Project 1612: How would you describe the work you make?

ZW: I’m really interested in the intersection of worldbuilding and music. This intersection results in the work I make taking a number of forms. On my website, I brand myself to potential collaborators as a composer for screens, stages, and spaces and I think that most succinctly quantifies my output. But, what does that look like, right? For the commercial work I do (podcasts, games, films, videos, etc.) the application is really obvious: I’m working with a team to support their narrative and help realize the world they’re trying to create through music. My work for the stage is largely the same thing. I’m working with directors and dancers to tell the stories they want to tell.

My composition work for spaces is the most broadly defined area of my practice. It’s also the category where the project I’m bringing to Project 1612, Climate Changes! (Peoria), started so it’s probably the space worth talking about the most for this interview. The work that I make in this category is about using sound and music as a mediating force within our relationship to various environments and how that mediating relationship can be leveraged. In my practice and research, I divide “the environment” in a broad sense into two interconnected halves – the physical and the virtual. I am interested in how our various digital sonic realities inform our relationship and understanding of our physical sonic realities and vice versa. Climate Changes!, as a project, exists squarely on the physical side of the equation. It’s an experiment to see if a community can raise its awareness of its own sonic environment if given the freedom to take ownership of the sounds around them.


Project 1612: It is my understanding that you arrived at the idea of being an artist, in the traditional sense of the word, later than some other people we have talked to. You are first and foremost a composer, but when did you start to consider yourself a visual artist?

ZW: It’s true. The contemporary art world wasn’t even on my radar two years ago. It’s been a bit of a wild ride. When I began grad school in January 2018, Aaron Paolucci, the director of my program asked me to apply for the open graduate assistant position at University Galleries – something I was actually hesitant to do at first! He was aware that I’m a composer, but he thought I would be a good fit for the job regardless. I’m thankful for his foresight.

Fast forward to that following March, Jason Judd (former University Galleries curator and current Executive Director of New Genres Art Space) encouraged me to enter something into the upcoming Student Annual exhibition. I had never made anything remotely close to studio art before, but after spending my first three months on the job learning about the breadth and depth of the contemporary art world, I became interested in how I could activate the gallery space through my work. Plus, it was up to the jurors if I made it into the exhibition or not so there was no need for me to self-gatekeep and not enter just because a lack of experience on this side of the fine arts.

The resulting artwork, A Good Education (Explorations in Data and Music), was not only juried in but also won the awards for “Best in Digital/Interactive Media” and “Best in Show.” I was completely floored. I spent a lot of time worrying if the work would make it in — never did I expect to win anything. Winning both of those awards provided to me a lot encouragement. What surprised me the most was that there was a genuine interest in the work that I was creating in this space. It also showed me that the membrane dividing music and contemporary art was really porous at best. So with my newfound confidence in this space, I applied for my first residency that following summer with the Springfield Art Association which was really informative for me as well. The SAA has a really extensive art library and I spent a lot of time last July reading up on dada, surrealism, and new media. And in fact, the work that I created for my end-of-residency installation, faith comes by hearing, is in many ways the progenitor of Climate Changes!. Not long after returning home, Project 1612 put out its call for submissions and now here we are.


Project 1612: You are currently a M.S. Arts Technology candidate at Illinois State University (ISU). This might be unfamiliar territory for some, so can you describe what that program entails and what made you decide to study Arts Tech?

ZW: Absolutely! It’s funny; people often assume I’m an MFA candidate because of my association with University Galleries but, as you stated, that’s not the case. The Arts Technology program at ISU has been a total fulcrum in my life. It’s an incredibly forward-thinking program that focuses on the intersection of the fine arts, technology, and contemporary digital practices. I began the program as an undergrad and the big focus of the Arts Tech B.S./B.A. is enabling digital creatives to be literate in a number of disciplines (like web design, graphic design, sound design, creative coding, video production, and music production) and, once that foundation is in place, students are encouraged to go deep into their particular area of specialization. It’s probably this exact multidisciplinary literacy that helped me get hired on at University Galleries in the first place.

The Arts Tech M.S. is focused on the research and practice goals of each individual student. It’s a diverse group of students; some come with a strong tech background and others with a strong arts background. What has been nice for me is that, as somebody who went through the Arts Tech undergrad as well, I already exist in the kind of ecosystem that the program fosters and that’s really allowed me to stretch out. I’m currently conducting research for my thesis. It’s a really exciting time overall for me and the program because I’m the first student to do so. The program is focused on portfolio development but I’m strongly considering pursuing a PhD, so I chose to write a thesis alongside developing my portfolio.

I chose the program for the reasons I stated above: it’s forward-thinking. There is such a strong “yes, and” mentality in Arts Tech that I really value. Nothing is looked down upon, nothing is off-limits, and nothing is considered too hard. That freedom to experiment was really compelling to me and still remains so to this day.

Project 1612: As the current graduate assistant at University Galleries of ISU, how has working in a gallery setting changed your practice?

ZW: Other than being the incubator for my practice as it exists now, University Galleries has really been a space of tremendous growth and education for me. I think it’s important for me to recognize and give praise to the fact that University Galleries as an institution is world-class in the work that it presents and publishes but completely open to the community and student body they serve. I’m not sure if many people understand the tightrope act that really is. University Galleries has an incredible, 30+ years track record of important exhibitions and publications. Our 1990 and 1991 exhibitions David Wojnarowicz: Tongues of Flame and Keith Haring: Future Primeval were some of the first major surveys of either artist and some of our recent exhibitions like Strange Oscillations and Vibrations of Sympathy and Bethany Collins: A Pattern or Practice are of such significance to the historical moments we’re experiencing right now. Even in the short time that I’ve been with University Galleries, we’ve exhibited Ebony G. Patterson, Basim Magdy, william cordova, and Cecil McDonald, Jr. – all of whom are incredibly important.

I say all of this to illustrate the point I’m trying to make. This institution could be picky. Really, really picky. It could get away with any gatekeeping it wanted to and could set any sort of arbitrary standards that it wanted to. With University Galleries stellar track record, if it were a more typical institution, I question if I would’ve been selected to be the graduate assistant. I have never been art world material in any sort of traditional sense and without an institution available to me like University Galleries that so fully believes in its mission of serving its students and community, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. I do a job for this institution but it’s doing so much more for me. In many ways, University Galleries feels like it shares a number of the ethos that the Arts Technology program espouses and that’s probably why I’m drawn so heavily to both. There is a students-first, forward-thinking mentality to both. It was incredibly forward-thinking for University Galleries to exhibit David Wojnarowicz and Keith Haring to a downstate university audience in the early 90s. Strange Oscillations opened a week before our caustic 2016 presidential election and predates the viral 2017 explosion of the Me Too movement by a year.

What has been so lucky for me is that my formative experiences with contemporary art have been in THIS space. This idea of creating, curating, and exhibiting work that’s facing forward in service of a community resonates very deeply with me.


Project 1612: What artists and composers have influenced your practice?

ZW: Right now, I’m really drawn to composers R. Murray Schafer and John Levack Drever for their work in sound studies. Schafer is the father of acoustic ecology, an artistic discipline that informs much of the work I’ll be doing in Peoria next month. Drever is a Professor at Goldsmiths University in London and the author of a paper on ethnography and soundscape composition that has been really foundational for me. I’m also influenced by the many artist-composer hybrids that have existed. This includes important historical figures like John Cage (who is practically the father of people like me) but also contemporary practitioners like Alejandro T. Acierto, Janet Cardiff, and Ally Mobbs.

My biggest composition influences are a trio of Japanese composers: Shoji Meguro, Yoko Shimomura, and Yoko Kanno. Meguro’s and Shimomura’s video game soundtracks have been instrumental to my development. Meguro’s fantastic j-pop, jazz fusion work for the Persona series is a masterclass in style and Shimomura’s gut-wrenching soundtrack to Final Fantasy XV, particularly the main theme Somnus, has reinvigorated my interest in orchestral textures. Kanno’s soundtrack to Cowboy Bebop was an early foundational influence on my personal musical aesthetic. Come to think of it, all three are really well known for their work scoring visual media and so it doesn’t really surprise me one bit that I have this growing personal interest in the relationship between visual art and music.

I’m also growing really interested in the Vaporwave scene. It’s a fascinating genre of music that recontextualizes the sounds and aesthetics of the 1980s and 90s through the lens of ironic nostalgia. The genre is rapidly expanding to include fascinating work focused on total left field topics like the weather channel and the sound of malls. Much of the music is anchored in a nostalgic relationship the composers have to the sonic environments of the past. I’ve been doing a lot of research contextualizing this music in the terms of soundscape composition and it’s been really satisfying.


Project 1612: Your upcoming Project 1612 exhibition has a collaborative component to it. Can you talk a little about that aspect of the exhibition? And is that typical of your work?

ZW: Climate Changes! as a project is almost entirely collaborative in nature – and it really excites me. The bigger picture goal of the project is to create a greater feeling of autonomy within the communities that participate and through that participation to generate a dictionary of terms for the sounds shared amongst that community. This collaborative, participatory element is central. I will go around recording sounds in Peoria and assemble them into a soundscape composition – and that’s largely where my direct involvement will end. What will make the exhibition special is that anybody in attendance will be invited to name any of the sounds they hear by writing the name on a piece of sheet music and pinning it to the wall. My hope is, that with everybody’s participation, the exhibition space will be blanketed in this new language that will emerge from a collective exercise in active listening.

I’ve grown to really enjoy collaboration as a form of aleatoricism. It’s been present in my work in some form or another for some time now. Some of the music I composed for A Good Education (Explorations in Data and Music) required a lot of participation from the musicians I worked with. But this project is the greatest amount of collaboration and community involvement I’ve incorporated yet and I’m really looking forward to it.


Project 1612: Do you have anything else coming up we should know about?

ZW: This August, at University Galleries, I’ll be curating my first exhibition. All My Friends Are In The Cloud is an exhibition of work by artist and filmmaker Jonah King. I’m collaborating with Jonah and a team of incredible grad students to exhibit an expanded version of his 2017 piece by the same name.

I’ve been really excited by this project. It feels like another crazy arc in the trajectory I’m on. Going from my introduction to the contemporary art world to curating my first exhibition within the space all in a span of 18 months is a little wild. But, once again, as with every other part of my story so far, it’s imperative that I point everything back to the people who enabled me in the first place. University Galleries Director and Chief Curator Kendra Paitz has been such an important mentor and friend to me during my time at University Galleries and it was with her permission, encouragement, guidance, and help that this exhibition will come to fruition.

So, please venture out to University Galleries this August and say hello.

Project 1612: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

ZW: I have two pieces of advice to offer and I’ll explain both. One is to smash every gate that you come across. The second is don’t be a dick and always show up.

My first piece of advice is in regard to gatekeeping. I am of the mind that it causes more problems than it does create solutions. The trouble is, I think the fine arts can suffer greatly from this disease and so it is important for every practitioner to commit to smashing the gates they come across. They exist in two forms: internal and external gates. The external factor can be fixed if we choose to collectively operate from a place of abundance. There is enough to go around for everybody to have a piece and get their needs met. Artists working in one area of the arts do not need to fool themselves into being threatened by artists working in other areas – it’s reactionary and unhelpful. I mean, the name “fine arts” itself is pretty reactionary. How is it not a title drawn from some guarded elitism that stakes the claim “my art is better than yours”? It delays progress, really. Photography and film both had an uphill battle to acceptance because of gatekeeping. It’s 2019 and people still obnoxiously challenge if interactive art is art or not and act as if they’re generating helpful discourse. I say this all not as a rant but more as a plead to artists already established and those that are coming up to adopt a mindset of abundance. To be fearless in the face of new mediums. To assume the best in the work of others. Contemporary art has the wonderful tools of curation and critique at its disposal that do more to foster lovely work – art full of ideas, meaning, and emotion – than gatekeeping which only exists to keep out what challenges that which threatens what is within. It’s the idea of pulling people up instead of pushing people down.

But I think the greater threat to artists is internal gatekeeping. We all seem to have the tendency to do things that stop us from getting what we want. For example, a lot of artists use the term “aspiring artist” to describe themselves long after its appropriate. My advice to all aspiring artists is the moment after you create your first work of art, stop calling yourself aspiring. The reason I say that is because nobody wants to work with aspiring artists when they can just work with artists. By calling yourself “aspiring” after you’ve already created work, it reads as a lack of confidence and an inability to work professionally. Just call yourself an artist, even if you don’t think you’re ready to yet. Take yourself seriously so that you can provide the space for others to as well. You’ll be dealing with imposter syndrome for the rest of your career so it’s best not to give it a foothold early on.

My second piece of advice means exactly what it says: don’t be a dick and always show up. This has been my personal philosophy for success for years now and it has rarely failed. People want to work with: a.) people that are fun to be around and b.) people they can count on. If I follow these two commandments it gets me into the doors I want long before my skills are ever considered about 90% of the time. The art world, like any other community, is incredibly small. People will remember if they could count on you and people will remember if you were a joy to be around.

Project 1612: What are your thoughts on the art community in Central IL?

ZW: Coming into art by way of music, I was very happy to see that the Central IL art community shares the same DIY ethos as the music scene. Going beyond that, it’s easy to see that the DIY art community is very connected to the institutional art community in big ways: the collaboration between UIS and Springfield Art Association on DEMO Project, University Galleries Director and Chief Curator Kendra Paitz and her project space Violet Poe, McLean County Art Center’s recent hosting of pt.fwd, and of course Project 1612’s Jessica Bingham who has been a part of the art community at Bradley University, ICC, and now University Galleries. There are also so many institutional spaces and independent spaces as well. But I think this institutional and independent overlap is really telling of the size and vibrancy of the Central IL art community. There is so much incredible art being made and so many incredible conversations being had that there is this seeming need to continue to expand and create more space for everybody to participate. It also shows how interwoven the community is. Everybody is involved with everything to some extent and everything is happening everywhere to some extent.

I think overall there is a remarkably rich dialogue happening in Central IL that is being noticed in communities outside of our region that is generating a lot of interest. What I love the most is that our whole local ethos seems to emanate from a place of abundance.

ZW sitting in his studio surrounded by speakers, a keyboard, guitar, books and artwork.

ZW sitting in his studio surrounded by speakers, a keyboard, guitar, books and artwork.

ZW is an artist working in Bloomington-Normal, IL. More of his work can be found on here.

Life as an Art Student: Haley Funk

My morning consists of a routine drive to the campus Starbucks to order my usual, iced coffee with a hit of caramel and cream. Shortly after, I arrive at Heuser Art Center, the Fine Arts building at Bradley University. This building has housed over half of my Fine Arts classes and consists of studio majors such as painting, ceramics, drawing, print making, sculpture, and photography. I’ve known many of my fellow colleagues for almost four years and it’s been phenomenal being surrounded by individuals who are like-minded artists creating and developing their place in the world as professionals.

The hallways usually greet me with my colleague’s artwork hanging throughout the corridors, creating an inviting and prideful environment to house our work. After all, it wouldn’t be an art building with blank walls.

First thing in the morning I have painting, which is actually my favorite time of day to work. I tend to be the most productive during the morning hours. The class sizes are usually pretty small, I would say an average of 5-6 students per class so this allows the learning environment to be very intimate and personal, which in return, allows us all to feed off of each other’s creativity. My personal studio space is in the corner of the painting studio where I house all of my paintings. My favorite thing about this area is the sunlight that pours in through the windows on sunny days. It’s the best.

We are responsible for building our own stretcher frames, stretching our own canvas, as well as prepping it for oil paint. It is definitely a labor of love. We work primarily with oil paints, and are encouraged to explore at the 300/400 level in order to develop and solidify our artistic voice. I am particularly interested in abstract oil paintings right now, drawing reference from contemporary artists such as Becky Yazdan, Emily Filler, Andrea Wedell, Kate Carr, and so many more. Research is a crucial aspect of our learning process, so before we even begin painting, we generally do preliminary research and sketches.

Walking to my afternoon History of Photography class consists of colorful stairs and the distinct color transparencies made by Hattie Lee leading up to the third floor.

My last class of the day is my Book Arts class taught by Robert Rowe. Right now we are working on a ‘clam shell’ box for our sewn binding books we completed earlier. It’s as cool as it sounds. We are learning a lost art in book making and Professor Rowe takes full advantage of giving demos during our studio time.

Then, if I’m lucky, sometimes my day as an art student ends with some of my favorite fellow artists at Project 1612. Here is a picture of us getting the garage/ gallery space prepped and ready for the upcoming 2019 exhibition year. I’ve learned so many professional and personal developmental skills during my internship there. It’s important to be activily participating in exhibitions and seeing the curation process first hand. In fact, I think this step is crucial in the process of being an art student.

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Haley Funk is an artist and student working in Peoria, IL. She is attending Bradley University where she is earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting, as well as her Bachelor of Science in Psychology. More of her work can be found on here

Jessica Ball


Project 1612: How would you describe the art you make?

Jessica: I would describe the art I make as lyrical abstract expressionism. Non figurative. Instant gratification, impulsive, therapeutic, peaceful and bright. Highly influenced by music.

Project 1612: When did you start taking yourself seriously as an artist?

Jessica:  I sort of gave up on art when I moved back to the midwest in 2004. I began painting again in 2011 and vowed to never stop painting, no matter where I am planted. To live a full, creative life, on the daily.

Project 1612: What drives your practice?

Jessica: I couldn’t survive without music. Music drives me to see and create so freely. I am in a perfect place when I have music and paint. I have a whole other language going on here.

Project 1612: Has your studio practice changed since closing The Art Garage in 2017? How so?

Jessica: Closing The Art Garage has been a good transition in my life. I have had time to enjoy my studio, create some really fun pieces and show a lot of artwork this year. The best part of this transition is being able to spend quality time with my husband, Kevin and our eleven-year-old daughter, Olivia. I’ve enjoyed digging deeper into life and sharing it, in color.

Project 1612: What problems do you face in the studio? How do you overcome them?

Jessica: Problems in the studio are mostly with inspiration and motivation. I combat them both with music... good music. I’ve also had to move to a larger studio this year. I’ve enjoyed making large scale paintings lately, especially with room to move around while I work.

Project 1612: What is your current body of work about?

Jessica: I am currently creating a diptych for the Emerging Artists’ Collective Exhibit in February 2019. The main idea behind my next few works are bravery with freedom of expression. This process is both valuable to my mental health and my painting practice.

Project 1612: What artistic movement do you most connect with?

Jessica: Abstract Expressionism

Project 1612: Do you have anything coming up that readers should be aware of?

Jessica: Yes, I do! Studios On Sheridan Resident Artist Group Exhibit at the Sunbeam Building until December 31st and I’m currently the Featured Artist at Images Salon until December 31st. I’ll also be the Artist Of The Month at Identity Salon in Peoria Heights now until January 11th and have work in Piece of Mind: An Exhibition on Mental Health by the Emerging Artists Collective in the Peoria Public Library Main Branch from February 6-28, 2019. The reception for that exhibition is Saturday, February 9, 1-3pm


Project 1612: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Jessica: Although I love to create in solitude, my art is deeply enriched by interactions and support from the art community. My advice for aspiring artists is to get out there and support others. Your practice will grow from learning about all types of art and all types of people. Get what you can out of being wherever you are.

Project 1612: What are your thoughts on the art community in Central IL?

Jessica: I have had my ups and downs while being an artist in Central IL. I try to soak up all we have, but honestly I crave an even more populated and diverse art scene like that of other large cities. I will say, the artists here are AMAZING! They definitely outnumber their opportunities.


Jessica Ball is an artist working in Peoria, IL. More of her work can be found on here

SJ Boyd


Project 1612: How would you describe the art you make?

SJ: Narrative Figurative: I feel all human beings art hard wired to have an emotional response to the images of other human beings. The mind strives to create a comfort zone by comparing an image with its perceptions that are developed in the “Nature” aspect of nature/nurture, that our egos and identity are developed from. With that comparison a story or narrative is born. My work also takes a lean toward Neo-Surrealism. Sometimes whimsical and sometimes taking a slightly dark or dreamlike turn. Either way, I strive to start a story and leave it up to the viewer to take it the rest of the way.

Project 1612: When did you start taking yourself seriously as an artist?

SJ: Good questions. I vividly remember being surrounded by old office papers covered with a five year olds masterpieces, in my grandparents living room, and proclaiming that I was going to be an artist. Maybe it was then. No matter what direction life has taken me, my inner foundation has always been art. I’ve been in many different studios of the years but with my recent retirement from the “Real World,” I have made it a priority to focus on being a full time artist. Heck, maybe its just now I have finally truly taken myself seriously.


Project 1612: What drives your practice?

SJ: Dreams. I receive images through them and it’s like I have been charged with the responsibly to bring it to life. Some images will stay with me for years until I find the appropriate medium to tell the story. Then on to the next dream and story to be told.

Project 1612: What problems do you face in the studio? How do you overcome them?

SJ: Time management due to a never ending flux of ideas flooding my mind. When I come close to completion of a piece I find myself wanting to move onto the next story. Making it difficult to manage my time efficiently, because sometimes I start on the next one. I overcome this with plain old work ethic. Head down and get it done. An unfinished piece doesn’t speak.


Project 1612: What is your current body of work about?

SJ: Currently, I have focused on large scale pieces. The stories vary but the scale seems to be the drive. It carries a whimsical tone or a subtle social or spiritual reference.

Project 1612: How important are your reference images to the final pieces?

SJ: References are extremely important, since I am a studio painter primarily. I mix and match images that I have photographed with antique photos or even bits of magazine references. I pick our one small piece from a shot and use it to complete my stories.

Project 1612: Besides painting, what other mediums do you work in?

SJ: Graphite and charcoal and colored pencil. I was deeply involved with black and white photography years ago, so I love to create drawings that are in gray tones. Colored pencil is like painting to me, so I love the challenges it brings me. I also sculpt in oil based clay and currently have plans to create a large public piece to be cast in bronze.

Project 1612: How long has your studio been at The Mill?

SJ: I have been in The Mill for the past couple years and have been truly blessed with an incredible space. I have been many places in the area over the years and I feel I have hit a real groove in this studio.

Project 1612: Do you have anything coming up we should know about?

SJ: At this point, I am compiling a large body of work in preparation of a solo show at the Peoria Public Library in downtown Peoria, IL in July of 2019. It’s a space traditionally used for group shows, so I am needing enough work to look like a group but its all on me. There are a couple group shows I may participate in, the one that is the closest is the Emerging Artist Show in February of 2019.

Project 1612: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

SJ: My advice to all artists is, if the muse has chosen you and you have excepted the call, do so with all of your soul. There will be situations and people that will do their best to direct you away from the callings. If an artist is younger and starting out keep in mind you have the resilience to preserve and by the time one finds themselves at my age they will have lived a good life and probably also created a financially sound like. The good life is probably most important though. Art is business, so work at what you love and it won’t seem like work. You just LIVBIG.

Project 1612: What are your thoughts on the art community in Central IL?

SJ: The art community of Central IL has become the poster child for how a grassroots movement and the wealth of talented artists can get things done. The only thing we are missing right now is a legitimate gallery space to represent all of those talents. This area has so many master level artists that it more than rivals the large metropolitan areas of this country. And the rest of the country is just getting their first look at what Central IL has to offer. There are many, many good souls creating here. I think the world needs to look out for all of us!


SJ Boyd is an artist working in Peoria, IL. More of his work can be found on here

Patricia Whalen-Keck

Project 1612: How would you describe the art you make?


Patricia: I have always been concerned with how, as societies we seem to build and destroy in the same breath. I think of myself as a figurative artist with an interest in the environment and ancient cultures. My work is about individuals and how they navigate through life. I model my figures in wax or clay and cast them in bronze because it is a material that connects us to past cultures, an idea that is important to me. I model both male and female figures in positions that are either standing or walking. The upright posture of the unadorned individual is by far my favorite and I have been told they embody the duel nature of vulnerability and strength. The core of my work is the isolated standing individual which is the most natural and direct posture that people take. Concerns with subject matter and choices of bird imagery add to the visual interest and content.

Project 1612: When did you start taking yourself seriously as an artist?

Patricia:  Taking myself seriously as an artist was at first difficult and took much longer than expected. I started pursuing a graduate degree in sculpture late in life. While in graduate school I recall listening to a critique of my thesis work given by a visiting artist whose interpretation did not match my explanation. What I knew to be the story behind the work, what informed the piece, was not what he saw, simple enough, but for me profound. The genesis of my ideas come from my life stories, for example, the memory of doing dishes at my grandmother’s while her parakeet was perched on my shoulder was the source for The Pedestrian. I take myself seriously each time I approach a new idea.

Project 1612: What drives your practice?

Patricia: A number of things come to mind, first, the actual physical process, then researching for imagery. Recognition is always important but not what drives me. The love of art is in my DNA, the need to experience what artists have created and to create my own works. Identifying my life experiences and then connecting them to the themes that interest me drives much of what I do. The back and forth decisions that come with problem solving and of course the completed work can be very exciting. I have been in awe of artists, those who are working at a high level, thinking about and making unexpected aesthetic choices that move me intellectually and emotionally. Another aspect that drives me is my research, the search for ideas, a form or a line, and the connections with ancient works. For example, The Black Heron of South Africa was made using the direct wax method where I cast wax cylinders from discarded Pringles containers. I joined them together to create a column three feet tall, modeled a black heron and attached it to the top, and appliqued dozens of lizards on the surface. The theme became one of predator/prey. Later, while doing an online image search I discovered two miniature versions of my heron piece; one was a Udu West African musical instrument, the other a Benin bronze bird sculpture, the form of each was a cylinder showing a bird perched at the rim.

Project 1612: What problems do you face in the studio? How do you overcome them?

Patricia: My biggest concern is having enough floor space for future sculpture work, scale has become an important element in my sculpture, I don’t want to be restricted in what I can do. My new studio is a little over 520 square feet with a twenty-foot ceiling, a cement floor, and no windows. I use one wall for drawing and have plans to build a modest workbench on the adjacent wall, dedicated for printmaking. This leaves the remaining two-thirds of the space for sculptural work. The challenge is to make use of this area so that my tools and materials are easily available but the floor space is left open. I have limited the size of my work tables to smaller rather than larger and … so they can be easily rearranged, equipped them with casters. The only shelving will be on the wax wall, the area set aside for heating and modeling figures in wax. I visualize the remaining space open and filled with sculptural works in progress. I plan to keep the remaining two walls open and free of clutter.

Project 1612: What is your current body of work about?

Pat: My current body of work, in its simplest form is about drawing, exploring composition and the decisions that accompany these activities. I took a three-month hiatus from sculpture to allow myself reflective time and to process the work done as a graduate student. I am a figurative 3-D artist first but also understand the importance of learning through other disciplines. My current body of work consists of drawings of bird images and portraits of people whose life work I admire. I view the drawings as preliminary works studies for woodcuts and larger works on paper. Bird imagery shows up frequently in my sculpture so I decided to do drawings of birds that are of interest to me. I am exploring two compositional arrangements, one linear changing the proportions of a grid the other circular laying down a spiral as a starting point.

Project 1612: Can you talk about the bird imagery that shows up frequently in your pieces?

Patricia: Much if not most of my aesthetic choices originate from an actual experience or my reaction to something I heard or read. For example, In Picasso’s famous anti-war painting Guernica, Picasso placed a bird in the top left corner appearing to land on a table or, it may have been fleeing from the carnage. I taught this work to young people for many years and wanted my students to understand it as a piece of art, as well as a visual document of an actual event. The Spanish town Guernica, had been obliterated by the Nazi German Air Force, the Luftwaff, prior to the start of World War II. Picasso’s painting has been studied and written about extensively, I came across an article that had been written at the time of the bombing, the towns people were afraid to return to the village until the birds returned. I shy away from talking about the symbolic meaning of birds and why I use them though I acknowledge they act as a signifier. Other memories that inform my use of bird imagery include that of growing up with parakeets, not caged but allowed to fly freely through the house, the flamingo deco in my grandmother’s house, my mother’s romantic interest in swans, my sisters’ talents as musicians, to sing and to play the piano. The choice of what music I play in my studio drives my thinking.

Project 1612: You are a sculptor, but have also been exploring printmaking, drawing, and collage. How do you connect the 3D and 2D aspects of your work?

Patricia: Yes, I have been exploring printmaking, drawing and collage. I find similarities in the processes, the research and of course the subject matter. Working in multiple disciplines helps to keep my thinking fresh, to not become predictable. I truly enjoy the challenge that comes with using different materials. And, of course, casting a work in bronze is very expensive, it requires hours of time and physical labor to complete. At this stage in my live I felt it important to explore activities that are physically less demanding.

Project 1612: How long has your studio been at The Mill? And how does this studio space differ from previous studios?

Patricia: I have been at The Mill four years. The owners were just beginning to develop studio spaces for the art community when I rented a small space. I was looking for a quiet area to read, do research and eventually write my thesis paper. I was one of a handful of artists to first locate in the building. This space was located on the second floor and well suited for quiet reflective work. Upon completion of my degree, I needed a larger studio to do sculpture, fortunately a ground floor studio became available. Though still small for a sculptor the new space has been ideal for me. It is still quiet, with the same finished white walls and solid wood beams, and easily accessible from the parking area. I am now located at the back of the building directly across from a local pottery.

Project 1612: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Patricia: I would advise aspiring artists to know the what, the why and the where.


Project 1612: What are your thoughts on the art community in Central IL?

Patricia: My art community experiences are limited to towns I have live in or lived close too; Decatur, Peoria, Bloomington/Normal, and Champaign/Urbana, the latter two, university towns. While living in Decatur, and now in Peoria, I had the good fortune to meet, work with and learn from two highly accomplished artists, both long-time residents of Central Illinois. Both artists are connected to the larger art communities of Lithuania and California, and the current art community in Chicago. My work practice includes looking at art, museum quality and contemporary works. It is an easy drive to Krannert Art Museum on the campus of the University of Illinois to view their graduate shows, current exhibitions and collections. I often travel by train to visit Chicago; University Galleries is located next door to the train station so I visit it as often as possible. The Contemporary Art Center of Peoria was founded in 1998, areas for artists to work, exhibit and sell are continuing to increase, and the Peoria art community is engaged in exposing young people to the arts. From what I have experienced the arts are alive and well in Central Illinois. I have managed to find in Central Illinois what I require to work, but frequently seek the energy of a metropolitan environment.


Patricia Whalen-Keck is an artist working in Peoria, IL. More of her work can be found on here.