How did you get into making art?
I have always made work that exists somewhere between painting and sculpture. I began making art as a small child, as all children do. I was encouraged to work with clay and I loved making small figures, models, and little worlds. My grandmother was a painter and a dressmaker, and I was fortunate to have a family that encouraged me to be creative. In high school, I became a painter and committed myself to the idea of being an artist. I attended the BFA program for painting at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. However, it wasn’t until finishing my MFA at The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, that I began experimenting with sculpture again. Having focused on figure painting at BU, I realized that for me the two-dimensionality felt limiting when portraying the body. I was interested in materiality as a way to explore the corporeal.
What are you currently working on?
Due to the pandemic, I cannot access my regular studio space. This week, I am working in a makeshift studio on my kitchen table. I am finding the slowing down to be intriguing. I’m hoping this slowness shifts and changes my practice in new and interesting ways. Over the last few months, I have been working on a collection of large-scale sculptures like “Night Glow Tumult” and “Some Glimpse” that explore the body, primarily through haptic experiences of handmade paper and pulp painting. These works engage with the physicality and interior experience of the body through a distinctive process of pulp painting on sculpture and an elevation of the handmade qualities of paper. Bulbous paper mache forms bend and connect in imperfect ways, with holes and voids. Handmade paper stretches and shrinks around the forms, with collaged pulp-paintings and embedded bits of fabric. Paper acts as a skin for my sculptures, and can organically pull, wrinkle, and mend itself together. Forms balance precariously on geometric pedestals made from wood, concrete, and found materials. Additionally, I have been creating a series of wall works such as “Blind Tack” and “Rout to Ruin” that are made with folded handmade paper and no interior structure. I am interested in exploring the potential of pulp to record touch and to create intimacy, much as a handwritten letter does, by offering a space for emotional connection to the viewer. I am invested in how color and texture can activate memory, connecting to both our inward and outward experience, heightening visuality in the present moment, and creating meaning in our everyday existence.
What inspired you to get started on this body of work?
Introspection and tactility feel necessary in this current political moment. Even before Covid, I was thinking about making works that offer questions around desire, change, and authentic connection to ourselves and others. Paper is created from an amorphous cloud-like slurry. There is a cyclical aspect to the process, solid to liquid, to solid again. The material is responsive and alive. For me, the craft of paper-making elevates texture as a form of visual communication because of the way it records traces of a hand at work.
Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?
My practice incorporates a broader approach that is process-oriented. I have been interested in exploring the body and the psyche for many years. My sculptures hold elements of tension, awkwardness, anxiety, loss, and pleasure.
What’s a typical day like in your studio?
I am a night owl and I love to stay up until 2 or 3 am. I like to take my time in the morning and ease into a studio practice in the afternoon. If possible, I like a 6-8 hour chunk of time to work. Sometimes, I begin with drawing or writing and then I move into more physical aspects of building in the late afternoon or evening. I love listening to music while I work. It’s hard for me to focus with lyrics. I prefer atmospheric music, and I have been excited about Alice Coltrane lately. My practice is divided between hand paper making at a paper studio called Paper Think Tank, woodworking at a separate wood shop, and more direct work/ assembly in my personal studio. The work days and processes shift depending on where I am in my process. During this quarantine, I am enjoying living with my art in my kitchen, drawing, and building forms all day. A friend shared an image of Marisa Merz’s studio with me. I love that she made so much of that work in her house. Her studio life and domestic life were blurred into one.
I am invested in how color and texture can activate memory.
Who are your favorite artists?
Louis Bourgeois is probably my favorite artist of all time. She reinvented herself over and over and sustained a practice for over 60 years. Lately, I have been completely obsessed with Suzanne Jackson’s floating paintings. The Mono-Ha movement has been an important influence on my work. I am inspired by the ceramics of Arlene Shechet, Sahar Koury, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, and Brie Ruais. I love the humor and awkwardness in Amy Sillman’s paintings. Hilma Af Klimt at the Guggenheim was probably the best show I have ever seen.
Where do you go to discover new artists?
I am a professor at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and The University of Pennsylvania. Both schools have wonderful libraries with magazine subscriptions. Instagram is a surprising resource for current shows and new artists.
Alexis Granwell is an artist based in Philadelphia, PA. She is a founder and member of Tiger Strikes Asteroid, a network of artist-run spaces with locations in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Greenville. Alexis was recently shortlisted for The Hopper Prize. To learn more about the artist: