Chelsea Raflo and Christopher Hamersly explore the concept and limits of collaboration in Coeducation, showing now at MINT Gallery. The Atlanta-based artists not only share a studio, but are in a relationship and live together, as well. The show, which has been beautifully installed with geometric and silhouette wall drawings, uses subtle wordplay and portraiture as forms to explore the problems and possibilities of communication through collaboration. We caught up with them to find out more about their work and the origins of this show. Their answers after the jump.
What's your background? Why did you start making art?
Christopher Hamersly: I don't remember exactly when I started making art, it's just something I've always done. When I was younger I used to trace things I liked in magazines and newspapers. I think I started making art as a way to understand my surroundings and as a way to understand myself as well. I'm not sure when I decided I wanted to be an artist, but I think it was in middle school when I was convinced I was going to move to New York and draw when I was older. When I look back now, it seems kind of funny to me that I never actively pursued my career. I've always been to shy to talk about my work or to show my own work, so the majority of it just hangs in my house, or my friends houses. I have tried many things as an artist, studied jewelry making in high school, studied photography in college, tried and failed at graffitti, and using acrylics ( I hate acrylics).
Chelsea Raflo: I'm from Atlanta, but I went to school in Ohio at Kenyon College and studied art there. I started off in drawing and painting and then in my last year of college I started focusing on video art and combining my drawing/painting techniques with stop-motion animation and other digital processes. I've been drawing and painting since I was a child and it just seemed like the most natural thing to take it further as an adult. These days I'm interested in all kinds of different mediums. I'd really like to try sculpture and metalwork. I've also been experimenting with textiles.
When did the idea of "Coeducation" come up? What inspired it?
CH: The idea of coeducation came from the idea of constantly learning and being inspired by the people that you surround yourself with. When we decided to do the show we had just moved in together, this being the first time for both of us, so we thought about cohabititation, and the stigmas surrounded by it. It didn't seem to work though, we were concerned about being too cheesy, especially the proximity to valentines day. So, we decided to explore other ways of sharing our journey. Coeducation just sort of seemed to fit; it felt like the perfect way to think about any relationship. We felt that in any relationship it is very easy to become stagnant and comfortable, but to make one last it takes growth and a sharing of ideas. Thus spawned the idea of coeducation. People are in your life for a reason, and we sort of wanted to celebrate that idea.
CR: We were playing around with words and ideas that we liked for a title, and the word "Co-ed" came up, and then I started thinking about it more literally...like, a coeducation, simultaneous learning. And that's what the show is, really. I mean, it's a collaboration in a larger sense, because we're putting all of our work together and we have a vision of how we want it to look & feel as an installation, but our work has been like parallel processes. I feel like we have channeled all of the adjustment process of moving in together into this work, so its personal and specific to each of us, but in doing that we've influenced each other and seen a lot of overlap in our work. I don't know if other people will feel like there is a definite "theme" to this show, because to me the theme is sort of internal. I definitely think this would be a better answer for your next question...
How did you collaborate for "Coeducation"? Was that process different than you expected?
CH: I have actually never collaborated with someone before, so the very idea of collaborating was strange. I had always assumed that doing a 'collaboration' meant actually working on the same pieces together, which we didn't do. However, after going through this process, it feels like a collaboration. Since we live together and share a studio space, I always saw what Chelsea was working on. Working together at the same time was interesting because I saw her process develop into the final work. I tend to work a lot faster, so it was very different to see somebody else's creative process. I was worried that we would influence each other too much, but I think it worked out. I think if we did this again it would be easier to collaborate on the same pieces since we have watched each other create for this show.
CR: Yeah, I agree, the process was definitely different than I expected. And better, I think. I guess I assumed that we would work on the same pieces together, and that is always kind of a stressful idea to me because I like to let whatever I'm working on incubate for a while. If that makes any sense. My creative process can be kind of unruly...its hard for me to stay with a fixed idea for a long time because it will inevitably change as I'm painting, or drawing, or whatever. Either that, or I can get very obsessive with details, and become sort of a cave-dwelling monster, scratching away on a piece of wood for hours because its NOT PERFECT YET. Just kidding, kind of. Basically it makes me nervous to work closely with other people because it's already such a tumultuous process with myself. But this was an eye-opener for me, because it showed me that I can share my creative process with someone else in a non-intimidating way. It makes you feel vulnerable, and it's good to do that with art, because all you can do in that state is learn.
Both of you apply your creative talents in the commercial world. Has that work affected the ways you make art on your own time?
CH: I feel like it has made it harder to work on my own time. Working as a screenprinter you are staring at imagery all day, sometimes I stare at the same print for entire days at a time. Printing at a small shop, on any given day, I may make a screen, set up a job, run a job, pack it, and ship the same job. The print will sort of take on a life of its own after awhile. I remember interesting designs, horrible designs, and jobs that were just a pain. Printing is a very detail oriented profession where the smallest piece of dust can ruin a job. In my personal life I tend not to be too detail oriented, but this has caused me to change that slightly.
CR: When I first started working at Riot (a post-production studio), I learned a lot about digital media and graphic design, and in particular I learned a lot about how to create the image you want more quickly. Before, I always took the longest, most tedious route, because I didn't know any shortcuts, and I didn't know very much about graphics programs. So I'm definitely more computer-literate as a result of that, and it has taught me that the most grueling way is not necessarily the best way. I think its part of this complex that I have that hard work= pain =authenticity= genius. Which, I logically know, isn't really true. But working a 9 to 5 in the commercial world has affected my artmaking, and during the process of working on this show, I actually decided it was time to leave my job and pursue something more flexible that, while still art-related, will give me more time to focus on developing my own work.
Coeducation, featuring work by Chelsea Raflo and Chris Hamersly, runs at MINT Gallery until Sun., Feb. 27. More details at MINT.
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