Tiffany Gholar is a Chicago-based multimedia artist and freelance interior designer. She studied art at the University of Chicago, interior design at Harrington College of Design, fiction at Columbia College Chicago, and painting at Governors State University, where she received her Master’s degree. In distinct but related bodies of work, Tiffany explores the economics and aesthetics of our single-use, consumer culture and the social (and medical) ills it engenders. That doesn’t mean, however, that the work isn’t fun. Super saturated colors and irresistible textures transform everyday materials — even “trash” — into compelling compositions that question values like beauty, utility, and permanence.
However, I was most excited to talk to Tiffany about the role — or rather, roles — played by books in her practice.
The following interview took place via email beginning February 2023.
Levi Sherman: Books are clearly important to you. They are part of your art practice and a way for you to share your non-book art with viewers — plus you’ve written a novel! So how did your relationship with books begin? Were you initially attracted to art or writing — or is that division too simple?
Tiffany Gholar: My relationship with books began as it did for so many of us, with picture books. I suppose the division really is too simple because you start reading and all the books have interesting illustrations in them; very appealing if you’re also interested in art.
LS: When did you realize that you could make books in addition to reading them?
TG: I realized that I could make books at an early age, in kindergarten. Our school system had the Young Authors Contest and I was very excited when I first learned about it. From kindergarten through eighth grade, I wrote and illustrated my own books. One of my art teachers, Mrs. Mollison-Douglas, taught us how to make books by hand using Con-Tact paper, cardboard, and duct tape, and sewing the folded pages together. I wrote my first few books by hand, then enlisted my dad’s help to type them up for me on his typewriter. I think my eighth grade book of poetry, the only one without illustrations, was the first one that I typed up myself on our computer.
LS: I wish I’d had a program like that in school! When did you know you wanted to seriously pursue art and design?
TG: I’m really grateful that we learned how to do so much in our art classes. I always knew that I wanted to be an artist, though I was often encouraged to do other things instead of art. My interest in interior design started with selecting and building furniture for my dollhouse when I was eleven. But it wasn’t until I moved out after college that I realized it might be something I would want to pursue a career in.
LS: The dollhouse is a great segue into your book The Doll Project, but I hadn’t yet made the connection with your interior design practice. The Doll Project addresses negative pressures that children, especially girls, face from the adult world, but it sounds like your dollhouse was also a place to grow into your professional and creative pursuits.
TG: Oh yes, it definitely was. I learned so many things from the process of building my dollhouse and making and buying miniatures to furnish it. It taught me about architectural scales. I’m pretty sure that the first floor plans I ever drew were for the rooms in my dollhouse.
LS: The Doll Project combines narrative doll photography with diverse texts on diet culture, body image, family, and media. So, my first question is whether you knew the project would become a book, or did you think it would stay online as a blog?
TG: When I first started, I wasn’t planning on making a book. I didn’t expect to have so much material. But as the ideas kept flowing, I realized that I wanted to at least show the series in public. I think I probably decided to publish my Doll Project photos as a book while working on my first art book, Post-Consumerism, which I published in 2012.
LS: That’s so interesting, because a book plays a starring role in The Doll Project — as the antagonist. Does How to Lose Weight suggest an ambivalent relationship with books?
TG: No, I’ve always loved books and reading. I chose to use the How to Lose Weight book as a recurring prop in my photos because it was easy to replicate. Something that I realized when I had my first dollhouse was that the easiest miniatures to make were of printed matter, whether books or household goods in boxes. Rather than buy it vintage from eBay, I could print as many copies of it as I wanted. The book appears in most of the photos in The Doll Project and then, in one of the photos that I set in the Y2K era, it becomes a website, too.
LS: That evolution from book to website seems important since your own work shifts between media. Books like Post-Consumerism present distinct lines of inquiry in your studio practice. Do those lines become clear in retrospect, or are you working toward that goal all along?
TG: I think my art books are highly retrospective. Most of the text in them comes from blog posts and journal entries and as I combine them into a narrative, they help me to notice themes and patterns that I may not have been aware of at the time when I wrote them.
LS: Does the book provide closure for a series or project? Or do you circle back to your studio once those themes and patterns emerge?
TG: The only book that has provided closure for a series has been The Doll Project. My abstract work is an ongoing project and my goal is to release new art books every three years.
LS: From a more practical standpoint, how do the books serve your abstract practice? Are they an alternative to the gallery system or a supplement to it? And has the role of these books evolved as artists turn to social media to share their work?
TG: I offer signed copies of my art books as a gift to my collectors when they purchase my larger artwork. They are a supplement to the gallery system. They’re a tool to connect with audiences at shows and I like being able to display them alongside my art at solo shows and art fairs. I like that I can sell them for less than the rest of my art, except my mini paintings. It gives people another way to engage with my art without purchasing a painting, especially if they can’t afford one or have run out of wall space. I also like being able to tell my story as an artist from my own first-person perspective instead of having it filtered through the words of curators and gallerists.
I was already pretty active on social media when I published my first art book. What I like about writing a book is that it allows more time for reflection, as opposed to the reflexive hot takes the world of social media expects us to churn out on a regular basis. Another thing I appreciate is that I can say what I have to say without getting annoying comments from reply guys and people who want to debate every little thing. Books give me enough space to fully express my thoughts without worrying about character limits. They are also not subject to the whims of tech bros. It’s nice to be able to give my words and images a more permanent format than a social media post.
LS: This answer really shows the complexity of how books mediate relationships between artists and readers! It sounds like these books are empowering and effective — so why don’t more artists do this?
TG: I’m not sure why more artists don’t do this, but I think they should! I would encourage all my fellow artists to publish books about their work. It’s pretty easy to do it now with print on demand companies. All you need is an InDesign subscription.
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