Chroma Show // Lisa Solomon & Christine Buckton Tillman

08/07/15

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{the CHROMA installation in Baltimore}

Almost 10 years ago I met artist Lisa Solomon online. The online world was much smaller then, and I met most of my internet friends at that time on the photo sharing site Flickr. When Lisa and I met on Flickr, we quickly discovered that we both lived in the Bay Area in California, so we went rapidly from being internet friends to real life friends. Over the years we’ve collaborated on projects (even having a show together on the East Coast in 2008), traveled together, and remained close friends and confidants. Lisa is one of the artists I interviewed in Art Inc, and I admire her work greatly.

Around that time I also met Christine Buckton Tillman on Flickr and admire her work greatly as well. Lisa and Christine (who Lisa also met on Flickr 10 years ago!) have gone on to be friends and collaborators as well. Recently they collaborated on an installation called CHROMA at Gallery CA in Baltimore, Maryland that literally knocked my socks off. CHROMA “explores color theory through objects from everyday life, expressed through crowd sourced installation, drawings, and sculpture…  The installation will be a culmination of sorting, arranging and compiling the materials into an orderly, chromatically compelling piece, with the intent of elevating the viewer’s relationship with the mundane debris that we interact with on a daily basis.” I decided I had to interview Lisa and Christine about their CHROMA collaboration. It was a huge, time intensive endeavor, and the end result is really phenomenal (as the photos here show) . Without further ado, I present to you Lisa Solomon and Christine Buckton Tillman in my Interviews with People I Admire Series!

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Lisa C: Tell us about yourselves! Who are you and how did you meet?

Lisa S:  Hi, I’m Lisa. I live in Oakland, CA. I’m a mixed media artist who gravitates toward concepts of hybridity, domesticity, and issues/materials surrounding art and craft. I also am an educator, teaching at various colleges in the Bay Area, and sometimes a craft book writer/illustrator/graphic designer. Christine and I met online – I think Flickr was where we first crossed paths almost 10 years ago. We had both recently finished grad school, and we were eager to find like art minds. Back then Flickr was a great community. We would post a lot of work and get feedback. I gravitated to Christine’s work immediately. It was just so my aesthetic, the colors, the subject matter, the handmade quality of it. We joked that we should have a show together back then. We’ve always kept in touch via the various social media of the moment, and so more recently it’s been Instagram.  We are also both working mom artists [which I often don’t want to admit is its own clan, but I think in many ways it is.]

 

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{Lisa’s work on display in the gallery}

Christine: I’m Christine! I have Midwest roots but I’ve lived in Baltimore, Maryland for the past 13 years. I’m a very flat sculptor who makes mostly drawings. I also teach at The Park School of Baltimore. When I met Lisa on Flickr, I was a couple of years out of grad school  (Iowa 2002!) and missed the accountability that a large community of artists. Lisa was one of the first like minded artists I met on there. I think she was embroidering robots. I loved that the community shared not just finished work but the process too. I have really vivid memories of her early felt tanks and seeing her map drawings in her studio before the installation.  At the time I was doing a lot of work with felt too and a few years later made similar maps for these huge outdoor sculptures made to be photographed using copy paper and golf tees.

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{Christine’s work on display in the gallery}

We met in person back in 2011. I was tagging along on a trip for my husband’s project and he ended up speaking to Lisa‘s Professional Practice class at SF State. While it was short, it was great to meet in person. I was pregnant at the time, and we turned the trip into a California “babymoon.” Lisa‘s daughter is a few years older than mine, and watching her parent, teach and be an artist has helped me every step of the way. Most of my mom friends in town are not in the arts. It’s a much needed clan.

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{cross section of final CHROMA installation}

Lisa C: First, describe the concept for the CHROMA show. How did the idea for the show come to be? Tell us from the beginning how it was sparked and how it evolved.

Lisa S: I think we honestly have ALWAYS wanted to show together. Our work just seems to fit together. But Christine finally pushed us to propose a show to Gallery CA in Baltimore when they put out a call for exhibitions in 2014. It turns out I know quite a few lovely people in Baltimore so it seemed like a great idea to me. Show/Visit/Hang out: YAY!

In thinking thematically about where our work intersected it seemed that color was really an obvious starting point. We are both drawn to and utilize color in pretty specific ways in our work. I think as moms we became even more acutely aware of how toys are colored. How much plastic and general colored STUFF is in our lives. For example why are there bread ties in white, turquoise, red and blue? I’ve also been doing social practice pieces lately – asking the public for help in various ways; it’s been really rewarding and adds a different dimension to the work. So we thought HEY, why don’t we ask people to send us stuff?  Any kind of stuff – things that mostly read as one color,  junk from your drawers, discarded kids toys, etc. etc. In part I think we wanted people [and ourselves] to take notice of what surrounds us: how do we interact with color in our daily lives? And, in part, we both believe that things arranged in color can be stunningly beautiful, even bits and bobs and doodads.

In addition to the installation, we concluded that we’d both show individual pieces, but we also thought it would be SUPER fun to collaborate. Christine sent me a pile of “reject” drawings [none of which I thought were rejects], and I sent her a pile of drawings and we had at it. It was really fun to get to play with her work. I just ended up doing something really simple. I added felt and embroidery. She ended up doing some really amazing collaging and cutting up of my work. When I saw them I kept thinking, now why didn’t I think of that?!

 

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{Some of Lisa and Christine’s collaborative work}

Christine: When I first finished graduate school I taught a Color Theory class at a local community college. I asked students to make a “color collection” — collecting 100 things of different colors. I always felt that idea had more potential than what my students ended up doing. Probably because Lisa and I didn’t just simply collect, we also ordered everything, and ordering the stuff was a big deal. It took the both of us nearly two days of arranging during installation of the show. That part is super formal and complicated. Size, shape and texture all play  a role with the color. We had to think about lines, edges and small compositions within the larger composition. It’s hard stuff. We were so afraid that it would just be straight up rainbow but there’s so many transitions- pinky- oranges! dull purple-blues! A yellow and green paper corn and husk! That’s the stuff that makes it different than a new box of 8 Crayola crayons. That and the fact that it’s massive and full of thousands of things.

I was happy to have the rest of our work together too. I love how Lisa‘s doily piece and my woven piece work together. They both feature obsessive handcraft and grid structure and it’s nice to see them hang out together.

The best part of collaborating is when you do something you would never have done solo. I think for both of us it was nice to let go and work entirely with found objects. I’ve done large scale installations with found objects and overhead projectors but this is different. I can’t forget the drawings! I hadn’t see what Lisa did with my rejects till we opened them in the gallery and HOLY CATS!  There’s this great one where she cut out these Mattise-like leaf shapes that were in the back of my drawing in the colors from the shape in the foreground. I think I’ll have to keep sending Lisa my rejects!

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{Lisa installing the CHROMA show}

Lisa C: You put a call out for people to send you their colored stuff for the show. What was the experience like for you of asking and receiving people’s unwanted stuff? Did you use everything that you received? Did you get about what you needed/expected or more or less?

Lisa S: The experience was really positive. I think we both thought, OK hopefully we’ll get a couple 100 objects and we’ll manage to make it work. In the end we ended up with thousands of items. Way more than we expected. Most of the stuff came to me and I would arrange it and photograph it and give a shout out to the donor on our blog & Instagram. I was shocked at what people sent. Some beautiful vintage items. Some really personal items. Some handmade things. We got a lot more than we expected. This is the beauty of just asking. It’s amazing how people want to participate. The small installations for documentation ended up being really crucial to understanding how the larger install was going to work.

We did not end up using EVERY item we received. Mostly because we ran out of room. In some instances we just couldn’t fathom using 50 buttons of the same color [although there really are a lot of buttons up there]. And also a few things were just really tricky to figure out how to adhere to the wall; we used hot glue for most things, some pins, and poster putty – a few items like really heavy bouncy balls just would NOT stay up no matter what we did.

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Christine: We definitely ran out of room for blues and whites and a few things didn’t make it on the wall. But it was like less than 1% of the total submissions!

The bulk of my objects came from my work. I work in a K-12 school and while people sent me things by mail too the bulk of my collected objects came from the Park School community. I spoke about the show in assemblies to the Lower, Middle, and Upper School showing them pictures of Lisa‘s work and mine. You could always see the knitters (students and faculty) in the audience gasp when they saw Lisa‘s 1000 doilies! I showed them a picture of some found objects and told them I need the same kinds of stuff. I left boxes around campus and they filled up over the course of a month or so. The Lower School kids filled the box three times and while the Upper School students filled it about one and a half times I had a student give me a whole box from her house and the cast of the spring play carry up a box of hundreds of popped balloons that they had used as fireworks sounds.

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{Installation process!}

Lisa C: What was the installation like? What was the process? How long did it take? How did you decide on composition? Where there any items that were difficult of impossible to hang on the wall?

Lisa S: The installation was crazy, but good. I had organized all the stuff sent to me by color, each in it’s own garbage bag. The first day in the gallery we dumped all the colors out and started arranging them. We realized that we had enough stuff to pretty much cover the main wall in the gallery. That was exciting and daunting! The composition was sort of dictated by what we had, and how we wanted to transition from color to color. We also knew that we didn’t want to start with red. While we love rainbow order we didn’t want to strictly adhere to it. So we started with red on the right. We were SO lucky to have so many amazing helpers and scaffolding [I love scaffolding] so the process went faster and smoother than we anticipated.

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We basically decided that the best way to go about it was for Christine and I to arrange the bulk of the installation right in front of the wall on the floor. We tacked each color. We realized that we both felt that the transitions between each large area of color were incredibly important. There were certain objects that helped those transitions happen, and there were certain multi colored objects that we had to decide where they belonged. We also noticed that there were certain color combos that  kept coming up: red and green, royal blue and red. Trying to incorporate those became tricky, but also rewarding. As we worked on the floor we photographed each section and then people had a map to use as they glued to the wall. We knew that it wouldn’t be exact, but the map would help to insure that things ended up close to how we wanted.

We also wanted the composition to be organic, not a rigid square or rectangle. What we liked about all the smaller compositions [photographed as they came in] was that they had interesting borders, so we wanted to reproduce that on a grander scale.

Overall the install took 4 days – with a couple of long nights in there.

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Christine: We had tons of volunteers too! Gallery CA is in in the ground floor of the City Arts Building in the Station North Arts District in Baltimore. The top floors contain live/work spaces for artists and creatives and affordable housing for people in the neighborhood. We had lots of residents volunteering to help as well students and former students of mine, and of course friends from Instagram!

In total I think we had over 20 different people helping us so having the maps that we photographed on the floor was crucial. We learned pretty quickly due to the red section having a thermostat in the middle of it that sticking to the map made everything go much smoother. Especially when you have 8-10 volunteers sharing glue guns and working on different colored sections, some up on a high scaffold. Having a guide and being able to just get someone started as soon as they walk in was crucial.

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Lisa C: What was the most satisfying aspect of collecting and installing the show? What was the most frustrating aspect?

Lisa S: I think it was mostly really fun to collect everything. It was like Christmas every time I went to my PO box. It was also just wonderful to see how involved people got. All the notes of encouragement, the excitement for the project. It was infectious. Also hanging a show like this always feels like camp or theater, you know? You have a finite time with these people. You have to trust them. There’s a lot of time to talk and get to know someone while you are performing a repetitive task. It feels very communal and exciting – everyone working towards a singular goal. Overall there wasn’t much frustration. A couple of times during the layout process I realized a needed a break and couldn’t see straight anymore. A few times we had to re-adjust things on the wall, but otherwise I’d say it was a pretty seamless experience.

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Christine: Not much frustration at all. We should have had knee pads for that first day crawling on the floor but otherwise I thought the install went great! I loved seeing all the things come together at once. That first day was the first time we had seen everything together and it was great to see each others reaction whether it was my awe at some pink scissors or a glittery blue car or Lisa‘s amazement that we had three of these weird toy compasses.Lisa C: What was the reaction of the people at the opening of the show? What are some of the things you heard people say?

Lisa S: I would say in general the reaction was surprise and wonder [always a good reaction]. Kids LOVED it [including mine – she insisted on telling me what one special item she would treasure from each color]. There was some good gasping.  And good giggling. A lot of “I would not think to do this,” and “how much time did it take?”

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{Observers at the show’s opening}

Christine: I heard a lot of “this is so awesome!” A team of videographers making a short about the neighborhood said they got some great shots, and my friend’s 3 year old wants everyone to know that he “likes the blue car.” When you see a bunch of things all together like that it’s hard not to try to pick out your favorites. It’s overwhelming in the best possible farm auction kind of way. While it wasn’t at the opening I was pretty thrilled to see that the Mayor of Baltimore took pictures of it and Instagramed it!

Lisa C: That’s amazing! I wish I could see it in person myself. Now, I have to ask: What will you do with everything once the show comes down?

Lisa S: We are saving everything! We are doing CHROMA #2 in San Francisco next summer at Rare Device. It will be interesting to reconfigure it to fit their space. I’m already thinking about how to deal with the doorway! And the fact that we can’t lay everything out on the floor for days on end since the space has to function as a store too.

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{Christine and Lisa after the completed installation!}

Christine: It comes down on August 20th. I’m already assembling another team of volunteers ready to climb the scaffold and get everything off the wall. It all fits into about seven boxes that will live in my basement until it’s time to ship them across the country again. I love thinking about the jet set and glamorous life these objects are having.

Lisa C: Thank you so much for telling us about this amazing collaboration and for sharing all the gorgeous images of the show! I know my readers will enjoy it! If you live in Baltimore or nearby, the show is up through August 19.
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