I sat down recently at Al Safa to talk with artist Colleen Ho, whose drawings allude to visual patterns and structures found in nature. Her images oscillate between topographical and biological forms, gestural and serene compositions. They are created by ripping paper with a thumbtack and needle repeatedly, leaving a delicate, tactile relief to the surface.
Where are you from?
Originally from Ohio. I grew up there and went to college in Indiana. I moved to New York in ’93 and received my MFA at Pratt Institute. I work from my home in Bensonhurst. We moved there in 2006.
Your drawings are quiet and monochromatic, requiring a bit of work by a viewer to see the image but at the same time incredibly labor intensive and almost violent in process, where you’re ripping at the surface as a mark-making technique.
I have erratic process, and when I start out, I don’t have any sketches; I kinda have a feeling. I start little by little, and I build on it. The gesture itself—of ripping the paper—is small and kind of neurotic and tedious….maybe it’s a nervous tick, sort of like peeling the label off of your beer bottle….I don’t know why I keep doing it. I just let intuition be my guide. I take breaks and have many sittings. It’s something about creating and destroying at the same time; it’s like the mark of tearing the paper is what you see, and I like the fact that what you have is the material is pretty complete in itself. The artist’s gesture is what you really see…
In terms of the monochromatic[ism] of the paper…I love different types of paper, I’m always experimenting with it, but with the monochromatic you really pay a lot of attention to the texture. I would try more if I found the right thing, but I like for now that it is what it is…just the mark-making.
The forms and imagery have a very “organic” or “biological” feel to them.
Yeah, I think it’s just a very organic process. I really am inspired by natural structures…I feel like what I like about nature and its structures is that everything has a natural purpose. Some of my later works are employing more geometric structures and ideas about space, whereas my earlier works are really soft and are very atmospheric. Right now I’m looking at an Atlas of old art and architectural structures.
Do you have any aspirations for your work in the future, in terms of formal elements you’re interested in exploring?
Yeah, in some of my new works I’m folding and scoring paper and seeing the relationship in texture.
You just wrapped up an exhibition…
Yes, Peregrinations was a really nice drawing show, and it was a lot of similar work in regards to mark-making, and artists are very quiet in their work.
Colleen was a participant in the Bronx Museum Artist in the Marketplace Program. She has exhibited her work internationally: at Kurt im Hirsch Gallery, Berlin; Chongro Gallery, Seoul; The Bronx Museum of the Arts, PS 122, Brooklyn Arts Council, and Columbia University, New York; and at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, and the Front Gallery in New Orleans, Louisiana. She currently lives and works in Bensonhurst with her husband and son.