On a warm Saturday afternoon, I walked into Suite 295 of 8th Street’s Northrup Building and found all was quiet except for the rattling air conditioning system. As home to four of Boise’s Artists-in-Residence – Casssandra Schiffler, Theresa Burkes, Kate and Sarah Masterson — the audible stillness was somewhat of a surprise. Schiffler soon emerged, smiling, from her workspace, where she had been painting. I quickly learned that the silence was not just the sound of an artist hard at work, but also the calm after the storm that is First Thursday.
Schiffler’s exhibit, Constructing a Visual Space, brought in hundreds of art enthusiasts who took the opportunity to view her abstract investigations into line and shape, and participate in an interactive demonstration of her creative process. As she led me through the demo and around the expanse of her exhibit, I learned more about her history, hopes, and artistic endeavors.
Cassandra Schiffler: What I did is I painted on five wooden blocks and I had people arrange them themselves, however they wanted to, and then took pictures.
A lot of what I’m doing is abstract horizontal and vertical lines. When I’m looking at spaces and shapes, I see these objects that have a relationship. When you change the distance, it creates a different feel between the two objects and lines; it changes the whole spatial relationship and it becomes a different sort of composition. I’m always trying to search for a visual balance and for what I think makes the most interesting composition, with a certain amount of tension and dynamic function.
It was funny because I’m always trying to find more minimal arrangements, but people pretty much always wanted to use all five blocks. I liked watching people as they did [the demo]. They were looking at the different sides of the blocks and I could see the gears turning in their heads.
Boise Arts & History: How long have you been making art? Did you go to school or were you self-taught?
Cassandra Schiffler: I’ve always been making art. It’s the thing that your parents tell you not to do, but I defied them and got an art degree anyway. I went to the College of Idaho in Caldwell, which is a really fantastic little college. Had I known that I was pretty sure I wanted to continue with art, I may have gone somewhere with a little bit bigger of a program, but I really liked the school. It’s a liberal arts college, so they teach you how to be a good writer and you learn about other subjects besides your major.
Then, I didn’t make much art for a few years, which was scary. I think it’s a really hard transition from being in school and having assignments. I worked in art galleries and I did security at the Boise Art Museum and worked for a collector, doing cataloging and inventory. I was still in the art world, but it was hard looking at these incredible works every day and feeling like, “I don’t know if I can do that,” and also being overwhelmed by imagery all day, coming home and feeling like, “ugh.” Just sitting down and starting to make something is really important. I always kept a sketchbook, which was helpful.
One of the biggest things that got me back into making art was learning a new medium, which was printmaking. I did a trade with an artist who owned a press. I helped him learn how to use the computer and he showed me how to do printmaking. It was really productive for me. Of course, it started with things that were not nearly as well put together as what I’m making now, but I eventually started doing this work.
Boise Arts & History: What made you decide to apply for the residency?
Cassandra Schiffler: I wanted to start working on some larger pieces. I had been making a lot of smaller works. Most of the work that you see in here I’ve done since the residency started. This has been really productive for me, so I’m ecstatic. The exposure is nice, too. It’s nice to have people come in to look at my work and have an open studio. I also knew a lot of people who had been a part of the Artist in Residence program and had good experiences.
Boise Arts & History: Describe your creative process.
Cassandra Schiffler: Sometimes I start with a line or a shape and build on it. If there were an interior monologue happening it would be something like, “If I move this over here, maybe I could put that there, or maybe I could add that there, but then I would have to erase this.” But, I don’t have a specific plan. It’s very intuitive.
I’ve been doing painting and printmaking, but I think working with new mediums is really interesting and keeps you exploring. Some things lend themselves more readily to some mediums than others, but I like being able to work with different materials and I definitely see myself, at some point, using sculpture or other things that I don’t even know about.
Boise Arts & History: Who or what are your influences?
Cassandra Schiffler: I look at Mark Rothko’s work a lot and feel completely in awe. One of my most meaningful museum experiences was at the Tate Modern in London. There was a room of Rothkos and I was wearing the headphones that give you information about the different exhibits. What they did for his room was they gave a really brief introduction, but then said, “What we think would be the best thing for you to listen to is this music.” It was one of the most powerful experiences that I had because there were these huge, immense pieces and it was just overpowering. It was like I forgot language because I was just looking and seeing and having this feeling — and then the music! — I just sat down and really enjoyed that experience.
Richard Diebenkorn had this wonderful Ocean Parks series that was based a lot on colors of the area that he was in. I definitely feel influenced by him. Sean Scully is another person that I’ve been looking at.
I live in the North End and I walk to work every day and I’m always looking around. I feel really influenced by the city’s architecture, not that I know a lot academically about architecture, but I feel like the lines and forms and shapes are always affecting my work. Sometimes, I take snapshots as I’m walking and use them as reference material.
I think colors and different seasons also have an influence. There are some pieces I have that are really grey, which I was making more of in the winter.
Boise Arts & History: What gets released for you in the process of creation?
Cassandra Schiffler: I make art because I feel like it has to be made. Once it’s made, I feel a little bit of a sense of release because I was able to get it out.
Boise Arts & History: What effect do you hope your art has on those who view it?
Cassandra Schiffler: I like my work to be nonspecific, but to read as different things. These horizontal and vertical lines – there’s something so absolute about them and so constructed because it’s not something that you see in nature all that often. I hope that people find something visually engaging. I don’t necessarily want to point them in a direction of what to think about, but maybe just stopping thinking and seeing — stopping to see rather than stopping to think.
Schiffler’s work will be on display every First Thursday from 5-9pm in the Masterson, Burkes, Schiffler Studio located at 8th & Broad, Northrup Suite 295.
You can also see more at www.cassandraschiffler.com
Written by Erin Cecil
This interview took place on June 16, 2012