Meet the Artist in Residence: Zoey Murphy Houser

Zoey Murphy Houser is one of the current artists in residence at Main Street Arts.  She will be working out of one of the studio spaces during the month of March. We asked Zoey a couple questions about her work and studio practice.

Zoey with her Patchwork Animals

Zoey with her Patchwork Animals


Q: Tell us about your background:

I was raised (and still live) in a village called Newark in the Finger Lakes, about 12 minutes from Main Street Arts. My mom gave me an art easel and Legos as my first toys as a kid — she has a picture of me painting when I was two, and she says she knew I was an artist by then. Throughout my high school years my main mediums were drawing, painting, and photography, however my preferred medium became clay while attending Alfred University, where I obtained my BFA with a minor in art history.

Zoey painting at age 2

Zoey painting at age two

I’m currently teaching art part-time and volunteering at Bridges for Brain Injury where I’m the art project head. I’m also volunteering alongside Wildlife Defenders where I help handle and take care of various animals including a wallaby, a dingo, ring-tailed lemurs, a lynx, a red fox, and a coyote.

Zoey with Cash the Lynx

Zoey with Cash the lynx


Q: How would you describe your work? 
My preferred medium is clay. I love the tactility of creating with a medium that I can handle with my hands without always having a tool as a mediator. Currently I am working on what I call “Patchwork Animals,” inspired by my childhood collection of well-loved stuffed animals which instilled in me a love for the real-life creatures they represented. I am equally inspired by images of animals I encounter — a dog wearing a lion’s mane, a seal snuggling a small stuffed animal seal, a hedgehog with a strawberry on its head, baby bats wrapped in blankets, my own dog carrying a mini tire around her nose… peculiar creatures doing absurdly-adorable things make me surge with creative energy (and cute aggression).

Zoey with her Patchwork Elephant

Zoey with her Patchwork Elephant


Q: What is your process for creating a work of art?
I have a stash of animal images and videos I reference to sketch and get inspired by. When I begin my sculptures I’ll occasionally have a quick sketch or detailed drawing of what I want to create but this isn’t always the case. Usually I focus first on the clay body in front of me, trusting my hands to build what I am consciously and unconsciously creating. Molding, pressing and “stitching” each clay animal together results in the form taking on a life of its own.

Lemur Patchwork Animal Drawing

Lemur patchwork animal drawing


Q: What are your goals for this residency?
My goal is to create multiple patchwork animal sculptures that tap into playful oddity. I intend to expand upon various aspects of my animals: their size, texture, color, how they interact with one another, and how those interactions impact the viewer. I want to experiment with their postures and expressions to accentuate their life-like existence while also provoking the viewer to reminisce on the innocence of childhood.

Q: Do you collect anything?
Whenever I go on an adventure (whether that be out of the country, out of state, out of town, or simply out of my house), I tend to find and press flowers to later stick into handmade books. I also collect stones, seashells, sea and lake glass, sand and dirt, and little bones when I can find them. The idea of “collections” is one of the four roots that feed my art forms.

Pressed Flower from Brasil

Pressed flower from Brazil

Pressed flower from Brazil

Pressed flower from Brazil

Pressed flower from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Pressed flower from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Q: Who is your favorite artist?
Vincent Van Gogh has always been my favorite artist; I resonate with his paintings – his urgency to lay down paint, his shameless textures and colors used to express his inner soul, and the whimsical, dream-like state he was able to communicate through his work instilled in me an indescribable connection.

My other favorite artist is Keith Schneider, whose assemblage-characters have given me ideas on how to patch my own sculptures together.

Q: Who inspires you?
LAIKA Productions has fascinated me for years. Their movie Coraline has had a huge impact on my work – the dolls, the parallel “other” world and its peculiar essence, the color scheme throughout the movie, the music… everything about it inspires me. I keep a copy of it in my studio – I’ll often have it playing while I’m working.

A Woven Paradox, BFA Thesis Exhibition

A Woven Paradox, BFA Thesis Exhibition

Q: What advice would you give to other artists?
Van Gogh has a quote that I live, breathe, and create by: “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much, performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”

This ties into the modern Greek word “meraki,” which is the soul, creativity, or love put into something; the essence of yourself that is put into your work.

Essentially: your best work is done in love.

Q: What was your experience like at art school?
I was perpetually inspired by classmates and grad students at Alfred University. Much of my BFA thesis exhibition, A Woven Paradox, was based off of my friends – their mannerisms and outfits were so wonderfully strange, I just had to make sculptures to honor them.

Val and Steph, Ceramic Sculptures

Val and Steph, Ceramic Sculptures

Q: What is the most useful tool in your studio?
Art school taught me that my most useful tool is myself. Other necessities include (and not limited to): friends that make you laugh (and stay sane), a sign that reads: “remember to eat!” and coffee. Lots of coffee.

Zoey in Freshman Year Foundations

Zoey in freshman year foundations

Q: What’s next for you?
I have fluttering ideas, but no solid plans. My usual approach of winging it always brings me to a neat place! Something tells me I’ll end up outside of the country eventually, but who knows. If you want to follow my journey, you can follow me on social medias (below).

Zoey in Brasília, Brasil

Zoey in Brasília, Brazil


Q: Where else can we find you?
website: http://www.zoeymurphyhouser.com/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zoeymurphyhouserstudio/
instagram: @zozo_studio and @zozomurph

 

 

Inside the artist’s studio with Harry Littell

Exploring near Horseheads. Photo by Roger Freeman

Exploring near Horseheads. Photo by Roger Freeman

I live in Ithaca, NY, where I’m a teacher (Tompkins Cortland Community College) and fine art photographer. I think of my studio broadly as the upstate New York region. A sense of place is important in my work.

House with asphalt shingles and vinyl siding, Union Springs, 2016

House with asphalt shingles and vinyl siding, Union Springs, 2016

In 2016 I began a collaborative project with friend and writer Ron Ostman to explore the upstate cultural landscape including houses, schools, businesses, industries, theaters, signs, thrift stores, and places of worship.  The unadorned vernacular architecture of the old farm house above attracted me with the mundane beauty of its simple lines and patterns.

Rhinehart Sand and Gravel, Corning,2017

Rhinehart Sand and Gravel, Corning, 2017

We strove for a  focused aimlessness in our weekly treks. We had no fixed destination. The key was to stop. Often. A main interest became sites that reflect the flux of the built environment. We saw evidence of industries in decline or completely gone. The hulking rusted machinery at a gravel mining operation near Corning is a reminder of a different era.

Cayuga Milk Ingredients plant, Aurora, 2017

Cayuga Milk Ingredients plant, Auburn, 2017

We also saw new industry. The  Cayuga Milk Ingredients plant near Auburn is a high tech milk processing plant serving a collective of dairy farmers, its pristine facade rising above the surrounding agricultural land.

Petrified Creatures Museum, Richfield Springs

Petrified Creatures Museum, Richfield Springs, 2017

I keep my photo technique simple. For this project I used a full frame mirrorless digital camera and two manual focus prime lenses, a 35mm and a 50mm. Some of the artists I look to for inspiration include Walker Evans, Edward Hopper, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, Lee Friedlander, and Thomas Struth.

Elmira/Horseheads contact sheet

Elmira/Horseheads contact sheet

Double page spread

Double page spread

Towards the end of 2017 I began to put the project into book form.

InDesign layout in progress

InDesign layout in progress

I use InDesign to combine photographs and text. It’s challenging and fun to find visual and thematic connections between images. The screen grab above shows a glimpse of the process involved in finding a pair of images for a double-page spread. Images that don’t make the cut live in the limbo of the pasteboard outside the page layout. Ron wrote an introduction about our process and an afterward with thoughts on the state of upstate.

Storefronts

Storefronts

The shop signs in the photos above provided an idea for the title of the book, as seen in the cover image below.

Cover, UNROOM: New 2 U

Cover, UNROOM: New 2 U

I used MagCloud, a print on demand publisher, to print UNROOM: New 2 U.  Signed copies are available at Main Street Arts. The book can also be purchased directly from MagCloud.

Printing and framing

Printing and framing

I print and frame exhibition prints in my office at home. Here are two images being prepared for the exhibit at Main Street Arts. A big thanks to Brad for his interest in this project!

Dundee storefront

Dundee storefront, 2017

Ron and I are continuing to work on two offshoots from this project. One is a series of photographs of storefronts,  such as the above second-hand store in Dundee.

Robinson's Wood Shop, Cortland

Robinson’s Wood Shop, Cortland, 2017

Another is a series about upstate New York people and their stories, such as this environmental portrait of Steve Robinson at his wood mill in Cortland.

Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers

Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers

Ron and I have collaborated on a number of books about historical photographers, the most recent of which is Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers: The Photographic Legacy of William T. Clarke, published by Penn State University Press in fall 2016. For more about this project see the New York Times Lens Blog.


See 12 of Harry Littell’s photographs in Unknown, Overlooked, and Unfamiliar at Main Street Arts on display through Friday, March 30, 2018. The exhibition can also be viewed on the gallery’s Artsy page: Artsy.net/mainstreetarts.

From The Director: Art From a Dream State

Similar to the four artists included in this exhibition, I also make artwork that floats in the realm of dreams and a questioning of reality. Many of the exhibitions that we have here (selfishly) relate to my own studio practice or ideas that I am personally interested in and it is because I find these things so interesting that I choose to share them with you through our exhibition programming.

Installation shot from Dream State (pictured: "Isle of Wight" by Lin Price and "The Dream" by Carrianne Hendrickson)

Installation shot from the exhibition (pictured: “Isle of Wight” by Lin Price and “The Dream” by Carrianne Hendrickson)

The notion of the dream state is a never ending source of inspiration and it can be both the object and the subject of an artwork. We rarely give ourselves the opportunity to let our dreams inform our waking life but much can be gained by doing so. Our subconscious mind is often holding the answers to questions that we have been asking ourselves. It is able to offer a glimpse into a personal truth or a hint at finding some kind of greater understanding. The goal in engaging with your dreams, at least for me, is to build a stronger connection between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. The closer in proximity these two can be, the closer we are to realizing the benefits of dreaming.

Dream State, installation shot

“Dream State”, installation shot

The idea for this exhibition came after a studio visit with Lin Price in Ithaca. I was drawn in to her work when I first saw it in a solo exhibition at Axom Gallery two years ago. When I was talking to her about the prospect of being in an exhibition, I began to think about the sculptures of Carrianne Hendrickson—we had recently begun showing several of Carrianne’s figurative pieces in our gallery shop. Lin had one painting in particular that reminded me of a specific piece I had seen by Carrianne. It was one of the paintings shown in the exhibition at Axom Gallery.

These two pieces in particular (one of Lin’s and one of Carrianne’s) are the reason this show came together. Left: She Only Flies at Nite by Lin Price / Right: Sculptural teapot by Carrianne Hendrickson

While they are not included in the exhibition, these two pieces in particular are the reason this show came together. Left: She Only Flies at Nite by Lin Price / Right: Sculptural teapot by Carrianne Hendrickson

The moment I realized that these two artists in particular belonged in a show together was like a revelation. Two people who probably wouldn’t be in an exhibition together but desperately needed to be! One working in oil paint the other in clay, yet both traveling along the same cerebral path.

From my studio visit with Lin Price in Ithaca, NY

From my studio visit with Lin Price in Ithaca, NY

Lin’s work was a perfect fit for an exhibition called “Dream State”. Her paintings often feature a human figure engaging in some sort of mysterious activity in a nondescript environment. The colorful fields and atmospheres lend themselves to the notion of a dream or at least to a time and place that may not actually exist. Other of her paintings that do not include a figure still somehow evoke that same feeling. A feeling that something might happen or is happening just around the corner, out of frame and out of sight.

Sculptural vessels by Carrianne Hendrickson in the Dream State exhibition

Sculptural vessels by Carrianne Hendrickson in the Dream State exhibition

Carrianne’s sculptures are often layered in symbolism. Sometimes referencing known stories, other times referencing the inner world of the artist herself. To me, they often seem to suggest the moment of realization that things are not quite right. The idea that perhaps, I am sleeping and the world I am currently experiencing is in fact a dream. Examples from pieces in the exhibition include: blank stares from eyes whose head is balancing a bird’s nest, the closed eyes of a dreamer covered in snakes on a yellow striped couch, and the existence of goblins or human/animal hybrids.

Once Lin and Carrianne were secured for inclusion, I then set my sights on finding other artists to bring in to the exhibition and make it more comprehensive.

Left: From my studio visit with Matt Duquette in Buffalo, NY; Right: "The Space In Between" by Matt Duquette

Left: From my studio visit with Matt Duquette in Buffalo, NY; Right: “The Space In Between” by Matt Duquette

I was drawn in by his paintings of chickens. They have an otherworldly feeling to them but are still so relatable because of their subject matter. The paintings of Matt Duquette are often based on dreams and at least one painting in this exhibition was based on a guided meditation session.  Each of the paintings in the exhibition have the same cool, dark color palette. The atmospheric quality of these paintings presents us with situations and we have no idea how we got there. For the most part, there is no other point of reference, just a blue/black void and a light source to accompany the owls and human figures. I get the feeling that these scenes or visions are plucked right from a dream. They tell us something but that “something” is veiled and different for each of us.

Bill Finger's work from the alumni exhibition at RIT

Bill Finger’s work from the alumni exhibition at Rochester Institute of Technology

I saw some of Bill Finger’s photographic triptychs in circular mats at RIT in October of 2016 and was an instant fan. His photographs are a constructed reality running in tandem with the one we live. Whether based on actual places or totally made up, these images have a feeling like trying to recall a dream. You can remember the place and where things were but something seems off. Each of his photographs chosen for this exhibition keep us in an augmented reality where we are unsure what is possible or impossible.

Desert House (Night), a photograph by Bill Finger

Desert House (Night), a photograph by Bill Finger

Imagery that relates to a house or home comes into play throughout this exhibition. Houses, room interiors, nests, these are all familiar images and are all references to places of comfort which are needed to be engaged in sleep. These places become a jumping off point to engage in something that might be unfamiliar or at times, disconcerting. While we have no say in the matter of sleeping, some of us have the ability to recall and consider our dreams. Perhaps not in the way of figuring out the meaning of the dream itself, but to see how the dream may relate to things transpiring in our everyday lives. My hope is that this exhibition can serve as a reminder of how important it is to dream and that we all might begin to look inward in an effort to gain a greater understanding of who we are and how we relate to the world. I know it has for me.


See Dream State at Main Street Arts through this Friday, February 16, 2018. You can also preview some of the work on Artsy: Artsy.net/mainstreetarts.