Hard and Soft with Isabella Norris and Titus McBeath
Written by Tyler Nicole Glenn
Isabella Norris is a Chicago-born artist working intuitively with familiar forms. She tries to find instances where craft and technique can be subverted by intuition, chance, spirituality, color, and energies to create divergent organic forms. Norris is a recent graduate of Columbia University in New York City. You can find her on Instagram here or her website here.
From Findlay, Ohio, Titus McBeath is a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City. McBeath's work explores the relationship between manufacturing and the poetics of everyday consumerism. His serial objects take the form of 3D printed food and digitally sculpted corn chips, shown on small custom-built monitors that speak to his upbringing in the midwest, where the major exports are corn and manufacturing. You can check out more of his work on Instagram or his website.
Tyler Nicole Glenn (they/them) is a visual artist and writer based in Tampa, Florida. They are a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts, where they received their BFA in Fine Arts with Honors. They've invited Isabella Norris and Titus McBeath to conduct an interview-style conversation before their work is featured in STP Group Show 3 at Pegasus Prints Gallery. You can find Tyler online through their Instagram or their website.
TNG: How would you describe your practice?
IN: I'm anti-practice. I’m one of those people who is like, My “practice...” What does that even mean? One thing I do over and over is exploiting materially-driven techniques to find something organic and magical. I'm kind of a little factory. I make tons of units, making something different each time using the same process. Frankensteining processes and getting magic, that's really what I'm looking for.
TM: I'm kind of the opposite. When I start something, I have a very set goal for what I want it to be. I’m driven to fulfill an end product. I pull from manufacturing culture, industrialism and Americana. Recently, (my practice) has taken the form of 3D printing and computer driven objects but I don't want it to be limited to that.
IN: I do 3D printing too. A lot of CAD, a lot of Rhino, but it’s quite obscured.
TM: It’s cool that you're using it differently. It's not obviously 3D printing. A lot of 3D printing has a certain look to it.
TNG: Do your backgrounds influence your work at all?
TM: Yeah, a lot. I pull from imagery and life experience I've had living and growing up in Ohio. I like to reference a lot of suburban culture; teen angst that has spun itself together into a perverted idea of the American dream. I’m looking at things our parents or grandparents took as the American dream [as a way of seeing] how our generation has interpreted it. I take that short lineage of American history and pull from a weird subset of midwest culture I’ve experienced first hand.
IN: I grew up in Chicago, and there’s a really strong, ingrained sense of local art community and place there. That created the mindset that I ended up bringing when I moved to New York and encountered different people who are making art. In Chicago, that community was very into making art for the artist. That has always stuck with me. Then my parents moved to Las Vegas. I love the desert. Being somebody not [originally] from the desert who wants to be from the desert has really affected my work. I spent a whole summer working in northern Nevada on a grant project. I love construction and moving Earth. My work can be primordial and indescribable in the same way that objects from the desert are.
TM: What do you think about Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains in Las Vegas?
IN: I love that piece. At first, it might seem a little strange, but when you go out there and stand with it, it's completely magical. It corrals a lot of land art ideas, and says “there’s many different ways we can do this.”
TNG: When I first saw that piece, I was driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and was like, “Oh my god, we have to stop! What is going on here?” It really deserves to be a land piece. Photos of it and the smaller editions that you see at Art Fairs don't really do it justice.
IN: It's very majestic; you wonder how it was made. One of the things that I love to do is wonder how something was made.
TNG: Though you both use nearly opposing sculptural mediums, your bodies of work invoke a similar contrast in terms of softness and hardness. Could you speak about what this means in terms of your work?
IN: For me, it's the balance of everything. I'm obsessed with hard and soft. It speaks to an equilibrium in nature that my work intuitively gravitates toward. A lot of the time, I'm working intuitively. I'm grabbing things, forming fabric onto hard things, and working with materials that have completely different molecular structures. There's something natural about fusing hard and soft into one.
TM: Nature is already perfect, so I think referencing it is always a smart decision. When I think of hard and soft materials in my work, I think of technology and using crazy technological elements like stepper motors and Arduinos, then having those mimic organic form. The tension between hard and soft, that's really beautiful.
IN: [Nature] mediates and gives structure. Structure, for both of us, is a big deal. With sculpture, it’s how you're constructing the work at a basic level, but also from the making perspective.
TNG: Could you two tell me a bit about Group Show 3?
TM: It's a little bit of a mystery. We know who's in it, we just don't know what work everybody's putting in yet. I'm very honored to be doing a show with all these amazing artists. I also think it's a bit of a survey of what's happening in our generation. The artists in the show are of a generation that doesn't get a voice usually. Most of us are right out of school, so I think it's cool to get this opportunity.
IN: Yeah, me too. For all the same reasons, it's just exciting. I do know it's in a print shop named Pegasus Prints. I was in a couple of the STP digital shows and it's an honor to be in a real life show, especially in this age of digital shows.
TM: I was thinking about digital shows the other day. It doesn't seem sustainable at all. I know it's what we have to do right now, but there's something about going to a physical space for a physical show that just doesn't feel the same [when compared to] a digital space.
TNG: How did you get involved with Serving The People?
TM: I [first] got involved with the BFA Show. That's how I got to know your work, Isabella. Just going through the artists and looking up all their work. Since then, I've become friends with Ben and LA, who are curating the show. The rest is history.
IN: Literally, the exact same for me. I just applied to the BFA Show. I was like, “Okay, I'll just apply to the show. What’s the worst that could happen?” And it opened up a lot of doors to new friendships. It’s amazing that people were willing to make new friends last summer. I applied to a few more of their shows and now we're here. It was like Titus said, the STP digital shows were a great way to see other artists from all over the world. The lovely thing was that it connected people. What was so unique to me about STP was that people were nice and wanted to meet up.
TM: I think that's a rarity, and I'm glad that it's happening more often now. Because we’ve been so cut off from physical interaction, people want to be in conversation more, so nice conversations happen more often, in a strange, roundabout way.
IN: Maybe people are more supportive. I've felt very supported by random people in the last couple months. It's much appreciated.
TNG: Both of you received your undergraduate degrees during the pandemic. Has that changed any way that you conceptualize and create your work?
TM: It was such a letdown to get kicked out of the studio. I didn't make anything for a few months during the first part of the lockdown. It was almost like school didn't end. We had an online commencement and then they were like, “Okay, you're done!” It's been taking me a little while to actually feel like, “Alright, that part of my life is over with.” I had to leave some ideas back at school. It's taking me a little while to get over graduating in the way we did.
IN: My school had a similar experience; abruptly ending. I was right in the middle of a lot of things that I was enjoying, so that was hard. Maybe I'm kind of sick for saying this, but it was like all the pressure from the end of my degree was alleviated. All these works I was thinking I was going to make, they became like “Okay, no one cares. Be healthy, be with your family, go home.” I didn't really need to have this big shabang end of year thing. We kind of had one [big shabang] online that lingered into the summer with these digital shows, but I'm just now getting a studio. I liked the comfort of working at home, but at the end of the day, I need my home to be free of my work so I can rest.
TM: I enjoyed having a studio at school, but now I make all my work at home. It's interesting that you like your home being free of your personal work. I find that I can never stop thinking about working, so I like it around me at all times. If I need to do something, I can just go over to the other corner of the room and work.I
N: My work is a little chaotic sometimes, and I'm also a crazy cleaner. My mom told me that Georgia O'Keeffe, before she could paint, had to clean every single drawer in her house. I really identify with that. I have to have a place that looks like a hotel room. Even though I'm spending all my time at work, transit, and in my studio, if I'm going back to my room at 11pm, I just want to get into my clean bed. Has my approach changed because of the pandemic? I don't know yet. I’s too soon to tell. I'm sure it has in some very profound ways.
TM: Especially now, it's easy to start making work in a vacuum where you're just making work for yourself, by yourself. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Being in a community of people on the internet, like with the BFA show, that really helped me break out of my weird shell and see what other people are doing. I think it’s important to react to art that is being made by your peers.
TNG: How do you see your practice evolving moving forward? What are your goals?
TM: I hope to get a deeper understanding of why I'm making what I'm making. I have a version in my mind where I'm making this object because of XYZ [reasons]. I hope I can step back and understand it more. Maybe that will help with the flow of new ideas, or give me inspiration to use new materials.
IN: We get pigeon-holed on the trajectory that we're on. It takes something for us to pause, look, and maybe redirect based on feeling, philosophy, or how we got there in the first place. Everyone should do that. This show also put my ass back to work. Honestly, just keep taking risks. That's what I keep telling myself. In the next couple months, I will be a year out of undergrad (minus the pandemic interruption, where I also didn't want to make work.) I was just trying to have fun, be sane, and safe. Every piece, for me, is about growth, and thinking a little bit harder about what I'm doing.
TNG: If you could give advice to a young artist or younger version of yourself, what would it be?
TM: If I could tell high school me, [someone who] was an art nerd and a very nervous person, it would be to seek out people who like your work and like hanging out with you. Find that support group and you're already setting yourself up for success, whether that's big or small.
IN: The most helpful thing to me is to find people who are outside of your community who you can learn from and experience the world with outside of college. Also, make sure you enjoy the process of your art. I've spoken to so many young artists who feel like they should be doing a certain kind of work that they don't enjoy. It doesn't make any sense, because you're the main benefactor of what you're making.
TM: Also, read about artists and work that you like as much as possible. That is something I wish I would have done more at a younger age.
IN: Research is so important. You don't even have to try. It should be fun. I love just watching people on YouTube, especially artists. That's one of my favorite things to do. You find out who the hell could make this kind of art, and what is going on in their head.
TM: I love that Art21 with Mike Kelly. He was just pulling stuff that he had stacked up in his studio out of drawers, telling short little stories, and laughing at his own jokes. It's amazing.