THAT Magazine interviews Piper Selig, an artist with an overabundance of perspective.
This week in art.
He insisted he wasn’t being poetic when he declared, “Sound is the key to the Heavens.” And while the early pioneers of musique concrète
(El-Dabh, Schaeffer, et al.) invariably site Arthur Mapps as an influence, the man is scarcely known in the world of experimental music today.
Mapps is pictured here (age 38) with Soundsculptor #3, an instrument of his own invention. “When Soundsculptor #3 is finished,” he said, “Man will no longer listen to music in concert halls or over a phonograph. He will use music to explore the Universe. Science and Art will become One Flesh.” Critics panned Mapps’ statement, calling it, “the rantings of a hack trying to disguise his shrill, artless noise with bluster.”
When he wasn’t composing, Mapps wrote voluminous essays arguing that sonic energy was the foundation of the Universe and that studying it would allow humanity to bend the laws of physics. A few of his essays remain today – the Mendocino Public Library has at least two.
Was Arthur Mapps onto something? We may never know. The musician disappeared soon after this photograph was taken. Police searched his home but Mapps, his writings, and Soundsculptor #3 were nowhere to be found.
PIPER SELIG, was my secret teenage obsession. Née Pastore, I remember her as the luminous art class genius, possessing a lithe radiance and easy talent that was improbable for any 16-year-old, let alone one among the gaggle of stoners and miscreants destined to graduate with us from Mendocino High. Talented, beautiful, and unobtainable: Piper fascinated me then as she does today.
LAST MONTH, I found myself waiting for Piper at Goodlife Bakery to discuss her new show, ECHOES hanging at Irrational Art Space (through April 15). I was nervous, having not spoken to her in years – Piper left after high school, eventually making her way to New Mexico to make a name for herself among the Catorce Pintores Neo-Landscapist movement. ECHOES is her first show since returning to the North Coast – a new series of portraits that betray a deep shift in her psyche, and an exciting new track in her artistic life.
As it turned out, Piper arrived 45-minutes late, distracted, disheveled and – refusing coffee or any other nicety – insistent upon taking the far corner seat. Our conversation was punctuated throughout by her dark glance interrogating the doorway. I never asked what dread she expected across the threshold. After this conversation, I don’t think I’d like to know.
EVAN HOBART: Piper, Congratulations on your show. These new portraits are remarkable! And all of the backs of your subjects’ heads. I’m curious who these people are to you.
PIPER SELIG: A few are of my family. Others, well... they’re the people I see every day.
EH: They haunt me. I feel like I’ve seen them in a dream.
PS: You dreamt my paintings? Before you saw them?
EH: Not exactly, I mean, I have this recurring dream where I can’t see the other person’s face. Or get them to turn around. It’s fairly straightforward Jungian stuff... have you ever had that?
PS: No. I mean, weird! I’m sorry. It’s just funny you should say that. The first painting came to me in what I thought was a dream. I was standing by the kitchen window watching my husband in the garden. He’s there, recording plant sounds, stooped over, headphones on, turned away me.
EH: Is that Blade Song?
PS: Yes. That’s the painting. In this dream or whatever, I’m washing dishes. Steam is fogging up the window and this image of my husband, Nicholae, is disappearing behind the glass. I was losing him. And then suddenly I came to and I realize that I’m standing in my studio. There’s a brush in my hand and Blade Song is there on the canvas. I thought then that I had painted it in my sleep.
PS: But now I’m not sure. It didn’t make any sense. It was the middle of the afternoon. So more like... what? A daydream?
EH: A vision.
PS: Yeah, right. A vision. Anyway, that’s where it began. About a year ago, this odd feeling started to creep over me that I’d become detached. That what I’m seeing isn’t really there. Or I’m not really here but in a parallel state. Like I had been illustrated on a cellophane sheet and laid over another background.
EH: You’d become disassociated.
PS: No. Detached. I found I could stand in a room and watch my children entirely unobserved. Or my husband. Or my father. Sometimes my brother would suddenly appear in the house when – actually never mind.
EH: Lucius? He’s become sort of a thing lately.
PS: I don’t want to talk about him. So yeah, it all sounds kind of creepy, doesn’t it? I started to isolate myself and I was becoming depressed, not going out. just rattling around the house. And so to cope I fell into this process of painting these people in my home. And I found that stopping them in time, capturing them when they weren’t looking... oh God, Piper, don’t say it was healing. No, it grounded me... or them. Solidified them. And, in painting, I felt my detachment subside.
EH: And painting them from behind – your work is incredibly intimate. There’s nothing so vulnerable as the back of a person’s skull. I see now that, in this state of detachment, you were illuminating the people in your world. Drawing them into the light. Like Vermeer. Pulling back the curtain to reveal something so exquisite, so precious, in what we consider “ordinary” life.
PS: No. What? That’s not at all what I meant. And besides, Vermeer was a perv.
EH: As an artist, you needed to subjectify them to see them. Wait, sorry. What?
PS: Vermeer was a sexual predator. Art historians gush on about how this guy illuminated the mundane. Splashing all that soft daylight on the household help so that what? The elite could acknowledge their beauty?
To titillate some modern day aesthete, nosing his way through the Rijksmuseum three-hundred-and-whatever years later?
EH: OK. That’s not what I meant.
PS: Those poor girls. The Girl With the Pearl Earring? Please. What is she, 14? How about Girl With a Red Hat? Look at her face! She’s saying, “You again? What do you want, perv?” It’s hilarious.
EH: That’s certainly a fresh perspective. So, if you’re not illuminating your subjects then what was your intent?
PS: I’m damning them. Thwarting them. Banishing them.
EH: Your family?
PS: No, I never said that. You’re missing the point. Or you’re not listening. Oh my God, why did I agree to do this?
EH: What am I missing, Piper? You tell me.
PS: At this gallery show, ECHOES, there are 32 paintings
in the series. just three are of my family. There are 836 more that I didn’t hang. There will be more today. Tomorrow. There may be one of you, I don’t know. We went to school together, right? Well this morning, I had a vivid recollection of you as someone else. You were welding something in a big indoor space. But it was crowded with all this other weirdness. I remember a forest and a giant fish tank and a singing mastodon. And you lifted your welding mask and said, “Hey, Piper.” But in a way that it was not really me, but I was pretending to be me. Like we were on a movie set or something. And I said, “Hey Geoff.” Your name was Geoff.
EH: Where were we?
PS: I don’t know. It felt like I was back in New Mexico because I was so thirsty. And then, let’s see, yesterday I had another one – not with you – but I’m itching with mosquito bites and it’s sweltering hot and there’s this big phallic monument, a golden sphere with light reflecting off it, set atop this tower like a disco ball on top of an oil derrick. A girl was there calling to me with short-shorts and an E.T. t-shirt and tube socks pulled up. She was eating cotton candy and it was all so eighties... and there’s a man behind her, like about to grab her. Later, I Googled the tower and found the same thing in Knoxville, Tennessee: Sunsphere: Symbol of the World’s Fair, 1982.
EH: Holy crap, Piper, you’re a seer. Do you know William Sergeant Kendall’s work?
PS: No, I don’t. Listen to me. Sometimes I’m in another reality and sometimes I see people entering mine. Tuesday morning I’m walking on the beach and this figure comes at me right out of the fog. A man. I see him a lot.
EH: The guy in Knoxville?
PS: Maybe. I don’t know. It’s like whatever up there – or someone out there – is messing with me, shuffling up all the cellophane sheets, laying one reality over another and then another. It’s scary, Geoff, I’m not going to lie to you and OK, yeah, I wasn’t going to say that my art was healing because I think that’s crap. Art is not therapy. But the faces, these intruders, are often unfriendly and if I paint them turned away from me, I can send them back to where they came.
EH: My name is Evan.
PS: Evan. Yes (laughs). You wanted to know about my subjects, right? Well, they’re haunting me as well.
Echoes runs through April 15 at Irrational Art Space 11220 Silva Lane, Mendocino