Christine Garvey’s creatures, who flex, wrap, and hump with hairy backs and pink lips, are like moments more than anything. They are the memories of forms and worlds traced by her hand. They are the memories that her hand keeps. Whether she is training with Thai printmakers or teaching at 3rd Ward and the Brooklyn Brainery, Garvey looks for inspiration, for slimy flora and fauna, for the muse, everywhere, calm as a jellyfish, and continues to find it.
We visited Christine in her studio to talk doodling, memory, and fortuitous forks in the road.
So, you’re originally from Westchester. Were you an artistic kid?
Yeah, I guess I was a doodler like any creative kid. Then I went to a high school that had a really solid arts program, which probably put me on the art track, so to speak.
Was there a point when you realized that you wanted to be a professional artist?
Well, there wasn’t a point really - it’s been more of a process for me. Figuring out how making things fits into my life. I’m still working on it. I think working for professional artists has definitely helped me understand what the day-to-day of making art can look like. In school you’re in a bubble, so functionally you don’t really get how people make it work. I’m a practical thinker in that respect. It started to become more of a reality to me when I worked for an artist.
Who were you working for?
I worked for Nicola Lopez. She’s a printmaker who works with print and collage. Different parts of my process were inspired from working with relief blocks and printing them by hand, which she does a lot of in her practice. At home I’ll print a block, or I’ll make a drawing, and I’ll cut them up and collage them onto a new piece. It does really interesting things to a piece because collage lets you think about space in a different way.
So did you start with printmaking or with collage? I know you use both now--
I started with drawing actually. I’ve always done a lot of drawing and there was a heavy drawing emphasis in my undergraduate program. I moved into printmaking because I wanted to explore mixed media and different mark-making techniques. You got to mess around and get your hands dirty which is always fun for an art student. Collage came in later. I started editioning my prints, then cutting them up and reworking them through collage—it’s a really satisfying way of making things for me because with collage you uncover things that you never would have through painting or drawing. There’s always a surprise…
Your college had a very strong printmaking program--
It did, I studied printmaking and drawing at Washington University in St. Louis. They have excellent facilities with an all-star press that is gigantic. I don’t know how big, but huge. They really encouraged you to work large, and I got comfortable working that way and actually prefer it. When I graduated, I still felt like I had so much to learn about prints and paper, so I went to Thailand and spent some time working with a printmaker there named Kitikong Tilokwattanotai. Then I moved back to New York, and kept making prints and drawing at home.
How do you make the prints that you use?
Sometimes I will hand-cut a linoleum block or a stamp and print it by hand. Other times it will be that I have leftovers from a batch of etchings-gone-wrong. Sometimes I do image transferring from a photocopy. So it can go a few different ways. It kind of depends on the mark that I want, because they each look different. I don’t like to waste anything, so anything that I print gets used at some point.
I noticed a lot of creatures in your work. Where do those come from?
They usually come from observational drawing. I’ll sketch whatever interests me at the time; jellyfish, birds, elephant trunks, things from the natural world, or sometimes just something weird that looks like it would be fun to draw. The information gets stored in my brain and hand, and when I start a new piece, shapes I’ve memorized through sketching come out. Kind of like muscle memory, if that makes sense. My drawings end up being mutated versions of things I’ve drawn before. Sometimes they all merge together to make something else completely.
Do your creatures have names?
Sometimes they do. Right now they don’t. They feel more like moments, less like creatures to me.
Which series is currently on Artsicle?
That’s the Reformation series, which is mostly collage and drawing. I had been working a lot with the idea of transformation. At the time, I had just gotten back from my trip from Thailand, so I was still digesting everything I had seen there. I was fascinated with the animals and plant life, the elephants and birds, so that was the information most fresh in my hand.
So when you’re creating them are you consciously adding this imagery in?
Yeah, that’s an interesting question because it goes both ways. I think when I start, I could very much be thinking of a certain image, but as the piece develops, the information that I’ve absorbed just comes out as it likes, it can go in a completely different direction. I’m not even thinking of that object anymore, I’m just thinking about shape, how it moves, and if inspires a curiosity.
So what really inspired you in the first place to go down the road of art as a profession? Where do you see it leading?
Well if I knew, that wouldn’t be fun, right?
I guess I have always been drawn towards drawing. It’s something that I do instinctively. It helps me flesh out an idea and understand why I’m attracted to certain things– what I want to learn from them. I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s just become a part of my life. It’s something that I’ll do forever, regardless of how ‘successful’ I am at it.
I also really enjoy teaching, and that’s a lot of what I do: teaching printmaking, collage and mixed media at 3rd Ward and Brooklyn Brainery and a few of other places. You figure a lot of things out when you’re teaching someone else. I’ve gotten awesome ideas from my students, and some great relationships and collaborations have come out it as well. I’m excited to see what’s next. I’ll let you know what happens.