Interview with Margaret Pesek


“Patron of New Things”

WGIG – Welcome to the very first artist interview with the new Tennessee art blog – What Good Is Gold. Thank you very much, Margaret, for agreeing to interview.

MP – Thank you for asking me to interview!

WGIG – As you know from looking at the blog, this blog is specific to artists in Tennessee.  I understand you have lived here for almost 10 years, but you are from Nebraska, right?

MP – Yes.

WGIG – So what brought you from Nebraska all the way over here to Nashville?

MP – I ask myself that sometimes!  I met Jim Sherraden through AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts), and had always been curious about letterpress.  I have always loved doing things with my hands….so he invited me to come do an internship at Hatch Show Print.  I knew I wanted to move away from Omaha, and live somewhere else.  My parents were like, “Why Nashville?”, and I was like, “Why not?”  I now do graphic design at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

WGIG – Where did you go to school?

MP – I went to the University of Iowa. I went there for the writing program initially, but then I took a metalsmithing class I really loved.  I love dimension and form.

“Long Love”

WGIG – How long would you say you’ve been making art?

MP- Since I was a little kid.

WGIG – So you have always been interested in art?

MP- Yes!  I loved to draw when I was a kid, and I did a lot of drawing and painting in college – that was my main focus, because I really wanted to be an illustrator…actually, a graphic designer and illustrator. I didn’t even know what assemblage was…

WGIG– Yeah, how did that start? Do you call your pieces assemblages? Shrines?

MP – Yes, shrines. I’m Catholic, sooo..

WGIG – Well, I’m Baptist, so we have the Christian thing in common – which I have some questions about later!

MP  – Ha! Yes! To me there is a lot of power in religious iconography.  I’m like a crazy old lady – I have all these collections of things…my mom is like, wow…ummm… you have a lot weird little things…

WGIG – Are these things that you have purposely collected over the years, or things that you just sort of find?  Or things from childhood?

MP – Some of my pieces incorporate pieces that I’ve had for years.  I had a pocket watch without hands that I used in one of my pieces…I don’t know how long I’ve had it.  I remember finding it in a box at my grandparents’ farm.  I love that you could pop the back open and look at all the gears.  It was pretty much destroyed, but I just held onto it.  Same with random old photos of people I didn’t know. I remember feeling that there was something really special about the things that my family wanted to throw away. I have a need to give homes to unwanted things.  I find them beautiful even though they’re worthless. I kind of like them BECAUSE they’re worthless. I think I feel bad for them!

“St. Francoise, Protectress of New Restaurants”

WGIG – I see this very interesting push and pull in your work –  in that there are all these precious shrines, but a lot of them are actually humorous, like St. Francoise, Protectress of New Restaurants, or a little on the darker side.

MP – Actually that was one of the first shrines that I did.

WGIG – Do you remember THE first shrine that you built?

MP – Yes, the “Our Lady of Perpetual Medication.” I take anti-depressants, and those are the pills that are in the piece. It’s one of those things where…I love how they have helped me to be a generally more happy and well-rounded person, but if  think about “OK, when am I going to be able to stop taking these…” my doctor said, “Well, some people can ease off of them, and some people have to take them forever”, and I’m like…oh…

WGIG – That’s depressing in and of itself!

MP – Yes it is!  In my work, I try to make sure that each object that I put in has a meaning – a purpose. Actually, the watch that I’ve had since I was a little girl was in “Our Lady of Perpetual Medication”, and the photo actually comes from a framed photo that my dad had of my mom – but it had a picture in there before that was of this woman.  So it was in there  behind this picture of my mom.  I was cleaning one time, and the frame popped out, and my dad was like, “Oh, what’s that doing back there?”  He was about to throw it away, and I just couldn’t let her be thrown away.  She had such a sad look on her face….

“Our Lady of Perpetual Medication”

WGIG – So what is the first thing you do when you start a new piece?

MP – Usually there’s an item or a photo or a little piece of something that sets off a feeling. Then I start picking up other items – putting together things that are related, and then start arranging them – laying them out.

WGIG – Are you inspired by any other artists that do assemblages?

MP – Yes, Cornell’s boxes are beautiful.  I also have to say Leslie Patterson Marx’s work – whom I shared a studio with for awhile.

WGIG – In my own work, some of the work that I did in grad school, I did these paintings that were on circular canvases – I actually had to put three of them together – so they came off the wall really far – like almost 4 inches. I really loved this idea of ornamentation, pattern – but also the paintings being actual objects. Can you talk a little bit about what the idea of a religious object or reliquary means to you?

MP – I always loved visiting small towns that my family lived in…places in Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska – all over the Midwest. A lot of these older churches had little grottos – little altars that were dedicated to specific saints.  There was one on particular in western Nebraska – a beautiful church with a tiny chapel – dedicated to a saint who refused to give up her virginity, and she was beheaded.  So inside this tiny chapel, there was a glass case under the altar in the front with this very life-like statue of the woman – and she’s dead – you can see the red line where her neck has been cut..

WGIG – Whoa! That is pretty grotesque!

MP – Yes it was very grotesque.  She was wearing real clothing and actually the hair was made out of this hair of twin girls that had long blonde hair.  Their mom donated their hair to the statue!  Also something that informs my work are the gestures that the people make.  In the Catholic Church there is this whole canon of gestures – the head tilts, the looks on the faces…they’re very dramatic, but also at the same time static and very formulaic.

“The Virgin Mother, Who Watches Over My Family”

WGIG – Like frozen in time?

MP – Yes!  My paintings are also influenced by these things.  I would try to use a lot of the typical head tilts and gestures. I also fund it really humorous that everything (the naked body parts) was so strategically covered.  There are also specific colors that I use. I mix all my colors from all the same four tubes of paint.

WGIG– Why is that?

MP  – I tried other colors, but it all just looked so weird to me. I use vermilion red (looks like blood – which symbolizes creation, death, etc…), pale cadmium yellow, and French ultramarine blue which means a lot to me emotionally – mostly because it makes me feel calm…which I am not!  Also, my grandfather used to collect these little blue bottles and give them to me as little gifts, so that color reminds me of him as well.  Most of the paintings are self-portraits.

“The Nature of Love”, self-portrait, oil on canvas

WGIG – Yes, most of mine are as well.  One of the reasons that I wanted to interview you is because I see some commonalities in our work. I find it a challenge to draw people in to my subject matter, but not turn them away at the same when they figure out that it’s about a specific religion.  In other words, how do you not be didactic or preachy, but still explore your own beliefs through your work?

MP – So many see religious faith as a black and white issue.  Being from Nebraska, pretty much everyone is Catholic.  When I moved here, I saw that that wasn’t the case – and people were sometimes not very friendly to Catholics!  I used to not be very patient with people that were extreme fundamentalists. But I see it differently now – it really did teach me a lot of patience.  I have learned to just let people be who they want to be.  I have my beliefs, you have your beliefs…  For me I find a lot of comfort in knowing that there’s something much greater than myself…and that there is a reason that we are here on this planet…  it definitely has a beneficial effect, I feel.  You just feel like you don’t have to take care of everything.

WGIG – Yes, isn’t that a relief??!

MP – Yes, also the notion that there is a divine power…to me that is very beautiful and powerful.  Having a creator is really amazing to me.  As artists we create thing out of nothing– I just think that it’s really amazing….like a poem or a symphony.

WGIG – One of my favorite “shrines” is “St. Anne, Patron of the Romantically Ambiguous.”  Can you talk a little more about that?

MP – The box is made from an old tree limb (that I found at a thrift store).  The edges are eggshell mosaic, which actually my friend Leslie taught me how to use.  I think the eggshells are a really loaded image – the whole idea that something is born out of it.   Also, an egg when it’s whole is s really strong structure, but then you also have these other references – walking on eggshells, the Humpty Dumpty story, and stuff like that.  So the idea came from the fact that most humans have a desire to be with someone else.  We want a partner, we want to have that contact, that closeness.  I think a lot of the times that we’re with someone – you want your space, you want your time.  I love being with people, but I need to be alone, too.  I found these photos from the 20’s – on one of them is written, “Oh, I wish I was a single girl again”, which is the name of a popular song form the era.  Then the bride has the watch face for a halo.

“St. Anne, Patron of the Romantically Ambiguous”

WGIG – Again symbolizing the passage of time…

MP – Yes.  So there’s this part of people that wants to be with someone, but also wants your own time and space.  The words that are heat-transferred are from a book that I have from the 50’s – but there is this section on dating, and studying up on things that boys like to talk about like sports – and “then HE will think that you’re interesting.”  I just think that’s so weird!  I found myself thinking “When does he talk to you about what YOU’RE interested in?”  Really odd dating advice!

WGIG – Yes that is very odd!  Thank you for that insight into that piece!  May we all be able to find that balance in relationships!  OK, now I have my last set of questions that are kind of like a lighting round:

Favorite music to listen to while creating: Nick Drake, Andrew Bird, and Tom Waits

Favorite book(s): Geek Love, and anything by David Sedaris

If you could meet any artist living or dead: Henry Darger and Marc Chagall

Favorite geeky art material that you couldn’t live without: Mod Podge, and anything in the craft sections at Michael’s

If you could visit anywhere in the world: Southern Italy; also Prague and the Ukraine to see where my family is from

And finally, advice for artists: Don’t let yourself get sidetracked.  Force yourself to keep working, even if you don’t feel like it.   You can’t just wait for inspiration to strike.



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