This January, artists Jennifer Caine and Rachel Hellmann trekked through piles upon piles of snow to spend 14 hours per day in the studio, determined to complete an installation entitled “The Goat’s Mirror” by their deadline. “The Goat’s Mirror,” which features nine different nine-foot-tall columns of painted paper panels hanging from the ceiling, is one of the many products of the fruitful collaboration between Caine and Hellmann, who are the new Edward E. Elson Artists-in-Residence at the Addison Gallery of American Art.
“I have always been impressed with the exhibition programming at [the Addison], and some of my favorite artists have passed through those doors, such as Frank Stella and Jessica Stockholder. I feel incredibly honored to have the privilege to work as an Artist-in-Residence here and am very much looking forward to having focused time to work as well as having the opportunity to interact with students and faculty,” wrote Hellmann in an email to The Phillipian.
Part of Caine and Hellman’s residency was creating a site-specific installation for the Addison entitled “Words in Air,” which opens in the museum on September 12. “Words in Air” consists of a series of floor-to-ceiling papers that are painted, sewn and hand-cut, resembling the pages of an artist’s book. The pages are covered with a collection of poems by 20th century American female poets, written on the installation in a shorthand script of simple marks designed by Caine and Hellmann.
Caine wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I hope to draw the attention of the students to the connections between poetry and visual art – and to the poems and poets we used as inspiration [in this installation]. One of the best aspects of this project for me was getting to read poetry letter-by-letter as I cut. That form of slow-reading allowed me to soak up the words, giving each poem more time than I ordinarily would.”
Caine and Hellman regularly visited the Addison as graduate students at Boston University in 2003. Graduate school was actually where the artists met, before beginning to create collaborative work two years ago. In this time, they have visited each other’s studios, displayed work together and curated exhibits as a team.
“I have found the collaborative process to be incredibly rewarding and a wonderful balance to my more solitary studio work. I admire many things about [Caine’s] work – she is highly focused and has a keen sensitivity to form and materials. We have a similar approach to art making which has made it easy to work together,” said Hellman.
Caine said, “I admire many things about [Hellmann’s] studio practice and her work – she works hard in the studio, with great intensity and focus. And her work is well crafted and powerful – I have always responded to her use of color and her inventiveness with space.”
Before they began making artwork together, Caine and Hellman both had individual careers and art backgrounds. For Caine, although she enjoyed art as a child, she was initially more interested in pursuing writing and the humanities. But as a freshman in college, Caine started taking art classes in the hopes of becoming an architect and her first painting class allowed her to discover a passion for studio art. After a mentor during her final year of college encouraged her to pursue art, Caine began to entertain the idea of becoming a professional artist.
Caine’s work spans a variety of media including painting, drawing and printmaking. Through art, she attempts to question the relationship between the internal and external worlds by exploring concepts such as memory, thought and emotion. Many of her pieces feature multiple layers of material to reflect the fickle nature of memory and identity.
“I look at [paintings] a lot but also gain inspiration from other art forms – sculpture and architecture, for example. One of my favorite aspects of being an artist is that I am able to take inspiration from anything in my life. The natural world has always been an important source of inspiration to me,” said Caine.
Hellman took a less traditional approach to art as a young child, sculpting dolls by tying knots in sheets.
Hellmann said, “I think even at that age I loved creating something special out of something very ordinary.”
Hellmann’s father, who was a builder, and her grandfather, who was a carpenter, instilled in her a love for craftsmanship that fueled her interest in art. Today, Hellmann uses the same garage that her grandfather used as a woodshed.
Like Caine, Hellmann is primarily a painter, but has also created installations involving other media. Much of her work features sharp geometric lines and patterns, reflecting an interest in architecture that she shares with Caine.
Hellmann said, “I love architecture – both the functionality of how a space is constructed as well as the detail and thought that goes into a carefully designed interior space. Recently, I visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio and home. His thoughtfulness, care and understanding of space and its relationship to the body were incredibly inspiring and closely relates to how I think about sculpture and installation.”
Kalina Ko contributed reporting.