To Great Affect
Through multiple modes of production, in particular those of a post-industrial society, it is easy to disassociate the personal investment of its maker. For artist Olive Panter, negotiating the boundaries between the art commodity and its inherent collection of blood, sweat, and tears is uncompromising. To strip away the emotive and personal mythologies of the artist is to leave a work unresolved. Panter considers this conundrum in dealing with works that are often an edition, dispersed far and wide.
ti: Where do you consider the formative value of printmaking? Is it the realized edition or the means of the processes?
op: The hard thing to do is usually the right thing to do and the hard things to take are never going to stop coming. I think of it as equipment, a cornerstone for control. My work is very personal, even though it’s almost all based in something found, and the process is crucial for me. I rarely know why I have to do something so I need to know where I start and where I end, even if it winds up really far away from where I initially thought. Printmaking is strict, even when you’re fucking with it. It lends itself to obsessive people, I think.
Being human is generally really hard. Broad strokes here but, basically everyone is in pretty constant turmoil, beknownst or not. We’re up for grabs in so many ways, based on insane chance. The constant witness and experience of being at the whim of so many horrible outside forces is nuts to contend with. There are so many seconds and eras of historical, situational and personal impact that add up any given moment or reaction and printmaking has always seemed to address that for me. These discrete, interlocking parts form something beyond themselves when they get laid on top of each other: these things need each other, shapes like and unlike themselves, to be reconcilable. But the separation of them is key, too.
Breaking something heavy into digestible parts to handle it is the only way to understand or change anything that needs it, and it’s laborious, to say the utter least. You have to actually feel it to get past it, which is bullshit. It fucking hurts. Woodcuts are the same as any trauma. I wreck myself carving but it’s constructive violence and most hurt isn’t. I’m building this thing by tearing it apart. I know that disfiguring this perfectly planed element is leading me somewhere necessary and will add up to more than itself in the end. The repetition, that effort, that compilation, it’s cathartic. I trust it. It makes sense. Most things don’t.
But that isn’t to say that the edition isn’t interesting in itself. Just the connoted language of printmaking: you’re leaving a mark, one that stays with the logic’s help and then multiplies. That’s power to me. I don’t think I could paint a traditional painting and make the kind of mental dent I need to. And that means pouring my shit out into a form that if someone responds to it, if someone needs it, —because I know I’m not alone in alienation—they can have it. I believe in accessibility and tend to share too much of myself to my detriment. Prints are a package it’s safe to give myself away in.
ti: Do you consider it a conflict when your practice is as personalized and cathartic as it is, be tethered to an object that is cultivated for its aesthetics, if not eventual monetary value? Or is this something to push against?
op: Well, my work is tethered to images that already exist, words that already have meaning. It isn’t cultivated for aesthetics, more by them and whatever subconscious motivation. The aesthetics are the only way I can touch those parts of myself. I have to put it elsewhere, in a language that can’t ever fully resolve itself. I can’t ever fully be resolved. It’s just the way I process impossible scenarios to get through. And everyone has those. I’m making things for myself with the understanding that I’m not special. Frustration, anxiety and depression aren’t mine, it’s communal. The things I’m working out, other people need to as well. While my work is personal, I hope it’s also outreaching. Emotions are too insane to tie down in pure speech, it has to be dealt with on a different level. It’s irrational. I would hope someone else can access the solace I’ve found by taking these sensations apart.
Besides that, I make things and I’ve got a hand that’s mine and cultural influences I can’t help. My aesthetics are driven by a comics and pop song format. A narrative in context with some universally accepted form of clarity and communication. Trying to work off of a golden ratio people (and I) can already accept and access within our culture. Building versions of myself, my brain, my experience, my doubt, out of other places, other people who have a future that’s now past just makes sense to me. Something changed somehow because that’s what time does to the individual. I’m interested in a history that is recent enough for people to remember it, far enough away so we can see signs of change and structured to describe how little actually has. The aesthetic is tied to the aura of the source, a personal experience of someone else’s that I just feel tied to. I’m not alone in my problems and reactions and when I look around and listen and make, I can feel that, instead of just feeling like it’s all me. The world and the way we interact, pretend to progress, is problematic.
There are a lot of bullshit artists in the world, not as creators but in interactive intent, as humans. They’ve made falsity their life, to make themselves feel better, and they’ll try to take advantage of you every chance they get. Just true. An honest and trusting person can’t sell their self short. If you don’t set standards for yourself, someone else will, and odds are, it will be lower than what you deserve, in every facet of engagement. I don’t take my work lightly, I don’t take my body lightly, I don’t take my love lightly, my moral code, my beliefs. A financial worth is about commitment. I need someone has to respect the soul that went into it. I’ll sliding-scale that shit, trade as thanks for little—what counted—but no fucking way am I handing my guts over to you for nothing. World’s fucked and/but enough money matters. My work is a part of me and I—not alone—get enough taken away from me every day, in ways I expect and don’t. It’s an issue of self-respect. Humanity is fueled by exchange, it’s not just commodification.
The art world makes no sense, and I don’t want to let it change the way I make things. I’d rather do something else and work outside of it than have some self-absorbed structure dictate how I should work. Not saying that’s all it does but having grown up in it, it’s fucking hard for someone with a heart. A lot of disappointment and insult, a lot of selfish people pretending they’re not so you’ll wind up a stepping stone. I think being honest and true, and fuck the rest, is a complete counter to that.
ti: Let’s talk about variables. Consider this proposition different from “variations” where the differences are perhaps less purposely cultivated.In seriality, do variables serve as nuances to tap into or do you prefer a larger indication of change?
op: I rely heavily on variables, on fuck-ups and loss, within my work. I think the variables, what I’m interpreting as mishaps or incongruences, really stem from choices one faces in any practice, but especially within process-driven works. I feel like some of my most successful, legible cues of differences within a series just have to do with an evolution or degredation of my hand and body or thought throughout the making, which is entirely tied to my fascination with how things stick around in the world longer than their theoretical expiration date. In printmaking, you’re constantly coming up against limitations and failures, no different from trying to communicate on a day-to-day basis. You can’t really ever erase most things so you have to figure out how to build atop it, add it up and make it make sense.
Figuring out how to incorporate that reality is part of what initially drew me to printmaking. You can hit a point where it seemed like everything you wanted something to be was just completely ruined and it forces your brain to reach for this addition just beyond the whole of your flaw, that without the fuck-up to back it, couldn’t exist. I can have all the intention in the world and it’ll never save something from being infiltrated by chance.
But things you can control, color or transparency, image and intent, I don’t see it as fundamentally different from another medium. I have control over most elements, besides myself, in my processes. It’s usually my head that’s gotten in the way and it’s nice to have that undercurrent of former attempts within my work. If I’m showing you one or two, there are eight I spent months on that you’ll never see, but even with the missing information, I feel like you can glean other versions, other selves that just didn’t work. It’s usually the ones I feel like I couldn’t really control that wind up being the best ones.
Conversely, if I’m showing you six, you’ll see a vast difference in the choices and craft from one to the next. The time shows. I like that. The variables come down to decisions and they’re innate, maybe not even mine. I’m meditating in the long term with this stuff and I hope the repetitive parts reflect that unknown and that attempt.