Interactive Minimalism: An Interview with Mirielle Jefferson

Mirielle Jefferson, a painting student at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) from Hoover, Alabama, proves that art history is an essential tool when it comes to creating her artworks. Jefferson was born a painter at heart; she began painting in a realistic style but eventually found that her passion lay elsewhere. Luckily, her educational career at SCAD has provided her with the opportunity to explore different styles of painting. This exploration led her to a style of painting which she loves and is continuously evolving with: minimalism.   

Jefferson’s works are composed of beautiful, crisp lines placed over a clean white background. The lines in her compositions are made from the study cards she used in previous Art History courses. In her latest works, she continues to use the pristine background, the crisp lines and her notecards. However, she combines sculpture with minimalism. Instead of a flat structure she creates geo-structures that are fastened to both the wall and the ground. These installations maintain their sophisticated allure while encouraging people to walk around and interact with them. Read more about Mirielle Jefferson’s unique works in the full interview below.

Mirielle Jefferson, “Art Histories V”, acrylic on canvas, 68” x 56”, 2014.

Savannah Art Informer: Where are you from?
Mirielle Jefferson: I am from Hoover, Alabama.

SAI: What brought you to Savannah?
MJ: SCAD brought me to Savannah. I was lucky to find a school that was well respected, offered the exact program I was interested in, and one that was located in an amazing city.

SAI: What artist do you think has inspired you the most?
MJ: There are so many artists that have inspired me! I first learned about early minimalist artists like Kazimir Malevich in my art history courses. With more research, I was introduced to the work of Carl Andre, Agnes Martin, and Anne Truitt. Now 21st century artists like Julie Mehretu and Richard Nonas have influenced my work.

Mirielle Jefferson, “Art Histories IV”, acrylic on canvas, 76” x 96”, 2014.

SAI: What inspired you to become a Minimalist artist?
MJ: I have always been attracted to minimalist forms, either in sculpture or 20th century furniture. The humble appearance of minimalist painting has always intrigued me. I appreciate how minimalist objects sometimes represent larger conceptual ideas or theories behind basic forms, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, they aim to represent nothing and instead present a material as just that: a material. I decided to give minimalism a try to see if I could challenge both my mind and work in a similar way. I liked the mind game and the complexity I saw within a few lines and shapes.

SAI: What is the biggest challenge when it comes to creating your minimalist works?
MJ: I would say the biggest challenge I have when creating minimalist work is painting a perfect straight line and crisp, clean edges. When you paint very little on a surface, you have to paint it perfectly because that’s what everyone is going to be looking at. It’s a challenge to paint a large-scale painting with few mistakes.

Mirielle Jefferson, “Facts”, 2014.

SAI: What message are you trying to convey through your works?
MJ: I don’t know if I’m trying to convey a message with my work. The works parallel my interpretation of memory, especially of art history. As artists, we are expected to have a general sense of the history of art, but even that is an incredible amount of information to retain. Instead, I have found that we usually only remember what is most essential to us, what artists, techniques, works of art, etc. that inspire and influence us the most. These sporadic facts of information compose our understanding of art history, similarly to how the sparse lines and shapes compose the entire composition of my paintings.

The shapes and lines that I paint are actually scraps of paper that I have collected over the years from making study cards for my art history classes. Once the images have been cut out, the scraps of paper inherently have edges of color that were once the edges of historical works of art.  I make paper collages with these scraps of paper and then paint the collages as large-scale acrylic paintings. My work then questions the originality of contemporary artwork and the notion of creating something someone has never seen before, since my works are created using the edges of preexisting works of art.

SAI: Why, in your opinion, do people have such a popular misconception of minimalist artworks? What would you tell these people? What is your opinion on minimalist art?
MJ: I think many people who aren’t fans of minimalist art feel negatively about it because they think that anybody could create it. However, I also feel that these people don’t take the time to learn more about the work, how it’s made, its history, or the conceptual theories behind it. That’s what makes it so rich! The fact that there’s so much content behind an artwork with a simple façade should leave one feeling intrigued and questioning what they saw, rather than feeling pessimistic about it.

Mirielle Jefferson, Installation, Mixed Media, 2014, dimensions vary.

SAI: What other kinds of works do you create (abstract paintings, realism, portraits, landscapes)?
MJ: In my first two years at SCAD, I focused on realism, so I mostly painted portraits and still life pieces. I started experimenting with sculpture in a few classes and it stuck with me. I’ve now incorporated sculpture and installation into my current body of work. I make three-dimensional sculptures in the shapes of scraps of paper and then install the pieces in a space, as if I’m composing a three-dimensional painting. With these works, I am experimenting with the evolution of dimensionality; starting with two dimensional paper scraps and collages, then two-dimensional substantial paintings, then three-dimensional sculpture, and finally three-dimensional space with installations.

SAI: Do you feel like your work reflects you? If so, what does it reflect about you?
MJ: I would like to think that my work reflects some part of me. I like that my work isn’t obvious as to what it really is upon first glance. I think that’s kind of like me; I’m more complex behind my façade.

Mirielle Jefferson, Installation, Mixed Media, 2014, dimensions vary.

SAI: Are you currently working on anything?
MJ: Currently, I am in New York City completing a residency program with SCAD and the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts. I am continuing my current body of work here while being influenced by the city. I am also interning with artist Bradley McCallum as an assistant painter.

SAI: What are your plans for your future as an artist? Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
MJ: I will graduate from SCAD with a BFA in Painting at the end of this fall quarter. After that, I hope to come back to New York and intern with more artists to continue to learn and grow from working professionals. I always want to grow and evolve with my work as much as possible. If I can do that, I would be lucky. At the termination of my residency, I will have an Open Studios show where I will display all of the artwork I created during my stay.

Click here to see more work from Mirielle Jefferson.

Author: Michelle Guash

Michelle Guash is an Art Historian who currently works for the Telfair Museum of Art. She is originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico and has a dog named Tiny. She hopes to be a curator, collector and gallery owner one day.

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