This Saturday, Feb. 14, four University of Dallas alumni, Abby Bagby, Brigid Vaughn, Brie Underhill and Olivia Cole, will host a reception for their show “Adjacent Conversations” at the Mokah Art Gallery in Deep Ellum. Five weeks in the making, the show is unique in its progressive nature, as each artist started at a different corner of the room and continues to draw, each in her own distinct style. Bagby, who focused on sculpture at UD, and Vaughn and Cole, who focused on painting, opened up in an email interview about the artistic process, inspiration and working as artists in Dallas.
Teresa Blackman: What was your inspiration for the show?
Brigid Vaughn: We wanted to find a way to get together again, much like we used to be in our senior studios. It’s definitely more difficult to stay creatively active when you leave school, especially when most of our priorities right now include just getting by. It seemed like a fun idea to jump back in with old classmates, to have a “conversation” through our artwork.
Abby Bagby: The four of us each have our own distinct drawing style and we have been friends since school, so we thought having a collaborative show would be interesting. The progressive nature of the show highlights the spontaneity of how we are drawing, letting the space and each other affect how the drawings progress. “Adjacent Conversations” came about because we all started the show very separate, but as the show goes on, a narrative forms between each artist’s work, making the show interesting for someone who has seen the show once, twice or 20 times.
Olivia Cole: My personal inspiration for my corner of the show includes organic forms, specifically trees, and the imperfection of the hand-drawn line. I enjoy making these shapes as a way of relaxing — it’s a meditative process. I thought it would be cool to see my “wind-down doodles” more officially presented.
Brie Underhill: The inspiration for the show honestly was to get four friends together and create a larger-than-life installation that overwhelms the gallery and encourages us to bounce off of each other’s styles. Though our styles are inherently very different, we worked as friends and as artists to collaborate on an installation that worked …as a cohesive unit.
TB: Have you four worked collaboratively before?
OC: Not at this scale, no. I like to think we’ve been collaborating intellectually since the beginning of school. We’ve lived together, so that’s a kind of collaboration in itself! Oh, and there was also that video project we did for astronomy class … but as an organized show, this is our first chance to really bring our work together! It’s been a lot of fun.
TB: What mediums did you use and why did you choose to work in that medium?
AB: We all used some form of black ink, which kept everything consistent. I am using only Sharpies, Brigid is using India ink, Olivia and Brie are using paint markers.
OC: I used paint markers, for the matte black effect and the clean lines. There’s some graphite in there as well. We’re all playing with slightly different media/techniques, based on what will express our style the best.
TB: Was it difficult to work directly on the wall?
BV: Yes! Some of the time, my ink reacted differently to certain sections of the wall. It was fun to experiment with though, to figure out what would work and what didn’t.
AB: Working on a flat, totally vertical plane was quite an adjustment from the easily adjustable paper I am used to drawing on. And it was daunting trying to fill all of the wall space, but the payoff is so impactful that it’s definitely worth it.
OC: Not difficult, maybe a little frustrating. The texture on the wall makes it a little difficult, and it can be tiring to work for long on a vertical surface. All in all, though, it’s been rewarding to see my stuff on such a large scale. Totally worth it.
BU: The only time working on the wall was difficult was when I had to do a lot of detail right next to the floor. It’s almost impossible to find a comfortable position.
TB: What artists have been influential in your work? Do you have a current favorite artist?
BV: Lately, I’ve been pulling a lot of inspiration from more illustrative artists, like Jin Kim and Jamie Hewlett.
AB: My mindset when I am drawing is very much derivative of the surrealist artists, who tried to let their subconscious mind dictate the direction of the art. I try to use repetitive shapes and motion like van Gogh as well.
OC: Well, usually my paintings are much more colorful and less linear, heavily influenced by contemporary realists like Jenny Saville. When it comes to the clean linear style I’ve been employing for this show, I find myself tapping more into my inner Arthur Rackham or Edmund Dulac. I do have a soft spot for artists from the Golden Age of Illustration. My favorite artist at the moment, though, is probably Jenny Morgan. Her works comfort me somehow.
BU: In general I am inspired by multiple installation artists, but for this show I derived a lot of inspiration and influence from set builders and concept artists for animations and stop-motion films like “The Dark Crystal” and “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.”
TB: Was there anything specific at UD that prepared you to do a show like this?
BV: Oh, definitely. My professors might disagree, but I did learn a lot about time management at my time at UD, which is absolutely crucial when you’re a part of a gallery show of this nature.
AB: UD really prepares their [sic] students to be able to pull off a gallery show from start to finish, and learning how to manage time was one of the most important things I took away from studying art.
OC: I would say the time management skills I learned at UD have been important, and my faith in my ability to get things done by the deadline (no matter how tight it might seem) has been a helpful learned attitude.
BU: My senior show was an installation too. Though it was three-dimensional, the time restraints are similar and school has taught me how to manage my time well.
TB: Living in Dallas, have you had a lot of opportunity to work artistically?
BV: That’s one of my favorite things about Dallas — you can’t really escape the art scene. From decorating a chalk board to volunteering at an event, there are so many people who genuinely want to work with you as an artist and who will approach you with offers. It’s the reason I’m living in Dallas, because of all the opportunities.
AB: I run Mokah Gallery, so I’ve kept in close contact with the art scene in Dallas from a curator’s perspective. I’ve also been involved in ArtCon events, which are great for exposure and meeting other local artists.
OC: Oh, definitely! Dallas is a great place for young artists just starting out. The art world here is incredibly welcoming, and everyone is very helpful. I’ve found myself involved in quite a few art organizations throughout the city.
BU: I was lucky because one of my best friends lends me one of his spare bedrooms to use as a studio. Since I have a space it has been a lot easier to set aside time from work and do what I love.
TB: Do you have any upcoming shows?
BV: For the near future, I’m just doing freelance and interning. Although, I have talked to another local artist, Mikki Mallow, about collaborating with her on a show. Hopefully, that will pan out!
AB: I’m currently showing some of my sculptures at Fort Work [Art Lounge] in the Alto 211 building in downtown Dallas.
OC: Besides “Adjacent Conversations”? Nothing concrete yet. I’m really working on making my portfolio more current and getting some bigger pieces done. Keep an eye out, though!
BU: This is the only show I’m working on right now because I’m going to be taking on a few commissions once the show is over.
TB: Do you have any advice for current students hoping to pursue art careers?
BV: There’s a fine line to walk as an artist right out of school … you MUST be humble enough to take small jobs (you have to start somewhere, right?), but you can never sell yourself short.
AB: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a living doing art. There are tons of opportunities in galleries, museums, restoration, graphic design, advertising, teaching and many other avenues where you can be working artistically and also paying your bills. You just have to be open to what’s available so you can make your way towards what you really love doing.
OC: Get your name out there. Meet as many people as possible, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Work hard. Make things you’re proud of. Honestly, I need to follow that advice just as much as the next girl, but believe me, succeeding in the art world is about making friends, and sharing your world. You’d be surprised at how many interesting people you meet on the street, at work, or at a show, could have the power to help make your dreams happen.
BU: I’m not really one to be giving advice since I’m so green, but one of the most helpful things to me, as well as one of the most obvious ones, is never stop working. If you stop you’ll become stagnant. Even if what you’re making seems out of touch or unimportant, you are making something and keeping your mind going. You don’t want to lose the rhythm. Also, it’s all about connections. Don’t be afraid to make friends with everyone, The art scene in Dallas is rather large, so be yourself, make friends and people will want to help you.
The closing reception for “Adjacent Conversations” will take place Saturday, Feb. 14, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Mokah Gallery at 2803 Taylor St.