Art Studio: Professor Cherith Lundin '96
What was the inspiration for "Vocabulary Lessons: To Anni with Love"?
In printmaking's history, they would make prints of famous paintings into multiples so that they were available for people to purchase. So in the 18th century, you would make an etching of a painting for somebody else. I was thinking about this concept of both working for others and basing your work on somebody else's project.
The last time I was in Germany, I had seen this Anni Albers weaving in the Museum of Berlin. It was just beautiful. It captured a sense of light, which is something I'm really interested in. I was looking at a piece that was entirely abstract, yet it felt like it was something I knew. Yet all that it was is these strips of color. There's nothing representational about it, but it felt like a memory of light.
My work generally originates from observation. I see something—a slant of light, a view around the corner—and I want to share it. That's often where the impulse to make something begins. It can veer towards abstraction, but it's always based on the experiential.
So I had been thinking about this piece for several years, and I wanted to figure out how she did it. Woodblock printing seemed like a good medium—taking something from one thing and translating it into something else.
WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT MAKES PRINTMAKING UNIQUE?
The interesting thing about printmaking is that it's so materials-based and things can go wrong mysteriously. The answer is in how the materials are working or not working. Textbooks don't really help with that. So in the end, you accrue knowledge about this craft only through your hands and experience. You can read up on it, and you can conjecture, but until you've done it, you just don't know it. So as I'm working with students, I'm trying to help them understand that and discover knowledge in a different way than you typically would in a classroom.
What was the process of making "To Anni, with Love"?
With weaving, Albers would have had four colors of thread, weaving them to create all the different colors. I figured I could do that with printmaking, but it turned out trickier than I originally imagined. The warp of the threads does something optically different, placing one color over another. So my first attempt didn't work, and I had to start over.
This is where the hands-on knowledge comes in. I was layering color, but I needed to work toward what they would produce overall. As I was experimenting with this, I was coming up with all these different variations. I realized it's actually the variations themselves, from the very dark ones to the very light ones, that started to feel like the life that was in her fabric. There are 18 of them, but they're all different. But together as a whole, they feel to me like they start to capture something about her. I've been thinking of this as a kind of homage to Albers, which is why I gave it a title like a love letter.
I have several other pieces in the series that I've been working on, too. The whole series is called Vocabulary Lessons, capturing the idea of seeking to learn from somebody and how they piece things together. It's about discovering how an artist makes something work; maybe thinking about it a little bit more like a piece of music. You take something and play it, and then it's new. I was trying to do something like that with a piece of visual art. It's not Albers' piece. It's a different scale, and it's not exactly the same, but it's based on it. It's completely in response to her piece. And yet, now it's something new and different, as well.
What's something you learned from the experience?
It was interesting working on it because most of my work is responsive to what I see. In the end, this piece turned out to be that, too, except I was responding to somebody else's artwork instead of to my environment, which is generally how my work starts. So that was an interesting experience. I have no idea where it's going to lead outside of this or how it's going to feed back into other things that I do, but I'm excited to see. I have an exhibition at Calvin University this spring where that piece and a few other pieces will be displayed.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU'VE HAD TO PUSH THROUGH AS AN ARTIST?
I think every time you complete something, there's a sense of uncertainty about what's going to happen next. Whether it's just a painting or an entire exhibition you've finished recently, you often find yourself wondering if that was it. It's always difficult to wait for the next project.
I think this challenge is addressed by acknowledging and trusting that the practice of art is not just about individual things. Oddly enough, even though we make things or products as artists, it's often more about focusing on the daily practice than the thing itself. If you're in it for the long haul, this is just what you do. If at this moment, an audience isn't visible, that doesn't mean there won't be one. I've had to learn to trust that practice itself is something that carries us through as artists. This gives meaning to projects that could seem small or insignificant. Once you start connecting your work to a sense of the larger endeavor you get to be on, or have chosen to be on, that attitude helps with the hurdle created by an artistic lull.
WHAT IS THE BEST PART ABOUT WORKING IN THE ART DEPARTMENT?
This (Adams Hall) is such a beautiful building, and we're really blessed to be able to fill the space with all these wonderful things we like to do. In every room, something different happening, so it's an exciting place. It's a privilege to have these classrooms where we just get to create things.
One of the exciting things about teaching here at Wheaton is that I get to teach printmaking, which is something that I studied in undergraduate and graduate schools but haven't done much of since. It's the teaching area I really throw myself into and have used it to discover new mediums for my personal work.