• An Interview with Judith Brotman

    Date posted: May 31, 2011 Author: jolanta


    “Often this ideal is subverted by a reality that is less than perfect and relationships are somewhere on a continuum from the quirky and oddball to the disturbing and unsettling.”

    “Often this ideal is subverted by a reality that is less than perfect and relationships are somewhere on a continuum from the quirky and oddball to the disturbing and unsettling.”

    Judith Brothman

    Leah Oates

    Leah Oates: Would you tell us about your background and progression as an artist?

    Judith Brotman: As far back as I can remember, I was certain that I was going to be a doctor and initially went to Brandeis University as a pre-med student. There was a long circuitous journey from leaving Brandeis at age 19 to finding my way to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at the age of 26. I had virtually no art background when I started SAIC. I enrolled in a weaving class taught by Anne Wilson; it would not be an exaggeration to say that this changed the course of my life. Initially, I felt like a kid in a candy store. One weaving class led to another and ultimately to enrolling and getting my undergraduate degree. I did not quite believe that this would be my life work until I got my MFA, also from SAIC. My slightly later-in-life entrance into visual art seems to have resulted in a great love of experimentation and of process. An art practice requires a critical eye, commitment, and persistence, but for me it is also filled with a joy in working with materials and even in the uncertain results of any given studio day. I can almost enjoy the days in the studio where the work seems to be moving not at all as much as the very productive days. “Almost” is still the operative word.

    LO: You use felt, metal, rubber, found materials, and paper in your work. Why are you attracted to these materials? What do you think they communicate?

    JB: The hunt for the right materials is an integral aspect of my work. I am always a bit anxious that it will elude me, although the search actually does excite me. Frequently I start with the “wrong” material and seemingly by accident (following a thousand false starts) locate the right one. I used industrial felt in an installation called “Objects for Perfect Strangers.” The objects in the installation were loosely based on reconfigured armor. I liked subverting the impenetrable nature of armor by using industrial felt; it’s heavy and itchy but offers little protection. My next body of work was an installation entitled “Captive Audience.” The abstract objects seemed poised to catch or trap or bind. I was again using industrial felt and the forms were organic and limp. That was what necessitated incorporating other materials that would be more rigid and create linear elements.

    Most recently I have been working almost exclusively with white paper and black thread, creating large immersive installations. It seems to focus a great deal of attention on small details such as distressed versus pristine paper, or decorative flourishes versus crumpling.

    LO: Your installation and sculpture work deals with love and how it influences the body.

    JB: Yes, it does. A great deal of my inspiration comes from love stories—Shakespearian and daytime soap operas and quite a bit in between. I am especially interested in pivotal moments, when everything seems to hinge on a moment in time. The precariousness of my installations—many of my sculpture pieces seem poised to topple—reflect my interest in that pivotal or uncertain moment when anything could, but might not, happen.

    I also think about relationships, the desire to make deep connections, as a kind of ideal. Often this ideal is subverted by a reality that is less than perfect and relationships are somewhere on a continuum from the quirky and oddball to the disturbing and unsettling. Those descriptors are somewhat applicable to my sculpture pieces, too.

    LO: Who are your favorite artists? How have they influenced you?

    JB: I have been influenced by a range of post-minimalist artists, most especially by Eva Hesse. She was an enormous influence and inspiration as my work became more and more abstract and sculptural. I am fascinated by the work of On Kawara, particularly the “Today Series,” although there is neither a visual nor conceptual connection to my work. I tend to think of his practice—its objective nature—as embodying something I could never, ever do. And I am incredibly moved by both the commitment and the philosophical concerns of his work. There is no single artist whose work inspires me as much as Rembrandt, in particular the self-portraits of him aging, which demonstrate an unflinching willingness to look into the mirror—literally and metaphorically. There is a Boticelli Annunciation in the Uffizi that I come back to over and over. Compositionally, the space between the angel and Mary—in between their hands—has always suggested to me a kind of never-ending sexual tension. I think about that “space between” a great deal when installing my sculpture.

    LO: So what are your projects coming up in 2011-2012?

    JB: I have a solo exhibition in June at the DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI; it’s the first time I’ll be showing my paper sculpture installation. In September, I have a solo show at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. I’m in a group show of traditional and non-traditional approaches to drawing at Indiana University in the fall. Right now I’m in two group shows in Chicago and there are some projects currently on the discussion table.

    Comments are closed.