Interviewsand Articles

 

A Conversation with Archana Horsting: The Fringe of the Field - at KALA's 50-Year Celebration

by Archana Horsting / Richard Whittaker, Feb 16, 2024


 

 






photo: r. whittaker





Archana Horsting at Kala 6/17/23

Welcome to KALA. I’m Mayumi Hamanaka, co-director with Ellen Lake. We’re  so excited to present this amazing exhibition - "Archana Horsting—On the Fringe of the Field." And so happy to have everybody here today to see Archana’s prints, drawings, paintings, and all sorts of different things. Her work is hanging throughout the entire space and I hope you can check it out after this conversation.

Archana has dedicated close to 50 years for KALA’s mission of supporting artists and the art community. And she’s been vigorously making her own work for 50 years, too. It’s wonderful to have this amazing work here in the gallery to share with you. And today we’ll hear more about this work directly from her. Richard Whittaker is going to interview Archana. Afterwards there will be some time for questions. And after that we’ll have a book signing. You can purchase our beautiful catalog of this work, and Archana and Richard will sign your copy.

I want to tell a little bit about Richard. He’s an amazing writer and has a long relationship with the arts. He’s worked in ceramics, painting, photography and sculpture, so he’s also an amazing artist. He holds degrees in philosophy and clinical psychology, and spent a year at the Graduate Theological Union here in Berkeley in the 1970s, and he’s also the West Coast editor of Parabola magazine. His relationship with publishing began in 1991, when he founded the art magazine, The Secret Alameda which became works & conversations in 1998. And ten years ago, in issue #28, he featured an interview with Archana and some of her work. Copies of his current issue are by the entrance, and you’re invited to take one. So with that, I will hand the mic over to Richard.

RICHARD WHITTAKER:   Thank you, Mayumi. It’s great to see everybody here. As I look out at all of you, I think, well, it's good that we’re squeaking by before artificial intelligence has taken over. We’re still operating with actual intelligence as best we can.

ARCHANA HORSTING:   It’s no competition.

RICHARD:   For the last three or four mornings, I woke up thinking, how am I going to introduce Archana? There’s so much that could be said. In a way, the thing that’s most impressive is the creation KALA, and its having taken root. Fifty years ago, these two artists, Archana Horsting and Yuzo Nakano rented a garage in San Francisco for artists to work in, and soon moved to a storefront in Berkeley, where they got an etching press. And this [gesturing around the room and KALA] is what happened. If you’re in art world, you understand how amazing that is

I’d heard of Archana because I had some friends who had taken workshops here. I thought well, here’s an artist who is running this wonderful place for artists, and she does her own work, too. So probably most people think of her as the director and co-founder of Kala, and don’t think about her art, particularly.

I know about that because of my own relationship with art, which eventually led me to doing works & conversations. And people associate me with the magazine, not my art. So I thought that somebody should give Archana some recognition for her art, too. Then one day I was in the Berkeley Art Center and saw that piece on the wall [pointing]. It's from her series, Text, Context, Texture, Architexture and it immediately touched me. That’s a mysterious thing when a piece of art pierces you, isn’t it?

And I immediately asked the director, Suzanne Tan, who did that? She told me it was Archana. That was the moment, ten years ago, that I decided to ask her for an interview. So Archana, here we are in front of everybody. You’re surrounded by fifty years of accomplishment. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind about this moment?

ARCHANA:  Hello, everybody. Well, first of all, it’s just such a wonderful opportunity as an artist to see a large number of your works together in one place, and to see all your long-time friends and associates in one place. So, it’s a huge opportunity for me, and I love seeing what the one work has to say about another. I just come every once in a while and sit in the little couch at the back near the window and look. I can kind of imagine the conversation that’s going on between the pieces, because they talked to each other on the walls as I was making them.

In some cases, they wanted to be diptychs and triptychs. They’d say, “I would like to be close to that one over there.” So I would shift them—I was just pinning them to the walls—I’d shift the paper and then they started creating a series of things. So [pointing] there are some larger ones here and there—diptychs and triptychs. When I first started, I was doing one panel at a time. That’s been the fun of this whole thing, the inquiries I was making. Instead of getting boring, the work just kept showing me new sides.

RICHARD:   Well, I thought it might be interesting to ask you about your series, On the Fringe of the Field. I mean, these are in your Body of Water Series, and you’ve used your fringe technique with them, too. Why don’t I just ask you about your thoughts about your title, "The Fringe of the Field"? It’s a big question, a big subject.

ARCHANA:   It’s a good subject. And yes, it is a big subject because it means a lot of things to me. The obvious reference might be the fringe, or a feathering, of some of the edges in these pieces, but what do I mean by field? All of you can probably think of ten kinds of fields. You know, there’s the farmer’s field, there are fields in physics like a magnetic field, there’s a kind of field that’s what your research or study would imply. All of these kinds of fields came to mind. And I felt l was kind of on the fringe of the art world field, even though I was at the center of it with wonderful artists. I didn’t really feel perceived as an artist in my own right, so maybe it’s even a self-definition.

I thought that fringe was always a very interesting place to be, on the edge. So that was good. I think there’s one piece that I actually called Fringe of the Field. But the series all came out with things I thought I’d get tired of when I started feathering things, but it seems very long-lasting.

RICHARD:   And you discovered the feathering when you were working with oil sticks, like “Oh, wait a minute, I can push these edges with my fingers.” It opened this whole new thing for you, right?

ARCHANA:   Yes. A lot of the things I use here are on the kindergarten level. You know, just the simplest thing you could do with pigment and paper—sort of finger-painting in a way. It did come from years and years of printing etchings. So, some of you are very aware of hand-wiping in etching before you print it, and for some of you, it probably doesn’t mean much. But basically, if you’re a printmaker, over time you can control the tone of the ink you’re using on the plate with how you wipe it. And there are many different ways to wipe a plate. I did it many times mostly with my hand. If you pull too much ink off, you lose some of the nuances you wanted to keep. So, I developed a sense of my hand. Even though the structures were built into the plate, once I inked them up, I had to go through that removal of the excess ink. It was then that I got sort of a sensitive control of my fingers, and also a circular motion, and things like that. And one of the reasons I liked working with these oil sticks is that a fresh oil stick has sort of a similar materiality, or viscosity, that Charbonnel ink does. It’s highly pigmented and it’s not too oily. So, they’re like oil paint, in that they’re made out of a drying oil and lots of pigment, with a dash of wax, I imagine. But they’re workable, just like the ink on a plate is. So, I probably killed that one, but you get the idea—I thought I’d be bored to tears doing this a few times, but it just kept opening new possibilities for me.

RICHARD:   That’s really interesting to me, the thing about what "I think" [air quotes]. I mean, we all have all these ordinary...

ARCHANA:   Assumptions or whatever.

RICHARD:   Right. And I think it’s very interesting what you describe because of these little discoveries that appear—and then they sort of blossom. It’s an example, as far as I’m concerned, of the title you’ve chosen, because that little moment of experimenting with your hand and thinking “Oh, this is interesting.” Your title is sort of a description of that moment. And also, its relevance to your mind, which didn’t recognize it was on the fringe. But it broke through—and then it opened more and more. Isn’t that interesting?

ARCHANA:   That’s an interesting way to put it, yeah. I think that I’ve always had a problem with hard-edge abstraction because everything was so either/or. You know? The hard edges sort of broke any interaction apart. I mean, there’s color interacting, but I had a hard time with that. But “the fringe in the field,” or the feathering, that I was doing  gave a chance for the opposites of white and black to interact with each other. They were no longer totally separate. So that was also a solution I’d been looking for, but hadn’t really thought that’s the way I’d get it. But that’s what happened.

RICHARD:  Yes. When I look at these three pieces [pointing]—and we sat in your studio and talked about this—when I look at them, that technique adds a kind of life, or vitality, to the image—and that makes all the difference. It’s a completely different piece of art because of the life it has from that fringing, wouldn’t you say?

ARCHANA:   Well, I hope so. But I think everyone has to make their own interpretation. The work speaks to your own experience. If they make sense to you, that’s a plus.

RICHARD:   It works for me. And I have to speak about this fringe thing a little more, because this also ties into metaphor—“the fringe.” When you look at society, often you get this life from the fringe elements. Take rap music. Where did that come from? It comes from people on the edges of things where they invent vital things out of what seems like almost nothing.

So, the fringe of the field also could be a comment on the life that exists at the edges of things where people have to meet life with less and dig deeper. How do you like that?        

ARCHANA:   That’s pretty cool. That gives it more value than I probably would have assigned it myself. But I think also that I was trying to do more with less. As you can see, none of these are particularly tricky pieces. When we moved Kala from—I think it was at 3200 Adeline at one point, many years ago. We moved it to 1060 Heinz, which is where the professional artists mostly were in a big studio upstairs, which we still have. It was the beginning of Kala in this building. Then we planned, over time, and were able to create this gallery.

So after I moved both KALA’s studio, and then my own private studio to Emeryville at the Artist’s Co-op, I looked at my older work and thought, “I can’t go back to doing more of that.” I think every artist has those moments where you just feel like you have to move a bit in a new direction. But I didn’t know what direction. So that’s when I started making a mark, just a simple mark on a piece of paper with a black ink pen. And we talked about that in your first article. Right? [yes] Over time it became a kind of water-witching, trying to find the secret spring by just waiting and slowing way down, experimenting with you call “automatic drawing.” You could just wait until your hand wanted to move. You just waited for a sort of internal impulse without your mind directing it. And you were going to ask me, I think, about automatic drawing at some point. I don’t know if this is the wrong time.               

RICHARD:   No. It’s perfect, because I think that’s another really interesting thing. I think the Surrealists brought this in, but maybe you found it on your own.

ARCHANA:   We do owe this concept of automatic drawing to the Surrealists. I mean, when Nakano-san and I were studying in Paris, William Hayter was singing the praises of doing some automatic drawing every day—if nothing else, as a warm up, or to find one’s own gesture, so to speak. What I hadn’t tried was slowing it way down and waiting for my hand to move, or arm.

So yeah, that’s an old technique, a way of sort of conversing with your unconscious like automatic writing. For me, it had to go way, way slow. That’s why I made a series of what started out as just marks into line drawings. Then the line drawings became—eventually, I turned them into etchings, which you all can see in the print room. There are a lot of samples of that series in there. They’re still fresh to me. They felt like my own voice was somehow coming out for the first time—and that was in the early 80s.

RICHARD:   It’s very interesting to me because, you said it yourself, it was a line between, or territory, between the conscious and the subconscious.

ARCHANA:   The “subconscious” is a good word.

RICHARD:   Yes. There’s a liminal realm between our ordinary consciousness and our subconsciousness. I find that fascinating. I’m tempted to say that art, over the ages maybe, has been a realm in which part of its job is to be open to, interested in, this liminal realm between worlds where things can be brought forth by those who are called to that. They can bring something out for us to see.

ARCHANA:   I believe that’s correct. I think there are practices that one does that can bring a little more coherence to our lives and our work, and that has worked for me. Everybody will have their own kind of approach to finding that inner coherence, I think, and then—if you get this kind of occasion—you get to share it.                    

RICHARD:   Yes. Now I’m thinking of a couple of different directions to ask about. How far back do you want to go? Because I was thinking about that myself. We can all do this if we’re in the right state for looking at our lives and asking what were the turning points? What were the important moments? What were the influences that have brought me to where I am today? And if you stick with it, I think you’ll go back further and further—and you’ll see the connections. So, how far back are you willing to go?

ARCHANA:   Well, I can go to my own beginning.

RICHARD:   Okay.

ARCHANA:   Which is, as the daughter of my mother, who was a fabulous artist, Ruth Horsting. She taught at UC Davis. I think she was the first woman sculptor ever in the UC system, and she taught almost 15 years there. I think she’s been a little left out of local art history, but her work was extraordinary. She was already a sculptor in Chicago, and then she got hired by UC Davis. So we moved from Chicago to Davis. So I grew up from about the age of 10 there. But she’d been making art around me since I can remember.          

RICHARD:   Yeah, that’s incredible, your art background. And that beautiful, little carving there [pointing] —you made when you were seven. Right?        

ARCHANA:  I was seven, yes, and in the second grade. I was very inspired by the story of the Native American papooses, who were wrapped in blankets, and probably had a board behind their heads. Papooses were strapped on women’s backs for the most part. So, I was very inspired by that. But other people can see other things in it, of course. I saw that piece of stone—it was granite and wasn’t easy to manipulate—but I saw that and what should be done to it in my own mind.

It’s a really beautiful thing that visual artists—and all kinds of artists have—that you can imagine something, and believe it or not, you can realize, it in some manner. That is such a joyful, difficult, challenging—but at the same time—really extraordinary ability to have. That is, to get an idea that maybe doesn’t exist in the world, or not in that form, and then to work on it until that idea becomes a reality. KALA is kind of like that, too. The ability to have it come to fruition was wonderful.              

RICHARD:   That’s wonderful, yes. I don’t know if you’ve all had a chance to go up and look at that little carving, but it’s just so alive. It makes me think of an experience I’ve had—and maybe others of you have also, of perhaps seeing that something you experienced as a child is still true today. It could be 60 years have passed, but it’s the same, or a very similar, thing. When I look at that piece, I think, “Wow. It has so much life to it and you were seven years old.”                 

ARCHANA:   I was just seven, but I was helped by the fact that we lived next door to artists. My mother had the tools. My neighbor had the stone. And so it happened. I have to thank my mother for keeping it. She kept it all these years next to her fireplace, and when she passed on in 2000, that’s when I received it again. It’s been sitting in our little home garden all these years since then.

RICHARD:   I think it’s just amazing being here in the gallery with these drawings. It adds an element that’s kind of priceless.                

ARCHANA:   Well, you guys really have to thank Mayumi for this. Mayumi was the curator of the show and—well, you can tell she did a really good job of organizing it and arranging it. And she encouraged me to bring the stone sculpture and include it.

RICHARD:   Okay. Let’s talk about metaphor.

ARCHANA:   Okay. Well, that’s a big subject.

RICHARD:   I know. And we don’t have that much time. What you’ve done requires much more—your attempt to understand its meaning, its place, its value. It’s been such an important thing in your life.

ARCHANA:   Well, that’s very true. When I was a freshman at UC Santa Cruz, I was very excited about one of my  classes—I think it was about modern culture—something generic. I’d been exposed to some philosophy courses, and in those days the logical positivists were extremely big, based on Wittgenstein’s early work. They kind of said “everything you say is nonsensical if you’re not using pure logic.” So that’s what the logic of the “positivists” meant. But that was really the only thing you could say. So, you could say, “There are seven oranges in a bowl.” You can say that, and that’s meaningful. But if you start using philosophical terms, or fiction or whatever, that couldn’t have any meaning.

So I thought, “Well, that seems a very narrow way of understanding meaning. So I got very interested in the power of metaphor, both for good and evil. I mean, people thought about “the cancer” of Communism. Well, that’s a bad way of using metaphor, I think.

Do you all know what a metaphor really is? I don’t mean, just linguistically, but do you have one idea in your mind of one thing and you’re trying to compare it to another thing, and the kind of spark, electric spark, which goes from one item in your brain to the other?

If you have to explain something to someone who doesn’t know what you’re talking about—if you’re a scientist and you’re talking to an artist, or an artist talking to a scientist—and you’ve discovered something and they haven’t had the experience of, how else can you convey a sense of that experience, give some meaning of that experience to the other person other than with metaphor?  It's the only way. It’s not pure logic.

RICHARD:   For sure.

ARCHANA:   So that’s why I knew it was important, but I didn’t have the linguistic skills to break it apart to explain this. So, I probably took a year to write this first paper assigned as a freshman. There’s someone in the audience right here—you can raise your hand, Roberta—who typed the thing for me.  And then we delivered it at the very last possible day of the third quarter. I barely survived that. The paper had a long bibliography, and I wrestled with some of these terms.

So, I believe that metaphor is an important form of communication, and the best form of it is new, fresh metaphor, not simply using what I called “dead metaphors”—I think I used something like “the foot of the mountain” as an example of a dead one. You don’t really have the image of a foot in your brain anymore when you see that word. You just hear “foot of the mountain” and it means, “oh, the lower part of the mountain.”

When somebody first said it, they probably did think of a foot and a mountain at the same time. Anyway, maybe this is carrying it too far.

RICHARD:   No, not for my taste.  

ARCHANA:   That’s why it’s so much fun to talk with you because you’re very patient.

RICHARD:   Well, Wittgenstein himself repudiated his early work, as you know. And the use of metaphor is probably a central thing that storytellers have been using for millennia. Right?

ARCHANA:   Yes. And when I was just starting KALA, I was very fortunate to meet George Lakoff, who made a life out of talking about metaphor. And he had all the skills, so I sort of went, “Okay, I don’t have to do this anymore.”

RICHARD:   Is he still around?

ARCHANA:   He is and he’s still writing philosophy, linguistics, and stuff like that.

RICHARD:   Every time we get together, I learn something new. I had no idea you had this relationship with him. He’s a bona fide linguistic expert. Right?

ARCHANA:   Right. And the more I understood the way his mind worked, I realized I did not have the chops to take on this thing. I really wanted to be an artist. But I had this deep need to understand—how does communication work with a piece of art and us looking at it? It can’t be just spelled out with words. I mean I love words, as you can tell. I talk a lot, but words are not able to express exactly what you’re feeling or experiencing when you’re looking at art. So, I was wondering how does it work? So that’s why I had to take literature and philosophy—and all those different courses to get a wider sense. And metaphor was a key way of my seeing that, in art, there can be metaphor, too.

You guys [addresses the audience] remember the historical paintings that are like long, extended allegories. Right? So there are those. But even when you look at some very simple works, you do that kind of comparison in your brain, where you go from, what am I looking at? to what am I thinking about? It’s a kind of visual metaphor that occurs, and can move people. And I was interested in finding ways of doing that, so I wouldn’t think my things were just descriptive.

RICHARD:   As I sit here looking at you, I keep seeing your work over there [pointing] the clouds in the corner. What do you call that?

ARCHANA:  Cloud Combat.

RICHARD:  Cloud Combat. Now, when I look at that, yeah, your title seems apt, and I’m trying to figure out what in the world is that dark, sort of figure underneath that cloud on top? What’s going on there? I mean what can you say about that image? I mean, that thing underneath doesn’t look like a cloud to me. It looks like a bear or something upside-down.

ARCHANA:   Well, this is based on a very old photograph from the late 1800s.    

RICHARD:   So that’s from your Photo Translations Series?

ARCHANA:  Yes. So I looked at the Coburn photograph and I kept seeing these clouds, but tussling with each other.

RICHARD:   I see.             

ARCHANA:   You could go and look at all my sources for that series, because I think you have to give the original artist full credit. So they’re always in the titles of those pieces. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be right.

RICHARD:   The piece over there [points] is after Kertesz, right?

ARCHANA:   Yes. Andre Kertesz, the Hungarian photographer.

RICHARD:   Is the title of his photo The Other?

ARCHANA:   No.

RICHARD:   Okay. So you’ve added your own title.

ARCHANA:   Well, he called it Martinique. I imagine he was in a hotel on Martinique and there was someone on the adjacent balcony separated by the bubble glass. I called it Martinique / The Other  because it was so ambiguous—whether that person was male or female; whether they were up to no good; whether they were beneficent…  You just didn’t know what you were looking at. And I was thinking, this is just like life where you’re confronted by The Other, and it’s up to your psyche what you project onto that other.

We all do it, and we catch ourselves. But the question is… well, here it’s just absolutely ambiguous. I thought that was a very special state. The other is not clear, and people would see what they want to see in it. I thought it was a brilliant photograph and I just ran with it.

RICHARD:   And I think by giving that title, you made the depth of it explicit—this great reality that we wrestle with in life.

ARCHANA:   Yes. One of our big, ethical concerns is how do we treat the other? What do we project on the other? And how do we deal with the other in our lives? I think it’s just a reminder to me of that importance of can we be open? can we be concerned?       

RICHARD:   And let’s open this up to others. We’re running short of time, aren’t we?

MAYAMI:   You have 15 more minutes.

RICHARD:   Okay. So, just one more thing. I was looking through your early work on your website, and ran across an etching—a woman’s face with tusks. It says, “Desire is an elephant.”                 

ARCHANA:   Yes. That’s a funny series. That series didn’t get into this show.

RICHARD:   It’s a really interesting image. Do you want to say anything about it?

ARCHANA:   Well, no one’s seen it here.

RICHARD:   Is it off limits?

FEMALE:   I’m seeing it in her mind.

ARCHANA:   You can see it on my website if you want.

RICHARD:   Oh, come on, Archana. Say something about that.

ARCHANA:   Well, it’s an attempt to merge a woman and an elephant, and to talk about the power that desire holds over all of us. Does that make sense? [yes] There’s one other thing I’d like to add. A lot of these things seem like they’re separate ideas, separate eras, separate kinds of work that don’t really relate, but I wanted to say that after just drawing marks—which was how I restarted my work after moving the studios—I got very excited about line images and I made etchings. I did some watercolors also, along with some forms where I wanted to make the edge of the form more powerful or interesting. Over time, I did a sort of perimeter piece, an etch that creates a form, but then my black works, Fringe of the Field, came from seeing that as a solid form instead of a line.

So, the lines led to the etchings, and then more line drawing led to forms, and then in certain cases, the forms incorporated some lines back into them. So maybe that’s sort of boring, that story. But one thing suggests another, and I think when you’re interested in your work, that’s what happens.

RICHARD:   Absolutely.

ARCHANA:   So that’s a treasure for you when it happens.

RICHARD:   Yes. Okay then. Maybe some of you have questions or observations? 

ARCHANA:   Comments. Whatever you guys want to say, really.

QUESTION:  I don’t quite know how to frame my question. If I’d never been at Kala and had just seen your work and listened to this talk, I’d think that was amazing. But I was working upstairs, and talking to Archana when she was figuring out whether they could take on this space. I knew how many times you worried about the landlord and money, and it’s like these two wholes instead of half-Kala and half-art. They both seem way too full to physically exist in one person. Plus, you were a mother. So, how did you move through these different processes and environments and necessities?

ARCHANA:   Well, I think that I did it very slowly. It wasn’t like I was entrepreneur of the year or something. This was very, very slow. Probably because I wasn’t naturally good at it. But I did have this vision of a place that would honor artists and support their work. I thought they were important people who deserved shelter and respect—and I’d had some opportunities in my life and wanted to make sure other artists had those opportunities.

So I just slowly moved towards it. Had I been a little smarter and better at business, I probably could have done it faster. But we kept moving in the right direction, and fortunately, I could pass this on to two great co-directors here, Mayumi-san and Ellen. [loud applause] And I’m now back in my studio making art again.

The art was a constant challenge and you know, there was never enough time. So, what if I’d only done artwork? Would I have made more? Maybe. Maybe, but would it be the same artwork? Because how much did I learn from my colleagues and co-founder? Would I have done the same work? These are impossible questions.

QUESTION:  Did you develop any techniques for transitioning from the organizational, institutional part of Kala to making art?

ARCHANA:   Well, I just went into my studio, and as I say, I did very simple things.

QUESTION (KIM ANNO) :  What is so extraordinary about this work, and your world, is you occupy a territory that is not abstraction and not figuration. It’s kind of an in-between place, which makes it unique and startling. It’s startling in a good way; there are so many startling bad ways. So, I’m just wondering about this pivot, or this kind of hesitation between making a real thing and making a flat thing. Do you feel, still, like you want to toggle back and forth with that? I’m just kind of curious about, as you’re starting this new work and when you look at the history of figuration and flatness. What do you think about that issue?

ARCHANA:   You know, I’m very curious about where I’ll go next. Time will tell, I guess. I’ll be in the studio. I think these paintings are not like by a painter. But more, I started as a sculptor and I see the dense pigment is kind of a mask and shapes. So, I’ll tell you what I’m interested in. If you have information on a spectrum, from total—like maybe someone spells out every single flower of the landscape—to totally minimal. Like maybe somebody laid some plates on the floor, or something like that. Well, I was never comfortable with maximal, and although I tend more towards the minimal, I feel it’s so boring if it’s too minimal. There’s not enough information to create a reaction in me, or a deep feeling. So, I’m looking for the right spot in between so you can get involved. You can practically be the artist. I want you to bring your ideas of what’s going on.

I love talking to Richard because he sees these things, and he can speak about them. So, that’s what I think is really fun. Does that help?

KIM:  Yes, it does.

ARCHANA:   Okay. By the way, Kim has a paragraph about me on the back of the catalog, which you all should read. She’s very articulate about these things.

QUESTION:  Okay. Can you comment a bit about your choice of palette? I love black and white, and obviously, most of your work here is black and white. Is there any comment about why?        

ARCHANA:    Maybe it’s because all those years I did of printmaking. We all used black and white as a way of seeing the structure that’s in the plate we’ve created. You have the maximum amount of contrast. That’s part of it. But I just love deep, rich, black, and I love things that are matte, not shiny. Shiny kind of pushes me off, like a reflection in your eye or something. And again, I got that from printmaking.

QUESTION (MORT COHN):   It’s a wonderful show in many ways. Many of the pieces you’ve done reference photographers—like the one over there, Tower, after Manuel Alvarez Bravo.  And this one [points] Le Notre’s Garden after Atget, and others. I’m very interested in that relationship you have with photography and photographers. How have you transformed your inspiration from the photo image to your rendering of it in your work?

ARCHANA:   Okay. Well, I have to confess that I had a love/hate relationship with photography. The reason was the early photographers who made such amazing images, at the same time, they were mostly very small and they were covered by glass, and often a very reflective glass. So I couldn’t really enter into them, and the blacks weren’t black enough. So, what I needed to do was to really look at them. And I painted them. That was how I could see the photographs in a deep way.

Painting allowed me many things. I mean, we all know the image, but do we really know all the things that are in it? So, painting on a larger scale was transformative for me, first, because I could enter into it. It was big enough for my body to kind of move into the image. And the surface was matte so it didn’t shine and push me away. The photographs were kind of in the same language as I was using with paint sticks. All I did is add a gray paint stick. I needed a black, a white, and the gray. Does that make sense to you? It was also really challenging. I mean why would I paint something that had been photographed so well, you know? It seemed stupid to me. But then how was I going to become a better painter, if I didn’t try to do something that was really challenging.

MORT:   You can say it’s not a duplication as such, it’s an extension of what you saw.

ARCHANA:   Yes. I talk about it like translating a novel from French to English, or something. Right? So, it’s going to be different. But both the translator and the original writer are making art, I believe. So these were my translations, and I didn’t want these images to get lost or for people to forget about them. They were only known by a few photographers instead of a wider world. Does that make sense?

MORT:  It does.

RICHARD:   [looks at Archana] What do you think?

ARCHANA:   Two more questions? Okay?

LINDA:  I have a question about what I think is an angel [pointing]—behind you with the blue wings. At first, it seemed like it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the work, but somehow this transcending angel is very similar to your fringe work, because your fringe work is also transcending space and boundaries and overcoming limits. Your fringe work is really a revolt against anything that is like a knife. The angel is also transcending, if it’s an angel.

ARCHANA:   Well, it’s kind of a dark angel. I call it Charon’s Boat. Charon was the  ancient Greeks’ ferryman of the dead. So, he’s basically on the fringe, and he helps you cross the fringe. You were just asking about that a couple of days ago, weren’t you?

RICHARD:   I was. I think it’s quite a powerful image.

ARCHANA:   I think that as you get older, you think about death even more often than you did as a younger person. So, I thought maybe it would be good to be friends a little bit. Did that answer your question?

LINDA:  Yes, it does. I thought he was going to go to Heaven, but he’s going over to the other side, which is also good.

ARCHANA:   Which is the other side? Because who knows? I think the figure and the boat became one for me. So the dark angel is the ferry boat, as well—because it’s one thing. There was another question?

QUESTION:  Yes. I’ve always been fascinated with the relationship between light and dark, and white and black, and negative and positive space and the line and the shape, but especially this one with that very fine, white line. And how do you do that and even keep all these white spaces white? The paint stick is really messy and so that’s just amazing to me.

ARCHANA:   Thank you. That line is not a drawn line or an engraved line where you plow forward or pull backwards. It’s a line that’s made of moving two parts of the black on either side of it, as close together as possible without eliminating the white. I just wanted a different kind of line.

QUESTION:   Knowing that actually makes it even more fascinating.

ARCHANA:   Yes. It’s scary because you could eliminate it very easily, but I just made friends with this mess. It’s very clumsy compared to etching a line, but it allowed me to work on new ideas, one after the other. I used some other very simple techniques. In that one [pointing], the Mexican pyramid, there’s sort of a frottage area—and then again that kind of weird line. I was in love with that, trying to make a kind of line that’s never been made before, or something. Then in the triangle there [pointing] it’s just fingerprints.

So it’s not fancy technique. It’s totally simple, simple, simple….  I didn’t have fancy techniques, but it also helps to have an idea that you really want to see become a reality. And you don’t even know what the idea is going to be until you explore it a bit.

RICHARD:   Well, thank you Archana. [to the audience] I highly recommend you get the catalog if you haven’t already. It’s quite wonderful.              

ARCHANA:   And I want to give a special shout out to the writers. Richard is one of them. And Kate Eilertsen is another one. I think I introduced Kim [Anno] already. And the missing person is Berin Golonu, who is a wonderful art historian who works at SUNY in New York. I’m really delighted with what everybody wrote. And thank you all for coming.

 

 

A Man Impossible to Classify photo: r. whittaker One of my first experiences in San Francisco ... Read More 749387 views


The Dumpster       “We can’t use these. They look like ... Read More 161749 views


Cotton and Silk Vorbeck quilt, detail I’m working on the last panel of a pair of ... Read More 14520 views


Say Grace I am deeply delighted to live on a planet that is so big and varied that I can ... Read More 13195 views


An Interview with Betsy Damon I first heard about Betsy Damon from Sam Bower of greenmuseum.org. Water ... Read More 48560 views


READ MORE >> 

A Man Impossible to Classify photo: r. whittaker One of my first experiences in San Francisco ... Read More 749387 views


Interview with Bill Douglass - Jimbo's Bop City and Other Tales At the time I'd first gotten to know the widely respected ... Read More 371404 views


Greeting the Light It was thanks to artist Walter Gabrielson that I was able to get ... Read More 326410 views


Interview: Gail Needleman Gail Needleman taught music at Holy Names University in Oakland, ... Read More 196756 views


The Dumpster       “We can’t use these. They look like ... Read More 161749 views


READ MORE >>