CATCHING UP WITH ANGELA GROSSMANN AND DREW SHAFFER – SEPTEMBER 2015
An artist interview by Sunshine Frère
It is a stunning September afternoon at the Thierry Cafe on Alberni Street in Vancouver. The melancholy music that Yan Tiersen created for the French film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulin is wistfully resonating throughout the sunny patio where I have just sat down with artist Angela Grossmann. Her longtime friend and fellow artist, Drew Shaffer, has arrived from inside the cafe. Shaffer gently places a beautiful piece of cake, with luscious raspberries adorning the top, on the table for us all to share, and off we go, tumbling into the jiggery pokery world of Angela and Drew.
Angela Grossmann and Drew Schaffer recently exhited their work together in a duo exhibition called Jiggery Pokery at Winsor Gallery. The exhibition ran from October 15 – November 14th. This interview was conducted a couple of weeks prior to the exhibition opening. Grossman, who is represented by Winsor, was very much looking forward to showing alongside her longtime friend. The joining of these two sets of works in the same space, provided Grossmann and Shaffer an opportunity for their ever evolving conversation about art, language, game-play, memory and life to be experienced anew.
Angela: How I met Drew was that I rented my studio, which I am still in–it was above the Salmagundy shop store on Cordova. I would go by and it’s a friendly neighbourhood, but its really changed. Drew was the proprietor of the shop and we got to chatting. Though, we were never never allowed to just chat were we?
A: I’d walk by and I’d see a face through the window and he’d give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down if the owner was in.
D: So Ang would come in looking for photos instead.
A: And you!
D: Yes, she was looking for me, and images of stuff to do her work with. When I was first at Emily Carr we would do one of those class field trip type things, and once we went to Diane Farris Gallery and I saw her work there and was just amazed. So it was quite exciting because I knew who she was. She would come up and buy photos and things like that, and I thought, oh yeah, this is really cool! I don’t just have a shitty job right? It was a very interesting place in those days. Those types of shops are great places for people like us to find the raw materials to make the work that we make.
A: It was.
D: So, yeah, we both start from a similar place, we go and find something that inspires us that already exists and then talk to it, bringing it into being somehow. For me, generally it will become a 3D object and nine times out of ten for Angela its going to be something two dimensional. We use these found objects as a starting place, to start the dialogue. And sometimes it’ll be something very humble, I ask myself, why does this grab me the way that it does, and what is it about this particular object that is so inspiring? Is it the functionality of it? What is it saying to me?
Sunshine: Do you decide instantly always what you are going to do with the found object or do you sometimes hold onto it not knowing what it will be for?
D: Yes, sometimes its instantaneous, but more often than not things have to stick around for a while. I have this massive collection of old suitcases full of things like that…. I have this recall memory in my head of what all the suitcases hold. Suitcase encyclopedias.
A: You know, when I was in school, it was a going thing, you had to have an image bank. A bank of things, photos and images things you liked, images that made you think of things, whatever it was. And there used to be this incredible image bank at the Vancouver art gallery, that had been kept over a hundred years, but they got rid of it–I couldn’t believe it. Anyway, I’ve got my own image bank, but its not just images. It is full of things that I like, things that I respond to, my materials. But I don’t like to collect things for the sake of collection, I only collect to use them. Because I don’t like stuff hanging around. Sorry, I just thought I’d differentiate myself there. (chuckles)
D: I on the other hand do have a lot of stuff hanging around that I may or may not use at one point.
A: Exactly, I get very anxious about things hanging around…
D: Yeah, you’re more purist than me.
S: Do you purge more often Angela?
A: Yes, but not of things you would think, for example, I’d never throw out my old buttons, but I would throw out a pair of old gucci loafers, no problem. But my old buttons, bits and swatches of materials are all stuff I keep, but only for collage purposes. Because I think materials make me associate and associate is what I do. It’s the very nub of what I do as an artist. I’m an associate. (chuckles) When something is happening for me it is because I am able to make to make associations that day or in that work and can clearly see when it’s a great one or when it’s a forced one. You really learn how to associate. When you’re trying to go down those paths but it’s forced, you can tell when it is good or no good or when it’s great.
D: And, I as well as Angela do that with language. I’ll phone her up and say, I’ve got a pun, it seems to be a current that runs through my work and everything in my life. Like I call my brother up on Fridays and we trade spoonerisms back and forth. Sometimes their just sonorous, and they don’t really mean anything. But the best ones are the ones that can be read both ways and mean something, like the The Taming of the Shrew or The Shaming of the Trew. You know like that kinda stuff. And I see objects very much the same way.
A: Turn them upside down, turn them inside out, put them back to front, see what happens, see where it goes.
D: Yeah, because there is something there. Whenever you pick something up, there’s something there–you know, you know that it’s loaded somehow. You know that, that object or image has something for you. It’s the weirdest thing.
A: I love that. It’s loaded with possibilities.
D: It’s loaded with possibilities, you see that thing and you know right away that you gotta have that because there is something there for you.
A: I think that’s true for everybody that ever collects anything, not just with art.
D: Oh yes!
S: But all the potentials that are and were there for the object disappear once you connect with it as you are taking it in one particular direction.
D: Yes, its a fork in the road I think.
A: As visual artists all we do is associate and make these connections. Poets also, because all they do is use language to open stuff up and make connections and refer to things, its always referring to things, it’s never as it is.
D: Ang and I are not exchanging images and seeing each other’s work until we install the exhibition. We’ve been wanting to do something together for quite some time and now we are.
A: We first thought of doing something together that was theme based. Where we would both do work on the same subject. But this show has morphed and it is us both doing work at the same time instead. I’m not looking at Drew’s work and he isn’t looking at mine.
D: Those are the rules, that is the game plan.
A: That was the game because, I can’t do work about you, and you can’t do work about me. We’re just going to hope that in the show there is some kind of relationship there, as there is with us.
D: I am sure there will be.
S: How did the title for the exhibition, Jiggery Pokery, come about?
D: Ang came up with this name…
A: It’s not a word that I came up with, it exists…it’s sort of a bit higgledypiggledy, hocus pocus, jiggery pokery. I mean it’s all word play. The reason why I think it’s nice wordplay besides the fact that it actually means something, but also because it’s also associating sound with what we like. We like these associations… and that the sound, it …it tumbles out.
D: Yeah, it feels good on the mouth to say it. It’s really interesting because it dates back to the mid to late nineteenth century and it was a word initially used for subterfuge.
A: Like, “he’s up to some jiggery pokery over there!”
D: Yeah, its a little bit sneaky, I think it is a great word. But then that’s the first meaning and then there’s a secondary meaning that they started using in around nineteen twenty, where it started meaning to cobble things together. Like, it’s a bit of jiggerypokery that got the engine started. And you can also spoonerize it piggeryjokery. It was also really interesting, I discovered this American poet who used these archaic words and phrases and wrote these really cool poems, purely for the fact that they had great rhyming capabilities and their sonorousness. Once again, yet another level of what we are doing. I discovered this poet Anthony Hecht who uses phrases like jiggery pokery, he did some work with another guy called John Hollander. I was pretty happy when I discovered him. Anyways, one of the lines in one of his poems describes what jiggery pokery is and he explains it as: “using whatever you’ve got around to get the job done.”
A: Absolutely! We could quote that!
D: Yeah, its great stuff! A lot of the stuff that I’m dealing with is the seduction and abandonment of inanimate objects. I find that really interesting. You come across these things and they look so helpless and you can see a vestige of what they were to somebody at one time, but they’re no longer that anymore. In the fact that they’ve been discarded, they become, to me at least, so much more interesting.
D: I’m also really interested in how we choose to define ourselves by what we own. The general view of the object when desired is that it is hip. My general view is that it becomes more interesting when its not hip anymore or when its discarded. It’s not trying to prove itself anymore. I often turn the use of a functional object into more of a narrative or metaphor rather than a practical perspective. It’s a different kind of practicality I would say.
A: If I may interject here for everything that you’ve just said, I would reiterate that my own work uses likenesses of people who are long gone. So, they’ve got that echo of being familiar, but at the same time not existing anymore. I think I like to play between that which is still current and that which is gone, but what is it, that remains, that we have a connection to. What is the humanity that crosses over from then to now. So it’s all about that bridge.
S: The way you’re approaching the installation of the work is very much attached to the notion of game play, just like how you two approach your friendship. Drew’s objects will arrive at the gallery, Angela’s will arrive at the gallery and then the two of you will connect the dots on site.
A: It will be very fun, the thing is I have absolute respect for what Drew does, so I have total trust in whatever he does. I’m excited to show with Drew.
D: This is a great opportunity, and I’m excited too.
A: Drew and I have a lot of echoing in what we talk about and what we think about.
D: Both Ang and I are interested in fashion, people’s clothes and the items that they choose to wear to express their identities. On a small scale from a personal perspective and on a large scale. Because fashion moves at such a fast pace, the whole seduction and abandonment rate happens so much quicker. Things that are beautiful become almost instantly ugly. Because art has this hallowed niche, people are like ‘oh it’s art, its sitting on a plinth hanging on a wall and blah blah blah’, you give yourself more time to contemplate it, or to reflect on your relationship with it in a much more sort of hallowed way. Because that process happens much more quickly in fashion it doesn’t have that chance to be self-reflexive and because of that it is very interesting in retrospect. Certainly with Angela’s work when you look at the old photographs of people and the types of clothing that they’re wearing what they thought was really great at the time and of course these things come full circle and they become great again.
A: Yes, we’re interested in that sort of stuff. But who isn’t!?
S: Who isn’t indeed!
Special Thanks to Angela and Drew for the interview. The exhibition was a great one!
If you would like to see works in person, you can visit Winsor Gallery, they can pull out any remaining works from the show.
Angela Grossman & Drew Schaffer
Winsor Gallery – 258 East 1st Avenue, Vancouver, V5T 1A6 – www.winsorgallery.com