Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wendy and the Lasso of Truth

If you can't see the photos in the slideshow above, click here to see them on Flickr
Click the link above to see the slideshow full-size with captions.

I met Wendy Crittenden in grad school at SFSU, where she earned her MFA. I was immediately drawn to her quirky humor and her equally quirky large-scale color photos. We looked for projects to work on together, and her photos of theatre facades were included in our Syndicate project for the Bay Area Now 5 show at YBCA (also with Tom Griscom; posts about this project). About mid-way through the MFA program, Wendy started to create small, intricately detailed drawings of people, animals, and things that were often unique takes on a well-known word or phrase.  When she started drawing elements of superhero costumes, I was really intrigued. She answers questions about her work below:

KM: Wendy, I think the contrast between your photography and drawings is interesting. Your photos tend to be in color on a large scale, making mundane architecture look heroic, yet the drawings are very intimate, small and detailed in black & white. Do these show different sides of you?

Wendy Crittenden.
big boy, 2009.
WC: I guess they're different sides of me, I don't generally think of them that way though.  I see each as a different process that I can tap into my imaginative space with:  the drawings usually start with a title and then the image arises where the photographs are a process of my meandering through space and then manipulating what I see into a more interesting and iconic visual image - in this case the title comes after the image is made.  Each process is a way for me to solve a puzzle, that puzzle is "How do I draw/photograph this in a way that is unexpected and witty?"  If it feels even just a little bit hokey or sentimental, I scrap it.

As for color, I love bright saturated color, which is evident in the photography.  The more I have been shooting photographic images in the desert, though, the more muted that palette has become.   The drawings are a muted palette because I started out with santa beards, wanting to make white on white drawings for the sheer challenge of it...  and then I evolved to using different shades of white to bring out or subdue certain elements of the drawings.  Bright white is usually used to highlight the most poignant element of the drawing, at least in regards to the title, and the other shades I use to give more depth to the image.  I use translucent paper so that I can work the backside of it with white to add depth, and sometimes I add another layer of paper behind to create even more depth with white.

Wendy Crittenden. bated breath, 2010.
KM: I remember that you like to base your drawings on traditional fables. What's your favorite one?  What's your favorite source material?

WC: As for fables, I actually think that I only have one drawing that is based on an Aesop Fable, telltale, based on the Ass in the Lion's Skin, but I intend to pursue more.  My drawings are actually mostly based on phrases and the history of phrases; sometimes the actual history, sometimes the misunderstood history and sometimes my own imaginative interpretation of the phrase.  My favorite misunderstood and often misspelled phrase is bated breath, I had a hard time parting with the drawing I did of that.

I'd have to say my favorite source material is the phrases that I just mentioned.  I have a list of "to draw" phrases that is always growing.  I usually draw the one that I am most excited about at the time I am looking at the list.  Usually the newest added wins.  However, I am currently working on a drawing of a whippet on very tall stilts, I think it will be titled stilted.  I just had an urge to draw my dog on stilts, for the absurdity of it.  She already has long legs, why would she walk on stilts!?

Wendy Crittenden.
lasso of truth, 2009.
KM: You do lots of drawings referencing superheroes. Often it's an isolated item central to the character, like Wonder Woman's lasso. What do these mean to you?

WC:  The superhero drawings, in particular the lassos of truth, are related to my santa beard drawings.  I like isolating one of the iconic items about a well known character and then I redraw it without any context; it's not only pushing an iconic element further than the character, it's also a way for me to collect multiple examples of that item to point out how each is so different from the other though they are all the same thing.  Like fingerprints, snowflakes, or Becher water towers, but santa beards and lassos of truth.  I love it.

KM: I remember you had a long talk with Margaret Harrison after her Intersection show at their gala when they moved into the M5 space. Did she influence you?

WC:  I did have a lovely talk with Margaret Harrison, I don't think the talk was influential, but her early work is.  People themselves don't affect me, but seeing their work does.  I love the way she drew her early work that was shown at Intersection for the Arts that year.  Especially the women, I recall a woman with a lemon that I adored and the women in the sandwiches (Take One Lemon, 1971 and Good Enough to  Eat, 1971 can be seen on the Tate web site).  That's some witty stuff.

KM: The TV series Parenthood bought one of your drawings, soft serves, as a prop. Have they used it?

WC:  I don't actually know if Parenthood has used that drawing.  My drawing soft serves was purchased for the third season's set design, but I haven't seen any current episodes.  I don't subscribe to cable, I just watch old seasons of shows on Netflix, and to be perfectly honest, I only started watching episodes of the first two seasons after they purchased the piece.  It's a great show, and the set design of the first two seasons is really good, so I imagine that if they have used the drawing, they have used it well.  I will be looking out for it once the third season comes out.

KM: Any upcoming shows/goals?

WC:  I don't have any current shows coming up, I am mostly focused on making more large drawings right now.  I am quite obsessed with detail, so much so that the large drawings can be very time consuming.

See Wendy's etsy store here.