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11 Questions: Tim Abel

I had a chance to ask Tim Abel a few questions in anticipation of our August exhibition opening on August 3rd.

1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

My family and I very recently moved back to the midwest, and often say I am midwestern-ish. I grew up and have lived around Lake Michigan and the upper Midwest for a good portion of my life. That being said, I have lived in seven places in the past seven years.  Being a practicing artist and also being connected to the community I am participating in is important to me, so I have channeled this impulse into being a community-based art educator. Alongside my artmaking practice, I am also currently the Museum Education Manager at the Tarble Arts Center at Eastern Illinois University. 

2. What first Inspired you to begin working?

I feel like I have always felt the need to make art. Ironically though, it wasn't until I was in my MFA program, that I finally felt the real confidence that I could call myself an artist.

3. What is your studio like?

It is very chaotic at the moment, as I am in the throes of unpacking. Honestly, outside of unpacking, I think I work in a mode of controlled chaos. I work in fragments of time, so I try to have multiple projects going.


4. What are some of your rituals in the studio to get the momentum going? Do you listen to certain music, podcasts, require a nice cup of coffee?

My ritual is called bedtime. If I can get my two boys (who are two and seven) to sleep before 10:00, then I have studio time.  As a way to be realistic about this ultimate fragmenting of time, I try to keep a running wall of small works. It could be a fragment of fabric, a photo I found during the day, or a small paper collage, or older work that finds resonance. I see this as a gathering practice: it gives me a chance to add a single element, re-arrange or contextualize a larger work that I am working through. I think of the individual elements as something akin to quilt blocks, and the whole arrangement becomes an ever-evolving wall quilt. This gives me a chance to work, even in small moments. I also keep as many larger projects going at one time as I can, so that I can be ready if I get a moment of focused time.

5. Can you talk a little about your process and your use of common materials?

For the last three years, I have been documenting pattern big and small, almost on a daily basis. Sometimes this means taking a photo, sometimes I end up finding a scrap of something on a walk, sometimes I make a small work. This is all in response to my moving through the world and trying to find some order in the relative chaos. I also use this meditation on pattern to square the fact that the world moves at a much larger scale to the relatively small human scale that is the current chaos of politics and culture.

I am really interested in using materials that are overlooked as art materials. I am interested in shifting the relationship I have to these materials, like a single-use plastic bag, and transforming it into something else. Using materials that come my way provides an intuitive palette and gives me a chance to experiment with surface and texture. I am also very aware of the hybrid life my consumption then takes on and have become really aware of the amount of plastic and kinds of plastic that filter through my life. 

6. What do you do when you are not ‘feeling’ a painting in progress? How do you overcome ‘failure’?

I am a huge fan of revision, and I often revisit work until I feel like it has resolved itself. For instance, I just completed a piece that I began in 2014 that I finally feel like has a firm boundary on itself. I also move very slowly with the work, so I often will start in a direction, then change it, re-sew it, paint it over in the course of the cycle of making. I also allow myself to know that no one day will be a day that I have to make a monumental work, and that working in increments or doing a small amount of work is a success. 

7. What is the most inspiring place you have been to?

A few years ago, I had the chance to go take a tour of the Kohler ceramic and foundry industry buildings. I loved being able to see the full process: seeing the grit and the slag turn into highly polished porcelain and highly finished metal. 

8. Other than painting, do you have any other interests or hobbies?

I love being with my family: inviting my boys into the studio, exploring new places with my family, playing at parks. I also have major wanderlust and watch terrible sci-fi movies when I have a chance. 

9. If you could go back in time and give yourself advice as an undergraduate pursuing your BA, what advice would you give?

This is a complicated question for me to pull apart. I think the simplest response would be: 1. believe in yourself 2. make sure any graduate program provides full funding. The long game of student loans is not pleasant.

10. What/Who are influences for your work?

Anni Albers, Beth Lipman, Gee's Bend quilters, Hank Willis Thomas' We The People quilt project, Mark Bradford, Robert Rauschenberg, Kurt Schwitters Merzbau works, research about plastic degradation and pollution, deep geologic time, man-made patterns and the need for seeing patterns and order. 

11. What are you working on right now?

I am currently interested in seeing how I can use quilting patterns and sew using modular shapes to create new emergent patterned plastic textiles. So, I may cut apart a Target bag, and find a new pattern or collect packing plastic for its subtle shifts in color or collect the plastic sleeves of a delivered newspaper. These things get combined and re-combined with fabrics and painted paper I have found and made, to make something new. I like how the story of their origin gets wrapped into the new thing that it becomes


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