I moved back home and worked at New Arts Foundry in Hampden. I lived on my family’s farm and commuted to Baltimore to make bronze sculpture. For 3 years I was a metal finisher but painted at night until attending grad school at MICA.


How long have you been in your current studio?

Four years. Before Area 405, there was a spare bedroom studio in my house. For a while I had a place in Red Hook Brooklyn and lived between cities, but the work was unable to really get into a pattern. I realized it was better to consolidate and focus in Baltimore.

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Can you talk about your process and what you are trying to achieve?

My process involves collecting objects with textural qualities and casting them into acrylic paint. They are then arranged into a mosaic. A lot of my object texture starts with base cultural artifacts like bread; it’s just a way of getting to zero, getting to the most basic. I am drawn to objects that do not last but persist. Bread, grains, and germination are an old idea.

 

Objects can replace or negate facture. There is a letting go of self, getting rid of some sort of ego while simultaneously allowing idiosyncratic delivery. Another thing I’m trying to achieve is how to paint figures or project meaning onto a figures.

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There’s something very figurative and human in a living, breathing loaf of bread. It’s very flesh-like, the dough is malleable–you  massage the dough before you bake it. You see it breathe its last breath. It’s microbiology. It’s yeast. Our bodies are full of similar systems. It’s not the central focus of my work, but it’s there that these objects have a life of their own. There are parts of them I can’t actually control. I use a dough recipe to sculpt and once baked they swell up unpredictably bulbous. There’s a performative link from the baker to the painter.                                              

How do you keep moving forward and what is your measure of meaningful work?

There is a certain line of inquiry questioning how something landed. Everything leads to a new question, option, or possibility. For example a series of works that relied heavily upon the color green. Having questions about a color and wanting to understand one’s relationship to it for a while is a reason to make paintings. This also led to monochromes. After completing and reflecting on a few all white on white pieces, I developed a series of white monochromes.  Questioning how color and texture behaved focused what kind of content was possible. Painting from a colorist perspective, and understanding the language of color combinations revealed that there’s something in a monochrome that clarifies conversation. It is simply about the texture, which was the initial reason for my process. Monochrome becomes a drawing where one can really start seeing shadow, shape, and form. So in some way, back to figuration, this process has allowed me to start drawing and try to find a way to depict human forms. I’m playing around with portraits right now. The challenge for me is that my cast objects have concrete identities. I try to assemble them or build imagery within them large and small.

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Curtis in conversation with Amy Boone-McCreesh:

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Curtis Miller studio

Where did you grow up?

I grew up all over Texas. My parents divorced when I was young, so I spent the majority of my childhood going back and forth from Corpus Christi to College Station. I lived in Austin with my wife for 8 years before moving to Baltimore in 2011 to attend Grad School at MICA.

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How long have you been in your current studio?

5 years – It’s in the basement of our house. When we moved in it had a concrete floor, but that was it. It took me some time to build the things necessary for it to function as a working studio.

Can you talk about your process and what you are trying to achieve?

For the past 3 years I have been making grounds with hide glue and calcium carbonate and pigment mixed. The mix is primarily sprayed on, however varying processes of application can be used to generate unique characteristics in the finished ground. I have recently started experimenting with inlaying various materials in to the surface, wood veneer, inkjet prints, and various types of colored paper. The process of building the ground takes me about 4-7 days and, ideally, I get to a place that allows the painting to go much faster. The ground is the dominant aspect of the process, it’s kind of like a stage built for the mark.

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How do you keep moving forward and what is your measure of meaningful work?

I don’t always have a clear idea of what I want to do, so a lot of time I rely on the material and working with what’s in front of me. When I first started researching hide glue based gesso I was discouraged by the negativity concerning its brittleness and issues with longevity. The common sentiment was that acrylic based gesso had rendered traditional gesso obsolete. Initially discouraged, I soon realized these limitations would provide valuable parameters concerning the trajectory of what I was trying to figure out.

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My paintings focus on experimentation with material and process and I’m constantly utilizing what I learned in the last to begin the next one.

Conversation between Dominic, Curtis, and Amy 

A: What is your perception of the arts community in Baltimore right now?

Curtis: The focus on revamping and improving the Station North Arts district began when I was starting Grad school at Mica and, witnessing it’s transformation first hand, was one of my initial reasons for deciding to stay in Baltimore and live in the city. It’s also nice to see Baltimore’s cultural institutions making more of an effort to better represent all of its society. The city, in an effort to improve and better serve the community, has sought to utilize more arts programming and increase access to art (whether that be fine arts, film, etc.).

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Curtis Miller studio view, works in progress

Dom: Baltimore has never been better for artists. 10 years ago there was not as much going on. There seems to be a track record now of so many DIY spaces, people are sticking around, showing really good work and trying to curate shows. I feel like there is a certain type of momentum happening. Having said that, running the space St. Charles Projects…there is that question: who do we show and what does it mean to the city. It seems really important that artists who are being shown and talked about are artists or works or conversations that the community has a stake in. I’ve tried to have programming with this awareness. It’s something I strive for–it’s important to have a conversation from where you are.

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Dominic Terlizzi, studio view

A: Is there a different vibe in the Baltimore Art Community than in other cities?

C: I believe we’re close enough to New York for there to be an understood discourse, and yet still small enough to amply work in isolation and concentrate on what one is trying to achieve.

D: I’ve asked similar questions of artists in Baltimore, considering what could happen specifically Baltimore-based. The answer I’ve found is that Baltimore can allow works that involve more labor or more accrued time which is impractical in more expensive cities. Baltimore artists can make something that’s idiosyncratic, massive, has labor content, and social awareness. In Baltimore, it seems you can have a really strong opinion and work with it. That is also a kind of cultural quality–that Baltimore is always occupied. Baltimore has grit. There’s a post-industrial weirdness about this town. There’s affordable space, and a chance to have a curatorial vision to occur. Artists get to make their own art world if they want it. Another follow up question could be about what happens when Baltimore art leaves for bigger conversation.

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Dominic Terlizzi

C: You also have to specify if you’re talking about painting specifically or other mediums.There is a healthy community of painters here, but there are also accomplished writers and  photographers whose work has been published nationally and shown on the cover of Time magazine, and people working in various other mediums helping to better communicate to the outside world what it really means to live here.

D: It’s undeniable that the word “social” seems to be a driving force behind what’s happening currently in the Baltimore art scene. Is there a difference between art as “social activism” or art as “social action”? To make work as a social act is saying you are prepared to share with a community that also wants to care about it, give it attention, find meaning in it, indulge in it. It’s having a voice and putting it out into the world. To mix a metaphor, all the painters in Baltimore are like a chorus creating a cacophony of painterly voices.  To be part of that chorus can be socially active within the practice of painting. That doesn’t mean it’s social activism necessarily–it could be, but we’re all part of a chorus that’s performing and offering something in the area. I do think that’s a social act, but that might just be me thinking there’s hope in connectivity.

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Curtis Miller studio

C: When I went to the Baltimore artist retreat in 2016, the primary discussion was about art and its role in terms of what’s going on in Baltimore. It was a powerful experience and I left thinking, “what am I going to do?” My first response was collaboration (something I am still interested in), but since then I’ve also realized, particularly with the friends I’ve made, that simply being a positive voice in their trajectory is valuable, both to them and myself. Jack Whitten’s collection (currently at the Baltimore Museum of Art) of detritus forever encased in his sculptures is a good example of an artist’s commitment to what others would consider a mundane endeavor. Art provides a reason/incentive to look.


A: How do you think about dividing your time?

C: I keep a consistent schedule Monday through Friday. In the morning, I make coffee for my wife and me and I help my daughter get ready for school. Once they leave for school and work, I exercise for an hour, then do research and catch up on social media on my computer.  Studio time occurs after those morning activities until I pick my daughter up from school. Life frequently interrupts that process, so I work to stay calm, recalculate and refocus. I have to keep it that way, otherwise things fall apart quickly.

D: I divide my time between the studio, directing St. Charles, completing public sculpture, teaching courses between colleges, and teaching in China between semesters. A few years ago I was the Artist in Residence at UTK in Knoxville, TN and was away for four or five months. It’s been a marathon. At this point I think I’ll find a way to make work under any circumstance. Part of that is not believing there is any perfect scenario to make work in. Running an exhibition space, also involves constant studio visits and artists in town for their exhibitions. There’s always a reason for dinner, drinks, or to grill pizza with Curtis.

A: What do you think your aesthetic relationship is to one another?

C: Pizza. When I met Dom, he told me about sculptures he was making from a pizza dough recipe passed down from his grandfather. We continued to build on that, pizza and painting. We each swore to a specific process for making dough, which we discussed for sometime before trying each. I use a simple recipe with a long prove. Dom adds herbs to his. Both have their qualities. I added some herbs to dough I made the other day.

D: We just kind of started making pizza together.

C: Making pizza is a really long process and if you have someone who can do it well to help you, it’s so much weight off your shoulders. Particularly when you’re cooking for people. To trust someone like that is nice. Between the two of us, I think we’ve made something like 36 pizzas.

But in terms of aesthetics, we both build surfaces. We both approach painting focused on doing it our way uniquely and adopting materials that are not typically used.


D: In pizza and painting we’re building an experience.  Curtis’s work is very precise while allowing one to feel like they can wander and find something. That’s a generous thing to do. There is overlap with our color approaches. I think Curtis leans more toward a pastel palette, but a lot of the things I explore have punchy colors, pastels mixed throughout, or monochromes. I use objects on the surface and Curtis fetishizes the ground. I also love that our pizza making is about sharing with others. It has a utility and an aesthetic that is easy to enjoy. Also, we’ve never had a heavy conversation about pizza. It’s just fun.

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Curtis Miller