You’ve been working as an artist for quite some time, but seem to have had a very layered and interesting career working across multiple fields. Can you tell us a bit about your personal history and your move towards focusing solely on your art practice?
I was raised to be an artist—my mother doesn’t like it when I say that, but it’s true. Becoming a professional artist was always my goal, and I studied Studio Art at Reed College. I’ve had a studio outside my home and a serious art practice since 2004. I’ve had several careers that helped support my art practice over the years, including being an Immigration Paralegal for 12 years and the co-owner of an art, architecture, and design bookstore for eight years. Additionally, grants and fellowships have been a critical component of the foundation of my career and its growth. In 2018, I won the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Painters and Sculptors Grant. That same year, I sold my half of the bookstore and became a full time artist. As a result of this transition, the work has become more labor intensive, the materials include things that I buy new instead of always relying on used items that I’ve found, and the work is larger in scale. Having studio time has made all the difference. I’ve never done as much work as I did in 2022. I'm very proud of the exhibitions this year: City Dip at Pace Prints and Shrimp Head Momma at Nino Mier Gallery. I look forward to my next New York exhibition at the Shrine Gallery in May 2023.
Your exhibition at Pace Prints reflects a bit of a shift in your practice. Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition and your work in the print studio?
I’ve lived in Oregon all my life. I wanted the work I made at Pace Prints to reflect that I was living and working in New York for the first time. The history of art has so much to do with place and with periods of time when artists came to New York. I sought to respond to the City as I was learning to make work in new ways. It was a jumble of newness, which is a good way of making work—going from the gut without certainty – leaning into the years that got you there.
Working collaboratively with master printmakers and papermakers who were willing to make just about anything happen was a dream. First, we developed a common vocabulary, and they paid close attention to who I am, how I work, and what I’ve made. That allowed me to really thrive during the residency—their level of care all along the way They guided me into new processes that enabled me to expand upon my ways of being as an artist. I am a materially driven artist, a queer and feral responder who seeks to incorporate elements of the outside world into my work. I also draw and think with scissors. Through collaboration, I was able to expand the possibilities of my work. As a collage artist, my source materials have always been limited to the scale of the book. At Pace Prints, I was able to determine the exact color and textures of large-scale monoprints, which became the source materials for my collages. At times, it felt like I was cutting up gold. The papers were so precious—a result of a lot of labor and consideration.
How did this exhibition with Pace Prints come to fruition? Have you had a longstanding interest in printmaking?
I’ve studied printmaking, done a printmaking residency, and commissioned master printmakers to produce my work. In October 2021, Pace Prints came to me while I was showing in New York at the International Triennial of Contemporary Art at the New Museum. I was ready to push my work in new directions and gain new skills. What I didn’t anticipate was loving everyone at Pace Prints so much. They have become dear friends as much as they are my collaborators. I feel like I have a new rock in my practice.
Blair Saxon-Hill "City Dip" (2022).
Monoprint 57 3/8 x 39 1/4 inches © Blair Saxon-Hill. Photo courtesy of the artist and Pace Prints.
The works included in City Dip really engage with the process of printmaking. Can you tell us about some of the techniques you used?
There are several types of works in City Dip: unique monoprints, collages made from monoprints, and handmade papers that are the result of layers of pulp that have been painted and collaged onto another piece of handmade paper when it’s wet.
In our initial meeting, I told Pace’s printmakers that I wanted to produce prints that master printmakers would have a hard time understanding how they were made. I don’t enjoy being able to trace the "how" of a print or a painting, for that matter. We achieved that goal. I am fortunate to benefit from master printer Justin Israels’ invention of a magnetic printing technology that is currently only used at Pace Prints. This greatly enhanced the mystery of the production process. We coupled that innovation with pressure printing fabric textures onto the magnetic plates. This was new for Pace and made for some very exciting reveals on the press bed each day.
The exhibition offers such a great taste of New York City. What was the experience like to focus so specifically and deeply on one place?
It makes me very happy to hear that you feel the show offers a great taste of NY. It’s hard to image something so unwieldy and unknowable in its grandeur. Too what is a city – it is the specific as much as it is the totality – just like a face or an abstract painting.
New York holds so many realities and cultures. I tried to focus on things of the everyday that were potentially more universal. One of the great equalizing aspects of New York is that going anywhere is a trek. I love the fact that so many experiences I had in the process of arrival. I made this show during the pandemic—so many of the works depict outdoor scenes with buildings. That said, there is one work that is particularly special—it depicts the plant window in the printmaking studio. I wanted to memorialize the plants gifted by artists to the studio—a space of inspiration that builds upon itself.
Can you share a bit about your process? How do you begin to conceive of a new body of work?
Gosh, it’s hard because it’s like freefall every time. I don’t do the same thing twice, so I have to generate something from my core. I don’t typically enjoy work that teaches you about science or an entire show based on a book or something. I prefer to respond to the world according to our time. It’s excruciating—the joy comes in the middle of the process. I’m filled with self doubt for some time. I have to write notes to myself that say things like "trust yourself, trust the process." Then things eventually build—the work builds itself, and I can reflect and then begin to guide it. The most important thing is to keep working. I’m a workaholic.
What are some of the exhibition highlights? Are there any particular works that stand out to you as favorites?
There are two pieces in the show that are the result of a collaborative dance between me and master papermaker Akemi Martin. The works are entitled Even the Ocean is Here and Regarding You. Akemi studied my process and how I was working in the papermaking studio and came up with a new way of working for us. The result was a gorgeous exchange: she would make sheets of paper and I would cut them up—I would cut the wet pulp while it was still on the pelon, which is like a sticker back for wet pulp. The cut pulp sheets would then get collaged onto a wet base sheet of handmade paper. The collages were made without any plan and just based on what she was essentially feeding me as material. I would call out if I desired a certain color, and she would mix the pulp and pigment, pull a sheet, and I would carry on. The work doesn’t always come easily, but when it does, it's time to really push. Those works came from the most beautiful, timeless flow between two people.
What other creatives—artists, writers, and musicians—have been most influential to you?
I love Antoni Tàpies, Nicole Eisenman, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Huma Bhabha and so many others. I listen to sad music like Patty Griffin. I used to title my works after words by Maggie Nelson, Paul Celan, and Tranströmer.
What are you reading right now?
I loved Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer, now I’m reading her book A Handbook of Disappointed Fate.
What are your interests outside of art? What else inspires you to create?
How do I find inspiration?
I’m a big fan of water and saunas. I love to cook, go to grocery stores and farmers markets. I enjoy being in the woods or the desert. I love letting my mind wander at a poetry reading. When I’m really stuck, I’ll try to overwhelm my senses—the best and cheapest place for me to do that is the Goodwill Bins; there I gather materials. Materials inspire me—oddities discarded by others, scraps of fabric, something old and broken waiting to be upheld.
Thank you for this interview!