Talking Heads: Joelle Dietrick and Judy Rushin, June 2013

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Judy Rushin. Untitled (Tribute Album). 2013. Acrylic, Plexiglass, wood. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.
Judy Rushin, Untitled (Tribute Album), 2013, acrylic, plexiglass, wood, dimensions variable, courtesy the artist.

Deep into a collaborative project for their upcoming exhibition Hackers and Painters, October 10–November 6, 2013, at the Alexander Brest Museum in Jacksonville, FL, Joelle Dietrick and Judy Rushin broke away from their Tallahassee, FL studios to talk about collaboration and the solo projects that led them to work together.

Joelle Dietrick: As I was making notes for this interview, I realized that the first sentence in Michael Rush’s New Media in Art is about painting. He writes, “One of the characteristic perceptions of twentieth-century art was its persistent tendency to question the long tradition of painting as the privileged medium of representation.” Although the painting-is-dead comments no longer interest me, I do think a lot about how my compulsion to paint can look timely. Is this ever something you consider?

Rafael Soldi: A body in transit is now on view at the Frost Museum, Miami through December 4

Judy Rushin:  I think your question is pointing towards an underlying (and justified) suspicion in the art world towards painting because of its place of privilege in art history. It is understandable that this mood could make someone who is compelled to paint self-conscious. However, even though I rely on the continuum of the practice of painting as a foundation for all of my work, it is not the act of painting that compels me. As is the case with your work, my work includes so many production steps that surfacing panels with color is sometimes just another item on a project checklist.

Now, to consider more generally the timeliness of my painting or your painting or our collaborative painting, I’m reminded of an assertion made by David Green in his essay, Painting as Asporia, that painting cannot be considered without taking into account a larger picture of current conventions inside and outside of what we think of in the moment as painting. In my opinion, any good contemporary painter has to keep this idea in mind.

Judy Rushin. Carapace. 2012. Cast plaster and wood. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.
Judy Rushin, Carapace, 2012, cast plaster and wood, dimensions variable, courtesy the artist.

JD: I wanted this interview to cover our current collaboration, but I’m not ready to talk about it. Instead, I thought we could talk about why we decided to collaborate. From my point of view, you’ve been on fire recently, and I’m curious about what made you open to collaboration now.

JR: That means a lot since you’ve recently shown in Kassel, Berlin, and Washington DC. We’ve known each other for five years now, and in that time, we’ve always had great conversations about art and ideas. Our piece, Hackers and Painters is going to be [both] a continuation and  manifestation of our ongoing art conversation, and…it’s going to be a ton of fun.

Re:Focus a photo exhibition on view at Swan Coach House in Atlanta through October 27

There was an event that opened the door for me philosophically, though. When we showed together in New York last year, the gallery wanted me to price my work. I had not sold any of the modular works before, and since they are site-specific, the idea of capital exchange made me think about a new kind of participation. I decided to price the modules individually so a buyer could purchase as many or as few of the panels as she wanted, but I didn’t want to give up total control of my work once it left the gallery. I began to think about potential collaborations with others and a new piece developed called Variance/Invariance, which will launch this July when I send out sets of modular panels to selected participants around the country. You have a history of collaborating with your husband, Owen Mundy. Your individual work is quite different, and I’m interested in how it works between you two.

Joelle Dietrick + Owen Mundy. Grid, Sequence Me. 2013. Two­channel projection. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.
Joelle Dietrick + Owen Mundy, Grid, Sequence Me, 2013, two ­channel projection, dimensions variable, courtesy the artists.

JD: I try to keep copious amounts of notes throughout each project, but in my collaborations with Owen, I honestly lose track of who does what. I probably do more of the research and writing, and he does most of the coding, but we are both heavily involved with idea generation, mockups, mid-process experimentation and editing at all stages. Most of our collaborations evolve out of relaxed discussions at dinner, over a drink, or on a walk.

JR: I struggle with color and I am a little jealous of your utilization of color forecasts in The Sherwin Series. Would you mind talking about the role of color in your work?

Joelle Dietrick. Sherwin Series (Jacksonville). 2011. House paint on wall. 11 x 21 ft. Courtesy the artist.
Joelle Dietrick, Sherwin Series (Jacksonville), 2011, house paint on wall, 11 x 21 feet, courtesy the artist.

JD: I too struggle with color, but I’ve done so much research into the topic and feel increasingly confident. Because of my training at the University of California, San Diego [was] in an (occasionally) post-studio environment, I wanted to use color as a found object. Appropriating Sherwin-Williams color forecasts allowed me that freedom. Your recent artworks with mirrors, made at your Three Walls residency in Chicago, also remixed found color. Can you talk about that project?

JR: I made the work in Tribute Album for a residency, so naturally I was thinking about reflecting and reflection. But there were also other reasons for going literal with the mirrors, which I’ll get to. I was looking for a way into painting imagery again and thought to use the work of Karl Benjamin as a prompt. I called the project Tribute Album because I saw myself interpreting his paintings like a singer would cover a song. Since I had never seen an original Benjamin, I had to interpret reproductions I had seen in books and online. I incorporated the flatness, skewed scale, and distorted color into my understanding of his vision. The mirrors served a purpose beyond the contemplative meaning of reflection. They became a way to make a strong break from my preoccupation with the physical architecture of paintings, allowing me to dissolve their physicality altogether. And of course, mirrors are a common metaphor for death, and I made this work to commemorate Benjamin’s recent passing, but they also suggest identity, and how, through this work, I entwine my identity with Benjamin’s.

Judy Rushin. Bent Line. 2011. Cast plaster and wood. Dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.
Judy Rushin, Bent Line, 2011, cast plaster and wood, dimensions variable, courtesy the artist.

JD: In his recent New York Times review of the Museo del Barrio’s Bienal 2013 [HERE IS WHERE WE JUMP, June 12, 2013-January 4, 2014], Holland Cotter wrote, “The New York art market, in thrall to fat-cat formalism, has long since turned its back on identity-as-content.” Where do you find yourself on this spectrum? When you first pushed away from representational work, you were always emphasizing class issues. And I could feel that in the work, [through] its exposed wooden structures. They remind me of when my Dad would build houses—the early stages with their exposed studs. The modular paintings and constructions with mirrors also seem ideal for smaller living spaces, and that fact, seems intentional and political. Do you gravitate to more formal or conceptual concerns, or do they always seem perfectly balanced? I ask this because I have the same issues in my own recent work.

JR: I’d like to ask you the same question. For me, it’s a question of balance. Some of my works begin with a narrative, and others don’t. Bent Line was intended as a commentary on aggressive monumental sculpture, and as such it is essentially political. The same is true for the entire modular series, including Carapace and Variance/Invariance, which have to do with class, and in the case of V/I, creating new platforms for arts participation outside the major market systems. With Build, my concerns began with the material problems of painting, but quickly developed a narrative of transgression. I borrowed panels from Carapace, but rather than connect them as I had originally intended (with nuts and bolts) I connected them with paint, play dough, or pigmented epoxy. I began to see the paintings in Build as agitators to a system in much the same way a marginalized group would co-opt an architectural space.


Joelle Dietrick’s paintings, drawings, and animations explore contemporary nesting instincts and their manipulation by global economic systems. Her recent artworks and research considers housing trends that complicate relationships to place. Her work has been shown at Transitio_MX in Mexico City, TINA B Festival in Prague and Venice, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago, MCA San Diego, Long March Space Beijing, ARC Gallery Chicago, Soho20 New York, MPG Contemporary Boston, Temporary Home in Kassel during Documenta (13), Flashpoint Gallery in Washington DC and as a permanent public artwork at the University of Florida. Upcoming solo exhibitions will be at the Alexander Brest Museum in Jacksonville and the Orlando Museum of Art. She has attended residencies at the Künstlerhaus Salzburg, Anderson Ranch, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Banff Centre for the Arts, and the School of the Visual Arts and received fellowships from the University of California, Florida State University and the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD).

Judy Rushin’s work explores relationships between people and spatial environments through painting, sculpture, and installation. Her work has appeared across the US and in Korea including Aqua Art Miami, (e)merge art fair in Washington DC, Threewalls in Chicago, Prospect 1-Satellite at Trumpet in New Orleans, Mass MoCA, Soho20 New York, The Orlando Museum of Art, and Co-Lab in Austin. She is the recipient of numerous grants and her work has been featured several times in New American Paintings. Upcoming exhibitions will be at Terrain Projects in Chicago, the Alexander Brest Museum in Jacksonville, Flashpoint Gallery in Washington DC, and The Center for Emerging Media in Orlando.


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