Community update with Madeleine Morris
Maddy was part of our first ever session of Summer Art Program – Art on the Farm in 2008. She is currently in her last semester studying painting and Italian at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. In addition to her visual art practice she is a prolific musician and currently in the band Weiner Apocalypse. Maddy has graciously taken time out of her busy final semester to answer a few of our questions.
CHS: How has your painting evolved over the past four year at Vassar? Do you see an evolution between the work you made at Cow House and the work you’re making now?
MM: At Vassar I have become very interested in the figure and in interior spaces. Though throughout my time here I have gone towards and away from abstraction, I consistently try to work towards visual clarity and specificity. At Cow House I was obsessed with the Irish landscape and the fairy and folktales about Ireland I was reading at the time, and I tried to mesh those in a subtle and more personal way in my paintings there. Finding a productive way to deal with strong reactions to art, learning to respond with constructive criticisms to a painting, and balancing visual and intellectual concepts were all first introduced to me at Cow House and have been critical to my time at Vassar. The Cow House was a period of amazing productivity and creativity for me—actually, Cow House is still kind of the place I look to when I hit a slump, and I often try to structure my day like a Cow House day or remember how switching between media and works can help push you to new ideas. So I still love making bigger paintings and involving myself physically in the process, but I feel now I have more control over what I’m producing.
CHS: Your thesis show includes both paintings and sculptures. Can you describe a bit about the themes you’ve been exploring?
MM: For my senior show, I have been very interested in the way the figure relates to interior space so I started making sketches of my friends in their homes and expanding that into paintings. I am very interested in the materiality of paint and trying to find new ways to use paint (thinly layered veils of color, thickly spatula-ed on shapes, etc.). I am also grappling with finding a way to include themes from books I’ve read in other classes and for pleasure, in particular the fallibility of memory with respect to the novels of Vladimir Nabokov. While painting is my preferred medium in general, I took a sculpture class last year and the way that three-dimensional work forced me to expand my thinking has had a profoundly positive impact. My sculptures tend to rely more heavily on the concept because I have much less dexterity in three-dimensions. But I really enjoy that part of sculpture—the physical involvement and the difficulty of making the thing in your hands look like the thing in your head. In the coming weeks I plan to make sculptures from paintings and paintings from sculptures, so I will have to see how that works out.
CHS: What music have you been listening to recently? Do you listen to anything while you’re in your studio? Does your interest in making music inform your visual art practice?
MM: In the studio I have had Joanna Newsom, Modest Mouse, and Elliott Smith on a non-stop rotation. Of course everything from Dr. Dre to Iron and Wine and Neutral Milk Hotel sneak in there, but for the last few months Modest Mouse consistently gets me in a good painting groove. I always know things are flowing smoothly when I start dancing and singing along while I’m painting. Making music and making art definitely have a symbiotic relationship for me. Painting especially can be a rigorous intellectual endeavor, whereas music is always more for me about expression of feeling rather than relaying a concept. But one can really help thinking about the other, so often I get music ideas in the studio and art ideas when I play music.
CHS: You’re finishing up your last semester at college. What are some aspirations you have for the coming year?
MM: I don’t totally know what I’m going to do but my goal is to always paint and make art as much as I possibly can. I want to travel around and have been seriously considering seeking out the possibilities of the west coast, though I would also really like to go to Italy (in college I have also been studying Italian) and I obviously want to go back to Ireland, the most beautiful place in the world 😉
CHS: Has there been a single class or professor at Vassar that has had a profound impact on you as an artist or individual?
MM: I have been fortunate to have met some very remarkable professors at Vassar including my painting professor and senior project adviser Peter Charlap, my Italian professors especially Simona Bondavalli, my former English professor Karen Robertson, and my adviser Gina Ruggeri. But surprisingly this professor of Russian Studies, Nikolai Firtich, has probably been my most influential professor at Vassar. He is a rigorous intellectual with a forceful sense of humor and wit, and the literature he teaches—Nabokov, Dostoevsky, and Gogol—have come to really enrich my thinking. Right now I’m taking Russian Modernism with Firtich and the books have been really engaging and profound and his analyses are on point. I always like to have a literature class with an art class because, as my painting professor Charlap put it, “Nabokov can teach you more about art than I can.”