Tyanna Buie

Interview with Tyanna Buie

Questions by Sarah Rose Sharp

You were just talking about your process, anticipating some shows that you are working on, and what that looks like...
I’ve figured out a way to put myself in the category of a dedicated studio artist, versus a research-based artist – in reality I’m more research-based. I like to think about a subject or a situation and plan an entire exhibit off of that particular story, and then I have to do research. I don’t necessarily go to my studio every day, just to make work that will hopefully go in a show or maybe not be seen; I’m always making it to order. Sometimes it is very site-specific, the way that I work, measuring out a space and filling it up as much as I can, or thinking about the space and the work that should go in the space. But I find myself doing nothing for a long period of time, and then doing lots of work. So I’m either really lazy or I’m really dedicated to making art – but it depends on how you catch me. 

Well, the physical space where your work is going to be shown factors really heavily into how the work comes together.
Right, exactly. And I think it points to the fact that I started out as a three-dimensional artist first. With metal-smithing, even if you’re working small, you still have to consider space. Also being obsessed with artists who work by finding things from outside and putting it together and then just putting it in a space.

For example?
There’s an artist,  HYPERLINK "http://www.vdiazart.com/" Vanessa Diaz, and she’s my crush of an artist, because she works in a way that I aspire to work, but probably never will. All of her work is found materials, and she’s very site-specific. She will go to the space and look at the space and go, okay, this is what I’m going to do with it, at that moment. There’s no pre-planning, really. 

Yeah, it’s improv and it’s beautiful – and I’m actually showing with her this fall in Florida, which is an interesting contrast. We work from the same lexicon of objects, but I’m using the objects as an image, and she uses the objects directly. Beautiful antique furniture that her family gave her, that she’ll tear apart and put it in installation. If I was given something from my family, I would never tear it apart – I would take a picture of it and make a big imagery-based installation off of the piece. 

Of your symbols that I’m familiar with—there’s the hot comb?
Oh yes, the hot comb. I’m doing something with the hot comb in the show with Vanessa this fall—Accumulating Interiors is the name of the show, so we’re both thinking about accumulation and the interior space. I’ve also used wallpaper imagery a lot in my work, because it was one of the first commercial applications for screenprinting. Beautiful, ornate wallpaper set aside for the rich.

I wonder if that’s a conscious thing for you, when you’re dealing with these wallpapers – these things that are set aside for the rich? Is there a sense of creating your own access to them?
Absolutely. Actually, I think a lot of things that we set aside for the “haves” – I find myself creating some type of connection between those objects and the objects that I grew up with in my house. Silver servingware, for example—you wouldn’t expect a poor family to have that, but there was stuff that we had, growing up, that was actually of value. I was seeing these things [later] in Downtown Abbey, and going, hmm, we kind of had that. You assume it’s for a certain type of person, then you realize actually that was more accessible than I thought. 

I think, because we’re all so busy looking at what other people have or how they got what they got, and then you forget that you weren’t too far off from the mark. 

Well, and then there’s this conscious effort on your part to bring your family into these art spaces. To claim some of that territory with images literally lifted from your canon of family photos.
Yes, absolutely. I think it’s very wise for artists to think about who their audience is. There’s no way for you to really get everybody to understand what you’re doing, so for me, my target was always my family. I wanted them to come to my shows, I wanted them to learn about all of us from me and the work that I was making. My family members are not trained artists, they did not go to art school; I’m the only one. I feel like my goal is for them to get it. 

Connect with it. And have they?
Yeah, I have gotten a lot of advice from my siblings and my mom. I call [my mom] before any major piece. Anytime it involves something I know would hit a nerve, in a good way or a bad way, I consult my family. Of course, you don’t have to, you can do what you want. For me, it’s more out of respect and just to make sure I bring them in on what I’m doing— not make them feel exposed or exploited. 

As far as your imagery, there’s also cakes and flowers. There’s the hair ornaments from your mother’s collection of objects, that you photograph and use as adornment.
Yes. I like to use these objects that are, in my way, embellishment. I’m often finding ways to make things better than what they actually were. Jewelry and flowers are the two things I find myself using repeatedly, to the point where I have to question, am I sick of looking at jewelry and flowers? No, I can do more actually—so I’m still pushing that. I’m going back to metal-smithing time, before I got into printmaking. 

And you made jewelry?
I made jewelry, I made little objects. We made chain links. Since I started working with [imagery of] my mom’s jewelry, I realized this was the stuff I used to make. Recently I made real chain mail for a piece. Now I’m going to do a bigger installation with chain mail, so – infusing them in the print.

So, what drew you into printmaking then, from metal-smithing?
I had an instructor in my metal-smithing class – she was taking classes on her own, specifically screen-printing. She said, “I think you would like screen-printing.” And I was like, “I don’t know what that is. Is that the t-shirt thing?” She showed me, and I said, “Okay, I’ll take this class in the fall.” I took the class, and the processes were so much like everything I’ve been trying to do my whole life. I had previously been a graphic design major, and just fell in love with screen-printing. I like the flatness – which is probably why I wanted to be a graphic designer. 

The single plane?
The single plane. To put multiple layers but have it still be a single plane – I don’t know why, but that just fascinates my brain. I didn’t learn the other printmaking processes until I went to graduate school.

There’s something too about how screen-printing is very editorial. From what I see with your work, you have this sense of revising history. So you take a photo of a family birthday party, but then you might screen out facial features, or screen in a different type of cake. There’s this cropping in and out of things that I think is very reflective of memory in general, where you might idealize certain things, or you might crop out certain things. You kind of impose your emotional reality on these histories. 
Yes. If you want to tell your personal narrative, you don’t have to tell everything. That same instructor took me to meet Augusten Burroughs – he was in Milwaukee doing a book reading and signing – and his story is amazing. They are true stories, these things happened to him. Horrendous things happened to him, and people keep asking him, “Why don’t you make a biography?” and he said, “No. Why put everything in one book? I’m going to keep doing memoirs, because you can set out a piece at a time, and my story can move back and forth as much as I want.” I thought that was a really good way to think about my work. Do you give everything away? Or can you have fragments in time? I took that as some good advice, because I’m also telling very personal stories that are not always pleasant. How do you tell that? 

I think maybe something you and I have in common is that we’re both fairly candid people – but people often mistake being candid for not having any secrets.
Oh my god, yes. 

Or not having any kind of an interior life, which is very different. Just because I can talk candidly about some things doesn’t mean that everything is out there.
Yes. Yes. There are things that I struggle with wanting to do, but I just won’t. There’s people that were very hurtful or significant in my life in a negative way, that I’m not going to talk about.

So at the point where you’re sort of making and publicly presenting work about something, that represents having carried it over some kind of line within yourself?
Right. I can only talk about things that I’m okay with.

If I’m not okay with it, there’s no way that I’m going to make work about it. If I haven’t resolved it in myself, I can’t expect it to be resolved in a piece of paper on the wall. Sometimes people make work and it sounds like they’re in the middle of the storm trying to talk about the storm. You need to get out the storm.

To find out more about Tyanna and her work, check our her website.