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Books & Pictures: an interview with Michelle Moode

Michelle Moode, hanging books from the installation “All the Little Stories About Nothing”


Michelle Moode: Works on Paper is on view until November 6, 2014 in the Penland Gallery, and available online in the gallery’s shop. I corresponded recently with Michelle about her current work, process, and intentions.–Elaine Bleakney


You’ve written that your work aims to give a visual representation of thought, to evoke the process of thinking. What is it about thinking that connects to or feeds the flame of your impulse to make art?

When I’m working, and particularly when I’m drawing, my brain goes everywhere: daydreaming, asking myself questions, remembering things, making up stories. The repetitive tasks that I employ, (like stitching or drawing patterns) do not always require actively making choices, so my mind wanders. I’ve never particularly enjoyed talking, and I tend to have some trouble with words, but there is a freedom of thought that comes with making things and being in my own head. I hope a person looking at my work might have an experience comparable to mine: asking questions, looking closely, remembering things from piece-to-piece, but also feeling a bit overwhelmed or perplexed by all the “bits of stuff.”


"Eights & Old Poppies," etching on Japanese papers, wool thread
“Eights & Old Poppies,” etching on Japanese papers, wool thread

I like that wandering enters into it, and how that implies a freedom from typical borders. In addition to making books and pictures, you have ‘bookkeeper’ as a job title. Have you thought about your job and your calling to make art as activities in correspondence with each other?

Well, I think the real trick is to try to see them as connected. There is some amount of record-keeping and note-taking that goes into my art work, and I am generally attracted to stacks of paper. I like to think abstractly about all the information and data I work with in my day-job.


There’s a happy-go-lucky presence I experience in your abstractions, a friendliness I find in the stacks and layers, marks and moments of text. Would you say that this is something you bring to your work?

No, I don’t think I would say that. I’m fine with the work seeming friendly, but it is not intentionally so. The phrase “happy-go-lucky” makes me think of something frivolous and maybe a bit haphazardly put together. I don’t think that’s true of my work. There’s a lot of care and intricate work in there. I hope it’s a bit puzzling to someone looking at it, but maybe it’s a friendly, clever sort of puzzle. Like a scavenger hunt.


Speaking of puzzles, I’m curious about a piece you have in this show called “Math,” and how a title like this one arrives for you: as you were making the piece? How is making a title for a work associated with the work?

A lot of my titles arrive after the piece is made, by looking at what is contained in the piece. In the case of “Math” I was thinking about math long before I made the piece. That text is etched into a zinc etching plate I made at least three years ago, and appears (very tiny) on the piece. Again, this is why I love etching, and reusing old plates in never-ending variations: there’s so much history in the work.


You attended the Paper & Book Intensive at Ox-Bow this summer. How did that experience affect you and your work?

This year at the Paper & Book Intensive I had my very first experience with papermaking, (with Ann Marie Kennedy and Kerri Cushman) which was a huge deal for me. Paper has always been an important component of the different sorts of work I do, and my time at PBI has really pointed me toward continuing my book arts education. I met so many amazing people at PBI; this was really my first experience being surrounded by book enthusiasts from a variety of professions and backgrounds. We spent our time learning, working, having nerdy conversations, teaching each other things outside of our classes, as well as canoeing, playing poker, playing word games, and adventuring in the woods. I am extremely grateful I had the opportunity to attend this year.


Detail of "To the Memory of (Rocks & Berries)", etching, monotype on Japanese papers, wool thread
Detail of “To the Memory of (Rocks & Berries),” etching, monotype on Japanese papers, wool thread


Do you have a favorite word at the moment, and if so, why is it your favorite?

I think “ampersand” is a favorite word right now. One piece in this show is titled “Purposeful Ampersand.” The word has an interesting etymology, and it is a name of a thing (I like knowing the names of things) and that thing is a symbol. &. What’s not to like?!


View more of Michelle Moode: Works on Paper here


obsevatorymichelleMichelle C. Moode is a mixed media artist. She grew up in Southern California, and spent her high school and college years in Murray, Kentucky. She received her BFA from Murray State University in 2003, and an MFA in Printmaking from West Virginia University in 2007. Through the years she has also learned things at the Penland School of Crafts, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, and Frogmans Print and Paper Workshops. She moved to North Carolina from Los Angeles in 2011, seeking a drastic change of scenery. In addition to making books, she is currently the bookkeeper at the gallery at the Penland School of Crafts.