Studio Artifacts is an interview series, which invites artists to select, examine, and discuss some of the significant items they keep in their workspace and gives readers an intimate glimpse into their practice.

Alexis Arnold with iridescent sheet.
Alexis Arnold with iridescent sheet.

Alexis Arnold is a San Francisco-based artist who uses natural and manmade materials to explore time, transformation, and visual experience.

TUBE. Magazine: Would you like to start by talking about your rock and mineral collection?

Alexis Arnold: Ever since I can remember, I had a rock and mineral collection. As a child my dad got me interested in it. He collected fossils and kept them in egg cartons. Which is something I still do with my collections.

My fascination with rocks and minerals has stayed pretty consistent since childhood. There are not many objects I feel the same way about. They are these magical little worlds that came to be because of this perfect lineup of events and ingredients. There is an array of forms, colors, and shapes, which are produced through various natural ingredients. It is incredibly fascinating.

There is a geological timescale that is visually evident through these forms. It could be a build up such as a concretion or something that has been eaten away by water or time.

T: How were you inspired by your Dad’s collection?

A: We took a lot of camping trips and things like that. Wherever we went, we collected things together.

T: Do you look for specific items? Or do you collect whatever catches your eye?

A: It’s definitely whatever catches my eye. I’m trying not to pick up too many things all the time. I have a collection of rocks that look like faces and other kinds of comical things. I also love collecting minerals. It’s satisfying to find my own minerals and remove them from of rocks. Iceland is a really good place for collecting. I went there the summer of 2015. I went to some beach not expecting to find too much and it was just littered with minerals embedded in rocks and I picked at some of them. I have integrated some of those into artworks.

Icelandic Rocks.
Icelandic Rocks.

T: Did you go to Iceland for the purpose of finding inspiration for your art?

A: Yes, definitely. The whole country is incredibly inspiring. It’s a really young geologic place. It’s a place where you can see things that are active and young geologically. There are waterfalls everywhere and you can see the paths that they’ve perfectly cut through the hillsides. It’s a unique experience to get to see how these how these geological features are formed. In geologically older places you have to use your imagination more.

T: Where do the items in your rock in mineral collection live after you find them?

A: They are all over! I have a home studio, which is mostly in my garage. But I also work upstairs in my home, as well. So the rocks are all over the house and the studio. I also grow my own crystals on objects. So the crystals make their way around everywhere as well. I find them in my shoes all the time.

T: Are there any minerals or rocks that stand out from the others in your collection?

A: I’m fascinated by concretions, which are accumulated masses of matter. They inspired my series of artwork, called Concretions. I acquired two recently. One that my husband brought home and one I found in San Luis Obispo. I have some ulexite, also known as TV Rock. It has unusual optic properties. When it’s placed on top of an object, it projects an image of the object on its surface. I have a really big chunk of obsidian that I quite like, too. Obsidian is one of the rocks that I found frequently as a child so my connection to it is very nostalgic.

T: I can definitely see the geological influence in your artwork.

A: Yeah, geology and geologic time is a constant theme throughout my work. It also connects to the idea of transformation, which I explore in my work as well.

T: Do you want move on to your iridescent, prismatic, holographic, and optical objects collection? When did you start collecting these types of objects?

A: The minerals inspired my interest in creating light and interactive artwork. The minerals I’m fascinated with have refractions, reflections, and color changing properties so I definitely think my interest in rocks and minerals inspired my optical objects fascination and vice versa. While working with my crystallized object series, I started introducing iridescence, light reflection and refraction into my work, which made me want to pursue it further. I am also interested in providing viewers a non-tactile way of interacting with my work. I create pieces that change color with the light, environment, and viewing perspective.

Another origin was a trip to Korea. There was a lot of iridescent and holographic clothing everywhere. I started acquiring a bit of a collection of holographic shoes, bags, and clothing.

T: Some of these optical materials seem at odds with the natural materials you use in your artwork. Is it a challenge to find a balance between the two?
A: Yeah. It’s fun to put these disparate materials together. With the show that I had at EN EM Art Space in Sacramento, I explored the juxtapositions of the heavy versus the light and the light versus the dark.

T: Do you often have an idea of an optical effect you’d like to achieve and then look for materials to create that effect? Or is it the other way around?

A: It’s both. I’m definitely very material driven and I find things I’m not looking for all the time. I had a period of experiencing scintillating scotoma visual migraines. I was interested in replicating the patterns that I experienced through the migraines. The migraine auras also overlapped with the patterns in the work I was already creating. Using mesh was a good way to show what I was experiencing.

T: Let’s talk a bit about your art collection. Which types of art are you drawn to?

A: I usually find myself drawn to sculpture but displaying sculpture in your home is a tricky thing, especially when you live in an apartment in the city. So I have some sculpture in my collection but the majority is probably 2D art.

A lot of my collection has been acquired through trading with other artists. This is a lot of fun and a really great opportunity as an artist to be able to trade with friends who you respect tremendously but may not be able to support financially. That’s been one of my more exciting ways of acquiring and I like knowing that my work is going to be in people’s collections through the trade, too.

T: Are there any artworks in your collection that stand out or influence your own work?

A: I think all of them as a whole serve as inspiration for me. I respect all of the artists whose work I have in my collection. Being surrounded by the artwork of artists I respect motivates me to make more art.

Specifically, I think some of the pieces that I find myself spending the most time with are two paintings from Casey Gray. I went to grad school with him. His work is all aerosol based. He uses mostly stencils, but it’s hard to tell by looking at it. His work is technically mind-blowing. He constantly creates new work and experiments with new aesthetics. We have one, which has a bunch of elements I really enjoy including plants, cinder blocks, and other things that I am drawn to in my daily life. We have another, which features a fish with an open mouth. My husband and I have a bit of a fish mouth fetish. We really enjoy that one. It’s in or bedroom and I enjoy waking up to it.

Painting by Casey Gray.
Painting by Casey Gray.

Just having gone to grad school in the Bay Area, where I currently live, has introduced to me a lot of wonderful, talented artists that have allowed me to fill my collection. Through EN EM, I was introduced to Anna Valdez. We’ve done a number of trades and she’s been a great supporter of mine and I have several of her paintings now. They’re quite lovely to live with. I have a lot of plants around my house. Being a florist was my first job and I was a florist as well during grad school. Her work is all plant based and pattern based so it definitely fits into my home nicely.

Work by Anna Valdez and Dana Hemenway
Work by Anna Valdez and Dana Hemenway

We also have a lot of fun art. My husband is probably the driving force behind the slightly kitsch and comical stuff we have. We have some Colombian chimp folk art pieces that we went on a little binge of buying. There are all of these anthropomorphic chimps. One of them is a chimp sculptor carving an image of Jesus out of plaster. We also have a collection of ceramic dog sculptures we found in Korea by Jung Eun-hye. We have a balance of serious and lighthearted work.

To learn more about Alexis Arnold and view her artwork, visit

All photographs are courtesy of the artist. Words: Justina Martino.

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