A Studio Visit with Viscaya Wagner
We visited Viscaya Wagner at her home studio in Greenpoint to chat about everything from the importance and catharsis of social artwork, to the pressure that artists are under to put forward a cohesive brand.
Accompanied by Renne Bautista’s photography.
Viscaya Wagner: This is a canvas I’ve painted over about thirteen times because I haven’t liked it [points to the piece over her bed] so I just keep layering it up!
Canvas & Cassette: (all laugh) You’re really working with all different media.
VW: The reason why I work so much with digital is because we don’t have the space or money for a studio set-up. We’ve been traveling a lot—pretty much since graduating college—we went on a two month road trip in the US, moved to Wyoming, traveled throughout South America for four months before finally moving to New York. We’ve been so unsettled that all I need is my computer and little mouse
to do whatever I need to do. Now that we’re settling more, I have room to actually paint something which is nice. I paint a lot more but ideally I’d be silk screening. The end goal is to be a part of a studio again.
C&C: What’s your background with art?
VW: I grew up in a household filled with artists. My dad and step-mom are both artists and everything my mom creates is beautiful. On the weekends my dad would say, “I’m going to the studio, come a long!” I would paint garbage paintings while he was welding. It was a part of our routine and a big part of my life. I’ve been lucky to be exposed to so many different things.
C&C: There are a lot of desert themes in your work—where does that come from?
VW: Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of landscape work to distill them down to basic elements. Form and composition are interesting to me and I think a lot of it’s coming from the color palettes that I’ve been drawn to. Mustard and rust are my favorite colors and are accidentally popping up everywhere. Color is powerful. It’s expressive and dictates me more than I realize. It’s a very intuitive thing.
I think my work is true illustration in the sense that I usually start a piece with something in mind or a situation I’m going through. These prints [points to two pieces laid out on her bed] were inspired by a low moment. We’d just moved to New York and I was feeling inward and contemplative so these drawings became a direct
reflection of what was going on for me.
After the election, I was moved by social artwork. I’m interested in how art and communication design can work together and be helpful tools for one another. A lot of my projects in college explored this boundary and the way I extended it after school was by making these folding posters that were a weekly response stemmed from either something from the news or a personal reflection. I printed the posters and left them in places for people to take.
I think art should be accessible. It connects us and can be very moving, especially during a time like this. I wanted to make a contribution and put something into the world, so this project sort of became my “news.” While it may not be relevant to anyone, it’s still a way to make things a little lighter or help others cope with what’s going on. Art has certainly helped me cope.
C&C: I love that. Finding artwork that expresses those types of feelings, especially after the election, is such a relief. I like this one that says, “holding two things with one hand.”
VW: I heard that in a podcast interview. Someone described a Gemini in this way and I could relate to that as a descriptor for my personality. I feel like I’m constantly in a state of duality—not necessarily personality wise but I’ve always been conflicted around the questions of what defines me. That’s how the moniker Honey & Rust was born—this idea of how two opposing things work together. Then this one’s inspired by a picture my seven-year-old brother drew. You can see it here, it says “trees help us breeth,” and when I went home I stole it (laughs).
Creating these posters has been helpful for me. I would like to do more public artwork that engages with the community because it’s important—especially in New York. It can feel lonely here.
C&C: When did you print the first one? Did they all come one after the next?
VW: The first one was printed in April. The next few came within a couple of months of each other and then the last one didn’t happen until last week. I’d like to create them more regularly. I want to wheat paste them in a grid and alternate the prints but I’m nervous! My friend, Dave, does graffiti and was like, “I would go out in the middle of the day. It’s sketchier to go at night all dressed up” and I was like, “are you kidding me? I could get arrested” (laughs).
C&C: Did you have any reservations about sharing your artwork?
VW: It’s always nerve-wracking to show and talk about your work. Instagram has caused a confusing mental state for me because one day I’ll feel really great and productive and excited and then the next day I’ll feel like I’m garbage and everyone out there’s more talented and more successful. It’s hard not to compare yourself. One of my favorite books that I read this year was In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney, who started Design*Sponge. It’s a compilation of interviews with makers, artists, and designers from different backgrounds. The questions are calming to read because they’re all about how everyone got started. You’re reading about some of the most successful women out there and the common thread is creative self-doubt.
Since moving to New York, I’ve been reading about other people’s experiences and trying to find common ground and comfort in that. It’s different for everyone. There’s a lot of timing and luck. The creative community’s so helpful and nurturing. Every day for me is different. Now that I work full-time, it can be a drain. It’s necessary and I love the work but finding the balance between personal and commercial work is difficult.
C&C: How do you find that balance and what steps do you take to make sure you’re not losing your creative self?
VW: The hardest thing for me is not being able to attach myself to the work I’m producing. As a creative, the work’s personal and tied to who you are. Taking time away from both work and my own personal stuff has been helpful. I go to yoga and will come home some days, sit down and allow myself time without feeling bad about it. The other night I came home from dinner with friends, climbed into bed,
started a drawing and finished it that night despite the fact that I should’ve gone to sleep early because I had work the next morning. Taking away the guilt and giving myself the freedom to do what I want has been rewarding.
I still have a lot of freelance projects so some days I come home from work and then have more work to do. I’ve become more rigid about deadlines. I used to try to do everything but I’ve started to become more protective of my home time. I’m a people pleaser, I take my job very seriously and I think it’s important to meet deadlines and set expectations. It’s been refreshing to realize that I’m in control of
those aspects of my work.
C&C: To go back to your moniker, Honey & Rust, can you speak more about that duality and how your name came about?
VW: It’s named after my parents because they’re so different but equally influential to me. I really struggled with that difference. I’d always be like, “who am I more like? Who do I identify with?” My mom’s intuitive, feminine and flowy. She has been a florist, interior designer and has owned a beeswax candle company. She would hand-sculpt the candles with clay and then mold them with beeswax. She’s gifted in all of these different ways that’re traditionally very feminine. My dad’s a landscape architect, painter and sculptor—specifically a welder, and his medium’s rusted metal. He creates metal spheres that he puts out into the landscape and they slowly disintegrate back into the earth. They’re really cool. Honey & Rust was me being like, “you know what? It’s okay that you’re both of them, that you like contemporary clean lines and also are feminine and like soft colors.” I think for so long I felt, as a designer, that I needed to be branded with a specific image. It’s hard to remember that I’m changing all of the time and I can be two things. The name was permission to lean into that. When I saw “holding two things with one hand” it resonated with me because I think that’s a perfect description of how I feel about my work and what I want to do with my life.
C&C: It’s refreshing to see an aesthetic and style that’s not only clean but manifests in many different ways. Your work’s very cohesive—while the media or postures may change in each image, they still seem to belong to the same family. How does it feel to create naturally and then have to turn yourself into a brand and deal with Instagram culture?
VW: It’s a lot of pressure. Granted, my reach’s pretty small, but there were times that I ended up not doing anything because I feared it would be wrong. Finally, I was like, “that’s stupid,” well, actually, Tanner’s so wise [gestures to her partner sitting at the kitchen table]. He was like, “it’s better to create something and put it into the world than create nothing.” He’s like my Yoda. It’s the hair (all laugh).
Branding’s crucial and it’s how people relate to your service. It’s great to have the exposure that you normally wouldn’t have without social media, but you’re vulnerable. You’re going on a creative journey in front of people—experimenting, putting everything out there and then getting feedback right away from strangers. I’ve been trying to demystify it by making something and posting it because I used to be like, “okay, I’m going to post this and then I’ll do this and I can’t post this ‘cause it’ll look stupid on the feed or whatever,” I finally got to the point where I was like, “this is ridiculous, this is psychotic behavior, just post the fucking picture, people won’t even remember it in three hours” (all laugh).
C&C: It’s interesting to see your prints in person and the scale that you choose for them. Is sizing a part of your design process when working digitally?
VW: Designing for space is my job, I’m an environmental graphic designer, so lately scale has played a part; but generally, scale isn’t something I think about for my personal work unless I’m working on a mural—which I want to do more of. I think murals are a fascinating art form. They’re challenging but fun to execute. My best friend, Eliza, is also an illustrator. She lives in Oregon, but we collaborated a lot in college and dubbed our duo, Habit of Mind. Through that we created two murals—one at the University of Vermont in our student center and the other was originally in an alleyway but has now moved into a bar in Burlington, Vermont. Those are my only real experiences with murals that aren’t work-related. The way artwork manifests itself is almost as interesting—if not more interesting—than what the content is. Art’s intimidating to so many people and I think it should be out in the world and used, which is why I love design. It can be functional and beautiful and I think that’s important for society. It literally dictates everything in our world and people don’t realize it. It’s so impactful. I walk by this one mural every day and I love it. The artist probably has no idea how inspiring their work is to someone. I want my art to manifest outside of digital platforms.
C&C: Do you have any particular listening habits when you’re creating art? Does it change with the different mediums that you work within?
VW: I don’t think that it changes too much. For the most part, I end up working while watching TV. The music I listen to is mostly surf rock. The aesthetic of surf culture plays a big role in my work, mostly because I was managing a gallery in Wyoming where we worked with artists and photographers that’re from the surf, skate and snowboard world. Tanner and I both grew up in the mountains as well so that adventure spirit has been very influential, not only in the content and mood of my work but also in the way we build our home. I love The Growlers and Allah-Las. Sometimes other more mainstream things if I’m feeling in the mood. I love crappy pop music. I’m pretty obsessed with Kendrick Lamar’s voice right now, I think he’s so sexy.
C&C: You’ve been working on your online portion of your store. How’s that going?
VW: Printing has been a hurdle to jump over [points to her limited prints and laughs]. It’s been really sweet because more and more people have asked where they can purchase my work and I’m like, “TBD!” I’m working on it, slowly. I started with postcards—every year I make a calendar and card for my family and loved ones. I enjoy doing it so much I decided that I should just sell them on my website, so I finally printed the postcards and calendars. Other than that, it’s been a pretty minimal investment. The next phase is prints. I’m going to pick a handful to print and then open up a Tictail shop. While they take a cut, they do a lot of marketing and are supportive so I think it’s worth it to be a part of that community. I would like to have my work screen printed; it’s important to me that they’re made by hand. I love imperfections in work because that’s what makes it interesting. There are so many happy accidents in the printing process and the color interaction’s beautiful. It’s hard work, and that process is what makes art so much more valuable.
- Autumn Fox and Marissa Passi
All Photographs by Renne Bautista