We had the good fortune of connecting with Coleen Sterritt and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Coleen, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk is everything in the studio, but it can be hard as the questioning, the doubts, and the insecurities are always there. My ideal working method is giving myself the time to get lost and trusting that I’ll discover something new whether with materials, form, or process. Improvisation and chance are my key ingredients and, as I struggle with the discomfort of indecision, I must remind myself that the best work has always come from not really knowing where I’m going. I might circle back to something familiar but I’m always trying to move forward overall. The desire to go somewhere new with the work always means taking a risk. It sounds easier than it is, but you only get there by doing the work.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m a sculptor and I’ve been working here in Los Angeles since I graduated with an MFA from Otis in 1979. I also love to draw and make works on paper. I consider my sculpture a kind of visual poetry; a poetry reflecting the ordinary, the personal, and the imperfect. Making my work is the way I understand myself and the bigger world around me. Thinking with my hands, I continually recycle, reinvent, redesign, and rediscover. I use materials and found objects mined from my daily experience reflecting on the life I’ve lived both in and out of the studio. I’m interested in both physical and psychological dualities: balance/imbalance, organic/manmade, separation/union, open/closed, independence/interdependence, embrace/entrapment, part and whole, control and letting go. I use collage, assemblage, abstraction, and the readymade intersecting the highly formal with anti-form. Scale, characteristics of form, and the intrinsic quality of materials all produce a set of visual circumstances for consideration and continue an on-going investigation regarding the interplay between a love of nature, cultural references, and my daily, lived experience. Simply put, the meaning of the work is found through the relationship of form and material. Like poetry, it is not something you digest right away. I don’t want to over-translate, represent, or illustrate. We are continually figuring out who we are; constructing our identities as we experience the world on a daily basis. This work is my account of figuring out who I am as I consider the beautiful and absurd conditions of being alive at this time.
In terms of a career, life as a visual artist is not easy. Working in the studio has difficulties in itself but, in the bigger picture, whenever a woman enters a field dominated by men it’s a risky venture. Making sculpture puts you in a direct relationship with a long history of maleness and it’s always been a hard road for women to navigate. Sculpture is the last bastion of the art world boy’s club. This might not seem as relevant now in that there are so many women making object-based work compared to forty years ago, which is fantastic! But for women of my generation, recognition in the art world has been a struggle. So, forty-five years ago when I made the decision to be a sculptor, little did I understand what that road would look like. When I was a student, there were no women artists in the art history books, let alone women who were sculptors. Working in this inconsistent and contradictory space made it more challenging to find yourself. Luckily, in 1977, I met the amazing Betye Saar who became my graduate school mentor. She was the first female artist that I worked closely with and she blew my mind in so many ways. At Otis I was introduced to Arte Povera and the California Assemblage artists and a more personal way of working far different from the modernist, macho sculpture world in which I was first trained. Over these many years, I’ve learned to trust myself more and make my own rules.
I’m very excited about my upcoming fall exhibition at Traywick Contemporary in Berkeley, CA where I’ll be showing new works both sculpture and works on paper.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I love to take first time visitors on one or both of my two favorite drives, each encapsulating my love of driving surface streets to get across town. First one starts on the eastside with breakfast at La Abeja on San Fernando Rd. just north of DTLA. Swing over to Sunset with the goal of driving Sunset to the beach. This route takes you through iconic L.A. neighborhoods past Dodger Stadium, through Echo Park, Silverlake, Los Feliz, Hollywood. Stop at Barnsdall Art Park and a view of the Hollywood sign; maybe some lunch at the fabulous Lebanese/Armenian Marouch not far away. The meandering might take us over to Melrose to check out frames at l.a.eyeworks, then onward to the Strip, Bel Air, a visit to the Getty Center (this is all pre-Covid, of course), then Brentwood, winding our way down to the sea and Mastro’s for dinner or drinks. Second drive starts on the westside with breakfast at Gjusta in Venice, peruse the shops on Abbot Kinney, visit LA Louver and Venice Beach then over to Santa Monica and begin the main route heading east on Wilshire to DTLA. We’d visit the Hammer, then LACMA (sob!), lunch at Messob for beautiful Ethiopian food, then maybe a visit some galleries like The Loft at Liz’s, David Kordansky and slip over to as-is.la on Venice Blvd. before our last stop in the Arts District at Hauser & Wirth and dinner at Manuela. Exhausted!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have very fortunately received support throughout my career from fellowships, grants, and residencies including: The Guggenheim Fellowship, NEA, Art Matters, COLA, Getty Grant/California Community Foundation, and the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program. Those are easy shoutouts, but it would be hard to name all of the people whose encouragement pushed me forward in both big and small ways and I would undoubtedly leave someone out. Yet two people come to mind – I have immense gratitude when I think of my late friend, the artist Roland Reiss, who initiated my teaching career with a 12 yr. stint at the Claremont Graduate School way back when. Then, of course, to all of those students past and present from my 36 years of teaching who’ve rewarded me with their insight, energy, friendship, and love. And to the memory of my brilliant, inspirational friend, the late artist Liz Young, who was fearless and heroic beyond words.
Linkedin: Coleen Sterritt
Laura Gobel, Tamara Mason, Coleen Sterritt