Questions from Emmanuelle Namont

ARTISTS: Jenny Day and Beth Davila Waldman

EN: Could you each describe your individual practice in terms of your conceptual and technical approach? 

BDW:  “My work explores the impact of socio-political trends on cultural landscapes, often through imagery laden with indicators of economic and social status, presented in a manner that emulates the sheer stress of imposed change. My constructed vistas re-conceive the notion of sanctuary amidst the realities of colonization, and invite meditations on civil access. My process to access these concepts is layered in the photographing, printing, shattering, tearing and disintegrating of my photography”... “My photographic approach provides a foundation and context for my work, but the means to the full expression comes from the intersection of the expressive visual language of paint and at times material”. …” I have printed my photographs on Plexiglas in order to shatter them to access the resulting shards for the collage works you see in Confluence. I have also torn photographs printed on rag paper”... I find these necessary means to get to the emotional component of the work”...

JD: “I create acrylic and mixed media paintings on canvas and also make ceramic sculptures”... “I make collages to use as a reference for a painting. My sketching process for ceramics is similar, and involves photographing the sculpture, then painting over the photographs to decide how it will be finished”. ... “My work seems to evolve over time. In 2015-2017, my paintings portrayed a damaged landscape, a physical marker for environmental degradation”...” From there the work shifted to include multiple places at once, video game portrayals of landscape, and the repetition of technology. In the last few years, I have added sculpture to my painting practice, and animals have dominated the landscape. The abstract has receded and a narrative that questions memory of place and idealization of nostalgia has shown up”

EN: How do you envision the idea of the landscape and the concept of place in your respective works? 

Prior to embracing landscape as a genre in my art practice, I led with the idea of being a site-specific artist with sculptural installation and excavating a place with my camera and mixed-media assemblage and collage works. In my attempt to discover an authentic sense of place in both arenas, I found myself examining landscape with a broader and Anthropocenic perspective in the past 4 years. My discovery of a place is guided by the inner workings of a city’s values and cultures. In particular, Arequipa, Peru, the city in which my mother was born and raised, served as my entry point to landscape. Having traveled there since my infancy in the 1970s, Arequipa is laden with memories for me - from my family home to favorite visiting sites like Sabandia. My interests in this Peruvian city grew into concerns over the now prevalent Copper Mining industry with their multitude of buses traveling to the mines and the endless gas stations that served as trees in the barren desert landscape of the outskirts of central Arequipa. Through my lens, I witnessed the survival of small communities in an environment with little resources. Through documenting these sites and further inquiries, I gained a deeper understanding of the inner workings of local government and the reality for the individuals making their homes in this charged landscape”...

“In my work I recreate place and infuse it with memory; a snowy forest or vast horizon line overshadowed by environmental damage and marked by abstraction.” ... “A landscape singed and burning, animals fleeing, soaring and independent, their entities barely tethered to the underlying structures. In this place, resilience evolves and mutates and the most horrendous things are overcome. Grief is met with bejeweled stallions, beat up trucks tear through the sky into far off sunsets, and rams pound information back together, bit by bit, new, ancient, heroic. The unfathomable transforms into something reborn, something hopeful."

EN: What is the relationship with photography in your work? 

BDW: “...While my academic background was in sculpture both at Wellesley College and SFAI, I found myself navigating place with my camera was at the forefront of my practice”. …” While I start with photography, it is a means to a larger conversation. Often, an image is literally broken, at times with an ax or hammer, shattered into fragments captured in performance art works, and then collected with reverence into the some of the resulting collage works in this exhibition. Other times, it is torn through an experimental photo transfer process left with gaping holes which serves as entry points for me as an artist to bring in expression with paint. The skin-like texture of the transferred photograph in these cases also speaks with resonance to the fragility of our times”. 

JD: “I use my photos and found images to create references for a painting or a sculpture. I make collages, draw on them, cut them up again, and start over. I use them to work out ideas like a sketch. The source image is often replicated, repeated, or distorted. Sometimes the collage becomes integral to the work, the photos are transferred directly onto a painting, or sometimes the original idea expands and the photograph becomes a suggestion for a color or a shape to be recreated in a finished piece”.  

Regarding the Collaboration

EN: How did you proceed with the collaboration since you don't live close to each other? 

BDW: “I met Jenny on White Linen Night in New Orleans in 2016 during the opening of the NO DEAD ARTISTS exhibition at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery where we were exhibiting artists. Thanks to Jenny’s proactive stance, our 3-hour conversation that night led to a series of weekly meetings which helped spark ideas, energy, and our trust in each other’s thinking and approach towards making art. In February 2017 when Jenny was in San Francisco, we decided to do a photo shoot together of Hunters Point……the resulting images were shared and drawn from for our initial launch into 12 panels, 6 for each of us to work on in our individual studios. We then shipped the panels to each other to complete with a plan to meet up for 10 days that summer. In July 2017, we met in my Mill Valley-based studio and worked 10 days straight together with those panels . For me, it was an amazing kinship and meeting of minds. Since art school, and even then, I had experienced such a cerebral and creative connection with another artist. This self-created residency was truly a gift.”

JD: “Beth and I communicated through email, texting, and phone calls. We used photos that Beth had taken, and screenshots I found from Google Earth of Hunters Point Shipyard as the references for our work. We then worked on panels informed by the photos separately, swapped paintings, and worked on them side by side in Beth's studio in California”.


EN: What did the collaboration bring to your individual practices? Did the collaboration change/alter parts of your individual practices in terms of concepts or formal considerations? 

“The collaboration activated me to pursue a direction I wanted to go in but timid to dive into. When Jenny and I met, we talked about wanting to break free of our safe spaces as artists”...” Conceptually, I felt a great unity and fluidity with Jenny. It felt natural to think together, but as a trained sculptor, not a painter, I learned a lot from working side by side with an actual painter. Formally, she poses space challenges for me with her work that I responded to and expanded upon that were terrific. Her edits and compositional balances to the panels I sent to her were wonderful. I loved her boldness of editing out the photograph. It is something I still carry with me in the studio when I feel attached to part of an image. I think about how successful the editing of the images was with Jenny’s approach during that collaboration".

“Working on this collaboration helped me to see what parts of a painting I was willing to fight for or let go, and also to reexamine my methods of composition, color, and form”. “Before our collaborative process, I had started a new series called Our Shared Disaster, a body of work that embraced more abstraction. In these paintings, my sense of landscape evolved and expanded. What began tethered to place was now freer, larger, an all encompassing psychological landscape. Abstraction had always been a part of my work but letting myself remove pieces of the reference photo in some of Beth's work helped me to feel more comfortable doing whatever I wanted in my own work”.

EN: How do you see the connection with photography in your collaborative work? 

“In our collaborative work, we share the same file of digital images. I chose to print the selected images from our Hunters Point photo shoot onto rag paper with the intention to tear the images”...” I was moving in the direction of seeing the image as a building block, to become a more physical component in my mixed media works. The work I did with Jenny that spring of 2017 allowed me to put that vision into practice. I also saw how Jenny dealt with photography in her referential way. We both had created a visual language of space balanced with realism, hers in a primarily painterly way, and mine in an image and paint direction. The way she was bringing in realism was familiar to me. We also seemed to have a natural letting go point with the realism in either form. I found myself bringing my abstract shapes informed by my shards of Plexiglas into the work, not quite aware how prominent they would become in my practice”... 

“In “HUNTERS POINT”, and with the processes Beth uses in her individual work, photography seems integral. Most of my part of the process in our collaboration was to obliterate the reference. I became more interested in the edges and small signifiers in the photographs, a lamppost, a street sign, or a diagonal line from a telephone wire”.

This virtual conversation was conducted correspondent-style; while the above does not represent the discussion in its entirety, the questions and answers are shown without alterations.