The Estlunds’ “Out of Nowhere” is an invitation to embrace the unknown
While CoRK Arts District is best known as being the home base to sixty artist studios, the complex has also introduced an engaging Artist-in-Residency program. In February of this year, New York-based multimedia artist Rachel Rossin was the flagship visiting artist-resident at CoRK. Rossin’s spiritually-inspired piece “Holy See,” was an installation that combined 2,500 hollow eggs and curtains of holographic light into a fully immersive experience. The following month, Brooklyn, NY-based artist Casey James was invited to stay and work at CoRK; the North Gallery was then home to his multimedia show, “Nawth Ta South.”
“The reason for the Artist-in-Residency program was to bring in new and different perspectives from other artists and art communities around the country,” explains sculptor and CoRK main man Dolf James. The CoRK AIR program offers a modest stipend for travel and materials, a private studio for the visiting artists, and then culminates with an exhibit of their work in one of CoRK’s available galleries. “We wanted to see what they were doing, thinking and experiencing, and for them to do the same with us. Building these relationships extends the reach of our community and helps keep a fresh flow of ideas moving.” James is quick to cite Aaron Levi Garvey as the chief curator of CoRK’s AIR program. “There is absolutely no question this program would not be happening if it were not for Aaron.” James explains that Garvey is essentially the one that attracts, communicates with, plans, promotes and ultimately takes care of all the details for the resident-artist coming to CoRK. “The idea behind having the artists come to Jacksonville is to give them a studio/exhibition experience out of their usual experience,” says Garvey.
“The artists and caliber of work that I have curated into the CoRK spaces, past and forthcoming, have been artists whose work I have been following for some time,” explains Garvey of his personal criterion in searching for innovative artists to bring to this area. “I’m looking for work that I feel can change the dynamic of the spaces, and artists that I feel can benefit from spending time in Jacksonville.” Garvey admits that when he travels to other cities in seeking possible residents for the CoRK AIR program, checking out art events and visiting artists in their studios, he is invariably asked “Why Jacksonville?”
“I usually respond with the quip ‘come and see’ to lighten the conversation, which ultimately then becomes lengthy.” And Garvey’s instincts for blending out-of-town artists with local audiences have been right on point. “So far the response has been really well received on both ends. The shows have been well attended and the artists have enjoyed their time in the city.” The next exhibit that Garvey has arranged will be with artist-in-residence Daniel Newman, with the show opening September 13 at CoRK’s West Gallery.
While Garvey has created a strong foundation for CoRK’s AIR program, the upcoming residency show is different in a few regards. “Out of Nowhere” is the first AIR program to feature three artists who are returning to their Northeast Florida roots. Mark Estlund, Shannon Estlund and Phillip Estlund were all longtime Jacksonville residents and each began their creative lives in this area. They have all since moved on to different environments. Mark and Shannon currently live in Minneapolis with their two daughters, Sophia, age six and three-year-old Natasha. Phillip splits his time between West Palm Beach and New York City. While each artist has their own undeniably distinct style, there seems to be a few organic connections that link them: the use of found materials, a shared fascination with the natural world, an investigation into cerebral and shadow-like realms, and an equal affinity for pushing their work into deeper, and at times, seemingly undecipherable places. Whether these similarities are based on familial roots or the parallel evolution of the three artists is irrelevant to the strength of their separate disciplines and work produced. “Out of Nowhere” is an opportunity for the three to combine their singular visions into a unified whole.
While Mark and Phillip had exhibited together last spring at Flagler College’s Crisp-Ellert Art Museum, “Out of Nowhere” is the first time that all three of the Estlunds have shown their work together. Also, while Garvey has curated the previous and forthcoming AIR shows, the presentation of “Out of Nowhere” was the brainchild of artist Crystal Floyd, who curated the exhibit and handled all of the attendant details of getting the Estlunds into CoRK. [see Floyd’s comments regarding the show and her relationship with the Estlunds in the interview transcription.]
The opening reception for the Estlund’s “Out of Nowhere” is held from 6-10 p.m. on Friday, August 16 at CoRK Arts District, 2689 Rosselle St., in Riverside.
As an aside, this interview presented a few unique challenges for me, primarily with unforeseen circumstances conjuring up the looming specter of an accelerated and near-psychosis-inducing deadline. Due to the combination of the Estlunds traveling and then hanging/arranging the show, I wasn’t available to speak to the trio until the afternoon of Tuesday, August 13. This was also the first time I had ever interviewed more than one person “live,” which led to all kinds of interesting logistical turns during the actual transcribing process. After interviewing Dolf James on August 14, I was harassing both Crystal Floyd and Aaron Levi Garvey for quotes while literally writing the piece in the last 24 hours. So this story for me was a happy marriage of time, technology, and absolute manic force that I personally think resulted in an interesting and, hopefully, engaging read. But dear reader, please remember the STAREHOUSE motto, invisibly carved on the face of countless mountains: “No refunds – Alea iacta est (“the die has been cast”).
I interviewed the Estlunds in the Artist-in-Residency studio at CoRK. I was glad to finally meet them in person for a talk that was in turns informal and informative; I was also weirdly surprised to discover a shared and direct influence with Phillip of someone from my own past who also helped kick me even further into the arts.
Starehouse: Okay, so I am here with Mark, Shannon and Phillip. Can I make sure I have your voices matched to the correct person when I transcribe this?
Mark Estlund: Mark.
Shannon Estlund: Shannon.
Phillip Estlund: Phillip.
Starehouse: What is your age and, uh, (laughs) astrological sign?
Phillip Estlund: 38; Libra.
Shannon Estlund: So, we are both 37.
Mark Estlund: Yes; and both Aries.
Starehouse: Aries? Me too. What are the odds of that? So is the show a kind of collaborative installation or is it a collection of individual pieces by each artist?
Mark Estlund: Yeah, it’s a collaborative installation in the sense that we were talking together about what kinds of works we would bring. But most of the work had already been made. Except for a few of mine that I’ve been making, thinking of the show as I have been making them (…) but I would have probably been making them either way.
Starehouse: So do you have actual collaborative works in this, or is it all individual works?
Phillip Estlund: It’s all individual works.
Starehouse: What does the title “Out of Nowhere” allude to?
Phillip Estlund: It’s a variation on a title of one of Shannon’s paintings, isn’t it? Is it the title, or…
Shannon Estlund: It was called “Middle of Nowhere.”
Phillip Estlund: So yeah, we started with passing some titles back and forth and decided to reel it in and start looking at titles of all of our work and Shannon’s piece, “Middle of Nowhere,” kind of left it open-ended and spoke to all of our work and we modified it (…) because “Middle of Nowhere,” we were concerned, made Jacksonville seem kind of bad (laughs) and, uh, then we modified that as the title of the show and then matched it up with one of Shannon’s paintings as the kind of the identity of the show (…) that makes it look really seamless and then kind of bridges all of our work.
Shannon Estlund: And it had a reference to place, which is really important to my work and Phillip’s work (…) and mystery, which is important to Mark’s work and my work (…) and probably Phillip’s work, too. It kind of thematically worked across all of our practices.
Starehouse: How many pieces are in the show? Do you know?
Phillip Estlund: That’s yet to be determined…
Mark Estlund: I have four, Shannon has five…
Phillip Estlund: And I’ll probably have three significant pieces and a grouping of smaller works. So we don’t have a finite number yet.
Shannon Estlund: Fifteen, probably?
Phillip Estlund: Yeah, fifteen to twenty.
Starehouse: So when did you receive the invitation from CoRK to do this?
Mark Estlund: Six months ago?
Shannon Estlund: Yeah, six months ago.
Starehouse: Who is the coordinator? Was it Aaron Levi Garvey who contacted you?
Mark Estlund: Crystal Floyd.
[I spoke to Crystal Floyd on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 14. She was kind enough to offer the following about her reasons for bringing the Estlunds to CoRK as the resident artists:
“I first met Mark around 2007 when Clay Doran and I were curating these shows in the Old Library Basement [the former Haydon Burns Library, located at 122 N. Ocean St. in downtown Jacksonville.] And when I first spoke to Mark, he said, ‘Hey I have all of this crazy shit in my garage (laughs), can I come bring it to one of your shows?’ and we had another room that needed to be filled so we invited him. And of course he brings his work in and it is amazing. So from that point on, he has always been one of my favorite Jacksonville artists.” After meeting Mark, Floyd was eventually introduced to both Shannon and then Phillip. Once she realized there was an open slot at CoRK’s East Gallery, Floyd organized the Estlunds as Artists-in-Residency and curated their subsequent upcoming show. “I think there’s a lot of restraint in some of what they do and there’s a really good conversation going on between their pieces. I really wanted to see them together because I like seeing ‘power teams.’ I’ve seen Mark’s shows, I’ve seen Shannon’s work exhibited, and I’ve seen Phillip’s shows. And they are all three respectively amazing. But how badass would it be to have all three in a show? And through the Artist-in-Residency program, I was in a position to make that happen. I love all of them. And I really wanted to expose people to their work who might have been previously unfamiliar with them. Now that all three are so further along in their careers and evolved so much, I’m really excited about what they are bringing to this show.”]
Starehouse: So how long have you been here in town?
Phillip Estlund: We really just arrived in the last few days (…) more about how the show came about; Crystal asked us, when, last winter?
Shannon Estlund: Winter or early spring, yeah.
Phillip Estlund: And it was really just that she liked our work and whenever we were back in town together, she wanted to coordinate a time for us to do a show. And probably a couple of months after that, she told us that there was a formalized residency program that had a stipend and a studio space to work in.
Shannon Estlund: …which made it much more realistic (…) for us to be able to do this.
Starehouse: So can I ask, regarding the stipend, was that essentially used just to get all of you here, or for materials?
Phillip Estlund: It was $1,200, right?
Shannon Estlund: Yes.
Phillip Estlund: It helped pay for flights and transportation.
Starehouse: Did you ship the pieces here?
Shannon Estlund: We did; we shipped ours from Minnesota.
Mark Estlund: He drove up; he drove his up from South Florida.
Phillip Estlund: West Palm Beach.
Starehouse: Is that where you are now – West Palm? So you’re no longer in New York?
Phillip Estlund: Well, a couple of times a month I’m in New York for a week or two at time, but I’m primarily in West Palm.
Mark Estlund: He also has a cabin in the woods here in Jacksonville.
Starehouse: Is that right?
Phillip Estlund: Yeah, but I don’t tell it “on paper” that I come here a lot.
Starehouse: Should I omit this (laughs)? Phillip’s Hideaway.
Phillip Estlund: (laughs) Exactly.
Starehouse: So I know that Mark and Phillip, you had a show at Crisp-Ellert Art Museum, “Born of the Sun.” But have the three of you ever worked together on a show?
Phillip Estlund: No.
Mark Estlund: No. Shannon and I have never worked together on a show and we’ve been married for eight years. And it’s something we’ve always wanted to do, but this a great way to do it.
Philip Estlund: So it’s not really a true collaboration, but we did cut down some trees together, (laughs) on that one piece?
Shannon Estlund: Yeah (laughs) on “Middle of Nowhere.”Starehouse: I’m wondering, since you are all family, was there ever a problem in communicating when trying to separate spouse-from-artist or brother-from-artist? Did you have any unforeseen conflicts during this? You all seem pretty close-knit, but did something come up that kind of threw you a curveball?
Mark Estlund: I think with Shannon and me, it was just the reality of the finances. She’s just getting out of school, and going through two years of one person working and having two kids (…) that really put a crimp on our money situation. And that stipend really made it feasible to do this. But still, it was like “how can we realistically do this without putting ourselves in a tight spot?” So that was a conversation that was ongoing. But things totally worked out.
Starehouse: But I mean more in a sense of planning the show and getting the pieces together. Were the pieces already finished?
Shannon Estlund: We really work independently on our work. And we haven’t set up the show yet. So I think that’s the only place where we are going to have a creative collaboration is in how we hang the show. And we haven’t really done that.
Phillip Estlund: Although I think that Mark, more than you and I, has been working this year towards this show. He’s been making work that’s very specific for this.
Shannon Estlund: But there would never be any “push back” from you or I about it.
Phillip Estlund: No. I think we’ve all been a part of seeing what our practices have been like in the past year and have had “input,” but never direction.
Starehouse: So you already kind of “play well” together; there wasn’t any conflicts?
Phillip Estlund: The other thing too is that we had talked about maybe having an installation here.
Shannon Estlund: Yeah, that’s true.
Phillip Estlund: I think we backed away from that idea because of the “unknowns,” as far as the time restraint and all of us working together, in a collaborative way; it could be a great thing, or it may be messy. And personally I didn’t want to experiment with that (…) in case it got messy (laughs). And also be running around in the August heat collecting materials. But I think we realized that there are threads running through all of our work that made the body of work, as a show, cohesive enough to where we really didn’t need to do a three-person piece.
Starehouse: So there’s no actual collaborative piece in this show?
Mark Estlund: As of right now, no.
Starehouse: You have still got four days left to get out in the woods and start grabbing things! I want to ask you, looking at your work, would you describe yourselves as multimedia artists? Is it presumptuous to say that? How would you describe what each of you do?
Phillip Estlund: (to Shannon) you’re primarily a painter.
Mark Estlund: No, not now.
Phillip Estlund: No?
Mark Estlund: She has definitely broken through into sculpture.
Phillip Estlund: I definitely tell people that I do sculpture, primarily. But I also do collages. And I’m becoming a little bit more of a painter now because I’m reducing the volume of space down to more of a flat plane. I think we’re all interdisciplinary. I think all of our work is multi-layered.
Shannon Estlund: Mark is a sculptor but his work tends to be frontal and wall-hung.
Starehouse: You definitely have three distinct approaches. And I’m really going by what I saw at Mark’s Nullspace show [“Sequence Variations,” June 2011] and what I have seen online, but there seems to be a common element of collage or assemblage in all of your work. And it seems that each of you have created pieces that use found objects, repurposed items, natural objects (…) but you also all have created these structural objects. Mark’s work seems more defined by using items like grandfather clocks and furniture, these very finite things. Yet Shannon and Phillip, some of your work seems to resemble these tent-like, fortress or tree house-like sculptures. Do you agree with that? Do you think that could be from all of you being so close in the sense of family (…) or is it from familiar tastes?
Mark Estlund: I think we have all definitely influenced each other, as far as aesthetics and things we are drawn to, with things like found objects.
Shannon Estlund: I do think we influence each other but I also think it’s something that’s in the water right now. I know there are artists that are into other things, but the artists I’m attracted to almost have this sense of Neo-Romanticism (…) where there’s mystery in the natural world and almost a sense of mysticism.Starehouse: Yeah. And again, looking at your art it is very distinct; I don’t feel like I am looking at the “Estlund Style” when I see each of your approaches. But I do see a collective way that you repurpose things from nature. Does that make sense?
Mark Estlund: Yes, taking things that are familiar and kind of tweaking them.
Starehouse: I want to address this too, since you’re back in Jacksonville. When I first walked in, I was talking to Mark and he mentioned how the growth of the art scene here made it seem like a different town.
Mark Estlund: This [CoRK] wasn’t here when we still lived here.
Shannon Estlund: Not in the way that it is now.
Mark Estlund: It was starting.
Starehouse: When did you move to Minneapolis?
Mark Estlund: We left two years ago.
Starehouse: So Mark and Shannon are in Minneapolis (…) and Shannon, you are getting your MFA at MCAD (Minneapolis College of Art and Design)? Where are you at in that program?
Shannon Estlund: I graduated in May.
Shannon Estlund: Thanks!
Starehouse: Mark, other than art, what are you doing in Minneapolis?
Mark Estlund: I’m doing home repair work. I work at a home for foster care children and adopted children, children that have mental or physical disabilities. I fix stuff and build things for them.
Starehouse: That’s fantastic. That’s a pretty noble job.
Mark Estlund: Yeah, the lady that I work for has crazy ideas. She wants to put a circular slide inside the house (laughs). I used to have a home repair business here so I’m drawn to that type of work, but this is still pretty unique.
Starehouse: Are they familiar with your visual arts background? Would they be into you making a slide featuring glass-encased bees (laughs)?
Mark Estlund: Not so much that but she knows that I have an artistic eye.
Starehouse: So she’s somewhat aware of your shady, arts past?
Mark Estlund: Yeah.
Starehouse: And Phillip, what do you do? Do you have a side career?
Phillip Estlund: Well, I work with a private art collector. It’s a woman who comes from a New York family who is involved with all of the New York art institutions, so she comes from the tradition of that and has taken it to a whole other level; she has a museum-scale collection.
Mark Estlund: It would put most museums to shame.
Phillip Estlund: Yeah, absolutely.
Starehouse: Do you feel comfortable naming this person?
Phillip Estlund: Oh yeah. Her name is Beth DeWoody.
Starehouse: So what is your official title?
Phillip Estlund: There’s no official title, I manage projects related to the collection, which involves an array of different responsibilities. And I’m one of a handful of people that are involved in it. There are different levels. But that’s what enables me to be between West Palm Beach and New York, since she’s in both places. I’m able to do projects with her and do my work wherever I am. But all of the things I had done up until now have been related to carpentry within a museum setting or something (…) Mark got me a job once building a large log house, so I have a construction background (…) so a merging of museum studies and construction, that’s kind of where I came from.
Starehouse: Did you both grow up doing construction-like jobs?
Mark Estlund: Yeah. But I was more involved with building sets for commercials and props for big events
Phillip Estlund: We really got our feet wet with construction through our Dad. He taught us carpentry; building houses …he was a do-it-yourself guy.
Starehouse: So you are all three in either Minneapolis, West Palm Beach, New York (…) I’m curious, since it’s my understanding through Dolf James that part of the impetus of CoRK’s Artist-in-Residency program is about exchanging ideas and checking the pulse and radar of what’s out there. Have you all seen or experienced ideas or programs that you think could be implemented and beneficial to Jacksonville’s art community?
Mark Estlund: I personally think Jacksonville has a lot of influence on its own. I don’t know if people are starting to see what’s going on here, but just the talent level that’s here is incredible. And Minneapolis had its big eruption in the eighties. So it has deep roots now; but to me it doesn’t have the same type of excitement and the same type of fire that’s happening here.
Starehouse: Why do you think that is?
Mark Estlund: I think because there are a lot of people who are there who had been running these kind of “side” art adventures, doing performance art and things like that since the eighties (…) so it’s kind of like this embedded community. There’s still an excitement there but here it feels so fresh and new (…) like seeing a lot of the street artists who we grew up with here, getting recognized (…) like Shaun Thurston and Matt Abercrombie. There’s just some serious, serious talent here. But Minneapolis has influenced me, personally, to kind of loosen up on my work.
Starehouse: How so?
Mark Estlund: I’m trying to make it so it’s not so labor-intensive. The work I started making here, I had to figure out on my own, so I was kind of locked into this one way of working. Moving across the country, I’m working with new materials and so I’m trying to kind of break away from my old approach and plus make it where I can ship stuff.
Shannon Estlund: His work now is more gestural and a little bit quicker. A lot of his work took a lot of effort from the viewer because there are these lens and layers, so you had to approach it and really look at it one-on-one and it took time to really take all of it in. And these newer pieces are still layered in their meaning but they really kind of grab you from across the room.
Mark Estlund: I think that the program that she was in, at MCAD, really helped me kind of start working away from old ideas.
Starehouse: Shannon, how was that experience for you? What was MCAD like? Did they have certain disciplines they focused on?
Shannon Estlund: It’s an interdisciplinary program. I expected that to mean it would be closer to painting, performance and installation. One thing that surprised me was that half of the students were design students, so interdisciplinary to them meant more art and design.
Starehouse: Right. So does that equal more computer-based ideas, preparing more for graphic design?
Shannon Estlund: A lot of it was computer-based, but still cutting-edge and interesting work (…) a lot of light-based work, people doing projections and sound. So that’s all really interesting and in some ways it expanded my mind since I’m very much from a fine arts background and hadn’t been all that comfortable with design. So it was interesting being exposed to more design ideas; and experimental design as well.
Mark Estlund: And Shannon is known pretty much in Jacksonville for being a painter, but now through this program and outside installations that she’s done; she’s really more recognized as a sculptor in Minneapolis.
Shannon Estlund: And that was my choice. I entered this interdisciplinary program because I wanted to expand what I did and it was excellent for that. At MCAD you have to be very independent because it’s a mentor-based system, it’s more of a European-style teaching system where you find a mentor, and you work with that person one-on-one for two years. So a lot of it is up to you; you are not taking a lot of traditional course work. You don’t have assignments. You are working it all out with the person you choose as a mentor.
Starehouse: Who was your mentor?
Shannon Estlund: I had two really great and supportive mentors. The first was Clea Felien, a super-skilled painter who helped me with loosening up my painting technique. The second was John Gaunt, an abstract painter who was great at asking difficult questions and getting me to think about things in a different way. I was mostly categorized as painting, because that was mostly what I did.
Starehouse: I know that Tony and Wendy [Tony Rodrigues and Wendy C. Lovejoy, artists and owners of TACT Apparel] have a killer painting in their house that you did years ago – of a pair of wolves?
Shannon Estlund: Oh yeah. That was a while ago (laughs).
Starehouse: Phillip, how has your experience been in West Palm?
Phillip Estlund: What initially moved me to that town was that I had been living in Miami, and there was a really cool institution in West Palm called the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art. It was a European-model for a museum; it was a Kunsthalle, a non-collecting, contemporary art space that was funded by one couple. They had like a million-and-a-half dollar a year budget. So I got hired from Miami to move there and work with those exhibitions. That was around 2002, maybe? And it lasted another three years. So the funders’ experiment lasted four years. And for whatever reasons, there wasn’t enough foot traffic; sometimes you’d get three people a day, sometimes you’d get eleven people a day. And these were really world-class shows. We would co-organize shows with The New Museum in New York, Site Santa Fe in New Mexico (…) so the audience isn’t there, necessarily, for contemporary art. And there’s not really any formal residency program there. It’s also like a playground for the rich; so there’s like a big divide, experientially, for people who live there. My studio is in a very down and dirty warehouse district; my gallery is on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. I’m much more comfortable in my warehouse (laughs). But that’s kind of the dichotomy of that area but there are great collectors there. But we’re an hour north of Miami, which has a lot of great residency programs; some are privately funded, some are attached to institutions. One is called The Fountainhead, that’s run by one couple, and it’s basically a house that they offer a residency program out of and then they have separate studios as well. So in West Palm, with very few exceptions, I feel like I’m hiding out down there. I’m pretty cut off, I think.
Starehouse: But you’re participating on some level?
Phillip Estlund: Well, yeah. I guess I’m hiding out in a good way. I’m not in exile.
And you know, when I’m up in New York there’s so much going on (…) there’s a gallery system, residency system, a tiered-gallery system, and everything in between (…) and so much stuff going on that I don’t even know about (laughs).
Starehouse: Here we have the Art Walks, and you have to forgive my ignorance if this a century-old phenomenon around the planet (laughs), but do they have similar events in Minneapolis or West Palm?
Shannon Estlund: Northern Spark [an annual, all-night Minneapolis art festival that started in 2011].
Mark Estlund: Not only that, but Northrup King [Minneapolis art center] has something once a month. But there isn’t a city-related thing, except once a year.Shannon Estlund: It [Northern Spark] is such a cool event; the whole city comes out for this. The attendance is incredible; the lines for art installations are like Disney World-type lines (laughs). And the artists take it very seriously, but it’s new enough that it is not that hard to participate in it as an artist. There’s a lot of excitement around it and it is family-friendly, so to see kids in strollers surrounded by all of this art in the middle of the night; it’s a great festival.
Mark Estlund: We went out as a family to see it, and then Shannon and the girls went home and I had my bike and I rode all over the place, with a GPS strapped to my handle bars. I ended up going to the Walker Art Center and seeing a John Waters-curated show, at like four o’clock in the morning. And of course it was just completely bizarre. Everyone was just completely burnt out.
Starehouse: Staggering with excitement.
Mark Estlund: Yeah, but just trying to push through the night. And they also have these Art Shanties, which they do bi-annually. People build these, uh…
Shannon Estlund: Ice fishing shacks.
Mark Estlund: Yeah, ice fishing shacks and they’re basically these sheds that are hand-built and each one is an installation on its own and they’re out on a frozen lake. So there’s like ice-skating and people make these weird ice-bikes. And you just visit these different Art Shanties all over the lake. It’s really weird for us, because I think that was the first time we ever walked on a frozen lake (laughs).
Starehouse: Which is one more time than I ever will.
Shannon Estlund: (laughs) But it’s fairly clear so you can see how deep that it has frozen.
Starehouse: I’d like to talk about your time spent here. Were any of you born here in Jacksonville?
Shannon Estlund: I was.
Mark Estlund: Philly.
Phillip Estlund: Greece. Athens, Greece. Our dad was in the navy.
Starehouse: I had interviewed Mark for the Nullspace show and you had kind of credited Lee Harvey for encouraging you to stay on the creative path. You had said “Lee was the first person to recognize that what I was doing was contemporary art.” I guess I’m wondering if when you were here (…) if any of you had encountered other similar people that directly encouraged you to make art.
Phillip Estlund: Does he know the whole story with Lee?
Starehouse: The semi-notorious (laughs) Lee Harvey.
Mark Estlund: What is the whole story (to Phillip)?
Phillip Estlund: That he saw some things you were making …that you didn’t really know that it was even art.
Mark Estlund: Right. I did not know what I was making (laughs).
Starehouse: How old were you at the time?
Mark Estlund: I was like 19 or 20. And I grew up off of Fort Caroline Road, on restriction for most of the school year.
Starehouse: Was that for art-related crimes?
Mark Estlund: No, just because I was terrible at school and my parents were doing whatever they could. I’d hang out in the garage and take things apart and glue things together.
Phillip Estlund: Taking, like, electronics apart.
Mark Estlund: Yeah, just like radios and whatever (…) burning wood. But then I got a little older and I tried to actually make things and Lee ended up living in a building that I was living in and we started talking about art, and he was pretty exciting to talk to about the art world and his past with it. He came to my apartment and had seen some things that I had made at that point. And was asking him what it was, and I remember asking him, “Is this even art?” And he said, “Yeah, this is contemporary art. But you couldn’t sell this.” (laughs) (…) because it was just things that were stacked and assembled, but not really attached. But it’s funny because it’s a lot like what some galleries want today. It’s not really marketable; they just want to show you making something. And it doesn’t have to be shipped. But from that point, I started making things that could be sold and shipped some place. Now I’m trying to get away from that whole idea.
Starehouse: So you all kind of grew up in Jacksonville? Were you all Douglas Anderson School of the Arts kids?
Phillip Estlund: Yeah, all Douglas Anderson.
Mark Estlund: Phillip was visual arts, Shannon was visual arts.
Shannon Estlund: No, I was creative writing.
Mark Estlund: No, you were creative writing, sorry (…) and I was stage tech.
Phillip Estlund: Can I tell my story about who influenced me?
Starehouse: Totally, tell it, yeah!
Shannon Estlund: (laughs)
Phillip Estlund: When I was 14 or 15 I met some guys (…) Mark and I grew up in a kind of working class, Orange Park neighborhood, and played ball at the ball field, went to the fight-or-flight elementary school and middle school. And before I went to high school I met these older guys from St. Johns, who were very (…) they had culture, they read good books, and they listened to jazz…
Starehouse: Right, with long flowing capes.
Phillip Estlund: Yeah (laughs) but they introduced me to this guy at the beach named Kyle, whose last name I don’t remember (…) (to Mark) you might remember?
Starehouse: Kyle Hedquist. Was he a sculptor? Kyle Hedquist.
Phillip Estlund: Yes!
Starehouse: Sadly, he passed away.
Phillip Estlund: Well listen; you know Chris Wilson [local artist-musician]?
Phillip Estlund: Chris was my introduction to Kyle. I was like 15-years-old. One time after staying up all night, trying to sleep on Chris Wilson’s couch, like on Naldo [Avenue] (…) they were like five years older, working in restaurants (…) so Chris is up all night playing guitar, not really saying much (…) and I couldn’t really sleep, and Chris had this drawing he had done of Rimbaud in his apartment, that ended up going to Einstein-A-Go-Go [now-legendary Northeast Florida all ages rock club], on the wall in gift shop (…) and I was just like, “Chris, how do you keep making art and keep making music? Sometimes I just don’t want to do it.” And he said, “You just have to do it.” And that’s always stuck with me. When I don’t feel like making anything (…) you just have to make something.
Starehouse: You have to sometimes fight through that resistant atmosphere.
Phillip Estlund: Yes. And then it becomes self-perpetuating. So Chris introduced me to Kyle, who lived in a bomb shelter…
Starehouse: Yeah, in Jax Beach.
Phillip Estlund: In Jax Beach, and had a garage upstairs above ground where he could also make his work; very Giacometti-esque plaster sculptures with elongated bodies and torsos.
Starehouse: And I remember he had these Native American-themed sculptures, too.
Phillip Estlund: Yeah, and I would go down there with these friends that were 19 or 20, and of course Kyle was even older than them; he was in his late twenties. And he was the first person I met who was “living in the art.” His place was covered in plaster, filled with smoke (…) there was just enough sunlight (laughs) and he had that weird little toilet (laughs) up on a stand in the corner. But he was the first guy here who showed me, “you can be a grown person and live in your art – and make it.”Starehouse: That’s a remarkable coincidence for me (…) and I know this is a “small town” and all of that, but Kyle worked at a Turtle’s Records and Tapes in South Jax Beach with my friend Brian Harris. Brian introduced me to Kyle and we’d invariably wind up in that bomb shelter apartment of his. And I was like this totally confused 15-year-old drop out who’d hang out in there and talk with Kyle (…) and I had heard of Ornette Coleman from some Jerry Garcia quote in a book (…) and Kyle gave me his LP copy of Ornette Coleman’s “Science Fiction” and that just changed my life, my outlook on music and art. It kind of blows my mind that he had the same effect on you.
Phillip Estlund: Yeah, Kyle was also the guy who introduced me to things like Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins.
Starehouse: I actually tried to find him online and was sad to see that he had passed away…
Phillip Estlund: … In Chris’ arms, in Chris’ driveway. Kyle had gotten really bad into drinking and Chris was trying to peel him out of his house. Kyle had become a total recluse and wasn’t seeing people. He was down to nothing, weight-wise (…) and Chris was getting him into detox (…) and they were sitting in Chris’ driveway, and Kyle went into DTs – and had a heart attack (…) and died in Chris’ arms.
Phillip Estlund: Yeah, this was about five years ago. Chris and I thought about putting together a show of some of Kyle’s work.
Starehouse: That would be fantastic, kind of a fitting honor to him (pauses) Weirdness (…) Let me steer us back to the show. I’m curious that Shannon, you used the word “mystical” (…) and I see also it as cryptic or mysterious (…) it’s hard for me, because I don’t want to pigeonhole the three of you, but trying to interview you collectively (…) I was looking at some of Phillip’s collages online with these distorted faces with orange spires shooting out of them (…) Shannon, you have the “Children of the Dark” paintings with these kids in shadow and darkness (…) Mark, has these clocks with horns and insects in glass. I guess I am wondering how you separately but almost collectively come to that kind of tone in your work? Does that make sense?
Phillip Estlund: I don’t think we can all speak to how we all got there.
Starehouse: Well, how would you say that you got to that place?
Phillip Estlund: Well, I would say we are all influenced by (…) well, I think Shannon’s work really reflects the texture of this region; like as a starting point – a base point. I don’t think that like all of her work looks that way, (to Shannon) but the one you are going to stretch, definitely. But I’ve always been horrible at doing things I have to plan, artistically. I’ve been stronger at improvising. And have always had a certain attraction to a certain type of materials, whether I know what it is going to do or not. So I have become a collector of this stuff. Also, in my experience with museums in making dioramas and things like that (…) that got carried into the work in it becoming more atmospheric, multi-layered and textural. Now I find my work becoming more of a direct response to the environment (…)
Mark Estlund: Materially.
Phillip Estlund: Materially and emotionally.
Starehouse: When I look at all of your work, it seems kind of dark.
Mark Estlund: I think Shannon explored more of this at MCAD (…) she was really kind of forced to explore, and articulate, what you’re referring to.
Shannon Estlund: (laughs) are you prompting me?
Starehouse: You are being prompted (laughs)!
Mark Estlund: And (to me) you’re referring to mysticism as the thread, in what we’re doing.
Starehouse: Yes. And Shannon, when you used that word “mysticism,” was it as a spiritual term or in a broader sense?
Shannon Estlund: I mean it more in terms of when the familiar becomes the unknown and then there’s something exciting about the unknown; and then something that resonates in union.
Starehouse: Mysticism is usually used as “seeking union with God” but you could easily omit “God” and say union with that unknown, that “other.”
Shannon Estlund: I said mysticism, but it’s not really a word I would normally use in my work (…) I do think about mystery, the uncanny and I guess it’s interesting to me because I’ve thought of my own work a lot, and I’ve thought about Mark’s work a lot, and to me (…) because we are so deeply engaged in what we are doing, it’s hard for me to see the commonalities. So it’s interesting to me when you say you see something in all of our work, because it’s harder for me to see what they have in common. It’s hard for me to see it from the outside.
Starehouse: Well it’s equally hard for me (…) since you have such separate styles (…) but it’s unavoidable for me to not see certain things (…) it’s not “depressing,” but [speaking to Mark] like in your assemblages there is some reason it’s not little bunnies and stickers of butterflies.
Mark Estlund: It’s touching on some matter that’s deep but you can’t see exactly what it is.
Shannon Estlund: I guess I’ve thought about it a lot in my own work in the sense of the choices you make in life and whether you make that choice to step into the unknown. And the rewards aren’t necessarily worth the risk. But you take that leap anyway and the adventure is the reward. But I guess the way that I look at life is complex (…) and it probably is dark at times.
Starehouse: I think you had kind of alluded to this in a way, but growing up here (…) there’s a lot of nature in the surrounding areas of the city (…) and you all use natural materials to some degree. Do you think that directly influenced your work as artists?
Mark Estlund: I was very influenced by that.
Shannon Estlund: Yeah.
Phillip Estlund: All three of us definitely.
Starehouse: Were you all nature children, out in the woods?
Mark Estlund: Yeah.
Shannon Estlund: Definitely.
Phillip Estlund: Yeah. Boy Scouts, camping a lot (…) a lot of outdoor stuff.Mark Estlund: I think one thing that Phillip and I have a lot in common with, as far as subject matter, is human interaction with nature; that we tend to separate ourselves from it. And then there’s really no reason for us to separate ourselves from it, other than bug spray and air-conditioning (laughs).
Shannon Estlund: That’s a good point. And I think my work is using the viewer. Instead of putting people in the work, the viewer is the person; you’re dealing with nature, as the viewer.
Mark Estlund: Right (…) Absolutely. There’s definitely that common thread with Phillip and I. And the things not only that I find in nature that I use in my work but also (…) I look at things at, say I find at a thrift store or in someone’s trash, I try to relate to it in the same way that I would find a rock or some piece of wood (…) it’s just a natural response to it.
Phillip Estlund: Also, I’ve been getting more into these landscape-type paintings that are really assemblage-sculpture (…) like as a variation of addressing nature’s beauty and grandiosity and all of that. It’s really addressing nature’s brutality and indifference. The beauty that we see in it is a real perception and it’s something that brings us a dopamine or serotonin charge so that we can feel small in a grand place. So that is as real as understanding that it doesn’t matter if you’re there or not. Nature does not care; it’s indifferent. We translate in our lives that it does things “to us” like natural disasters as a brutal force; but it’s even sadder than that, because it’s really an indifferent force.
Shannon Estlund: I didn’t know if you knew this, but one of my paintings is called “Brutal Indifference.”
Phillip Estlund: Oh Really? Really? I had no idea!
Starehouse: See? There is an Estlund Mind Meld happening on the familial level!
Phillip Estlund: Wow. Yeah, yeah and I’ve been thinking a lot about this. It kind of lets you off the hook. Because there are so many times we can look around our landscape and say, “This would look so pretty if this pole and these wires weren’t there.” But that is the thing. It’s the totality of our contemporary landscape.
Shannon Estlund: I think even in environmentalism there’s sort of preciousness to it, whereas if we could sort of expand our minds about what is natural (…) let’s include more, in terms of what is natural. Maybe there’s a new way of looking at environmentalism (…) I don’t know.
Phillip Estlund: Just accepting that.
Shannon Estlund: I mean in just doing what we can now. Maybe we can never go back to virgin forests.
Phillip Estlund: Right.
Shannon Estlund: So what can we do to fix this? Maybe it’s not pretty, but what is the next step?
Starehouse: What are you each doing after this show? What are your separate plans?
Mark Estlund: My one plan is to clean my studio (laughs). The pieces that I’ve made for this show are really kind of testing new water and I’ve done quite a few experiments, in kind of grabbing ahold of an idea that seems like it can turn into a piece. But a lot of these experiments I’ve been doing could definitely be turned into “show-like” work. So I’ve learned a lot leading up to this, in getting away from my old way of working. But I think what I would really ultimately like to do is to get even more gestural, more loose and then do shows where you can’t really sell the work. It’s there and then again; it’s just very organic. So that’s the direction I want to move in. But no solid plans; I never approach it with a solid plan.
Shannon Estlund: I’ve got a couple of cool little projects that I hope will come through. They’re actually a couple of sculptures. But I lost my studio at school when I graduated, so I have a new little room that I’m turning into a studio. So that’s a new project for me.
Mark Estlund: We’re sharing our basement. They have basements in Minnesota (laughs).
Starehouse: That’s one benefit of Minnesota!
Mark Estlund: So we’re sharing that as our studio space; it is separate rooms. It’ll be interesting for you [to Shannon] to work in that space.
Shannon Estlund: I haven’t made work where I haven’t had to defend the work immediately, even before it’s finished, in a long time. So I am really looking forward to having some time in the studio where I don’t have to explain anything to anyone else.
Mark Estlund: Oh, and she also did a large painting that she gave to someone she’s become friends with to tear apart or do whatever.
Shannon Estlund: It’s kind of a collaboration with a sculptor I met in Minneapolis named Amy Toscani. She’s a really cool sculptor who has had some influence on Mark and I just with her fearlessness with materials. She’ll use anything and just throw it together in a very fearless way.
Mark Estlund: And fearless of criticism as well.
Starehouse: That’s a deadly combination, a double force. Phillip Estlund: what’s down the road; other than possibly hiding out in that cabin in the woods?
Phillip Estlund: Well, I need to finish a tree house that I’m building, (laughs) in the next couple of months. I’m actually doing a line of chairs, like an extension of my studio practice, for an artist-addition furniture line that’s getting some momentum. It’s actually going to be in an Elle Magazine showroom in New York; that’s starting next month through January. I’m trying to get the production of that more self-propelled, so I can focus on doing what I really want to be doing – making dismal landscapes (laughs).Daniel A. Brown