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'rak'rüm (noun);
the back room of an art gallery
where artists and art lovers hang
Transparency32
Transparency #19, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Transparency #19,
2004, pigments, color pencil, acrylic polymer, wood structure, 22” X 20” X 4”
© collection Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento
Transparency #9, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Transparency #9,
2001, paper, graphite, acrylic polymer, wood structures, 42" X 32" X 2" and 16" X 32" X 2"
© courtesy of the Artist and Don Soker Contemporary Art
Jenny\'s Pillow, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Jenny's Pillow,
2003, fabric, polypropylene, c 4 1/2” X 6” X 1 1/4”
© courtesy of the Artist and Don Soker Contemporary Art
Transparency #20B, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Transparency #20B,
2005-08, paper, acrylic polymer, pigments, wood structure, 11 1/2" X 11 1/2" X 4"
© courtesy of the Artist and Don Soker Contemporary Art
Transparency #29, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Transparency #29,
2007, paper, pigments, fiberglass mesh, acrylic polymer, wood structure, 7 1/2” X 11 1/2" X 2”
© courtesy of the Artist and Don Soker Contemporary Art
Elegy, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Elegy,
2007, acrylic polymer, pigments, fiberglass mesh, wood structure, 8 1/2" X 12" X 24"
© collection Fresno Art Museum
Transparency #27B, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Transparency #27B,
2007, paper, graphite, pigments, wire mesh, fiberglass, acrylic polymer, wood structure, 47” X 12" X 14”
© courtesy of the Artist and Don Soker Contemporary Art
Step A Side, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Step A Side,
2007, synthetic materials, pigments, rubber, wood structure, 24” X 35 1/2” X 20”
© courtesy of the Artist and Don Soker Contemporary Art
Transparency #33, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Transparency #33,
2008, paper, gauze, pigments, acrylic, acrylic polymer, fiberglass, wood structures, 32” X 43” X 2 3/4”
© courtesy of the Artist and Don Soker Contemporary Art
Multitude, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Multitude,
2008, paraffin, synthetic materials, site-specific installation, dimensions variable
© courtesy of the Artist and Don Soker Contemporary Art
Transparency #37, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Transparency #37,
2009, Color etching, acrylic polymer and pigments with wood structure, 12.25 x 12.24 x 4 inches
© Theodora Varnay Jones and Don Soker Contemporary Art, SF
Transparency #16, Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, Transparency #16,
2004, acrylic medium, pigments, wood structure, 20" x 20"
"Transparency #36", Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones,
"Transparency #36",
2009, acrylic polymer, pigments, wood, 11 1/4" x 12 1/2" x 2 1/2"
"Test negative-A", Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones,
"Test negative-A",
2009, synthetic materials, plexiglass, screws, 5" x 7" x 1"
"Tablet - III", Theodora Varnay JonesTheodora Varnay Jones, "Tablet - III",
2009, paper, graphite, color pencil, wood, 9" x 11" x 1 3/4"
INTERDEPENDENCE, Theodora Varnay Jones, Marta Sanchez-Vasquez, Francesca PastineTheodora Varnay Jones, Marta Sanchez-Vasquez, Francesca Pastine,
INTERDEPENDENCE, March 11, 2010
,
An artist with strong ties to minimal art, the works Theodora Varnay Jones produces is the phenomena themselves. Their primary significance is optical and sensory. In her three-dimensional pieces she structures layers upon layers to achieve dimensional depth. The deeper levels are observed through the translucent materials used for the upper layers. The play of light upon and within the inherent su...[more]


RackRoom
Interview with Theodora Varnay Jones

Interview with Theodora Varnay Jones by DeWitt Cheng: I chatted with San Francisco postminimalist sculptor and installation artist Theodora Varnay Jones over tea at her Mission District warehouse studio.



DeWitt Cheng: You have a wonderful studio, full of natural light — and, of course, lots of great artwork. Let’s talk about your recent show at the Fresno Art Museum — which I was too gas-cheap and lazy to go see — shame on me!

Theodora Varnay Jones: Yes, it’s a long drive from here! The Fresno Art Museum is a beautiful museum with wonderful, large galleries. This spring the curator, Jacquelin Pilar, organized six shows to open there simultaneously. My installation was in the gallery next to John Nava’s; his work is anti-establishment and political, so it was a contrast to my quiet, balanced, understated works, which lack any direct reference to politics. Actually, the two shows next to each other could be seen perhaps as “war and peace.”

DC: Great curatorial premise for a future show! A little like the fire and water theme I picked up in your Sanchez [Art Center] show [with Davis, California, sculptor Tom Bills].

TVJ: I’m glad you’re getting ideas! The large space allowed me to present a substantial body of works selected from the past eight years. It was well received, and the museum’s Council of 100 —an organization that supports the work of women artists— invited me to give a slide presentation on my career.

DC: The show [judging from CD images] looks great. Nice dramatic lighting. I don’t remember that in your other shows.

TVJ: Yes, that was unexpected, but very interesting, as it turned out. A contextual change always gives me new insights into my work.

DC: Right — artists don’t always know what they’ve done!

TVJ: Yes, that’s completely true. While I normally consider the surrounding space as an important part of my pieces, the spotlighting at Fresno was more theatrical than usual, and the pieces did connect in a very different way.

DC: Well, next time I’ll budget the gas and time. Tell us about your development as an artist. You’re Hungarian, and you grew up under communism. What was art training like? Were there artists in your family?

TVJ: Yes, I grew up in Hungary, where science, math, engineering and music are important parts of the culture. Also, my family background and my own interests are rooted in this phenomenon. There are no artists in my family, although my father played the piano and liked to draw and paint as a child. My grandfather collected records, books and artworks. The first painting which impressed me as a child was a landscape he bought from a local artist. It was two very similar fields separated by a see-through gate, with no purpose, so I thought at the time, but I was fascinated by it. The very first drawing I made was after my mother took me to a ballet performance. The movements fascinated me so much that at home I drew lines curving and moving around.

DC: No princesses in tutus and crown? Interesting that you should have responded so abstractly — unlike most kids. We see that substructural aspect in your sculptural work.

TVJ: I love math and geometry as abstraction with a certainty, and music, too, is a system with an underlying structure. But for me, drawing is an ongoing activity that explores those same concerns.

DC: How about your training? I presume it was very different from the Sixties in the US.

TVJ: I got my BFA and MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. It was very academic training, with mandatory classes including anatomy, paint chemistry, geometry, political science, philosophy and art history.

DC: Were your teachers conscious of, or interested in, developments in the West?

TVJ: No, our art history studies ended with the modernist period, around 1945. I only knew about pop art from Lucy Lippard’s book, brought back by a friend lucky enough to visit the West. In the Eastern bloc it was difficult to travel, but our college had an exchange program with other art schools which allowed me to take trips to Russia, Macedonia and East Germany. I visited the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and also saw Greek orthodox frescoes in various monasteries; there is a monastery outside of Moscow where Andrei Rublev, the only icon painter that is known by name, worked.

DC: The Tarkovsky film.

TVJ: Yes. I also have an emotional attachment to Giotto and Piero della Francesca from reproductions, from my college years, but seeing the actual work that you know only from reproductions sometimes surprises you. I did a paper on Giorgione’s Tempest in college and when I saw the painting a couple of years ago in Venice it was hard for me to acknowledge that it is a tiny painting. It was great, though!

DC: In slides, everything is the same size. Same thing on internet.

TVJ: Yes, it’s deceptive. From just looking at art books, I regarded Rubens as of no interest to me ever. Well, when I saw his paintings in the Prado they were overwhelmingly beautiful! All that flesh was not just flesh; there was a great soul in that flesh.

DC: I took a Baroque Art course in college and had the same reaction. The plus-sized ladies seemed ridiculous at first, but then you see all that tremendous movement and life and energy behind the mythological narratives. Rubens is a force of nature.

TVJ: Movement has always interested me. I’ll tell you why. I believe that nothing is static; everything is constantly shifting and changing. How we regard history is through our present condition; history is a build-up and I try to make my layered, dimensional pieces contain that sense of depth and time. The bottom layers of my pieces do define the visible surface; they are physically there, but mostly cannot be observed directly, only through the layers above them. And there are angles from which my artwork can be viewed very differently.

DC: I see your work as a kind of Minimalism with a human face — like Eva Hesse’s work, a geometry that’s been anthropomorphized.

TVJ: I was greatly influenced by the Minimalists, whom I admire greatly, as well as by Arte Povera and contemporary Japanese art. I have, like them, tremendous curiosity and respect for materials.

DC: And yet within an abstract, nonfigurative mode: no ballet dancers.

TVJ: No!

DC: I first became aware of you as a printmaker. You’re a sculptor mostly these days, but you teach printmaking. Tell us about how that discipline has affected your development.

TVJ: I immigrated to the US in 1972 and got into printmaking almost immediately. What fascinated me about this medium is that I could make very textured surfaces by etching and carving metal plates. I did sidewalks and manhole covers, calling them “landscapes.” I transferred two-dimensional surfaces into two-dimensional images. Straight, no perspective, no illusion — I was very excited about that at the time. Then I went further; I wanted to give a more real appearance to the works. In a walk over Bernal Heights after a rain, I saw incredible colors floating down from the hill. I realized that iron oxide is the very base of the pigments one can buy in art-supply stores.

DC: Yellow Oxide!

TVJ: Yes. I started to collect dirt from wherever my husband and I hiked. From Death Valley to Japan, during a residency there, I gathered most of my materials. Also, I used metal powders and rust from scrubbing pads, very basic, unsophisticated substances. I thought I had exhausted all the possibilities until I discovered beeswax. That and several Japanese translucent papers led me to make layers, to build up and get into space.

DC: So using “real” materials from the world, not from art-supply stores, was analogous for you to building out into “real” space.

TVJ: I think that’s true. Another breakthrough came about eight years ago from my experimentation with translucent, handmade soft acrylic sheets stretched over wood structures. I wanted to redefine what surface is. I became very interested in depth by accumulation and in what is visible and what is invisible through a surface. I started to build layers upon layers. I kept developing and refining this working method moving more and more into space. I have tremendous interest in interaction, context and relativity and the relationships between the measurements of space: What defines space, what is present or absent in that definition?

DC: Art has become more conceptual and less representational, but, to me, the best conceptual work has a strong visual impact like yours.

TVJ: I admire the work of Rachel Whiteread, who casts empty architectural spaces. She is able to include in her pieces what is absent, yet also a determining factor. And she too exhausts ideas, as I do, going deep into a single idea. Her work, I think, originated in Bruce Nauman’s “Cast of the Space Under My Chair”.

DC: Quite a simple yet beautiful idea, realizing absence. Where do you see your work going in the near future?

TVJ: I want to open up my structures more into space. I would love to make a large installation piece, where space, light and time could come together and be experienced as a phenomenon.

DC: Something of an architectural, all-enveloping nature? An environment?

TVJ: Robert Irwin’s late ‘90s installation ”Excursus: Homage to the Square”, which I saw at the Dia Center in New York, will haunt me for the rest of my life.

DC: I’ll be fascinated to see where your ideas take you. It’s been great seeing your work going back thirty years. Thanks!

TVJ: Thank you.


ArtSlant would like to thank Theodora Varnay Jones for her assisatnce in making this interview possible.

--DeWitt Cheng

FORMER RACKROOMERS

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