Jessalyn Aaland and Paul Morgan, “Of Course Not” at Swarm Gallery

by admin on February 1, 2012

Oakland Art Enthusiast met up with artists Jessalyn Aaland and Paul Morgan at Swarm Gallery, where they’re having a duo show of Paul’s serigraphs and Aaland’s collage artworks, “Of Course Not.” Below, Jessalyn and Paul talk with us about their collaborative process for the show, working together for over 10 years, and their artistic practice in West Oakland.

Oakland Art Enthusiast: Tell us about the show, “Of Course Not.”

Paul Morgan: I love jokes, all of the titles I have are jokes. There is that JavaScript site “name your gallery show,” and we wanted something that is irreverent and funny. We wanted something colloquial, and some conversational statement not because we feel that but something we say. To us this totally makes sense, we have a lot of inside jokes.

Jessalyn Aaland: We also might have this real harsh criticism of society, and it’s easy to be dogmatic and angry, and I think our way of negotiating that is humor and laughter when it’s really bleak.

How did this show and its collaborative aspect of the show form?

Jessalyn: We were not sure how we wanted to collaborate, so we have a show of our work and the Project Space is where the collaboration took place, an experiment to see how it would work. We had done some work together before, like some of my works have Paul’s prints in it. We don’t collaborate all the way through, it’s more like he’ll do something and I’ll take and do what I do with his work.

Paul: We worked together for about 12 years, and if you look at our work for 2 seconds you might think, “This is different.” But there are all these interconnected realities to us we understood from working together for so long so clearly we needed to have a show together. We started making anew body of work 6 months ago, and where she says she uses my work, she has taught me a lot about negative space, and how to use it in work. So in learning from each other, we see the similarities and the techniques learned when our work is shown together.

 Artists Jessalyn Aaland and Paul Morgan

Paul, tell us about the serigraph screen prints. It looks incredibly difficult to do.

Paul: You have touched on the thing I love the most about it, that’s it super difficult. I open it up and design everything in Illustrator. For these specifically, there’s this formula I developed from a poster that I did for a show two year ago, and it’s basically opening an Illustrator document and pushing triangles around and based upon how these triangles are colored, you end up with these different designs. So they are all the same process but they’ll all look different because of the coloring. The reason I love screen printing is because it’s just a process of controlling variables. It’s all of these things I love having to deal with. All I want to be concerned with is the challenge of some sort of art making. But I’m glad you picked up on the difficulty of the process, because that’s what I love the most about it.

Jessalyn, your works have a real vintage look to them, the products in the collages look like they did sometime in the 1960s or 1970s.

Jessalyn: I like to use paper materials, but I like to strike a balance. I’m not purposely trying to make it look vintage, but that’s sort of a byproduct. I didn’t want to make it ultra specific. Mostly what it’s all about is, I’m very particular about paper texture and color. I use a lot of magazines and books, and the paper quality really changed after the 1960s, and between the 30s and 50s the color saturation was really high, and I love color. So there is a balance. And I try to avoid using people because they can look really dated. With the stickers I try to balance with the contemporary in that. And in our house we have a lot of junk, we go to estate sales a lot.


 Installation in the Project Space

We were curious if you had any hoarders in your family.

Jessayln: Yeah (laughs). Paul is extremely minimalist, though so it’s been helpful to live with him for a number of years. I’m not a hoarder but it’s a trait that I inherited; I can put it into my work, and it’s not in my life. And from my family experiences, I’ve learned that something hoarded is not entirely junk, if possible you can and should use it again, it should be saved. I think it’s also very American, that need and availability to save things, or buy 6 of something instead of buying just that one you need.

So when I started making these, I was thinking about the environment and trash and it’s progressed more into a mental accumulation, like traits and habits. I was doing some reading in critical race theory because I work in education and cultural theory has always interested me, and it’s interesting to me how people inherit these kind of places and privilege in society. Before we are born, each of us begins to accumulate due to our location in the world: race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, ability, etc. A portion of what we accumulate is tangible, but most of it is not. Our life experiences cause us to add new objects to our personal piles, some good, some bad. We do not have control over eveything we accumulate, but what we do with our accumulations is a matter of choice.

Jessalyn Aaland, In Amongst It

The work is very clean, too. She’s not swallowed up in it, she’s contemplating herself above it.

Jessalyn: Yeah, I like to keep that balance of texture and color and proportion of objects and scale is really important to me, if I didn’t it would create a really different effect.

Paul: I guess what you’re doing is taking this chaos and making order, whereas I’m taking this organized process and making it as chaotic as possible.

Jessalyn: I guess we’re complementary in that way.

Paul: It’s going in that opposite direction.

Paul, you seem to be going into a new direction, this figurative element within the geometric mandala design.

Paul: I’ve been doing these patterns all over for the last year and a half, and because the person I am, I feel like, a year and a half is too long. I need to be doing something else with this. And so for this show I realized that these patterns can easily be placed into some figurative object. So while retaining the aspects of the pattern, the objects operate in a different way, and they are not just these flat things on the page, they are slightly nuanced. I was initially a little concerned about this, because I’ve never done this before. To the casual viewer it may not seem like a big leap but for me it was nearing a world that I’m not necessarily a part of, which may make the image and end result stronger, because I’m moving towards something I don’t like.

Paul Morgan, I’m Lichen This!

The images are still universal in the symbols created, and aren’t entirely figurative elements.

Paul: Right, there’s still a universality that I want to retain while moving into figurative forms.

Were these like a collage, or cut out?

Paul: Essentially, it’s having a figurative element, and then dumping that into the pattern with Illustrator. The smiley face was actually drawn by Jessalyn, because I was watching her grade papers, and she was drawing smiley faces on the papers, and I thought this would be great! I had her draw one, scan it, and blow it up; you dump the pattern into it. I’m much more interested in scanning things that are drawn then scanned and filled with pattern because I like how it looks, this organic-ness with this hyper un-organic thing, and it’s very gestural. That’s the very opposite from things I already do that’s very anti-gestural. No one made this, a machine made this.


 Serigraphs by Paul Morgan

And there’s also that kind of filter of the Illustrator for you, Paul, but with Jessalyn it’s very much directly on the paper, and not really much of a filter.

Paul: It’s interesting you bring that up, because when I watch Jessalyn do this work, my mind is blown, I could never imagine myself doing that; this idea of not being able to undo anything. I’m obsessed with this idea that I have 100 layers of undo so that if anything goes wrong I can go in, or prints that go wrong I can just throw it away—

Jessalyn: But when I messed up that one thing in that one with the rock I had to find my way of saving it.

Paul: — I couldn’t deal with that at all, which is why I do things in Illustrator all the time. I want this over-the-top control in all aspects.

How do you both feel about working in your medium? Is there something you like or don’t like about them?

Jessalyn: I’ve had to invent my own system of work in collage, I feel like it’s this trashy art form that no one likes.

Paul: But that’s something we’ve also talked about before, we’re both working in mediums that some might identify as trashy mediums like for me, screen printing is totally at the bottom of the printmaking world. It’s a commercial medium.

Jessalyn: I feel like sometimes the medium of collage, it’s very palpable and accessible but it has to be done very well for it to look good. I feel like for screen printing there are all these rules you have to follow and if you mess up one tiny thing everything looks bad. Like poetry: people can write poetry, but to write it really well, you have to have a deep knowledge of language and literature.

But you’re also creating in a medium that’s totally accessible to your audience, it beings them in, not just the medium, but the recognizable subject matter.

Jessalyn: Yeah, exactly. There’s a collage over there that in my opinion has quite a few somewhat offensive things in it, like racial stereotypes I’ve found in magazines from the past, which is why there’s a cave in that piece. For some reason people just think, “Oh that’s cute, it’s a cave full of stuff.”


Jessalyn Aaland, Bury Me Deep

 Is there anything unique about working in Oakland? Something that might inspire or influence you?

Jessalyn: In our neighborhood in West Oakland, I’m influenced by the mash up of the architecture: the port, the industrial space and the Victorian houses: a lot of different people, experiences and realities. I also think in a sense it gave me an ability to be more reflective about my work, and that’s a big direction that it has gone in the past year. In San Francisco, there’s such a buzz of people, and you’re busy all the time and you’re out doing stuff. I lived there in my mid twenties. I think there are more artist run spaces in Oakland. Music shows, galleries are much more DIY type of art events. It seems like in San Francisco it’s not feasible to do that.

Paul: In San Francisco, definitely there’s not the economic viability to have spaces like that. Living in Oakland is very similar to our upbringing in San Diego.

Jessalyn: Physical spaces are much different here, too. It feels very tight and cramped in San Francisco, but just by crossing the bay there are warehouses, open spaces to create. Also, meeting people is very different. Instead of going to an event and meeting people, we have that ability to go to someone’s houses and talk about each other’s work and that exchange of ideas. I don’t see that academic, serious, or commercial type of gallery spaces here in Oakland. It’s definitely not competitive, it’s collaborative here, if you want to make something happen in Oakland, you can but you have to work together.

“Of Course Not” works by Jessalyn Aaland and Paul Morgan will be at Swarm Gallery until February 26, 2012