Christina Massey is a multi faceted artist whose appetite for bold experimentation with multiple materials and techniques feeds her rigorous search for complex form and subtle commentary on social and cultural issues. This process oriented search results in prints, sculptural installations, and wall reliefs – layered imagery in her two dimensional work and highly textured surfaces in her dimensional work. Massey represents our current state of being “in between,” not only in the hybridity of her art forms, but also in the very definition of what it means to be an artist at this moment.
AS: Let’s start with some biographical milestones that most influenced your art.
Christina Massey: Good question. I’d say that creatively speaking, larger world events have shifted and altered my approach to my work greatly, along with some personal experiences. 9/11 happened in my last year of college. I was lucky enough to not be living in NYC just yet, but I had already made my plans to move here. I, like everyone, was greatly affected however. I just couldn’t create the same way I had been, and drastically changed my aesthetics.
A few years later, almost all my past work was lost when my parents’ garage flooded (where it was being stored). This taught me how to let go of past work and planted the seed of thought about permanence in art, questioning its necessity. This meant however that I had many years of rebuilding my body of work as I had to start from scratch. I would have years of really great momentum, then lulls.
Then, in 2011, I had my first big museum show and a solo show in NYC. Last year was another big year for me. I did four solo shows, one of which was another big museum show, a two-person show, a three-person show, multiple group shows that included several works, curated three huge exhibitions and won multiple grants and fellowships. It was an incredible year that has validated and rewarded all that hard work but has also given me confidence to try and explore even bigger venues and opportunities going forward.
AS: You grew up on the west coast. Did that affect your art sensibility?
Christina Massey: I didn’t grow up in a particularly “artsy” place. It was a small town in Northern California off of a major highway, that most people just drove on past to get somewhere more interesting. The only living artist anyone knew of where I grew up was Thomas Kinkade and the artwork in most people’s homes was macramé, or native antique crafts like baskets and pottery. I remember being fascinated by the artworks my aunt had in her home – she had lived in Kenya for a while doing the Peace Core.
Looking back, I can see that these, while giving me very limited exposures to art, they did still influence me. It probably helped develop my love of crafts and a certain aesthetic sensibility for the hand-made, less polished look. It definitely gave me a solid idea of the artist I did not want to be, a kind of back-lash against the scenic imagery of Kinkade (Ironically, a fun side note – his studio tried to hire me when I was only 14 years old to work on his paintings).
AS: The imagery in your work resonates with biomorphic forms. It seems that nature is central for you. Do you agree and can you elaborate?
Christina Massey: I love the outdoors. We spent a lot of time in the Sierra Nevada mountains growing up, and I even worked as a white-water raft guide and mountain guide through college where I’d lead trips of groups doing things like rafting, kayaking, climbing through caves, or hiking up mountains. I find that getting out into nature invigorates my creativity. Nature is amazing, and she continuously surprises me, creating the most insane beauty that no artists could ever achieve. I love how nature can be so fragile, yet extremely powerful; seemingly random, yet orderly, almost formulated. I find great inspiration in that duality. Specifically when it comes to form. I love how nature repeats forms in multiple formats.
For example, an almond shape can be viewed in everything from seeds to bugs, lakes, leaves, the human eye, a fish. The limit is only the imagination of the viewer. In using these basic shapes as the underlining form of my work, I allow the viewer to come up with their own interpretations that might differ slightly according to their own background, but the act of a certain familiarity in them transcends location and place, making them oddly familiar to all.
AS: Tell me about your process – how do you start a project?
Christina Massey: I am very instinctual and reactionary to the material. I rarely sketch or plan out the outcome in advance. I may have a vague idea of what I want to achieve, but then as I experiment with the materials, the possibilities change. I leave room for following what develops in front of me, reacting to how the materials behave, and what within the work is “working” for me or not.
Much of what I do is very process based. Weaving aluminum together, creating multi-layered and various techniques of prints – all of that involves a lot of process that goes into just making those individual parts, let alone bringing them together into a new piece. So, when I begin something new, it is often reactionary to one of these already made parts.
Lately I have been inspired to repurpose some old watercolor paintings and some loom woven paintings I had done years ago and I am finding new ways to work with those into new work. At that stage it’s a bit of assemblage, just using my own artwork as one of the found objects which I then typically need to either stitch, weave or collage into the new work and paint on top of again.
Since so much of what I do is laborious, my body can only handle so much of it at one time, so I tend to work on 5-10 things at once, going back and forth between projects.
AS: As you mentioned, you are experimenting with a wide array of materials – for instance, aluminum, printmaking and recently glass. How do you choose your materials?
Christina Massey: Yes, I am an artist less committed to one material or medium per se, as I am committed to making my style come out through whatever material it is that I use. I love the challenge of trying something new. A good part of how I start experimenting is just my daily life, seeing things that are wasteful yet have a certain aesthetic beauty in them and a value that I can apply socially and conceptually in my work.
I used a lot of repurposed collared shirts/business clothing during those years during and just after the Recession. It was something I came across easily – I loved the zippers and buttons that could be discovered in the work, and the added conceptual value of this hidden influence of business and money in the artwork. Aluminum is heavily used in my work in recent years, as again, it is easy to find, and has a language connection that I love. I specifically only use aluminum from “craft beer” cans as that word “craft” and its use to elevate products and goods rather than devalue as it is in Art is extremely influential on my work and practice.
I was very lucky to have been awarded two really wonderful process-based fellowships this last year where I got to learn and create works in printmaking and glass. So, a good part of diving into those materials and techniques specifically was simply having the access and ability to do so. That said, those were two mediums that I had an idea in mind of how I could try and combine them into my work before I began. They happen to be two techniques that a lot of process and skill goes into them, and being someone that loves process-based methods, they were really great matches for my work. I’m now really interested in trying ceramics again, something I haven’t done since my college years.
AS: Your work fuses painting and sculpture. How do you see the relationship between them?
Christina Massey: This is something I’ve thought a lot about recently, why is it that I’m so interested in that topic? I think it’s partly the art historical side of things. I think there are a lot of artists that are not sticking into one specific mold so to speak – they are intermingling mediums and redefining not only what is “painting” or “sculpture” but also fiber art to installation, drawing to performance, fashion to design. I think I am part of a growing collective whole that doesn’t want to be defined or labeled by the larger Art World. An art world that has historically been exclusive and very limited in its definitions and inclusiveness of all cultures, ethnicities, and genders. I don’t fit into that historical agenda, so I don’t see why it should be used to define me or my work.
On a more personal note, I think I identify as “in between.” There’s a lot about me that isn’t just one thing or another. I’m an outdoorsy person, yet I live in NYC. I’m the middle child, so both the older and the younger sibling. I grew up in a place described as in between two other places. I’m even in between two astrological signs and born in between two generations. I consider myself both a painter and a sculptor, but more specifically, I think of myself just as an Artist. I see my Art as a direct reflection of myself, and therefore it is like me in many ways, and not easily defined. I strive to make the work in multiple states of “in between.” It’s yes – both sculpture and painting, but it is also both fine art and craft, masculine and feminine, realistic and abstract. For me it is less the conversation on formal aspects of sculpture to painting, although that certainty does exist in the work, but it is the conceptual or social need for definition.
AS: Tell me about the genesis of your quilted paintings.
Christina Massey: The quilted paintings were one of the first big break throughs in my work. I had prior to that been doing what I’ll call my “brown period” (For years I was doing these very fleshy paintings and installations). But when I began this work I was ready to embrace color again, all be it slowly. I tore up my older paintings and stitched them together again, incorporating the found collared shirts and khaki’s as I mentioned previously. When you look closely, the brown segments are true to their original paintings, the reds, oranges and greens are primarily the newer parts of the work.
They were very three-dimensional paintings, where that act of discovering something unusual in the work was just beginning. It often takes people multiple viewings before they realize the zippers, pockets and buttons of the clothing in the work, which to me represented money, corporations and their effect and influence, all be it subtly, sometimes on what is and isn’t created and seen in the Art World.
AS: And let’s go back to the Aluminum?
I began using the aluminum in my work as a challenge to myself. I wanted to see if I could achieve the same effect of that discovering something unique and different in the materials of the work without it being overly obvious. It ended up being a much better material to work with than I ever imagined possible. It solved a lot of issues for me. It holds its shape so much better than fiber-based materials and it is much lighter in weight. It also allowed me to break away from the canvas frame, something I had done through a few installations, but hadn’t in wall hung work. Now, in my most recent work I am bringing all of these things together, it’s exciting and I love seeing how well they work in combination.
AS: You mentioned color. It seems to play a major role in your work. How do you choose your palette?
Christina Massey: I keep finding myself drawn to a few different palettes, and how the work develops is often intuitive – a shape will just “feel” blue or green or red. In recent work I’ve loved playing with the “pink and blue” as symbolically used to describe something as feminine or masculine. But, I love oranges, greens and reds, those earthy rich colors, and as I mentioned before, I did go through a “brown period” where everything was fleshy toned, from the pale to the dark brown.
I’ll begin creating the palette often from the found materials, so when selecting aluminum to weave together, I’m reacting to the text, logos and colors in the labels versus having it totally random. Even though these are painted over in the end, they end up influencing the outcome of the overall piece. Or when making a print collage, I am reacting and selecting according to the material that I have and thinking about not only the individual work, but the whole series, how one work relates to another.
AS: What art / artists are you looking at?
Christina Massey: I love “discovering” new artists (to me at least!). Instagram has been an incredible tool for that and I feel like I “meet” at least one new incredible artist a day on there that just blows me away. Generally speaking, I love work that explores some sort of fiber art influence, has texture, dimension, complexity, work that similarly challenges definition and explores that atmosphere.
Lately I have to admit, I have been really into ceramic art and costume. I love it, from the glazes, forms, the movement, it’s like my eye candy at the moment. Favorite “finds” recently have been artist like Sara Catapano, Zoe Gross, Brian Rochefort, Neil Goss, Erik Bergrin, Laura Barbata…I could probably go on and on.
AS: What are you working on now?
Christina Massey: Right now is a really exciting time in my studio. I have been on a bit of a creative spree if you will, just producing really quickly, surprising even myself, and I’m really having fun allowing myself to explore and experiment. I have so many ideas in my head of things I want to try and how to expand upon and grow series that I have already done. So, I have about four to five different projects I’m working on now.
I’m working on a new series of collages where I am combining older and newer techniques together, those hopefully will have their debut rather soon. I’m also completing a series of very large works that combine the materials and techniques of the quilted paintings with that of the aluminum. With these I’m also creating some semi-large pieces that additionally incorporate my past woven paintings into that mixture of materials as well.
Then there are the glass sculptures that I am still finishing up after the course that I got to complete last winter and that I would like to expand upon and grow into larger pieces eventually.
And lastly, I am working on some plates to create much larger print collages that can be combined into larger installations vs just individual artworks (although I plan to do both).For this I plan to do much larger, mural sized work. The plates themselves are quite the process however, so those are in the very early stages.
AS: You are also a very perceptive curator. Tell me when you started curating and how does your curatorial practice inform your art?
Christina Massey: Thank you! In 2012 I decided to try curating. This began mostly because I had other curators tell me my work was “too different” to put into group shows, so I thought I’d just prove them wrong and really began to embrace the idea of not relying on others for validation or approval, but to just make my own opportunities.
I feel like I learn so much from every artist that I meet and work with. It’s a very solitary profession, art making. Curating allows me to branch out of my comfort zone and allows a creative outlet to explore in a much larger context. In terms of how it informs my own work, it helps me think and envision on a much bigger wider scope. I can see how I stand out, how I fit in, and where the momentum is, what’s stagnant, what needs attention, what is “hot” and what is “not.”
It has helped me understand my competition too. By adding curating to my repertoire, I can now see and understand the view of the “selector” vs the “selectee” and it’s a lot less hurtful now when I don’t get those opportunities , and as we all know, there are a lot of rejections that come in this career path. I feel that now, by understanding the viewpoint from the other side, so to speak, I am more confident in what I do and create and how I respond to criticism. I highly recommend it to any artist, try it once, if nothing else, you will have a profoundly new appreciation for curators!