Alongside fifty other artists and writers, Matt Mignanelli spent January working in sub-zero temperatures in a church in Vermont. The residency allows for focus, Matt says, and the amount of snow makes for very productive environments. We asked him a few more questions about the residency itself, his “studio mates”, and what it was like to work in freezing conditions…
You’ve just spent January in Vermont, as part of a residency there. What was it like working in those freezing conditions, with all that snow around?
It was extremely cold, at one point dropping down to -27 c, but an incredible experience. I grew up in North East America, but this was my first experience with temperatures that low. There was also about a 2 week period in the middle of the residency during which it snowed every day, which is great when you don’t have to shovel or commute.
The winter weather made for an extremely productive work environment, and kept the Vermont microbrews nice and cold in the snow out back of the studio!
Can you tell us a bit about the residency itself?
The Vermont Studio Center offers visual artists and writers the opportunity to live and create in Vermont with the sole responsibility of focus, and the production of new works. Throughout the program, notable artists visit to present slide lectures, as well as visiting the studios of each artist in residence. This was great, as you have the opportunity to engage these artists in conversation and critique about your work, drawing on their experience and opinions.
One of the most important aspects of the residency is the community itself. Artists travel from around the world to attend the program and it is comprised of a really broad age group. This diversity within the artistic community created such an invigorating environment, and a wide range of work to absorb and learn from.
You were working alongside 3 other artists. What was that like?
Our group was assigned to studios that were in a converted church on Main Street, stained glass windows still intact. My studio mates (aka the Church Crew) were Jenna Ransom, Eric Elliott, and Sarah Laing.
Jenna Ransom lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Working on both paintings and drawings over the course of the residency, she continued an exploration of the unexplainable energies and deep environments that nature holds. The paintings are constructed using layer upon layer of transparent washes, creating a depth in the works that is captivating. Strongly rooted in reality, the work maintains a wonderful enigmatic quality. We had a blast together in Vermont, and she makes a great 7-layer Mexican dip for football games.
Eric Elliott is a painter from Seattle, WA. Through the build up of heavy oil paint and repetitive mark making in neutral tones, his paintings of interior environments and still lifes emerge. The paintings have a special dreamlike quality to them that really engages the viewer, forcing them to look well beyond the surface to decipher the faint references that define his space. Besides being a talented painter, you couldn’t meet a nicer guy than Eric Elliott.
Sarah Laing is an artist originally from Scotland, now living in Philadelphia. Throughout the residency she was creating large scale, very intricate ink drawings of organic forms influenced by cornfields and plant life. The works were engrossing, each piece drawing you in to examine the painstaking detail that encompassed every aspect of the work. Sarah and I bonded over our mutual love of whiskeys and late nights.
Everyone was making really exciting work and it was inspiring to be surrounded by people creating such a high caliber of work. Over the course of the residency we all became really close friends, and had a couple of Vermont adventures together. One such unforgettable experience was our trip to a local watering hole, Robbie’s Wildlife Refuge. Robbie’s was as authentic as they come: taxidermy, Budweisers, and Nascar memorabilia. True backwoods Americana.
Did the environment change your work in any way?
Having the time to intensely focus on my work without any other distractions allowed for some really major breakthroughs for me. I was able to experiment with some ideas that I’d been thinking about for some time, but had not executed. I began working on a series of paintings that consist only of blues and greys, which is a new challenge for me as I strive to maintain the vibrancy in the work, while moving away from a colourful palette.
What’s next for you?
After working together in Vermont, Jenna Ransom and I decided to share a studio together back in New York. We’ve just moved into our new space in Brooklyn, which is very exciting. I’m continuing the series in blues that I began in Vermont, and am focusing on making large-scale paintings this year. I’m looking forward to see what else 2011 will have in store!