{Arts Magazine}


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Taking a break

Hey there,

As we mentioned today in our new issue, Youth, we’re going to take a little break. Hopefully not for long, but long enough for us to figure out how to juggle the time commitments, and how to provide a better space for viewing and interacting with art and literature, and hopefully a way for us to be more involved and supportive in the process. We don’t plan for this to be a final issue, or a goodbye forever, or anything like that. We actually prefer to think about it more like the transitional period after Peter Green left Fleetwood Mac up until when Mick Fleetwood met Lindsey Buckingham, for the band to form anew to become one of the greatest rock bands of all time.


In seriousness, thank you for all of the support both from readers and contributors over the past 4 years. We hope when we come back we’ll be able to continue to create a project you’re happy to still support.


Take care,

Zach and the entire Composite team.

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Jennifer Hines, Balancing Act

Jennifer Hines, featured in no. 12 Pattern is a Chicago based artist, designer, curator, event coordinator, etc etc. In short, she has her hand in a lot of pots. Naturally, her work is centered on understand how she, and the rest of the world for that matter, balance the tasks, experiences, and emotions we all go through on a daily basis. Recently, I exchanged emails with her (as busy people do) to discuss how she balances it all and what is coming up on her plate.


Composite: What are you listening to/reading/watching that you are really in to right now?

Jennifer Hines: I usually have a couple books going at once, so I’m reading the graphic novel La Perdida, the novel The World Without You, and the audio book Drood…. so I love the narratives and how all the books I tend to be reading somehow seem to connect or something is mentioned that is similar or makes another connection to another, no matter how disparate. I don’t watch much TV, but I just started New Girl for fun… I also just downloaded some songs by Slowdive, an older shoegazy band that was popular in the mid 90s that I rediscovered–iTunes has them too! Very ethereal and nice to study or work to since it’s just great background music…


C: You have a pretty impressive amount of education, BFA in writing, BFA and MFA in art, MFA in art management… How do all of these come together to form where you are as a creative sit today?

JH: I am always learning and exploring, and I think my degrees reflect that… my undergrad I couldn’t choose between writing and art, so I chose both. Now I notice that the written word is very important to me and communicating ideas or concepts is key in both my writing and my artwork. I have a lot of past artwork that uses freewrites, lists, or story narratives that enforce the visual ideas, and so I think that combination in my artwork, whether there is text or not, manifests itself in my need to form a narrative that someone can unravel. The arts management side of it is like the business of art, so it helps me interact with galleries or other organizations, as well as put an anal retentive aspect to my creative process. I’ve always been very organized, but knowing the inner workings of the businesses I am trying to work with is great to help me work more effectively with them. However, it also makes me realize where deficiencies exist. ;o) I also am more motivated to form creative projects that are about community building or play rather than about commercial art sales or the arts market, like artist trading cards by mail (I facilitate an exchange a few times a year, see my website for info) or the apartment gallery I ran a few years ago, which was about giving opportunities and making my own art community in a place so disparate and inaccessible as Chicago (at least to an outsider who didn’t get their art degree here).


C: Your work, including that most recently shown in Composite, is informed by a desire to understand and visualize and narrate how we take in and and process the events of our lives. Your choice to illustrate this comes thru orange and red blocks and rings. What drew you to these ideas, and how did you decide on these visual elements as the ideal was to present them?

JH: These visuals were originally formed when I was on an artist residency in France, and as I was taking walks down the Seine in the countryside, I walked by some type of manufacturing business or building supply business. There were all these piles of shingles, blocks, and terracotta tubes all stacked haphazardly along the fenceline, seemingly forgotten. For some reason, this image resonated with me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started drawing them, and realized that blocks can be symbols for our daily encounters, thoughts, emotions, observations… our days are a stack of all these things, so why not use these block symbols, these building pieces, with the idea of “balance”, of how we stack, order, and balance all the things we encounter in a day. Somehow it just all made sense to me, showing how our days, our personal narratives, and our lives/identities are built up using architectural elements as symbols. I haven’t got away from the reds, oranges, or browns because they are more rooted to the building block, the terracotta clay, idea. To me they don’t seem like real symbols without the color, and would seem arbitrary if they were blue or green since it’s not necessarily about the shapes but about the building up, the stacking…


C: One of the things I really like about your work is that your portfolio creates a narrative all in its own. Your earliest work at first seems to have very little to do with your newest work but, viewed in succession it shows that, much like your work topically, you have literally learned and processed and strategically structured your work. In earlier work, you were formally quite representative, and than began to work with nude self portraits within your themes, and then the self portraits became the backgrounds for your new aesthetic, until your work moved completely to where it is now. Can you talk about this trajectory and where your work has been and how you found yourself at this point of, from what I can see, to be the most abstract you have been to date?

JH: I was originally working on images of nature and how the body and our identities can be expressed through plant growth and animal instincts, so these ideas led me to using the human body in combination with nature to show the juxtaposition and linking of the two. So when I moved to this new body of work (“balance”), I was interested in showing how our own personal identities can be seen as blocks stacked up inside of us, so the blocks have to fit and be ordered within us in order for us to process everything we encounter in our lives–as if we are literally ingesting everything we encounter and it becomes part of us. But the blocks being symbols were more interesting to me, so eventually I felt like I had used the body imagery enough and I wanted to work smaller and more narratively. I started thinking about stories of these blocks, how perhaps one drawing would be a specific day that was represented, or how one drawing might be a specific event. So the blocks became like words, speaking my narrative in a way that they couldn’t with just trying to fit them into a body. They have become their own characters with their own voices or places, and they take up space. As I moved more toward storytelling, the blocks needed to live on their own and be more abstracted.


C: you are involved with a group called the feedback series that puts an interesting twist on the drawing rallies/live art model. Can you explain what goes on with these, how your involved, maybe how others get involved?

JH: Currently we have only done one event for the feedback series, but it was such a great experience. My friend Rine Boyer, another artist, is the organizer, along with some of her contacts who are both artists and performers. The idea was to create an event that basically was formed by the interaction of artists and performers. We held the event in the spring–it was a one night event where three artists (me being one of them) and three improv actors participated. The artists hung their work up on the walls, and the event was formed around audience reactions/comments to the works, as well as the improv artists reactions to the works. There were even cocktails named after featured artworks! Audience participate was encouraged, of course, so each skit was entirely formed through the artwork or the audience. The next event, to be held this fall, will include artworks that the same three artists create artworks that are directly informed from the first event, so we will make new art that will only come into being because the first event happened. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Each event is informed by the artists, audience, and improvisations, and they keep building. Hence the name–everything feeds into the next thing… See the Facebook page for more info! 


C: You have a busy “back to school” time schedule ahead of you, with the Emerging Artist show at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, and an upcoming show/performance with the Feedback Series. How do you prepare for events near each other that are so different in nature?

JH: Geez, I usually fly by the seat of my pants! Luckily they will not be going on at the same time, but I have had times where I had to ship out work to multiple shows at once! Spreadsheets help… calendar reminders… time management, etc. Currently I am busy decorating and renovating our house, as well as developing some web design skills, so I have been spending a lot of creative energy all over the place! The only thing I can say is that I don’t spend a lot of time wasting time and am a dork when it comes to planning.


C: Cubs or sox?

JH: Well…. I’ve determined after all these years that I just don’t care much about sports–growing up in Seattle, sports just really aren’t emphasized as much as in the Midwest. But my husband will kill me if I don’t at least give a shout out to the Sox…


C: Anything else you going on you’d like to let us know about?

JH: Artist trading cards! A fun, no pressure way to get your creative juices flowing!

Atsuko Morita’s Picture in Time.

Atsuko Morita is a Bay Area photographer who’s work focuses on identity and time, with a keen focus in alternative process. After having appeared in No. 11 The Wild, earlier this summer, we were able to exchange emails to talk about whats pinhole photography and whats going on this summer. See more of Atsuko’s work here.


Composite: What are you currently listening to/looking at/reading that is really inspiring you?

Atsuko Morita: Museums inspire me as they always have. Reading and studying philosophy inspires me as well. My life experiences also give me new ideas.


C: Your work shows your interest in a few common themes very clearly, however, you’ve been able to investigate each of these areas very deeply without alienating your other bodies of work. Your interest in the body and DNA has a great cross over to your interest in pinhole photography, at the core both referencing how things re made. Your interest in time comes up in both your transitory photos and your self image and aging bodies. Are these connections intentional, or more happenstance of the things running through your brain?

AM: A lot of it comes from my own issues with gender and identity. The Cells project for one example calls into the question of who we are, what makes us what we are. Early on the inspiration for some of my work may have been subconscious but now I simply find it enjoyable to play with idea and possibilities of the human body.  As far as the photos that show the progression of time, I have always felt something both poetic and inspiring about the idea of time and how nothing last forever.


C: Speaking of Transitory And your interest in capturing moments in time specifically, the most obvious way to cApture passing of time would be film. However, instead you’ve chosen to go the opposite end of the spectrum with the most basic Form of photography available, the pinhole. What drove you to use the pinhole, even versus standard 35 mm or land camera film for this series?

AM: Pinhole photography can give a picture a dreamy look and feel even slightly surreal. Pinhole photography goes back a long way and I have always admired older photographs and photography techniques. For me I just feel pinhole photography can capture the feel of passing time in a manner that other types of photography can’t do. Life itself can often seem like a dream. If the life span of a person could be captured in one shot it would be the ultimate pinhole photo.


C: Pinhole cameras are both the first project in your first photo class, and used by artists such as yourself for large beautiful work. Being incredibly rudimentary object, needing nothing more than a dark close able space with a hole poked in one side, the possibilities of customization are endless. What interests you about pinholes? Do you have an ideal pinhole set up/style, or do you have a collection for different uses?

AM: I have created different ones for different projects. I like the idea of making a camera. It gives me a feeling of control and gives each project the look that I visualized. I like the hands on more traditional way. I make the camera, develop the film, and print it myself in the dark room. I enjoy the process, I find it almost meditative.


C: You are making and showing work both in the US, largely in the bay, and Japan. How would you say the two locations compare and contrast as far as your experience Within their art scenes?

AM: To some degree there are different tastes that come from growing up in different cultures but I think there are more things in common. I am lucky that I have had positive feedback in both countries.


C: What is in store for the summer and remainder of 2013 for you?

AM: Just recently I entered the Residency exhibition at SOMArts and also I received honorable mention for the Juried pinhole exhibition at Rayko Photo center. I am always creating new projects and looking for gallery spaces. Now I am working on a time capsule project hoping to find many participants as possible.

Brave New Art World

We went to the River North area of Chicago last week to the Brave New Art World’s monthly First Thursday gallery crawl and art event. There, we caught up with BNAW’s director, Claire Molek. We were really struck by their mission of building an open arts community through collaboration, and we really encourage any Chicagoans to head out for next month’s show! This time around, two Composite contributors were participating, Meredith an Anna of The Happy Collaborationists, and Chris Smith! I could tell you more, but Claire speaks so eloquently, I’ll let her do the talking!

Also Check out our full album of photos at

Brave New Art World from Composite Arts Magazine on Vimeo.

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Rick Lamplugh, Worshipper of Nature.


Rick Lamplugh is non-fiction author and “worshipper of nature” currently living in Corvallis Oregon, home of the OSU beavers.  While not home in Corvallis, Rick spends his winters in remote portions of Yellowstone National Park working and writing about the flora and fauna around him. One of his accounts of this interaction with nature, Vanity at Trout Lake, can be read in No 11 The Wild, and many more  stories and photos (such as the one above) can be found on his blog Yellowstone Stories and Images or through his Facebook.

Recently, Rick and I were able to exchange emails discussing his love of nature, his past life working in employment rehabilitation, and our ever present mortality.


Composite: You currently live a rather fitting dream life for many readers of The Wild, bouncing between State Parks when not at home in Corvallis, Oregon. What draws you to living closer nature, rather than a more urban area? You’re recently retired, has this location change been a part of that life change, or have you always been living outside of cities?

Rick Lamplugh: I remind myself most every day that I am lucky to be able to live where I want and write what I want.

Since retiring, my wife Mary and I have lived and volunteered during the winter at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the remote northeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park. I love awakening to the howling of wolves, watching a herd of bison meander past our cabin window, cross country skiing in a snow storm, or enjoying how sunlight plays with clouds. In the winter of 2012 we were there for three months, in 2013 for another month. These blocks of time in one of the most complete ecosystems in the U.S. allow me to immerse myself—as do many writers of creative nonfiction—in my subject, winter in Yellowstone.

But I also love coming home where I can write, and relive, those Yellowstone experiences. Starting with my journal entries and research, I write five hours a day, five days a week. And I make sure to get out in nature while I’m home: working in the garden, riding my bike, running in the forest, or floating a local river. These times in nature recharge me and often help me solve writing problems. The structure of a story, for example, may still elude me at the end of a long day of writing, but when I return to writing after a day in nature—even though I did not think about the problem—the solution appears. It feels quite magical, really.

C: During your aforementioned pre-retirement life, you focused a good amount of your career within Career Development, Vocational Rehabilitation specifically. What drew you to this type of work, both career development as a whole and specializing in a topic like unemployment / re-employment of disadvantaged populations?

RL: I was first exposed to the field of vocational rehabilitation while earning my undergraduate degree in Psychology. But I worked many jobs before and after college: ditch digging, working in a factory, serving in the army, installing telephones, remodeling homes, crafting stained glass, waiting tables, and managing a restaurant. Finally, I used my decade-old degree and settled into a twenty-six career as a vocational rehabilitation counselor.

That parade of jobs had been my unintentional apprenticeship so I could help clients—mostly men—retrain for new careers after being seriously injured on the job. What drew me to this work was counseling and supporting tough guys from hard jobs—construction workers and cops, loggers and fishermen, truck drivers and freight handlers—as they overcame confusion, fear, loss, and disability and moved forward into school and new jobs.

This work challenged and rewarded me. And taught me lessons. One of those lessons—how to deal with rejection—helps me now as I submit to journals and contests. I often find myself thinking about how I helped clients deal with the rejection inherent in job search. I advised them to keep going, to see each “NO” as moving them one step closer to “YES.” I also encouraged them to find a way to physically and emotionally deal with rejection. That same advice helps me handle rejection today as a writer.

C: During your career you worked on a few successful books and even public radio concerning the field. An attraction to Media and storytelling has always been there for you and obviously continues, but what came first, the desire to write/produce or work within the field?

RL: I wrote my first book as a matter of necessity. At the start of my counseling career, my job was to help injured workers find new jobs. Most of my clients had a high school diploma or less. I looked around for a book they could use to help them in job search, but found nothing written for people with their educational background. I wrote and self-published Job Search That Works almost twenty five years ago, when self-publishing was not so well thought of. Within a year the book had been picked up by a traditional publisher. I see a similar pattern now, when I read about editors tracking sales of self-published e-books looking for ones they can publish.

The public radio series and the second book were offshoots of the success of the first book. Writing for radio helped me develop as a writer. Each week for three years I wrote and voiced a 700-1000 word piece. I learned about writing to deadline, the importance of a good lead, and using strong sensory language.

C: You spent the last winter in Yellowstone where you and your wife volunteer in the Lamar River Valley. What does the day to day of your time up there look like? When and how did you find time/prioritize your writing?

RL: The work days at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch vary, but a long day can begin before sunrise and in below-zero temperatures when I scrape the ice from the windows of the 14-passenger bus that I drive. By sunrise, the bus is loaded with visitors who want to watch wildlife—especially wolves—and an instructor to help us find the animals and understand what we are seeing. Once I drive the bus where the instructor directs, I help visitors set up spotting scopes and spot wildlife. We often stay out until sunset and then I drive us back to the ranch for dinner and an after-dinner speaker on a topic related to Yellowstone.

A day like that can stretch from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. And for all those hours I’m happily immersed in Yellowstone and the teaching of world-class instructors and speakers. I carry a small digital voice recorder and make notes all day long. I take photos to capture images that I may want to write about later: the sun rising from behind a ridge; a wolf pack playing; ravens, magpies, and bald eagles scavenging a carcass. I write notes while listening to evening speakers. On my days off at the ranch, I transcribe and use the extensive ranch library to research.

When I go on an adventure alone or with friends, I carry that recorder and make notes of what I see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. That’s how the essay that you published—Vanity at Trout Lake—began.

C: You’re working to compile your essays from your time working at the Buffalo Ranch into a book this fall as both an E-reader and paper back. As someone who has been in the publication world for a while, how do you feel about the move towards the E-reader? Does the ability to take your kindle/iPad out on camping trips in the snow excite you or do you still romanticize over the dog eared, well-traveled paper back at the end of a long hike?

RL: I am excited about e-readers and self-publishing. I bought an iPad mini to use as an e-reader. I download many self-published books as a way of learning how other self-publishers are laying out, publishing, and marketing their books.

I am happy to see attitudes about self-publishing changing. Twenty years ago, when I told people that I had self-published my first book, their looks or comments said that a self-published book was not a “real” book. Now, when I tell people that I’m going to self-publish, many say, “What a great idea!”

The iPad is not much use outside in the winter in Yellowstone. The touch screen doesn’t respond to a gloved hand, and constantly taking gloves off and putting them back on is a chilling inconvenience. I do have a number of dog-eared paperbacks, and a few of them go with my wife Mary and me when we backpack. In our tent in the evening, we read to each other from books by Edward Abbey, Gary Ferguson, Sebastian Junger, and Jon Krakauer.

C: You’ve mentioned in your writing, in our conversations, and on your blogs the reality of life and death, mortality, both within yourself and the wild natural world around you in your remote locals. What draws you to this topic, and what perspectives have you learned through your thoughts and investigations there?

RL: Aging drove me to these topics. It took me sixty-one years to finally face some facts: my body is changing with age, I can’t do what I once did, and I will surely die. While I know these sound like realizations I should have had long ago, I spent my first year of retirement exploring and writing my thoughts and feelings about these topics. I read what other had written. I emerged from this cathartic writing with a much clearer sense of who I am, what is important to me, and how I want to spend my remaining years.

I realized that I worship nature in the same way that many people worship a god. My time in nature—whether that’s in our backyard or deep in the back country—replenishes me and puts me in touch with something much bigger than myself. I have learned that I am a tiny part of a huge web of life and that others in that web—whether they are beetles or bison, backyard lavender or giant redwoods, rounded river rock or massive mountains—are important and have stories too. I try to find those stories in my writing.


Jess Cochran, Lover of Hawks (both dead and alive)


Jess Cochran, featured in No 11 The Wild, and I, Zach Clark, share a mutual love of the Chicago Blackhawks and our former home of Chicago-land(ish). Recently, we parlayed about these things, her work, and her other love: dead things.


Composite: You are a Midwesterner born and raised, who has recently relocated to Seattle. How would you sum up the cultural differences and similarities? What do you miss most about the Midwest?

Jess Cochran: A lot of the difference for me personally is the fact that I went from small town living to a relatively large city. Obviously there is much more diversity here than you would find in Stillman Valley, Illinois where I grew up. Like any city there are arts and music and something happening constantly, but there are different influences. There is a lot of Native culture, more than I really saw in the Midwest and very different aesthetically. Fishing is probably the driving industry here while back in the Midwest it’s either agriculture or manufacturing. Right now I work in shipping fish so I see a lot of that fisherman/longshoreman/maritime influence. I think here too you have a lot more of the outdoorsman culture, although it ranges from wearing your North Face for fashion and status to actually being someone who climbs mountains or skis every weekend there’s snow on the slopes.

As far as what I miss, it’s certainly not the corn fields. I would definitely say I miss my family the most; it’s hard being the only one West of the Mississippi! I think it was also easier for me to relax and center myself back in the Midwest, but that may just be more of an urban/rural dynamic since I’m used to being able to walk out the back door and hear frogs or birds or look at the stars. I really miss sleeping in my parents’ barn.

C: You are an avid Blackhawks fan. What about hockey and the black hawks do you love? How do your like their chances within the rest of playoffs?

JC: I love hockey because you take the skills of so many other sports and put them ON ICE. The absolute athleticism of the players amazes me, plus sometimes there’s fighting which is always fun. The Blackhawks have a few stars, but they have finally gotten some great depth with a few good trades and some young players really coming in to their game this year (Leddy for most improved player!); the goalies have been really confident and cleaning up, the third and fourth lines are fully capable of scoring…I’d say we have a great chance at the Cup, although I’m hoping someone else takes out the Pens.

C: Continuing on hockey, and the inevitable asterisk marring the season, attendance has been high across the board all season, why do you think hockey this time around didn’t feel the same negative impacts other sports recently have?

JC: I think that although hockey has a smaller core of fans, they are more dedicated. People have Super Bowl parties even if they don’t watch another football game all year; no one watches the Stanley Cup unless they actually like hockey. I think fans were just so desperate to see their teams they didn’t hold a grudge; I mean, half the fans are Canadian eh? I was relieved that we had a season at all and I got to watch my favorite guys tear it up on the ice.

C: Have you become a seattle sounders fan yet?

JC: I never watch soccer! I guess if I did I would root for the Sounders because it wouldn’t conflict with any other loyalties I have. I do actually see Sounders fans around town, but maybe that’s because they don’t have a hockey team to root for??

C: What exactly is COASST. How did you get connected with them and what are you doing there?

JC: COASST is the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team. It is a group of citizen scientist volunteers organized by the University of Washington. My first roommate that I lived with out here was a UW student and worked with them, and then she passed her beach on to me. I go out to two different beaches in Seattle and walk them looking for dead and washed up seabirds. I use what parts are left and measure them to assist in identifying the birds. I once identified a grebe when I just found its leg because it has a very unique foot, and that combined with the measurement of the tarsus gave me the species I was looking for. COASST is in operation all up and down the Pacific coast, and they will be using the long term data to monitor ecosystem health and marine resources. The bird collection data sets a baseline against which events such as major storms at sea or things like oil spills caused by humans can be assessed and monitored. I just had to do a little training and now I get to beachcomb for a cause.

C: You have an expansive collection of skulls, bones, and other general remnants of animal life. What drew you to this interest, especially when your sister [Composite Editor Kara Cochran] shares a similar interest in animals, but in much more adorable means?

JC: Well, I think Kara and I get the animal love from the same place; we grew up in a veritable menagerie interacting with animals every day. Mostly domestic, but every once in a while a neighbor would bring over an orphaned bird or Dad would find a snake or raccoon to raise for a few weeks or months. I always liked going hiking or camping in the hopes of seeing some wildlife. I was interested in biology in school and then my first job in college was a field job studying birds where we would hike off trail through several parks in Illinois. That’s how I found my first skull, a beaver skull that was somehow perfectly clean and gleaming ivory with these big orange buck teeth. I am absolutely fascinated by what these animals look like under their skin and fur. The shapes can be so different even though they all have the same bones. I also like that I can get so up close and personal with dead wildlife. It’s great to see it alive from afar, but sometimes you just really want to inspect it and feel it and see how it moves and relates to itself. That’s part of the reason I really love working for COASST even though I don’t collect the birds. You get to see all these different traits and specializations of form up close and you start to understand more about them in life when you see them in death.

Amaris Ketcham: Curation, Creation, and Culture in the Technological Age

Amaris Ketcham, who’s creative non-fiction “First Rust” appeared in No 11 The Wild, is a woman with her hands in a lot of pots. She is educator at University of New Mexico, a Graphic Designer, a regular contributor to arts and lit blog Bark, and an author currently working on two large projects in an X Files “fan poetry” chapbook and a collection of essays about her current home state. Even as a person as over committed as I [Zach] am, the amount of successful diversification she is able to achieve seems exhausting. However, from what one can deduce, the array of fields Amaris is involved in has given her an experience with in the larger creative culture picture allowing her to have a very poignant finger on the pulse of what is going on in the community we are all helping to create. You can find out more about Amaris and her work on her website.


Composite: You’re teaching at UNM in Albuquerque, received your MFA at Eastern Washington University, and may or may not have spent some time in Kentucky. How did you get to these places and where you are now, locationally speaking. How long did it take you to learn to spell Albuquerque without thinking about it?

Amaris Ketcham: Actually, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Kentucky. I grew up on the Bourbon Trail, and I came to New Mexico first as an undergraduate at UNM. When I was eighteen, I wanted to live in America, but in a place that was wholly different than what I thought of as “American.” I narrowed my choices down to New Mexico and Hawaii and flipped a coin. The trickiest thing about spelling Albuquerque was that so many people pronounce it “Alburquerque,” which I think is closer to the original Arabic spelling, meaning a place of apricots.

After a few years, I missed the rain and green landscapes, so I relocated to Washington, first living in Spokane and then Seattle. When I was there, I started to miss the cultural diversity that New Mexico has. Even though Washington and Kentucky are very similar, I think that I actually suffered from culture shock. When I moved back to New Mexico last summer, it was during monsoon season, so the lavender was blooming and there were double rainbows every afternoon. It was gorgeous, and I had this feeling like I was actually coming home.


C: Your practice exists quite amazingly dead center of being a designer and an author. People tend to fall to one side or the other. What gave you the gusto and made you decide to embrace both equally? How does the balance fall out for you in your practice? 

AK: I started working as a designer before I began seriously writing. Writing and designing actually share many of the same characteristics. Both are centered on communicating an idea and the most effective means to achieve relating that idea to an audience. Each uses movement and structure, whether it’s figuring out what information needs to logically come next in a narrative or where the eye lands and moves to next on the page. That attention-grabbing lead sentence might be thought of as where the eye would land first on a design, and then proximity of information creates a flow. You use repetition to keep the audience engaged while contrast surprises the audience and give depth to the work.

Both work with visual imagery, creating a tangibility of ideas, and it’s important to move away from using cliché imagery, or visual metaphors such as “love is like a red rose.” For instance, I was recently working on a project, a cover design for a set of philosophical and spiritual dialogues, where the client asked for a silhouette of a young woman holding her arms up to the sky, as if embracing wisdom from heaven. This “inspirational” image is overused in spiritual designs, so I moved away from it, and worked instead on incorporating an surgical drawing from Gray’s Anatomy, with a head sort of exploding into watercolor clouds and birds in flight. The metaphor’s impact is the same, but it implies less passivity.

So, I like to think that designing helps my writing rather than taking time away from it, because I’m still practicing the same skills. I started moving away from designing once I began teaching, which means that now I can be much more selective about the projects I pick up.


C: One of your main gigs is working as the Faculty Advisor for the University of New Mexico Honors College Literary Journal, Scribendi. Following into your own footsteps, you’re taking the year to teach students both the technical tool sides of publication, but also the editorial and content creation side of things. Pedagogically, do you think it’s important for the next generation of creatives to have the full rounded suitcase, or is your focus more on collaboration and teaching of both sides and the need for each other? 

AK: I like to think of my Scribendi course as merging an arts education with STEM education’s technological emphasis. Because the magazine staff participation is a class rather than an extracurricular activity, we can really dive into design, copyediting, literature and arts assessment, desktop publishing software, print production, and small business (small press) management. Each student acquires this diversity of skills throughout the year.

I do think that it’s important for students to work on becoming well rounded. One of the things that I have been thinking a lot about is that these younger millennials are maturing in a society that values content curation. They start a Tumblr page and instead of putting up their own material (as with blogging or writing in Live Journal), they select images and blurbs from the Internet as a way to relate and display themselves to the world. In one sense, they are already understanding what effort and thought goes into assembling a cohesive work, like a magazine or exhibit, but in another sense, they aren’t creating the work themselves.

One of the things that I noticed students doing this year was communicating only animated gifs. One would make a comment and use a gif as a supporting statement, and another student would respond with an argument (“or the audience might think this:”) and find some other gif that displayed the thought. Before long, there would be nothing but this chain of moving frames representing a conversation. So the challenge becomes, okay if you’re going to communicate in this way, let’s open Photoshop and learn how to make our gifs rather than spending all of that time trying to find the right one to share our idea.

Finding this balance between creating and curating is going to be something that becomes more and more important for future generations, so it’s important that they learn the tools necessary to express themselves, and in that sense, be rounded.


C: This has really been on my mind as well, especially within a blogging context. I am of the generation I came of age actively live journaling. We wrote about our lives for anyone to read, but I feel we recognized it was generally for ourselves or for an audience of friends. Over the last 5-10 years blogging has shifted to a monetizable platform, which has in turn caused a rise in people wanting exposure for their blogging and ideas. This has given way to an idea that everyone’s opinions are valid and should be made public. Do you see that coming through with your students? Do you think it’s valid?

AK: Lately, since Google has announced that it announced that it will stop supporting Google Reader, I’ve been wondering whether this death of RSS aggregators is signaling either the death of blogging or the possibility for something new that I can’t even imagine in my technological innovation-limited existence.

However, I’ve often thought of blogging as a modern-day form of pamphleteering. They vary in size, are controlled by the author, contribute to modern characteristics of American writing, are pretty damn cheap to publish, and often have a polemic chain-reaction of responses and rebuttals. They tend to spread ideas, not necessarily great writing/literature. Here’s what George Orwell said about pamphleteering (for fun replace pamphlet with blog):

“A good writer with something he passionately wanted to say — and the essence of pamphleteering is to have something you want to say now, to as many people as possible — would hesitate to cast it in pamphlet form, because he would hardly know how to set about getting it published, and would be doubtful whether the people he wanted to reach would ever read it. Probably he would water his idea down into a newspaper article or pad it out into a book. As a result by far the greater number of pamphlets are either written by lonely lunatics who publish at their own expense, or belong to the sub-world of the crank religions, or are issued by political parties. [...] There have been a few good pamphlets in fairly recent years. D. H. Lawrence’s Pornography and Obscenity was one, Potocki de Montalk’sSnobbery with Violence was another, and some of Wyndham Lewis’s essays in The Enemy really come under this heading. [...] When one considers how flexible a form the pamphlet is, and how badly some of the events of our time need documenting, this is a thing to be desired.” –Orwell, “Pamphlet Literature“

So blogging itself, and its spread of ideas and personal opinions isn’t unique, except that that the potential audience has grown—you can reach billions of people in a relativity short period of time. As far as whether I see this coming from students, that’s harder to pinpoint.

To be honest, a majority of my students appear to either be painfully shy or still learning how to participate in large group turn-taking during class discussions. The most vocal ones either have that same vocal personality that lends to blogging or editorializing or writing Montaigne-style personal essays—either that, or they’re a little older and have the experience and maturity guiding them to participate. Some of them, though, are much more comfortable writing, and for those students, the class blogs do wonders to demonstrate their personality, voice, and insights to the rest of the class. 

What concerns me more is that this push to publish, to try to gain a wide audience almost instantaneously can lead to insincerity or superficiality of thought.


C: Even once you’ve gotten to personal creation, the impact of curating and cultural targeting is putting its hold in. Blog content is targeted at specific audiences, and handmade/craft goods are being branded as part of a specific lifestyle. Sites like Pintrest are creating a more informed and inspired (maybe?) demographic. Do you see this shift as a crutch for contemporary creatives, or is it just a rise of artists/authors who are more economically savvy? 

AK: Did you notice a couple years ago when this shift to personal branding started? It was bizarre on a lot of levels—individuals were talking like companies and companies were impersonating individuals. And that really started to rise even after Facebook stopped forcing you to talk about yourself in the third person, in that uncomfortable Bob Dole way status updates used to be. So while folk arts (crafts) are being branded as a potential lifestyle choice, that same Etsy artist is branding both his or her person and their shop. It’s business savvy to a certain extent, but going to this unprecedented personal level. 

Sites such as Pintrest have a great potential to inspire, but they also divorce the original creator from ownership, collaboration, and watching their work grow into something not conceived by the original project. For instance, last fall, I started working on this sculpture of a creature that I was calling Bunnythulhu, a minor deity with influence over bureaucracy. I worked on it and told people about it in passing, and this man decided that he would crochet a cute, stuffed animal version of it. So a deviation of the project appeared, and it was fantastic. He’d taken the starter idea and re-envisioned it, and I was rewarded by seeing the outcome. You don’t get that with Pintrest.


C: New Mexico is a magical and mysterious place, from the still very visible Native American population and culture, to the vast openness of much of the state, to the constant source of strange and unexplainable events in the state. New Mexico is home to Roswell, the Trinity Site, and America’s largest Nuclear Waste disposal facility. How has living in a place like this shaped your work?

AK: I think that some of the magic and mystery of New Mexico comes from the intense sun, very hot summers, and consistent state of dehydration—all of which mean that during the day, when most people are the most rational, we’re operating under this kind of dream logic, seeing gods and devils on the mesa and faces in cliff sides. It’s a beautiful and unnerving landscape. New Mexico’s land is remarkably diverse—with over 4,500 species living here, it’s the fourth most diverse state in the union. There are even jaguars still eking out an endangered existence in the south. But it’s also a land that, like you mention, is set aside by the national government to be sacrificed as a violence laboratory. A testing site for atomic bombs and a disposal site for nuclear waste. For a person interested in the environment, this contrast is unique and terrifying.

I’ve been working on a collection of essays about New Mexico and an apocalyptic theme runs through them, because it’s almost impossible to avoid. For example, I was working this essay about a “chupacabra” that was found on the West Mesa, just outside of Albuquerque, and the city’s willing suspension of disbelief. We’d rather believe that a mythological creature turned up in our open space than acknowledge that the West Mesa is this frightening place where people dump carcasses.


C: You are currently working on a project involving poetry comprised of repurposed X-Files dialogue. What drew you to this and what does your process look like? What does your system of limitations look like within the project (ie, are you set to only lines Mulder and Scully say, or is every character available). The amount of source material is so expansive with 9 seasons and 2 films. How do these read topically? What’s the reading going to get out of these?

The X-Files poems are a project that challenges the line between cultural consumption and creation. Each of the poems is composed of words of dialogue spoken in X-Files episodes. Repurposing these words and rearranging them mixes found poetry with fan poetry (as opposed to fan fiction).

What I’ve been doing is taking a transcript from a particular episode and compiling a list of words that combine the language of scientific inquiry with more descriptive words. Then I work with this word set until something emerges. While each poem contains words that may reference the X-Files, they don’t rely on the TV show, individual episodes, or prior knowledge to function. In fact, approaching them with an expectation that they will reflect or recreate and episode would only hinder reading. They don’t describe what happens on the X-Files, or who the characters are, but they do contain a similar sense of mystery and inquiry, big ideas and issues, and a smattering of 1990s references


C: What are you listening to/looking at/reading right now that you are really getting lost in?

AK: Well, I’m grading final papers this week…and listening to “Loco” by Hector Lavoe on repeat.


C: On a scale of 1-10, how amazing are Hatch Chilis?

AK: This question is more political than it sounds!

I was a lecture a couple weeks ago about the potential threat of Monsanto engineering chiles. The southern, Hatch chiles are a genetically modified “Chile No. 9,” and the fear is that Monsanto will build upon that work to create a Chile No. 10, a chile that will go straight from the test tube to commercial salsas, and rob the people of their heritage food traditions in the process. In contrast, chile from Chimayo grows out of this holy dirt that heals peoples’ illnesses, which make this northern chile almost heaven-sent. 


C: As a lover of the Hatch chili, and all things green chili thanks to a 4 corners state upbringing, this breaks my heart. 

AK: I maybe misspoke. [or the interviewer completely misunderstood and got emotional] It’s my understanding that Hatch chiles are genetically modified, but these varieties come from a more field-based form of artificial selection, and bred selectively for certain traits such as high yield, resistance to droughts, and ability to withstand shipping. That would still make them genetically modified organisms, it’s a touch more traditional than the Chile No. 10 rumored to be in production by Monsanto. And they’re still local, because they aren’t yet mass-produced in China. But if you want a solid chile, a really hot, gnarly one that’s been stressed by the sun, look for something from Chimayo or one of the smaller communities.

Exciting Surprises w/ Richards Wood Craft


I [Zach] have know Kevin Richards, the man behind Richards Wood Craft, for almost 15 years. We met in the awkward years of High School, spending the majority of our time falling in love with the dark room and the mysteries and magic of film. These formative years, thanks to a very influential teacher, set our creative wheels in motion. Fast forwarding to now, through a number of various pit stops and side roads, we’re both making work today, altho not in the medium we both first loved. Kevin’s wood work can be found in our latest issue No 11 The Wild.


Composite: You’ve worked within and are comfortable with a number of artistic mediums, especially photography. How did you find your way to woodworking, and what grabbed your attention about it?

Richards Wood Crafts: This thought came up a few days ago for me. I came across an old photograph I took at a concert probably in 2001 somewhere in Denver with you. The venue was dark, the lights were multicolored, and the guitarist I was photographing was moving around the stage. I remember running through the settings on my Minolta and adjusting the shutter speeds and aperture with respect to my film speed. After I developed the film and checked the proofs I wasn’t in the least bit surprised by how the surreal and color splashed guitarist turned out because I was so familiar with my camera at the time. I don’t think I was anywhere near being a great photographer, but I had developed that relationship.

With woodworking right now I barely have a hint of that understanding. When I cut into or join together different woods I’m most always surprised with the results. That’s what has really pulled me into this medium so strongly. The outcomes have been exciting.

 C: Your admittedly new to the wood working world.  What sort of investment did it require to get started? 

 RWC: Since beginning this experiment, I’ve acquired a nice collection of power tools. Originally, I wanted to teach myself how to carve a small spoon. After a few failed attempted I realized I didn’t have a natural talent for that. My former boss, who I look up to as a very capable person who can make or fix about anything would give me advice. I’d come to him with a problem of shaping wood for a projects and his response would usually be something like, “Well, you know what you need don’t ya? You ought to get yourself a miter saw” or planer, or miter saw, or dremel tool, etc. And so I did. Each new tool opened up a few more options to what I could make and how I could make it.

 C: The bulk of composite’s contributors (and probably readers) work within a fine arts studio context; paint on canvas, dark rooms and laptops, the occasional power tool or table saw. What’s your work style like? What’s a day in your studio?

RWC: When I moved to Salt Lake a few months ago I turned half the space of my landlord’s tool shed into my workshop. It’s incredibly unimpressive, but I sort of love my little space.

My whole M.O. revolves around the desire to make something personal with my hands that people would want for themselves or as a really neat gift. So after I load up my iPod with a few hours worth of podcasts and music, I work on the idea for that week of what people might appreciate. I get on different kicks for a while with projects. My girlfriend stole my pencil to put up her hair a few weeks ago on a drive so I made figured wooden hair sticks from exotic hardwoods for a few days. A few people bought them. I waited too long in a restaurant lobby to be seated, so the next week I made wooden spinning tops so that I could have something in my pocket to occupy my boredom in those scenarios.  I’ve spent weeks making individually designed wooden goblets for a wedding, and bowls and spoons always pique my interest to try new things. I might have answered your question somewhere in there.

C: You’ve spent your life living in the West; Colorado, Idaho, Utah, etc. What impact has this had on your identity, especially as a creative?

RWC: I guess I have spent the past few years bouncing around the West. Whenever my father is asked what I’m doing with my life he often answers. “Oh, Kevin? He’s out finding himself somewhere I think” with a smirk. He’s exactly right. I’ll be 30 in a few months and I’m terrified of going to location 40 hours a week where creativity isn’t a factor. I’ve found a lot of support to pursue lofty goals in making a career in woodworking from artists in the West. I think this part of the country just has a very strong can-do attitude from able people who just live that lifestyle. I recently wrapped up a short apprenticeship with an incredible hardwood furniture craftsman in Salt Lake at Ivory Bill Furniture. It really opened my eyes to what great talent comes out of hard work, attention to detail and a love of wood.

C: Word on the streets is you make a killer eggplant Parmesan. Any interest in leaking the recipe?

RWC: If any of the readers pass through the Salt Lake area, I’d love to show you how to turn a block of wood into a bowl and discuss art over my secret eggplant parm recipe.

Patricia Rodriguez, in [email] conversation

photo by Sam Bortnick Photography

Being married to a Texan, I (Zach) have spent more of the last 5 years in Dallas than I had ever expected to. There are opinions and stereotypes that float around about Texas, least of these within the community Composite is a part of, is that of Texas being the next artistic hotbed. However, what a lot of us aren’t talking about or aware of, is that (besides Austin of course) cities like Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston are massive metropolitan areas with resources (and money) and creative communities coming out of the woodwork. This has only become more evident to us by the amount of submissions and proposals that have begun to roll in from across the Lone Star State.

With Issue No. 11, The Wild, we rolled out our Artist Proposal calls. For the first two years of Composite, we, the editors, has been inviting and selecting Visual Art contributors based on personal relationships and work we had seen ourselves. We have been accepting literary work via blind submissions for awhile, but moving forward we knew we needed to open the conversation up to creatives we weren’t running into ourselves. We wanted to open our circle up as big as we coud. Patricia Rodriguez is the first visual artist to be included in Composite through our open calls. Based out of Dallas, I specifically was excited to work with a member of a community happening right under the nose of my extended family, in neighborhoods I barely know but am growing to love.

Recently, Patricia took time out of her super busy schedule to talk with us about her art, her health, and whats going on in South Dallas.


Composite: You might not know this, but you were the first artist we accepted through our new proposal submission calls. How did you find out about composite? How often are you submitting your work for new things? How much of your work time is spent on getting your work out there vs making your work? 

Patricia Rodriguez: I found out about Composite through this site called Art Hash  they regularly post open calls, opportunities and the like for artists. I had no idea I was the first artist accepted but I was super excited to be! I try to be proactive as possible in submitting for new things but of late I’ve been getting ready for some art shows and have slacked off a bit. I do try to catch the major things, like Texas Biennial, even though I’m busy. But usually I try to start my week by finding a few new places to submit, you have to have your fishing lines in the water so hope for new opportunities stay alive.

C: For our most recent issue, the wild, your work involved heavily around birds and bugs and where they call home. An evosystem all their own, what is the catalyst for the use of this kind of imagery in your work?

PR: I wanted to utilize creatures that were right outside your doorstep most likely, our little suburban neighbors. A lot of my work deals with bringing attention to the natural world that is around us here and now- not in some wilderness or exotic place. I feel everyone is always plugged in to technology and the busyness of modern life and should “log in” to Nature a little more. I think there is an upset in the balance of what is natural if you don’t recognize the natural world you live in and realie that everything we have is derived from the Earth. I give humanlike virtues to the creatures in my paintings- doing things that we do….work, survive, push through trials, form societies and families, seek the fruits in life…in hopes of drawing the viewer in and feeling a kinship with the creatures instead of a revulsion like “Ew! A bug!”

C: You call Dallas Texas home. Obviously Dallas, and Texas as whole, have a reputation in regards to culture, accurate or not. What is it actually like living and making work in Dallas? 

PR: Well honestly it is very hard in this town in some regards. Dallas in general is built on restaurants, entertainment and business and it is just now starting to understand that the Arts have been neglected and more of a focus is being turned toward it. There is a cry for “how do we get young artists to come live in our city and help the arts flourish?” by the clueless city planners –with no regard to the fact that the artists ARE HERE they just need opportunities to thrive. That being said the arts community is amazing and helpful and always providing opportunities to each other in various ways so it has it’s pluses living here in Dallas but trying to survive as a full time artist here- extremely hard.

C: There seems to be a real Renaissance going on in neighborhoods like oak cliff, with the Bishop Arts District and the explosion of great new restaurants and breweries popping up all the time. (This interviewer is sad 4 months still about how quickly I drank up the Oak Cliff Roasters Christmas blend) When did all of this start in motion. What are Some of your favorite spots?

PR: I’m a little biased on this question because I grew up in Oak Cliff and have resided here for 36 years so while I appreciate that there’s a plethora of places to grab a cup of coffee and dinner now I also see the bad effects of gentrification going on and familiar spots being torn down, neighbors being kicked out. But that being said I do have a couple of spots to give the thumbs up to, {neighborhood} in the Bishop Arts District actually has….ART! They do a great job of showcasing local artists in their interior design shop, more places should do that. From the Ends of the Earth does the same as well as focusing on recycled, upcycled and Earth friendly art and goods.

C: You have a process somewhat untraditional to the archetypical painter, combining acrylic and krylon (spray paint). What does this process look like in practice? Spray paint/tagging/murals are all common place with in the rising world of street art. Does this growing movement have much context in your work?

PR: I actually love graffiti so much it was the subject of my final term paper in Art History class, that being said I can’t tag if my life depended on it. So I found a way to incorporate the spray paint into my work giving it a different context on canvas. When I did the first painting this way it started with a spray background that reminded me of an ugly tie dye shirt. I hated it. I painted on it and hated it. For the first five hours of painting I hated it until I started to see what was happening- it started to have this really amazing 3D effect, soft and diffused in the background, sharp and graphic in the foreground. It’s something I’m still exploring but from that first sprayed piece I knew I had finally found what I was looking for, my signature style. Now each painting starts that way and for the first five hours it is hated and ugly. It’s like my Nature graffiti, maybe I can put it on a big wall mural style some day.

C: You’ve recently been hit with a few health struggles. What all is going on, and how can people help out? 

PR: Yeah, I’ve had chronic pain for years and it has slowly just gotten worse so much so that the past two months have seen me in the ER more times than I’d ever care to be. After many tests and misdiagnosis the doctors finally see cysts on both ovaries and since it’s been an ongoing source of extreme pain, nausea and vomiting I’m fairly certain a surgery is going to be needed. I’m uninsured and a struggling freelance artist so this comes as a huge blow to me. Having to miss a week of work because I have to go to the ER every month is just not an option and I won’t even mention the outrageous medical bills ($830 for a 3 minute ambulance ride!) So if anyone would like to help out I started a GoFundMe page for donations, you can find it here

The outpouring of help has been amazing and gives me hope that I can face this ailment and get through it, I have an army of awesome souls behind me!

C: What is up next for you? 

PR: I’m in the middle of getting work ready for my first solo show at Baylor Health Science Library at the end of May and preparing for a big joint show at WAAS Gallery with Neil Matthiessen in July. These require a lot of new paintings so I’m hustling to make it happen. I will need at least over 25 new works and time is ticking! It’s a lot of stress but it’s also a lot of fun, I’m doing what I love to do- painting! I usually have about 3 good weeks in the month before I start getting ill,  so I try to paint as much as humanly possible in a day, it’s amazing therapy. Every day painting is a great day.