Thursday, July 13, 2017

Spotlight on Studio Workshops: Q&A with Instructor Brian Hitselberger

This September, Athens-based artist and educator Brian Hitselberger will be leading "Studio Workshop: Drawing," a four-part studio-based course that introduces participants to contour, value, simplification and detail, drawing on-the-fly and more focused, detailed methods of mark-making. In advance of the course, Brian answered a few of our questions related to the workshop, art and artistic inspiration.

Artist and educator Brian Hitselberger.
1. What are some of your favorite works at the Georgia Museum of Art?

It's hard to choose. I have my old standbys – I always visit the Alice Neel portrait, the huge Joan Mitchell painting, and of course Radcliffe Bailey's exquisite assemblage, but the works-on-paper galleries generally have something exciting going on. On one of my most recent visits, I was totally mesmerized by the Michael Ellison show Urban Impressions. The density of his prints, the abstraction of every aspect of his complex compositions, and his incredible color sensibilities blew the top of my head off! I became an instant fan.

2. How does a visit to the museum inspire you as an artist?

Something that is so often glazed over in discussions about art or interviews with artists is the fact that a studio practice can be very isolating. I'm fortunate enough to live in a town full of committed makers and to work as a professor at a college teaching young artists. And yet, and yet....

… a visit to the Georgia Museum, or any museum for that matter, always reminds me that I am part of a lineage. That making things, thinking through ideas with material, or expressing oneself without words is a human endeavor: one that transcends not only identity, but time itself. It can help me return to my own studio with a greatly renewed sense of purpose. 

3. What are some of the pieces from the museum's collection that you have selected to use in the studio workshop "Abstraction", and why did you choose these?

Part of our workshop will focus on the series of studies that Elaine de Kooning made in her sketchbook of Greek and Roman statuary, which are held in the museum's archives. These small drawings lead up to the execution of her painting “Bacchus #81,” a painting which (in a sense) draws strength from these initial explorations in order to “play” on a larger scale. It's illuminating to see the drawings on which this painting was based, in that we are able to plot the workings of the artist’s mind directly. Additionally, I think seeing this series opens students to the notion that abstraction is a process, a way of thinking through a visual idea: it can be a tool. 

4. Is there something you are currently working on or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?

I'm working on show that will open this coming August at {Poem88} gallery in Atlanta. The show, titled “Counterspell,” brings together a group of my paintings with a large-format installation on one of the gallery's walls. The paintings are based off of textiles – quilts, specifically – and use collage as a way to “patch” other elements and meanings into their compositions. The wall piece will bring together drawings, found objects and ceramic sculpture with the work of seven other artists whose work I greatly admire. I'm using their small-scale pieces as elements in a large work of my own making. In this way, it's a kind of collaboration. The underlying theme of the show is a desire for safety and the various means we have available to us as artists to protect ourselves from fear. If you're interested in learning more, I actually put together a website for the project that can be seen here:

5. What do you read, listen to, or look at to fuel your work?

This is always a challenging question to answer because the list could be so long and all over the place. I have a few "house gods," as I refer to them – artists whose work will always get my gears turning. Pierre Bonnard, James Whistler, Sheila Hicks and Felix Gonzales-Torres are some of my all-time favorites. But I also have rotating interests that become very important to me, depending on what kinds of projects I'm engaged in at the time. Right now I'm looking quite a bit at Gee's Bend quilts, Japanese Boro textiles, and a lot of found object sculpture. Later this summer, I hope to travel to Pasaquan, St. EOM's enormous outdoor installation in south Georgia, for some color inspiration. I also think I've played the new Slowdive and Perfume Genius records about ten thousand times in the studio this summer. 

6. What advice or words of wisdom have influenced you as an artist?

I think inspiration for new work comes most often out of the process of making itself. The last few years for me have been about allowing the unexpected events that happen in my studio to become the seedbeds for new projects. I also reflect a lot on the words of the great Patti Smith. To paraphrase: Don't worry about making things that are new. Focus on making things that are good.

"Studio Workshop: Drawing" will run Thursdays, September 7 through 28, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Artists from all backgrounds are encouraged to attend, as these museum sessions are designed to be equally engaging for enthusiastic beginners and seasoned practitioners alike. All sessions will use the museum’s collection as source material, including works not regularly on display. Participants will be introduced to brush and ink washes, ink pen, colored pencil and hard and soft graphite. The cost of the course is a $15 materials fee, which will cover all necessary supplies for the four sessions. Space is limited; call 706.542.8863 or email to register.

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