Recently while surfing the internet, looking for project ideas using old magazine paper, I came across the website of Detroit-based artist, Teresa Petersen. I was immediately drawn to her artwork, especially her collages, which combine thrifted vintage paintings and images from old magazines. I have a special fondness for upcycled art, and Teresa’s creative reuse of vintage magazine images really caught my eye. I ended up purchasing two of her prints.
I love the way she combines her images and paintings with an eye towards color combinations that work and blend well together. Like all great collage artists, Teresa has a gift for taking disparate elements and making them cohesive and imbuing them with meaning. The paintings and images she uses in her artwork are a natural fit.
I contacted her and asked her if she would be interested in doing an interview for my blog, and she graciously agreed.
Q: You have a Bachelor’s degree in art and received a Master’s degree in fine arts. Did you always know you were going to be a working artist? Did you come from a home where that was encouraged?
A: I grew up in a very crafty, DIY house, and I was taught how to sew, wire a light bulb, garden, use tools etc. Drawing supplies and paints were always around for me when I was a kid, so my experiences when I was young did help give me skills to become an artist later.
Q: How long have you been creating art? Do you do this full time? If so, how long have you been a full time artist?
A: I have been creating art since I was an undergraduate. I’ve had my own studio space since 1990. One of the best choices I ever made was getting my first studio space, because having a dedicated space, especially one shared with other artists, just gets you in the mindset of creating art.
Q: How did you come to work with found objects and vintage items in your artwork? Did you make a conscious decision to upcycle found objects and items, or did it just happen organically?
A: Using found objects came from my family’s ethic of fixing and using old things. My brother and I dug antique bottles in the woods of rural Michigan where we lived. There were old farm machines to look at and ancient household cast-offs to play with. Later when I was an undergraduate, the same kind of cast-offs were great to use (and still fun!) because they were free at a time when my budget was very small.
Q: Which came first – collage or assemblage art?
A: I started as a painter and illustrator, which with a biology degree enabled me to work as a biological illustrator. Assemblage worked its way into my paintings when I started using old windows and screen doors as frames, then gradually took over as I added more assemblage pieces and shrank the size of the painting. Collage came later, as I started thinking about translating the 3D assemblage aesthetic into the 2D world.
Q: What is your process for getting an idea into a piece of art? Do you start with an idea or message you want to communicate, or with the found objects themselves?
A: It’s a mix. There’s a message inherent just in using cast-off items, or things from the past, and so the message and the objects come as a package. Usually I have a really good background or picture cutout that may suggest a theme, but needs a more exact story woven around it. On a good day I work on 5 or more things at once, since going through picture files brings up all sorts of interesting things. They all get built up as the right pieces emerge. Then it is glue day, then framing day.
Q: As someone who loves food – eating, reading, and talking about it – I’m curious as to how images of food made their way into so much of your art and why they are so prevalent in your work?
A: Food crept into my subject matter first through thinking about women’s issues and domesticity. It is “natural” for women to cook. Therefore the ladies could be out in a primeval woodland with a fridge and stove, mixing the two definitions of “natural.” Also, the idea of “Mother Nature” feeding the animals amuses me. Is she cruel or kind when giving the birds too much cake? Cake is an ambivalent symbol–a joyful reward and a celebration, but ultimately not so great to eat too much of it. Is Jello good for you just because it is huge and beautiful? And is it “natural”? Food in general holds a lot of cultural meaning (as well as being created in a lot of interesting forms), and it’s a natural vehicle (pun intended) to convey multiple levels of meaning, from the silly to the profound.
Q: What are you trying to convey and communicate in your art?
A: I am usually thinking about variations on natural and unnatural: a) women’s roles through history, b) a mythology where animals have all the same bad habits as people, and c) the overconsumption of goods in our society.
Q: What has been the response and reaction to your work? Anything that’s surprised you?
A: The response is usually good. Two memorable comments were, “is this work with all the owls a dis-utopian work?” (my reply was “maybe it’s utopian, if you think owls should be running the world.”) and, “your work is mysterious,” coming recently from one of my favorite MFA professors.
Q: What has been the greatest joy for you as an artist?
A: I love it when viewers laugh!!! Humor sneaks home many important ideas, or so I like to hope.
Q: Do you have any particularly proud moments you would like to share?
A: It was a great pleasure to be asked to submit pictures of some game assemblages I had done for a French Arts magazine.*
*(The original magazine is no longer available, but you can see more of Teresa’s work in the Altered Object: Techniques, Projects, Inspiration by Terry Taylor).
Q: What advice would you give to someone who would like to create full time?
A: Right now I only work part time, but do run things like a business and make a profit every year. I do what I love, but watching how I spend money helps me keep it professional and not an “expensive hobby.” Also, as I mentioned earlier, getting studio space was one of the best things I did. It keeps the mess out of the kitchen and when I am there, I am focused on creating. Get out and show your work and go to see shows. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new media or markets, and don’t be afraid to minimize your effort in areas that aren’t working. Try to have realistic prices so you can sell your work. I see many artists who feel that their work ought to sell for a high price, (like in New York, except we are in Detroit). They may be right, but what ought to happen often doesn’t, and these artists wind up selling nothing. Many artist friends teach to help pay the bills.
Q: Where is your work displayed? Where can readers see more of your work?
A: I show work in local Detroit galleries, and also go to art fairs in Chicago, the Midwest and in Michigan. My website www.teresapetersen.com has work to look at, info about me, and now has prints for sale.
Q: Do you have any future plans to make more of your work available as prints or reproductions for fans of your work?
A: Reproductions online are a new thing for me, but I would like to expand it since it reaches a large audience of people. It is very easy to mail prints to people who are looking for something small and inexpensive, but with some individuality.
Thank you, Teresa, for your time and graciousness in answering my questions. As you can see, she is a very thoughtful and talented artist. Please go visit her website and take a look at more of her beautiful artwork for yourself.
Do you have a contemporary artist whose work you admire? Please share in the comments.
Note: All images used in this post are copyrighted and have been used with the permission of Teresa Petersen.