Sunday, December 8, 2013

Armando Ramos Interview- Studio Visit

Armando Ramos is a sculptor who works in a variety of materials.  He is an Assistant Professor of Art at Valley City State University in Valley City, North Dakota.  I had a chance to visit with him over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Armando Ramos in his studio
 You work with 2D images in conjunction with your sculptural work.  How do they work together and influence each other?

I try to approach them in the same way.  Having a small studio forced me to look at all the work as one because I wasn’t able to separate the two into mental compartments or spaces.  I began to look at what material was most appropriate to the idea, rather that beginning with the materials.  When you’re a student, a material is often associated with a department, but it isn’t in the real world.  Stuff is just stuff and you have to find the materials that have the right properties for your idea.  It’s all the same work to me.
Altered paintings

Your work references pop culture and childhood.  How do you find images and objects for your work?

When I started out I would choose images that had meaning to me, like a specific memory.  Latin American pop culture or imagery that I had experienced as a young person was something I gravitated to.  Now I’m more interested in objects and images that aren’t really about me, but have a wider reach.  I went to the historical museum in Minneapolis and saw some images of Americana from the 1920’s.  These were ads and boxes from old toys and I started to think about them as a sort of propaganda that communicates this fake idea about how the ideal world is or should be.  The repeated image reinforces this and gives it strength. This power of images to persuade and train us to think along a certain line is something that I’m interested in.  I want my own work to be a process of revealing how and questioning how images function.

I used to go to the thrift stores or junk stores for inspiration, but I also find things on the street or at junk sales. I also buy postcards and write down words and phrases that are interesting and ambiguous.  The illustrations in old books are something I look at and will sometimes scan to create a template for a piece.

Finished work in the studio

What do you think about the life these objects and images had before you encountered them or do you? 

The very idea that someone used these things makes them compelling to me.  They were precious to someone.  I have a piece cast from a plastic, Halloween ghost and someone had to keep it in their basement, clean it and plug it in for Halloween year after year.  The history still lives in the object, but by remaking it I can somehow reveal other parts of it that the original owner never saw.  The ghost is a weird, phallic image, but the family that owned it probably had more that one and never saw that in them.

How do you think your background in ceramics has influenced your approach to sculpture?  

When I began working with clay, I really responded to the material and the process of making, but I realize that I approach material in general in a more direct sculptural way.  It is a complex material that demands planning and thinking ahead, but I wish I had begun to work with other materials earlier. 

Ceramic heads, finished and unfired, in the studio

You have a lot of toys and other objects around the studio, do you keep these around as influences?

I see them as objects of interest.  Either the tactile quality or color are things I think about in my own work.  I’m also interested in the relationships between the parts.

What themes run through your work?

The tension and awkwardness in the vulnerability of objects is something I like to explore.  I’m interested in looking at another side of things that we ordinarily don’t look at.  Something soft and comforting might become something ominous, or a sentimental decorative object that has a specific meaning in a holiday or in childhood might be altered to communicate an entirely different meaning.  Visual communication is at the heart of it.  I’m really trying to explore modes of visual communication and how the disruption of that communication can reveal the process itself.

Painting the wood sections of a sculpture

Do you work in series or have you been making individual pieces? 

I think I have been working in individual pieces, but my work is going more towards the direction of series.  This last piece I’ve been working with is a Halloween ghost and I cast them in series in different colors.  Right now they are in groupings of three or four, but I want to make a mass installation of 40 or 50 in a space.  A lot of my work is related even if the pieces are different, but the repetition is definitely something that I’m working with.  It also takes some discipline to work through an idea entirely and not get distracted by something else.  The  series allows me to play out an idea and realize it’s potential.

What questions do you ask yourself when you are making work?

I ask myself what is the most essential part that I want to get across.  How can I communicate this in the most basic way.  I began the ghosts with an interest in a nativity scene from the thrift store, but it was gone when I went back to get it.  So I began to think about what elements of it interested me.  The ghost was sort of a bastardization of something that was sacred.  The outdoor nativity scene that I remembered from my childhood had been coopted into the fake sacred image for a completely secular ‘holiday’.  The image was something that I thought revealed the absurdity of we use images to construct meaning.

Finished ceramic 'Ghosts' in the studio

What are you working on now and what do you have coming up? 

I’ve been finishing a group of work to install at an exhibition at the Red Lodge Clay Center in Montana.  I plan on working with more of the repeated image.  I’m also in an exhibition at the Rosalux gallery in Minneapolis starting in December and going through the first week of January and in a survey exhibition of contemporary ceramics in the Midwest at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Iowa Collaborative Exhibition at Mt Mercy

I have finally prepared the images from the exhibition at Mt Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Craig and I are back in the studio preparing for exhibitions in November.

Topography, Gallery View
 We wanted to spread the flower and leaf forms throughout the gallery so that they became more of an environment and wanted to use a direct way of presenting them that wasn't too complicated. Craig and Andy set these up in the space leaving room for viewers to walk through them.
Topography, detail,  stoneware, wood, 2013

The wall installation, or Topography 2 includes hand pinched rods or leaves, objects and lattice like forms in porcelain.  When we were doing our residency in Alpena, MI, I was interested in the movement of the grasses and how they seemed to not only be different from moment to moment, but how they both hid and revealed other elements of the landscape.  The wetland was also surrounded by the city and the sounds of traffic or the glimpses of man made forms were ever present in the landscape as well.

Topography 2, porcelain, wood, copper wire, metal brackets, 2013

We toyed with different configurations for the installation and assemblage of this piece, but knew we wanted them to come out into space from the wall so that they could have subtle movement during the exhibition and that the shadows could become a part of the works themselves.
Topography 2, detail

This piece also allowed us to explore the idea of making something that is made from a series of forms anyone can make.  Although I've now gotten carried away with the cage-like forms.

We want to play around with the size and configuration of the piece, but right now there are four sections in the installation.

Marsh, is our series on the second wall.  They are forms containing cast found and natural images and pinched coils.

We are returning to Mt Mercy next week to give a lecture and photograph the work.  The block shapes below are made with the casting of natural forms we collected, mixed in with cast found objects.

The pieces are about the intersection of man and nature.


They are influenced by the marsh, the movement of the water and organic forms as well as the influence of the people on the land.  This is another piece that we are still playing with and hope to expand in a different configuration. 

We are also giving a talk about our work in the 2013 Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.  The talk is at 4:45pm, Monday, October 7th at Lawrence University, at the Wriston Art Center in the Wriston Auditorium, with a reception to follow.  Lawrence is in Appleton, Wisconsin. You can also check out the Events section of their site.

I hope to be able to update some more, but have been busy with school, Plato is up next, so I may be missing for a while.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Installing the Show!

This past weekend Craig, Hannah and I were in Cedar Rapids to install our show at Mt Mercy University.  Thanks to Andy and Heidi for all their help and hospitality.

Andy helping with the floor piece

The show is open now and though I wasn't able to take any finished photos, I have posted some                     installation shots. 

Thank you student workers!
There will be an Artist's Lecture at 4pm, October 11 and a Reception from 5-7pm the same evening at the Janalyn Hanson White Gallery at Mt Mercy.

These took up most of the time
Porcelain rods or 'leaves', cages and objects

The first in a set of 4

The work is up now and as soon as I get some finished images I will post them.  Thanks to everyone for their help.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Upcoming Studio Works and Other News

I have been running around all summer traveling, but am now back and ready post again.  Craig and I completed a residency in Alpena, Michigan at the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary.  It was a great experience and many thanks to our wonderful hosts, Marcia and Avery as well as Karen and everyone else associated with the Sanctuary.                                                                                                                  

The Sanctuary is mostly wetlands and I have posted a few images from our many canoe outings
We have almost finished a body of work for our exhibition at Mt. Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, inspired by our residency.

Here are some studio shots of our work this summer in preparation for the show and I will post more once the show is up.

These are our unfinished floor installation pieces that Craig has painted with underglaze.  When finished whey will be integrated with  wood bases.

 These are porcelain leaf forms or rods that will be strung together with wood and other objects like the cage forms below.

 These are part of larger clusters of repeating forms that bring together nature forms and found objects.

 This September Craig and I will be showing at the Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.  The show opens on September 20th.   Here is a blurb from their website about the show and the hours and days. Here is a detail of our piece.

Echo/ Mississippi

Widely regarded as the state’s most prestigious showcase of contemporary Wisconsin visual art, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Wisconsin Triennial returns September 21, 2013. The Triennial presents active Wisconsin artists and reflects a broad range of art representing current directions in contemporary visual art.

On September 20 at 6 pm, an opening night reception for the 2013 Wisconsin Triennial will be held as a part of an MMoCA Nights event. Join the artists and other art supporters at this celebration of Wisconsin contemporary art. Enjoy music, refreshments, and hors d'ouevres on the rooftop sculpture garden. Admission is free for museum members and is $10 for non-members.

We made this short video about our work together.  I think it is also available on MMOCA's website.

I will be posting more in the days to come before we head to Iowa. But I leave you with Midwest roadside attractions.........


 You have to love cement dinosaurs and man eating giant snakes!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

NCECA Exhibitions and stuff

Craig and I had a busy NCECA, with two exhibitions to curate and organize and the Archie Bray Foundation Exhibition, it was pretty exhausting.  Craig is still a bit tired since he spent his whole spring break driving to Houston and setting up the shows with Peter Morgan.  I just have some gallery shots for now and some images of my work, but I have to begin with this image as a shout out to Peter and his awesome endurance with making these all come together.  This is from the Location exhibition at the Spring Street Studios in Houston, TX, curated and organized by Craig Clifford.
Philly Cheese State of Mind

Craig Clifford, Blackfoot, Detail

Gallery view of Location with my work on the left and Benjie Heu on the right.

 It was a crazy week so these are the images I have with the new wall sections of this piece, but I hope to create a work for a larger space.
Debbie Kupinsky, Landscape Memory

Detail, Landscape Memory
The drawings are from the Fox River path in Appleton, WI where the industrial and the paper making past come together with the landscape.  Here is a more general shot of the show, but I will post more tonight as well.

The Biota exhibition was curated by myself and Peter Morgan and was at the Motherdog Studios in Houston, TX.  It was a very 'raw' space, but was a great experience to work with a great variety of artists.  Here are a few shots of the show and my piece, Echo/ Mississippi with motion activated sound.


This piece is about memory, landscape and objects.  It also is an investigation of the transformation of the ordinary through the process of making.  The piece consists of original knick knack objects, mostly birds and then their replicas in porcelain.  There are not fully formed in some way, but are left to carry the marks of the hand and the idea of incomplete memory. This has been an ongoing piece that I have bee altering and adding to over time.


I am going to add image of the rest of the work later tonight, but have to get home right now.