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The People in Your Neighborhood: Sculptor Michelle Lopez
L Magazine editors

Oh, look, it’s another edition of our interview series with Brooklynites of note, The People in Your Neighborhood. Today we hear from sculptor Michelle Lopez, whose new solo exhibition, Vertical Neck, opens tonight at Simon Preston Gallery, and continues through October 30.

Neighborhood Morgantown, Bushwick.

Best place to people-watch? The stoop of Brooklyn Natural or the L train on a Saturday night.

Best grocery store or farmer’s market? Paffenroth Farms market stand, Union Square Greenmarket.

Best place to attend a show/view art/see a movie? Famous Accountants in Bushwick. And Simon Preston Gallery on the Lower East Side.

Best subway line? The L train of course!

Best neighborhood person whose name you don’t know? Suave, wavy white-haired man who sells wooden plaques and Latino music at Moore Street Market. Fierce Kung Fu girls practicing in the grass of the McKibbin Playground.

Which are there more of: dogs, bodega cats, strollers, American Apparel ads, or old men on stoops? Dogs.

What’s missing from your neighborhood? Bodega cats, strollers, American Apparel ads, and old men on stoops. No, really an ice cream parlor would be nice here, and a sandwich shop. I miss my husband making Farmcart sandwiches...

What’s the biggest change since you’ve moved in? More galleries. More movie trucks. More dust. I feel the street cleaners have stopped coming here since the last big snowstorm.

It’s a Saturday night in September. You don’t feel like traveling very far but are antsy for a night out. Where do you go? I go to Devorar whenever they have a dinner. It’s a supper club in the neighborhood run by smart, creative, unpretentious foodies: good people.

Your sculptures often add unexpected materials to figurative objects (trees, a car), but your latest series is completely abstract; how did that evolution come about? I think the work is still figurative with the use of unexpected materials. In this work, I’ve taken away the narrative ploys that have acted as easy hooks for the work. As an approach I’ve tried to impose interventions onto the thing itself through the way it’s manipulated. With the latest work, I’ve been looking directly at Minimalism—how to question it but also add to the discourse—and so the work is abstract because of the nature of the movement. But in general, I’ve been trying to pare the work down.

Your use of materials is almost deceptive—plywood that looks like leather, resin cast to resemble hair, and now aluminum that appears weightless; do you try to do this deliberately, or is it just where your interests lead you? I like making things and changing the scope of a certain material. But usually it’s the conceptual research that drives the way I manipulate the material. For plywood, I wanted to make a skateboard that was scalped, ridden on, and have those gestures be transgressively violent and beautiful. With the hair it was about combining the resin with soot so that a kind of self-portrait would implode on itself and be made of dust. So the inherent signage of the material is in there already, and I hope by just activating the material, that meaning is activated as well.

Several of your earlier pieces transformed pop culture characters (from Japanese anime and Star Wars); what interested you in these iconic characters? These characters all have a religiosity to them—a hero worship that seems spot-on with a cultural sentimentality. I like the fanaticism that gets built around believing and protecting the Star Wars narrative of good vs. evil. I had hoped to turn these characters on their head (quite literally) with a sense of humor, and hopefully to reveal some truth about the state of sculpture and “—isms” as throwaways. As a sculptor, I’m interested in our present day religious iconography and like the idea of emasculating them in form. The anime piece comes from a similar place but it critiques the Superflat movement on a different level but with same spirit.