We had the good fortune of connecting with Virginia Wagner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Virginia, what habits do you feel helped you succeed?
I have found that the most important thing you can do as an artist is to continue to make work. To make work through every season. And not just on your good days or when the muse visits.
I’ve organized my life around allowing that work to happen – dedicating and prioritizing space and time. It’s a great privilege to be able to order my days in this way, but it also doesn’t take an enormous amount of resources. I recommend keeping your life as simple, small, and inexpensive as possible. For me, a full-time day job makes creating art impossible, so I work part time. Currently, I am a Visiting Instructor at Pratt Institute.
Sometimes opportunities come and it’s hard to know if they’re good or bad for you as an artist. Perhaps you are offered a job that has creative aspects to it and a high salary but wouldn’t allow you time to delve into your experimental practice. When I come to these crossroads, I focus on my compass direction as an artist. It’s very important to me to be able to feel this tug in myself that will lead me, not in the direction that society or a family member wants for me, but in the direction that my art practice calls for.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am currently knee-deep in two exciting projects. I’m creating a series of paintings for permanent exhibition aboard a National Geographic and Lindblad Expedition arctic explorer ship. The works depict an ice world, where humans mine and build with ice as their main resource. They offer up a funhouse mirror to climate change, allowing us to contemplate a world in flux and reflect on our insatiable drive to extract resources. The painting installation will be immersive and span a full deck of the ship.
I am also creating the visuals for a collaborative performance project for Guggenheim Works & Process. This piece is inspired by British artist, filmmaker, writer, and queer activist Derek Jarman and his memoir Chroma, a meditation on the color spectrum written during the AIDS crisis.
These are new projects, but the themes that they address have been with me for a long time, taking on different forms, questions, and scales as I evolve and seek new opportunities.
Much of my work tackles the relationship between humans and the natural world. I grew up as the child of an entomologist and my first job was as a scientific illustrator. My work looks at cycles of growth and decay and the ways we are reshaping the earth. I’m also interested in hybridity, queerness, color, and visual narrative.
All I can ask as an artist is to have the chance to explore these themes over and over again – with a variety of media and at different stages of my life, as I grow and the world shifts around me.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
You can never step into the same New York art world twice. I love that it is constantly morphing. And now the spring is splitting the ice of quarantine and shows are starting to open again. Since exhibitions are temporary and the hot spots are always changing, I can’t give blanket recommendations. But I can recommend a few exciting shows that are on view now: Natalie Frank at Salon 94 and Lyles & King; Martin Wong and Aaron Gilbert at PPOW gallery; James Prosek and Zaria Forman at Mana Contemporary; Alice Neel at the MET; Richard Mosse at Jack Shainman; Jenny Morgan at Mother Gallery.
The best part about being in New York is seeing and participating in the work of friends in all branches of the arts who are making incredible things. Two of my Guggenheim collaborators are principal dancers in the NYC Ballet and I’m on the edge of my seat for their season to begin. A friend recently launched a queer performance venue in Bushwick called Wet Spot. Another founded a reading series for authors whose book tours were cancelled during the pandemic called Debuts and Redos. Supporting and celebrating these projects is why I choose to live in New York. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to express gratitude to the artists that I worked for over the years. As an assistant, my own work evolved through immersion in their worlds and practices. Working in their studios allowed me to be able to see how they created art from the inside out, how they organized their time, what they referenced and collected, and how they connected to other artists and institutions. Far from giving me an equation for how to make strong artwork, I learned that I need to ask myself hard questions and wander into unknown territory.
So, thank you – Wangechi Mutu, Julie Heffernan, Andrew Ondrejcak, Adam Helms, Kyle Staver, Gedi Sibony, and Miriam Cabessa!
The two images of me were taken by: Eat the Cake NYC