A pair of SoCal artists invade CoRK with Interlopers
The Artist in Residence program at CoRK Arts District has produced a successful series of exhibits by both established and emerging artists. Previous AIR participants Rachel Rossin, Casey Brown, and the Estlunds (Mark, Shannon, and Phillip) have all used CoRK’s large gallery spaces to great advantage.
Now California-based artists Jennie Cotterill and Aaron Brown are presenting their exhibit Interlopers, a collection of new two-dimensional and three-dimensional multimedia pieces. The pair was invited to CoRK by Crystal Floyd, an impressive multimedia artist in her own right, and well-respected presence on the Northeast Florida arts scene.
The opening reception for Interlopers: Works by Jennie Cotterill & Aaron Brown is held from 6-10 p.m. on Friday, February 21 at CoRK Arts District’s East Gallery, 2689 Rosselle Street in Riverside.
I interviewed Floyd and Cotterill via e-mail. What follows are transcriptions of their replies. Cotterill was generous enough to provide commentaries for certain pieces, which I posted as well.
Starehouse: I know that CoRK Arts District has a fairly open and egalitarian approach to hosting art exhibits and various events. But as the space’s Events Coordinator, and now with coordinating the Artist-in-Residence program, you have taken on double duty while also making time to devote to your own visual arts projects. I’m interested in the responsibilities that come with those two titles and also how you find a balance between working “for” CoRK and working in your studio “at” CoRK?
Crystal Floyd: Well, as you know, Aaron Garvey had been coordinating the artists for the Artist in Residence program and has since moved to Savannah. I had facilitated the Estlunds as artists in residence and now Jennie and Aaron, but this will probably be the last installment of that as a formal program. I will be coordinating with regional artists in the future to bring them to CoRK for shows, but it will not be as extensive as it has been in the past. As far as my role as event coordinator, I saw a need for organization to keep things running smoothly and given my admin background, thought I would be well-suited to do so. It is pretty laid back but I just wanted to make sure everyone had an opportunity to do what they want without stepping on each other’s toes. Helen Cowart and I created a unified calendar and basic Tumblr page for CoRK as a type of directory for the artists and a place where we can post upcoming events, but we are doing so just to help everyone out as far as publicity goes and ease in finding contact info for the artists at CoRK. It helps to have one contact point when there is such a large group of artists in once space and I kind of funnel the information as it comes. As far as how that balances with my own artwork, it has been difficult. We have scaled back our events to keep everything mostly art related and are no longer renting it out for private events unless they benefit the artists in CoRK and are community based or art related. That has freed up a lot of the time that was being taken away from my private work. I am currently working on pieces that will hang in Bold Bean Coffee during the months of April and May and other private commissions, I have an installation with David Montgomery downtown as part of the Looking Lab project, and have a piece in the Our Shared Past at the Cummer Museum.
S: Why did you invite Jennie Cotterill and Aaron Brown? How did you become familiar with their work? What did you find so exciting about their art?
C.F.: I met Jennie while accompanying Shaun on a mural trip to Cocoa Beach for Hurley, the company that Jennie works for as Community Outreach Artist Coordinator. She and Shaun [Thurston] collaborated on a mural together. I immediately liked her and was impressed by her motivation and attitude and when I saw her work, was impressed even more. She is a powerhouse and can do anything she sets her mind to and she had mentioned being interested in having a solo show, or partnering with her beau Aaron (a manager at Giant Robot and sculptor/artist himself) to see what they could put together. I told Dolf [James] about her and was able to get them in as the last installment of the residency program. I know that she will present a complete package of the vision that she and Aaron have in mind, and I am confident in their taste/skill to put on something interesting and fun for Jacksonville. Jennie’s work is magical and fun and conveys her wonderful sense of humor and taste level and Aaron is a great compliment to that, with his awesome organic sculptures and characters.
Starehouse: You are originally from Michigan. When is your birthday and in what city or town of that fine state were you born in? Do you believe in astrology? I don’t either.
Jennie Cotterill: Ha ha; I was actually born in Spencer, Iowa. We lived there for about a minute before moving to Hendersonville, North Carolina. And from there my family bounced around Michigan a few times. I half believe in astrology. My birthday is September 4, 1982; so that makes me a bossy, neurotic, stubborn Virgo. (All true. Not neat though. That stereotype is false.)
S: I know you are also a musician with the band Bad Cop/Bad Cop (which I will come back to in a later). When you were growing up, were you a Midwestern freak/punk rock art brat? Or were you volunteering as the church youth choir director assistant? I believe that both paths can lead to the same outcome.
J.C.: I was a difficult teenager. Nothing terrible, but very interested in doing what I wanted to do (which was generally smoking and making out with boys.) I went to shows with my brother and my friends but never had a band until later, though. I wore really embarrassing and obnoxious clothes and had a stupid haircut. I was grounded a lot.
S: What was your upbringing like? Did your family encourage your artistic leanings or did they fight you tooth-and-nail for surrendering to one of the most rewarding, poverty-guaranteed, and sometimes-unforgiving life choices on this planet?
J.C.: My family was extremely supportive of my creative leanings. They all have a good balance of creativity and practicality. My dad is an engineer who builds furniture and my mom is a writer who draws. I think if they were born to different circumstances, they would be great artists. My brother is an IS&T (Information and Services Technology) designer at Apple and an outstanding graphic designer. The entire household was a sort of brain trust for school projects. My parents enrolled me in summer art classes, and gave me my first guitar.
They were pretty worried when I decided to pursue art as a career, though. They’re very Midwestern. We didn’t know any working artists. It was like telling them “I’m moving to Mars.” I understand their position, and they are starting to see that this was the right thing to do. They often make the point that it’s near impossible to be a “rock star.” But there is a lot of territory between here and there. Yes, I’m busy all the time, but my professional life and my creative life are one and the same. In this way, there are no “extra-curricular” activities, and no time is wasted.
S: Michigan has produced a great lineage of art-music melds; in the past 15-20 years you had Wolf Eyes and this orbiting noise/experimental/cassette-only scene, which was heavily fueled by visual art as it was by music. In the seventies, the straight-up brilliant art/music aggregation Destroy All Monsters had a band line-up that included visual artists Mike Kelley, Niagara, and Jim Shaw. Did you grow up seeking out similar kinds of blended environments of visual art/music or did you pursue art and music in separate ways altogether?
J.C.: As a kid, I never thought I would put art and music to work. I knew I loved them both. But careers are not made of fun, right? There is a persistent, Midwestern, nagging internal voice that tells me I’m too old for things, and tells me I can’t do this or that. I’m learning to tune it out.
The idea to just let art and music become one stream of creativity is pretty new for me. I never talked to art people about my music and never about my art with music people. It turns out the overlap on those crowds is tremendous. There’s usually at least one artist in every band. And talking about what you’re doing is a great way to meet other secret artists.
S: You have been living in Southern California for more than a decade; coming from Michigan, was it hard to assimilate into that new culture?
J.C.: YES, it was —partly because the Midwest is very different from Southern California and partly because I was not yet fully formed as a person. So it was two periods of large-scale personal growth, overlapping one another.
S: In an interview with ART4T, you had commented on the disparity in music and visual art with the following observation: “I am a huge proponent of girls helping girls. I play music with girls. I feel like art and music are still very much boys clubs. Many people have tried to talk me out of that, but they are all men. So I’m not quite convinced. I think a lot of that sentiment has to do with being taught to control your ego as a woman, while successful men are often unchecked, loud-mouthed blowhards who would rather talk about how great they are than actually make work that says the same thing. I’ve never met a female artist who is fat, lazy and resting on her laurels. And for me, that raises a lot of questions. Not least: where are our laurels?” I totally agree, so I am surely not trying to talk you out of that observation! Ha ha! But it seems like this is really a systemic prejudice or oppression that just permeates everything. In the business world, those same aforementioned “successful men” that “are often unchecked, loud-mouthed blowhards” are considered corporate kings while women that are equally successful, focused, and driven can be considered, and please pardon the expression, “bitchy” and viewed with suspicion or even disdain. But conversely, do you see changes or more encouraging signs of unity, specifically in visual arts and music, where that glass ceiling can be fully and finally shattered? It seems that the greatest launch pad for equality to even permeate other parts of society would be created in the arts.
J.C.: I do see change! And the only way to make change is to be change. It all adds up. Most of my close friends happen to be women busting their asses in their fields. They often have supportive partners. I think the obsession with the Nuclear Family is wearing off; people’s priorities are shifting away from home ownership and parenthood.
Regarding “Bitchy,” I’ve stopped taking offense to the term. I’ve come to see it as a label given to women in the workplace who are effective and direct. It wasn’t until I started working with a lot of middle-aged men that I began to get sidelined about my “attitude.” It was never a problem before that. At best, “bitchy” is used by people who are un-self-aware. At worst, it’s used by misogynists. If someone is using it like that, you’re a dinosaur. Thanks for the petroleum, see you in the history books.
S: I love the work of S. Clay Wilson and Robert Crumb yet personally know more than one person who thinks that they are both just sheer sleazebags. And I am not blind to why they would think that. I get it. But I am unapologetic in loving both their respective work and life stories. Are there any male artists whose work you find patently sexist and even misogynist? Would you be willing to call them out in this interview and point out why you feel that they are insulting to women?
J.C.: Um … I know a lot of male artists who are just sexist people. They tend to be older. If their work reveals any of that, it is generally unintentional and deep-seated. In a way, I pity these men. Deliberate exclusion of others only reflects their insecurity and ignorance. I would say male artists under 34 have a harder time pulling that shit. Because they are young enough to know better and are aware of the way the world is making room for everybody’s rights and are not threatened by it.
S: Do you think it is as much where girls seek, or are directed towards, their role models? I’ll focus on music. In the past fifteen years of current popular culture, there has been an arc of female performers from Britney Spears/Jessica Simpson to Lady Gaga/Miley Cyrus that actively celebrate surface sheen and glitzy nothingness. The early nineties had a pretty potent scene of very confrontational female-led bands and performers but then a kind of nullifying amnesia seemed to kick in. I think that Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, and Kim Gordon are the de facto elders of feminist rock; but their inherent attractiveness is really that they are complex, brilliant, fearless, and highly-vocal women. How do you think some of this can be rectified? Do you feel like you are directly aligned with fourth wave feminism? If so, do you have any criticisms of that movement? I hope I didn’t get on your nerves with these questions. I just think this is a valid subject and I am especially interested hearing the perspective of a creative person.
J.C.: I’m gonna be honest: my feminism is intuitive and not studied. That being said, there will always be superficial role models. Our culture (as most) is fascinated with youth and beauty. Those are remarkable, coveted things that will always be celebrated and recognized. It’s just the way it is.
The only solution I have is to continue doing what we are doing and in that, offering an alternative. Before I met (Bad Cop/Bad Cop) our lead singer, Stacey Dee, I saw her one of her other bands. She literally gave me chills. This is a woman in her mid-30s, wearing what she wants, playing the shit out of her guitar and producing an incredible voice. She wasn’t flirting with the crowd or tossing her hair around. She was rocking the fuck out. She’s out there doing this every week, and people are witnessing it. And it inspires other women to just go for it. Crystal Floyd is doing the same thing. The woman is essentially the Art Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida. She’s out there, seven days a week, taking care of business, and making things happen.
S: Looking at your work online, it seems that many, if not most of it, has an undercurrent of menace. It looks like it toggles these signifiers of “cute”/ “vicious.” Your piece “Unisaw” is a rainbow-colored handsaw with a smiling unicorn as its handle. It seems more like weaponry than a wall hanging. “Lollisaw” turns a pinwheel lollipop into another blade. Why do you like to push these types of opposing ideas together? They are visually striking but I imagine there is more behind these pieces than just the finished outcome of the way that they look.
J.C.: Ha ha! Oh shit. I don’t think I realized that. The saw pieces were for a Lisa Frank-themed art show. I personally was not into that stuff as a kid, but as an adult I think embracing “girly” things is an important part of feminism. (Just because something is “girly” does not mean it sucks.) I wanted to make these pieces that were non-traditional toys for girls, in the manner of Lisa Frank: lots of rainbows, glitter, animals, etc…
I can appreciate cuteness, but without another layer of meaning it seems flimsy. That’s why I loooooooove Nancy Chiu’s work. Everything she makes is breathtakingly lovely and often very cute. There is always, ALWAYS a second read. Sometimes funny, scary, and gross…whether it’s tiny little razor teeth or an animal’s butthole facing you, there are rewards for lingering on her pieces.
S: You are currently working as the community outreach artist coordinator for Hurley, curating and installing art shows and painting murals throughout Orange County. That seems like a cool, service-based job. How did you score that gig and what does it entail? Do you work solely with other visual artists or does Hurley also work directly in conjunction with non-profit organizations like The United Way or similar groups that do grassroots, volunteer-based arts education or urban renewal projects?
J.C.: My job is super cool. I started painting murals and hanging art shows for Hurley freelance. I told my boss-to-be that I had some teaching experience and when this position opened up, they gave me a call. Hurley lists art as one of its four core pillars. There are people in the company who deal with famous artists, but my job is to engage art and artists on a community-level. I work with schools and local artists, painting murals, and putting together art shows. We sometimes work with The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. The job changes constantly. It’s very refreshing.
S: Why are you so fascinated with sloths?
J.C.: I’m not actually. I never even drew a sloth until the Black Fag mural project. They really are amazing creatures, though. And I believe they are Aaron’s spirit animal: likeable, funny, and slow moving. Those are great qualities.
S: Let’s jump on over to Bad Cop/Bad Cop. When did the band start? Listening to the band’s music online, it seems like is straight-up punk/hard rock – a style that I strongly like. Considering I am nearly deaf from playing music and honestly had a hard time deciphering your lyrics, let alone 99.9% of all other bands’ lyrics, does Bad Cop/Bad Cop have any kind of socio-political agenda other than rocking the fuck out?
J.C.: Thank you! Our band is about three years old. We had a bass player change-up a couple years ago and really took off from there. The songs we write fit into a few categories: catharsis, sarcasm, encouragement, and love songs.
S: How long have you been playing guitar? Have you considered switching to the electric bass? I can assure you from personal experience that it is a far superior instrument and expands one’s consciousness in a way that still makes me marvel.
J.C.: I got my first guitar when I was 12 or 13. So I should probably be able to shred by now, but I can’t. Getting better all the time though! Switching to bass would be completely pointless because Linh Le is literally the most rippin’ bass player I’ve ever met. Maybe if a shark bit both of her hands off and she wanted to play lap guitar with her feet…
S: Who are the five greatest bands of all time, in order of supremacy and why?
J.C.: Ohhhh. Well, I have a strong preference for “other” so my list is probably pretty out of line; for ME they would be: The Pixies, Elvis Costello, Sam Cooke, Swingin’ Utters, and Screeching Weasel — and yes, I know that Ben (Screeching Weasel frontman Ben Weasel) punched a girl.
S: At the upcoming CoRK show Interlopers, you are joining forces with fellow artist and boyfriend, Aaron Brown. Is there a theme to this show or is it more a collection of separate, unrelated pieces by each artist? It seems as if Crystal told me that you and Aaron would be collaborating as well. Is this true or did I imagine this?
J.C.: Aaron Brown is the funniest, weirdest person I have ever met and his art exudes exactly that. Our focus while at CoRK is on creating work for Interlopers. I’m here scavenging and building armatures and priming things for a week. Aaron will join me this weekend. We are developing the story of two characters: “The Lady Wrestler” and “The Hunter.” There will be some painting and sculpture on this theme. Interlopers features new work, some of it collaborative, from me and Aaron. We are exploring the relationship between two characters. Expect to see some diorama, painting, sculpture, and maybe some drawing. In addition, we each shipped some small pre-existing works to show separately; sculptures and diorama that are priced to move! HA! (But really— priced to move; we don’t want to ship things back.)
S: You have done work, and continue to work, as an animator, painter, sculptor, illustrator, and muralist. Would you consider becoming an arts educator? What would you like to accomplish in the next decade? Do you set those kinds of finite goals or do you just work on the task at hand and let that dictate the next move?
J.C.: Actually, I originally wanted to teach art. While I was in grad school I did, but was probably not ready for that; maybe later. Confidence is a huge factor as a teacher. It’s also hard to say “no” to the fruit of peoples’ creative labor. If I teach again, I’d like it to be outside of academia.
My goals are loose and wide open. In this, I have been rewarded with the opportunity to try and learn a lot of different things. It’s all relevant. It all makes you a better artist and a better person. Lots of young artists talk to me about their disinterest in peripheral opportunity (actually they say “That’s just not what I want to be doing. I just know that it’s not what I want to do.”) That’s a huge missed opportunity and a shame to make that mistake. Being closed minded when you’re young is a waste. Wait until your knees don’t work to pass on an adventure.
Daniel A. Brown