An Interview with Peggy Cyphers
Peggy Cyphers (b.1954) is a painter, who focused on the series called Modern Fossils that attempts to explore the consciousness, geological time and the Anthropocene that fossilize the moment and appropriate the images from nature and cultural history. Now, with her own development of her artistic career, she taught fine arts field as an Adjunct Professor at Pratt Institute since 1989. For today’s editorial interview, we will discuss her works and her opinion toward contemporary art.
Jiyong Sim: What’s the journey that led you to New York City?
Peggy Cyphers: “I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and would take the train to New York City often to see the gallery shows in the SoHo lofts. I was already studying painting at Maryland Institute of Art and Towson University, so after receiving my BFA, I decided to move to the city to pursue my art career and graduate studies.”
Jiyong Sim: The concept of art is continuously and radically changing, and the boundary of art is continually emerging as a new genre, such as installation and conceptual art. Under these circumstances, what do you think about the position of the painting, which is a traditional genre of art?
Peggy Cyphers: “Painting will always represent for me personally the highest form of art because it is archaic and links us to our earliest ancestors. Painting is still a mystery to me, how the physical presence of a painted surface can bring a person to a moment of stillness, as we contemplate a surface and image that is riddled with ambiguity. Whether you call it a mystical or phenomenological experience, it’s different then what one experiences in a purely conceptual artwork or installation. Both have value going forward. I think installation has gained a strong influence because it allows the artist to direct the viewer to specific subjects such as those pertaining to the political and social and has a great ability to communicate in a more theatrical way.”
Jiyong Sim: How do you describe your art form and what inspires you to pursue it on a daily basis?
Peggy Cyphers: “My painting and prints are born from a fascination and deep reverence for beauty and the diversity of all creation. This amazingly beautiful universe inspires me every day. I feel strongly in the healing power of a communion with the natural environment. Humans have somehow become disconnected with Beauty and this has led to the environmental challenges we now face globally. I personally feel a great need for humanity is to have an experience of nature. I bring that thought process to the work and hope that my art is uplifting and encourages contemplation.”
Jiyong Sim: What’s your proudest, most favorite project?
Peggy Cyphers: “I am currently working on series of artworks I call “Heirs To The Sea,” and this is very exciting to me because it brings together in a culminating form so much of the imagery, techniques, and ideas that I have been working with since my beginnings as a painter.”
Jiyong Sim: Does your work comment upon current social or political issues? Or do you prefer to do so with your future work?
Peggy Cyphers: ”I think having a political or social position is unavoidable for an artist. As someone who continually seeks new forms of knowledge, the social experience is evidenced in the work. In contemplating the interconnectedness of all sentient beings, I consider my nonhierarchal position as a social and political statement.”
Jiyong Sim: What do you wish to see more from the current art school students?
Peggy Cyphers: “My painting students at Pratt are generally so gifted creatively and disciplined in their practice. As these strong-minded individuals grow and learn, the young artists bring much scrutiny and passion to their art practice, qualities that will translate for a lifetime. The students will soon inherit the environmental and human rights challenges we now face, and I think creative thinkers are more apt to make the decisions that will protect the planet, animals and human race from extinction.”
Jiyong Sim: What’s your perspective on the relationship between art schools and the art industry (gallery, art market, collectors)?
Peggy Cyphers: “Going to an art school allows the individual to forge bonds and networks of allies that help an artist gain influence, support and knowledge to continue successfully. Artists meet other artists and peers in art school and these relationships can carry an artist far into a successful creative practice. The young artists at work in art schools have focused time to ponder the world and to create a response to life. It will be up to the next generation of artists to see that the art market and gallery system evolves into a more sustainable form. The system of monetary power that has dominated the art world for decades is peaking and its value for society being questioned. Thinking artists can elicit change and non-conformity and this is essential to the growth of a culture.”
Jiyong Sim: What are your thoughts on “Originality” and “Appropriation” in the creative industry?
Peggy Cyphers: “Everything already exists that is in the universe so everything is original and appropriated at once. The fluid lines between both are to be embraced with a positive outlook. I use many images that are from early artists and naturalists and in a sense see my work as a collaboration, as I find inspiration in the dialogue. I was interested in Rauschenberg’s “Combines,” whose style of appropriation is an extension of poetry, and Helen Frankenthaler, who championed the originality of the gesture or flow. Both threads of poetry, the immediate and the mediated, find resonance in my art.”
Jiyong Sim: What is the meaning for you about the materiality?
Peggy Cyphers: “To contemplate in the physical presence of an artwork, we experience time incapsulated in the object and thus an experience of the materiality is crucial, it is way beyond an illustration, it is phenomenology, it is like nothing else in the universe.”
Jiyong Sim: What do you think the unique element that art can produce to the public?
Peggy Cyphers: “Art is essential to the stability of culture and the significance of art cannot be denied as it communicates the core beliefs and passions of a people. When in the presence of art, our thoughts are elevated, our beliefs are challenged and our senses stimulated. Thus art is essential for the future stability of culture.”
BY JIYONG SIM
JIYONG IS A KOREAN-AMERICAN ARTIST BASED IN NYC