The creative synergy between collaborative artists Caris Reid and Amanda Valdez is immediately apparent. In conversation, they build easily off each other’s assertions about their work, generous in their praise of one another. Even their appearances are complementary: when I met with them the afternoon before their opening at Denny Gallery in New York’s Lower East Side, Valdez wore a navy wrap dress that complemented her curly brown hair, while Reid wore a more fitted black dress with geometric patterns and sported straight blond hair with sharp bangs. Both have striking blue eyes.
It’s fitting for such a dynamic duo that their new exhibition explores duality, starting with the title: Time & Tide. The moon unites these two elements, dictating the rhythm of the day and the movement of the waves. Reid and Valdez have also organized a kind of dual exhibition—at their opening on April 7 (the new moon), they showed works that they’ll replace with entirely new ones for a second opening on April 23, the full moon.
I spoke with Reid and Valdez about how they’ve maintained such a fruitful collaborative practice, their artistic influences, and what to expect during different phases of the moon.
Alina Cohen: How did your interest in the moon begin, and at what point did you see this show take shape?
Caris Reid: The moon is such a powerful symbol that has captivated humans since the beginning of civilization. It’s always resonated with me. We collaborated on a show last year in Dallas where we studied mandalas. “Mandala” essentially means “center” or “essence” and a lot of the designs we were encountering were very concentric. So in a way, the moon is the most whittled symbol of a mandala. Both of us have a certain relationship to the moon and love researching. It seemed like a natural subject to delve into.
Amanda Valdez: We came up with this idea and instantly wanted see the research it could lead to. For me, it’s a very human, very universal aspect of looking up at the moon, wherever you are, whatever stage you’re at in your life. It’s always been this very grounding entity. Whatever distractions are going on in my life, I can cast them aside and have this experience based on my senses and this communication with this very mysterious, beautiful, ever-changing, ever-evolving entity.
CR: It’s like a celestial marker of time—our calendars and our menstrual cycles, the rotation of crops. There are so many systems and cycles that are set either consciously or unconsciously on the rhythms of the moon. In modern society, we’ve sort of fallen out of touch with the moon in a lot of ways. Lately, people seem to be really drawn to it again as a symbol. It seems to be a backlash from the internet-driven era where everything is dominated by artificial screens. Now there’s a return to this lunar light.
AV: We never see the backside of it, the dark side of the moon. The fact that it’s on this fourteen day cycle around our planet creates this steady energy in which to see different cycles of accumulation and decreasing, the creation and destruction.
AC: In New York it’s hard to be in touch with nature. You can’t even see the stars. Did this work help you get more in touch with the natural world?
AV: Living in New York, we are so deprived of the celestial sphere that the moon and sun are basically the only things we have. For me, the moon is an event. When I leave my studio at night, I look for it. There’s also this sense of tracking. I love the space before the full moon. It reminds me of the energy I have in the studio when something is about to be complete. You’ve worked, and you’ve shepherded something, and it’s changed and transformed, and suddenly it’s done and it gets to become its full entity outside of you.
CR: We live in a society where everyone wants to be at full moon conditioning all the time. Everyone wants things operating at their full potential. That’s not how nature works—nature works in cycles. Things come into completeness and then they fade away, and then they come into completion, and then fade away. Leading up to the show, I was paying attention to those cycles, the moments of pause and the moments of activity. I tried to connect my creative process with the cycles of the moon, starting as many of the paintings on new moons as I could. The day before a full moon, you’re supposed to wait and honor what you’ve already completed.
AV: I noticed that we’d started our research and I was in this introverted space of just wanting to be home reading all the texts. There was the workhorse part of me that felt guilty about not being in the studio. I realized that was all happening in the phase of the waning moon when you’re allowed to rejoice in that introverted energy. It’s a time to nourish seeds and cultivate ideas.
CR: I’ve heard that digestion is just as important as the period of execution. I think that’s very true for the creative process. Artists who take the time to research and be introspective do that inner work. It helps strengthen the second part of the process that is the outward creation of the painting.
AC: What else should people know about the moon’s cycle?
AV: It’s the idea of the increase and the decrease. As it’s decreasing it’s this idea of death in some cultures.
CR: Tonight’s a new moon. We were really excited when we found out this was an option for the opening because new moons are such a powerful time for launching new activities, new projects. It’s all about growth. When it gets to the full moon, which is when we rotate our show, it’ll be at this moment of realization.
AC: How are you planning to rotate the show?
AV: There’s a relationship between what leaves and what comes in. There are pieces that will specifically relate to one another.
CR: It will be all new work. There’ll be residues, little hints of what was there before. Hopefully that’ll entice people to come back. I like this idea that you can’t fully see the whole show until you come to the second viewing.
AC: Looking at the work, I thought a little bit of Miriam Shapiro and the history of feminist art, particularly the use of materials traditionally associated with the women’s sphere.
AV: Early on, I was working with fabric in the context of painting. There’s definitely a feminist muscle that’s being flexed in the paintings. It was very important for me to have the fabric be sewn into the canvas, engineered into the surface, and then pulled flat so that there’s this equality in the materials. Beyond that, I feel indebted to the early feminists, though I also continue to develop my own abstract language.
CR: I primarily work with acrylic on wood. Painting has such a long history and you can’t be a painter without being aware of your predecessors. My paintings make references to male and female painters. Some of paintings here have very direct references to specific painters like Hilma Af Klimt, who was a Swedish painter at the turn of the century who kept her paintings hidden for years after she died. They found out later that she was one of the first painters of abstraction. She was very tied to the mystical and worked with a lot of symbolism. I’m interested in this idea of communicating on a more subconscious level.
AC: What’s your collaborative process?
AV: We started with the research and the conceptual grounding for this show and then started to make our own work. At that point we started bringing each other into our studios and then going back into our own with some influences likely coming through.
CR: We’re in constant contact, texting and emailing. Our studios are nearby and we were digesting the same materials. We were reading the same books, meeting for coffee, going back to our separate studios. I would see photos leading up to the show of what Amanda was working on. Being a painter can be a very lonely activity, so having that bridge between our studios was really powerful.
AC: Why do you think more artists don’t collaborate?
CR: Artists by nature are autonomous creatures. I think what’s been so nice about working with Amanda is that we’re both very independent. I was benefitting so much from her insights.
AV: There was more generosity to go back and forth because there was never any fear of overstepping. I always think about this analogy of toys in a sandbox. When you’re in grad school, there are the kids who always want to have their hand on the toy, on the ideas. When Caris and I get in the sandbox, there’s faith that there is enough space for us to share ideas and develop different work.
CR: For me, it collapses the separation between abstraction and figuration. I’ve always found that to be such a comical divide. My figuration is very flat. I’m reducing things. Both of us really love a certain economy of lines and color and minimalism, though I’m pushing my figuration towards abstraction and Amanda is pushing her abstraction toward figuration. I like the conversation that happens when our work’s in the same room and you start seeing these connections between things that are more overtly recognizable and things that are more abstract.
AC: Were you surprised when you started to see each other’s work?
AV: Surprised in pure excitement! It’s special to be vulnerable with another person and show them works in progress. I have different relationships with different paintings based on knowing, “oh, this one definitely morphed and you had to go to battle with this one, and it really came out on the other side.”
CR: You learn the dirty secrets behind the paintings.
AV: Which is very insightful. It gives you faith in the process when you’re engaging with it yourself. All art making is so much about is problem-solving, and seeing how someone else does that in real time is a gift.
CR: Absolutely. I think in the process of painting, you have an idea of what it’s going to be and you work yourself into a corner and have to get yourself out of it. The emotion that came up the most during the process of reveal was just excitement whenever Amanda would show me a new piece. You become a little more emotionally involved when you’re that intimately involved in the process.
Time & Tide is on view at Denny Gallery until May 15.