artist spotlight – david r. modler


it’s funny how our lives seem to cross paths with like-minded folk, isn’t it? a few weeks ago, i shared a postcard that was sent in by artist, david modler (if you need a memory jog, you can see it here). i found out (thru the use of my honed instagram detective skills) that david has a community driven, collaborative project of his own – something i happen to be obsessed with… so, i asked him for an interview to learn more about him, and more about his awesome project.

first off, tell us about yourself.
My name is David R. Modler, I am an art maker, art researcher and art professor originally from Baltimore, Maryland with over twenty-five years of art teaching experience at the K-12 and university levels. I earned my Bachelor of Science and Master of Education in Art Education from Towson State University and my Master of Fine Arts in painting from James Madison University. I have co-authored two books in the field of visual journals, Journal Junkies Workshop and Journal Fodder 365 which explore some of the stylistic, conceptual and contextual concerns of my research and studio practices. I facilitate numerous presentations, workshops and lectures around the world as well as maintaining a prolific studio practice creating paintings, visual journals and installations at a variety of venues. I live between Austin, TX and Shepherdstown, WV and currently work at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia as an Assistant Professor of Art and Coordinator of Art Education.


tell us about your project. i love artistic collaboration and starting conversations… what inspired the project?
The tet[R]ad Project and Draw and Play Here Initiative were started in reaction to the mutual disappointment felt by myself and my artistic accomplice Sam Peck with various sketchbook/journal round robin activities in which we had participated. Those types of collaborations involved large groups of people and journals that were mailed in a chain of exchange between all the participants. Our experience had been that the books always got “lost” somewhere along the way, either one participant got overwhelmed and did not get around to working in the book and then forwarding it along, or maybe it got lost in the mail. I always figured there must be one person in the chain of exchange that ended up with all of the books, did not work in them; then got embarrassed or frustrated and the round robin cycle ended there. However, I still wanted to develop collaborations, share ideas and have places to draw and play with others, so Sam and started sharing a 11”x 14” journal and that expanded to finding more collaborators.

So, Tet[R]ad was developed to be a collaboration, not with a large group, but between myself and one other person. With this type of process there are only two people involved in the exchange, therefore if I do not have the book I know it is with the person I am exchanging. I currently have over 100 artistic collaborators that I personally exchange a 4” x 6” journal with and my friend Sam has about the same number of collaborators. It takes a commitment and dedication to the work to keep the process moving forward, but maintaining that kind of work ethic for myself, and fostering it in others is a primary goal of the project. There are no real rules except to honor the space that you are sharing with your collaborator and in that way the book becomes a practice of negotiation and true collaboration. On average I keep the book about a month, work in it, then send it back to my collaborator; and they are encouraged to follow the same timeframe. Of course sometimes the book gets kept longer on one end or the other and that is really not a problem because there are no real hard rules to the project. In my experience, each book tends to take on a cadence of its own, if I get the book back quickly from someone I try to honor that pace and return it just as quick.


how did you come up with the name?
When Sam and I planned to launch the project in 2013 at the Open Engagement conference in Portland, Oregon we formulated the mind map that is in the front cover of each book and came up with the name tet[R]ad. Most of this was in reaction to presentations related to the Deleuze and Guattarian theories about the rhizome we had attended at the College Art Association Conference. We found the discussions about the concepts of ever expanding networks and non-hierarchal entry into processes very interesting and decided to build our project around these ideas. The researchers we met seemed to take everything way to seriously, and in a tongue in cheek reaction to that named our newly developed partnership the Rhizome Research Resource Rangers. This lead to more research on our part to find a name that was shorter yet encompassed the conceptual concerns of our journal exchange project. We came up with a bunch of ideas, but when we researched many of these names or acronyms we brainstormed we found out there were already various companies and organizations using those monikers. This is how we came to the name tet[R]ad; a tetrad is a concept that happens or exists in four parts, so we took the four “Rs” from the first letters of each word in Rhizome Research Resource Rangers and decided tet[R]ad just seemed to work. We both thought it was synchronous that the “R” existed in the word tetrad and therefore stylized our title to highlight the “R” in brackets.

We also liked the stylistic nature and unconventional orthography of our title being in lowercase letters and the “R” highlighted and capitalized. This not only echoes the original concept of the Rhizome Research Resource Rangers but also an intended gesture of humility because we do not own tet[R]ad, tet[R]ad is only as strong as the dedication of its participants, therefore anyone involved in the project can claim co-ownership.


what medium do you prefer to work with?
I consider myself a mixed media artist and work with a wide variety of materials. When in my physical studio space, or on location to install a site responsive work I tend to use acrylic paints, gel mediums, graphite, ink and collage. However, in my visual journals I tend to work with more portable materials, (i.e. Uniball pens, watercolor paints, watercolor pencils, water-based markers, paint pens, metallic Sharpies, found collage elements, etc.).

I find the portability of my materials, and the journal as a site for my work and a post-modern conception of a post-studio practice. Although the work exists inside the constraints of the book, I do not remain focused on the traditional physical site of artistic practice, because I can take my journal anywhere. I also feel that the collaborative aspect of the exchanges, the spontaneity of the work and the element of surprise found in each book that arrives in the mail helps my work embrace a wider framework for art production and dissemination.


what inspires you to create?
My personal narrative is the driving force in my studio practice. Furthermore, I feel the images and concepts that emerge in my work are the people, places and things that comprise my lived experience. Therefore, I view my work as documents of these narratives, visual expression of these stories, and an accumulation of evidence that attempt to define the icons and archetypes that exist in my practice of everyday life.

who are your favorite artists?
Matthew Ritchie, for his approach to installation work, the generative nature of his process, and his articulation of how context defines everything.

Mark Bradford, for his aesthetic as a maker, his use of collage and de-collage, his sense of scale and use of found materials in his work.

Julie Merhetu, for her approach to mapping, layering of materials and imagery and ambition in the scale of her paintings.

Franz Ackermann, for his candy colored palette, mixture of imagery that takes on a ‘mental mapping’ quality, use of cartoonish abstraction and his pastiche of architectural, naturalistic and organic elements.

Barry McGee, for his transgressive “street art” inspired aesthetic, his attention to narrative, and his use of color and pattern.


if we want to participate in tetRad, how would one go about that?
Participation in tet[R]ad and the Draw and Play Here initiative is open to everyone, and mostly free of charge. The price of admission is basically the postage a participant pays to mail the journal between themselves and their artistic accomplice. However, the book is free through a generous donation/sponsorship from Canson Papers. If some one wants to exchange with Sam or me they can contact us at the email below:
David R. Modler:
Sam Peck:

Interested participants that already have another artistic accomplice in mind can likewise contact us and we will send them a book to get their person exchange initiated.

We will also be teaching workshops at the following venues:

Art Unraveled in Phoenix, Arizona: 1-5 August 2016
Art and Soul in Virginia Beach: 25 September – 1 October 2016

We are also wide open to invitations to bring some mischief and mayhem anywhere! Anyone can contact us if they would like to hire us to provide a workshop at their venue.

what are your future plans for tetRad? (do you have plans to exhibit? publish?)
In 2015 we had one exhibition (Draw and Play Here: Session #1) of the project at Shelf Life Gallery in Greensboro, NC and we have an upcoming artist residency and exhibit (Draw and Play Here: Session #2) planned for the 2016/2017 at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC. The site responsive installations are a combination of our personal work and encourage a collaborative community action to make art in a shared space. The exhibitions also include any of the tet[R]ad exchange journals we may have on hand.

We are also wide open to invitations to bring some mischief and mayhem anywhere! Anyone can contact us if they would like to hire us to exhibit at their venue.

We have plans to write and publish articles about the project, as well as potentially develop a book that documents the full scope of the project.

how can we keep up with your work?
Look for me on social media:
Instagram:  @DRMODLER
Twitter:  @DRModler
Facebook:  /david.modler.1
Images are posted to #drawandplayhere

why do you love austin?
I love Austin because it is where my fiancé lived. I travel between West Virginia and Austin for my work, but have always hoped to find a job in Austin so I could just stay. I have made a lot of contacts, and applied for many jobs at local universities but have yet to land a full time position.  I have not given up hope and I keep looking every year! If anyone reading this interview knows of something please let me know! I am also getting married in Austin 25 June 2016, another big reason this city holds a special place in my heart!

for inquires, please contact david directly. now, go be awesome!
with love, as always,

*all photos provided by David R. Modler.


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