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WYSO's Studio Visit is about Miami Valley contemporary artists and the ideas that inspire their work. The series is produced by Susan Byrnes from the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices

'From bedtime to the studio,' how two Ohio artists work from home

Domesticus Nature Morte
Molly Burke & Nate Gorgen
Domesticus Nature Morte

Note from the producer: this is the second episode of the third season of a series on WYSO called  Studio Visit. This season, I focus on artists who regularly work with collaborators or, alternatively, have creative partners in their families who influence or participate in making art.

The featured artists will use various media, from photography to sculpture. Each segment will feature artist collaborators and include a brief biography, a sound-rich scene of a visit to their studio, and an interview about their work and how they connect creatively.

Byproduct Studios

Cincinnati is full of old Tudor-style houses.

A big basement workshop in one of them was a selling point for artists Molly Jo Burke and Nate Gorgen when they moved there recently from Columbus.

They need the space: Molly Jo and Nate have two kids, a dog, and a collaborative art practice they call “Byproduct Studios." The couple says their domestic life shapes their creative work.

Byproduct Studios artists Molly Jo Burke and Nate Gorgen
Susan Byrnes
Byproduct Studios artists Molly Jo Burke and Nate Gorgen

At their front door, I’m greeted by Molly Jo and her two daughters.

“Hello! And who’s this?” I ask.

“Lulu!” answers Molly Jo and her girls.

“Hi, Lulu,” I say, and dog Lulu snorts.

We move to the living room. They’re just about to watch Star Wars.

Over the sound of the movie's Main Theme coming through the TV, Nate says it was initially tough being an artist and a parent.

“You have time for literally nothing other than the baby. So, we were struggling to continue to do art. Then we hit upon the idea of being responsible to each other." He says, "So I think of it sometimes as having a gym buddy—It makes it a lot easier to get off your butt and go to the gym (or the art studio).”

The buddy system is working for them.

“The only time we run into issues working together is when there’s not clear communication,” says Molly Jo. “I always joke that we can work together really well because we're both middle children, and so having to compromise or have a dialog to get what you want from two siblings is built into our ability to work together."

Creating something new

Molly Jo is a glass artist. She ends up with leftover wax, plaster, and bits of glass. They get lots of wood scraps from Nate, who makes furniture and sculptures. When they renovated their house, they kept old tiles and vintage linoleum. In 2017, they used all this to make a series of paintings and furniture called ‘Expanding waste line.’

“And it was very important for us that it not be junk art or trash art,” Molly Jo says, “but that we were actually reworking these materials to become something else.”

A flower that came out of the Byproduct Studios vacuum sealer
Susan Byrnes
A flower that came out of the Byproduct Studios vacuum sealer

We go to where that transformation happens, in the basement studio. Rows of shelves are lined with bins and boxes of their collected materials. On the workbench is their favorite piece of equipment: a vacuum former.

“You can make molds with it, you can make art with it, you can cast fairly thick pieces of plastic for furniture parts,” Nate says.

Molly Jo makes a small arrangement to put inside the former. She uses her kids’ toy beads, a dried flower from Nate, and a little elephant passed down to her from her grandmother's collection.

Nate preheats the machine.

Then, over the collection of objects, he loads a sheet of thin, white plastic. Once the plastic starts to stretch, he turns on the vacuum.

The plastic sheet drapes over the objects like a slice of melted cheese, but with fine detail. I can see the shape of the flower start to emerge.

Nate says, “I don’t know if that flower’s going to come out... wait…yes…yes...actually, it came out pretty well.”

“So the nice thing about the vacuum former is it allows us to make almost like a three-dimensional portrait." Molly Jo says, "I can compose things from our lives, and it's almost this weird still life similar to a Dutch painting.”

Vacuum formed composition
Susan Byrnes
Vacuum formed composition

They turn their lives into their art— after they put their kids to bed.

“It’s from bedtime to the studio if we’re lucky, as far as artmaking is concerned.” Nate says, “I feel like that's not a bad thing; that's something we have embraced. This is what we live in now. And this is the stuff we have around us.”

They’re bringing some of what’s around them to their new show. It’s called ‘Perceptions of a Material’s Purpose,’ it runs from January through March at the Weston Gallery in downtown Cincinnati.

Susan works as visual artist, arts writer, teaching artist, and audio producer. She lives in Cincinnati now but loves, misses, and often visits the Miami Valley. You can find her visual and audio works on her website www.susanbstudio.com.
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