Working across a variety of media, including ink drawings and oil paintings, June Glasson creates works that are by turns realistic, whimsical, and surrealistic. Her paintings are frequently characterized by multiple washes of diaphanous color, lending them an ethereal quality. We spoke to Glasson, a 2011 NYFA fellow, about her thoughts on living in the western United States, near mirror images, and her artistic relationship to Paul Rudd and Zooey Deschanel.
You predominantly create drawings while working with ink and other oil paints. Having studied sculpture in college at Cornell, what led you to shift media and how would you say that your background in sculpture informs your current practice?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always drawn or painted. I think I ended up studying sculpture because I thought I had the most to learn from the medium. I loved learning how to pour bronze, to weld, and to build things with my hands, and sculpture also seemed like the best medium to work through some of my intellectual concerns at the time. I was reading a lot of theory and thinking a lot about the power dynamics involved in seeing; in who gets to see, who is seen, etc, and how these things are influenced by questions of class, race, gender, and sexuality. Somewhere towards the end of my studies the process began to feel too academic. I stopped enjoying myself and I completely stopped making art after graduating. This made me even unhappier and after awhile I returned to painting and drawing.
While it’s hard to say exactly how my background in sculpture informs my current practice, I can say that the technical skills I learned have been professionally useful. (I worked for years in wood shops and designing and building window displays.) And while my “art practice” at present primarily consists of work made in ink and oil. I’ve continued to build and make 3-D objects (dioramas, costumes, furniture, etc.) that tend to have more use value.
You were born in Oyster Bay, New York, went to school in Ithaca, and now live in Laramie, Wyoming. How does working in Wyoming compare to New York City in terms of creativity and productivity?
I spent most of the last ten years living in big cities (Brooklyn, Berlin, Bangkok) but 3 years ago, right before the birth of my daughter, I moved to Laramie. It is a small city (population 31,000) that sits on the high plains of Wyoming and is surrounded by a harsh but open landscape that is dramatic and beautiful. While Laramie is the complete opposite of all the cities I’ve lived in—and while it lacks the chaos and creative energy and diversity of a big city—I’ve found the landscape and the amazing light here inspiring. Most importantly, it’s an easy and affordable place to live. All of this has helped to make my time here very productive.
In the series The Foulest of Shapes, which was inspired by the Sins of New York compendium of tabloid stories from the early 20th century, you depict contemporary and historical scenes of women engaging in both revelrous and violent acts, as they transform into more and more unscrupulous people. How do you feel the acceptable boundaries for female behavior have changed over the past century, if at all?
What I found so intriguing and pleasurable about the Sins of New York was the fact that most of the women in the scenes weren’t the victims of vice, but perpetrators of it. When I started to create loose re-enactments of these scenes with friends to use as source material for new paintings, I saw how eagerly they assumed these roles and how much they enjoyed “playing” at being violent. I think that this enthusiasm speaks to the fact that while women have made much progress in the last century we are still shaped by what we ourselves and the culture at large deems “acceptable behavior.” So, while I do believe that the limits and acceptability of some female behavior has been greatly expanded I still find a real lack of strong, smart, and productively inappropriate, kick-ass women in both popular culture as well as the art world.
Your series of stereoscopes depict almost duplicative images of smudgy, yet evocative landscapes that are not meant to resolve into a single, unified image. With these and your other pairings of near mirror images—Riding Slick, for instance—is the viewer intended to eventually comprehend the work as a whole or instead remain in a state of perpetual comparison, or both?
Initially when I first started working with my Stereoscopic series I was interested in not only how the form referenced a photographic process wherein two 2-D images, when viewed “correctly,” create a 3-D image, but also how the process of painting two identical images at the same time forced me to work differently. Working with ink, a medium that dries quickly, and having to constantly move back and forth between two images required me to reliquinish a lot of control. What I also loved about working with this form is the idea that the two images are the same but not the same, that they were inexact mirrors of each other.
Recently I started working on a new series of mirrored images where I did away with the Stereoscopic frame and, in doing so, feel like I really opened the images up to more meaning. These mirrored images (like my Hung Up painting) seem to echo the patterns we find in nature and their almost inkblot, Rorschach quality creates an odd space that the viewer might fill with his or her own desires. I think that this is also complicated a bit by the fact that at first glance people are not sure what they are looking at. At first people think these are prints of exact mirrored images. But when they realize that they are inexact and unbalanced handmade paintings their eyes move around in search of discrepancies. My hope then is that their eyes are forced to move back and forth between the two images as well as to read the work as a whole and that something interesting emerges in the process.
My most recent series, Riding Slick, employs this mirroring technique and was inspired by some wonderful images of female trick riders from the golden age of American Rodeo (1910s—1920s) that I discovered at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming State Archives. My hope was to use this technique to revisit these amazing historical images and to celebrate these women without merely making yet more “Western horse paintings.”
Some of your paintings were featured in the film Our Idiot Brother starring Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, and Rashida Jones. How did that collaboration come about and what role do they play in the movie?
A woman from the art department of Our Idiot Brother saw one of my portraits in Domino magazine and contacted me. Originally, I was commissioned to create portraits of the two main characters—played by Zooey Deschanel and Paul Rudd—that would be used in some scenes in which they have their portrait painted by one of the other main characters, an artist played by Hugh Dancy. That said, once they started filming they realized that they needed artwork to hang on the wall of the artist’s studio. Since it would make sense that the artwork on the walls matched the portraits I had produced, they asked if they could borrow some additional work from me. So basically all of the artwork you see in scenes in the artist’s studio, on the easel and on the walls, are mine!
What made you want to become an artist?
I don’t think I ever wanted to become an “artist.” I think I’ve always just really loved making things.
How do you get your creative juices flowing?
I look at other people’s art or design work, listen to music, read a good book.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I get a lot of my inspiration from looking at other artists. But I also get a lot of it from other stuff; from reading, or looking at books, magazines, music, etc. I also love, love doing on-the-ground research in archives and libraries and hunting in antique and junk shops for things to inspire me.
What's your favorite thing you've ever made?
I’d probably say my favorite things I’ve made have been gifts for people. Some have been portraits and some dioramas.
What is indispensable in your studio?
Good light. Order. Music or books-on-tape.
What do you collect yourself?
I have a large collection of old fabrics, craft supplies and small miscellaneous objects that I like to use to make dioramas.
Is there any other art-historical period that you wish you could have lived through?
No, not really. Especially given the fact that not too long ago it would have been scandalous for me (as a woman) to paint a nude.
Do you think that it's okay to break the law for the sake of art?
Yes, though it really depends on the law.
What is your favorite place to see art?
While I love looking through the collections of large institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and gallery-hopping in places like Berlin, my favorite place to actually see and experience artwork is in people’s home. I love to see how people incorporate artwork into their actual lives.
What artist or artists do you think should enjoy greater recognition?
I’d loved to see more ladies getting recognition in the art world.
What is an artist's responsibility in society?
I think that an artist’s responsibility in society is the same as anyone’s—to try and be a good person, to treat the people around them well and to do their small part to make this world a slightly better place.
If you could get any artist to do your portrait, who would you choose?