WELCOME TO DELVE INTERVIEWS, A LOOK INTO THE UNIQUE PATHS OF ARTISTIC AND CREATIVE INDIVIDUALS. DELVE IS AN EDUCATIONAL AND COACHING PLATFORM TO HELP YOU GET THE BUSINESS SIDE OF YOUR CAREER IN ORDER. THE ARTISTS WE INTERVIEW ARE POSITIVE FORCES IN THEIR COMMUNITIES AND THEY SHARE TOOLS AND ADVICE THAT THEY'VE LEARNED TO INSPIRE EACH OF US IN OUR PROFESSIONAL AND ARTISTIC GOALS.
Spencer Merolla grew up in a drafty Victorian house in a suburb of New York. Having studied religion as an undergraduate, she had embarked on a career in academia before returning to her first love, visual art. Her work, informed by the study of religion and history, has explored the social practices and material culture of mourning through a variety of materials such as funeral clothing and human hair.
Her work has been shown nationally, and featured in The Jealous Curator, Venison Magazine, and the Society for Domestic Museology. Her solo show, Material Remains, is running through April 22nd at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn.
Can you describe your path as an artist – from where and when you began, until now?
I was really into art as a kid. When I was very small I had a little desk I thought was magic because it was always full of paper scraps and cardboard for me to draw on— I suspect my mother replenished the supply every night after I’d gone to bed. I used to draw until I gave myself headaches. I took classes in high school and college but was focused on making representational work with which I was never satisfied, so I majored in religion and planned to become an academic. Several years into a PhD program I realized I was miserable, and all these clues were there that I had sidelined something important— I was using paint chips as bookmarks and organizing my books by color. The first thing I did after I quit was cut up my books and make a collage, which was the beginning of working more conceptually, and I haven’t stopped since.
What does a day or week in your professional life look like?
A week in my professional life ideally includes time in the studio making work, time spent visiting galleries and museums, plus staying on top of the boring stuff (accounting, inventory, website, photo processing) and plotting next steps (applications, research). But in reality from week to week I find myself more focused on any one of these things than the others.
What do you do to promote your work and get opportunities? What are some challenges you've overcome in expanding your audience?
I’m just going to come right out and say this— I’m not really a party person. Openings are parties. I’m an introvert, so over the course of two hours I’d rather have a substantive conversation with three people than two dozen brief interactions with as many people crammed together in a tight space. And I’m not great with names…or faces, really! I think artists who can effortlessly shift into schmooze mode have a superpower. So while it’s important to show up to openings and events, I find myself mostly connecting with people outside of that context.
I love Instagram for this. It makes it easy to share things you’ve seen and like, follow people whose work you admire, and forge a connection based on common interests (which is especially good if maybe you would be too shy to do this in real life). I’ve connected with so many kindred spirits with whom I otherwise never would have crossed paths, and gotten some shows through those connections. You have to be realistic about how your work will be received on Instagram— some things grab viewers more than others— but you can build a following on there of people interested in your work and engage with people all over the world.
What is a major goal you have set for yourself in the past year that you accomplished? How did you do it?
I did a large site specific installation at the Invisible Dog's Glass House. I worked for an event design firm after grad school and I thought of the project like that— I measured, drew up plans to scale, made a cheesy “rendering" in photoshop, and spent countless hours vividly imagining every way in which it could be a disaster. I reached out to people with carpentry and lighting skills for help, and involved them early enough in my process to incorporate their suggestions. In the end, it looked just like the rendering, which is its own source of anxiety, because if it looks just like you imagined you’re used to seeing it in your mind, and so it seems to lack freshness in real life. I had to suspend my judgement and force myself to view it through other people’s eyes.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from managing all your projects?
Feel (so much!) fear and do it anyway.
Not knowing the “rules” may lead to embarrassment, but also confers enormous advantages. Many more things become possible.
And where is one of your favorite places to go to be inspired?
I’m a generalist, and collect a lot of arcane information on unrelated topics and techniques, and these just sort of float around until they assemble themselves into something interesting. This almost exclusively happens while I'm on the subway. I know the shower is the customary location for "aha moments," but it is the subway that somehow connects the dots in my mind between all the various things I’ve been thinking about.