It’s not uncommon for artists living in close proximity to form a formidable bond. Artist residencies have been heralded over decades not just for encouraging freedom of experimentation, but for forging profound connections among the artists that participate. These relationships can bear fruit in a number of ways - from collective artworks or exhibitions to reminders that they don’t practice in a silo, but rather create within a canon of contemporary art.
Living together in a mid-century modern home in Miami -- working freely in its common spaces during the day and breaking bread in the evenings -- creates a familiarity among artists that come to Fountainhead from starkly different experiences and backgrounds. Fountainhead artists usually laud the residency’s intimacy, but August’s cohort of artists formed a particular camaraderie. Katrina Coombs, Jackson McGrath and Sherrill Roland are certainly no exception - in fact, their care and interest for one another’s practice has emerged as one of the most important benefits of their time together.
“I am fascinated going through and getting to know their practice,” says Coombs, explaining why she enjoyed staying close by as each artist was interviewed on their work. “We’re all listeners and respond when necessary to one another’s ideas.” Roland and McGrath followed suit, suggesting that their creative bond is manifested in a desire to learn and a commitment to honoring the work that each is completing. “We look out for each other and care for one another,” remarks Roland, as McGrath adds that “we opted to work nearby each other in the living room, so we spend most of the day together.”
Working across mediums and subject matter, the artists took advantage of a long, humid August to consider how their work is shaped by their personal experience.
Coombs has been interested in fiber as a material from a young age - introduced to fiber in high school, she appreciates it malleability and domestic nature. It’s the perfect vehicle from which she can discuss the similarly delicate quality of the female internal form - the parts of a woman rarely discussed in public forums, are the same ones that dominate the female psyche on a constant basis.
“You’re always thinking about your body, your cycle, and possibilities of having a child,” says Coombs. “I am trying to give this internal monologue that is kept to the self a voice.”
Using vivid reds, bright golds and pure whites, Coombs weaves sculptural objects that resemble female body parts seen as taboo in mass media. Her chosen medium and color palette confronts the expectations placed on 21st century women. Often large in scale, Coombs is inspired by the notion that her work can inspire dialogue around the female form. Her motivation turned particularly personal after she experienced the loss of a child. “I went through the experience of losing a child, and reflected on how the body developed and tore itself and lost a part of itself,” she explains. “I went through this very emotional process that others saw externally, but no one considers the physical evolution that happened inside of me.”
At the Fountainhead, Coombs continued to work toward this practice while working closely with the Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator, who invited the artist to the Miami residency. “I came with the intention to work on and find a closure on this series, while attempting to identify where I’m going next.”
It’s uncommon for the Fountainhead to welcome a writer into the fold, but McGrath’s projects blur the line between writing and art. “The text sometimes bleeds into other media, different ways of thinking through the same stuff. Sometimes photography, performance,” he says. “For me there is definitely an architectonic, structural component to writing, in which the language becomes apparent as a material one composes and arranges physically.”
McGrath’s work juxtaposes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, and oral history. He’s interested in how language mediates one’s experience of the world. “If fact and fiction are the two bookends of a continuum, there are many different muddled conditions between them.” What do we say when we say what we say?
At the Fountainhead, McGrath has been working on several writing projects, among them researching the taxidermy dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “I have been wondering what happens when something is named, when it passes through language and becomes “known.” Whether naming or writing might be types of taxidermy,” he says. The experience of working alongside other artists was a welcome change for an artist that’s used to working in solitude due to the nature of a writing practice. “The process has still been quiet, but it has been great, everyone working in the same room together.”
Roland wore an orange jumpsuit every single day during his last year of graduate school - and while one can easily assume that the artist was making a statement about the daunting rate of mass incarceration among young black men, they wouldn’t necessarily guess that the artist himself had been recently incarcerated.
“I was aspiring to be an artist before I had a run in with the law and was wrongfully incarcerated,” explains Roland. “My artistic sensibilities allowed me to view things with a different set of eyes. This terrible experience altered my view on what creativity was and what art-making was.”
Though the artist works across media, creating installation, sculpture and illustration-based works, he’s perhaps best known for his durational performance piece, The Jumpsuit Project. What initiated as an act of solidarity and insight into the difficulty of readapting to life after prison has blossomed into a larger conversation about the systematic, institutional racism that keeps black men behind bars. “The Jumpsuit Project allowed me to be open and honest about my experience, without feeling like I had to cover up the fact that I was in jail - which is what so many other former inmates must do in order to truly integrate back into society,” he says.
At the Fountainhead, Roland capitalized on the opportunity to conduct research and deepen his relationship with the local community. Along with visiting the Dade County Courthouse with a local attorney, Roland began work on a series that builds off the various letters he sent to loved ones while in prison. According to Roland, the work is a reflection on the anxiety prison produces in inmates, with the knowledge that their loved ones’ lives simply carry on.
“This work is to illustrate time and how it’s calculated. In a space of captivity, time is being wasted or being taken from you. Writing letters was how I did my time.”