What's On Their Mind | April 11 – April 25 | featuring Sheila Pepe PDF Print E-mail

The BCA introduces you to Sheila Pepe one of the 26 amazing artists in our latest Mills Gallery Exhibition, Queer Threads. Sheila is best known for her large-scale, ephemeral installations and sculpture made from domestic and industrial materials. Pepe has exhibited widely throughout the United States and abroad in solo and group exhibitions as well as collaborative projects. We've asked Sheila six questions about herself and she has graciously answered. We hope you'll come out to see our closing show of the season running April 29 - July 10.

Queer Threads artist and educator Sheila Pepe

Photo by Rachel Stern

How long have you been working as an artist and how did you get involved in the arts?

I’ve been digging holes in the backyard and doing home-crafts with my mother since I can remember. Public grammar school and then Catholic High School in New Jersey in the 1960s–70s meant many bus trips to all kinds of culture, art music and theater from grade school on. I went to college at Albertus Magnus in New Haven in order to study Art Therapy, but soon declared as an Art major. I got a BA in art with a strong liberal arts foundation there, and then moved on to MassArt where I then got a BFA in ceramics in 1983. By then I was truly done with academia, had come out as a lesbian feminist and jumped out of the art and craft world to work in a lesbian restaurant and live in a large group house fueled with lesbians in Allston, MA. Soon I considered myself a lesbian separatist and wanted nothing to do with patriarchal anything—including Art! In 1985 my partner at the time, Laura Pattison, and I moved to western Mass and we each worked on a farm. I picked vegetables in Sunderland and she milked goats and fed the other farm animals in Leverett. After a year or so of seasonal work around Ashfield where we lived, I no longer thought of my self as a separatist, and was crazy to find some work related to the arts. To make much longer story shorter, I worked in a variety of museums in the Pioneer Valley and then returned to Boston in 1992 to attend SMFA/Tufts. In 1994 I went to Skowhegan in Maine and in 1995 I received my MFA and have been happily working ever since. You could say on one hand I’ve been an artist all of that time—and on the other there were long stretches when art was the last thing on my mind. I wouldn’t do it any other way.

In five words, describe your process.

  • Context
  • Contingencies
  • Formal parameters
  • Execute

Why was being included in this exhibition important to you?

I’d say that John Chaich (the curator) made a good case for jumping on board—and I was very happy to animate the queer side of my work’s concerns. Also—John and I had a good eye on the age and gender balance of the show, so I wanted to serve in this way as well. I started mounting large crocheted works nationally in 1999, I mixed a bunch of feminist, class and gender issues into formalist tropes. I thought it was important to put formal works into the mix of a show that included mostly image driven and/or overtly political works. You know, every group show captures a portion of any work’s totally capacity. In the 1990s I had a hell of a time getting my work understood as having any political / identity meaning—I really appreciated that this notion of a queer formalism was finally understandable to others.

What artists inspire you?

Too many to name—but the ones that stand out are the mentors, peers and students that I’ve worked with! To name a few: Nancy Spero, Judy Pfaff, Donald Baechlor, Steven Westfall, Beverly Semmes, Torkwase Dyson, Thomas-Langigan Schmidt, Sondra Perry, Fabiolla Menchelli, Danny Giles, and Sarah Hewitt. Oh there are so many young artists like these four that I find inspiring! But the last one I’ll name is my dear "partner in art" and wife—the fab painter Carrie Moyer!

If you were not an artist, what would you be?

An archeologist, historian, philosopher or civil rights lawyer.

Our current Artist Resident, Elisa Hamilton is working on a project that explores superpowers. If you could have any superpower what would it be?

FLY—I love to travel for work and play—and I’m OK with all modes (except perhaps buses at this point in my life)—but I rack up lots of flying time and I worry about my carbon footprint. Would be great to be able to just fly.

Click here for more information about Queer Threads.

Parachute cord, laces, yarn (Bamboo, cotton, nylon, polyester, rayon, silk, and wool) and hardware
Commissioned for the exhibition Fiber: Sculpture 1960–Present organized by Jenelle Porter, ICA Mannion Family Senior Curator, in situ at the ICA from October 1, 2014 through January 4, 2015.
Images by John Horner Photography unless otherwise noted.



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