<art nerd alert>
I find this city edgy. Edgy like when it still was a concept difficult to grasp. Like when your art professors tell you your work is "edgy" because it's good beyond trendy and too raw to fit in. Berlin still feels like that, but it also feels like it's changing fast.Read More
Bosmat Gal became interested in the country of Georgia after hearing stories from friends about how beautiful and pleasant this country was. Gal knew this location had become particularly popular amongst travelers looking for low budget flights and backpackers, but she was actually interested in exploring a country originally home to many fellow Jews.Read More
Gustavo Herrera, a.k.a Kad Montes, was born in Medellin, Colombia. Due do the violence in the 1980s his family moved to Garagoa, a town in the region of Boyacá. He currently resides in Cali, Colombia, where he's been living for the past 10 years.Read More
Melissa Angel Cabrales is a 31-year old artist from Cali, Colombia and a graduate of the Universidad de los Andes. Her work tends towards the experimental and eclectic, which is reflected in the diversity of materials and imagery she employs in her paintings.Read More
Stephen Sonneveld won the Kennedy Center Outstanding Playwright Award, has freelanced for publications as diverse as the LGBT-themed Windy City Times and MAD Magazine, and written and produced various independent film and publishing projects. He has won writing awards from Warner Bros. (the Short Romantic Story Competition, judged by Rob Reiner), as well as collegiate and local competitions. His screenplays have placed in fests such as the New York Television Fest, and the Austin Heart of Screenwriting Festival.
In this interview with music editor Álvaro Morales, Sonneveld talked to us about being a screenwriter writing other genres, about coming from a bloodline of artists and craftsmen, and about using political issues as inspiration for his pieces.
Álvaro Morales: You have worked in screenwriting and other writing genres before, what made you choose the comic strip format for Greye of Scotland Yard and what was the transition like?
Stephen Sonneveld: Before I answer any questions, I would like to thank MiddleGray and the MiddleGray readers for taking an interest in my work.
Greye actually started as an idea for a screenplay, somewhere between wanting to create a detective along the lines of a Columbo or a Poirot - an iconic character you could plug into any situation, and wanting to do a heist movie.
I did my research and could not develop a feature-length story that I was satisfied with, but I had all these other good ideas for crime scenarios. So, it occurred to me to create a detective to solve all these unconnected crime plots. That evolved into the five cases he solves, with the big arc of this once great super detective realizing he no longer is.
I do not honestly recall the bridge that brought me to making it a comic strip. I greatly enjoyed the Chester Gould and later the Max Allan Collins Dick Tracy strips, so maybe the impetus was that if it wasn't going to be a screenplay, it would make sense as a detective strip.
AM: Did you have any prior experience working in the format?
SS: No, but I wanted the challenge of telling a story in 4 to 5 panels on a daily basis. I love the format and admire what so many great storytellers, from Winsor McCay and Segar to the modern creators, have done with it. I wouldn't call it a competitive streak, but, as an artist, you always look at things and wonder, "I would do it this way."
Initially, I wanted to see it published on a daily schedule in a newspaper, because I wanted to challenge the notion that a comic strip has to run on forever. This was intended from the get-go to be finite, 298 strips. I pitched it to the papers and syndicates as a special limited run event, but it fell on deaf ears. I wrote and drew it for an adult audience, figuring that they're reading a newspaper full of terrorism and murder, then go home at night to watch the same on their TV, so why not do a strip that addressed mature issues, as well - something that would bring new eyes to the comic page? I love the format, but I wanted to challenge it as much as it would challenge me.
I also liked the idea of drawing something that seems so abstract just by itself, that readers would scan the newspaper page and it would catch their eye; they'd look at it and say, "What the hell?" But then be intrigued enough to see what happened the next day, and before too long, have all of these individual abstractions coalesce into a complete image.
AM: You have a very distinct visual style. Did you have any formal illustration training prior to this?
SS: To be honest, illustration/the visual arts is inherited from my father's side. As far as pursuing it professionally, my great-great-grandfather was an immigrant craftsman hired by Mr. Pullman himself to design the gold work for the Pullman rail cars.
Drawing was literally in my DNA, and it was an activity my parents encouraged since I can remember. I would write and draw stories about my favorite heroes on newsprint art pads, rip out the pages and staple them together in book format. It wasn't until high school that I took formal classes and experimented in different media and did life studies.
But even at that point, I was actively pursuing creating comics. All art tells a story, but this unique, American way of merging words and story was a medium I knew I wanted to explore. For instance, our English class was given an assignment about the Vietnam War over Christmas break, and I took those two weeks to write and draw a 50-odd page comic book about a veteran trying to make peace with his past.
AM: Who are some of your visual inspirations?
SS: The first name on that long list is Steve Ditko, best known for co-creating Spiderman. My uncle, a fine artist in his own right, had a tabloid-size Spiderman book filled with Ditko art. Few artists convey a sense of movement and lead the reader's eye like Mr. D. His art just grabbed me, and that book - Spidey facing the Green Goblin for the first time - lit a spark.
I would later learn that Ditko went beyond design and ended up scripting his issues, contributing to the development of the Spiderman character. He had a falling out with the publisher and never drew his co-creation again. To have the courage to walk away at the height of your run and not look back, I admired him even more for being a person of conviction.
I would pour over Leonardo da Vinci books. His drawings of fabric, when you follow from the sketchy top into the fabric, it appears to be a three dimensional piece of fabric sitting atop a page. Genius is too small a word for a man such as that. I love that he tried things, too. Would I like to see his lost paintings? Of course. But the story of him experimenting with paints that later betrayed him is almost better, because it reminds you, especially as an artist, not to be complacent. He had to bribe crypt keepers to let him draw the anatomy of dead bodies. He had to scrape away a mountainside until he found sea shells miles above the sea. He had to keep moving forward.
In drawing Greye, I realized how much of an impact David Llyod's V For Vendetta had on me, both in the content he and co-creator Alan Moore brought to life, but also in Lloyd's sublime artwork. It is one of those books that elevated the form in every respect, and, for my money, is the best comic ever produced.
The story and the lush quality of Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon comic strip stirred my imagination, the Walt Disney Studio delivering works of art in Pinocchio and Fantasia and so many others, Jim Henson's designs and humor, Berkeley Breathed's style and satire... there is a lot of art in the world to admire.
AM: In your experience, what are some of the differences between telling a story visually and telling it only through writing?
SS: A friend once told me that no Tarzan on the silver screen ever lived up to the one he read about, that he, as a reader, in a sense helped create.
I think the best answer to your question is that the more words you use, the more you will editorialize, and the reader will either revel in the confines of your horizon, as my friend did with his Tarzan books, or you will push people away from that emotional connection, even if your craft is sound.
For instance, I really enjoyed the first half of the movie Wall-E, because it was a silent film. The robot went through his experiences and I, as a viewer, told the story in my head, according to me and my worldview and biases. But the moment people in the film started talking, and the filmmakers started editorializing, telling me what the movie was about, however well done, and however valid their theme, I lost interest, because they took my movie away from me.
AM: You have also worked in film and television. Would you say you draw from that experience in your comic strips and other writing work?
SS: Yes. I was fortunate enough to participate in theater and forensics in high school, and I had a marvelous teacher, Mr. Sackett, who encouraged me to create original scripts.
I found I have a good ear for natural dialogue that I think is owed to being an actor and struggling to deliver a line naturally, and not falling into a cadence. When you are forced to deliver lines someone else wrote, you, as a writer, begin to have an appreciation for the economy of words.
Arthur Miller wrote a wonderful scene in All My Sons where the lovers agree to marry one other without ever mentioning anything as blatant as a proposal. The audience knows it, the actors know it, and it never needs to be so explicitly said, because Miller crafted his words so brilliantly. He wasn't playing a game with the audience, or anything cheap like that, he was an artist making a scene his own.
I heard a story that the only writers Brando ever memorized were Tennessee Williams and William Shakespeare, because they respected the language. Whenever I put pen to paper, that crosses my mind, a mini-challenge, would Brando memorize this?
The commonality of plays, films and comics - for me, anyway - is to boil it down for what really needs to be there. Look at Chaplin - a great actor can tell you with his or her eyes all you need to know, so why bother bringing down that moment with overkill dialogue? The critic Pauline Kael once said that movies were nearly perfect, and then they added sound.
So, yes, these thoughts and experiences are definitely in the back of my mind when I am laying out a page: Can I show this, rather than tell this? Is my dialogue believable, is it respecting the language?
AM: What draws you to topics like terrorism, espionage and government secrecy?
SS: Those terrible George W. Bush years really laid bare just how fragile our systems are when amoral people such as Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld are at the helm. Bush was Republican, Congress had a Republican majority, it was their chance to deliver on political promises and make the world a better place. Instead, all their policies have resulted in are dead American soldiers and a destabilized region that makes groups like ISIS possible.
Showtime recently aired a documentary about Muammar Gaddafi entitled "Mad Dog," where Gwenyth Todd, former White House NSC director for Libya, recounted with disbelief how an oil exec cried when he was told oil sanctions would not be lifted; then, during a State Department meeting to discuss lifting sanctions, how government officials proposed discrediting the families of the terrorist attack victims on Pam Am 103 so as to make Gaddafi look good by comparison. (link to video, timeline 10:47 - 12:55)
Though I feel with Greye and some earlier work, like the comic book W.M.D., that perhaps I've said all I need to about terrorism and government secrecy, I am drawn to the topic because the topic does not have to be that way. We look at these Grecian columns upholding our government buildings and are in awe, that maybe the people inside them have some special knowledge or key that the rest of us don't. No. They're people, same as you and I. We do not have to accept their incompetence or their outright abuse of power. We do not have to settle.
Is Greye an artistic achievement anywhere near Guernica? No, but it's something. It's still a canvas to express an idea.
Social systems affect everyone at once, such as the stock market crash that caused the Great Depression. Art affects us one at a time. The Gene Hackman Civil Rights-era film Mississippi Burning got good reviews, and award nominations. Some people liked it, some didn't. But it also made a South African apartheid police officer question if he and his police force were acting in a racist way. The film changed his mind, and he became part of something that, in time, changed his society.
There is no reason why we cannot change the world.
AM: What other topics would you be interested in exploring in the future?
SS: I have an idea for a feminist comic that I might publish on my Tumblr. Beyond the idea, I'm interested in creating a work specifically for the endless scroll of Internet readability. Rather than just paste a comic book page on to a site or blog, how else can you tell a comic story without it morphing into animation?
The way women are treated the world over sickens me. Stoned to death, burned for witch craft, every other headline domestically and internationally is about gang rape. Enough is enough. Religious and social institutions need to be held accountable for their part in perpetuating the ideas that lead to these terrible events.
In addition to that topic, a few years ago, I started writing what became a series of articles on Bleacher Report about the NFL's lack of common decency to change the racist name of "redskin." I'm proud to be a voice in that debate alongside so many others who are all wondering what year we are living in and why the NFL is allowed to be racist against American Indians. I may write more on that.
AM: What are you working on at the moment?
SS: Since being featured in the latest issue of MiddleGray and then published on Comixology (link), Greye received some great reviews and responses, so I am hoping to build on that and collaborate with editors and publishers on projects they might be developing; get out of my comfort zone.
AM: What can readers expect from you in the future?
SS: Something different! You don't need to reinvent the wheel every project, but there should be some growth, some new idea, hopefully a maturing talent evident in each new work.
I am as interested as you are to see what I do next. When opportunity meets inspiration, we'll find out!
Resa Blatman received her MFA in painting from Boston University in 2006, and her BFA in graphic design from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 1995, and she taught advanced level graphic design at MassArt since 1997. Resa received several grants and awards, including a nomination for the 2010 James and Audrey Foster Prize at the ICA, Boston. Her work is included in private and corporate collections, including Fidelity, Twitter, the Hilton Hotel, and the WH Ming Hotel in Shanghai, China, and her work is reviewed and featured in numerous magazines, journals, books, and online blogs.
In this interview with visual arts editor Catalina Piedrahita, Blatman talked about the process of crafting her cut-edge paintings, about the content of her most recent work and about the Boston art scene, among other things.
Catalina Piedrahita: The first time I saw your cut-edge paintings was at Liquid Art House a few months ago and I thought they were stunning. The intricacy, the detail and craftsmanship in your pieces are unbelievable. I feel I could spend hours looking at one piece and always find new shapes hidden in the layers and layers of lines and color. Can you tell us about the process of putting together these pieces? How and why did you choose this medium?
Resa Blatman: Thank you for the generous compliment about my paintings. I'm always grateful to hear that my work inspires people so much.
The layered, laser-cut paintings are put together almost like a puzzle. I have an idea in mind of what the surface should look like before working on it, but it's rare that the layered pieces stay as I initially imagined. For the ongoing series of paintings/installations called "Gaia," I generally start with long pieces of black, dripping sludge/oil, then I'll add land and sea animals, birds, fauna, invasive plant species, etc. Over those pieces I put layers of clear plastic with hand-cut and painted swirls. Many of these surfaces jut out from the wall, but the painted swirls protrude the most, and undulate, coming about 10-12 inches from the wall. The last thing I add are the flowers.
I chose the medium for its durability, lightness, translucency, and ease when laser-cutting.
CP: It’s my understanding that your most current work speaks about climate change issues, why did you decide to focus on this theme? Why is it important to talk about climate change?
RB: Global warming is an enormous issue. We need to tackle climate challenges quickly and with as much dedication as possible for the well-being of our health and the earth itself, which is the only home we have. I've always been worried about the environment and brought those concerns to my paintings, but after seeing the documentary "Gasland" a few years ago, it became clear to me that I needed to explore the climate issue more thoroughly in my creative process. Since then, the work has expanded to be much more than I ever imagined. The interest in my new paintings/installations, discussions around them, and the issues, have been very enlightening and satisfying.
CP: Can you tell us about your graphic design work? How does it coexist with your fine art work? Do they influence each other?
RB: I've been a professional graphic designer since I graduated from MassArt in 1995, and I taught design there for 15 years as well. I love graphic design, typography, and making things look good, and it was obvious from the start that my painting style influenced my design. However, when I started painting full-time again, I was surprised to see how much my graphic design influenced my paintings. I create the laser-cut edges using my design skills but, without realizing it, the paintings themselves were also influenced by graphic design. Over time, the work has found its own stylistic voice, and while I still use my design skills to create the laser-cut surfaces, the paintings are made with more organic, free-form spontaneity.
CP: What are your thoughts on Boston’s art scene? In your eyes, what’s great about it and what is it lacking?
RB: Unfortunately, Boston's art scene has always existed in the shadow of New York's, but I'm not sure that's the hindrance it used to be. The web has changed the way we view the world, including the art world, and has evened the playing field a bit. Boston's museums have increased and expanded to make us an art destination, but the gallery scene still lacks in size and force. It's expensive to run a successful gallery and it's hard to know what the future holds for Boston's galleries as the price of rental space continues to increase.
CP: It’s always an honor to be able to include well-accomplished and established artists in our issues, so thank you for helping MiddleGray expand its community and visibility. Thinking back when you started your career as an artist, what would have been a valuable piece of advice you wished someone had given you? What would you have liked to learn back then that might have made things a bit easier to launch your artistic career?
RB: It's hard to say exactly, as there is so much advice that could be helpful. But while advice is often given, it's also often ignored until we're ready to hear it. I suppose the most important suggestions would be to be persistent; stay open to feedback; work with purpose, integrity, and confidence; and remain brave in the face of rejection, as it comes often.
Michael Gray studied at the Art Institute where he received his Bachelor’s Degree and is now working on getting his Masters of Fine Art Degree at Florida International University. He has shown at several Miami art shows and has illustrated various children’s books including “The Coldecott Chronicles” and “The Hummingbird”. His works revolve around themes including the chaos of nature and also focuses on the language of the body. His recent work “Lolita” reveals the chaos of the natural world and depicts the negative effect of the presence of man upon nature through the body language of the whale being trapped.
In this interview with visual arts editor Catalina Piedrahita, Gray talks about protest art, spaces for this kind of art and the importance of using the skills as an artist to contribute to activist conversations.
Catalina Piedrahita: First of all, welcome back to MiddleGray Mag! It’s always a pleasure to have recurring artists featured in the zine, specially when you can witness their artistic progress. Can you give us an update to where you’re at with your career? What are some projects you’ve participated in since you were first featured in MiddleGray?
Michael Gray: Since my first appearance I have been busy getting into the FIU Graduate program for fine art. Since then I have worked on the “Oceanus” mural project with the Peace Mural foundation on Miami Beach (1601 Washington Ave). I am currently working on 7 portraits of the people who make Art Basel possible for Brickell Magazine. These portraits will be featured in their December Art Basel edition.
CP: Let’s talk about “Lolita.” How did you get involved in the creation of this mural?
MG: Since I have been working with the Peace mural foundation, I have been exposed to a different utilization of art skill. We were working on a huge mural based around the ocean and it’s conservation. We began talking about specific species that may need some public attention and our local Orca whale Lolita was brought up. A few sketches later we had a plan and within a week we had the Masonite panels ready to paint.
CP: Do you think there is a need of more available spaces to create political/social art in Miami?
MG: Absolutely, there are so many things we are ignorant to and so many things we need to be aware of. I, like many, really care about our ocean and our natural Florida habitat. More needs to be done in the conservation of these things not only for future generations but for our environment itself. I never realized that using my artistic skills could cause such commotion and awareness. It is definitely something I will continue doing because it is something worth doing.
CP: How important do you think protest art is? Do you think more artists should utilize their skills to create different kinds of awareness?
MG: I believe that if you feel strongly about something or care for something so much, you should use every means available to you to express your thoughts or views. If you have artistic talent, even better. Sometimes people can’t be told what to do but they can be shown an image that might change the way they look at something and that is what I aim to do with my murals. I hope that others can follow and really help make a difference.
CP: For those artists trying to get more involved with social/political/ecological issues, can you advise how to go about it or where to find spaces or groups interested in this kind of art?
MG: I found my way – by accident actually – to the Peace Mural Foundation on Miami Beach (http://www.peacemural.org/) and there is always something happening. They (Anna Huong in specific) really taught me how to make a statement with my work. But ultimately it’s a fairly simple process, find something specific you would like to stand for and make the work. It takes some research on the subject and on your audience but it’s a great way to get your statement and your artwork exposed on a larger scale. There are groups almost everywhere, it’s really up to you to find them and show them how you can contribute.
Laura Knapp is a recent graduate from the New England School of Photography in Boston where she studied fine art and portraiture photography. Laura previously studied at Bennington College in Vermont until 2012, but left after two years to pursue her photography studies. Photos from Laura have been featured in exhibitions at Stone Crop Gallery in Maine, Black Box Gallery in Oregon, The Kiernan Gallery in Virginia, as well as Photo Place Gallery in Vermont.
In this interview with MiddleGray's visual arts editor Catalina Piedrahita, the artist talked about what she is up to one year after her first feature in Middlegray, about how her artistic approach has changed after graduating school, and about her most recent project "She is Sure."
Catalina Piedrahita: The first time you were featured in MiddleGray Mag you were an art student. MiddleGray has grown and evolved over the last year, I assume you have as well as an artist who has now graduated from school. How are things different from that time when we first published your work. Who’s Laura as an artist now?
Laura Knapp: Laura as an artist now is someone who is more concerned with giving other artists the opportunity to share their work. Graduating has ended a certain chapter of my life and thrusted me into the work world. I’ve been working really hard on my blog “She is Sure”, doing retouch jobs here and there, and working at my school. Instead of sitting on my butt and doing nothing during much needed downtime, I force myself to work on my blog. I want to give female artists the chance to showcase their work in a friendly and artistic environment, especially if they are artists who may be too shy to submit their work elsewhere.
CP: One thing that hasn't changed is that you are still making self portraits. Has your approach to selfportraiture changed? If so how?
LK: My approach has definitely changed since graduation. It’s extremely helpful to have critique while you are attending school, but it can be somewhat limiting if you’re with the same group of people with the same view on your photographs from week to week. This summer I stopped caring about what would tickle my teacher or classmates' fancies, and instead, I started doing whatever I possibly felt like doing. For the first time, I set up some speedlites in my apartment and photographed myself hiding in a polka dot sheet. It seemed like a really stupid thing to do, and I had wanted to do it for a long time, but once I started photographing I realized how fun it was to let loose. I accept others' opinions of my work, but I recently realized that the only way I’ll feel totally proud of my work is if I am the main person who is impressed with the work. It’s one thing to create a wonderful photo in the eyes of your viewers that you don’t personally contact with, but it’s a completely opposite and amazing thing when you create a photo that captures the entire essence of what you’re looking for in a particular moment. I love to explore every way I can take a self portrait. I don’t want it to be straightforward all the time.
CP: Now that you are out of school, is it more difficult for you to create artwork? How do you stay motivated to keep producing work on a regular basis?
LK: My main priority since graduating had been to find a steady job, which meant that there hasn’t been a huge focus on constant photo creation. I don’t mean to be a downer, but being out of school has made me a little lazy with my photography. There are no teachers or fellow classmates any more telling me to make work, encouraging me to push through artist’s block. It’s now all up to me. That can be very daunting so I’m forcing myself to create photos every weekend when I have free time. The transition from 100% photo creation 24/7 to sometimes having a spare moment to photograph has been really tough. I’m still entering calls for entries and pushing my work out in the world in order to stay focused and encouraged to make more work.
CP: I’m a big fan of your blog “She is Sure.” I’m always in the look for spaces that give underrepresented people a chance to share their thoughts and experiences so I can expand my knowledge. How and why did you decide to create a space like this for female artists? Why is having this space and managing it important to you?
LK: The reason I created “She is Sure” is probably not what you’d think. I’ve always hated writing, I absolutely love to read, but ask me to write something and I run the other way. In order to face that fear (annoyance?), my blog was born. I wanted to trick myself into writing because writing no longer felt like an annoying task when I was talking about female artists I really admired and wanted to share with the world. I love being able to share female artists who are making work, but aren’t necessarily showing it to a wide audience. I want to give these women a shout-out and let more people hear about their work in hopes that it will catch the eye of someone who really really loves it as much as I do. I don’t know what it is, and it might just be my opinion, but I feel like quite a few women don’t feel confident enough to share their work in public. I want women to feel confident enough to share their work on the internet because that is the biggest audience you can get these days.
CP: Do you have future plans for She is Sure? Are you planning on expanding this blog somehow?
LK: I hope to feature more artistic projects that are about mediums other than photography. I love photography and it is my life, but I would LOVE to have more artists submit from other mediums so the blog becomes well rounded and involves the entire art community instead of just a specific thing such as photography. I am excited to start doing seasonal playlists where the featured artists from the past get to choose a few songs that inspire and excite them during that time of year. I am a huge music fan and creating these playlists is giving me a chance to expand the blog to feature more mediums such as music.
Kathryn Shriver is an artist working in drawing, beading, and embroidery. She was born in Buffalo, NY, has studied in Paris, New York, and Aurora, NY, and currently works and studies in Montreal, QC where she is an MFA candidate at Concordia University in the Drawing and Painting department.
In this interview with visual arts editor Catalina Piedrahita, Shriver shared details about the importance of intricacy in her work, how nonsense and frivolity can be transformed into thoughtful actions and how grad school has freed the artist and helped expand her work.
Catalina Piedrahita: I am very impressed by the amount of detail in your work. The pieces look very minimalist at first glance, but the more I look at them the more complex they become. I am also very intrigued by the hidden female figures (or what I see as female figures) in some of your drawings. Do these figures have a specific meaning? Can you tell us more about these delicate crouching bodies?
Kathryn Shriver: Thanks so much! Intricacy, detail, and closework are really important meditative devices for me- the long, focused, and often repetitive processes of creating detail allow me time and a platform for meditative making in order to tease out meaning and questioning. I like to think too that tiny points of convolution can draw a viewer in for a similarly prolonged meditative experience, so that the work doesn’t only function on a one-way trajectory; detail can create hubs where viewers’ considerations, associations, and curiosities can converge with my own reflection and revelations in making. That being said, moments of intensity have to be tempered with open space for reflection, processing, and wondering.
In terms of the figures, the series has a lot to do with fears of and inquiries into the fallibility of our bodies’ physicality: the fact that you can’t censor or block out what your skin feels, how you can’t control the turn of someone else's gaze, and even just the simple fact of mortality. These figures were a starting point for me in investigating the emotional ramifications of bodily vulnerability, the ways our bodies escape our intellectual control, and where we seek refuge from this.
CP: Can you tell us more about the usage of textile in your art? Why did you choose this specific material to create your three dimensional pieces and as an inspiration for the textures, shapes and forms in your drawings?
KS: My mother and grandmother both taught me various forms of sewing, from an early age, and by the time I was ten I had extended that craft interest into beading as well. Beads and fabric have always been in my life, and they connect me not just to my personal history but to histories I can never be part of. Thus, fabric was a good visual reference for a source of refuge in my drawings that both offered comfort as well as opportunity for the darker troublings of the figures to expand out from lighter, fruitful signs and associations.
Durational and reflective processes are very important in my work. The incremental nature of sewing and beading processes lend themselves to this easily. The ornate and often historically poignant aesthetics of busy textile patterns are also visually immersive and connected to a million tangential pathways and ambiguous references, which help facilitate imaginative and generative meditation. The tactility of beads and fabric really helps me to engage with the physicality of art making as well. The connection between head and hand in drawing has always been my starting point, and this connection is emphasized, though different, in textile works.
The sheer beauty of dozens of tiny accumulated beads or the disorienting effect of layered patterns can’t be written off either! I read a book by Marian Bantjes called I Wonder that, through a collection of her own writings and a selection of quotations from other authors on graphic design, ornament, and marvel, relates wonderment to criticality. Thus, ornamentation, indulgence in material, and even nonsense and frivolity (all so closely related to beading) can be thoughtful actions rather than vacant amusement or occupation.
CP: What inspired your creative process? What is the need to depict your concern with chaos, the intangible and the physical?
KS: I spend a lot of time alone, reading things I don’t completely understand, and daydreaming that my situation is more magical than it actually is. Weird thoughts, ambiguity, misinterpretation, and fantasy are all frequent occurrences in my life. The really exciting thing is that these all are grounded in some reality, memory, occurrence, or part of the collective conscious as well as my own bodily experience. Think of all of the things that we (as individuals and collectively) have experienced and know, have imagined, and invented. All of this is planted in our brains (and elsewhere in our bodies), and even things that we don’t remember, or realizations we haven’t had slip out sometimes through daydreams, funny phrases stuck in our heads, or a collection of disparate memories that always seem bundled together. I like to think of all of this as rearrange-able, harvestable, malleable media that I can tease out, recombine, embellish, and re-present in the form of an artwork that can then further expose and expand upon all of these things we didn’t even know we already knew.
CP: I see that you keep journals, which by the way, are beautiful art pieces themselves. How is this important to you at an artistic and a personal level?
KS: On an artistic level, these journals are the homes of all of my weird thoughts, memories, and associations that feed and are the outcome of my meditative making which serve as the building blocks of my work. Learning how to record memories that aren’t language or story-based has been really enriching as well—remembering a feeling or moment by a smell or a piece of ephemera like a flower petal or a rip in the page, or by a seemingly arbitrary detail like the color of a coat a stranger was wearing. I also like toying with recording insignificant moments and seeing how I sentimentalize them over time, inserting a jumping-off point into an apparent void.
On a personal level, these journals help to give me a sense of continuation between all of the different phases that I’ve had in my life over the past few years that sometimes make me feel very isolated and decontextualized. Recently, I’ve lived in a few different places and have been estranged from people who are important to me, and my sense of home hasn’t been stable. Every different phase has its benefits and drawbacks, but each new step I take seems somehow completely separate from the rest, and I have a hard time dragging my histories along with me. It’s like hauling a heavy quilt full of the dirt and grass that you’ve dragged it through, but the right side is facing down. My journals help me to remember to go back and flip up a few corners of the quilt to see all of the different fabrics, stitches, stains, and rips that it’s made of, and to keep adding on to them instead of trying to start another quilt from scratch.
CP: How has art school helped or change your artistic process? What is a specific difference between before your artistic training and after it, if there is any?
KS: Art school has torn all of the confidence I’d garnered as an undergrad right out from under my feet. This has been humbling, intimidating, and freeing. It has made me infinitely receptive to ideas and a voracious reader and statement-writer (and re-writer). I’ve begun looking at my journals more specifically as research for my practice, and have better carved out my stance in certain areas of art making, like my faith in small things and critical ornament. Lastly, being a non-painter in a Painting and Drawing program has made me think a lot about my relation to different narratives in modern and contemporary art history, especially those surrounding painting. My current project is a sculptural spin on But most of all, I will not die, consisting of a large-scale, hand-loomed bead project with a wooden support structure. Surprisingly, this sculpture/beadwork has felt a lot like painting, with its assemblage-like attitude and the support-surface dynamic between the wood and the beads. It’s very exciting to me to reach a place where I feel like I’m gearing up to paint again, (my foundational education is in painting) but to paint with the language and content of beads, textiles, drawing, and semi-sculpture. Seeing my work through different critical lenses and historical contexts has helped me to stretch in different directions.
Painter Andrew Fish attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City and worked as an art handler at various alternative and commercial art galleries in the 1990s. He's also worked at the Jim Henson Company in New York and the Governor's Institute on the Arts in Vermont, and has built and paraded puppets with the Boston Puppeteers Cooperative for two decades.
In this interview with editor Catalina Piedrahita, he talks about the visual languages of digital and analog imagery, about painting and about puppetry.
Catalina Piedrahita: It is very interesting to see how your art is inspired by some of the latest technology in digital imagery when this technology keeps trying to imitate analog techniques. How did you come to the realization that this was something you wanted to pursue? How was the process of deciding you wanted to create analog work that reflected a digital aesthetic?
Andrew Fish: My interest in art has always been rooted in painting. I love the materials, alchemy, and effects of the medium, so my natural inclination is to use painting to examine technology and digital image creation. I feel a sense of responsibility to use painting as a way to document the world I live in.
I’m not actually going for a digital aesthetic, per se, but rather a painterly aesthetic that references the characteristics of digital imagery. I’m curious about the role of painting in todays image-saturated world, and how an analog, or even antiquated, medium can respond to the universal appeal and application of digital imagery.
I started getting interested in digital imagery while working in a design studio in the mid-1990’s. I watched as it got more and more sophisticated and I was fascinated by the tools and applications that were being developed. As computers and digital cameras became smaller, better and cheaper, I marveled at the fearless creativity people applied to their use. It didn’t take long before the Internet was flooded with digital imagery and cameras became a ubiquitous accessory in everyone’s pocket. I think this is a major characteristic of the time we live in and will come to define the art of the early 21st century.
I worked in technology for several years, fixing computers and working in IT departments in schools. My involvement in technology reached its zenith when I ended up at MassArt College, working at the intersection of art and technology.
CP: Can you elaborate on your thought of digital vs. analog? Do you appreciate one more than the other?
AF: I appreciate both and really enjoy the unique visual languages they both have to offer. However, my relationship with digital imagery is mostly as a consumer whereas my involvement in analog imagery is as a creator. Other people make much better digital images than I can. That’s not to say I don’t make digital images - I take as many digital pictures as anyone else, and I even make drawings on my iPad - but I rarely see my own digital output as art. Instead, I use the static nature of a snapshot to define a paintings composition. I also use specific line work to accentuate that information. I suppose my use of the square format is homage to Instagram. It’s neither landscape nor portrait and feels very contemporary.
CP: How has digital technology changed how you perceive art and the way you approach your creative process when it comes to working on a new painting or drawing?
AF: Digital technology has opened up a world of image exploration like no other time in history. Sitting in front of your computer you can look at masterpieces from all around the world as well as discover new images created by some brilliant kid in a rural town. It’s a huge and wonderful world of images. Just yesterday I went from looking at Cellini sculptures from the 16th century to Sharknado mock-ups. Then I went to look at Derain paintings and ended up watching some cat videos. What does this do to my brain? What is this doing to ALL of our brains?
In regards to my creative process and starting a new painting, I mostly rely on my own digital images as a place to start. Lately I’ve been really interested in any picture I have of a figure and their shadow. At first I started looking for them in my photo albums but now I’m deliberately taking them when I’m out walking around. I allow these images to act as a drawing for a painting. This way, I somewhat remove my hand from the composition and focus on how the paint can best describe the image. For me, a digital picture is the beginning, not the end.
I also think that certain aspects of digital imagery are really beautiful. I love the backlit saturation of color on an LCD screen and the strange degradation of a print from a thirsty inkjet printer. Digital distortion and pixelation are still relatively new to the world's eyes and are unique to the visual language of digital media.
CP: The next question might be sort of out of topic, but I think puppetry is an art form that is rarely talked about, and I find it very interesting and relevant. So I’m going to take advantage and pick your brain a bit. Can you tell us about Boston Puppeteers Cooperative? How and why did you get involved with this project? This art form seems to be disappearing, and its extinction might have something to do with technology and the digital age. What do you think?
AF: I got involved with the Boston Puppeteers Cooperative when I met Sara Peattie at the Governor’s Institute on the Arts in VT. She was one of the original puppet builders for Bread and Puppet and branched out to create her own company. She’s a phenomenal artist and performer and has inspired a lot of people, young and old, to work with puppets. We perform what is sometimes called “Pageant Puppetry” because of its use in outdoor theater and involvement with the community. Like Bread and Puppet, there’s usually something socio-political and a bit subversive about the shows we put on. But they’re really engaging and a pure joy to watch. BPC also loves to stage reinterpretations of literary classics and finds new and totally bizarre ways to retell Shakespeare. I highly recommend getting involved with them. Even a visit to the Puppet Lending Library should be on everyone’s Boston To-Do list.
When I worked for the Jim Henson Company I really loved seeing the way people responded to the Muppets. Those puppets are mostly hand-and-rod puppets so they have to stay behind a barrier, which makes them perfect for television and video. Pageantry puppets are more theatrical. So in a way, if you think that technology is bringing us further away from theater and closer to video (online) than yes, technology is contributing to that shift. But I’m an optimist so I look at pageantry puppets, and puppeteering in general, like craft beer and Farm-to-Table restaurants; boutique and personal with higher social value. There seems to be growing interest in these kinds of things. Letterpress printing, knitted mittens, CSA’s, and many other fine quality things are gaining new and growing popularity. Maybe this is how our society is coping with the ever-expanding pervasiveness of the Information Age.
CP: Do you have any advice or suggestions for young artists living and working in this digital age? How can they get the most of both worlds – the digital and the analog-?
AF: I say make what moves you. If you’re a young artist who has always had a relationship with digital media, and you feel like this is a medium that helps you express whatever it is you want to express, than explore it fully. Find what works for you. This may take the form of rejection or embrace, contradiction or compliment. Maybe even a little of both. Whatever it is, it’s worth looking into.
María Alejandra is a photographer born in Caracas, Venezuela. She developed an interest in arts from a young age and studied Social Communications at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello graduating with a major in Visual Arts. María was a part of her college's theater group for a couple of years and eventually moved on from the stage to the front pit photographing live performances. She decided to move to Boston in 2012 to attend the New England School of Photography and graduated in 2014.
In this interview with visual art editor Catalina Piedrahita, Mata opens up about being an artist away from home during tumultuous times, and about coping with helplessness. She also shared some insightful tips for international students coming to the US and dealing with cultural and language barriers.
Catalina Piedrahita: In your series “Where it Hurts” you use very simple, straightforward imagery. How did you decide this was the kind of aesthetic you wanted to pursue? How did it start?
María Alejandra Mata: I chose to go with a very simple aesthetic because I didn't want to have any distractions from the actual wound. I wanted it to have an impact, and have the body be some sort of blank canvas for the wounds. I experimented with adding different elements, like smoke or changes in the color of the eyes or lips, but went back to the simplicity of the naked white body. It makes it much more vulnerable and intense, specially for me since it's a series of self-portraits. It's a very personal, intimate body of work and my natural instinct was to strip the human form of anything that could distract from the message: the pain.
CP: You mention your home country Venezuela and your experience of being away in tumultuous times as inspiration for these images. Can you elaborate more about these sentiments? What are your thoughts on Venezuela’s the current state as someone who has been able to step out and look back at it from another perspective?
MAM: During the time I started experimenting with this series was when the protests and conflicts were at its peak in Venezuela. I have never felt more connected to my roots as I was during that time. I felt like it was burning me from the inside, not being able to do anything about it and see the city I grew up in consumed by violence and misery. I was afraid for the safety of my family and friends, who had to deal with tear gas and constant attacks in the area. I felt completely hopeless, something I never truly understood until that time. I needed a way to drain all those terrible feelings from my body, so I turned to art. I had other painful personal experiences during that time, so it definitely fed that need to release the anger. It was a very difficult time to be far from home. I am safe here, but extremely sad knowing that there's no solution ahead.
CP: You also are a commercial photographer shooting bands and products related to the music scene. Does fine art photography have a special meaning for you? How does it compare to commercial photography and how do you balance both of them?
MAM: This is a very interesting question. When I moved to Boston all I was doing was shooting concerts. I was able to develop my style in these past two years and keep an open mind when it comes to shooting. My fine art work is very personal and intimate. The "Where it Hurts" series is basically an experiment, a release. It's so far from what I was comfortable with doing that it became a style of its own in my body of work. I do manage to add my own spin to my commercial work, even when sometimes you do need to keep the client's interest in mind, but to me that makes it very exciting: how can I make this my own? My work with live performances is somewhere in between, it's very emotional and organic. I think my process lends itself to be in the middle of both commercial and fine art. I work with an idea in mind of what I want to say, but the process I use isn't exactly what's traditionally conceived as a fine art process. I live comfortably in that limbo.
CP: Can you share with us your experience as an international artist coming to the US and building a career here? How difficult, how rewarding or how different has it been for you compared to a photography career back in Venezuela?
MAM: It's extremely different. When I came here I understood what it was like to walk around with a camera without fear of someone pointing a gun at me for it. The freedom I have here is incredible, and it's something you can't quite understand if you've lived here your whole life. That itself was a major turning point and allowed me to explore. I wouldn't have been able to move forward with a project like "Where it Hurts" in my country. Venezuelan society is very conservative in a weird way. Women can't walk around in shorts or skirts without having someone say something inappropriate, so the thought of doing a series of nudes was very bold and brave for me. After finishing that project I felt like I could do anything and not be afraid. The experience as an artist in a different culture is super rewarding. And not only being in contact with american society, but meeting so many people from different countries was definitely a once in a lifetime experience that changed my life for the better. It's definitely worth it. You're a very different person after going through all of it.
CP: Do you have any advice for international artists coming to the U.S. to strengthen their skills that can possibly encourage them or make it a more pleasant experience for them?
MAM: Keep an open mind! Leave all your fears at the airport. You're about to get into a life changing experience and everything becomes a part of who you are and will be as an artist and as a human being. Don't be afraid of language or cultural barriers, because that holds you down. Having this chance is something you have to live to its fullest and every single second is worth it. Allow yourself to explore things you've never done and grow. It might be your only chance to experience something like this.
Marissa Burns is an artist based in Central New York, recently graduated from Wells College with a degree in Visual Arts. Her work is an abstraction of her memories, which she represents visually through watercolor. She has been featured in Level 25 Artjournal, Bitterzoet Magazine and the Art and Found in Ithaca, NY, among others.
In this interview with editor Catalina Piedrahita she talks about photographing the abstract in nature, representing memories with watercolor and falling in love with color. She also had some advice for young artists.
Catalina Piedrahita: Being a recent art school graduate, can you share with us what you think some of the benefits are of going through an art program? How did the experience change you as an artist?
Marissa Burns: Actually, when I first went to college I thought that I was going to be an English Major. I loved fictional short story writing and wanted to publish short story books. I had done a little bit of art in high school but I was not too into it. My freshman year at Wells I truly learned a lot about myself. My first semester I took beginning art classes and fell in love with color. My sophomore year I had the opportunity to take a class at the Art Students League in New York City. This was the turning point for me. My friend and I traveled the city looking at all of its galleries, museums, and splendor. After taking that class the rest is history. I decided that January that I was going to be an artist.
CP: Now that you are no longer in school, what comes next in your artistic career?
MB: I have been working on some new watercolor pieces involving the cycle of life, and I have also been doing a lot of nature photography. The new watercolors I am painting are kind of like my other abstract water colors, except, they are each a different piece representing a different time in the life of a living organism.
CP: Can you tell us more about the process of recollecting colors from your dreams in order to create your paintings? When and where is best for you to start a piece?
MB: The pieces actually represent my favorite memories. My process for them is I think of one of my favorite past times, whether it's sitting on a dock with a friend on a warm summer's evening, or being somewhere exotic like the jungles in Hawaii, or just having a lovely afternoon with my sister. When I find the memory I try to conjure all of the colors I can remember from it, a burst of yellow in my painting might be a moment from a sunset or the color of someone's shirt. After the colors have been chosen I wet the paper and add the pigment. When I look at my surroundings I see pattern, color, and beauty. I like to bring those aspects of life into my watercolors. My work shows the world as I see it.
CP: I understand you work with photography as well. What are your favorite subject matters when it comes to this medium?
MB: What I really like to photograph are things that might make people feel uncomfortable and make the image aesthetically appealing in a surrealist way. I called my last series "Traps" because I felt that letting people engage in something that was very beautiful, but also off putting was like a trap. I can lure the looker into a beautiful image, and then it's too late, they are trapped once they realize what the image really is. I also really enjoy nature photography. Photographing plants, rocks, and earth up close really gives the image an abstract feel that I love.
CP: Are there any tips you would like to share with young artists on how to keep producing work after graduation and how to get exposure?
MB: My advice to them would be to just keep at it. In order to get anywhere in the world you have to sell yourself, the same is true for the art world. Make your images pristine, your artist statement solid, and be open to critiques that people might have about your work. Above all do not be afraid to put yourself out there.
Wicker graduated from the Arts University Bournemouth in 2012 after studying Illustration. She is a freelance artist and graphic illustrator who uses found ephemera to produce new studies of contemporary imagery. Her collaborations have been seen in shows that discuss social and cultural issues, and it has also been published in diverse magazines. The ideas behind her work are influenced by retro and vintage material that allow her to highlight socially relevant matters. Wicker is currently represented by South West Artwork in the United Kingdom.
In this blog feature, MiddleGray's visual arts editor Catalina Piedrahita asked artist Sue Wicker about the process of creating her work and the meaning behind some of her artistic choices.
Catalina Piedrahita: When it comes to your Hollywood series, how do you select the images you use in your final pieces and how is the process of putting them together?
Susan Wicker: The Hollywood series was an extension of my work carried on from my graduate show in 2012. I had obtained quite a selection of images and had them all at my disposal. The images used for my final pieces were the ones that offered an atmospheric feeling and I felt fitted the brief of Hollywood life for young hopefuls. The process of putting them together was defined first by their shape, then their colour and lastly by how the pieces seem to fit together, much like a jigsaw puzzle.
CP: How was the process of finding your artistic media, and how do you know which one to use when working on a new piece or series?
SW: During my time at Art College, in one of the many workshops, I experimented with different media and enjoyed using visual imagery in my work. I was drawn by the impact of advertisement and graphic images seen in magazines and newspapers. When I work on a new piece or series, I arduously look through the material I hold, and I source new material that may enhance my visual idea and then file away the rest for another time. The images I use for my respective pieces are the ones that literally jump out at me when spread out on the table.
CP: I see a lot of headless female bodies in your Hollywood series. Is this symbolic of something? If so, could you tell us more about it?
SW: I used headless bodies in my Hollywood series to give the work an anonymity, and to engage the inquisitive viewer. I tend to either use headless bodies or cover part of the faces of the women in my work. I do this as a symbolic respect of their identity or to highlight their vulnerability.
CP: How does your freelance illustration work differ from your personal one?
SW: Sometimes my freelance illustration work crosses over to my personal work and vice versa. I believe I have grown within my work, and I've started to experiment more in a traditional way, which is more evident in my recent freelance work. This has been the biggest difference in the way I work for a wider audience.
CP: Are you working on any new projects right now? Can you share any details with us?
SW: The most recent project I am working on is for an exhibition under the heading Icons and Legends. I was drawn by the fascinating lives of strong and successful women in the limelight. I dismissed the idea of working on a piece on Marilyn Monroe and felt the need to portray other women who may have been overshadowed by the success of Marilyn in her quest for stardom.
Nick Schietromo is a fine art photographer residing in the Boston area. His work deals with various aspects of domesticity, with one series focusing on his grandparents and another using found vernacular photography. He is a recent graduate from the New England Institute of Art and currently works as the Assistant to the Director of Gallery Kayafas in Boston, a framer at Panopticon Imaging in Rockland and an intern at the Nave Gallery in Somerville.
Recent exhibitions and publications of his work include a solo show at The Nave Annex Gallery, the Flash Forward Festival 2013: Undergraduate Photography Now, The New England Institute of Art Gallery on the Plaza, Aint-Bad Magazine and Stampsy.
In this interview Catalina Piedrahita asked Schietromo about his decision of becoming an artist, his opinion on Boston's art scene and some tips for up and coming artists. Nick also shared with us some of his favorite local shows going on at the moment.
Catalina Piedrahita: Could you share with us why and when did you decide to pursue an artistic career, and why did you choose photography as your main medium?
Nick Schietromo: Senior year of high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduated. I had a friend who had decided to get his EMT license so I figured, “Hey, I might as well do that.” While in the process of medical schooling, I had a different friend get a DSLR for Christmas that I ended up using more than he did. The more I played with it, the more fascinated I became. The endless possibilities of this hunk of technology really interested me. I started searching the Internet for different photography forums and pretty much taught myself how to use the camera properly. Constantly taking photos, uploading them to the critique portions of forums and using their suggestions to improve the way I shot.
As I completed my EMT license I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I remember telling my parents I wanted to go to an art school and their reactions weren’t as bad as I was expecting. My Mimi and mother had always been artistically inclined, so it really wasn’t a big deal for them. My dad was just as supportive and took me to all of the New England art school open houses.
CP: You have been able to exhibit your work several times here in Boston. How difficult has it been finding opportunities to showcase your work? Do you have any advice for up and coming artists like you who want to apply to call for entries or get in contact with art gallerists?
NS: I feel that there are always open submissions in the greater Boston area. And the great thing about making friends within the “photo scene” is that we are constantly sending each other links to even more of them. Personally, I am finding it a little difficult to submit my Years Later series though. A lot of submissions I find push “straight photography”, which that series is definitely not. So I’ve been looking more into other types of calls for entries as well. There are also a lot of opportunities to submit curatorial proposals as well!
My advice would be to submit to as many things as possible that seem to compliment your work. The more people see your work, the better your chances are at getting published/into galleries.
As for getting in contact with gallerists, now that I work at Gallery Kayafas, I see the other side of things as well. My biggest advice is to be as polite and considerate as possible. If you can meet in person with the director, ask if they would have time to make an appointment to review your portfolio. NEVER just walk into the gallery and expect the director to stop and look at your work.
CP: What’s your opinion on the art scene in Boston? It is growing, shrinking, the same?
NS: I’ve only been really “in the scene” for about a year now, so that’s tough to say. But overall I would say its slowly growing (and in a good way). I love everything about the art scene in Boston though. Everyone is extremely supportive and respectful.
CP: What kind of artistic venues would you like to see more of here in Boston?
NS: I would love to see more venues that combined photography and other mediums as well, specifically exhibitions of mediums that compliment each other. I find it frustrating when galleries only show one medium or another, OR when they do show multiple mediums, they are separated by theme or concept.
CP: Are there any shows or exhibits going on that you would recommend seeing?
NS: Well, I have a show up right now at the Nave Gallery Annex in Somerville until the end of May. Also, Gallery Kayafas is showing (probably my favorite exhibition yet) work of Jo Sandman, Jordan Kessler and Thomas Gustainis. If you can get a chance to check out any of the Flash Forward exhibits that are up, those are all fantastic as well! (http://www.flashforwardfestival.com/exhibitions/)
Brian Kaplan also has an opening at Panopticon Imaging on May 17 that I’m SUPER excited for. I’ve been a fan of Kaplan’s since he last showed at Panopticon Gallery, so seeing his work again will be great. It’s a little ways off but I’m also really excited for the Somerville Toy Camera Festival June 5-29th. Last year was fantastic so I can only imagine how great this year will be! They are going to be showing in FIVE galleries! For more info, check out their website (http://www.somervilletoycamera.org/).