Briefly describe the work you do.
I have a multi-disciplinary, material based practice. I work with a lot of dirt, salts and other sediments on surfaces I sew together. Although my ‘paints’ are not traditional. I like to consider my works within a painting language- how materials congregate on a surface is of immense interest.
An intention in my work is for the conglomeration of matter to take precedence over placeable distinctions. Rather than to equalize, I aim to create a visual experience complex enough to begin a dialogue between seemingly set categories of matter.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I spent my childhood in rural New Mexico. The expanding space, the quiet palette, and the tough but elegant sensibility of the desert continues to direct and form my aesthetic.
When I was an undergraduate at Bard College I focused on installation. Although I am now making discrete pieces, I think my education in space based work very much informs the three dimensionality of my paintings.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I make most of my work on plastic sheeting on the floor, and pour my inks and dyes rather than apply them with brushes. The formation of the sediments is more organic and interesting to me this way. When I’m working on a big project the whole floor is covered with drying pieces and I have to hop around my studio! Recently I have been developing a similar printmaking process, in which I use the weight of my own body to create pressure.
When I get the chance, I really like working outside. Because of my interest in sediment conglomerations, the less controlled my workspace is, the better.
When I get stuck, I think it’s usually more productive to take a break from the studio rather than keep pushing on something that isn’t working. I run a lot, and practice yoga. I consider physical movement to be a pivotal part of my studio practice, as my best work tends to come from a more intuitive body thinking rather than cognitive understanding.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I think that the dichotomies we have grown used to (organic/ inorganic, industrial/ handmade, new/used, disgusting/ clean etc.) are increasingly more complicated and ambiguous in our technological world. Yet our reliance on polar classification often shapes how we understand, value and ultimately respond to our environment, and I would argue, even our own bodies. Using matter to consider a crossover attitude and treatment between external landscapes and the human body is something I take very seriously. Although I believe this was always a driving force behind my work, I’m not sure if I was always aware of it. Only through a continued studio practice did I find expressible clarity.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I am currently in graduate school with the tremendous blessing of time. Most days, I try to work at least eight hours. My mind is freshest in the morning, and I aim to get to the studio before eight. When I get to the studio I spend about half an hour tidying up, which jump starts my mind. I use the morning energy to work on writing and drawings, and the afternoon to prepare materials, and work on bigger pieces.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
The first work that I made that I really had a heart connection with was a drawing in my freshman year Drawing 101 class. Frustrated with drawing from life, I buried a large piece of paper in the ground, and took it out everyday to distress the surface. When I took the piece back into the studio, I spent many hours mending the ruptures that had occurred.
As I prepare for my M.F.A. thesis I am pleasantly surprised to see that I am enacting more or less the same practice. Although my work develops, grows and becomes more focused, there are many elements that I am starting to suspect are likely to be around for a while.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I read Leslie Marmon Silko’s book Ceremony at least once a year. Thich Nhat Hanh, H.D., Hildegaard Von Bingen, Thomas Merton and Patanjali have been very influential philosophically. Recently I’ve been very excited about Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter.
I look at a lot of textiles. Most recently Diné weaving and Coptic fragments have been on my mind As well the sense of touch in many Duccio paintings.
In terms of 20th century artists, I have been thinking a lot about Lucas Samaras, Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson, Alberto Burri, Judy Pfaff, and Leonardo Drew.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I think about what it would be like to be a surgeon. In college I worked as an E.M.T. on my school’s emergency medical squad, which was very influential. I try and make my work with caring hands.
I also love thinking about nutrition and healthy cooking. I think in another life I would like to develop clean and nourishing recipes, and work with nutritional education in schools.
Martha Tuttle is a multidisciplinary artist currently finishing her last semester of the M.F.A. program at the Yale School of Art in the Painting and Printmaking department. Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Martha has shown her work throughout the U.S. and abroad. She has received several fellowships including the Josef Albers Travel Grant, and a research fellowship at the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.