Studio visit- Sharpe Walentas Studio Program
October, 2021. Interview between Amy Boone-McCreesh and Marianna Peragallo
A: How long have you been in New York and in your current studio?
M: I’ve been in New York for eleven years and just moved into this gorgeous studio. I’ve been here for about a month and half. I still walk in and can’t believe it’s my space for the year.
Can you talk about the materials you’re interested in right now?
I’ve been working primarily with polymer clay for the last couple of years, though I have been moving into working with epoxy clays like Magic Sculpt. Polymer clay is so malleable and easy to work with, so the epoxy clays had a long learning curve. I recently discovered a smooth-on epoxy resin that can be brushed on to other materials, so I’ve been making polymer/epoxy hybrids. Basically I made the sculpture in polymer clay and then brush the epoxy clay on to strengthen it. It’s amazing!
How would you describe your work in simple terms?
My sculptures embody the cross-sections of love, labor, endurance, and support. I like to think that they are learning what love and support can look like. They have mutated into hybrid forms that are object, body, and language to express a single loving gesture.
I was thinking a lot about what love looks like, what it means, and how you show it. I think there are a lot of clear, tangible examples of hateful actions. We all know what hateful acts look like. But what does love look like? That word seems to cover so much ground. So I did a lot of research and boiled it down to actions, gestures, and how you show up in the world so that’s how I’m thinking about these pieces.
Love is often misrepresented as being fluff. It is thought of as sentimental, passive, or, worse, manipulative. This mischaracterization underlies abuses of power and oppression that plague us. However, love is a radical act rooted in strength and mutual support that stretches us beyond the confines of comfort. This is why the small sculptures have mutated beyond the possibilities of the human body to sweep, reflect, contain, etc. They also reimagine common household objects and hardware–a step, broom and dustpan, plastic bags, etc–that can be taken for granted despite being essential.
Love is learned and taught. So, with this in mind, I try to capture the playful quality of children’s books and childhood where we first (mis)learn about love.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio?
I have always wanted to have a hammock in my studio. Now that I do, I start my studio time by sitting in it and looking around the studio. It helps me transition into my work and figure out where I want to start. I come in, put my bag on the hook, get a glass of water, sit in the hammock, then fifteen minutes later I’m ready to work.
What does the typical studio day look like for you? How does other work shape your studio practice?
My job outside of making my own work is working for Marilyn Minter’s studio. I’m her studio assistant two days per week, which I recently reduced from 4 days per week. It’s scary because I’m earning less money, but at the same time it was a necessary change for me to be in my studio more. This program (Sharpe Walentas) is finite and it feels like such a huge privilege to have the studio at all. I’d like to make the most of it.
When I’m in my studio, I am usually working on multiple sculptures at once so that I can jump around. This keeps me from getting stuck or too fixated on one particular idea. Ideally, I’ll have sculptures at different stages, so I’ll be sculpting one thing, painting another, sanding another, or sketching. I feel like this helps me move things forward.
Of course there are also super unsexy tasks like emails and administrative stuff. I have a spreadsheet of opportunities I want to apply to, so some days I’ll have to focus on that. I try to do emails before and after I work for Marilyn so that I can spend less time on the computer when I’m in my studio. I don’t mind doing any of it, but if I have a full day to be here and I spend three hours on my computer, it just starts to become a real bummer.
I’d like to get into the habit of sketching more in the studio. Studio time had felt so precious this year, which has had an adverse effect on me. I feel pressure to be super productive when I’m here, which isn’t inherently bad, but I’d like to integrate a lot more play. That’s one of my goals for the year.
How do you cope when times get tough in the studio or when you’re feeling down about your work?
It’s really hard. Honestly, I probably beat myself up for a little bit. I’d be lying if I said I just go get some tea and go for a walk. I’ve been trying to take good care of myself so I can then feel good when I’m here. If I’m having a bad studio day and suddenly it’s 7:00 pm and I’m hungry, I have to make a decision. It’s like, do I stay here and try to make something happen, or should I just call it? There’s a version of myself that wants to keep pushing. That very rarely works, so I try to talk myself into going home to eat dinner, play with my dog, and watch a show. I feel like being an artist becomes such a big part of your identity that you feel like a trash person if you have one bad day. I try to remind myself that I’m not saving the world and that I should probably back off and take myself less seriously. I love being an artist most days. It’s a huge privilege.
The thing that makes it all worthwhile is having other artists around me. I don’t know what you do without a community. I hate when people view art making as competitive, because it’s not and it shouldn’t be. If you’re operating from a place of scarcity, you’re just going to burn out. Having my artist friends and being able to talk to them in low moments is helpful. When you’re in a funk, talk to friends, drink water, get sleep, and try not to be mean to yourself.
Is there anything you’re listening to or watching that’s been getting you through tough times?
There’s a podcast I started listening to during the pandemic called You’re Wrong About. They re-examine events and people that are widely known but have been misinterpreted or misunderstood. They did an episode about the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit that blew my mind. I also recently finished the latest season of Sex Education on Netflix. That show is so good.