Q+Art: Christina Massey Weaves a Series of Otherworldly Ecological Wall Sculptures
Inspired by an appreciation for nature, artist Christina Massey crafts conceptual art with an otherworldly spin. In her collection of modern wall sculptures, the New York-based artist perfectly balances the elements of each piece to bring the three-dimensional artworks into harmony.
To create the sculptures, Massey weaves or hand stitches strips of aluminum beer cans into undulating shapes that seem to have a life of their own. Her exotic ecological forms, reminiscent of alien flowers or landscapes seen from above, raise questions about the conflict between consumer choice and environmental preservation.
In fact, Massey’s work is consumed with contradiction. “The works have multiple layers, not only in their process, but in their topics of conversation and conceptual ideas,” she notes in her artist statement. When Massey began her career as a fiber artist, her chosen medium was criticized as being too feminine, and too closely associated with crafting. These days her use of “craft” beer cans is both a play on words and a scathing indictment of what qualifies as feminine or masculine.
Massey’s rejection of strict gender roles in the art industry led to the creation of WoArtsBlog, a curated Instagram account and blog that showcases work from women artists around the globe. The project began in 2016 as a way to share work from female-identifying artists. It has since grown to over eleven thousand followers, and continues to push the boundaries of what women can accomplish.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Christina Massey discusses breaking into the art industry, experimenting with unusual materials, and turning constructive criticism into groundbreaking results.
What one book belongs on every artist’s shelf?
Christina Massey: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists paperback, edited by Sharon Louden. This is one of the most realistic books I have come across of what it means to be a living working artist today.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
CM: Judy Pfaff.
What are you trying to express with your art?
CM: Ultimately, everything in my work comes down to connections … At its core, one can always find several connecting threads in my work, found through everything from the materials and process, to the colors and patterns and titles of the work.
Do you prefer New York- or Chicago-style pizza?
CM: NY in terms of crust—but I'm lactose intolerant, so no "real" pizza for me.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
CM: There are a million things that artists are asked to do or do for free all the time; even maintaining an active Instagram account is work that is primarily unpaid and for exposure, if you think about it. I would warn artists from paying for exposure, as that rarely works in the artist’s favor—and be very selective if you choose to donate a work. Donate for causes you are truly behind and feel strongly about.
What person has most influenced your work?
CM: I like to think of my work as a mash-up of influences from several artists I love. Barbara Chase Riboud, Miriam Schapiro, Chakaia Booker, and of course Judy Pfaff, who I mentioned before. I love and relate to the works of Maria Nepomuceno, Rina Banerjee, Hillary Harnischfeger, Aiko Hachisuka, amongst others. I basically created my curatorial Instagram WoArtBlog because there is just so much amazing work out there that I love that I needed a place to put it all. Of course, I tend to be compared to male artists most first, like Frank Stella, El Anatsui, and John Chamberlain—and I do love their work, but I think people jump to them just because it’s what they’re taught. I basically love artists working in a variety of materials, love it even more when it’s repurposed materials, and in a very tactile manner.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
CM: Lately—binge worthy shows. I particularly love shows with strong women leads, like The Queen's Gambit and Marvelous Miss Maisel.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
CM: I'm proud of just getting to where I am today; this is not an easy industry to get into when you don't have a single contact or connection. I am living a life that I’m not sure anyone thought was actually possible, myself included, and it’s the life that I wanted. That makes me really proud of myself every day I go to the studio. I am also proud of doing it my own way, not taking the traditional path, and by being inclusive and supportive of others. I have focused on building through community versus just being worried about myself and my own career path, and I’ve found that in helping others, it helps all of us, myself included.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
CM: I had been encouraged to experiment with new materials after a studio visit. I had been working a lot with discarded khakis and collared shirts that I had gathered from former bank employees during the recession at the time. There was, and unfortunately still is, a lot of pushback on female artists using fiber materials, and the comment was very much in line with that sort of thinking. The inclination was that I needed to separate myself from fiber arts in general, that it was too "craft" associated. While I disagreed with the comment, it did encourage me to take an opportunity I had to go to a residency to challenge myself to see what I could do with something different, material-wise. I chose to bring none of those fiber materials I had been working with, and forced myself to try something new. That was the first time I began to use the craft beer aluminum cans in my work. So while I didn't fully agree with the sentiment behind the advice, it did change my work for the better and pushed me when I did need some pushing. Sometimes the comments you disagree with end up helping you more than the ones you do!
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
CM: It's too exclusive for one; I would love to see more people involved on all levels. From more art in schools to more diverse collectors. There is still this elitism that lingers that prohibits so many people from even walking in the door of a gallery, which is really unfortunate. Within my own friends and family there are many people who seem to feel intimidated to come to an opening, out of place, like they don’t belong there. Art isn’t only for the wealthy.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
CM: I just listened to Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah. But I love podcasts too; there's some great ones that interview artists that I enjoy. It's like getting to do a little studio visit in a way. I Like Your Work, Beyond the Studio, and Art for your Ear are all great interview podcasts.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
CM: I've been really drawn to working large right now. A lot of my 2020 I was focused on working small. At first that was because I was recovering from an injury and needed to focus on smaller work for that reason, as my larger work is very physical to create. Then I was focusing on smaller work for the mail art collaborations, which needed to be small. So now I really want to go big! I’ve been clearing space in my studio for some new large work, so that’s what’s up next.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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