C.M.: My work is based in drawing. I suppose that drawing was my entry into art making. Since I was very young I have been able to draw well and it has been something that I have done throughout every phase of my life — even when I was a truck driver hauling cattle across the Great plains, I had drawings in progress.
I started college at a the age of 27, and I was so excited to be learning and pursuing a life as an artist. In my first year I saw the animated drawings of William Kentridge at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. I was forever changed by that day at the museum. A few months later I was sitting in an art history class and I had the thought – “I’m going to create an animated film of my own!” And I did, as an undergrad. The first animation that I made was a narrative film about two people caught in the circumstances of meth-amphetamine addiction and living in a rural context. I had witnessed this story in my life, and it felt important to make.
When I went on to graduate school at the University of Michigan, I was super excited and felt very fortunate to be there. I had a national Javits fellowship through the U.S. Department of education, and this funding meant that I had the time, space, and resources to delve into my artistic practice and find a question that I could pursue in my life’s work as an artist. For me, this became examining how I, and others, experience landscape, and specifically vast, open landscapes such as the Great Plains. I was still drawing, everything was drawing and printmaking, but the subject of my work was more important to me at the time because I felt that for me to successfully prepare for my life’s work as an artist, I needed to find the question that would fuel my art making for years to come.
I received another research grant and traveled to Mongolia, a country opposite the Great Plains on the planet, so that I could immerse in a landscape very similar to the Plains. It was transformative, because even though visually familiar, it was unknown — both culturally and logistically — and I was pushed to a raw encounter with land. (You can read about that here.)
To this day, the work I make comes from immersive experiences in place. For example, the Standing Witness, site: Sage Creek project that I have been working on the past five years or so starts with my family and I spending days and weeks in that wilderness area in Badlands National Park. While there, I draw and document through photographs the land that I closely study. I take that information back into my studio and create large-scale drawings and the animations that become immersive installations.
There is a lot behind this work, beyond the land itself, that has to do with history, land use, and politics, but in the end I want the experience to be a personal encounter for the viewers. And I would say that what is created are spaces of quiet, deep stillness.
I love what I do. I deeply enjoy drawing and the animation process — sitting for hours and hours to create bits of movement that unfold over just a few minutes in real time. It is a very meditational process, and a meditative experience for viewers.
The challenge is that it is so time intensive, and therefore I have to find ways to carve out and fund large chunks of time to make the work. In addition to that, I do not put out a lot of work – but large-scale or intensive singlular pieces of art that have many layers to them. I always say that my work as an artist is similar to a novelist in that it is large in scope and intensive in time, so that there are fewer ‘pieces’ created over the course of time. So sometimes I fear it seems as though I am not ‘doing’ anything, but there is a lot of time needed in and between projects.
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