Christina Renfer Vogel | Interview

Christina Renfer Vogel has participated in artist residencies at the Hambridge Center for the Creative Arts, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Most recently she attended an artist residency program at JSS in Civitia Castellana, Italy. Vogel holds an MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and a BFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Vogel is a recipient of an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant, among other awards. She currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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I consider myself to be an observer—I have always been more comfortable standing along the edges rather than being in the center of the room—and as such, I try to pay attention.

DLG: Both in your artists statement and in an interview for Painters Table, you speak about a traditional approach to painting the “every day, mundane, natural surroundings” of an individual’s living space, whether that be in the form of plant portraits, figurative scenes, or landscapes. What in your personal history keeps these subjects and scenes so alive in your mind?

CRV: I consider myself to be an observer—I have always been more comfortable standing along the edges rather than being in the center of the room—and as such, I try to pay attention. It’s tricky to say why we are drawn to certain ideas or subjects, but simply put, I’m attracted to ordinary things that are part of our shared experiences. I find that something like a gesture or an object or a pattern can be represented through painting in a way that is simultaneously direct while offering something more complex— the possibility of metaphor, narrative, or memory.

DLG: It took more than a day to build Rome, and it took millions of years for the common house plants to evolve. Through the act of capturing these “unremarkable” surroundings, are you making them more remarkable and “heroic” or are you noticing that what we perceive as ordinary and every day is, indeed by its nature, remarkable?

CRV: There is something very special to me about the experience of spending time with someone, something, or a place through painting it. That does place a certain importance on the subject(s) painted, but I am not interested in making anything heroic—in fact, I’m much more interested in working against notions of the heroic in painting. But at the same time, I am working within the genre of still life, and while that category has long been on the bottom rung of the hierarchical painting ladder, it is associated with a kind of theater, and painting in itself is meant to be seen. That’s not necessarily about heroicism, but it is a kind of drama, maybe. If my work encourages others to slow down a bit and look harder, I would be pleased.

DLG: Your current work, has a focus on bouquets of flowers in staged spaces. You mention in your artists statement that this is intended to be a commentary on femininity and beauty, would you mind explaining a little deeper on this as the common perspective on what it is to be feminine or to be a thing of beauty is an idea that is under constant transformation?

CRV: This is a big question, and rather than claim to speak to a common perspective, I can only address mine. As you suggest, our ideas about gender and beauty are fluid, and constantly evolving, but I am considering longstanding conventions.

For me, flowers represent gestures and time (in the sense that they are fleeting but also that they often mark specific points in time)—we have them and give them to recognize events and accomplishments, woo lovers, or offer condolences. They are also unquestionably beautiful, and because of this, they have served as overt markers of femininity.

Flowers have been a common subject throughout art history, and I like that they are both familiar and extraordinary subjects. But there is another other side that I also consider, the cloying sweetness of performed femininity and our smothering expectations for women in general. I offer this undercurrent as a quiet and gently subversive gesture.

Crv alike

DLG: I too find the passage of time an interesting subject and using flowers as one of the markers of that passage is something that had not really occurred to me before. Much of your work for the current show, “Retreat,” revolves around bouquets, what are some of the moments that are connected to these specific bouquets for you? What was on your mind as you painted?

CRV: Ah, I understand the question, but those moments and events are for me to know and you to wonder about—but I can say they are in response to deep friendship, gratitude, disappointment, and catharsis.

Painting as an act is a way of thinking, and it is a language beyond a verbal or written way of communicating, so I can’t tell you precisely what’s on my mind while I work. Like any kind of sustained and focused way of working, though, I am both aware of what I’m doing in a physical way (mixing color, making marks, painting things in and out) while my mind simultaneously meanders down other paths (what I am hoping to communicate through the work, my day, the podcast I’m listening to, the pleasures and anxieties of the world).

DLG: The title of the show, as well as one of the pieces in it, is “Retreat,” I assume, and if I am incorrect please correct me, this is a retreat in the form of a withdrawing from society, a private place. Is this the title of the show because your studio is your private retreat from the world or is there another layer to the title of your show?

CRV: Yes, but there are some layers. I was thinking about the studio as a site for thought and labor as well as a space for solitude. For me, it points to how I am very much a studio painter, alone with my setups and subjects, and the studio serves as something of a respite from the external world. I was thinking about it in terms of introspection, too, a withdrawing from, as you put it; I like that it suggests an action—the retreat—but then also left unsaid is the condition or circumstance from which one is moving.

Crv dutch still life

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