Landscape Deconstructed at the Hammond: Mimi Czajka Graminski

By Jennifer McGregor

Landscape Deconstructed: Mimi Czajka Graminski and Linda Stillman is a virtual exhibition on view at the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden website until June 2022. It is curated by Bibiana Huang Matheis. The opening on September 11, 2021, included a virtual conversation with Mimi Czajka Graminski and Linda Stillman, moderated by Jennifer McGregor, which has been distilled and reformatted for individual interviews with each artist.

The Hudson Valley artists met in 2011 and were immediately struck by the similarities in their work – and have continued a dialogue since then. Landscape Deconstructed is the first time their artwork is presented in tandem and underscores the way that both artists discover elements of their surroundings and reassemble them in ingenious ways. Through distinct processes, they each preserve fleeting moments of beauty in nature while documenting a particular time and place.

What inspires your use of petals and leaves in the pieces in Landscape Deconstructed?

Using these found natural objects goes along with my ideas about upcycling and using materials on hand. The roses came from a friend’s garden, and I was struck by their vibrancy. I was attracted to the shapes of the individual petals and the way the colors subtly shift within each petal. I wanted to highlight them by extending their life into artwork.

I discovered leaves on my many walks. The golden green lozenge-shaped locust leaves were like bright gems at my feet, and the sassafras leaves had many colors and shapes which intrigued me. Discovering them felt like coming across an abundance of treasures.

Pauline’s Petals 1, 10 x 8 inches, archival pigment print of photograph of rose petals, 2020-2021

How has your relationship with/in the environment deepened over the past two years, particularly since March 2020?

Last year, during the COVID lockdown, I had to move out of my studio due to a roof leak. Although I was able to use a small, dedicated space in my home to work, I was drawn to the outdoors and found myself working outside, mining the natural world for inspiration and materials. During this time, my senses were heightened, and I discovered so much in my environment that had gone unnoticed before. I observed plants closely, and the shifting light and shadows on them. It was finding an entirely new world and I happily translated this deeper connection into new work.

You create work that plays with the ephemerality of light and shadow and then use photography and video to capture it. How has this process developed? 

While exploring this new treasure trove found in the natural world, I realized the materials would not translate into permanent pieces. So, I came up with the idea of using photography and video as a way of preserving these ephemeral artworks. Since both media were somewhat new to me, I didn’t know the rules associated with either medium. This gave me the freedom to explore both. I take dozens of photos and videos of each work, experimenting and using trial and error to refine the process. At the same time, nature is collaborating with me, adding wind, shadows, shifting light. Then I go back to the shots to adjust and edit the results.

Locust Leaf 2, 10 x 10 inchesarchival pigment print of photograph of locust leaves, 2020-2021  

How does chance and instinct inform your work? For instance, where does the drawing come from with the sassafras leaves?  What’s the balance between spontaneity and editing in the petal pieces?

Both chance and instinct are big contributors to this body of work. As I mentioned, coming across the materials (leaves) happened by chance. The contribution of sunlight, wind, and shadow are all out of my control and I use instinct to work with them to create a final piece.

I happened upon the sassafras leaves and noticed that even though they came from the same tree, they were all different shapes and colors. They ended up on my worktable sitting next to pens. It was a natural progression to try drawing on the leaves which made wonderful small canvases for intuitive drawing. I let my hand direct the process and the drawing became very meditative.

With all of this work, I am taking dozens of photos and videos; some are planned, and others are left to the vagaries of the environment. For instance, the sun may go behind a cloud, or the wind might pick up, all contributing to the artwork. Creating the work is made with process in mind, and the editing is done with an eye towards the final product.

Sassafras 2, 10 x 10 inchesarchival pigment print of photograph of sassafras leaves, 2020-2021

You have lived in the Hudson Valley for quite some time. How does place inform your work?

Living in the Hudson Valley region of New York State has influenced me in many ways. I feel connected to the landscape here – the mountains and the river are a constant and are the western boundary to my everyday life. The flora, both native and invasive species, have found their way into my work. The changing seasons give me an opportunity to work in different conditions, as the light, weather, and temperatures fluctuate. Living near the woods, I observe the fauna and their habits, deer, woodchucks, moles, skunks, etc. All of these factors seep into my consciousness and inform my work.

Sassafras Series 3, photograph of drawing on leaves, 10 x 10 inches2020-2021

(Top image: Petal Series Rose 1, 10 x 10 inches, archival pigment print of photograph of rose petals, 2020-2021. All photo courtesy of the artist.)

This interview is part of a content collaboration between Art Spiel and Artists & Climate Change. It was originally published on Art Spiel on February 21, 2022 as part of an ongoing interview series with contemporary artists.

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Jennifer McGregor is a curator and arts planner who brings expertise in ecological art, curating/programing, and public art planning to artist-centered work. For over two decades she conceived place-based exhibitions at Wave Hill. There she activated connections to the environment by producing adventurous projects that explored nature, culture, and site. Through McGregor Consulting she works with clients and collaborators to develop strategies that engage non-traditional public spaces, diverse audiences and dynamic artists.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to the Artists and Climate Change Blog

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