Local Artist Feature: Lisa & Jonathan Rockford

For this month’s Local Artist Feature, you’re getting a special two-for-one deal! However, it’s important to note that although we’re featuring Lisa and Jonathan Rockford together, in actuality they could not be more separate. Due to their different interests, they do not collaborate on projects, but only serve as a support system for each other in their individual careers.

The Back Story

Jonathan and Lisa met in Chicago when they were both working at North Central college. Lisa had recently finished the graduate program at SAIC and was teaching her first class there and Jonathan was managing the art studio; it wasn’t long before they found a connection through their creative interests. 

“Jonathan and I have shared interests in visual art, but our specific interests are very different, so our only method of collaboration is acting as a support system for each other’s individual art careers. We help each other install exhibitions, and discuss ideas together, but keep our projects separate. I can observe how each of our art careers have developed and matured further due to this feeling of support and encouragement, and the freedom that comes from living in a creative environment,” says Lisa.

What brought you to Pompano?

“[We] moved to Florida in 2005 in order to live near an active arts culture with a warmer climate. In 2007, we were selected to be among the first residents at Sailboat Bend Artist Lofts, which is an ArtSpace project that offers subsidized residencies for artists; combined studio & living space. We were able to contribute to the development of the community in the downtown Fort Lauderdale art scene.

In 2014, we purchased a home in Pompano Beach. We selected Pompano because we both teach at Broward College North campus, the housing in Pompano is also more affordable, still a short drive from cultural activities, and Pompano offers opportunity to grow with the development of the area.

We were thrilled to have a relationship with BaCA after Jonathan was selected for a studio residency fellowship. I could see the potential of the beautiful exhibition space and submitted a proposal to Sarah, BaCA’s director, with my ideas for a few possible thematic exhibitions. I am thankful to Sarah for allowing me the opportunity to bring new artists to the space, and expand the audience of the center,” Lisa says.

About Lisa

She Monsters
“She Monsters” by Lisa Rockford

Lisa Rockford was raised in Palm Beach County, FL, before earning her BFA in Painting and a BS in Art Therapy from Bowling Green State University in 1999, and a Master of Fine Arts in 2001 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Lisa began teaching in the Fine Arts Department at Broward College upon returning to Florida in 2005, and was promoted to Assistant Professor in 2011. During her tenure there, Lisa instituted the first Artist lecture series at the campus, collaborating with the North Regional public library and the Student life department. This series is a celebration of pioneers in the local & national visual art community, including Internationally recognized artists Jim Drain, Guerra de la Paz, Adonna Khare, Susan Taylor Glasgow, John Edmark & more.

In 2008, Lisa and Jonathan were among the first to be selected as artists in residence at ARTSPACE/Sailboat Bend Artist Lofts in Fort Lauderdale. Lisa was essential in organizing a gallery committee and converting the lofts’ 3 floors of common space into a public exhibition space, 1310 Gallery.

Four of these exhibitions, “Fiber Optics,” “The Myth of Power,” “Humoratorium: The Art of Whimsy,” and “Appropriated Gender” received grants from the Broward County Cultural Division. Lisa worked with Girls Club Art Collection to found “Art Fallout,” a downtown Fort Lauderdale art tour and celebration, now in its’ sixth year, has been invited as a guest juror for Broward Art Guild exhibitions, and is lead tour guide for Art Nexus Magazine at the International art fair Art Basel Miami Beach.

In addition to curating & organizing art events, Lisa has exhibited her own artwork nationally since 1992. She was awarded the Innovative Collaborative FAB Grant for her colorful solo exhibition at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood in 2011. In 2013, she was dubbed a “Rising Star” in Gold Coast Magazine’s article, “40 under 40,” for her presence in the art community. Lisa’s artwork was recently featured in the definitive survey of south Florida art, “100+ Degrees in the shade,” curated by Jane Hart.

Q&A

What artists, if any, have shaped your work/who are your idols?

“My influences as an artist and a curator are the same. There are more artists than I can name that have influenced me greatly, but I will list those who initially opened my mind to possibilities at a young age.

In undergrad, the most recent art I learned about was Modern art, up until mid-century Pop art. Like many others, I was drawn to the vibrant colors and graphic quality of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

I am thankful that I later also learned about more recent art history in graduate school, and the innovative departures taken by contemporary artists. I initially felt a freedom from the boldness of feminist artists like Barbara Kruger and Ilona Granet, who challenged marketed depictions and expectations of gender, and created new, alternative display and exhibition formats.

I was also pleasantly surprised at an early artistic age to learn about the possibilities of “installation art,” a more dynamic approach to creating art that encompasses the viewer, which I first saw in Sandy Skoglund’s work, then later in a number of other like David Altmejd and Do Ho Suh making site-specific art and utilizing non-traditional materials. I am also drawn to the use of whimsy and humor in work made by artists like Erwin Wurm, Ai Weiwei, Maurizio Cattelan, Patricia Piccinini.

I have made an effort to continue observing fresh approaches at galleries, museums, Art Basel, and similar Contemporary art venues.”

"Self Defense" by Lisa Rockford (Oil on Canvas)
“Self Defense” by Lisa Rockford (Oil on Canvas)

A lot of your work focuses on challenging gender and sexuality norms, would you consider yourself a Feminist?

“It is interesting you feel the need to ask permission in applying this word to me…

I am not afraid of using the word “feminist” as part of my identity. In being asked this question, I am reminded that some people have negative associations with the word Feminism because it has been narrowly associated with some political viewpoints, and polarized negatively in the public eye by a backlash against those views. Feminist art was one of my first big inspirations because they were among the first women I learned of in my field able to speak unapologetically and use visual communication to challenge the tactics of the consumer world.”

From "The Barbie Magic Reveal Series" by Lisa Rockford (Enamel, Acrylic & Crayon on Paper)
From “The Barbie Magic Reveal Series” by Lisa Rockford (Enamel, Acrylic & Crayon on Paper)

Your “Vein Mapping/Vain Mapping” series is such a cool project, can you share a little bit more about it and how it came to fruition?

“I have always used some type of banal images as a starting point, then delight in the results of play and mischievous exploration that result from hacking and manipulating those images. This exploration has resulted in several different series, but each with a shared concentration on the cultural representation of gender and body image.

[For the] “Vein Mapping/Vain Mapping” [series], I used images from my own and my mother’s bodies as source material. I began by photographing Spider veins (Telangiectasia) in the surface of my legs, (and later my mother’s legs) with an endoscopic camera, which magnifies by 100 times. When I examined these colorful scars more closely, I was mystified by the inherent colors and the intricacies of these unique capillary formations. I began to find beauty in what would usually be considered the “repulsive defects” of my own abundant flesh. After manipulating the images, vibrant maps of my body’s unique markings were exposed.

I have been recreating the images of these veins as paintings on tree stump wood slices and as embroideries on stretched cow skin vellum. Since spider veins are signs of aging, the wood slices were an ideal nexus with the painted images, having their own unique markings of age. In addition, I use cow skin vellum as a foundation for the embroideries both for its similarity to human skin, and as an ironic reflection on the association between women and cows.”

"VEIN/VAIN MAPPING Series" by Lisa Rockford (Embroidery on Stretched Cowskin)
“Vein/Vain Mapping Series” by Lisa Rockford (Embroidery on Stretched Cowskin)

What projects are you currently working on that you’d like our readers to check out?

“There is currently an exhibit on view that I curated for BaCA called “Swimming with Narcissus,” through August 19, 2016. The exhibit investigates identity and persona of both of the artist, and of the viewer, as provoked by the artist. I was interested in the diverse ways that artists today also utilize their own image to investigate deeper themes, whether through self-portraits, or use of their own image.

Instead of a tangible reflection of the figure based in realism, these contemporary approaches are instead conceptual meditations of the psyche, where representations of the self may be distorted and altered, resulting in a diverse embodiment of identity. Some of the artists use their own image, and others represent themselves through more abstract figurations.

Throughout the exhibit, viewers are confronted by several separate artworks that make use of reflective or mirrored surfaces, inherently provoking fractured and distorted perceptions of the viewer, causing them to consider the subjective nature of one views their image.

My next exhibit at BaCA will be “RE-Produce,” in September. The artworks in this exhibit have been selected from an open call, seeking artists that utilize found objects & debris in unexpected ways. The exhibit will offer quite surprising uses and transformations of non-traditional materials, combined with exquisite embellishment or craft, in which aesthetic appeal is not abandoned.”

From the "Swimming with Narcissus " exhibit, curated by Lisa Rockford.
From the “Swimming with Narcissus” exhibit, curated by Lisa Rockford.

About Jonathan

From the series, "Devoided Accretions," by Jonathan Rockford. (Painted and glazed porcelain)
From the series, “Devoided Accretions” by Jonathan Rockford. (Painted and glazed porcelain)

The world of craft was Jonathan’s foray into art making. A foundation in fine-woodworking and ceramics cultivated his interests in thoughtfully considered works that speak to the heart and mind through the hand. With wide ranging interests, he began exploring an interdisciplinary approach toward both art making and academia. This focus was enhanced through studies in fine art, art and technology, fibers, sculpture, art history, and the humanities – culminating in an Associate’s degree from Waubonsee Community College, a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degree from the University of Miami, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from SAIC.

Jonathan’s sculptures, videos, installations, and new media projects have been featured in: The Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale; the Torrance Art Museum in CA; the Frost Art Museum in Miami; the Union League of Chicago; Art Monaco; Scope – Basel, Miami, and New York; and ArtPulse Magazine.

He was awarded the South Florida Cultural Consortium for Visual Art in 2010, a fellowship and residency at the Oxbow School of Art in 2004, and an Artist’s Grant to pursue a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in 2013. Currently, Jonathan can be found working in his South Florida studio and teaching college part-time.

Q&A

You do a lot of crochet in different media (yarn, VHS tapes, etc.), is crochet something that was always part of your life or did it only come about during art school?

“Actually, I’d have to answer both parts of your question in the affirmative. Crochet has always been a part of my life, but it wasn’t until art school that I began to learn it for myself and to explore what could be done sculpturally with this process. Growing up, I watched my Grandmother crochet at a marvelous rate. I remember being mystified as the yarn slid continuously through her fingers – pulled rapidly by the hook as it darted and twisted back-and-forth between her hands. It was somewhat like watching a textile unravel, but in reverse. In fact, she was so fast at making things that it wasn’t until I got to art school, when my Intro to Fibers professor (artist Jerry Bleem) took the time to show me various looping techniques, that I began to get the hang of crochet. Even though that was over a decade ago, I’m still painfully slow compared to my Grandmother.”

"Kick-flip to the Darkslide," by Jonathan Rockford (Crocheted yarn with overhead projection)
“Kick-flip to the Darkslide” by Jonathan Rockford. (Crocheted yarn with overhead projection)

What drew you to focusing on crocheting with different materials?

“As a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I was totally dependent on riding public transit to and from school. One winter day, I saw a woman on the subway crocheting a scarf. When she arrived at her stop, she quickly slipped her project into the bag on her lap and dashed out the door. That was an “ah ha” moment for me. Once I realized that crochet is lightweight, relatively portable, can be worked on almost anywhere, and has tremendous sculptural potential – it seemed like a natural choice. I mean, it sure beats lugging bags of plaster or other sculpture materials around on public transit. Also, I realized that if you’re resourceful, various flexible linear elements suitable for crochet (yarn, string, VHS tape, etc.) can often be found quite cheaply (if not for free) and each individual material can help add meaning and significance to the final sculptural form and process.”

“Refined,” by Jonathan Rockford. (Crocheted VHS tape and found candelabra)
“Refined” by Jonathan Rockford. (Crocheted VHS tape and found candelabra)

What artists, if any, have shaped your work/who are your idols?

“I’m a big fan of art history, and of many types of art, so this is a tricky question. Yet, the first memorable experiences I had of sculpture were seeing Raffaelo Monti’s, Veiled Lady (c.1860), and Claes Oldenburg’s, Shoestring Potatoes Spilling from a Bag (1966) in person. Both of these sculptures had a profound effect on me as a young viewer, and I like to think that the work I’m making falls somewhere between these two poles of being classically informed and yet experimental and humorous. That being said, art isn’t necessarily my main inspiration for making work. Scientists, writers, philosophers and theorists such as Richard Feynman, Annie Dillard, Jeanette Winterson, Ray Kurzweil, Susan Haack, and Stephen Pinker were all real eye-openers for me.”

"Transmissions" by Jonathan Rockford. (Drawing comprised of clear push pins illuminated by overhead projection)
“Transmissions” by Jonathan Rockford. (Drawing comprised of clear push pins illuminated by overhead projection)

What projects are you currently working on that you’d like our readers to check out?

“Currently, I’m working on a collaborative project with the physicist Martin Scheeler. Together we are developing an interactive project for the Young at Art Museum in Davie that is scheduled to open in early October. But, don’t expect to see any crochet in this work. The only looping techniques utilized in this project will be in the computer coding that drives the projected imagery.”

"Watching and Waiting" by Jonathan Rockford. (Video screen, DVD player, modified scuba mask, and tripod with video loop)
“Watching and Waiting” by Jonathan Rockford. (Video screen, DVD player, modified scuba mask, and tripod with video loop)


For more info on Lisa and/or Jonathan and their respective work, check out their websites:

Lisa’s Curating: rockfordprojects.weebly.com  | Lisa’s Art: lisarockford.com

Jonathan’s Art: jonathanrockfordportfolio.weebly.com

Introduction & Interview By Jessica M. Stern