Colorful and full of pattern and texture, Christina Massey‘s work holds an organic quality with botanical inspirations. Beautiful to the eye, it’s also good for the environment: Massey’s paintings and sculptures are made largely from repurposed man-made products, such as craft beer cans and cable wire.
The NYC based artist has won such awards as the FST StudioProject Fund Grant 2019 and the Brooklyn Arts Fund Grants 2022 & 2019, and her works can be found in collections of the Janet Turner Museum, Art Bank Collection in DC (U.S.), and Credit Suisse, to name only a few.
In her interview with Suboart Magazine, she spoke about the importance of sustainability since her bringing up in California, the benefits of curating while being an artist yourself, and why not all pieces of art necessarily have to last forever.
By Nina Seidel
Hi Christina, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I’d like to take you back to the beginnings. How did you get into art in the first place and how did you end up becoming a professional artist?
I have loved to draw and paint for as long as I can remember. I got my BFA in painting, and after graduating, I packed up 2 bags and moved across the country (from a small town in northern California) to New York City.
In NYC, I lived in a lot of crappy apartments, and did a lot of crazy jobs for many years, but always making my Art the priority. If that meant working nights so that I could have daylight to work, that’s what I did. If that meant making my rooftop my “studio” I did that. I never gave up. I am always striving for the next thing, to improve my work, challenge myself and grow as an artist and I think that drive and passion is what has ultimately led me to success as an Artist.
Your works are colourful, sustainably created artworks, mostly sculptures from what I’ve seen. Could you please talk more about them?
Yes, I work in both sculpture and painting, however my paintings are very dimensional and include many of the same repurposed materials as the sculptures. In both cases, you’ll see a lot of what can appear to be ribbons or paper in digital images, however this material is actually cut open and painted aluminium cans. I also incorporate a lot of other found and repurposed materials such as fencing, plastics, fabrics and papers, even my paint I try to source second hand whenever possible. My sculptures also often include blown glass, a rather new development in my work which began in late 2018. The glass is blown through repurposed copper forms, and then sometimes a design sandblasted onto the surface before other materials are assembled to finish the piece. These are the more representational side of my otherwise abstract work, and can appear very plant-like, organic and wild despite their very hard material surfaces.
Why is it important to you to work sustainably and have you always worked that way or was there a shift to sustainability at some point in your career?
I grew up in northern California where environmentalism was a normal part of life. I even worked as a professional outdoor mountain and white water rafting guide in college, where I taught others about philosophies like Leave No Trace. This inevitably made its way into my thinking as an artist who is compelled to create objects, it seems imperative to do so sustainably. Despite what we’re taught in school about how Art should last “forever” I just don’t agree that this train of thought should apply to ALL art. In fact I find a lot of inspiration in environmental art which is not meant to last long at all, but simply as a moment in time that will eventually be taken over by Nature.
Despite what we’re taught in school about how Art should last “forever” I just don’t agree that this train of thought should apply to ALL art.
Is there a specific series or work that you’d like to talk about more in detail?
I currently have several of my large-scale paintings currently on view in a Manhattan lobby located at 750 7th Ave curated by the Court Tree Collective gallery. Most are the scale I like to teasingly refer to as “mattress sized” (one is smaller.) All are hanging in this space for the year of 2023, it’s not too far from Times Square or the MOMA and is a fun way to have the work up for an extended period and viewed by a wide audience. These are very sculptural in nature, about 10-13in deep with undulating surfaces, colorful and full of pattern and texture. This series was created just before I began working in glass, and you can see the influence the materials had on the glass work.
You are the founder of the WoArtBlog, a blog that features the work of “exceptional contemporary women artists”. Can you please talk more about it?
WoArt is the platform I have created for my independent curatorial work. It began during the Me Too era as a way to support and give back to the community of artists that have inspired and encouraged my own work and career.
It is not a blog in the traditional sense. I’m not much of a writer, but I am a visual person and use the Instagram @woartblog as a visual blog or diary if you will. It documents the shows I see and love, and I will share artwork that inspires me or represents what is happening in the world or my life. For example, some fun ones have been finding artists that are from areas that I am traveling to, or maybe they work with hair and I have a haircut that day. It is a way for me to share what inspires me as an artist, support the work of others and build community. It has introduced me to so many other artists, curators, activists, writers and more.
I love being able to give back and contribute to the dialog about inclusivity and awareness of underrepresented artists.
Personally, I find it important and would love to see more and more artists found their own blogs, magazines, galleries, organizations, etc. What is your take on that and if you agree, why do you think it’s important?
I would love that too! We all complain that there are just not enough opportunities out there, so when I see artists deciding to do it themselves, and in doing so, supporting the community at large, I love that! Artists entrepreneurs are certainly a thing, and it’s an excellent way to build a network and educate yourself on the other side of the coin. When I started curating, it was like getting a crash course on what to do and not to do as an Artist. I have learned so much about packing work, labeling work, how important it is to pay attention to details, read emails through, etc that you just don’t learn in school per se. Sure, it can be a lot of work, but it can also be incredibly rewarding.
Back to your own art practice: can you please share some of your creative process with me, from a starting point to a finished piece?
I tend to work on several things at once as my work is so process based, but I’ll take you through the various steps stages for one of my glass sculptures as an example. First, I collect empty craft beer cans, clean them out, cut them open and separate them by color. These are gathered from my home, apartment building and local breweries. I also collect old cable wire, which I strip down to just the copper. The copper is then formed into several wire sculptural forms of various sizes. I bring these to a glass studio where I work with a fabricator to create the blown glass. Glass is blown through the copper form to create an organic, asymmetrical bulb.
I then will select some of these glass forms to stay clear, and others I begin to create a design on the surface with masking tape. This design is inspired by the copper and shape of the glass and meant to look like a pattern, but it’s not actually repeatable. These glass forms are then sandblasted and the masking removed to create the patterned glass. I bring these back to my studio where the aluminum and other materials like repurposed fabrics and plastics are incorporated into the piece. I then finish the work by painting the aluminum so that the texts and bar codes can be seen, but the origins slightly obscured. Lastly I will take my time viewing the piece from all angles, and make small trims, slightly changing the angles, thickness and curves of the “foliage” part of the work, and highlighting edges with paint.
Any current or upcoming project or event that you’d like to share with me?
I am currently working on a large solo installation project for the The Gallery of ARTFul Medicine at the Montefiore hospital in the Bronx, NY. I also have a group show opening this summer at the Westbeth Gallery in Manhattan. I am also the curator-in-residence at KUNSTRAUM LLC for the 2023/24 term where I will be working on a couple curatorial projects that will exhibit throughout the year.
What would be your advice for emerging artists, especially those at the very start of their career?
Don’t try to do everything alone. Find or build your own community of artists, share resources, and help each other out. This could be anything from a studio or gallery membership to a WhatsApp group of artist friends. Seek out free resources to help with the administrative stuff like your statement, building your website, where to find opportunities etc.
Don’t give up. This is a business where you hear a whole lot more no’s than you do yes’s. Keep at it and more yes’s will come!
Any emerging artists you’d like to recommend?
Sure, I’d love to! It’s hard to pin down, but here are a few that have caught my eye recently and been really enjoying seeing what their latest endeavours have been. Maggie Nowinski (@maggienow), Melissa Joseph (@melissajoseph_art) and Judi Tavill (@juditavillart).
And last question, what are your hopes for the future?
That’s a big question! Do you mean for me specifically or in the broader sense?
It can be both…
For me, I suppose my hope would be to be able to continue to grow and learn and expand my practice and be presented with the opportunities to engage with community and conversation around my Art. For the broader sense, my hope is that Nature and humankind find a balance, and we’re able to avoid catastrophic changes to the climate.
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Written & edited by
Christina Massey and Nina Seidel
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