Artist Interview: Veronica Cross

Veronica Cross is a former New York artist who has lived in Maine for the last eight years. You can find her works at the Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth, Maine. Currently, she is preparing for a number of group shows in 2015, after having a heavy exhibition schedule last fall as well as starting graduate school.

Kodkod: Tell us about your upbringing in an artists’ household.

VC: I’m a third-generation artist and grew up surrounded by art, antiques, decorative objects and art books. Reverence for art was a natural thing for me from the beginning.

Our home in Staten Island, the former residence of ashcan artist Cecil Bell, offered the ultimate amenity—a light-filled studio. Early on I learned to appreciate the occasionally hermetic life of artists from my mother, who painted, and my father, who did woodwork.

While other families went to Disneyworld, we went to the Rothko Chapel. Actually, that trip in particular solidified art as a “spiritual” practice for me. Another early fascination was Orientalism, along with the gulf between Michelangelo’s sculptures and Warhol’s portraits.

Kodkod: You were an artist from the start?

VC: From the start. Even simple mark-making held significance for me. There was always an internal dialogue, and I was always creating. I was constantly drawing and making things out of whatever materials I could get my hands on, as my own peculiar practice.

Creation for me would—and continues to—take the form of arranging a particular environment to create a certain kind of order. Like organizing elements in a painting or installation, or curating. I suppose I’ve always considered “making” as a way of “making sense” of an idea, or very simply as problem-solving.

Kodkod: You moved to New Orleans when you were young. How did that affect you?

VC: My family moved to New Orleans in the late 70s. At first, we stayed in the townhouse of my great aunt and uncle in the French Quarter. Packed with ornately carved French furniture and really awful naked-lady-paintings-on-velvet, the environment—with the ever-verdant city outside the walls—provided powerful influences on my work. And my temperament [laughs].

Kodkod: Temperament? How so?

VC: For one, those girlie paintings evoked the classic Burlesque era of 1950s New Orleans and were in direct opposition both aesthetically and morally to the classic Western painting of my parents and their ilk.

They fascinated me. In the pen-and-ink and cut-paper work I did as a teenager was the stirrings of conceptual work—rather overt and political, but there. This was exciting because it was my own, separate from my family’s work and parallel to my punk ethos.

Kodkod: Punk?

VC: Punk [laughs].

Back then, there seemed to be a larger divide between the graphic arts and the fine arts than there is now, and I relished being separate from painting’s locus (long considered a superior expression). This eventually drew me to printmaking.

Kodkod: Talk about printmaking.

VC: My early prints were made using a wooden spoon as the burnisher over linoleum blocks. I started this as a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York during my foundation year, which did not include printmaking.

I continued to integrate my drawings and chin colle into my prints, making large-scale stencils with spray paint as print beds. I did this at the Art Students League and at Kathy Caraccio’s studio. (Kathy Caraccio is a master printer and my awesome former employer). But, eventually, this approach couldn’t accommodate my vision.

Kodkod: An evolution in your art?

VC: [Nods.] The highly-detailed, dark, biological, political compositions of my formative years transitioned into work about the female body. This work developed into ironic (and some would say bold) Third-Wave feminism, first using my own body and then vintage pinup and Burlesque models.

The aggressive process of cutting (stencils) and spray-painting—itself a more masculine discipline then—was the perfect foil: the representation of the female body…from a woman. I took some of those images to the public realm as legal graffiti pieces. After September 11, though, I went away from using the female body.

Also at this time I was enrolled in SUNY’s Studio Semester Program, where I met my mentor and dear friend Stephanie Rose. A brilliant postmodern abstract expressionist, Stephanie encouraged me to start incorporating painted passages into my linear and block-color collage compositions. I fell in love with paint—but only when balanced with cut paper, to retain a certain tension.

Kodkod: You said you stopped using the female form after September 11. What did you use?

VC: After 9/11, I turned to works about time, memorial and memory. I did that for a number of years. I returned to my old practice of using commonplace or domestic elements, making odes to time (often in fabric) and riffing on Victorian notions of sentimentality. I made memento mori installations in the panoramic environs of Hudson, NY.

Kodkod: And then you left New York altogether?

VC: In 2006, I moved from Brooklyn to rural Cornville, Maine. New York had changed, and it was time for me to go.

Kodkod: Fair enough. How has Maine influenced your work?

VC: Living in Maine has increased my fascination with landscapes, particularly as conveyers of emotion and story. Driving through remote areas of the state has piqued my interest in the region and regionalism itself. And my focus has turned more towards objects as signifiers. For example: the series I’m doing with old, rusted cars discarded in the Maine woods, which I view as ubiquitous eyesores filled with symbolism.

Also, working sporadically as an antique dealer in Maine has increased the importance of narrative for me. I’ve spent a lot of time conjuring narratives of persona, place and time for the old items I handle. Creating narratives has become a major part of my art.

In fact, I made paintings from a cache of anonymous vintage photos of children I found at auction. I imagined stories for the kids, both personal and universal. From this series, a little girl in a painting—exhibited at Aucocisco Galleries and reviewed in the Portland Press Herald by Phil Isaacson—was recognized by a descendent of the girl.

Kodkod: Last year was pivotal, wasn’t it?

VC: Last year marked a return to my representations of women. I also started the MFA in Visual Art Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, a very independent low-residency program.

My work at the Elizabeth Moss Galleries is culled from my 2014 series Show/Girls that appeared in the two-person exhibition at the gallery, Of Women by Women, and also from my solo show, Rich Inner Life (the Tigermen Den Gallery in New Orleans, a Prospect 3 Biennial Satellite Project).

This body of work evolved from my research on the historical use of the veil on the female body for devotional and/or cultural purposes.

Kodkod: How are you using the veil, or the idea of the veil?

VC: Visually, these works appear far removed from that origin. But what engaged me in this investigation was the appearance of the veil as a signifier of women. As the garment obfuscates, it draws attention to the gender.

In my drawings, I focused on the silhouette of the woman’s body, appropriating subjects from popular culture and art history. These subjects reflected enduring Western symbols such as the odalisque, zaftig/lusty earth goddess and skinny model. The depiction also permitted a blur of race and class, though the psychological and decorative elements of the subjects’ respective environments hint at that narrative.

That these works are comprised of graphite and cut paper is key. They masquerade as paintings: not protected by glass, hanging from the wall in the manner of a stretched canvas. But as the works riff on art-historical canons of paintings of women, I view them as ironic anti-paintings.

Kodkod: How is that investigation going?

VC: This year’s work focuses on the interaction between the female figure and the natural-psychological mise en scene present in the Show/Girls series. I envision the drawings as cinematic vignettes.

Kodkod: And are you doing anything else now?

VC: In addition to these two-dimensional pieces, I’m now developing a video project set within in the car graveyard in rural Maine that I’ve been photographing and painting for over five years. The serpentine foliage present in both my figurative works and the earlier narrative landscape pieces (for example, raspberry vines growing over cars rusting in the woods) will take center stage in a public installation work using video projection.

Kodkod: Talk about showing.

VC: I was initially picked up by a gallery—the Barbara Ann Levy Gallery—in 1999 while doing undergrad work in New York. I exhibited extensively with Barbara in her Chelsea and Fire Island locations. I have also appeared in many other solo and group shows and projects in New York, Maine, New Orleans, Los Angeles and abroad. As I said before, I’m currently represented by Elizabeth Moss.

I also organize curatorial projects and multimedia arts events. During the early 2000s, I collaborated with Welsh photographer Kim Fielding to share artists and opportunities between Cardiff, Wales and New York. The effort yielded six group exhibitions. In 2004, I received the Ise Foundation’s Emerging Independent Curator Grant with my collaborator Christine Callahan (NYC photographer). And in 2012, I directed the inaugural (and only) Maine’s Dooryard Festival that honored Lois Dodd and showcased Maine fine art, craft, and antiques.

Presently, I’m preparing another show for Michel Droge and Michael Shaughnessy at Gould Academy in Bethel, Maine.

Kodkod: How do you like to work?

VC: I keep a studio space, but, like many other visual artists, working within that space isn’t the whole of my practice.

In preparation for and in concert with my formal “making,” I’m constantly looking at art, cinema, design, popular culture, music, the natural world and more for ideas. If you see me thumbing through a vintage fashion magazine in a junk shop, I’m working!

I also read and research subjects relating to the ideas I’m contemplating—art theory and history, cultural theory and history, artists and movements, philosophy, fiction, poetry, general history and so on. For my 2014 works shown at the Elizabeth Moss Galleries, for example, I was reading Freud, Rumi and Griselda Pollock.

Meandering walks through museums or woods can reveal unexpected ideas and imagery, although sometimes fleeting. I always keep some kind of camera with me so I can capture, or “sketch,” on my walks. This is part of my hunting and gathering; I rely on my image “archives” for reference. And the hunting and gathering is constant—I try to keep my internal dialogue evolving at all times.

In the studio, I like to draw and paint directly on a wall. I’m a big fan of natural light and tables on wheels. My bookcases are close by, as well as my laptop.

Kodkod: Okay, last question. Do you have any long-term goals for your art?

VC: For me, it’s most practical to plan my work in successive series, which tend to overlap. As I become increasingly fascinated with art that exists outside the white box of the gallery and institution system, I permit the work to evolve in new directions.

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