Q & A with J.M. Culver


Describe your creative process. How do you get started? Do you ever face an artist’s block? If so, what do you do to avoid/get out of it?

I like to work on multiple pieces at a time. If I feel stuck, I can just move on to the next. Each painting helps inform the other. It’s always interesting to see how it develops as a whole. I don’t have an artist’s block in terms of coming up with ideas for my work, but I have issues with motivation. It’s hard to always feel motivated in the studio on a daily basis. I think the most important thing is to find a theme that you really care about and can connect with. I think you have to remind yourself that it’s okay to make a bad painting. Just get up and paint. If it’s bad, then you can paint over it, try the same idea in a different way, or just move on to the next idea. The longer you procrastinate, the harder it is to go over to the canvas.

How many hours a week do you set aside to be in the studio?

I’m a full time artist so I work daily in my studio, including studio work and marketing. When I have a large project or overlapping deadlines, I work during the day and night with just a nap in between so I can efficiently utilize all my time. I work on both personal projects and commissions throughout the year.

What are studio practices you recommend to emerging artists?

For emerging artists, I highly recommend keeping a specific studio schedule. It’s a lot harder to motivate yourself to work in the studio when you are an independent artist. You have to make your own schedule and deadlines. Even if you have an outside job, set specific days and hours to be in the studio. Create project outlines and to-do lists. I personally like to use an annual planner for my yearly goals and break it down into monthly, weekly, and daily to-do lists. I also keep a dry erase board for the month and have my phone calendar to remind me of deadlines. I’d also recommend reading articles and books on marketing and the business of entrepreneurship. A former professor once said to me “There are 24 hours in a day; make it work!”

What challenges do you face when starting a new project?

I spend a lot of time researching and writing out my ideas in my visual journals. I have a new journal/sketchbook for every project to keep things organized and to revisit old ideas. It’s very helpful, especially if you work on multiple projects in your studio. I spend more time writing than I do sketching. I do basic sketches of my ideas and for the compositions. I don’t like to plan all the details or the work doesn’t feel fresh when I start on the canvas. For large work, I hire someone else to build my stretchers and do the prep work. Sometimes I’ll start paintings pinned to the wall, then I’ll figure out the specific size and have the stretchers made. Delegating the prep work allows more time for my painting and marketing.

Through your exploration of memory, are there any themes that tend to resurface in terms of how you express a certain situation/feeling/memory?

A lot of my work pieces together fragments of memories that I find connect with one another. Some of these fragments and images have become part of my own visual language and resurface in new work. I think that they can start to create a new narrative and possibly a new interpretation of the original memory or experience. Sometimes these characters and objects seem to take on a life of their own in the work where things come out on a more subconscious level. Sometimes it takes the viewer to even point these things out to me, or I step back and discover it after the piece is finished.

What new projects or exhibitions are you looking forward to next?

I’m looking forward to my work being in the Christie’s Auction at MCAD in May. I also have some commission projects lined up. My grant project has sparked a lot of ideas for future paintings and drawings. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore my current theme and see how it develops this coming year with both drawings and paintings.

Questions by Gallery Intern Johanna Goggins.


Reconfiguring Casta by Maria Cristina Tavera



February 29 – March 31, 2016
Reception: March 2, 4 – 7 p.m.

Exhibition Essay by Mia Lopez

This site-specific installation combines prints and paintings to address the social concept of race, socio-racial classifications, and the contemporary evolution of concepts regarding identity. Artist Statement & Bio

This exhibition is organized as part of the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover. From January to March 2016 the Takeover will include over twenty arts and cultural organizations in Minneapolis/St. Paul and surrounding cities. From small non-profit art centers to major cultural institutions in the region, these partners will be highlighting gender and racial inequalities, taking on stereotypes and hypocrisies, and promoting artistic expression by the often overlooked and underrepresented. Join the collective roar for change at www.ggtakeover.com.

Christensen Center Art Gallery | Directions – map
Hours : M – F, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.



Maria Cristina Tavera – Artist Statement & Bio

Artist Statement:

During the17th and early 18th century, the Spanish coined the term “Casta” to refer to the categorization of mixed ethno-racial heritage occurring during colonization. This complex caste system was created when whites (Spanish/españoles) began marrying and having children with non-whites (Indigenous and African ancestries) in the “New World.” The purpose was to define lineage pertaining to “purity of blood” intended for racial hierarchy. Paintings and charts were created to explain the different categories of race.

The installation questions societal constructs of racial categorization that continues to some degree today. The United States government struggles with identifying and quantifying those of Latin American descent. The Census tries to capture the information by classifying race and ethnicity as separate categories but is challenged on how to document those who are mixed. Terminology on how to define those of Latin American ancestry in the U.S. also varies greatly and can change depending on the region or the individual.

As a person of mixed race who considers herself Mexican-American or Latina, my interest is to explore the past concepts of Casta and the contemporary typological concepts of racial identity. My project is NOT meant to define how people should be classified, but instead to explore how people of Latin American diaspora express their own identity. My hope is that the work will inspire conversations about these historical references and what unifies Latinos today.

Artist Bio:

Maria Cristina Tavera, AKA “Tina” is an artist, curator, researcher, and advocate for equal access to opportunities. Her bilingual / bicultural upbringing between Mexico and Minnesota has greatly influenced her work experience, writing and visual art practice. The artwork focuses on issues related to race, gender, ethnicity and culture. Tavera has a Masters in Public Affairs- Leadership in the Arts from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School. She has received fellowships and scholarships from the Archibald Bush Foundation, the Smithsonian Latino Museum Studies program, the Museum of Modern Art-New York, and the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME). Tavera has exhibited locally and nationally including the National Mexican Museum, the Walker Art Center, the Weisman Art Museum and the Plaines Museum. Her work is in private and public collections such as the Weisman Art Museum and the Plaines Art Museum. Her writings have been published nationally and internationally by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, as well as a book titled, Mexican Pulp Art.

rEVOLVING: 2015 Juried Alumni Art Exhibition

Gage Family Art Gallery & Christensen Center Art Gallery

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rEVOLVING: 2015 Juried Alumni Art Exhibition

  • October 9 – December 15, 2015
  • Reception: October 9, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
  • Awards @ 7 p.m. in Oren Gateway Center Lobby

JUROR: Christina Chang, Interim Director & Curator, Perlman Teaching Museum at Carleton College: Chang is originally from California, earning her BA in political economy from the University of California at Berkeley (Cal) in 2001 with a minor in art history. In 2003 she moved to the Midwest to begin the PhD program in art history at the University of Michigan. She completed the degree in May 2010 and immediately moved to Minneapolis to begin as assistant curator at the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, where she stayed until June 2012. She serves on the Board of Directors of Photography @ the Center, a nonprofit organization started by the co-founders of the photography co-op, Mpls Photo Center. Chang was the Curator of Engagement at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. Currently she is the Interim Director & Curator, Perlman Teaching Museum at Carleton College.

Hours: M – F, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.  |  Directions – map


jmculver painting

January 11 – March 23, 2016

Reception: January 22, 6 – 8 p.m.

Large-scale paintings by J. M. Culver reconstruct the past and explore new perspectives in generational storytelling with narratives that vary from the mundanity, absurdity, gravity, and humor of life. These intimate paintings take a look into the transitory nature of memory, inconsistency of perspective with mental illness, and the ownership of stories and secrets.

Artist Statement: My paintings reconstruct the past and explore new perspectives with generational storytelling. They are personal interpretations of my grandfather’s stories, both lucid memories and surreal moments skewed by his altered mental states from schizophrenia. My large-scale paintings explore the transitory nature of memory, the ownership of stories and secrets, and the inconsistency of perspective with mental illness. These narratives depict scenes that range from mundanity, absurdity, gravity, and the humor of life. They represent universal themes of the human condition and of life at its brightest and darkest points. A video documenting my inspiration and creative process for these paintings will also be on display for this exhibition.

Artist Bio: J. M. Culver is a contemporary figurative artist that creates psychological narratives with universal themes. She explores figuration and abstraction through a combination of painting and drawing. Prominent themes in her work are identity, the transitory nature of memory, and personal allegories that give an intimate and tangible glimpse into the human psyche. Culver attended Syracuse University in NY for graduate studies and holds a BFA in painting from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She actively exhibits her work, which is held in private collections internationally. Culver lives and works in Minneapolis, MN.

J. M. Culver is a fiscal year 2015 recipient of an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.


Circumstantial Evidence by JODY WILLIAMS


January 11 – February 19, 2016

Reception: January 22, 6 – 8 p.m

Exhibition Essay by Ken Steinbach

Something of a peek into the artist’s archives, this exhibition will present new books and boxes along with older works that have rarely been exhibited.

Artist Statement:

I have been obsessed with creating order out of chaos (or even slight disarray) since I was a child. With five siblings, and four major relocations before I was ten, I found it necessary to keep my possessions small, contained, and protected. As an adult, the compulsion to collect, organize and find containers for things has remained with me, and has directed much of my artwork.

Inspired by Joseph Cornell and other artists working with boxes, I created the first of what would become an ongoing series of “not empty” boxes in 1991. Originally, the boxes contained artificialia – manufactured, as opposed to natural, specimens. The small objects and elements that I found or constructed were included and arranged primarily based on their visual qualities. The Small Files, 2000, evolved from those early boxes, but was much more personal, serving as something of an autobiography through tiny objects I had collected since childhood. It is the earliest complete piece in this exhibition, but it closely relates to the most recent ones created over the past several months.

About ten years ago, I began focusing on the natural world and its small inhabitants; many boxes since then (and two artist’s books) have included natural specimens and artifacts that document specific moments in specific places. A number of experiences influenced this focus, including intensive beachcombing on Nantucket with my friend Rose Gonnella, a commission to create a Cabinet of Curiosities for the Carleton College Library, taking a course at Hamline University in the natural history of Minnesota, and a semester of collecting specimens in County Clare, Ireland, where I was a tutor for 13 students from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design at the Burren College of Art. Some More Specimens was originally a prototype for the Carleton Cabinet of Wonders, but was re-purposed to contain objects and memorabilia from Ireland.

Several newer not-empty boxes were created specifically for this exhibition, and delve into my own archives. Books not for sale houses books I have made since 1991 specifically for myself, family members or friends – books that I don’t necessarily consider “artist’s books” and have never exhibited. A set of three books contain reproductions of drawings given or sent to me by my nieces, nephews, and friends’ children. The box for From Friends was given to me by a friend, and it seemed the perfect container for gifts from friends; it includes small images and objects, often handmade, that I have received since 1979.

A slightly different series of pieces made for the show include artifacts from the archives of close relatives who have passed away. The containers for these all have a strong connection to each person, although most have been altered. Nana’s Handbag, the actual purse itself, was the inspiration for these homages. I chose this perfect container from among her possessions when she died in 2003, and have been meaning to do something special with it since then. Circumstantial Evidence provided the perfect excuse to finally make this piece for Nana and Pop Pop, and also to make boxes for my father, my brother, and my other grandmother.

This exhibition came along for me at a time in my life when I have been looking backwards and forwards from different points of view, and I am thankful to Jenny Wheatley and Augsburg College for the opportunity, as I am thankful to the many, many friends and family members who are represented in the work, either with physical objects or in spirit.

Artist Bio: Jody Williams publishes artist’s books under the name Flying Paper Press. She has taught workshops and presented lectures at museums and colleges across the United States and in Europe. Her work is in the collections of the Walker Art Center, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Minnesota Historical Society, and numerous other museums, universities, and libraries. Honors include Jerome Foundation fellowships, grants and awards from the Minnesota Craft Council, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. In 2008, Jody Williams received the inaugural Minnesota Book Artist Award from the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, and she was awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant in 2013.


Structures of Support: Augsburg


August 18 – October 3, 2015 
Gage Family Art Gallery & Christensen Center Gallery 

Take the survey here: http://www.wearethethinktank.org/structures-of-support-survey/

Artist statement:
The Think Tank that has yet to be named is a social practice and artistic research studio. We initiate research, conversations, and actions that explore contemporary sociopolitical issues in the places where we encounter them. Whether physical sites, institutional structures, or social systems, we address these contexts as manifestations of models and metaphors that inescapably impact our lives. We draw on our experience with direct action, participatory design, action research, and community organizing to create generative spaces where strategic questions are invitations to others to consider their relationship to the places, structures, and systems which shape our individual and collective experiences of the world.

Katie Hargrave is a multi-media artist interested in politics, history, mythology, and narrative. Her work elevates stories from popular culture, those hidden in the archives, and the everyday conversations from passersby and participants. http://katiehargrave.us
Jeremy Beaudry is a founding member of The Think Tank that has yet to be named. He works in and between the fields of socially-engaged art, design, and education, and has lectured and publicly presented projects in national and international venues. He is an Assistant Professor of Design and Director of the Master of Industrial Design Program at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. http://meaning.boxwith.com

Meredith Warner is a multidisciplinary artist based in Philadelphia and is a founding member of the Think Tank that has yet to be named. With a background in community organizing and strategic nonviolence, her work is focused on community engagement and the design of tools for conversation.