Tessa Perutz (b. 1988, Chicago) received her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and now lives & works in Brooklyn and Iceland.
She has exhibited in the US and UK in multiple solo, two-person, and group exhibitions. She has shown work recently at Jack Hanley Gallery (New York); Pablo’s Birthday (New York); Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; Atlanta Contemporary; Prelim Projects (London); museumofamericabooks (Brooklyn); Brooklyn Academy of Music (Brooklyn); Appointment Only (Los Angeles).
Recent press includes features in Modern Painters, ArtInfo, thisistomorrow, Milk Magazine, and Majestic Disorder. Her works have been published in multiple magazines; including Packet BiWeekly and artmagazine.us. In addition to maintaining a studio practice, Tessa also curates Massif Central; a collection of artist’s silk scarf editions.
Interview with Tessa Perutz
Questions by Emily Burns
Hi Tessa, can you tell us a bit about your background and what motivated you to become an artist?
Hi ! I grew up in and around Chicago in a creative family. My dad is a trade show display and product designer and my mom is a great cook, plant lady and textile aficionado. My grandmother is a noted interior designer and her home was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students. Prominent painter Ed Paschke taught my dad at Northwestern University and Paschke’s artwork made a firm impression on me early on. The deep history and artistic roots in Chicago were always floating around me. I spent a lot of time at The Art Institute of Chicago as well, and to this day it’s still one of my favorite museum collections.
I think the feeling of wanting to express myself visually through the clothes I wore, or the music I liked, became so strong in my late teen years that this desire to create something fruitful and concrete naturally flourished into making art, curating, and collecting.
Can you tell us a bit about the new work in your show Karma Solaire at Pablo’s Birthday in New York City? Congrats on getting some fantastic press, Critic's Pick in Artforum!
The show actually grew out of the loss of my French friend Paul Saeio, a cosmically creative soul and deep lover of life. He passed in August 2017. His funeral and memorial ceremonies were set in Burgundy and Paris, France and the drawings I made during those times became the starting point for the paintings. In depicting his origins—the surroundings of his childhood and formative years—hoped to portray his soul in unison with his natural world. He always spoke of the influence and importance of nature in his creative practice. The paintings eventually morphed into including a lot of his poetic motifs—like the sun (soleil / solaire) and butterflies (papillon). The titles for the works reflect these motifs as well.
Can you walk us through the stages of planning and making a painting? Is drawing a part of your process? Are your paintings of particular locations? Are they painted on-site?
When I travel I draw like a maniac. I really feel this deep desire to capture and eventually mirror my surroundings back into the paintings. Maybe it has something to do with my bad memory and wanting to reflect my experiences—locking in those memories of a certain place, at a certain time. The drawings are the jumping point for the paintings, sometimes I project the drawings and sometimes I map them directly onto the canvas freehand. But the drawings are always made on site. Sometimes it just takes me years to make them into final completed works, they often need to percolate a bit.
I’d like to paint on-site but I am too particular with my surfaces— they have to be precise and the elements do not allow for that.
When did you begin to work in the way you are working now?
I started making landscapes in a full-on way in the spring of 2016, during my first residency, which was in Reykjavik, Iceland. The studio window looked out upon the vast expanse of the Icelandic sea—hence the title of my solo in 2016 “Staring Into The Sea”—also a riff on Chris Martin’s exhibition “Staring Into The Sun”. I first drew the window, then the landscape filled what was beyond the window, then the landscapes started to fill all the other canvasses and I was hooked.
What artists have you looked at the most over the years? Who are you looking at now?
Hm, well I guess I will just give you a long list in no particular order… Eduardo Paolozzi, Joshua Abelow, Tryggvi Olafsson, Blinky Palermo, Nan Goldin, Patrick Caulfield, Chris Martin, Dieter Roth, Emma Kunz, Jonathan Lasker, Richard Hamilton, Sigmar Polke, Tal R, Sonia Delaunay, Gee’s Bend quiltmkaers, Holly Coulis, PAL Crew, Ed Paschke and the Chicago Imagists
What is a typical day like for you?
I usually wake up around 8 or 9, have coffee and do email at home. Recently I have been refraining from emailing in the studio and that is helpful for maintaining concentration. I like to also have a run or do yoga early but sometimes that gets pushed to midday or evening, which can also be nice. So from late morning until 7 or 8 I paint or plan new works. If a good friend has a show then I will go to an opening in the evening but that often forces me to cut the workday short so I’m not at every opening. After I moved out of my Bed-Stuy spot I got a big loft in Brownsville for a few months. A catastrophic flood, really rough neighborhood, and bad management all gave me the green light signal to move out of NY and now I am in Europe for a while working here and moving between artist residencies.
What type of studio scenario do you need to get work done? Can you tell us a bit about your workspace? What are absolute necessities in the studio?
Ah yes, love this question. I am quite particular with my space—I like to enact a sort of comfort zone. I have a lot of plants and things around me that make me feel warmth, light, and prosperity. I have a huge cassette tape collection that I keep on rotation. I also hang artworks by friends and artists I admire; in my space are works by Trudy Benson, Johnny Abrahams, Ted Gahl—my close buddies. I have a big cozy couch that I sit on to gain perspective and reflect on my works. I have ceramics by Josephine Heilpern (Recreation Center) for drinking vessels and Jessica Hans vases for flowers. My work chair is a woven steel and cord piece by Kate Casey (Peg Woodworking). Having artworks and objects made by friends around me brings me great joy.
Is there anything that significantly supports or destroys your groove or energy in the studio? What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of being in the studio?
I like burning a nice natural incense to help stay focused and maintain workflow. I play music all day long— mostly DJ mixes by friends. I grew up on house and juke music, and have gotten back into it recently in a major way. Pumps me up and keeps the blood and brain flowing. Also makes me feel connected to my home —Chicago. Also recently a lot of French rap, from both Paris and Brussels. And then of course—coming from the Midwest I love all the soul classics, like Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott-Heron, and plenty of other stuff. My music taste is super eclectic.
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
Oh, there are tons. Right now while in Berlin I am reading “Movable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway. My dear artist friend Moira Connelly sent it to me in a going away package before I left. One topic Hemingway often discusses is making work in a foreign place about another place. Like—how an artist makes work about their origins, where he or she is from, from another location. I find his writing on this enlightening and freeing, realizing artists have dealt with the same concepts and issues of displacement for centuries.
“Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.”
– Ernest Hemingway, 1936
How do you navigate distraction or lack of motivation while working?
I think it’s best to get up and do something else. My interests in life are wide-ranging and go far beyond the studio so when I feel like my painting is slow or not fun, I do something else that I enjoy. And there are so many things in life to choose from ! When I shift focus for a little while to something else, I find it reenergizes my practice and I enjoy painting and studio work again.
How important is the place where you live to your studio practice? This could include geographic location, city, neighborhood, community, etc.
It’s very important to me. More and more I am interested in shrinking my immediate sphere—in discovering and immersing myself in smaller artistic communities. After living in New York for almost ten years, I started to feel super burnt out and trapped in chaos. I didn’t grow up there so I am not hard wired to understand it at my core. The frenetic pace just started to make me crack. I love too many aspects of NY to discredit it entirely, but I know for now I need a serious break. I am planning on basing my studio in Brussels once I finish these next few residencies. It’s super attractive to me in so many ways. The affordability is a major factor, it’s super relaxed, and from there it’s quick to get to Paris, London, Antwerp, Amsterdam, and out into gorgeous nature as well. The gallery scene is top notch and so are the restaurants and people are so nice. One major gallerist told me “in Brussels, we are not snobs”—I like that. Brussels is the next move.
Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
I’d like to approach this question from a most immediate standpoint—yesterday I was feeling a little bit down and I chatted with my friend Justin and he said “all you need to do is be grateful for what you have”—so simple—that sentiment offered me the key to unlock my mental door block. I really believe what he said. Practicing gratitude always reinforces my life’s work and enhances health. When I am thankful to myself and others I have a refined and heightened sense of appreciation for life—both the difficult challenges and the positive offerings.
How do you view social media and how has a particular platform impacted you as an artist?
I think we are talking about Instagram? I go back-and-forth on it, as I think most people do. I know as an artist it’s super valuable if you know how to use it as a tool. It can be pretty daunting having this huge audience at your fingertips, but it’s also totally exciting. The feedback is fantastic. I can’t tell you how many collectors, artists, and galleries have found my work through it. I believe it enacts a vital conversation globally between artists. I have friends in Europe who don’t use it but also wish they had more exposure for their work.
Also it’s really good as a source for mining information and ideas. If you look at it critically it can be an incredible resource, functioning as a library and archive. It’s just important to be careful with time usage I think? Sometimes I deactivate my account and that’s cool to step away from it too. It’s all about perspective.
You recently curated a fantastic group exhibition at Pablo’s Birthday as well, how do you incorporate curatorial work with your work as an artist?
Thanks! I really believe it’s about extending my personal practice to include those that inspire, support, and reinforce my work—providing a deeper and wider context for what I do. It’s also about framing the works in an art historical context, all of us involved. There were super emerging artists and very well-established artists in the show as well. In addition to my American friends, the show included a number of French and German pals of mine, people who were also close to Saeio. I was so honored to have Jonathan Lasker’s works on view. He was one of the first people at the opening—he was super curious about all the artists in the group show and told me my paintings were “terrific”—what a major feeling of accomplishment. He is one of my idols.
Do you have any other news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
Ah yes. Now I am finishing a residency in Berlin, after this I am heading to Basel to show new works there. In June and July I will be the artist-in-residence at the 3-D Foundation in Verbier Sculpture Park, in Switzerland. That will conclude in a solo show in the beautiful Swiss mountains. Very excited about that. I also have a few group shows this summer, including a show curated by Austin Eddy in Wisconsin at Usable Space. And a move to Brussels in the late summer—early fall is also on the horizon. Much to look forward to ! xx
Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
To find out more about Tessa and her work, check out her website.