Sharing a Beer with Molly Noem Fulton
Molly Noem Fulton is a proud South Dakotan, and one awesome painter. She is currently showing her work over at Fernson on 8th. While setting up the gallery we had the opportunity to share a beer with Molly. Here's what went down:
Fernson: What bands/musicians are you into right now?
Molly: John Denver is always my first answer. After that, I’ve been listening to José González a lot lately. Macklemore from time to time. James Taylor’s Copperline dives me into flow in an instant. First Aid Kit and Nathaniel Rateliff are frequents.
F: What are you drinking?
M: Black coffee at morning, Wagonplane at day’s end
F: Thank you for the plug. Check out Wagonplane here. :) You say you’re a “South Dakota girl raised in the pines, at home on the prairie.” How would you describe SD to a newcomer?
M: I have a Minnesotan friend whose dad always says, “South Dakotans are so nice.” Ironic from a Minnesotan, but it’s true. Folks of South Dakota are, as a rule, good people. We show up for our communities, and we help each other out. So that’s the first thing that comes to mind. But as much as anything, South Dakota is about the land. There are rich stories here. From the Lakota who made their homes across the sprawling prairies, to my Scandinavian ancestors who came out on little more than a hope, to the leaders like Peter Norbeck who saw the beauty in the places and spaces of South Dakota and worked to protect them. I think the only way to really get South Dakota is to drive it. To walk it. To visit all its nooks and crannies. There are beautiful places tucked all across our state, and to me, the best ones are where the people are scarce and the buildings few. When you can hear the wind and feel the soil, whether that’s atop Black Elk Peak or laying in the grass on the Fort Pierre Grasslands, that’s how you understand South Dakota. And I can’t describe that, you have to go be in it. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
F: You reference “play” in your posts and website a lot. We make beer for a living so we definitely understand play at work. Tell us what that means to you.
M: I think we’re conditioned to look for results in life. To be goal oriented rather than process oriented. At least I am. I’ve found that’s fine to a degree, but at some point it creates a hole. You can have all the drive and determination in the world, but if it’s used just to get to an end point, there ends up not being much joy in that process. I hear our collective voices talk about “when we get to…” or “after this is done then…” It becomes a hamster wheel: once you’ve reached your goal what’s next? The next goal. And if we aren’t enjoying the time between the end points, we’re not really alive. We’re just moving from point to point. It’s become critical to me personally, and I see it becoming important in parenting my boys, to understand that the process is the goal. I hear the poster in the high school classroom: The process is the journey. But that cheesy poster is right: Chasing a goal becomes exhausting without joy in process. There has to be joy in the doing or we’re missing out.
I could talk about this all day, but that’s what play is to me. Play is putting in the effort, play is working towards something down the line. But more than anything, play is freedom to be in the moment, to enjoy the process, and listen to what’s happening as you work. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote about this much more eloquently in his book Flow, but I’m learning real play is joy. And our work is always better, richer, more authentic when it involves a joy in the process.
F: Sometimes I can find objects or people in your works, other times I can’t tell what it is. How do you decide how realistic to make something?
M: My baby went to kindergarten this year, giving me a heartache, but also the opportunity to dive into artwork in a different way than I’ve ever had. I’ve had the time and space to really put myself into my work. The first few months of that was freeing, but it became exhausting. That goal-oriented approach I talked about was really driving me initially. And the effects of it started to show: I got crabby about my work and myself as an artist, and yet I couldn’t stay out of the studio. Staying in that space would have been as much a negative feedback loop as any I’ve been in. I realized something has to give; I have to enjoy the process of creating without letting the end goal control me. So I think I’ve gotten better at playing in my work. I’ve mostly stopped worrying about how realistic something is; most of the time I have a thought or feeling in mind while I’m working and that’s what I’m trying to convey rather than an image itself. Often times we don’t think about the landscape around us, and yet it’s there all the time. It makes me wonder how landscape affects us. So when I paint and draw, I really don’t start from a realistic place. I may get there, but that’s pretty much accident. What I’m really thinking about is how a place makes me feel.
F: How do you make time for these explorations as a parent?
M: Carefully. Purposefully. I make time for it, in much the same way I make time to run or to pray. The duties of life list is long, it is for everyone, but it’s easy to make the “should do” list overtake everything else, because it’s long and it’s endless. The laundry, the bills, the mowing, the dishes, the grocery shopping. See? It’s an endless cycle, and an end product one at that. Given in to, it can keep us from all sorts of living. So, how do I make time for creative explorations? I just make the time. When I don’t, my checklist may get completed but inside I’m frazzled. When I do, some things go undone, but I’m a better person.
F: What other cool things are happening in SD that we should know about?
M: Definitely check out 4 on the 4th in Fort Pierre. I’ve got a line on a great little fun run along the Missouri River, complete with beer at the end. And then stick around for the parade.
F: If you could take us to one spot in South Dakota and tell us about it, where would it be?
M: I can’t tell you about my favorite spot. Like a good fishing hole, people start showing up at your favorite spots if you tell them about it. But, here’s one I will share: I’d take you to the meadow across from the old Visitor Center in Custer State Park. It would be January or February, possibly frigid, possibly warmed by a Chinook. Either way, it’s silent, and the air hangs about the trees differently. The ridges rise around in a circle and every dark spot in the distance could be a buffalo if you squint your eyes right. Sometimes it is. I always feel like I’m in on a little secret there. It’s such a busy place at times and yet, when the traffic is gone and the visitors have gone home it becomes something ancient. John Denver has that line, “Younger than the mountains, older than the trees.” I think I get it.
F: Tell us something else.
M: I tend to think there’s a social responsibility to artwork. Artists need to be able to make a living, yet at the same time I feel a responsibility toward art that is affordable. No matter the artist, we respond differently to original work. I’m always struck by the way children look at original work. In my experience, their whole language changes when it’s original, when you can see the textures up close. It’s worth considering how we open the doors for everyone to experience that response.