Tuesday, September 30, 2008

SO Good Interviews Stephen Niccolls

Painter Stephen Niccolls is visiting Chester College of New England today, Tuesday, September 30, and will give a lecture at 2:30 in the Wadleigh Library conference room. His visit is part of the Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series.

SO Good: When did you begin creating art, and what inspired you to do so?

Stephen Niccolls: They say I started young. I have no evidence for this, but I'm told I was drawing on my own when I was three years old. Making images with my hands has been a lifelong habit. I was doing it before I was aware of "famous artists". I love it.

How do you go from a family of ranchers to artist?

Niccolls: My grandparents were in the ranching business. My grandfather on my mother's side was a true cowboy. He chose that life because it was what he loved, and he chose it over the objection of his elders. He went off on his own while still quite young.

When the time came for me to make a decision about my life, I chose art. This was not encouraged by my elders. I suppose they were thinking of the "tragic lives" of artists they'd heard of, like Vincent Van Gogh. So I went off on my own.

You could say that I was inspired by my grandfather, even though the life I have chosen is so different from his.

SG: You were raised in Texas and currently reside in Upstate New York. Has where you're located affected your creative process?

Niccolls: There is no question that location makes a difference...especially in this case. My current proximity to New York City means that I have access to all kinds of resources that are not available in Texas, or anywhere else. I'm sure Texans would squawk loudly if they heard me saying it. But it is hard to work the way I do in a vacuum. Every artist needs a receptive audience. That's more likely to happen here, where I am now. I have had some positive feedback since I've been here...and it has encouraged me to keep pushing the work forward.

SG: You studied at both the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and University of Massachusetts at Amherst. How was your time in those institutions?

Niccolls: School has been a mixed bag for me. The Museum School was a real crucible, since it demanded serious responsibility of its students. Students essentially had to craft their own curriculum. I'm not sure if it is still that way there. A few of the teachers there were incredibly powerful influences for me.

UMass is a University, so the dynamic is quite different from an art school. I was there mostly to work on BFA & MFA degrees, since I had not done any academic course work at the Museum School--but I also made a lot of paintings there. At the time, there were some great teachers at UMass (in several different disciplines) who helped me more than I can say.

Have you enjoyed your time as a professor at Marist College?

Niccolls: It's probably the nicest place I've worked since I started teaching. By this I mean that the professional academic environment is healthier than most others. I feel that I am well treated. There is a sense of mutual respect among the faculty...which is rarer than you might expect. The students are from a broad range of backgrounds, so that makes it very interesting, too. The Marist Art Department is about to expand, I'm told, so I am happy to be a part of that.

In addition to painting, you're also a photographer. Do you approach photography the same way you do painting?

Niccolls: My efforts in photography are just another way of studying the visual world. I don't consider photography to be the same kind of thing as my process in drawing and painting. It's much more immediate, obviously...it is hard to explain what makes me choose a particular subject to photograph--except that it is always something that I find interesting. Sometimes the photography feeds the painting, and sometimes it's the other way around.

Are there any contemporary artists you're a fan of?

Well, the list is long. Here are a few:

Amy Sillman
Albert Oehlen
Per Kirkeby
Squeak Carnwath
Fay Jones
Kerry James Marshall
Thomas Nozkowski
William Flynn

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kathleen Campbell Encourages Students to Use Inspiration

by Leah Guilmette '09

On September 16, Chester College welcomed photographer and mixed media artist, Kathleen Campbell for its Visiting Artist Symposium. Campbell, one of the first artists of the semester, was greeted in the Wadleigh conference room by a crowd so large that even after pulling in chairs from other areas of the library, several went without seats as she gave her lecture.
Campbell opened her lecture with work from the teachers who inspired her then moved on to her own works in chronological order from her time at both the University of Florida, Gainesville and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

When discussing her work, Campbell said, “I never thought of making a straight photograph. I always thought a photograph was something you did and then did something else to it,” which explains why her photography usually incorporates other mediums. Campbell “always wanted to be one of those people who could do something simple and elegant with string or something,” but said she was never able to because “everything takes me forever." 

“All these people were rediscovering processes,” Campbell said of her time in school, “processes that had been looked down upon by the modernists. Through the 60s and 70s people were doing things like mostly breaking all the rules.”

Campbell's lecture was full of personal experiences and lessons she had learned while she was growing as an artist. To the students she said, “If you have to learn something you don't want to learn, it is going to be good for you.” While in school she struggled to meet her teachers’ expectations at the University of New Mexico. “The teachers asked me what my work meant to other people,” she said. “They said I needed to make it more generalizable so others could enter it.” The teachers had wanted more meaning in her work so as a response Campbell made what she called "The Meaning of Life," in which everything she used had it's own meaning. “They didn't really like it and neither did I,” she said.

At one point Campbell had to sit down with her work and look at them in order, look at them apart and take it all in while she was in grad school. “You find you sort of have a dialog with your pieces,” and she found that “all this religious imagery kept coming up.” She credits her parents for sending her to Sunday school too many times.

Campbell said that when you begin work, like hers on her "Angel Series" or "Photographs of Widely-Known Non-Existent Beings," “you start and hope for the best.” She soon realized that what she was doing was “making things that inspire her.” Before she closed her lecture she had some more advice for students and artists. “Whatever is you, whatever is inspiring you, that is your insides, that is your gut, is going to come out in your images just like it comes out in your handwriting or your stories or anything else,” she said. “It comes right out of you and you don't have to find your style or find your topic. It is going to find you. All you have to do is listen to that little voice that keeps bringing stuff up for you.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Can't Write an Essay? The Student Success Center Can Help

Basic Essay Structure will be an open seminar for everyone interested in learning how to craft a quick, low-stress essay that is easy to write and easy to read. Basic Essay Structure will cover the Pyramid Style of essay writing, providing students with a method for writing essays that are structured to get the point across without going off on tangents while allowing the student room to expand the details in order to reach higher page counts. The Pyramid Style is also very useful during test essays. The seminar will be in the Student Success Center on Tuesday, September 30 at 4:30 PM.

Painter Stephen Niccolls to Visit Chester

Chester College of New England will welcome painter Stephen Niccolls to campus on Tuesday, September 30 as part of its 2008 Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series. He will give a free public lecture in the Wadleigh Library conference room at 2:30 p.m.
Niccolls was born in Texas in 1949, to a family of ranchers. He studied and practiced forms of visual art early in life, but began formal training in the 1970s, at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In 1997 he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Since that time he has exhibited his paintings in a variety of settings around the United States. He has taught art courses in Massachusetts, France, Minnesota, and New York. Niccolls currently lives in Kingston, New York and teaches at Marist College in nearby Poughkeepsie. He is represented by the Carl Van Brunt Gallery in Beacon, New York.
The Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series features guest speakers throughout the fall semester. Lectures are held at 2:30 on Tuesdays in the Wadleigh Library conference room. After the public session, the artists will be available to the students formally registered in the College's Visiting Artist Symposium (Course #IDS.301). The Fall 2008 series is coordinated by Darrell Matsumoto, Chair of the Department of Photography/Media Arts and Design.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SO Good Interviews Sheri Wills

Experimental film maker Sheri Wills is visiting the Chester College campus Tuesday, September 23 as part of the 2008 Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series. She will give a free public lecture in the Wadleigh Conference Room at 2:30.

SO Good: Can you walk us through your process? How do you bring an idea from concept to finished film?

Sheri Wills: I generally start a new project by gathering materials to make photograms, (cameraless images on film). Sometimes I'll go out looking for things, other times I might just sweep the floor and use whatever winds up in the dustpan.

Once I get the processed film back from the lab, (I work on all film formats, from 4x5 to 16mm movie film), I'll spend some time looking at it and thinking through different ideas.

At that point I usually scan the photograms, and start working with the imagery in AfterEffects, or sometimes I'll re-photograph them onto 16mm film. Other times I've played with them using ancient analogue video effects. What ever it takes to start bringing them to life.

Then I edit the piece and create sound, or turn it into an installation with multiple projections, or I've been doing a lot of live video lately – so I might cut it up into shorter clips for a performance.

SG: Much of your work has a strong basis in music and poetry. Are you a musician or poet yourself?

Wills: Like many people, I am really inspired by music, and I love to perform. I am a pretty poor musician, actually, but I'm a great listener. Which I think is just as important in a lot of ways.

SG: How does your creative process change when you are working on a collaborative project?

Wills: Actually, it really doesn't change it very much at all. Perhaps because our roles are necessarily clearly defined, (video artist & composer, for example).

I do find it tends to expand my notions of what my work is, or what it can be – because I'm working so closely with people from different disciplines, whose work I really respect – and they often see things that really surprise me.

And it expands the scope of the projects I am working on – more people can work on bigger projects.

SG: Do you see yourself as a director or as an artist who uses the medium of film? Do you even think there is a difference? Would you say your work is best experienced in a movie setting or gallery setting?

Wills: I think there is definitely a difference between a video artist and a director – although there are people who blur that difference in wonderful ways.

Personally, I've always thought of myself as an artist. If I weren't working in film and video, I'd probably be painting. My work makes much more sense in a gallery setting, than in a movie theater – and bears little relationship to cinema history, but situates itself in an art historical context.

SG: How do you think the recent rise in popularity of independent film and art house films has changed how the general public views experimental film makers? Do you think it has opened doors for experimental film makers or made what they do seem less avant garde?

Wills: I think the attention independent films currently get is great! No longer does a person necessarily need a major studio to get their work shown, which is wonderful.

I think experimental film still falls well outside what most people have access to seeing, so I'm not sure the rise of indy film has really had much effect on experimental film – it's still quite an oddity and difficult to place. Which is, of course, part of its charm.

SG: Is there a certain period of time you would consider the 'golden age' of experimental film and how do the films of that time period differ from the films being created today?

Wills: The 1920s were a "golden age" of avant-garde cinema in Europe and the USSR. The 1960s and '70s were probably the peak in the US.

Today access to equipment really opens up opportunities for people to make work, which is exciting. Personally, I think everyday technology, in the right hands, has great expressive potential. I love showing my work on an iPod or making a little film with my phone. In that way, it's really similar to excitement artists in the 1960s must have felt, using Super8 film.

SG: Who are some of your influences?

Wills: Standish Lawder was my first film teacher, and a huge influence. Maya Deren is still a great inspiration, as are Robert Irwin, Louise Bourgeois, and Joseph Cornell. When I want to feel inspired to reach beyond perceived limits, I listen to Bach...talk about avant-garde!

I am also a big fan of Tara Donovan's sculptures. She's having a major show at the Boston ICA this fall, which I would encourage everyone to go see!

SG: What film makers or books about film would you suggest to people who want to learn more about the genre?

Wills: There is a small, British press that specializes in film – called Wallflower Press. All of their books are excellent, and the one they have on experimental film is a wonderful introduction: Avant-Garde Film: Forms, Themes and Passions, Michael O'Pray, Wallflower Press, 2003

Also, Criterion made a really amazing DVD of Stan Brakhage's films that everyone who is remotely interested in film as an art form should have on their shelf. It's a two-DVD set, beautifully re-mastered, with lots of interviews and such....and it's priced at around $30! Incredible. It's called "by brakhage."

SG: How did you get your start in film and what advice do you have for emerging artists?

Wills: I was interested in writing, and simply took an art history class as diversion. The class, (taught by Standish Lawder), focused on European Modernism, and we watched a lot of avant-garde films in that class. That was it – I was hooked.

My advice: Look for your passions, actively seek them out. And when you find them, never let them go. It's the most practical advice in the world, really.

For more information on Sheri Wills, and to view her videos, performances, and installations, visit her website www.SheriWills.com

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Visiting Artist Brings Sights and Sounds

Chester College of New England will welcome experimental filmmaker Shari Wills to campus on Tuesday, September 23 as part of its 2008 Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series. She will give a free public lecture in the Wadleigh Library conference room at 2:30 p.m.
Wills is an artist whose work is based in film, video performance and digital media. Her work has been exhibited around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the London Film Festival and the International Film Festival in Rotterdam and is featured in the Rizzoli book, Sonic Graphics: Seeing Sound, by Matt Woolman. She has had one-person screenings at the Director’s Lounge in Berlin, the Robert(a) Beck Memorial Cinema in NYC, and the Telluride International Film Exposition. She holds an MFA in filmmaking & an MA in art history, theory & criticism, both from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her collaborations include video projects with music composed by Bright Sheng, Jan Jir├ísek, Lyn Goeringer and Ofer Ben-Amots and video performances with music ensembles, including the Providence String Quartet, Luna Nova, and Ensemble QAT in Montreal. She lives in New York City.

The Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series features guest speakers throughout the fall semester. Lectures are held at 2:30 on Tuesdays in the Wadleigh Library conference room. After the public session, the artists will be available to the students formally registered in the College's Visiting Artist Symposium (Course #IDS.301). The Fall 2008 series is coordinated by Darrell Matsumoto, Chair of the Department of Photography/Media Arts and Design.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chester College Continues Visiting Artist Series

Chester College of New England will welcome photographer Kathleen Campbell to campus on Tuesday, September 16 as part of its 2008 Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series. Campbell will give a free public lecture in the Wadleigh Library conference room at 2:30 p.m.

Campbell is an artist, teacher, and writer. Her interests lie both in the visual arts and in art history and criticism. Her work in photography and mixed media has been exhibited widely at such places as Soho Photo Gallery, NYC, The Philadelphia Print Center, the Schneider Gallery, Chicago, Houston Foto Fest, the Houston Center for Photography, CEPA Gallery, the Asheville Museum, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. She has published reviews and critical/historical articles on photography in a number of journals, including exposure, the San Francisco Camerawork Quarterly, the CEPA Journal and Photo Metro. Her work is in the collections of the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY, the Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, NC, the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe and other venues. In 1998 she was awarded a Visual Artist's Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. She is currently a Professor of Art at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC.

The Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series features guest speaker throughout the fall semester. Lectures are held at 2:30 on Tuesdays in the Wadleigh Library conference room. After the public session, the artists will be available to the students formally registered in the College's Visiting Artist Symposium (Course #IDS.301). The Fall 2008 series is coordinated by Darrell Matsumoto, Chair of the Department of Photography/Media Arts and Design.

Monday, September 8, 2008

SO Good Interviews Kevin Keck

Memoirist Kevin Keck will visit campus Tuesday, Sept. 9. He will give a lecture at 2:30 and read some of his new work at 6 p.m. in Powers 29. Both events are free and open to the public.

Keck has published two memoirs Oedipus Wrecked and Are You There God? It's me Kevin. SO Good sat down with Kevin to ask him some questions.

SO Good:
Your book Oedipus Wrecked was originally a series of essays on Nerve.com. How difficult was it to publish through Nerve?

Kevin Keck:
I got lucky. I found an editor with a sympathetic ear who was willing to help me craft the first essay I published there (which had been sitting around for three years prior to that). After that, it was pretty easy, because I felt like I had the form down.

Do you find it hard to censor yourself in your writing either because of family concerns or personal feelings?

I try not to censor myself, but obviously, if someone is still alive and I have to deal with them, I'd be a liar if I said it didn't impact me in some capacity. I try not to misrepresent others, but I'm pretty honest about my own actions.

Is it difficult for you to write publicly about such personal matters?

No, I think there's not enough writers who accurately account for the intimate minutiae of existence. I actually feel I have an obligation to record every aspect of existence so that people now and in the future can perhaps have some sense that their experience of living is one that is shared and transcends time.

Was any member of your family concerned about Oedipus Wrecked--that you would be sharing too much?

I don't think we really talked about it. I didn't really talk to them about my work until that book, because then I had no choice.


How much time do you spend revising your work?


It depends. Magazine/web pieces usually get written right before the deadline. I tend to draft in my head, then just sit down and write in a frenzy. But where Oedipus Wrecked was concerned, I spent years reworking those essays. They're a lot tighter than how they were originally printed. For the latest book, Are You There God? It's Me. Kevin., I wrote it in six weeks. That was somewhat purposeful, as I wanted to capture a certain immediacy of emotional experience. I revised it once, over two or three days, but that was it. I wanted the prose to have a loose, meandering, raw feel.

When meeting someone who has read your books is their a moment of awkwardness that happens since your stories are so personal?


I really don't think about it unless they bring something up. I have a great capacity for forgetting what I've written, so it doesn't cross my mind until later when I think, "Oh, that person has read a very graphic account of me losing my virginity, and we just spoke about the weather for five minutes."


How much of your memoirs are truth and embellished truth?

They are all true for the most part, but I'm not a journalist--my job is to tell a good story. I do adjust time lines when it's necessary to place two events closer together for narrative purposes. And when I do embellish, I try to give my readers textual clues. Often the more fantastical things happen in my books when the narrator version of me is in an altered state of being, or I will allude to some piece of literature that should clue the reader into the fact that things may not be as accurate as they seem. If a reader gets that, great; if not, oh well.


In Wrecked the image of you masturbating on your knees seems to have religious connotations. How much does religion play into sexuality in your writing?


Well, I am obsessed about death. I'm not pleased about the fact that we are finite beings, but what can I do? Have sex and hope there's a God and a Heaven, that's about it, so I would say that all of my writing is about religion and sexuality in some way.

What can we expect next from the Keck?


I've been wondering about that myself. I have a novel done, but I want to release it as a serialized piece in a periodical, or as some sort of digital book you can print at home. It's too easy for novels to get swallowed in the ocean of books these days, and I want to do something different. Other than that, I've got two books of non-fiction sketched out that are purely to please my agent and make money. I don't like to admit that, but the reality of being a working writer with three children is that sometimes you have to write some commercial, soul-sucking tripe. But I can assure you: it will be well-written, funny, soul-sucking tripe.

What advice would you give to young writers trying to get their name out?


Go into investment banking. Seriously. This is a lonely profession, and the odds favor misery over success. But if someone wishes to ignore my advice, then I would say this: writing a job; treat it like a job. Be disciplined about it. But writing is also a mysterious process, so be reverent about its mysteries. If you work hard, if you read the kind of work you want to write, then success will follow. Also, get an agent. The publishing business is still part of the entertainment industry, and if you want to be a choice cut of meat, you need a good butcher.

For information about Kevin Keck, visit his website at www.thekeck.com or his blog kevinkeck.wordpress.com.