Hello At Last by Chelsea Wong & Mia Christopher at Legion SF on view now through Nov 30.
In Spring 2013 I picked up a copy of the Human Being Journal Issue 2 print and was introduced to artist Mia Christopher's work. Immediately the nude and pink color forms in her paintings pulled me in. The impressions she made with paint gave me good feelings. I looked her up online, and then realized she lives and works in San Francisco. Since then I have been following her work and projects.
Mia Christopher is an SF based artist, working in paint, ceramics, illustrative, and text based work. Mia currently is in a two person show with friend and SF based artist Chelsea Wong called Hello At Last at Legion Shop SF, that opened on Oct 28 and is on view through Nov 30. Also, Congrats to Legion SF for being announced a recipient of Southern Exposure's Alternative Exposure Grants last week, and the other grantees.
I caught up with Mia to visit her studio and talk about her recent work. Read the interview and see more photos below.
SFACC: Your show with Chelsea Wong, Hello At Last, is up at Legion Shop right now. Can you tell us about how this show was organized and how you and Chelsea became to work toward this body of work?
Mia Christopher: Chelsea I both attended California College of the Arts together around 2010 as undergrads, but we didn't meet there. She was studying printmaking several classes ahead of me, and I was a painting major. I did take a printmaking class where my professor recommended to me that I look at her work, and I found her online and fell in love with it. The professor told me that Chelsea was a "great artist and a great person," and now I know that this is very true!
This past summer (2015), Chelsea and I met through Alyssa Block, who hosted an amazing pop-up shop for local artists and makers in her studio in Chinatown. Chelsea and I had both just started making ceramics, and I was reintroducing my figures from past work that has now become mostly abstract, into my ceramics. We instantly bonded and had a lot to talk about, including going over how many times our paths had crossed in this city in the past five years, and how strange it was that we hadn't really met until this summer (aside from a quick introduction at a taqueria one night several years ago).
Alice Wu curated our show at Legion. Her and I became acquainted in a ceramics class in Oakland this past spring at Studio One. I liked the little ceramics she had been making and the feeling was mutual. She e-mailed Chelsea and I separately about being a part of Legion's 2015 programming, and when we all realized that we knew each other, the logical step was to work out a two person show, where Chelsea and I could finally begin to explore our work in communication with one another.
Chelsea and I both made almost entirely new bodies of work for this show, including one painting that we collaborated on (which was very inspiring and something I would like to do a lot more of with her). The works are comprised of paintings and drawings on various papers by us both, a screen print by Chelsea, works on canvas by me, a piece made of glass and glue and glitter and found materials by me, some paintings with nail polish on granite rock, as well as ceramics we had both been working on.
SFACC: When I look at your works together I see a lot of color - shades of pink, green, blue and yellow. I see different levels of activity within both your works, in the gestures. How does your work fit in relation to Chelsea's work?
MC: In the works at the show at Legion, there is a different level of activity within our works. Though at times my work can be more detailed and painstaking, my work in the show was a lot of strong gestures, not leaving much room for error. I think of my process as one decision after another, each choice I make leaving me with a new question to answer until I feel like the piece is complete.
Chelsea's background in printmaking may have to do with the layered, detailed paintings that she is currently making, but of course I can't speak to her process.
I've been interested lately in quick decisions that have a life of their own. For instance, in the pieces with poured latex paint, I am making several choices (which color, how much, how to pour it, when to pour, to pour on wet or dry media, etc..), and then once the paint is poured it takes on it's own body and does things out of my control, like how and where it cracks. Some of my pieces are literally just one or two motions across a canvas or paper, or several moments, but what its shown in the gallery is carefully selected from the many, many studies I do in the studio, working towards finding just the right combination of colors, weight of paint, amount of texture, and so forth. One of the things that I found to be so interesting about this show was that every single person who came up to me at the opening or having seen the show since, immediately made a comment about how they found our two different styles of work to be so cohesive together. I think that we have naturally similar sensibilities. We make different choices, and maybe our work is about different ideas entirely, but there is some common ground that we share at the core that seems to allow our work to flow together in a space in a way that feels very natural.
Mia's work in Hello At Last at Legion SF.
SFACC: You work with different materials in your paintings too, like cosmetics, paint, and other non-traditional painting materials. You also use these materials on non-traditional surfaces, like heavy stone slabs, plexiglass, and different papers. How did you begin to work with these different materials?
MC: When I was in art school I became interested in expanding my mediums in all sorts of ways, to see how my process shifted from these decisions. Every material has a history, which can vary within different contexts. Sometimes I am considering the history or contemporary conversation around that material specifically, like what is canvas to a painter, nail polish to a woman, stone in an industrial city.. Other times I am working completely from intuitive feeling and touch, wanting to see how paint becomes dry and crusty on the back of plexiglass, or watching tiny fimo clay figures and shrinky dinks dry in glue on glass. I could make the same painting on three different types of paper and they would become three completely different paintings. Though I find the history of materials interesting and important to consider, at this point my process is mainly intuitive. I grab at those things that I desire completely, and am allowing myself to embrace this insatiable urge.
SFACC: We've talked about when making art our decisions being informed by prior decisions, and building upon the results. In some of your work the canvases are completely covered, while others have minimal application of paint in the center. How do you know when a piece is finished?
MC: There are times when I have gone back into a painting that is years old and covered it up, scratched out colors, cut out shapes, and started it all over again. Other times, I prime a canvas, make a mark, and it is finished. The practice of consistently making art for years is teaching me how to trust my gut and listen to my inner critic at the right times, and shut it out when necessary. That in itself is a lifelong practice that I am continuously learning and unlearning. I don't have any specific way of knowing that a piece is finished other than just listening to an instinct that lives somewhere inside of me. I have a lot of intense feelings, and when I know I like something in the world, it can feel very extreme. I think that having a visceral reaction to a piece of art is the best reception that I could possibly ask for, so if a piece (of my own or someone else's) makes me have a sensation where I'm just like, "I want to consume that!!" then it feels successful to me. Not everything can be that extreme though, so I think it is important to allow moments of quiet and subtlety as well. Like everything else, it's about finding a balance.
In Mia's studio.
SFACC: Recently you've been making ceramic pieces, and some were included in Hello At Last. Most of these are small palm size pieces and featuring small figures without much detail and different aspects of your paintings. How do you treats these pieces different than most of your past works? How is your process with these differently. Is ceramics something you want to work more with?
MC: Making ceramics is exciting to me because I am creating the entire object, from surface, to shape, to decor. In my mind I still have a lot of questions myself as to what the line is between functional/decorative object and art object. I am excited and thrilled by the process of ceramics and do want to make more work in this medium. Making the small dish-like pieces is pleasing to me, because I love tiny objects to be cherished. I love being able to hold something in my hand and feel the entirety of the object, especially a smooth, glossy ceramic piece embedded with a feeling from a figure in motion or a dainty pattern. I'm also excited by the idea of creating some sculptural painting pieces that would hang on a wall, but ceramic instead of paper or canvas or wood. There are so many endless possibilities with ceramics, so I look forward to diving in much deeper this year.
SFACC: A few months ago Ari Bird held a one night show in her studio and had a few friends bring their work to display. Can you talk about the journals you shared and seeing people read from them that night? (And how that level of intimacy and your personal history, is this a part of your work that you may want to incorporate into your artwork?)
MC: This is a part of my process that I am more timid about exploring publicly, but I am always considering and collecting personal moments like this and wondering how they fit into my art practice. Ari Bird had a one night pop up exhibition, where I felt safe displaying three journals I kept in 2004. The journals are from March-October of that year, and in them I hand wrote each text message sent to me from my then-partner. I didn't record my own responses, and so it reads as a strange, one sided conversation. I think at the time I was so enamored and couldn't believe what was happening was real, and so I was terrified of losing our digital record, leaving me to record it in a way that felt safe to me. I remember each night writing down each text he sent me that day, including very mundane responses like "ok," "cool," or "i love you too." At the opening that night, I felt very vulnerable which was sort of exciting. I didn't know how these would be received in an arts context, and I was pleased with how people responded. I encouraged people to spend time with the books, to hold them and move them around the room. There were no white gloves or anything to make them too precious, but viewers were very respectful. There are some dark moments recorded in them, and occasionally someone would randomly flip open to that part, which was strange because there were just so many pages of nothing-ness as well. Most of the people who came to the event were friends, but at one point a group of men who I had never seen before were reading the journals aloud, and that was the most interesting and surreal experience for me. They had interesting opinions about the texts, the documentation of them, and my choice to display them at this show for one night. To hear words that were sent to me 11 years ago aloud from the mouths of strangers was scary and exciting. It was inspiring to me and has given me a lot of ideas for the future about incorporating these personal projects I have saved over the years into my current art practice.
MC: Yes, I contributed to Beth Davis' cry zine, in which i submitted several selections from a search I did in my gmail history for "cry." Some of the samples are e-mails I sent, others are e-mails sent to me. I kept them all anonymous but included dates.
The final thing I have wrapping up the year that I am really looking forward to is Wintershop, a pop-up retail space in Chinatown where I will have ceramics and paintings for sale alongside with fellow Bay Area makers. The opening is Saturday December 12th from 4pm-8pm, and it will also be open on Sunday December 13th from 11am-5pm at 1015 Pacific Avenue in San Francisco.
SFACC: Do you have any projects that you'll be working on at the beginning of 2016?
MC: I'm participating in a big group show called the 200 Show at Kitty Hawk Gallery in Sebastopol, featuring over 30 artists from across the country. The opening for that is Friday, January 8th from 5-8pm.
I'll be doing the window display for Little Paper Planes in February, and I'm really excited about what's brewing in the studio for that! It will coincide with a reception and possibly some limited items exclusively for LPP, so stay tuned to see what's coming!
Big thanks to Mia for opening up her studio and talking about her work with us.
Follow Mia on instagram for more updates, @MiaChristopher.