Daniel Gerwin leads an online interview with exhibiting artists Seth Koen and Skirmantas Pipas. Their conversation reveals underlying connections through drawing, subtlety of form, and the quiet activation of space that was a hallmark of their exhibit last July, Formal Wonders & Wandering Forms.
Daniel Gerwin: Skip, your watercolors look a lot like studies for sculptures. Seth, your sculptures look a lot like line drawings. Is that one of the reasons why it makes sense for you two to exhibit together? If so, could you elaborate on that relationship?
Skirmantas Pipas: I try to be very aware of textures and shapes and how that determines or adds to the meaning of a piece in a way a sculptor might. When I first saw our work hanging side by side it did seem like I approach painting in the way that Seth approaches sculpture and vice versa.
Seth Koen: I totally agree with Skip. There is a quiet activation of space that both our work achieves. The forms seem to be in service of the space they occupy as much as being active themselves. I really feel that my practice is a drawing practice, even though I make objects. My undergrad thesis title was Sculpture, or Drawing? Not super witty, but speaks to how central these concerns are to me.
DG: Skip’s work is hung in a way that looks provisional, papers fastened only by magnets at the top edge, the bottoms of the sheets curling off the wall. By contrast, Seth’s sculptures could not be more deliberate and refined in their installation. How do you each see those differences functioning in this exhibition?
SP: I think the way the work was hung helped the flow. When looking at the work, which relates already, there seemed to be less of a barrier between the pieces. Almost any piece can be viewed as a drawing or sculpture.
SK: While I have certainly spent a ton of time considering how to display my works and how to mount them on the wall, I really feel like the solution I’ve found is the simplest most obvious method I could find. The path of least resistance, much like Skip’s magnets, just do what works!
DG: did you guys know each other before this show? How? Is the first time your work has appeared side by side?
SP: I have seen Seth’s work online but we met for the first time during the install. It is the first time we showed together, but I could see us showing again as I think we are investigating similar concepts.
DG: Skip, how would you describe the concepts you are investigating?
SP: I guess in a general sense, psychological spaces and what influences them. Such as the ones entered when thinking of a relative or friend who has passed away, or being in a room with someone I have an intense connection with, the feeling when nothing is said but a lot is understood, family dynamics. I like investigating the differences and similarities between such experiences, the blending of memories with the present moment. I attempt to describe them by attaching forms such as spheres, usually referring to consciousness, and geometric shapes referring to the physical space occupied, and shapes that break the edge of the paper can imply external influences.
SK: I think Maggie and Talia at Grizzly were really canny to pair us together. I guess that’s the hallmark of good curation. One of the first things that came to mind when I checked out Skip’s work was the resonance it has with some of Ron Nagle’s work, especially one specific body of work that I helped him make 7 or 8 years ago. Ron has clearly been a big influence on me, so this was pleasing.
DG: Seth, I can see Ron Nagle in Skip’s work, but his influence on your sculptures is less obvious to me, your work seems very different in its formal character. Could you explain Nagle’s impact on your approach?
SK: You are right, Ron’s influence on my work is less concrete and more of an approach-based effect. Attitudinal, you might say. Sitting at his side for all those years was really instructive, about art-making and art-as-business. I do think there are some formal connections as well, but they are much more subtle: one being a basic attention to detail in crafting a thing, another being an emotive use of form, brushing up against personification.
DG: Both of you seem to share a spare, less-is-more aesthetic. The show seems to be keyed at a volume so low you could hear a pin drop. Could you each speak to that, and how that dynamic is playing out in this show?
SP: A few years ago my work looked a lot busier, but I felt like the ideas were getting lost in the chaos. The world we live in requires a lot of our attention and it is very easy to get overloaded. When feeling overstimulated it can almost cause pain to look or experience something intense. I think simplifying my approach has helped me enjoy the creative process and make the work more digestible. The simplicity highlights the subtleties and I think above all we are both interested in the little things that can have a large impact.
SK: The subtle gestures that have a huge impact are what get me moving. This is why I continue to hand draw and carve my work rather than bending or fabricating in a more efficient manner. That said, I actually felt that the show had a lot of activity in the room, sort of a low-key conversation of the individual pieces creating a whole. I guess that is kind of how we installed the show––we put one piece up and then just kept working around the room until it felt done, each choice affecting the next. We actually pared the show down a bit during install because it was feeling busy. It was really interesting working at Grizzly. For such a small space it has a kind of expansiveness.
Daniel Gerwin is an artist based in Los Angeles. He has had solo and group exhibitions throughout the country, including in New York and Los Angeles. His work has been reviewed in ArtCritical, Frieze, Hyperallergic, and other publications. He has taught painting, drawing, and theory, and his writing on contemporary art has been published in Artforum, The Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, ArtCritical, Blog of the LA Review of Books, The Huffington Post, On-Verge (CUE Foundation), Machete, and Title Magazine. He received his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania and his BA from Yale University. He has taught at University of California Davis, University of the Arts, University of Iowa, and University of Pennsylvania. In 2004 he was awarded a residency at Blue Mountain Center, and in 2016 he was a Resident Fellow at the MacDowell Colony.
Originally from Maine, Seth Koen recently relocated from Sacramento, CA to Easthampton, MA. Koen received his BA from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. He received his MFA from Mills College in Oakland, CA, where he studied with Ron Nagle. After graduate school, he went on to work as Nagle’s studio assistant for 12 years. Koen has had numerous solo shows at Gregory Lind Gallery, and has been included in group shows in the San Francisco Bay Area at Rena Bransten Gallery, the Richmond Art Center, Headlands Center for the Arts, the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. He has shown in New York at Jeff Bailey Gallery, and Foley Gallery; the Brewery Project, Los Angeles; Richard Levy Gallery, Albuquerque; and Galerie Hafemann, Wiesbaden, Germany. Koen is the recipient of the Trefethen, Cadogan and Kala Art Institute Fellowships, and the Jay Defeo Prize.
Skirmantas Pipas was born in 1985 in Vilnius, Lithuania, behind the iron curtain. After witnessing the collapse of the Soviet occupation as a teenager, he relocated to Philadelphia. He is a graduate of the Certificate and the MFA program at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His work explores socio-political and psychological spaces.