An Interview with Theresa Bakker

PHOTO ABOVE: From “Cradle of Kleptocracy” by Madara Mason
I CONTAIN MULTITUDES – Madara Mason is an eclectic artist. Her work combines paper, beads, found objects, dressmaking patterns, grant rejections, prescription labels, block prints, magazine...

PHOTO ABOVE: From “Cradle of Kleptocracy” by Madara Mason

I CONTAIN MULTITUDES – Madara Mason is an eclectic artist. Her work combines paper, beads, found objects, dressmaking patterns, grant rejections, prescription labels, block prints, magazine and book cutouts, and traditional media like acrylic paint and ink. Born and raised in the South, Mason moved to Alaska in 1994 and began painting the animals and plants she found in her backyard. Her work is featured through July 2018 in the Café Gallery at the UA Museum of the North.

Is there a theme to the artworks that you selected for this show? So many artists have made powerful political statements regarding women’s work, and I don’t feel I need to repeat those statements. But by the same token, in rejecting that emphasis, I might ALSO be guilty of rejecting women’s work as irrelevant. The traditions I allude to in my work are more meaningful than the generic label of women’s work: the reuse of old materials, mending the broken, using patterns to bind a community through the use of shared imagery, and constructing objects that carry the memories of a family or individual.

I also think there’s an element of landscape and flora and fauna in these works that I’m hoping won’t be overlooked. Landscapes are so often tidy recreations of a singular individual’s (often romanticized) perspective. In my experience nature isn’t tidy at all and it changes constantly, especially the landscapes you find in Fairbanks and the surrounding areas, which are often as urban as they are wild. You can’t really go on a hike or a walk or a kayak trip without coming across bits of wrappers, labels, odd trinkets with no clear purpose, pieces of tools or cars, remnants of junk mail, and the remains of the pipeline industry. Most of these paintings are my attempt to reconcile that detritus of urban life with the wild, organic forms that spring up inside of it and all around it, which would be a more honest vision of my local landscape as I see it.

I guess I’m trying to hone in on the realities of all these multiple landscapes, multiple identities, multiple perspectives, and multiple methods of constructing a work of art. There’s a voice in American culture right now asking me to define myself as one thing: one race, one origin, one gender, one religion, one nationality, one political party. This is my refusal to define myself and my world in such singular terms. Like Whitman said, “I contain multitudes” and those multitudes sometimes contradict one another.

Museum of the North Cafe Gallery

From April-July 2018, a selection of my recent work will be on display in the University of Alaska Museum of the North cafe gallery.

 

 The following was excerpted rom the University of Alaska Museum of the North website.

“Madara Mason is an eclectic artist. Her work combines paper, beads, found objects, dressmaking patterns, grant rejections, prescription labels, block prints, magazine and book cutouts, and traditional media like acrylic paint and ink. Born and raised in the South, Madara moved to Alaska in 1994 and began painting the animals and plants she found in her backyard. Mason has been a speaker at Comicon and her work has been featured on book covers and movie sets, and in many collections, including that of the UA Museum of the North. Her pieces can be seen on the UAF campus, in public spaces across the state, and in the homes of collectors all over the world. She teaches 2D digital design and a professional practices course for the UAF Art Department.

Mason said her mixed media pieces reference the theme of identity. They reflect her environment and women’s work, among others. “It’s not an obvious or overt theme, but the handicraft traditions I inherited from the women in my family are all there: quilt making, beading, china painting, dressmaking, flower arranging, and decoupage. Each of these pieces is meant to reveal themselves fully over time. They’re pretty packed with minutiae that I’ve woven together according to a personal narrative, but I think a story will emerge for anyone who looks at the pieces long enough.”

Read more about the artist’s inspiration and ideas behind the exhbiit on our blog.

ABOVE: From “The Substance I am Made Of” by Madara Mason

This presentation is part of a rotating schedule of exhibits featuring UAF adjunct artists.”

From the Newsminer

Fairbanks artist ‘searches for time’ in busy schedule

Dorothy Chomicz dchomicz@newsminer.com

 (2)

FAIRBANKS — With two kids, a husband and a full-time job teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Madara Mason could easily claim to be too busy to pursue her creative passions. Instead, this talented artist puts out an impressive amount of work, and her 10th show opens at the Well Street Art Company this Friday. When asked recently how she manages to be so prolific, Mason shook her head wearily as she gazed around her jam-packed home studio. 

“I get up at 4 in the morning, without fail, even on the weekends,” Mason said, conceding that she “worked like a maniac” to create her latest show. Titled “In Search of Lost Time,” the exhibit is a departure from Mason’s earlier works, which primarily featured animals.

“It’s all florals. That’s the obvious subject matter of it, but once I got close to being done with everything I realized it was more about nostalgia for me than it was about the flowers,” Mason said. 

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The Anxiety-Producing Artist Statement

I’ve always had a bit of a problem writing artist’s statements. Words elude me when I try to talk about why I paint or what I’m trying to accomplish because if I had words for it, I would be more of a writer and less of a painter. Painting is a language unto itself. However, as a professional artists I simply can’t avoid writing them. If you’re an artist as well, then you probably feel a similar anxiety, so I thought I would share with you my most recent artist statement that I wrote for an Individual Artist Award through the Rasmuson Foundation. I allude to the 10 paintings that I submitted and have included a screenshot of all 10 just so you can see to which works I was referring. Picking out which of my paintings to show was a whole different ordeal that perhaps I’ll talk about some other time.

Here are the 10 paintings I submitted for the grant application. A screenshot of 10 paintings.

Here are the 10 paintings I submitted for the grant application.

As an artist, I don’t seek to shock my audience, make political statements, or ask my viewer to be uneasy. I would rather they find connections where there were none before or that they experience a moment of resonance and clarity among the noise and chaos of their everyday lives. My process is one of constant layering, erasure, and revision; and though I work primarily in acrylics, I constantly seek out new materials and methods. I show up to do the work every. single. day.

The first five paintings in my submission are part of a series of works on paper (Pattern and Noise) which is an exploration of a confluence of ideas: organic landscapes, manmade tech-scapes, and textile constructions. Originally the series began solely as a reflection on the time I was spending at the Georgeson Botanical Gardens in Fairbanks. My mother was visiting then, and we were completing a quilt from blocks that my great grandmother hand-pieced but never finished before she died, a rare moment piecing together what little I know about my family. I was also in the middle of learning the basics of circuit design for a project at work. The intersection of these events caused me to think deeply about the ways that pattern-making is fundamental to our human experience. I used various paint pens, inks, and washes to build (in intricately detailed layers) images that are resonant of these ideas. This series is still expanding.

The last five works are from an earlier series that emerged from 2011-2015 (The Trouble with Inheritance). I took obvious cues from the works of Klimt, Mayan glyphs, and Japanese ink drawings and a variety of other sources and combined them into works that helped me to explore my own fractured cultural identity. In these works, I flattened the picture plane until the figures are nearly inseparable from ground. My aim was not to create an illusion of moments or objects frozen in time, but rather abstracted symbolic states; the aspects of the human experience that transcend temporality and location, the overlapping states of consciousness that often elude articulation in language.

I find some of my inspiration in marginalized crafts and traditions: forms considered to be women’s work, characters from indigenous mythologies, and patterns found in domestic life. The quilt block, the cross stitch, floral and other organic motifs, the magical animals of fairy tales, and masks often appear in my work. I also find inspiration in the more contemporary arena of my tech-centric professional life: circuit boards, maps, icons, computer languages, grids, and other technical information systems. These manmade information-scapes have aesthetic value outside of their functional qualities that interest me in much the same way that quilts interest me as purely aesthetic objects.

I’ve now been showing consistently in solo and group shows for more than 10 years. I’m highly prolific and in those 10 years alone have painted nearly 300 paintings, countless drawings, the occasional sculpture, and digital paintings. I work a minimum of 30 hours each week in my studio, putting time in before I go to my day job, when I get home, and on the weekends when my family life permits. Although my rate of production is high, I’ve only had solo shows in the state of Alaska due to both the cost of shipping my work and the risk of low returns compared to the costs if work fails to sell in Lower 48 galleries. However, I’ve been very successful in selling my work online, outside of the gallery system, and am eager to expand my horizons into a broader market.

I’ve been drawing and painting since I can remember, but in 1989, as a 14 year old, I spent a summer in Spain, where I visited the Prado Museum. It was there that I saw Picasso’s Guernica for the first time, and I can’t emphasize enough what happened to me upon seeing it. Although I’d grown up looking at and making art, I don’t think I’d ever seriously considered becoming a painter until that moment. I was struck by the clarity of my own understanding of what paint can say that words cannot, and had what James Joyce called a “moment of aesthetic arrest.” I was dumbfounded by the scale and even more so by the layers of images that crept out from behind the surface of the piece. In photographs Guernica is static; in person it is a living, breathing chorus of voices. I’d had an intellectual understanding of Cubism and could have told you about the historical events to which the painting refers, but nothing had prepared me for what I felt while looking at it. I walked out of the museum burning with an ineffable desire that is still burning almost 30 years later. I’ve spent most of my artistic career trying to discover how simple pigments on a 2-dimensional surface can create a moment of aesthetic arrest for someone else, an ambition that will undoubtedly take me a lifetime to accomplish.

A Conversation with Myself About “Making It”

The reality is that no matter how hard you work or how talented you are, you might not ever become a self-supporting artist. You might toil in relative obscurity for all of it. It’s possible that no doors will ever really open very far, that the fates won’t choose you. It’s possible that nothing will ever get out of the way enough that you can really just sit down and work without being exhausted. You might always struggle, swimming upstream in a river that never changes. It’s possible that you might have a career where small victories are your greatest ones, where your art impacts a few people but it never extends very far beyond your own studio doors. It’s possible that life will always always get in the way. You might always have to bear the burden of a desk job and the desire to make art on the same two shoulders for the rest of your life. The rock might always only budge just the tiniest bit no matter how hard you push. You might have to watch all the others whose rocks are really rolling and they can rest easy in the idea that their pushing made all the difference. Or maybe they believe they have a special gift that makes the rock move… I’m pretty sure that there is nothing certain, ever, in trying to make it as an artist. Especially if by “making it” you mean simultaneously having the money and the time and the energy and the desire to make things.

 

And because of these things, you’ll never really have any evidence that you’re working hard enough or that you’re even the slightest bit talented (whatever that is anyways). You’ll never know if what you make matters at all. You might not ever make enough money with your art to work only 8 hours a day instead of 16. You might make enough money but you’ll be old and your energy will be gone. So that leaves only one question: will you keep doing it anyways? Will you keep doing it even though you have to sacrifice sleep, and conversations that might matter, and a tidy house, and all the other things you have to sacrifice to make the time and space to create art? Will you keep making it even though there are zero signs from the universe that you should keep doing it?

 

Can you live with yourself if, at the end, you stopped trying because it was too hard?

 

“The worlds of two artists converge at Well Street Art Co.”

From the Daily News Miner, 2010

FAIRBANKS – Local artists Mary Matthews and Madara Hill are kicking off the new year with a two-fold exhibition that Well Street Art Company owner David Mollett said is sure to be a likable show for all ages.

While both women are different in terms of their style and mediums of choice, both seem to tell stories with their work in ways that invite viewers to follow along rather than simply stare at the pieces from a distance.

“We typically do two shows at once and I wanted two people who wouldn’t clash,” Mollett said of his choice. “Sometimes contrast is good but these two artists complement each other very well.” Mollett called the work of the two women both cheerful and upbeat, something that is undoubtedly a welcome energy to the dark days of January.

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