On an unseasonably balmy Saturday afternoon in Chicago, I made my way to an industrial area north of United Center that I had never been to before. The young artist Veronica Bruce let me in and we made our way to her fifth floor studio. As she gestured where I could place my bag, she let out an audible gasp. A sculpture in the back area had fallen, crashing into another work. She later told me the work had been sturdy for two months so she was surprised it had toppled over. Veronica had recently been doing work on it and perhaps it was the uneven hardwood floors that caused the mishap. I tried to get her to see it as a happy accident and with her positive attitude, she soon got over the shock and said she will make it work somehow. In fact, there was a glass block buried under a cement cast of a cardboard box at the bottom of the work, and during the fall, a portion of the cement fell off exposing the glass block below it. “It was meant to happen,” I said, really believing that that was true. Instead of being devastated she asked herself, “How can I adjust it and make it important to the piece?”
We sat down to talk before I took a tour of the studio and her current works. She told me that she always knew she wanted to be an artist. She studied art education at the University of Illinois because she felt it might be more useful for employment purposes than another degree. After graduation she taught high school art in the suburbs of Chicago. She worked on her MFA while teaching and had a limited residency in Philadelphia during her summers off. As a highly self-motivated person, she loved grad school and the time she had to create. She knew that she wanted to dedicate more time to her work and two years ago, she quit her job to pursue art full-time. She believes that when you take leaps of faith, doors unexpectedly open. I think it helps that her family and friends are also extremely supportive of her path.
Next came a six week threewalls residency (a NFP in Chicago) and then a 4 week residency in Australia (I know, rough life). At threewalls she was surrounded by people and then Down Under she was completely isolated and she really enjoyed that juxtaposition.
Hovering somewhere between sculpture and installation, Veronica considers most of the work she produces paintings or sculptures. But I challenged that idea a bit. Some of her work is site-specific and I would call it more “installation” that responds to a particular space. This is not surprising with her interest in architecture.
Her work is filled with emotional, psychological and physical gestures. She begins each piece with a quick gestural movement and then comes back to it. Many of her works have a sense of urgency to them. She explained that she feels “it is hard to make good decisions fast” so she tries to challenge herself by doing just that. When she casts in pieces that sense of urgency is paramount. She loves casting cardboard because the removal of the mold always has an element of surprise. She can make decisions about what can and can’t be seen by the viewer. It’s all about the thinking process and a linkage of decisions.
None of her work is “precious” I respond. It is very active. An acceptance of things is an underlying theme to her work. It is this attitude that makes talking with her such an enjoyable experience. She is full of positive energy and exudes charisma. I enjoyed that as she explained the process of the creation of certain pieces, she would say, “Oh I love this work!” with the wide eyes and excitement of a child. I found it refreshing and her positivity contagious. Yet she is also very articulate about her work.
Veronica’s work is all about being open to and responding to her own circumstances and to a given set of parameters. For a while all of her personal belongings were in storage and her life was in flux. Because of that, she began to insert personal references and family-based pieces into her work. Many of her materials are found objects that she herself finds or that friends or relatives give her. All of the found objects have a story—and she embraces that. The found objects are always altered in some way, but she still adheres value to them as an object even though they lose their functionality. A mirror from her childhood home which was once stable and steady looks like it will topple when tied with string to table legs. She dips a corner of it into the frame of the legs and adds a painted red triangle to the otherwise colorless object as a focal point and giving it power. That red triangle came from another piece and then appeared again and again in various works.
As an undergrad she focused on abstracted architectural formats without figures in her paintings. She then moved from painting to photography as a documentation of the world around her. Her everyday experience through space informed her work and using real pieces became the next logical step in her process, and her paintings became less rigid as a result.
She works on a few pieces at once that all relate and bounce off one another which she feels is important. Veronica responds to what it is she gives to a particular work, and she tries to embrace the possibility of a piece and its potential as opposed to any negative associations it might have. One piece often generates the next. She likes to use all the material she has, discarding nothing. For example, a friend gave her a beautiful, translucent red sheet of Rubylith (a film used to block out UV rays in windows) that she decided to cut multiple triangles out of. The pieces she took away from the sheet ended up as an additive element to another work on panel. She likes to alter pieces and change functional objects to non-functional abstracted artistic work. She showed me one work where she had taken a container that was originally used for silverware and filled it with shards of a material she had removed from a sheet of acrylic her dad had had in his house for many years. She covered these shavings with epoxy and completely transformed the container into a mysterious and beautiful work of art. The original acrylic piece hangs in the window of the studio. Using an exacto knife and turpentine, she slowly wore away at the borwn paper-like covering for the acrylic. It now acts like a stained glass window, obscuring the view, but creating forms and shapes when the sun pours through the studio window.
Veronica has been using translucent materials recently in all of her work. As we make our way through the studio, it is clear that gesture and physicality are integral to her process as well as the final product. In fact, she videotaped that same work where she cut into the red Rubileth, documenting not only her hands (which she does often), but also the intense sound of her cutting. The final video became more about the sound, she actually blocked the central image with a white rectangle so only the edges of the image were visible, than the visual process. I told her it would be very cool to show the video next to the work and she said that was something she was very interested in doing.
Another work, the one that the unstable piece fell on, is based on the relationship to her body. A used plexiglass sheet doesn’t stand up straight but gently curves, being held only but nuts and bolts at its base. Right now her work is all human scale but she has a strong desire to create larger work. She loves bringing balance to objects that shouldn’t balance like the mirror or the wooden piece anchored by the cement and glass block (that turned out to be less stable than she originally thought).
I love the diamond shape of “Strapped In”, the work that fell. She actually strapped the work to her studio wall with tape as she attached it to the glass block from a work in her thesis show and cast the bottom of it. As she removed the tape, pieces of her studio wall came off with it and she loves the idea that that piece now has part of her studio in it. She painted handles on a metal clip red and in other areas of the work, you can see red paint traces where she moved the work—her moments of impact in those quick decisions she likes to challenger herself to make.
And a small wall work called “Sunday Morning Clarity” shows just how cool this chick is. On her way to teach yoga one Sunday morning, she saw that someone had broken into her car. Instead of getting angry, she gathered the shattered glass in a bag and cast it in epoxy and added it as well as super glue that foams to a painting that she wasn’t terribly happy with.