Cassandra Ott – Chicago, Illinois


“Opera” Colored pencil, ink, and acrylic on vintage photograph, 2013, 8″ x 10″

Briefly describe the work that you do.

My current body of work uses vintage photographs purchased from antique stores and flea markets as a foundation for drawing. I find these images intriguing because their abandoned histories are so disconnected from the people and memories that gave them their original and personal value. By reclaiming and intuitively marking upon the photographs, I construct my own compositions, blurring history and memory with color and organic forms. Themes of time, distance, and family histories are juxtaposed with my corresponding interests in color, structure, and formal design. The resulting work merges repetitive marking and pattern-based aesthetics upon ephemeral records created by unknown photographers.

At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?

I’ve always been interested in making art, but it was not until I first took a black and white darkroom class as a teenager that I felt I had a unique perspective to express and share. Developing my own film, processing and printing my own photographs, and learning how to visualize the world in my own way all provided me with the curiosity, satisfaction, and confidence to pursue art-making as a way of life.

5/52 Project: week 10

“5/52 Project: week 10” Colored pencil and acrylic on vintage photographs, 2013, 6”x15.5”

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

My mother took me to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh almost daily throughout my childhood, especially during the summer months because the large, old building was nice and cool inside. I would spend hours in the hall of gems, studying the varying structures, shapes, and textures of all the stones and minerals. I loved all of the rich colors and the seemingly endless forms of the crystals mesmerized me. My mother owned a weaving store at the time and I also enjoyed investigating her pattern and costume history books and baskets full of colored yarn and threads.

My father is an architect so I grew up studying his more composed vison of form, design and structure. At his office they had tile, paint, and fabric swatches and an endless array of Prismacolor markers that I played with for hours on end. Starting around the age of eight my father and I began to take art classes together; watercolors, figure drawing, black and white photography, jewelry making, etc. I particularly loved the chemistry aspects of the photography classes. Watching images emerge in a darkroom was a magical experience for me.

My current work reflects aspects of all of these influences: the organic forms and repetitive structures of crystals, the rich woven patterns, the design elements of architectural frameworks, all work with my strong interest in the process of photography and its role in documenting family histories.

5/52 Project: week 13

“5/52 Project: week 13” Colored pencil and acrylic on vintage photographs, 2013, 10”x 10.5”

What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?

My conceptual concerns address order, balance, organization, growth, and self-imposed limitations. I’ve always been drawn to photography’s inherent characteristics, particularly the way the frame produces a specific perspective, editing our conception of the larger world, while simultaneously providing a clean method with which to present this interpretation. I find the repetitive nature of pattern extremely satisfying and I also enjoy the way in which a free-hand drawing, when repeated, naturally grows into larger structures.

I’ve learned (especially in the last few years since having a child) that I really like order and organization. I’ve worked in different media over the years, but have always liked establishing a set of parameters and seeing the range of images that can emerge from those boundaries. With the 5/52 Project, I am investigating ways to have found-images make sense together as part of a larger whole. By adding repeated color and form, the photographs begin to talk to each other creating a new dialogue over the original memories.

We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?



I have an Andy Warhol quote hanging over my studio desk that echoes Close’s work ethic. He said: “Don’t think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

I started the 5/52 Project as a way to get back into a regular art making practice. The goal is to make 5 small pieces of art (from a collection of vintage photographs) every week for one year, hence the 5/52 Project. Creating this set of boundaries is helping me immensely to be accountable as it defines a limit for completion so I can (or must) move on to the next set. Sustained creative production helps me in all aspects of life and makes me a happier person. I’m excited to see this body of work taking shape and it is already fueling new projects to come.

What artists living or non-living influence your work?

Helen Frankenthaler, Gerhardt Richter, Judy Pfaff, Sebastian Bremmer, Thomas Nozkowski, Lena Wolf, and Kirra Jamison, to name a few. I’m loving what April Deacon is doing with vintage photographs as well.

When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in? 

Chasing my kid around, cooking and baking, pattern design, hanging out on the beach at Lake Michigan


Originally from Pittsburgh, Cassandra has always been fascinated with art and photography. She was fortunate enough to have parents who were artistically inclined and they recognized Cassandra’s interests as more than just a passing phase, encouraging her genuine talents. Cassandra took art and drawing classes with her father throughout adolescence and found unfailing support and inspiration from her mother, a weaver. Since 2001, Cassandra has worked with both of her parents as part of the family business, Riverside Design Group, where she applies her many art, design, and photography skills.

Cassandra advanced her keen eye while studying photography at the University of Cincinnati. Her plate designs generated from her work at Riverside have graced tables from four-star hotels, the Getty Museum Cafe and homes around the country. Cassandra’s photography and her signature designs have played a vital role in developing Riverside’s brand, securing its design-forward identity. Cassandra’s passion and involvement in the arts and design communities provides her with endless creative ideas and opportunities. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband Aaron, son Silas, and Hopper the cat.

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 

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