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March 05, 2024

Bianca Fields ’19 reflects on CIA, SIE

Bianca Fields ’19 conducts a studio visit with Theadis Reagins ’26 in advance of serving as a juror for the 2024 Student Independent Exhibition.

By Michael C. Butz

Painter Bianca Fields ’19 has been on the move. In recent years, her career has taken her from the PLOP Residency in London to stateside exhibitions in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and overseas shows in Spain, France and Belgium. Up next is the Pratt>Forward residency in New York. And, she relocated to Boston from Kansas City last year with her partner, Jay Myers ’17.

But for the Northeast Ohio native, 2024 so far has been all about Cleveland. In January, she completed a month-long residency at Vessel City Studio & Gallery in the city's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, and in February, she returned to the Cleveland Institute of Art to serve as a juror for the 2024 Student Independent Exhibition.

In between her juror duties and studio visits with CIA students, Fields paused outside of Reinberger Gallery to share some updates.

How does it feel to be an SIE juror?
I’m super excited. I’m very honored to be able to feel involved again. I feel like when I was here as a student, I was trying my best to be involved, and it feels nice to reopen that threshold, being able to communicate and have some sort of impact on the nature of how these students are understanding themselves as artists.

Did you have work in SIE while you were a student?
I did but I’ve been struggling to remember. I think it was my junior year that I submitted some pieces of work, and I believe I got one piece in. In my senior year, I was like “Oh yeah, let’s do it again!” and I didn’t get in. (Laughing.)

How does it feel now being on the other side of SIE?
We haven’t fully gotten into the process yet but it seems like there’s a lot to cover and I’m really excited. It just makes me realize how much work goes into the process of making SIE happen. Also, simultaneously, the studio visits—those really matter. Going into the spaces and talking to the artists about how excited they are or some of the things they're interested in doing, (and) whether or not it’s necessarily a positive thing, the level of productivity is just insane. There's so much to work with.

How were the studio visits with CIA students?
They’re a lot of fun! I thought I’d be burned out right now, and there’s a lot of talking, but I think there’s a nice balance. Now, I think I’m way more introverted and good at just asking questions. I’ve heard feedback that I ask a lot of questions, and it’s a nice exchange between the two of us, to do that and to listen more than speak.

What are you up to these days?
These days ebb and flow. It’s a very chaotic start to the year. It’s very busy, but I’m super grateful to be in the motions of things. I enjoy being busy. I really find it frustrating to not have anything to do and to be bored, and I mean that in the least capitalistic way. (Laughing.) Like, I enjoy the aspects of my life that are quiet and alone, but I’m looking forward to doing the Pratt residency. This is pretty much, for me, going to be a residency year, producing work and absorbing.

You’ve had some exhibitions recently, too. I think I saw one that was in Los Angeles.
Yeah, the gallery that represents me, they’re based in LA, in the Santa Monica/Hollywood area. I think my most recent show was in LA, also, but not related to my representative gallery. It was at Good Mother Gallery, and it was a group show called Monstra. It centered on female-identifying artists who relate their work to the idea of “monstra.” My work very much connects to the show, and it was also a lot of fun.

(Editor's note: Good Mother Gallery writes that its “exhibition channels the ‘monstra’ as a reflection of femme desire, agency and power.”)

What’s been your most satisfying professional accomplishment since graduating from CIA?
I can’t really believe I'm saying this but I think just being able to hone my studio practice for as long as I have. It’s extremely difficult to move around to different cities and be able to maintain that while also meeting new people. Doing the residency program in London was a lot of fun. That was back in 2021. But now, it's just continuing to learn how to maintain that.

You mentioned moving around. Will you take me around the map?
I went to Kansas City in 2019 and I lived there until March of last year, 2023. And I moved to Boston, so I’m in the New England area now. I moved with my partner, who’s also an artist and who also went to the Cleveland Institute of Art. It’s nice because there’s Montreal and New York nearby, so there are cities of interest around to help me delve back in and feel a little bit more refreshed in the art scene and be able to go and see things as opposed to … Kansas City was quiet. I was able to hunker down for some time, especially during COVID.

Yeah, the only other residency I’ve participated in was the PLOP Residency in London for a month-long. I got selected as one of the international artists. It was my first residency and also my first time going abroad. Within six weeks of being there, I learned a lot about myself and my studio practice. … So, it was very easy to come here to Cleveland (for the Vessel City residency) and just set up shop and produce a gallery show’s worth of work. It was a lot of fun.

What goal do you have for the future that you’re working toward now?
I think one of my goals is to not be so centered on myself and my level of producing work. I love making work, and now that I understand that—I have a good discipline with creating work—and now that I officially understand how true I am to my pieces of work, I want to be able to connect with younger crowds of people. Maybe not necessarily work within a college but find ways to intersect spaces for younger artists to make being an artist a reality, whether that be through writing books or having workshops. So, I’m slowly in the baby steps of tapping into that level of mentorship. And that’s why Pratt>Forward in New York is the next thing up for me. Other than just producing work, it’s going to be very mentorship-intensive, with tons of feedback about me and working on the things I seek to develop within my work, but simultaneously some more career-oriented avenues.

How did CIA help prepare you for what you've experienced so far.
This is something I’ve talked a lot about and tried to discuss/enforce a bit during my studio visits with the students. It’s just to make work, and that doesn't seem like a problem within this generation of artists, which is really relieving to see. Creating work is no longer a problem.

I think my class was a little bit smaller and a little bit more stiff, and I don't blame them. I think we’re living in a very strange time, and I think work is either going to stagnate you completely or there’s going to be this level of utter development, whether it’s coming from a dissociative nature or not. But, I feel like being at CIA, I never had experienced anything like it—having peers and people giving you immediate feedback. I didn’t really understand what art even was.

That was sort of how I developed my mode of making. Not having a family that took me to museums and really showed me what art really was. So, through the process of that, I feel like I really gained so much out of being at CIA. I didn’t realize it was possible to make art and to be true and to seek a career out of it. I think it functioned for me in a space that just seemed so real, and that discipline and feedback really encouraged me to see art as a more positive thing.

What advice or guidance from a faculty member helped prepare you for your career today?
Honestly, I think getting this really sensitive form of feedback about my paintings made me feel cared about and considered. I like to feel like I’m thought about or like someone has a plan for me, and that's what I think about when I choose or think about the gallery relationships I have. It helps me decide whether or not a gallery is fitting for me. “Are you thinking about me and my future, and do you have my best interests (in mind)?” Being here at CIA, just having someone come within my studio space and really taking the time to think about the surface and the texture of work—it’s such a silly thing to do, and taking it so seriously made me feel really special. It’s good to feel special as an individual outside of being an artist! That was a good means of encouragement for me.

Whether it was in the studio or not, what fond memories do you have of being at CIA?
My best friend Ethan Marks ’19, I miss him dearly. He drove up to Cleveland a couple of weeks ago to see my space during the residency. He lives in Pittsburgh now. I love and miss Ethan. He’s a super-weird person to hang out with. (Laughing.) We totally connected. We would go to Jolly Scholar and he would get kicked out of karaoke. (Laughing.) We couldn’t hang out there for more than three or four songs without getting kicked out because he was utilizing it as some weird practice for performance art that I guess he couldn't use the space we were paying for (CIA). Yeah, going to Jolly Scholar was fun. I remember it as a karaoke bar with cheap beer.

What advice might you have for students interested in pursuing a career similar to yours?
I can only pretty much say that you need to understand what you want. I know that seems super-literal, but I think having a good sense of what it is that you want out of your career could totally benefit you. So, if you’re spending a lot of time on social media, and you’re spending a lot of time looking at artists who are on social media, understand what it is that they’re doing using their social media and spaces. And, people who are oriented online, how do you see yourself within that space?

If you want to work with galleries, what sort of research are you doing and what is your understanding of where you are? Being able to place yourself in a certain reality makes where you’re going to be so much easier to comprehend. For me, when I left CIA, or during my senior year, I was already thinking about what sort of space I imagined myself in.

Knowing what you don’t like, and knowing where you don’t want to be or the type of people you don’t want to be around, and figuring out your people and type of artists who work the same way as you or listen to the same music as you, and something that matches your overall life—people you vibe with and who pass the vibe check—being socially aware of where you are, I guess.

You mentioned earlier that your parents didn’t take you to museums. How did you find out about CIA?
There were three separate occasions, actually, when someone mentioned CIA. Being in high school, that’s when I first started dealing with a paintbrush and learning about painting as an actual serious thing with all of this rich history. My high school art teacher, Sarah Curry ’01, recommended that I apply to art school. I was like, “I absolutely won’t. That seems silly.” So, that was the first time that art school was even brought up to me. I didn’t realize you could go to school for art. I was playing sports and doing all these things in high school.

The second occasion was ... I have family that live in Euclid, and after graduating high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So, I went to this open critique space where you could submit some work at this old library or something. It was in this super-sketchy building and I was the youngest person there by, like, 50 years. And, I brought my work in and (CIA Painting faculty member) Lane Cooper was there as one of the people reviewing the work. When I met her for the first time, she was like, “You should apply to CIA.” And, I was still like, “No.”

And then the third occasion was ... I enrolled at Tri-C (Cuyahoga Community College), in the painting program, and I was still trying to find excuses, I guess, to make work. My professor at the time, Dennis, told me at the end of the semester, during critiques, “Please do not come back here. Apply (to CIA) upstairs on the computer.” And, I listened to him. I had my mom come and help me, and I applied to CIA. And, here I am. Now, this place (CIA) is so familiar to me. University Circle is 10 minutes away from where my mom lives, so it’s a very small world.

I don't think I realized you started at Tri-C. Was it for a semester or for a year?
I went there for a year. I was taking courses while I was in school, also. My mom had me sign up to take classes while I was in high school. She wanted me to go to school, and I wanted to go to school too, but all of my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do after high school. I didn’t, and I didn’t want to f*** around with any of my mom’s money. So, I took my time, and I was super-anxious about it and hard on myself because of that. So, I’m grateful that I spent the time to realize this is really what I wanted to do before starting here. Had I started here right after high school, it might not have been the same.

Anything else about the work you’re doing these days or being here for SIE or CIA in general that you'd like to add and that I didn't ask about?
Absolutely, yeah, I think on a final note, coming here (to Cleveland) to make work during my residency, that was intended to be a research project, and it was sufficiently fulfilled in every way. It was an idea I came up with about a month before coming out here. I just had this random idea, “I want to come to Cleveland. I miss it here and there’s so much to do.” I wanted an opportunity to spend time and do all of the things I’d do during a residency: go to the nearest cafes, and simultaneously, also do research on my family. They’re all from Cleveland, they’ve never moved around and they all live in these tiny homes. It was really nice to have Cleveland as a safe space for me to gain so much out of, and it’s really opened my eyes to where I’m from—and seeing it as a possibility of moving back to in the future. I love Cleveland, and I’m grateful to be from here.

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