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What do artists actually do all day?

A conversation with artists Brendan Fernandes and Armani Howard

Earlier this month, on a gorgeous fall Saturday, Gertie organized an Artist Studio “Progressive” where we got a group of 35 people together to visit 5 different artists’ studios over 4 hours. Some of our guests were experienced collectors, while others had just acquired their first piece of art (yay!) or were curious about how to get started. Artists and curators joined the tour, too, so there were a variety of perspectives from within the arts ecosystem.

The event had multiple goals:

  • Introducing artists to new people who are excited about their work
  • Helping people understand what “collecting” art means and what a “studio visit” is
  • Raising money for “The Wizards” (link to donate HERE)!
    More on that below :)  

Before we got started, I acknowledged that a “studio visit” is really just a fancy way of saying that you’re meeting an artist, spending time in their space, and taking a peek into their work and process. That shifting of language is powerful because it makes the idea less intimidating and exclusionary.

We started the day at Zhou B Arts Center at Elsa Muñoz’s studio, where we also got to meet photographer Jairo Granados-Cardenas and learn from the amazing Bana Kattan about the generosity of Chicago’s arts community. At the Bridgeport Arts Center, we saw Moises Salazar's work and learned about their journey from identifying as a gay man in the queer community to a non-binary person, plus how they came to use nail polish, glitter, and ceramics in their work.

Our last stop was Mana Contemporary, where we spoke with Brendan Fernandes, visited Armani Howard’s studio, and stopped in to see Yvette Mayorga and Hope Wang.

After the visits were over, we hung out at Armani’s studio and had pizza. It was a time and space for people to connect with the artists 1:1 and for the artists to connect with one another. There was no barrier between artist and visitor – we were legitimately SHARING space.

And for those of you who weren’t able to join us, here’s a conversation between Brendan Fernandes and Armani Howard capturing what we talked about.

Abby: How would you describe your work?

Armani: I’m a multi-disciplinary, African American-Thai artist whose work cross-examines the roles of memory, nostalgia, and folkloric narratives in creating and preserving identity. I like to question the roles that help shape identity and how they can mold the beliefs in one’s heritage.

Brendan: My work is intersectional. It's between the processes of dance and visual arts. I mix performance, dance, but also sculpture, film, and photography. I'm a multi-generational Kenyan, so I look at my Kenyan narrative as well. My earlier work looks at colonial histories through the diaspora — because I am also Indian — in this work I looked at the souvenir object and compared it to the artifact in the museum.  These mask objects all came with dances, and when taken from their place of origin and then put into the museum context the lived expression was taken away. In this work I am aiming to bring back and acknowledge these lost bodies.

Abby: What are “studio visits,” and why are they valuable?

Brendan:  When I bring people to my studio, it's an opportunity for me to talk about my work, so it really allows me to articulate the ideas and understand what the work means in different ways. We’re by ourselves for the most part. When I'm actually presenting ideas to somebody, it gives me the opportunity to say them aloud, and then I'm like, “oh, yeah, that's what it is.”

Abby: Who do you usually meet during a studio visit?

Armani: Most people tend to be wary of coming to a studio space? I can't really pinpoint exactly what the feeling is, or why most individuals don't want to come to an artist space. Recently, I’ve been trying to make the studio a little more accessible, so people can learn about it. Now, when anyone messages me saying, “Hey, I would love to set up a studio visit,” I try to allow that to happen.

Brendan:  We meet curators who want to understand how our ideas can fit into their concepts for shows and also collectors who want to acquire work. And sometimes it's just bringing in your friends.

It’s funny, because when people hear that a curator visited your studio, they're like, “Well, what happened? Did you get the show?” But studio visits usually lead to more meetings.

Abby: How was the Gertie Artist Studio Progressive different from a typical studio visit?

Armani: It felt more affirming. Sometimes people tend to be afraid to ask questions or even walk around, but with this visit, everyone had an idea of what they were getting themselves into. You could see everyone was paying attention, and if someone didn’t know something, they would ask a question or come up afterwards. Everyone was part of the same community, but it was the first time some people ran into each other. And it was natural — it didn’t feel like a forced dialogue.

Brendan:  There was a certain sense of intimacy. The group was more casual, which I liked, because I could just have a conversation instead of delivering a presentation. I don't think I'd ever done a studio visit with another artist, so it was nice to be with other artists and to share and hear and exchange. Afterwards, people wrote to me on Instagram, saying, “it was so great to hear about your work, and do you have anything coming up?” so it was a little networking hub, too. Really lovely.

Abby: Is there anything from the day that you're still thinking about?

Brendan: Just doing more of this, and creating more of a network. When I lived in New York, I would do three to four visits a week. I need to start putting myself in that space again.

Abby: What's the biggest secret that you think was revealed during the day?

Armani: The relatability. I think sometimes with art, when there are specific conversations that are being had, a lot of people feel like they can't either engage or discuss them. I had a lot of individuals tell me, “you made this conversation a lot more digestible than I thought it could have been.”

Abby:  What’s one thing you learned about each other during that day?

Brendan: Meeting Armani, I just was like, “You're a warm, awesome person. And I want to get to know you better.” But then looking at your work, we share commonalities. We might be from different places, but we’re looking at the same concepts, the same ideas about identity, and the question of who we are.

Armani: It’s the same dialogue. And we realized we’re almost birthday buddies, so that’s a plus, too.

Our Artist Studio Progressive reminded me that we have the opportunity to do it differently here in Chicago. We don't have to model ourselves after any other city. We can BE the model for other cities.

Xx Abby