In this interview, Rosemarie Fiore discusses art as a supportive culture.
Rosemarie, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I want to open by asking: what stage in your career would you consider yourself?
Thank you for your questions. I am an established mid-career artist.
What do you feel places you in the stage of “mid-career?”
I consider myself in my mid-career because I've had solo exhibitions at museums, have received prominent grants and fellowships, and have been written about in major publications. Artists usually consider themselves in the established category once their work goes up for auction at Sotheby's.
You obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s in art. Would you walk me through what those first few years were like after school?
I see those first few years of finding my way as an artist after graduate school as being squeezed in between important career-changing residencies. These residencies solidified the direction to my work and greatly influenced my practice. After graduating from the School of the Art Institute with a master’s degree, I packed up, cashed a small funding fellowship check granted by my school, and left Chicago for a 10-week summer residency at Skowhegan in Maine. This was my first residency, and my experience there changed my work. I was given the time, full support, and resources to create my work within a community of very accomplished artists with no critiques, no deadlines, and no obligations.
I arrived knowing that I wanted to go beyond what I was working on in graduate school, but had no idea how to accomplish this. I spent long days sitting in my Subaru wagon listening to cassette tapes with recorded visiting artist lectures by artists such as Agnes Martin, read books in the library, and took walks in the surrounding woodlands. I was waiting for inspiration and felt really lost. I found direction one day unexpectedly after opening my car’s glove compartment, finding the owner’s manual, and reading it out of sheer boredom. I was fascinated by the diagrams and specifics and soon began to see the car as a possible art-making tool. I wondered: how could I use the car’s rear windshield wiper as a paintbrush? So, I collaborated with a local mechanic and together we figured out how to do it.
That next year, I returned as a visiting artist to The University of Virginia, where I had received my [bachelor’s] degree. I moved down to Charlottesville and became involved with the Richmond and DC art community, exhibiting my Skowhegan Subaru Car series in galleries as well as my new series of floor polisher paintings, while working in my first real studio (that wasn’t a garage at my parents’ house). I was also a research and studio assistant for Dr. Lydia Csato Gasman, who was known for her groundbreaking scholarship on the work of Picasso that focused on his inner world via mysticism, magic, and ritual. I will always think of her as my mentor. Gasman, in her 80’s, was also a painter and greatly influenced my practice. She lived as an artist. Her Modernist apartment walls were completely covered with her notes, installations, and drawings, and her white rug was like an Ab Ex canvas marked with colorful paint drips, splotches, and spills. We met often and spent our time together discussing her writings, our practices, Foucault, Anselm Kiefer, the Surrealists, and, of course, Picasso.
The next fall, after a short residency in Illinois near Chicago, I returned to New York and set up a studio work/live apartment with another artist in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I received a workspace grant through the Dieu Donne Paper Mill and [a] Special Editions Fellowship through the Lower East Side Print Shop. I was also accepted into the Bronx Museum’s Artist in the Marketplace Program. This program was essential to my development and came at a time in my career when I very much needed to learn the practical details of being an artist. I studied tax and art law-related information, refined my CV and statement, learned how to create meaningful dialogues with art professionals, researched opportunities for emerging artists, and applied to everything I could.
For money, I focused on part-time jobs, as my work was not selling enough to support my practice. I taught studio art at the Brooklyn Museum; was an adjunct professor at the University of New Jersey, Trenton; dressed the windows at Bergdorf Goodman in Midtown; gave artist lectures; and flew down to VCU in Richmond once a month to teach an undergrad seminar class. During this time, I was exhibiting at galleries in Chicago, Richmond, and St. Paul. There was much to learn and a lot of running around, but it paid off. The following year, I was awarded a one-year residency through the Artist-in-Residence Program and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art in Roswell, NM. Soon after, I was awarded another one-year studio in NYC through the Marie Walsh Sharpe Space Program (now the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program), so I moved back to New York, where I have lived since. These residencies led to my first New York gallery solo exhibition and first mention in a NY Times review.
I was struggling a bit on how to word this, but I think your website says it best in how your works are created “out of the actions of mechanisms by converting popular technology such as lawn mowers, cars, waffle irons, floor polishers, pinball machines, fireworks and amusement park rides into painting machines.” I am always interested in how artists support their practice, but particularly in your case because your materials seem like they would be expensive and require a lot of engineering on your part.
It was tricky finding support for my early projects, especially since I was still young, had no track record, and was still developing my practice. Some of the technology I transformed into painting tools was gifted or purchased from thrift shops. I was fortunate to receive funding for my larger projects that would have required a substantial monetary investment on my part. For example, a floor polisher was provided by the McIntyre Department of Art, University of Virginia. The Evel Knievel pinball machine was purchased through funding provided by Midway Contemporary in St. Paul.
The Scrambler project, in which I turned a full-size amusement park ride into a painting tool, was fully funded and produced by Grand Arts in Kansas City (now Fathomers, LA). I worked with the Grand Arts team to realize the project from start to finish. This included working with their tech and engineering staff to develop a functioning and exacting spray system that was made to fit inside of one of the ride’s cars. I also worked closely with the administrative and curatorial staff on the catalog design and text, advertisement, gallery installation, opening performance, and the sourcing of the ride, which included flying out to see it in person. I made many trips from NYC to Kansas City to iron out details in conferences and meetings.
As far as costs, I think the ride alone was over $14,000, plus all the paint, spraying technology, paper, canvas, and vinyl added up to quite a bit to cover. Since they were a nonprofit, the warehouse space that acted as a studio and housed the ride was donated, as was some of the paint. Grand Arts was not very concerned with making money as a result of producing the project, but I was happy that some work was sold and that the ride was purchased by an amusement park in California once the project was completed.
In all cases, the funders trusted that the projects would produce interesting work from just reading a proposal. I am so grateful for their blind faith and complete support in helping to realize those projects. My “Firework Drawings” and “Smoke Paintings” are pricey to produce. I put money aside from sales and lectures toward buying the best materials possible to create the works. I have always been obsessed with using the highest quality materials, even though I sometimes must pinch my pennies to afford them.
I remember speaking with a gallerist once who was interested in representing an artist, but the artist turned down the offer because they felt that the gallery space wouldn’t suit the work.Your works have been exhibited in museums as well as public art works, so I wonder: are there certain spaces or opportunities that wouldn’t suit the work?
I’ve always felt that finding representation with the right gallery and finding the right context for my work is important. Considering what my work will look like in their space can have a say in making this decision. However, I also consider other important information as well. For example, can I work with and communicate well with a certain gallerist? Or, do I feel that my work complements the vision of a certain gallery and fits well within the context of the other artists on its roster? What’s the reputation of a certain gallerist? What kind of support will the gallery provide for me?
I work with a gallery in Los Angeles. The gallery or [I] vet show prospects as they arise, but in general I am very open to considering all opportunities. Sometimes the fit is obvious. But other times, I find a fit with a show because I respect the curator or other artists involved, or I am turned on by the show’s premise, curatorial text, or concept behind it. A lot of it is common sense; if, after a series of correspondences with an interested party, I have a lingering bad feeling about the opportunity, then I pass on it. It’s all very straightforward and always for the best if the fit isn’t there.
I feel that emerging artists see gallery representation as a symbol [of status] but [don’t] actually understand what that relationship entails. Will you speak on what that relationship is like and [what] it has done for your practice?
The relationship between an artist and gallery is a business relationship. This is important to always keep in mind. You provide something and they provide something. It’s a partnership, and it is at its best if it goes both ways as equally as possible.
Working with galleries has been a good experience for me. I’ve greatly benefited from my relationship with my current gallery: Von Lintel Gallery, Los Angeles. Tarrah, who founded the gallery, is a pleasure to work with. She began in Munich, then moved the gallery to Chelsea, and is now in Culver City. She really gets my work and has been a steadfast supporter of my practice. Her staff is extremely supportive and work very hard on my behalf, and I trust their efforts. Having a team that is on my side, always working for me, makes my life a lot easier. I have more time to focus my efforts in the studio, developing my new work and expanding my practice. The gallery has also put me in contact with a large consortium of collectors and art professionals that are supporters of the gallery and her artists. These connections have benefited my career, leading to shows, sales, reviews, and countless other opportunities.
This is becoming my signature question for those more established in their careers: when you reflect, are there things that you wish you knew as you were developing your practice? Do you have an “I wish I knew then what I know now?”
As an artist, I’m not shy and I seek help when I need it. Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to know mentors, art organizations, and art professionals who have been there, supporting me generously by providing advice, information, and funding at the right time when I’ve needed it most. I’ve avoided what could have been some major headaches by reaching out to good people, listening to them and taking their advice. I am both lucky and thankful for their guidance.
I suppose one part of the artist career equation I hadn’t considered as an emerging artist was how life events shift your practice. When I was younger, I was less bendable and a bit more willful. Now that I’ve been around the block, so to speak, and matured, I’ve learned to recognize and embrace life changes and have tried my best to [be] flexible by incorporating these changes into my practice. Recently, I overheard a conversation in which an established artist asked an emerging artist, “Being an artist wasn’t everything you thought it would be in graduate school....was it?” I thought to myself, That’s an interesting question, and I began to consider what my own expectations as an emerging artist had been. I realized that I never expected that anything would be handed to me. I always knew I would have to persist and be seriously dedicated to my practice. I assumed that I would go through periods of acute struggle and soul searching.
I always had known that being an artist was a long-distance run.
Today, I recognize the importance of the experimenting and learning that happens in the studio. There are times of real revelation and breakthroughs, times when the work completely self- destructs, as well as times when earlier ideas resurface in new and exciting ways. I love the periods when the work is flowing and everything comes together beautifully. Whatever my studio day brings, I feel incredibly lucky, simply because I am still deeply engaged with my work though exploring new ideas, developing projects, and trying new things.
And what are you working on right now?
Presently, I am working on “Smoke Paintings” using the new tools I constructed earlier this summer for a future solo show in 2018. Some large Smoke Paintings and a performance will be included in "Call and Response: Reinterpreting the Permanent Collection" opening this Fall at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, FL.
I am really excited to finally be painting with new tools that employ acrylic paint and move by capturing the wind from a leaf blower. I studied and based my tool designs on Platonic forms found at Wave Hill, Bronx, NY as a resident artist this past January.
In June and July, I worked out paint issues as a resident at the Golden Foundation, New Berlin, NY and am back at the Bronx studio continuing to develop and explore this new work.
Fiore earned both her BFA and BA at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville and her \MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was the recipient of a NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Arts Fund Grant, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Fellowship, the NYFA (BUITONI) fellowship, the Marie Walsh Sharpe Studio Program, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Fellowship, among other honors. Fiore works has been exhibited at Weatherspoon Art Museum, Von Lintel Gallery, SCAD Museum of Art, and Winkleman Gallery among others. Her works have been reviewed in such publications as The New York Times, New York Magazine, Art in America, Artforum, and The Washington Post. Fiore is represented by Von Lintel Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.