Briefly describe the work you do.
My work is mixed-media, sculpturally-minded and is inspired by everyday indicators of humankind’s deeply humorous tendency toward sameness. Lately, the word of the day has been “domestication”, thinking in terms of landscapes, spaces, objects etc. as things to be trained or reformed to fit a certain standard or taste. Currently in my material arsenal: lots of fake nature, remnants from home improvements, art that’s already done for me (compositions of bushes in grassy medians) and really good pens.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I am an only child who had a large amount of time alone with my imagination. I’d do ridiculous things – the weirdest perhaps was the stretch of time where every day after school I’d rollerblade around the parking lot of my mom’s workplace collecting the license plate, make, model and color of every car parked there. I had a meticulous log of this, but never could keep up a diary. I won’t try to unpack that too much. Anyway, I was a weird kid growing up in the suburbs in Florida, and have always been involved in creative pursuits. I played in the band, was a dancer, always illustrated the posters for class projects, but never got formally involved in visual art until freshman year at the University of North Florida. I was so lucky I fell into a great group of amazing creative, collaborative friends, fellow weirdos, and the momentum from those days hasn’t ceased.
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 am currently working on establishing a studio with two fellow artists in my fairly new home of Knoxville, TN. Currently the only toiling has been with drywall, lighting and other logistics, which is still great fun. It has been interesting, though, in the past months of not having a studio, seeing where my “practice” ends up happening (i.e. making things that I can make sitting in bed watching movies.) I can answer this question with my reason for wanting a studio space to begin with and that is to have a place to store things, compose things, and most of all to LOOK at those things. This is essential to me because I work best when I can collage in a blank space with a combination of found and fabricated objects. I need a space just for them to exist against a nice white wall and be tinkered with at a moment’s notice. I’m also thrilled about the dynamic of sharing the space with two artists that I like and admire (see next question.)
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 have become very dedicated to the idea of being a facilitator of the vision of fellow artists. This manifests in a variety of ways including education, assistantships, curatorial projects, collaboration, but especially through pure communication and just being a willing ear/eye to artists in my community. I’ve been adamantly learning about various models for an individual artist practice and found that I personally really thrive in a community of constant exchange – of ideas, tools, materials, books, opportunities, etc. I got into art because of the compulsion to create things and self-examine, but, looking back now I can see that I have stayed for the people and for the challenge of nourishing our common goals.
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 absolutely work best at night. There’s definitely a romantic aura about pushing yourself through the sleepiness in addition to the heightened sense of isolation. But it could just be that I’m not a morning person. Post-graduate school, I’m still feeling out my ideal working style. I can definitely say that I feel any free moment in the day is best spent working – though I’m also still figuring out what “work” means. It’s a lot of reading, looking, wandering around, paying attention. The formal work tends to come in bursts when I know I have a good stretch of time to focus. I like to think that artists are always on, always working in some way.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
My work has proven to be very adaptable which is reassuring considering the many different circumstances I’ve encountered both within and without academia. I have made work that is highly dependent on space and funds and then there is the work I made with the green rugs (buying them from big-box stores, installing and documenting them and then returning them) when I had no studio or money at all. So I can say that a constant thread in my work has been the need for it to happen. Somehow. I can endure the most tedious of processes to make it real and often my ideas are born of such obstacles. Formally, all of my work is linked by very repetitive elements or processes. I work best when I create my own media – that is when I make a large amount of something from some raw material and only when I have a large pile do I think of a response. The compulsion to be almost maniacally engulfed in a process is something that I imagine will stay the same while I always welcome a change in environment/circumstance as inspiration.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I am a genuine fan of so many of my friends and mentors working in all corners of the visual arts. They such are hard-working smart and silly people. My family has been extremely supportive, as well, by always asking the best questions. I’m inspired by artists who have multi-faceted practices as writers, activists, educators, curators, etc. Books and films are always around. Right now I’m reading Rebecca Solnit, George Saunders, David Robbins and absolutely devouring every laugh I can get my hands on, most of which are provided by my number one hero, Tig Notaro.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I have fantasized that the ideal use for my steady hands, good vision and strong capacity for tedium would make me a great surgeon. But I also have to wonder if my brain could have handled everything you have to go through to get to the point with a scalpel in your hand. I wonder if a surgeon has ever thought to call on an artist to make a particularly delicate incision. I’d give it a shot.
Devin Balara (b. 1988) hails proudly from the aggressively pastel suburbs of Tampa, FL. She received a BFA in sculpture from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, FL and an MFA in sculpture from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. She is a recipient of the 2014 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award, a full fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center residency program, a residency at 8550 Ohio, and a curatorial assistantship at Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC. Recent exhibitions include Grounds for Sculpture (NJ), MOCA Jacksonville (FL), Manifest Gallery (OH), Public Space One (IA) and the Indianapolis Art Center (IN). Devin currently works as the 3D Shop Technician at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.