Christina Renfer Vogel, artist
Artist Christina Renfer Vogel prepares for the opening of her show at Birdhouse Collectible next Friday, “Snapshots and Other Works” (details below) and chats with Les Femmes Folles about her lifelong hunger for art, being a representational artist, her inspiration and process for the show, and how Omaha is a great place to be for all artists, though she counts many of her mentors as women. This fall the University of Nebraska-Omaha art professor will be showing in Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze at SOMArts in San Francisco.
Tell me about your background. Are you from Omaha?
I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and had the best time at college in Philadelphia, an amazing city. Then I moved to Boston for graduate school and spent a wonderful six years there. After living in Boston for a while, my husband and I decided we needed to make a change. Boston is a great city, but it’s also expensive. Even though there’s so much going on, we found that we couldn’t take advantage of getting out and doing things because we were working all the time. It was difficult for me to get to the studio. My husband is from Western Nebraska and over the years, we would hear about the interesting things going on in Omaha. So we picked up and moved here, just about two years ago.
How did you get interested in the arts?
I’ve always had a real hunger for art and I’m not sure where it came from. Although my family is supportive and certainly didn’t discourage me, they have never been interested in the visual arts. I was fortunate to have teachers in middle school and high school who encouraged me and got me excited about art. I always knew it would be a part of my life.
Tell me about the work you do/style/inspiration/process?
I studied painting in undergraduate and graduate school and painting and drawing continue to be the focus of my work in the studio. I have worked with the figure and the portrait as a subject for a number of years. There is obviously this incredible history of portraiture and it can be so many things, dark, humorous, tender, powerful. I’ve always been really drawn to figurative work and portraits specifically. I love the formality of portraiture and I think it has such potential for narrative and even theatricality. I am also interested in how objects and still life can function as portraits and can tell a story.
I am interested and inspired by lots of different work and approaches but I’ve always been a representational painter. At college, and even in graduate school, I used to feel a little self conscious about it. I was one of the only people working with the figure while everyone else was making abstract paintings. Some artists would rather die than make a still life but I get excited by working from life, really seeing a person or an object and then building that with my materials. I work with this formal subject matter, but I am in love with paint and try to build my paintings in a way that is more direct, that showcases the material and mark. I have a real respect for more traditional figurative painting, building up layers slowly and trying to achieve a luminosity, etc. but I’m too impatient to approach my work that way. I’ve learned a lot about color and mark-making by looking at nonrepresentational painting.
I’m inspired by a lot of things and have a long list of artistic influences, but some artists who inspire me are Alice Neel, Joan Brown, Dana Schutz, Jenny Saville, Anne Harris, Susanna Coffey.
Tell me about your upcoming show at the Birdhouse Collectible…
The Snapshots series is a new body of work, small paintings and works on paper that continue my investigation of portraiture. I used 4” x 6” photographs, taken with my digital camera and printed at the drugstore, as my source material for the portraits. The paintings are of family members, coworkers and friends, people I encounter day-to-day. With these paintings, I played with how the figures are presented, not always allowing the face to be the focus of the work. I used the limitations of working from the photographs to play with color and form, and the challenge of working on a small scale (the works range from 5” x 5” to 9” x 12”) made me approach the paintings in a new way.
I will also have works on view from the past few years that are (mostly) new to Omaha. This is my first opportunity to show this breadth of work in Omaha and I am so excited to be working with the Birdhouse Collectible team. Jessica McKay, Christopher Van Buskirk and curator Rebecca Herskovitz are doing great things and I am looking forward to showing my work outside of the context of a traditional gallery space.
Do you think being a woman has impacted your career or art?
I’m an artist and I’m a woman but my agenda isn’t about making work about being a woman. It all comes from my experiences so of course, as a woman, it’s a part of my art, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t make this work if I was a man. My work that is often tied to personal narrative and so I think about things like my relationship with my parents and my partner and about how I present myself. Although men and women may have a different response to the work, the underlying themes aren’t specific to women.
I can say that the teachers and professors who I consider most to be my mentors are women. Susan Moore, my mentor at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, has been incredibly influential in my life, not only in how I paint and how I teach, but also in encouraging me to continue my education and take painting seriously.
Do you think Omaha is a good place to be a woman in the arts?
Absolutely! I think it’s a great place for all artists. We have a very active and supportive community of artists and art enthusiasts and I feel that we are fortunate to have some incredible women doing amazing things for the arts that make our city a better place: Brigitte McQueen, Anne Meysenburg, Rachel Jacobson, Anne Trumble, just to name a few… And of course, Omaha is home to some amazing artists, many of whom are women.
“Snapshots and Other Works” by Christina Renfer Vogel opens Friday July 22 at Birdhouse Collectible, 1111 N. 13th Street in Omaha, from 6-10p.m. and runs through September 2. For more information visit birdhousecollectible.com or christinarenfervogel.com.