Talking with Glasstire Contributor Colette Copeland

by Leslie Moody Castro April 30, 2023

This is the first in a series of interviews with regular Glasstire contributors. Not only does it seem right to show off the talent behind this magazine (because really, our writers keep us going), but this series provides an opportunity for you, our readers, to learn more about our writers and their other endeavors. Because our writers are all doing many, many great things.

Tintype portrait of the artists with aa long, flowing beard

Tintype portrait of Colette Copeland by Scott Hilton.

I first met Colette Copeland at Artpace in San Antonio in January of 2021. I remember it vividly, because it was my first time back in the states since COVID changed all our lives, and our time coincided with her first writing residency at Artpace — a program that has since grown organically because Colette has fostered that relationship. I had no idea then that we would work so extensively and closely together through my (unexpected) time as Guest Editor at Glasstire. 

Since my appointment to this position, Colette has taken the time to encourage me, support me, and remind me that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Without her support I doubt I would still be in this role. This is who Colette is: a talented artist, a visionary of an individual, and a rock of support for so many people. This is why it felt right to start this series with Colette.

Leslie Moody Castro (LMC): Where do you live currently and where are you from? How does your background and where you live now impact your writing and your way of looking at and thinking about art?

Colette Copeland (CC): I live in Frisco and Lake Granbury, Texas. I lived in Dallas the first five years of my life, but grew up in Pittsburgh. In high school, I took a lot of advanced dressmaking and tailoring classes, as well as art classes, and I planned to study fashion design in college. There was a poster in my high school art room for a scholarship competition to Pratt Institute in New York. I applied, won the scholarship, and went sight unseen to Brooklyn, NY. It was 1984 and it was a really rough neighborhood at the time. I quickly made friends with a liquor store owner and bodega owner and they watched out for me, making sure I was safe when I got off the subway late at night.

During my college years, I worked in a variety of fashion jobs and realized that I didn’t care about the season’s new colors and skirt lengths. I didn’t want to design underwear or ready-to-wear athletic apparel. Looking back, what interested me most was making wearable art. Also, the photography classes really excited me, and I worked as studio manager for a commercial photography studio my last year in college. I learned a lot, but also realized commercial photography was not for me. I just wanted to make art, but art doesn’t pay the bills, as we all know.

I did an eight year stint in the corporate world, where I was financially very successful, but emotionally and creatively unfulfilled. In my 30s, I received a full fellowship to pursue my MFA at Syracuse University. It was such a gift to not take on debt and to be paid to make art. If I hadn’t done the corporate work, I wouldn’t have appreciated how special and rare my time at grad school was. I’ve been teaching and writing about art for over 25 years, and I currently teach digital photography, contemporary practices, and a photo/video performance art class at UT Dallas. My students inspire me and motivate me to stay current and fresh, which in turn impacts both my writing and my own artistic practice. 

LMC: What an incredible journey! Do you see fashion seeping into your practice currently? How has that experience influenced your practice over the years or currently? 

CC: Yes, definitely. In my bearding videos, I create the beards as wearable sculptures. I have created some of my costumes in my video projects as well. For one work, I spent 40 hours sewing individual ringlets of hair on a body suit. I ended up looking like a giant sasquatch, but I did win first prize in that bearding competition. 

Scan of a redacted psychiatric evaluation from 1972

Psychiatric evaluation from 1972 given to Colette Copeland, who now uses it as an artist statement.

LMC: Can you tell us a little about your practice, and do you have any upcoming projects you’re excited about?

CC: I’ve been making art since I was five. I played mostly by myself when I was little and loved nothing more than to create my own worlds. Before my mother died, she gave me a psychiatric evaluation from 1972, where the doctor remarked that I had excessive fantasizing and imaginary friends. He was concerned that my stories were about death and destruction and that I told them in a way that was inconsistent with the content. The doctor wanted to medicate me with psychotropic drugs, but thankfully, my moth​​er refused. It is remarkable to me that by age six, my artistic themes were already fully formed, and fast forward to today, I use the psych eval as an artist statement of sorts. 

As a multimedia, interdisciplinary artist, my concept always comes first. Then I choose the mediums that are best suited to execute my project. I love to collaborate with other artists. I work a lot with performance and video, so have some terrific collaborators, including filmmakers Richard Bailey, Jason Flowers, Paul Bryan and my long-time composer Dallin Peacock. Inspired by Dada, Fluxus and life experiences, my work examines issues surrounding gender, inequality, death and the complicated landscape of human relationships. Drawing from hidden histories, personal narratives and contemporary culture, I employ video, photography, performance, text and sculptural installation to question societal norms and the pervasive influence of media and technology on communal enculturation. My creative practice also includes weekly dance classes and aerial circus training. 

Image of a bearded woman posing for a film trailer with accolades and awards stamped around her torso

Colette Copeland, “COG,” 2018, HD video. View the trailer here

I am so excited about my current experimental sound project. I did my first artist residency last summer outside of Berlin. It was such a transformational experience studying with sonic thinker, composer, and sound artist Sam Auinger and his wife, artist Katrin Emler. The work there inspired an experiential sound project here in Texas, focusing on amplifying voices that have historically been marginalized (women, non-binary and queer voices). Over the past year in Texas — with Roe v. Wade overturned, as well as proposed legislation that threatens LGBTQIA+ rights — I feel it is imperative for our voices to be heard. I did a two week micro residency in San Antonio in January, recording female and queer voices under the famous Echo Bridge. I am now working on recording Dallas-Fort Worth artists/creatives inside the Richard Serra sculpture outside the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. 

LMC: What will the project be in the end? Do you know how it will manifest, or the form it will take and where it will be shown? 

CC: I am currently submitting proposals to curators for exhibitions. It’s important to me to have it shown across Texas, especially in the cities where I have recorded. I envision showing it using motion-detector, directional speakers. That way, a visitor will hear a particular voice only when they are standing directly underneath the speaker. It’s important that each individual voice is heard and that there’s not a simultaneous cacophony of voices that drown out the individual. 

Flier of a film trailer with a woman lying in milk with flowers surround her face

Colette Copeland, “Galaxias tou Gala,” 2022, HD video. View the trailer here

LMC: What is your favorite movie, and do you have a book recommendation? 

CC: My favorite movie of all time is Pulp Fiction.

My favorite book from 2022 is Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. The female protagonist is really badass, and her dog named 6:30 is a key character. I’m in the car a lot, so most of my reading is done via audiobooks. I listen to a book each week. 

LMC: What a great coincidence, I just finished Lessons in Chemistry and can’t wait to talk about it with you! I am also a little surprised that Pulp Fiction is your favorite movie! Can you tell me why you love it so much? 

CC: It is full of subversive, dark humor. I normally do not watch films multiple times, but I never get tired of watching it. The writing, acting, and music are all memorable. 

Bearded woman dressed in scales with blue snake-like hair

Colette Copeland, “The Alien & the Border Guard,” 2023, HD video. Release forthcoming.

LMC: How long have you contributed to Glasstire? What is your approach to writing?

CC: I have been a contributor to Glasstire for 11 years. 

When I moved to Texas, my first writing gig for Glasstire was to cover an experimental film screening in the dungeon of the Texas Theater followed by the Gaultier opening at the Dallas Museum of Art. Talk about extremes — I was wearing a cocktail dress walking through the men’s room at the Texas Theater to get to the dungeon stairs. I’ve also written for a variety of art magazines over the years. I started writing about art in grad school, because I felt we needed to hear an artist’s perspective about art, rather than a journalist’s or art historian’s. I don’t consider myself an art critic, but rather a champion of art and artists. I only write about what I am interested in, and my goal is to interpret, analyze, and unpack the ideas in the work — to make art accessible to a larger public. I also love doing artist interviews. It’s been such a thrill to interview some of my all time fav artists such as Janine Antoni and Shirin Neshat

LMC: What have you got coming up that you’re really excited about? I heard you have some pretty big news!

CC: Leslie, at the risk of sounding a bit out there with the woowoo, I made a decision a few years ago that once my children were grown and I was empty nesting, I would put myself and my work out in the universe in a way that was very intentional. I also decided to prioritize my art to see what might happen. Throughout my adult life, my art career/practice was filled with limitations (time and money), and I wasn’t sure if those were excuses or if with time and focus, things would change. Things have really begun to happen for me. I ha​​ve always had international opportunities and exhibitions, but in the last three years there has been a huge upward trajectory.

My most exciting news is that I was awarded a Fulbright in India for 2023-2024 to research and write about underrepresented female contemporary artists. I will spend five to six months in India in six different cities, conducting studio visits, interviews, soaking in the culture, creating art, and collaborating with other artists and academics. What a life-changing opportunity. India — here I come! It’s a gift that this happened later in life when I have the experience of active, deep listening, and a willingness to just be, rather than to do. I think about my experiences of teaching and writing, and how my understanding of infrastructures and power dynamics might challenge traditional behaviors and encourage new voices to be heard and new visions to be seen. 

LMC: Colette, this is so exciting, and we could not be more thrilled! You have worked so hard and deserve this! Enjoy every second of it! 

1 comment

You may also like

1 comment

Carmen Menza May 4, 2023 - 08:48

Great interview! Loved reading about Colette’s path as an artist and look forward to seeing/hearing her forthcoming work from time in India. Congrats Colette!


Leave a Comment

Funding generously provided by: