LINDA HUTCHINS

drawings

 

Linda Hutchins is represented by
Pulliam Gallery in Portland, Oregon.

For more about the artist, see lindahutchins.com

 

 

Linda Hutchins was interviewed (via email) by Nina Zurier in March 2012.

NZ: I think we first met and talked a little at an opening at Rod Pulliam's gallery in Portland. I then saw some of your work online. When I saw some of your drawings at The Lumber Room during the installation of Interior Margins last November, I felt a very strong affinity to them, almost as if I had made them. There was the process aspect, the mirror symmetry of drawing simultaneously with both hands, and a [perhaps unintentional on your part] visual reference to dead grasses and reeds poking up out of snow and ice that I recall from growing up on an island south of Detroit. In preparation for this conversation, I took a look at the bio on your website and discovered that you are from Michigan, too! You grew up in Ann Arbor, studied Computer Engineering at U of M, and wrote operating system software for Intel before you went to art school. On your website you say "[your] work is informed by the lifelong study of textile structures, an engineering mindset, and memories of sailing out of sight of land." 

Here's the first question: how "automatic" are these drawings, in the sense of "automatic writing"? In their titles you refer to states of being: at, before, after, during. Are you trying to portray some aspect of these states?

LH: Thanks for the nice introduction, Nina. I'm very insistent that the drawings emerge through process, so that the form is inseparable from the process of its making. Drawing with both hands simultaneously is a way of capturing a direct reflection of the body in the work. I lay graphite paper over the drawing and scratch it with my fingernails. The graphite paper (similar to carbon paper) transfers my scratches to the drawing surface. It also hides the drawing from view, so I'm relinquishing a lot of control. Nevertheless, I'm still drawing with intention. When I remove the graphite paper and look at each finished drawing, I exercise value judgements that feed into how I approach the next drawing. The duration of these drawings is very short: three minutes. The titles relate those three minutes to a particular moment in my day.

NZ: Do you close your eyes when you are drawing with the silver objects to have the same state of making without seeing? 

LH: I haven't drawn with my eyes closed yet, but you're reminding me that I want to! I thought the silver wall drawings would be more like the graphite transfer drawings, since I'm drawing with both hands at once (with silver thimbles on all ten fingers). But I've had to do a lot more exploration and experimentation to get results I'm happy with on the wall - much more so than the graphite drawings, which pretty much draw themselves. So I've definitely been looking, and judging, while I'm drawing on the wall. Now that I've built up some experience with it, I'd like to try it with my eyes closed. I've been turning my attention to the sound that's made as I draw, and closing my eyes will help me focus on that non-visual element. It's very percussive, the sound of ten thimbles on the wall, and it's taking my work in the direction of performance.

NZ: Do you know Tom Marioni's drumming/drawing performances? I saw a few of them in San Francisco in the 1970s and 80s, and worked with him on a re-creation of a piece in the 90s at the Berkeley Art Museum. He used drum brushes, sometimes dipped in dry pigment, on prepared paper. They were performance events, with music (jazz) that defined the length of the piece, specific lighting (often yellow), and the audience seated facing the "stage." Sometimes the drumming sound was amplified. Are you thinking about performing the drawings for an audience? or just about the performative aspect of what seems to me to currently be a private meditative process?

LH: I've heard about Tom Marioni's drumming/drawing performances, and I would love to know more about your experience working with him to re-create them. I made the decision last year to begin revealing the private choreography behind my work, and performance is one obvious way to do that. I wasn't thinking about sound when I made that decision, but it came up right away as soon as I started performing. I've given just a few brief drawing/sound performances so far. For silver and rust, I performed on two occasions with poet Endi Bogue Hartigan: I drew on the wall in alternation with her reading her poetry. That juxtaposition highlighted how we both use repetition and rhythm in our work. Before that, I performed a graphite transfer drawing while giving a three-minute talk to a group of artists. In fact, that's what inspired the three-minute time limit I've imposed on these drawings. People commented on the sound element then, though it's much more subtle than the thimbles on the wall. I've been aware of the element of sound in the making of my work ever since I began typewriting in 2003; I just didn't focus on it or share it until now.

NZ: For Tom's performance at Berkeley I was graphic designer and stage manager, not anything really significant. I also worked on the installation of a show of his in 1977 at the de Young Museum—putting up sheetrock and building some slanted shelves to display the drawings. I was just out of school and working as a preparator, which is a really great way to meet artists.  You mention repetition and rhythm, and that you are working within a finite structure— the time limit you set. These are also elements that are integral to textiles. We are mostly talking about the drawings here, but could you talk a little about their relationship—if there is one— to your work in textiles? And I am also thinking there is something similar in writing software.

LH: A really basic structure that's inherent in weaving (though not in all textiles) is its linear progression from one end to the other. I've used that structure for years in my India ink drawings: progressing from top to bottom, or from the midline out, or from the top and bottom edges in to the midline. Although I'm now departing from that linearity, the time limit imposes a similar structure on the graphite transfer drawings. They still follow a process that has a clear beginning and end, and when I get to the end, the drawing is done. I may alter the process and execute it again (in the next drawing), but I don't go back and rework a drawing that's run its course. That iterative process is very much like refining a weaving draft, and also, as you suggest, like debugging software.

NZ: The black lines from the graphite transfer paper and the gray from the silver spoons are both intrinsic, inherent, elemental--there is a "truth to materials" that is both Minimalist and Arte Povera. Have you used other materials that give color? or colored grounds?

LH: Ever since I gave up weaving, my ideas seem to come to me in black and white, or in terms that don't require color, so color feels extraneous. But the idea of inherent color is very attractive to me, as you've noticed. The last real color in my work (years ago) was the found yellow and red of CAUTION and DANGER barricade tape that I stapled and wove directly on the wall. There's just a hint of color in the honey colored tracing paper I used when I was typewriting - again, a found, intrinsic color. When I was weaving, I favored a particular cotton seine twine that was only available in a very limited set of colors. Perhaps the limitation of found or inherent color is another aspect of arriving at form through process.

NZ: Process art generally focuses more on the intention and the performative aspects rather than a final product. Do you find any difference in how you approach the work on paper as compared to the wall drawings?

LH: I did have a different mindset in both of my recent wall drawings, and I think it might be opposite to what you're suggesting. I approached them more intuitively as compositions that might be finished at any moment, and less as processes to be carried out from start to finish. I suspect this difference has to do with the very public nature of wall drawing. I can't hide an unsatisfactory result in the same way I can if I'm drawing on paper in my studio, so I succumbed to my desire to exert more control and exercise more judgement throughout the creation of the work.

Your question gets at why I don't think of my work as Process Art, even though process is central to everything I do. I'm never quite willing to set a process in motion and accept the outcome without exercising judgements as I'm carrying out the process. I use process to impose structure; then, within the limits of that structure, my moment-to-moment focus directs the outcome. I look for a balance between predetermination and in-the-moment control, and I have an innate sense for when that balance is right. If it leans too far in either direction, I'm not satisfied with the final product. One of my motivations in performing is to shift that balance and relinquish a little more control. Performing itself demands a certain focus that is then not available to me in the drawing process. The performance situation becomes part of the process, another limitation within which I'm working. There's a contradiction between wanting more control because performance is so public, and having to give up control because my body and brain simply don't work the same for an audience as alone in my studio. Perhaps in the same way that I've devised processes to register my focus, I'm using performance as a process to register the faltering of my focus. But I can see that by relaxing the limitations of the process and increasing my critical role while carrying it out, I seem to be right back in the comfort zone.