Beacon Gallery has the unique opportunity to meet and work with a range of artists, partners and members of the wider art community. Beacon Gallery Connections allows us to take a closer look at their personal journey, and get a better understanding of their relationship to art.

Beacon Gallery Connections: Martha Chason-Sokol

Martha Chason-Sokol stands in front of one of her installation pieces, a dinner table with six seated figures.
Martha Chason-Sokol poses next to one of her characters at Beacon Gallery.

We are pleased to introduce Beacon Gallery’s inaugural Artist in Residence, Martha Chason-Sokol.

As both an artist and the founder of Art Lab Everett, Chason-Sokol uses art as a way to speak to our contemporary culture and political climate, emphasizing the democratic nature of art through her creative processes.

Martha Chason-Sokol uses discarded, found materials to create installation pieces.  She explains the significance these materials have for her, stating that:

“By grabbing what is around me, I reflect on the items in my life that tell my story with the understanding that others will have stories about these materials as well. I depend on a thing’s unmodified color, familiarity of material and organic shape to connect the viewer visually with my subject matter.  My characters are shaped by the objects from which they are built… The stuff of our culture is transformed into fantastical shapes held together with plastic wrap and tape. The objects within the pieces are provocative; the pieces themselves are fantasy. Together they form the fairy tale of the everyday world in which we all struggle to survive or thrive”

– Martha Chason-Sokol

Her Beacon Gallery exhibition, The Dinner Party, explores the concept of a democratic art process, extending the idea of coming together beyond just the meal it depicts, but also to the community that is built when people convene to co-create.

Martha Chason-Sokol hosts a collaborative art making session at Beacon Gallery as part of her residency.

Beacon Gallery recently interviewed Martha Chason-Sokol about her path as an artist and how it has guided her to where she is today.  The conversation follows:

How did you get started in your career? 

My work as an artist began when I graduated college and moved to NYC to “be an artist.” It began again, several times. Most recently, after my brother’s suicide in 2013, I turned once more to art as a place to survive trauma. I began by drawing for a year with a one size dip pen and walnut ink. I wanted to add color and create more depth with the drawings, so I turned to encaustic painting. I created paintings, hanging pieces, books and collages. 

What was the hardest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in your career?

The hardest obstacle that I needed to overcome was to value something for which I could not earn money. For me, artmaking is a place, a calling and a way to communicate. I always worked to earn money separately from making art and never even considered that I could earn a living as an artist.

How has your practice evolved over the years?

If I were to have entered the art world today, I would choose the category of interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary artist. I began as a painter and printmaker out of college and have explored many art forms and media. Most importantly, my practice has evolved since realizing that art is a practice. It is not necessarily the individual pieces that I make, but the consistency that I have developed in continuing to make art and, finally, the value that I place in the making.

What are near-term (and longer-term) plans for the future of your work?

Just prior to the Beacon Gallery call, I had a solo show at Gallery 263. My goal for this year was to both create an installation and attend a residency that I didn’t have to pay for, so Beacon Gallery has more than filled those buckets. For any artists considering this in the future, this residency comes with a stipend. 

My next goal is to create a public art piece that is a full collaboration. I have been applying for fellowships and other opportunities. This residency was an opportunity to invite collaboration. I intend to continue my individual art practice, but, in addition, I find community in working together with those who consider themselves to be artists as well as people who have not had the opportunity to participate in creative making.

Who or what inspires you in your work as an artist?

I recently graduated from Lesley University College of Art and Design, so that is a very difficult question to answer as my world exploded with inspiring artists. Visiting artists, those in my cohort, mentors, advisors. Most importantly, finding community with artists as well as colleagues.

But – Arshile Gorky was my all time favorite for many years. His calligraphic use of line and ability to connect space and form was mind blowing to me. I find Louise BourgeoisPersonages incredibly compelling. Most recently I have been influenced by Rachel Harrison, Isa Genzken, Arlene Shechet, Michelle Segre, Jessica Stockholder, Brenda Goodman and Nicole Eisenman.

What impact do you hope or want to make on the public and/or society in general?

My work is concerned with listening, communication and democracy. I use materials that are accessible to everyone. While much of my work is entertaining on some level, I hope to provoke people. My characters are figurative, but also abstractions. The colors call people to look and offer the viewer a moment to explore the materials used to create the forms. The materials are either recognizable or listed on labels and are intended to prompt memories. Artmaking is a way into our humanity and I hope to offer this experience to anyone who might be interested.

How does Beacon Gallery’s mission resonate with your work?

Beacon Gallery’s focus on social justice resonates with me because it is also the focus of my work. This residency has given me a platform to try something new and so far it has been a true learning experience. It has provided me with the opportunity to welcome the public into an artmaking experience and by doing so to grapple with ideas of democracy, what it means to be respectful of the contributions of others as well as to follow my own vision. Who gets invited to the dinner party? Who does the inviting? Who just wants to watch tv? And what are they watching?

 What drew you to this residency?  What do you hope to get out of the experience?

My dining room table was being stored in a crawl space and it occurred to me that the table could be the central focus of an installation. As I was considering the installation, I saw the call to apply to the gallery for this residency. 

Since beginning this residency I have learned a great deal about balancing the open invitation to contribute to this installation with my own ideas of what the piece should look like. I am exploring ways in which I can guide the process and listen to the people who are making contributions.

It is exciting to invite participation, which expands my perspective while at the same time, staying true to my own vision of this piece. I am sitting in the gallery answering these questions, looking around at the pieces that have been created so far, wondering who will participate in the next two and a half weeks and what the total experience will have been by August 28th.

Can you share an important misstep you made in your career, and the outcome? What lesson did you learn that may help others, and what advice would you give your younger self?

My misstep has been not to recognize how important artmaking is to me and my advice is that it is never too late. Grief is okay, but move forward. You have a voice that others might want to hear. 

Can you share something about yourself that others might be surprised to learn?

I grew up in Auburn, Maine until I was six years old and I have a twin brother.

Many thanks to Martha for taking the time to share with us.  To keep up with Martha Chason-Sokol and her creations, visit her website and follow her on Instagram at @chasonsokol.

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