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Magpie Sensibility: An Interview with Raven Schlossberg
by Ana Finel Honigman

New York, Dec. 2013: Raven Schlossberg’s collages are comprised of images cut from vintage magazines and lacquered on birch panels. Like Richard Yates, Richard Hamilton, David Lynch and Gregory Crewdson, Schlossberg peels away the airtight plastic wrap around America’s fantasy iconography. Her glossy surfaces highlight the seductive power of slick magazine paper to blind readers to the social injustices and manipulative messages imparted through mass media. She assembles her images into intricate personal narratives and cultural commentary. Here, she unpacks her densely layered and captivating creations. 

Raven Schlossberg, 'The Dream Bar', 2013, 36" x 34", Acrylic and Ink with Paper and Plastic Collage and Holographic Foil on Fabric on Birch Panel; Courtesy of the Artist and Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York City.

Ana Finel Honigman: How did Paradise, CA influence your art?

Raven Schlossberg: My earliest memories of growing up in various California towns in the mid to late 1970s have fundamentally influenced my artistic vision. Memories burned into my childhood psyche present themselves as fully formed images, as highly detailed recollections of morally questionable scenarios of drug induced abandon and as fragmented, psychedelic abstractions steeped in the strange odor of patchouli.

AFH: All those aspects seem evident in your adult art.

RS: In my work, I continue to circle back directly to visual cues that I first witnessed at the impressionable age of three- to six-years[-old]. After my parents split, my father would pick me up for visitation and take me to a motley variety of locales that I only later realized were locations for buying marijuana. One place was a mysterious world that had walls made out of brilliantly colored broken glass beer bottles forming a gridded mosaic back lit by the sun. A visionary string artist who nailed millions of tiny nails to wooden boards, wrapping vibrantly colored threads around them, spinning abstract geometric patterns that would become sailboats lost at sea or amorphous constellations, occupied another place. My father would often frequent a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome whose otherworldly skeleton first introduced me to the idea of fragmentation and transparency that I still use in my work today.

AFH: Despite all this formative exposure to the counterculture, your work largely deals with mainstream cultural imagery. In the process of scavenging visual material from discarded ephemera, you must accumulate some pretty profound insights into past eras' value systems, methods of communication and aesthetic preferences. Are our contemporary assumptions about the ubiquity of casual racism and sexism in the past's mass media accurate?

RS: My early work in collage dealt directly with the concept of the idealized 'family' that is presented through advertising. As an only child from a 'broken' home, it seemed very exotic and fairy tale like to be presented with magazine advertisements showing a happy nuclear family selling Hamburger Helper or multi vitamins or whatever. These advertisements seemed like abject lies. They weren't the family scenarios that I had witnessed or even the racial makeup of the families I encountered in daily life. In these early collage pieces, I attempted to show scenarios of this idealized, fictional domestic life from the advertising world, and by using such tropes as 'the happy housewife' from common women's magazines, I began both literally and figuratively peeling them back like torn wallpaper to reveal the hidden dark secrets and rampant sexism beneath, unraveling the notion of domestic bliss.

Raven Schlossberg, 'Surfer Rosa', 2009, 46" x 44", Acrylic and Ink on Fabric with Paper Collage on Birch Panel; Courtesy of the Artist - Private Collection.


AFH: There seems to be a different, linear, organization to your work. How are you structuring your collages differently now?

RS: In 2009 I began a series of pieces that were first exhibited in Dallas, Texas in an exhibition entitled 'The Road South'. The impetus for this body of work is an exploration of experiences I have had on trips down to Mexico over many years. In this series I made pieces about surf culture, hot rods, bikers' roadside dives, the vibrancy of Mexican culture and the nomadic characters I encountered. At this point the structure of how I arrange my picture planes began to change because I wanted the final pieces to be very cinematic, like abstracted rectangular movie frames or projected psychedelic drug party slide shows, where the images would merge and hover over one another transparently creating an almost disorienting effect that is lush, sensual and a little dangerous. I think this feeling comes through in my piece entitled Surfer Rosa from 2009. In this same series I started taking apart how parts of Mexican popular culture portray sexuality, violence, romance and gender dynamics. In another piece from this series entitled Peligroso Amor, also from 2009, these social issues are seen portrayed as a giant drug fueled undulating dance party of murder, lust and depravity. In a new piece from 2013 entitled The Dream Bar I have merged the Spanish comic collage with the cinematic framing depicting a dance club illuminated and distorted by a psychedelic light show.

AFH: Does your magpie sensibility extend to other aspects of your life? Is your way of work representative of your ways of thinking and living, in general?

RS: I consider this process of accumulating materials as pop archeology. This magpie sensibility does translate into every aspect of my life. I am a collector and a voyeur, my eye is always focused on the hunt for the next image.

AFH: How do you build your collages? Do you preplan a narrative and then cast the collages with images that you find?

RS: When planning a piece or a series of pieces, the impetus for the work is varied. In the early, domestically focused work I previously described, I started by establishing what the printed vinyl ground would be and then began digging for materials such as historically appropriate magazine advertisements, stock photography, melodramatic photo dramas from romance magazines and pornography that would fit that particular narrative. I believe a piece that I made in 2003 entitled Cornucopia concisely illustrates these concepts and material processes.

AFH: Or do your narratives accumulate as you connect found pieces together?

RS: I construct my collage using an 'architectural' framework. This framework often manifests as a printed repeat pattern that becomes the structure on which the cut paper collage is built. To gather my images, I cull through my own collection of magazines, books, catalogs, journals and snapshots that I have collected for over twenty-five years. I have a vast and daunting archive that I continually add to, combing every junk spot and antiquariat I can find on my travels throughout the world.

AFH: When do you start a new body of work?

RS: With the pieces in my last exhibition entitled 'To The Manner Born' at Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York City, the initial inspiration came from personal loss and specific pieces of literature. After the death of my father, I went through a period of processing the notion of how objects pass down through families, generation to generation, often for hundreds of years. I was thinking about how these objects when accumulated into collections tell stories about the families, about the shift in fashion, aesthetic tastes even moral norms and perversions.

Raven Schlossberg, Lost In Rome (She's Come Undone), 2012, 18" x 24", Acrylic and Ink on Fabric with Paper Collage on Birch Panel; Courtesy of the Artist and Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York City.


AFH: How do the titles of your works add cohesion and direction to your collages?

RS: In my last exhibition, I made a piece entitled The Pride of the Peacock is the Glory of God. I have adapted the title from the second line of the fourteenth stanza of William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell, a book that has provided much inspiration for my own work. Another piece from the series 'To The Manner Born' is a piece entitled Lost In Rome (She's Come Undone). This piece tells a story of a Blake-like journey through 'hell', a landscape constructed from skulls on which Roman ruins crumble. A narrative is inserted into the scene that involves a fashionable girl seen throughout time, in different guises who, while lost in Rome and in pursuit of love becomes entangled with the wrong man and drugged, leading to her possible doom. Sexual risk, consequence and the intentional foray into dangerous situations for an experience of pure pleasure is a theme that runs throughout my entire body of work.

AFH: There was less sex, or less porn, in your recent show 'To The Manner Born' than in earlier work. Why?

RS: In this last exhibition, I chose to approach sexuality differently, by alluding to certain situations instead of using outright pornography because in choosing to make pieces that are very 'painterly' in appearance, presented on formal birch wood panels and even referencing old master paintings, glossy porn images seemed wholly inappropriate and a distraction.

AFH: When we last spoke for an interview in 2004, you had a reoccurring figure that you referred to as 'my clown'. Is this figure still a presence in your work and how does it manifest itself differently today?

RS: In my work from around 1996 up until 2009 I used an image that I referred to as 'my clown'. This was a free-hand drawing in black ink that I repeatedly drew tens of thousands of times on alternating paper sources such as Chinese newspaper advertisements (in the earliest work), Japanese patterned paper and elementary school primers. These figures were drawn roughly the same size, as dictated by the natural rotation of my wrist and displayed similar facial and bodily characteristics, yet all possessed slight individual differences. I arranged these figures in long overlapping rows en masse to represent the idea of the 'everyman' and society as a whole. I started making these large groups of figures when I moved to New York City, partly as a reaction to being new to an overcrowded, fast moving city, something very foreign to my laid back youth in California. The last piece I made with this 'clown' figure was in 2009, a piece entitled Crossfire, that is a bridge into the work that I am currently making. In this piece I have drawn the 'clown' figure on Spanish comic book pages. The clowns become 'mirrors' reflecting the sex, violence and drugs both in the cut narrative scenes represented in the pages but also in my view of our current world as a whole.


Ana Finel Honigman 



ArtSlant would like to thank Raven Schlossberg for her assistance in making this interview possible.


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