STUDIO VISIT – JANET OLNEY

JANET OLNEY

Baltimore, MD. 

May, 2019

Conversation between Amy Boone-McCreesh and Janet Olney

 

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WHERE DID YOU GROW UP? HOW DID YOU END UP IN BALTIMORE?

I grew up outside of Boston, and I moved to Baltimore to attend MICA as an undergrad. I never saw myself staying in Baltimore, but it was an inexpensive city where I could have an apartment and studio right out of college — then it grew on me. It’s pretty quirky, and there’s a vibrant art community. There were a lot of opportunities here, so I just ended up staying.

When I went to grad school, my intention was to go somewhere new, but then MICA’s Hoffberger program ended up being the best choice for me, so here I am still in Baltimore.  

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HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN YOUR CURRENT STUDIO?

About three years.

WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS CURRENTLY DRIVING YOUR WORK?

My work is a play on space and perception in terms of how we navigate actual spaces and how that world becomes ambiguous on a 2D surface. It’s about imagining alternatives to what we see, and how perception is very subjective. One thing that has always driven my work is the search for truth and lately that seems even more important.

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WHAT DO YOU HOPE VIEWERS TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR WORK – WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF IT?

For me, the work is my exploration and investigation of space, perception, and thinking about the seen and unseen–alternate possibilities. I think about how what we know gets rewritten with each new discovery, so everything is subject to change. I hope the viewer would look at it and have their own experience, but maybe they also contemplate these alternate possibilities to what is true, and question what they see – is this the complete picture of what is happening or what is actually there? Perception is influenced by what we’re interested in—our personal experiences change our awareness, for example, getting a new car and suddenly seeing that car everywhere. I am interested in creating shifts in perception, little glimpses of the unknown.

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I FEEL THAT YOU ARE MOST KNOWN FOR PAINTING, BUT YOU ALSO DABBLE IN SCULPTURE AND EVEN INSTALLATION – HOW DO YOU THINK ABOUT DEPTH AND SPACE IN YOUR WORK?

Moving painting into sculpture is an ongoing transition. The shapes I am using have come out of previous work or my sketchbook. They’re still planar but extruded, so walking a line of flat and not flat. I like the idea that one of my paintings could expand into a navigable space that can combine cast shadows, illusion, ambiguity–things that would make the viewer question the light source and how the space is operating. For a recent project at Facebook in D.C., I had the opportunity to scale my work to a full installation and use some cut shapes with painting.

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I mocked up the project by clipping pieces of paintings and morphing them to fit the space. The location was the elevator lobby, and the elevator doors created these interesting portals onto fleeting spaces. The installation is a transition between the main space and temporary space of the elevators.

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Before this project, I was I was already cutting and building these shapes, but they were just objects hanging around the studio. They are part of my visual vocabulary, but still feel separate from the paintings. In this current work, I’ve limited myself to a few shapes and colors to work out my ideas within a more focused context instead of it being as many colors and shapes as wanted. I’m figuring out it all fits together.

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COLOR IS A BIG PART OF YOUR WORK – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS RELATIONSHIP?

When I am starting something new, I always begin with a series of drawings, but I never show them. They go in the flat file. For my upcoming show at the ICA, I wanted the drawings to have an essential role. At VisArts and Facebook, I was using vivid, amped up colors. This was in part because I was working digitally and chasing the luminosity that you get from the backlit screen. In trying to recreate that glow, the colors got brighter and brighter. Color-wise, it sort of went over the top. I am sure I will go back to that color-place, but for this exhibition, I wanted to rein it in and work on paper. The drawings are always more subtle.

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Color is really intuitive for me, but that intuition comes from years of practice and plenty of trial and error. There are colors I gravitate to, but then I’ll throw a wrench in it and limit my colors to change it up. Sometimes I’m inspired by a new color that I have purchased and am excited to use it.

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It slowly seeps in and affects the other colors on the palette. As the piece starts to have its own color space, it starts calling for certain colors and sometimes what I was intending to use has to be discarded because it’s going in a different direction. There have been plenty of times where the colors aren’t working so I’ll take a power sander to it. Even if the things buried in the surface were no longer working, they are part of the history that got me to the endpoint. Sometimes you can see hints of those base colors and sometimes you can’t. They all have a presence.

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WHAT ARE THE MATERIALS OR PROCESSES THAT ARE OF INTEREST TO YOU RIGHT NOW?

Some of the sculptural pieces are layers of laser cut plywood that are then laminated together, and some are made on the CNC router. I was using illustrator to create vectors for the vinyl cutter and realized those files could be used with the laser or CNC. A few years ago, I went to a digital fabrication residency. The residency was three-days of hands-on experience where I created a whole box of stuff; shapes of different materials, sizes, and colors. The shapes were pulled from my paintings and entered the dimensional world. It was really three days of play, and I keep those pieces as the fun-box in the studio. It is great to have a shape cut out of paper, plywood, and plexiglass – it gets me to think about materials in a different way.

 

 

For the ICA, my approach is completely different than with previous shows. I am bringing together the various processes and materials in an installation of drawings, paintings, and objects. Perhaps even stop-motion animation. I’m interested in incorporating animation or video as a next step in exploring space and time. The rest of the gallery space will be wall paintings and drawings executed on site. The Facebook project inspired me to work directly on the wall even if it is temporary.

 

 

HOW DO YOU HANDLE TOUGH TIMES IN THE STUDIO OR WITH YOUR PRACTICE?

I’m a maker and a doer. When it is hard to get started or if it’s not working–I find it really frustrating — when I come to the studio, I want to be making things. I’ve come to appreciate the time it takes to ramp back up if I’ve had time away from the studio. I realize I can’t expect myself just to come in, snap, and make something. Often when I first arrive, I draw. I figure I don’t care if anyone sees it, and a lot comes out of drawing for me. It can be freeing and intuitive. Sometimes I’ll make these one-off things that are not part of the work, but they get me to the work.

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WHAT DO YOU DO OUTSIDE OF YOUR STUDIO PRACTICE – HOBBIES OR HOW YOU SPEND YOUR ‘FREE’ TIME?

Spending time with family and friends is definitely important, but whenever possible, I am in the studio — even for a short block of time. As far as zoning out with a hobby, I have a small stamp collection. My grandfather was a big stamp collector, and he started my sister and I collecting when we were kids. I learned a lot about geography and history through stamps because many commemorate historical events. As a kid, I had a US and a world stamp album, and I found it was a way to travel the world from my bedroom. Since going to Japan, I’ve been collecting stamps from there. It is a totally different aesthetic. There’s the influence of woodblock prints and pop culture. I find that working with the stamps–I am inspired by the graphics, colors, and imagery. They are little works of art.

DO YOU HAVE ANY SHOWS OR PROJECTS COMING UP THAT YOU’D LIKE TO PROMOTE?

My show at the ICA Baltimore opens on June 22 and will be up through ArtScape weekend. I have a solo show at the University of Oklahoma in Norman and will be out there in October for the install and opening reception. Also, I am part of the faculty juried exhibition at MICA which takes place in November.