Las Vegas-based artist and museum director Alisha Kerlin talks about:

The arc that led her to be in the 2010 Greater New York show at MoMA PS1, and subsequently how that changed her career, including working at Greene Naftali Gallery; the social anxiety of being in the show, while also feeling honored to be included with so many artists she deeply admired; the opportunities she received from being in the show, including the solo show she had concurrently at the gallery Real Fine Arts; dealer Zach Feuer coming into the show at Real Fine Arts and buying all Alisha’s paintings, leading to a solo show with him, allowing her to cut down on her day jobs and spend a lot of time working in the studio; how getting an artist-in-residence led her initially to Las Vegas, and within a few days she realized she probably wouldn’t want to go back to Brooklyn; how ultimately it was more satisfying to get the residency gig at UNLV, five years ago, than it was getting into Greater New York; what it’s like living and working (as interim director of the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at UNLV) in Vegas for the last five years, including buying a house and having a kid;

And in the follow-up conversation, Alisha talks about how even though Greater New York was huge in giving her opportunities, including leading to the artist-in-residence gig and ultimately moving to Vegas, the show for her is the least interesting thing to talk about, and how she is excited and inspired by discovering unfamiliar, veteran artist’s work, which comes with her current role at the Museum; the importance and influence of her former teacher at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Michael Brakke, who started the school’s artist-in-residence program and was hugely influential on generations of students, among them Alisha and Wade Guyton.

In part 2 of 2, Kysa Johnson talks about:

Why she and her family left NYC for Los Angeles, and how she’s come to like L.A. after some initial concerns of leaving New York, including hating to drive; how she doesn’t drive in L.A., but takes the bus and Lyft (not Uber); the finer points of Lyft surge charging; what she hates about American culture, including its classism and judgement of the poor and worship of the rich (after having lived for several years in Glasgow, which she loved and didn’t want to leave but had to because her visa ran out); artists’ day jobs, and the perception around them from others in the art world; her own day job working as a designer for Fashion Week shows, which she had to leave behind as a gig when she left New York, and isn’t sure what she’ll do should she need to her well dry up in L.A.; some reflections, as a former Mormon, that she had on the conversation with ambivalent Mormon Casey Smith; taking the bus, which she insists people are taking, is a great equalizer and finds bus-goers to be very respectful; her time in Glasgow, with its vibrant art and music scene, affording her 2nd hand connections with members of both Franz Ferdinand and Belle & Sebastian; the self-deprecating humor of the Scots (which leads to a brief final (perhaps) analysis of the “P”-word (‘practice’)), and how she considers she might move back there after her youngest child is in middle school; and she points out that artists are well-suited to be activists, because of their perseverance, stamina and playing the long game.

In Part 1 of 2, Los Angeles artist and activist Kysa Johnson talks about:

Her roots in Mormonism, and how its very patriarchal structure led her to rebel, fighting with teachers and eventually, along with her mom and brother, leaving the church; the various platforms and outlets for her activism, and how donating money, signing petitions and watching protest-based movies gave way to attending the initial protest in L.A., the Women’s March in Washington, a protest at LAX airport, artist political group meetings, phone calls to congress, and more; how her “being active” was a necessary reaction to the extreme change in the political landscape, and how protests – boots on the ground — matter because the visibility and solidarity of resistance is a key arm of resistance that lets those in power know that you’re angry, and then that you’re still angry ; the phone calls she makes as a constituent, which she scripts beforehand since she gets stage fright (and her stage fright in general, which causes her some lost sleep before artist talks, etc.; how after the election (presidential), for a few weeks in the studio everything felt ‘ridiculous, pointless and inconsequential,’ and  so she pivoted to ‘what can I do today’ to address the new climate…and the research that she uses for her art translated to her research for political action; her top picks for movies about protest, most notably Selma, Gandhi, and Trumbo, the latter of which is especially appropriate because it’s about artists/cultural figures being resisters; her series of ‘Terrible Roman Emperors’ paintings, echoing the fact that there are certain characteristics of a terrible leader that repeat throughout history; how she feels that visual artists have a niche and a platform to visually communicate information that is digestible in such a way (to the opposition) in order to create a shift; Kysa defines the difference between art that is beautiful (dark, sublime, etc.) and pretty (only for the eyes), and how one of her favorite movies, Amadeus, represents that dichotomy; how one is best served in their activism/actions by picking the thing that they’re most interested in addressing, because everyone is wanting to do something different.

In the outro, I share some insights from the article, How to Get Out of the Cycle of Outrage

Providence, R.I.-based artist and RISD head of sculpture Lisi Raskin talks about:

Her former residence in Brooklyn Heights, which was made possible by her aunt and uncle, who ultimately were her biggest patrons – through contract negotiations and more – and made it possible for her to live a long stint in New York; the staying power it takes to exist in the art world, which she acknowledges in her coming from a privileged background (and later in the conversation emphasizes the question: ‘what do you do with your privilege?’); a basic description of her getting her job as head of sculpture at RISD, and her roots in teaching at Columbia University in grad school and then getting hired right out of grad school; the serendipitous success she had at Columbia, including the intellectual and political alignment, the boom time it was in and the great people she got to work with as well as be mentored by, including Jon Kessler, Heather Roe, Coco Fusco, Mark Handelman and Kara Walker; her way of artmaking, which involves setting up challenges and rules to be broken, allowing her to be in a state of not knowing, and in this light we have a rather extended debate about the use of the word ‘practice’ (my biggest pet peeve word on the show); her non-hierarchical approach to both artmaking, as exemplified in her rock band as well as in a show she collaborated with a team on at Bunkier Sztuki in Krawkow Poland; and we finish where we started, with commentary on gentrification generally, and specifically in Philadelphia and Providence, her former and current homes, on responsibility gentrifying and being a good steward, not a colonialist.


L.A.-based artist and recent S.F. resident Maysha Mohamedi talks about:

What she likes to listen to in the studio (over and over) while she’s working on a body of paintings; her time in SF, where she started her art career, met her husband and had two kids before leaving for L.A. (where she’s been since August ’16); her switch from a PhD in neuroscience at UC Davis to art; her aversion to critical conversations about her work, which started in grad school and didn’t end until after she was showing; we have a long exchange about abstraction (mostly thanks to my taking so long to ask the question I wanted to ask), and she clearly articulates her objective- of getting her viewers to feel emotions, to be moved,when they see her work—and she uses the analogy of music, specifically Nina Simone, that she aspires to move her viewers the way Nina Simone’s music moves her; how her parents have been supportive of her as an artist in their own ways, such as her dad making a custom studio-sitting bench for her; her origin story of when she decided to become a mother, something she’s ‘always’ wanted to do, and why; she weighs in as a parent on those who aren’t parents, and (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) how she’d like to lord her superiority of being a parent over non-parents, for the time-being at least; and she explains how when she’s in the studio, the only thing she’s thinking about his her work—no exceptions.

San Francisco-based artist, Chief Attorney of San Francisco’s Public Defender office and former Green Party politician Matt Gonzalez talks about:

His beginnings as an artist, after having been a lawyer and in politics for many years, which originated when he was an undergrad at Columbia and was exposed to NYC’s museums; transitioning from collecting art to making art, mainly through the conversations he had in artist’s studios; the painters he’s had collage sessions with, which occasionally included the consumption of Scotch and oysters; how his brain keeps working while collaging, enabling him to resolve problems in his court cases while he’s working; what led him to run for District Attorney of San Francisco, and then later Mayor, and how, even as recently as 1999 in S.F., if you supported gay marriage and were against the death penalty you wouldn’t be taken seriously as a candidate; how he was heartened by how well he did in his run for Mayor as a Green Party candidate- that even though he lost in a close race, it still meant that they raised awareness of the Green Party’s politics and values; how he came to run as Ralph Nader’s running mate in the 2008 presidential campaign; while he hasn’t had any personal issues with the newer (tech) tenants of San Francisco per se, he has noticed a general lack of consideration for longtime residents, and is aware of that lacking particularly in regards to displacing existing residents; and his representation of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the murder suspect who has been a punching bag/case study for the right on the major problems with immigration/immigrants from Mexico…but as Matt notes, Lopez-Sanchez has no history of violence or weapons, and has no motive; that trial is still to come, when the case, and possibly Matt, will move into the spotlight.

SFMOMA Stories from the Evacuation from Jonn Herschend on Vimeo.

San Francisco-based artist and filmmaker Jonn Herschend talks about:

The Thing Quarterly, a 10-year-old, subscription-based project of customized book-inspired artworks/objects he co-runs with Will Rogan; it was launched with Miranda July’s pull-down window shade, which read, “If the shade is down, I’m not who you think I am;” The Thing has been so successful that there are two full-time and one part-time staff; Herschend describes it as an alternative route for art to be disseminated into the world, that it comes directly to your house (or office), which was perhaps the main ingredient that has brought so much attention to the project over the years; Dave Eggers’ project, a custom essay he wrote for a shower curtain; how he self-identifies (if he has to), and the dynamics of having a good conversation with a stranger; the lack of art education in describing the wide gap between contemporary art (& the arts in general) to the mainstream; his time living in S.F. (since ’93), from the Bohemian days of The Mission, through two tech booms and the rise of the ‘tech bro,’ entitlement, and how he resolves to remind himself that he was part of an earlier phase of gentrification of The Mission, and now he’s just experiencing another, later phase…and how he’s sympathetic because it’s the only way to not become pissed all the time; how his biggest problem now is Uber drivers (he’s been hit twice), who are actually people who live out of the city but come in to pick up rides; how he grew up with a front-of-house/back-of-house perspective in terms of entertainment and attractions, which led him to a documentary on the move/renovation of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – Stories from the Evacuation – which features a surprise twist; where he is with his filmmaking: he’s self-taught, and used a real casting director for the first time (instead of Craigslist) for the SFMoMA film, and he may or may not make a feature-length film at some point in the future, since there are obvious benefits to making films for an art audience as opposed to making more marketable films for a much wider audience, and how for now he’s happy to be in the in-between space of the art and film worlds.

Las Vegas artist and podcaster Justin Favela talks about:

As a kid, watching the Dunes (where his relatives were employed), being imploded to make way for the Bellagio; working as a roller-coaster operator at New York, New York; how he’s the first in his extended family to go into art and move away from the hospitality industry, which so many of his family members are in, and how sometimes he feels he has to lie by saying he’s “an art teacher,” just so they think he has a ‘legitimate’ job with a regular paycheck, and he goes in-depth about family dynamics when your family doesn’t quite get what you’re doing (as an artist) and why; his Family Fiesta picnic blowout he hosted/’performed’ in front of the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas (founded by Walmart heir Alice Walton); what it’s like being an artist in Vegas, where it’s a small community, but the art-going public is thirsty for it, and how he finds himself having to be careful not to be in every local art show because people will get sick of him; doing his Family Fiesta within the canyons of Michael Heizer’s legendary Double Negative in the desert; his own podcast, Latinos Who Lunch, which takes food as its entry point/icebreaker that gets things rolling into a wide range of topics, including art; his project Taco Takeover, which was inspired by Taco Bell’s ‘Doritos Locos’ taco and the globalization of Mexican food, and led him to start documenting every taco he ate as a way of ‘taking the taco back;’ the art of the taco, and what makes great tacos great; the labor intensity of his works, esp. his large-scale installations (including on the whole façade of a motel), and how he’s a nice boss to his helpers; and how he’s getting (and gotten) to know himself through his identity because he’s always getting asked about it, making him aware that when it comes to his identity and culture, as well as politics, that he really needs to know his shit.



De Nichols, a St. Louis-based multidisciplinary designer, civic leader and “artivist,” talks about:

Getting her job as the community engagement manager at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which evolved into a position dedicated to determining how an institution becomes a better neighbor to its community; the controversy(ies) around Kelley Walker’s show “Direct Drive” at CAM St. Louis, which opened in early Sept. 2016—everything from De’s take on the artworks beforehand and what she liked vs. what she found distasteful, and how she felt offended by the notion to come from how pieces featuring black women were going to be displayed, which she shared with the curator; to the climactic event of the artist lecture Walker gave alongside the curator, which in the Q&A session went remarkably wrong, and included gaslighting which left many in audience cold, disconcerted, and/or upset…and in De’s case, livid; how the curator, rather than helping Walker to communicate what he was unable to in response to various questions about race and misogyny, instead protected the artist and in turn shut the conversation down; how after the talk, De felt ashamed for being somehow complicit – as a museum educator – in a toxic experience; how as a community engagement person on staff, she got flak from both sides: the museum people and the people in the audience who wanted her to apologize for things getting so tense; how, through the fallout from that event she faced an internal crisis which led to her eventually leaving her post at the museum, and the thought process that led her to finally resign; the positive aspect of the effect on CAM, in the form of greater sensitivity and strategy going forward in a period where it’s going to be needed even more; she offers both advice and suggestions for artists to be culturally sensitive about the work they make and where they show it, and how they can become active in this changing political climate, including 100 Days of Action, the artist-run PAC For Freedoms, and The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (which is not a government organization despite what it sounds like).  While a video of the Kelley Walker artist talk and Q&A is not available, you can view a panel discussion response to that event, which took place at CAM as part of the series Critical Conversations, here: