Daria Zhest is an artist based in Moscow/ NYC, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She has been exhibiting in various exhibitions, and currently is further developing her practice with the use of digital spaces in the city. She creates complex multi-dimensional works that redefine space in the close vicinity physically, as well as metaphorically. The work ranges from digital C-Prints to physical sculptures and interactive installations that are made on the computer using CGI software, programming software and video, an Open-source electronic prototyping platform Arduino, interactive installation, motion graphics, and particle systems that then can be output to the analogue world in different forms. One of the questions that she raises in her works is this: What happens to the state of the original, when we attain the ability to create perfect replications? Is there any purpose in the original? And where the originality is maintained in the world of digital technology that is positioned in the remaining analog world.
A'Driane "addyeB" Nieves is a USAF veteran, artist, activist, and speaker with a heart for serving others and social good. She's also a mental health advocate living with bipolar disorder, running an online mental health support group for women of color called Tessera Collective. She is also the co-founder of Addie Addye Studios in Philadelphia, PA, an art space for Philly area women artists of color. She empowers women to transform brokenness in their lives into power and beauty, and amplifies the voices and experiences of those marked as Other in society through her written and visual work. Most recently she was featured alongside Bono as a ONE Campaign activist and volunteer for Glamour Magazine’s “Woman of the Year” issue, where Bono was awarded their first ever “Man of the Year’ award for his work on gender equity and extreme poverty. She believes creating and viewing visual art that addresses themes such as racism, mental health, and recovering from trauma can serve as a catalyst for personal growth and social change. Her work has been featured on BlogHer, Everyday Feminism, Upworthy, Buzzfeed, Mashable, The Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, Sheryl Sandberg's "Option B" platform, and MISC Magazine. Her artwork has been exhibited at Wild Goose Festival, Johnson State College, WORKS San Jose, Rare Device in San Francisco, and most recently at The Other Art Fair Brooklyn. She lives in New Jersey with her robotics-loving husband and three boys.
As a survivor of abuse, painting is an excavation of everything I hid in my mind and body for survival during childhood. It is also an act of reclaiming my voice, as well as my way of establishing agency over my own body and the messages told about it and its worth. I examine trauma and pain and celebrate the resiliency, joy, and transformation that can occur in spite of it. Because my work is rooted in and influenced by both abstract and figurative expression, I’m intrigued by our internal processes as we experience life as an Other, both individually and collectively. By focusing on the impact of trauma-inherited, personal and historical, my work exposes how trauma itself shapes, alters, and redefines identity over the course of our lives. I rely on abstract, figurative forms and composition to communicate what the biological and emotional processes of adaptation, recovery, and transformation look like internally.
Jessica Curtaz is a Philadelphia-based street artist and arts advocate. She transforms public space through installing crocheted weeds, insects, real and imaginary creatures, and other, over-sized flora and fauna onto the urban landscape, bringing a feminized craft out of the home and onto the streets.
Born and raised in California, Jessica holds a BA in both plant biology and fine art from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her background in science, and early career as a researcher at UCLA, collecting water samples off a boat in the Santa Monica Bay and staring at diatoms through a microscope, has been a huge influence on the subject matter and style of Curtaz’s work. She plays with and distorts natural elements, elongating forms, tweaking shapes, and creating the macro out of the micro.
Being seasick for two years prompted a career change. Jessica completed her MFA in drawing from Claremont Graduate University in 2006, shortly before moving to Philadelphia. Jessica now works as a teaching artist, specializing in adaptive teaching methods to special needs populations including the blind and visually impaired, and adults and children with physical and intellectual disabilities. These classes focus on art both as a creative outlet and a vocation. She is an advocate for increasing the autonomy of marginalized populations as well as strengthening their voice in the larger community. To these ends she has led several public art projects, including a knit bombing installation with students at the PA School for the Deaf focusing on de’VIA (Deaf view/image art) principals and the specifics of communicating when deaf. She also organizes community volunteers to participate in her classes, work with students with disabilities and further increase understanding and communication between differently abled populations.
My work challenges the boundaries we impose around art, making it accessible to everyone. I take a practice often considered as feminine domestic craft and bring it into public space, imposing my imagination and “feminine” perspective on the urban landscape. I crochet giant weeds, insects, real and imaginary creatures, creating oversized fantastical renditions of flora and fauna, that I install, with and without permission, on chain link fences, city lampposts, and, occasionally, gallery walls. My public installations play with scale, with subject, with context and location. I spend just as much time crocheting paper airplanes that will last less than 24 hour on a chain link fence as creating a giant garden for an interior space. I am interested in navigating this struggle between creating ephemeral works, in unexpected outdoor locations, and more solid, more permanent pieces. I am interested in challenging how location equates to monetary value. What does it mean when a crocheted nasturtium is installed on a gallery wall versus when it appears outside that gallery on a chain link fence. I want to make art a part of people’s everyday lives. I want someone to be confronted with a seven foot crocheted praying mantis on their way to work, or for the fence around their parking lot to suddenly sprout giant dandelions. These pieces incorporate humor and escapism into an explicitly political feminist project, blending the banal with the fantastic, the domestic realm with the public sphere.
Ewelina Skowronska is a visual artist and printmaker, who was born in Poland and currently lives and works between London and Tokyo. After having an accomplished career in advertising, Ewelina decided to fully dedicate herself to art in 2013. She retrained and specialised in visual arts at University of The Arts London where she graduated with distinction in 2015. Ewelina’s work continues to explore the interplay between colour, shape, perspective and pattern. Her work is usually between the abstract and the figurative.
Ewelina's work has been exhibited in London, Ireland, Poland and Tokyo. In 2017, she was awarded with Print Prize by ST Bridge Foundation;. her prints are in the collection of VA Museum London; she was shortlisted for RA Summer Show 2017, and for the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2018.
My interest lies in developing a contemporary dialogue between form and colour, art, illustration, and graphic arts. It means carrying on the tradition of the post-modern, while re-thinking my own approach and aesthetics to it. Recently, I am very much interested in the human perception, its particularities, and the subjective burden associated with it. For me the act of perceiving always implies creating.
I use mostly screen-printing as a medium. I am fascinated about ways of pushing its boundaries, wondering how the process of mark making together with all limitations can influence the artwork and at the end tell the story. With strong design and illustration background, my art practice focused on a strong sense of colour play and form, exploring the line between the abstract and the figurative. I am inspired by everyday human experiences and the fluidity and movement of the human body.
As I am currently based in Japan, I see how its culture influences my work, bringing new ideas, ways of seeing, as well as new skills, like ceramic practise.
Holly MacKinnon is an artist based out of Montreal, Canada. She received her BFA from NSCAD University in 2015. In 2014, she was awarded the Art In Schools Scholarship in Stellenbosch, South Africa, where she spent a semester interning for a community art program and painting. Since then, she has been developing her body of work, experimenting with different subject matter and exploring themes such as the relationship between humans and nature. Her work has been shown in exhibitions and publications in Canada and the UK. She recently completed an artist residency in Iceland.
Her work is mostly oil paintings of figures within dreamlike landscapes and spaces. Nature is an escape from reality and provides an intense loneliness that the artist enjoys. These experiences in nature bring about a certain self-reflection. Most of the figures she paints in these scenes look lost, disturbed and lonely even when they are not alone. They seem to have wandered into the woods for want of a peaceful place. There are many ideas at play: childhood, mental and emotional (in)stability, and the relationship between humans and nature.
A still moment that seems uneventful is full of conflicting energy: calm landscape, dark ominous sky, disturbed expressions – the painting pulls us in and out of joy and despair. In these woods, experiences are not shared: they are individual and deeply personal and differ greatly from one figure to the next – what transpires in the mind of our neighbour we do not know.
Lauren Zaknoun is a photographer and fine artist from southeastern Massachusetts. A self-described "photo-realist," playing god is the thread that connects all of her images together by creating surreal portraits that bend the constraints of identity and reality. Anxiety, absence, power, and escapism are recurring concepts in her photography.
The purpose behind Lauren's work is to entice and unnerve the viewer, challenging their conception of what is real and what is not. A sense of humor and dark whimsy are trademarks of her work.
Lauren's art has been exhibited in New York, Paris, Milan, and Boston. She has been published nationally and internationally.
Benjamin Howard was raised in a household that embraced the arts. His father John Howard was an avid draftsman and practiced illustration daily. His grandmother Eleanor was a watercolorist and oil painter. At a young age Benjamin developed his own mark making, often relying on his father for help in transcribing his lines. Growing up in the 1980s, cartoons were a big part of his daily life and became a heavy influence on how he viewed line and composition. Frequent trips to the Philadelphia Museum of Art with his parents had him transfixed with the bold nature and color of pop art.
His formative years were spent doodling in the margins of his notebooks and voraciously tearing through construction paper until the next logical step: he left for art school. Benjamin attended Tyler School of Art in 1997, enrolled initially to pursue graphic design, but quickly fell in love with painting. Howard studied painting from the mid-century artists, such as Philip Guston and Arshile Gorky, admiring their quirky composition and strong contours. Upon discovering artists from the Chicago Imagists, the Hairy Who and Peter Saul, he was hooked. These artists were luring the viewer in with cartoonish quality while conveying bigger meaning.
Benjamin's current work seeks to explore the culture of everyday life infused with the fantastical. Now a long time resident of Philadelphia, traversing across the urban landscape each day lets him experience the over-sensory stimulation that inhabit his compositions. His paintings are grounded by tangible characters, such as boats, architecture, flowers, innocuous icons of American life, and otherworldly anthropomorphisms. Like his influencers, forms are derived from a balance of strong graphic line and the organic, haphazard, application of paint. Folded between these gestures are social commentaries and references to current events presented in a playful reminiscence of a children's coloring book.
Jasmin Cañas is a self-taught visual artist from the Mission District of San Francisco, California. Working with a full spectrum of color and iridescent acrylic paints, she captures and depicts images, inspired by her vibrant neighborhood, colorful family, and inspirational travels. In 2014, Jasmin was commissioned to paint a large heart sculpture for the San Francisco General Hospital’s “Heroes and Hearts” foundation. This sculpture was later displayed in the AT&T ballpark, in San Francisco’s Union Square, and the image was printed on limited edition Ghirardelli chocolate boxes. In 2016, she exhibited her collection “Matanzas”, inspired by her trip to Cuba, in a privately owned gallery in San Francisco. In late 2017, Jasmin displayed her work in the group exhibition, “Housing”, which was held at the offices of Senator Scott Wiener. Jasmin continues to reside in San Francisco, and is passionate about furthering her education and artist career.
Through my paintings, I strive to capture and interpret the beautiful struggle that is the world I live in. Often referencing Latino cultures and the neighborhood I grew up in, my work documents the good, and the bad, of the broad spectrum of what I call home. My collections of work have depicted subjects such as gentrification, community, spirituality, and family. I work with vibrant colors and iridescent acrylic paints in order to honor and record the spirit and reality of the subjects I chose to paint. Living by the motto of “stop and see the beautiful”, has evolved my work in recent years. This way of thinking has opened my creative eyes to praising the beauty that resides around me, while acknowledging the ugliness that balances our existence.
A. Laura Brody sculpts for the human body and its vehicles. Her sculptures are conceived with a commitment to social justice and are inspired by art history and the spirit of scientific discovery. Her belief that disability should not mean a loss of beauty has lead to “Opulent Mobility”, group exhibits comprised of art, designs, and creations dealing with and reflecting on disability and mobility. The 2015 and 2017 exhibits were co-curated by the disability activist and historian, Anthony Tusler. Brody gave a talk on the exhibits and their creation for the DisArts Symposium last spring, and took part in a panel discussion on the Spectacle of Accessibility at UCLA’s Disability as Spectacle conference.
A. Laura Brody has 30 years of professional costume making, designing, and teaching experience. She’s taught at FIDM and in independent classes. Brody’s re-imagined wheelchairs and walkers were shared by Frances Anderton on NPR and on The Improvised Life. Her professional career and her passion for reuse and sustainability gave her the skills she needed to create these artworks.
Interview by Sarah Mills
Where did the inspiration for The Opulent Mobility project come from?
My interest in wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility devices started after a former partner had a stroke. I was fascinated by adaptive technology but hated its cold and clinical design. The devices were almost insultingly ugly. There had to be a better option. Without medical device experience, I wasn’t sure how to proceed, so I set the idea aside and didn’t work on it for many years.
Flash forward to 2009, when my good friend Peter Soby offered me an old electric wheelchair of his to refurbish as an art piece. I came up with an Edwardian style throne that looked amazing but nearly dumped Peter on the floor because I didn’t understand that padding the back like a standard upholstered chair would throw off his balance. The idea still intrigued me, but I realized how much I had to learn.
While investigating, I discovered that few interesting designs for adaptive technology ever make it to market. I also found hidden taboos and a surprising resistance to the idea of making these devices beautiful. My research made me more curious, and I looked around to see who else I could work with. Surely I couldn’t be the only one thinking along these lines! That led me to develop Opulent Mobility as a group exhibit, calling out for other artists to re-imagine disability of all kinds.
What has been the most challenging part of this project? What has been the most rewarding?
My background is in theater costuming and craft, with many years spent working in film, television, opera, theater, and dance. Although those experiences gave me the skills I need to make my own pieces, the visual arts world is very different from the performance world and it is sometimes tough for me to navigate. Disability arts can be tricky for an outsider, and I do my best to operate thoughtfully in that arena. The biggest challenge, though, has been finding accessible and affordable gallery spaces in Los Angeles.
On the positive side, this project has given me so many opportunities to learn and grow. I love collaborating and working with others, and the people I meet through the exhibits and my research are overwhelmingly welcoming, bright, and fascinating humans to work with. Each step of this process challenges me in the best of possible ways, and I’m looking forward to the next steps.
What do you hope people take away after viewing one of your pieces?
My pieces are inspired by my love for art and social history and the desire to repurpose and re-imagine old materials into new forms. These base materials are often overlooked or discarded, in the same way, that our society treats disability, and I want people to see new possibilities. My art is primarily about starting a conversation. Disability doesn’t need to be treated as a tragedy, a taboo, or an “inspirational” lesson. It is part of life, and has both benefits and drawbacks, like anything else. I want my pieces to celebrate all of our states of being.
Where do you hope your work will go moving forward?
The goal for Opulent Mobility is to expand the conversation, bringing the exhibits to new audiences and developing collaborations with like-minded artists and disability arts organizations nationally and globally. I’d love to work with disability arts festivals and events in Ireland, England, and Australia!
Some collaboration efforts are already in process. Ellice Patterson of Abilities Dance in Boston and I are working on a Black Panther-inspired walker for her performance at Hub Week 2018. I created decorative wagon covers and wheelchair wheel covers for the pediatrics ward at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena. The next step is developing interactive workshops for people to personalize their adaptive devices.
What is your favorite part about creating three-dimensional works?
I think with my hands, and I think in terms of sculpture instead of two-dimensionally. Reused materials speak to me: it’s like they are buried treasure, waiting to be discovered. Truly, though, my works don’t feel complete without interaction with others. Maybe it’s my years of theater and performance-based art training- my works need to be touched in order to come alive.
What is the best piece of advice you have received that you would like to share with our readers?
This is the advice of all the great artists and writers that I admire: there is always a way in. Find it or make it, and pursue it for as long as it works for you. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy or that the path will be clear, but you’re guaranteed to find something valuable if you keep searching.
What is next for you? What should we be on the lookout for?
There is a lot on the horizon! Opulent Mobility 2018 will be at Thymele Arts in Hollywood December 2-8th. I have two solo exhibits coming up: Kali/Medusa runs November 10- December 16 at Highways Performance Space and Gallery in Santa Monica and Goddess/Monster, a show with Project La Femme, is scheduled for the beginning of February at the Magowski Arts Complex in Fullerton.
The next Opulent Mobility is planned for 2019, and I welcome your suggestions for great accessible venues.
Hiba Schahbaz was born in Karachi, Pakistan and lives in Brooklyn, NY. She works primarily with paper, black tea, and water-based pigments. She depicts women’s bodies while referencing self-portraiture, creating a space for herself and other women to tell their stories and reclaim their histories. Since migrating to the United States, her practice has expanded from miniature painting to human-scale works on paper.
Schahbaz trained in miniature painting at the National College of Arts, Lahore and received an MFA in painting from Pratt Institute. Her solo shows include The Garden (Spring/Break Art Show, 2018), Hiba Schahbaz: Self-Portraits (Project for Empty Space, 2017), Hanged With Roses (Thierry Goldberg Gallery, 2015), and In Memory (Noire Gallery, 2012).
Schahbaz has participated in numerous group exhibitions; including shows at NiU Museum of Art, The Untitled Space, and Center for Book Arts; and at art fairs such as Pulse Art Fair, Art.Fair Cologne, and Vienna Fair. Her work has been written about in Vice, Hyperallergic, The Huffington Post, Coveteur, Vogue, NY Magazine, Art Critical, and others.
Schahbaz has curated painting exhibitions in Pakistan and India. She was an artist-in-residence at Mass MoCA, The Wassaic Project, Vermont Studio Center, and the Alfred Z. Solomon Residency at the Tang Museum. She teaches miniature painting at the Art Students League in NY.
Interview by Sarah Mills
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I can’t say that there was a single decisive moment. When I was a young girl, I would keep little scraps of paper, markers, and a torch under my pillow. I would draw imaginary landscapes hidden under my blanket when I was supposed to be sleeping. I always assumed that I would be an artist, and luckily life flowed in that direction.
When did you decide to start creating large-scale works? What pushed you to do so?
I began painting larger human scale works a couple of years ago. It was a big shift from miniature painting, and although I’d been thinking about it for years, I was still hesitant to do so. I think the shift happened because I had become very comfortable and settled as a miniature painter. I needed to develop something different. I craved growth (no pun intended).
In part, the transition also happened because I began painting the gaze. When I moved to New York, I wasn’t painting faces at all. Over time, I began painting the side profiles of figures and eventually the women in the paintings turned to face the viewer. At this time I wanted to make their eyes life size to further this engagement.
How did your work in miniatures inform your large-scale works?
I trained as a miniaturist and painted within the genre for over a decade. I see the human sized paintings as an extension of my miniature works. I still paint very stylized bodies and imaginary landscapes. My use of tea, pink, and turquoise are the same colors I utilized in miniature paintings. I also still use a fine miniature brush to articulate areas of detail. Most of the materials I use are a direct extension of my miniature practice, such as handmade paper, tea, gouache, watercolor, and gold leaf.
Can you tell us a little about your studio practice?
I’m a full time artist. My studio practice is entirely self-disciplined and self-motivated. I like working at my own pace and being in a state of flow at the studio. I prefer to paint without goals for exhibiting my work, and I don’t need deadlines to get things done. I find I’m most satisfied when I work without pressure and my paintings develop organically. The opportunities to show these paintings arise along the way.
I appreciate harmony. I wake up with the sunrise and come to the studio first thing in the morning. Early mornings are very important to me, since I’m most centred and productive when I have substantial mental space and quiet time in which to work.
In the studio I often work on more than one thing at a time. These days I’m not working from preliminary sketches or drawing or color studies. All my energy is going into the paintings themselves. If I get stuck, I shift my attention to another work until things fall into place. I often shift scale, moving from working on large paintings to small ones.
What has been the biggest surprise you have faced in your art career thus far?
I think the biggest surprise has been all the support and encouragement I have received from both inside and outside the art world since moving to New York. Even when things got rough in my own personal journey as an artist, I always feel stronger and more accepted when I received a note from someone who had seen and experienced my paintings for the first time. It’s always a surprise and it’s always welcome. I feel a lot of gratitude towards everyone who has supported me on my path.
What is one piece of advice that you got that you feel our readers would benefit from hearing?
Believe in yourself and make work for yourself. If you’re fulfilled as an artist, the rest of the world will come around. Ninety percent of the validation you need should come from within. Consistency is key, so work everyday—it’s not about ‘feeling’ inspired. Lightning will probably strike you before inspiration does! You’re an artist, so create your own inspiration. Never give up.
Karina Puente is a Mexican-American artist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her fine art paintings, charcoal drawings, and modern Papel Picado installations reflect the cultural heritage of the Santa Ynez Valley where she grew up. Puente’s large-scale backdrops are hand cut and dyed in her studio. Her works have appeared in weddings, community events, galleries and museums across the country. She has exhibited in the Corcoran National Gallery, Miami MoCA, Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Studios at Mass MoCA, and The Weeksville Heritage Center in New York. Puente’s process is often site-specific and supports individuals and organizations align to their mission through strategic co-creation.
Based in México City. After working for several years in advertisment industry, I began my self-taught painting studies in 2013.
I graduated in Graphic Design from Universidad Iberoamericana. Following this, I worked for nearly twelve years as the Creative Art Director for various renowned international advertising agencies, such as Publicis México and Zeta Advertising. As a publicist, I learned to work under pressure on several projects at once; I gained a thorough understanding of how the industry works through dealing with customers, planners, brand managers, designers, producers, models etc.
Despite working full-time as a publicist, my artistic education never stopped, as I was always learning from the work of other art directors and great photographers, whom I was fortunate to work with both here in Mexico and abroad.
In 2013, driven by my passion for the visual arts, I decided to leave behind advertising and devote myself entirely to artistic activity, to somehow reconnect with the spontaneity I had in my childhood. Thus, over the last four years, I have launched myself on a new career path, experimenting with various self-taught techniques of pictorial representation, formats and themes, which have guided how I define my vision and identity as an artist. This change in my life has given rise to deep personal introspection, closely linked to what now shapes my body of work.
My work is a reflection on the human condition, linked intimately to my psychological and therapeutic evolution. I view the body as a mechanism that not only functions physiologically, but as an emotional vessel that contains our entire temporal and spiritual history. In this way, the body perceives matter and space, through which it learns to experience its own humanity.
Everything around us has a dual manifestation. We have day and night, good and evil, feminine and masculine, love and fear, etc. This is so obvious that it is taken for granted. Consequently everything, absolutely everything that exists, has to be composed of the duality of these opposites. In my work, these apparently discordant forces are expressed in the flesh as a single dynamic unity.
Starting with the body’s emotional fluctuation, I explore the oscillation between love and fear as primary antagonistic vital forces, using the human body as a tool to represent the constant movement of our reality. This permits the incarnation of mutant emotions through the creation of impossible anatomies, similar after a fashion to x-rays of the experiences that we undergo as people while evolving.
In the same way, my painting explores the boundaries of the tensions between the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic on the same support. It probes the resulting dichotomous movement between the beautiful and the grotesque.
You went from working in advertising to leaving it behind and becoming a self-taught artist. Can you tell us about that transition and how it affected your work?
No doubt working for many years surrounded by talented creatives in the gestation and production of visual messages educated my eye and my aesthetic conception. I acquired the discipline and understanding to realize that good ideas take time. However, in my case, advertising showed me that which I didn’t want to be.
From my personal point of view, advertising sells via deception, projects idealized scenarios and nonexistent archetypes. Needs and products are newly created to prevent large corporations from losing market share, preying upon people's anxieties.
Advertising generates plausible realities, where there is no room for polarity, much less negative emotion. It presents a reality devoid of substance, where the only purpose (with the sole intention of selling) is to make you believe that buying a certain product will make you "happy".
I was exhausted from being part of this vicious circle that feeds the collective unconscious with ideas and concepts, in which I don’t believe. This situation was compounded by my own extreme anger and frustration at having abandoned drawing and painting for so long (these were natural and extremely satisfying activities during my infancy and adolescence).
Similarly, I was annoyed with myself for ending up working in publicity. Since this had never been a planned decision, but rather where life and circumstances led me
Although being a painter was something I greatly desired, the fear I felt was proportional to my love for doing it. The process was not unlike coming out of the closet, but this time as an artist. I didn’t know what it would be until I was able to actually experience it. Before that, it was nothing more than a vague idealization, a world unknown and undiscovered, somewhere completely cut off from ads and ad agencies.
I built a small studio in my house and locked myself in there to teach myself to paint. This forced me to realize that I needed to rethink what I wanted from my life, where I wanted to direct it and what kind of person I wanted to be. I also realized how closely linked my personal life was to my professional work.
Via psychological therapy and introspection, I have sorted through many personal issues, nothing out of the ordinary, existential problems we all have. The painting also emerged as part of that cathartic process and, just as I did as a child, I took refuge in my drawings to make sense of my existence. The painting now began to function similarly, helping me let go of frustration, fear, and anger.
Accepting that I was petrified with fear was key to moving forward. In the same way, I realized that when you act with love, doors open.
How do you go about starting a new painting?
My process varies from painting to painting. It oscillates between the freedom of expression when drawing/painting and in conjunction with photographic references. Sometimes I start from a mental sketch, sometimes from a photo. I try to visualize an already finished painting, although this visualization changes a lot during the process: Sometimes things turn out very differently to how originally imagined them. As soon as the feeling comes over me I just let it happen, I don’t really pay too much attention to it. I do like to put a lot of emphasis and detail in the eyes because I think they transmit much so much emotion/information. A lack of patience is a big obstacle for me; I struggle to control my temperament and I despair of the process, I need to breathe slowly, relax and maintain communication with the canvas, so as not to get lost. I have a hard time concentrating.
Can you tell us about the distortion of the figure in your paintings? When did you start painting in that style?
My style simply came about, it wasn’t conceptualized. I can’t give you some rational explanation of how it emerged. What I can tell you, is that when I began my career as a painter I was weighed down by years of frustration and career dissatisfaction. So when I decided to change my profession and dedicate myself to art, painting functioned as a catharsis representing the internal exploration of my psychological processes.
Considering that humans are an amalgam of dually-opposed, antagonistic elements such as the body and the spirit, I can view this humanity as a physiological mechanism, but also as an emotional vessel that contains our entire temporal and spiritual history. In this way, the body perceives matter and space, through which it learns to experience its own humanity.
In my work, these apparently discordant, dual forces of reality are expressed in the flesh as a single dynamic unity, as a representation of the movement of the human body. This dynamism facilitates the creation of mutant emotions through the creation of impossible anatomies. Similar, I like to think, to x-rays of people’s experiences while they are in the process of evolving.
How have your paintings evolved over your career?
I guess my style has evolved over a few years I've been painting. Compared now to the past, the color palette is much more varied, the compositions are more complicated and the aesthetic, although still surrealistic, is less grotesque or obscure. My work has always been a reflection of my emotional situation and the evolution can obviously be attributed to that.
Yet I feel my career is too young so I can see a quite clear evolution I think need more time and space to notice it by my self but aesthetically speaking, it would be difficult for me not to continue painting human bodies. However, in terms of specific themes, I have no idea how the content of my work will be developed over time. Actually, I tackle topics such as transsexuality, feminism, homosexuality and emotional disability, because these are the social issues that interest me. In the future I suppose, I will continue to touch on those issues that affect society.
On your website you have a few installations that you have done, can you tell us about those? How did they come about? How was creating them in comparison to creating a painting?
Yes, those installations are composed by drawings, sketches, and quotes during the creative process on the making of a painting or a whole body of work, it is a natural process to me where all the ideas come together. The paper works installations are just about to share what is going on the walls of the studio while creation is taking place and bring that intimate process into the gallery.
This time, I've also been playing with garments for the installations. My interest is to take the painting out of its dimension and propose a different approach to the pictorial image through a three-dimensional object, which in this case is a garment.
What is the best piece of advice you can give to artists looking to transition out of a day job and focus solely on their art?
I would say don’t be afraid and do it as long as your desire is true. You must also plan your finances.
Where do you hope your work will go moving forward?
I don’t like to think about that I prefer to keep working hard and be ready when the opportunity comes.
Finally, I just want to invite you to my solo show "Polarities" in NYC at Booth Gallery on view now through October 20th. This is my debut solo show in the US. The collection includes 11 paintings, 4 of which come paired with garments and almost 50 works on paper.
Photos courtesy of Fabian Ml
By Sarah Mills
Nessi Alexander-Barnes uses the pronouns xe and xyr. Xe earned both a BFA in Studio Art & Design and a BS in Art History at Towson University, MD. Xe is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Missouri.
As someone who identifies as nonbinary and transgender, I have found a dearth of representations in popular media of people whose lives resemble my own. The things I create are my answer to this problem. Popular culture is our contemporary version of mythology- stories in which we invest parts of ourselves, that celebrate ourselves and our people, and that explain the world as we experience it. My artwork involves the creation of a personal mythology to fill that gap, populated by brightly-colored zoomorphic characters whose system of iconography is partially influenced by my art historical research and my idiosyncratic (mis)interpretations of mass culture. These characters enact allegorical narratives about my experiences as a person who is, among other things, genderqueer and pansexual and generally queer in a number of ways. I do not disclose the lexicon that goes into the creation of my imagery, because I want viewers to experience my work similarly to how I experience culture at large: as an outsider, who nevertheless forms relationships to the culture I’m trying to interface with through idiosyncratic interpretation.
Tell us about your artistic background.
Formally, I had some art training in high school, where my teachers thought I was a promising if a frustrating student who had some problems with authority and was easily distracted. I furiously resisted the idea of taking art seriously for a very very long time, tried to do a biotech degree, spent a brief year as a history major wherein I didn't actually take any history classes and took a bunch of art classes instead, and finally just leaned into it and shifted to art. During my time as an art major, I was really into art history as well, because it fed my work, and I got halfway through a double major without noticing it, at which point I added the major and a semester. I thus have two undergraduate degrees, a BFA in Art & Design and a BS in Art History from Towson University. I am currently doing an MFA at the University of Missouri.
Informally, I have always drawn compulsively. Usually, on things, I wasn't supposed to, much to the chagrin of my family and teachers and the occasional unfortunate employee of restaurants where I was given crayons as a child. I got on the internet early, in 2000, at the age of 10, and immediately gravitated to fandom communities with a drawing component. These communities are the places where I learned how to obsessively read into anything narrative left nearby, how to queer mainstream culture, how to use these personal stories to understand the world around me, and the powerful symbolism that one can put into an original character. It was also my first connection to the queer world at large, and the first space where-- it's not so much that I wasn't alien in terms of my experiences and the way I interface with the world, but it was the first space where it was okay to be alien in that way.
You identify as Nonbinary & Genderqueer, Panromantic, and Demisexual. How do these identities influence and drive your art?
They are primary drivers of everything I do. I exist at a confluence of many different identities, some of them big and systemic and others of which are more minor. Nonbinary/genderqueer/panromantic/demisexual are the ones I put most forward in my work, but they're not the only ones in it. As one would expect, they mark me as an atypical subject.
One of my major interests is culture and cultural products; alongside the interpersonal ill-treatment and institutional abuse that comes with being queer or LGBTQ, you're always highly aware of the fact that culture at large wasn't designed to include queer people. That awareness is profoundly alienating, because of these cultural products-- books, movies, anything we engage with-- functions as our contemporary mythology-- a set of stories that explain the world in a way consistent with or that reflects the experiences of the people engaging with them. The exclusion, which is usually deliberate and often viciously advocated for by whole swaths of our culture, is a reiteration of queer & LGBTQ people's being welcome in society at large.
At the same time, I love our cultural products. I engage with them all the time, even when I'm not represented in them. And, as so many LGBTQ and queer people have, I've taken those cultural products and altered them for my own purposes, reworked them so that I fit into that narrative. My work is the product of that. I've taken all the cultural influences and all the idiosyncratic ways I've queered them over my lifetime and churned them into a personal mythology that I put out there to make myself visible.
The lack of representation of queer & LGBTQ people in media is changing in good and meaningful ways, but that's an extremely slow process, and it necessarily involves simplification. You get one LGBTQ character in some media, and usually, they're one of two types: a gay man, usually white, or a lesbian who so frequently dies in the storyline that it's become a trope. We'll all die of age if we're content to wait around for the companies that make our mythologies to decide that we're profitable enough to market to and start representing us on their own. Additionally, even with the changes that have already happened and the push we are making for more representation, what can be given to us externally won't be able to represent the beautiful variation of queer and LGBTQ experiences. I have had a very unique experience of queerness and being LGBTQ, and so has every other queer and LGBTQ person I've spoken to. Those experiences deserve to be represented, and they deserve more than the boiled-down simplification that happens when you try to tell multiple peoples' stories at once, especially when that so often comes with a few voices being elevated further than the rest. The queer/LGBTQ communities have a historical problem of some members trying to speak for the experiences of all members, which has led to the alienation of an injury to queer/LGBTQ people of color and transgender people.
My work is my answer to some of those problems. It's my belief that if we want a cultural mythology, and if we want that cultural mythology to be representative of the many rich queer/LGBTQ experiences in all of their elegant complication, the best way to do that is to tell our own stories, and to make our own art, and to do it in our own voices. My work is my mythology, it reflects my unique subject position, it tells my stories and it renders me visible and it seeks to reflect the world that I experience as I understand it.
I hope for it to exist alongside the work of people engaged in similar projects. It also invites people to cross-identify with it, just as I cross-identify with external culture. People who share some of my identities might recognize some of the symbolism, but because it comes from the point of convergence of several identities, most viewers will only get part of it, and some might get more than others. Thus, I invite viewers to cross-identify and to queer it in order to find some space in it, just as I queer mainstream culture.
Can you tell us a little about where you source your imagery from?
The shortish answer: I filter my experiences, the serious thoughts that vex me, my concerns, my hopes, my happinesses, my victories, and my trials and tribulations-- all of the stuff that feeds into my experience of being - through a personal iconography, which I use to come up with characters and situations, that I then draw as allegories and render into whatever materials prove relevant to the individual work's meaning.
The longer answer is that, as I previously mentioned, I've spent my life engaging fondly (and queering) an external culture to which I am alien and whose cultural products were never meant for me. I also have two undergraduate degrees, one of which is in art history, and a lifelong fondness for mythology. This has given me an appreciation for iconography and for how zoomorphic entities have been vectors for symbolism and ideas. I grew up on the internet engaging with fandom, which is a fantastic education in how to queer things. All of these things combined have fed an internal iconographic lexicon that is composed both of mass cultural symbolism and some idiosyncratic deviations from that received symbolism. I use that lexicon to formulate the characters and the situations that become my imagery.
I've done this for a very long time, particularly with the characters, though it has grown a lot more sophisticated and intentional across that time. The oldest characters I've drawn, who are also my three most frequently used and who figure prominently in the laser-etched Ablations series, were all first made when I was about 10. Their iconography has evolved, but the roots of this project started early.
You work a lot with laser-etched quilting cotton how did that start? What drew you to this practice?
At the time, I was working with hand-cut appliques in highly-patterned quilting fabric. Hand-cutting the complex figures of my characters is a time-intensive and painstaking process. To save me some time, one of my advisors suggested that I try to use the laser engraver to cut out my figures.
I took a while to think about it, specifically about what it might mean. I use the quilting fabric because it's an intimate material, its intended purpose is to make a blanket that touches our skin, and those quilts often have a narrative attached-- either in the imagery or in the making ("my grandmother gave this on the occasion of etc"), or both-- they keep us warm and protect us. More staid versions of the same fabric (cotton or silk) get turned into clothing that we wear, that touches us intimately all the time. The cotton fabric is thus a kind of skin that carries a lot of cultural and intimate symbolism, and that we use, through deliberate choices of surface design, to represent information about ourselves. The laser burns material to cut through it, and my first thought with lasers was the medical application-- we use them to burn out imperfections or remove dangerous growths. Ours is not a medical laser, but it still burns out the designs of its user's choice from a substrate by removing the sections that are unwanted. One of the identities that I only occasionally disclose but which does drive my work is Masochist, and within that, I have an interest in the scarification of my body, and my scars as being a record of experiences.
Using the laser to burn my mythology into these quilting fabrics, and so to add onto their surface design the impression of my history, seemed really appropriate to my goals for the work. I also found it appealing to appropriate and slightly-misuse an industrial technology in the name of artmaking, as did Rauschenberg and Johns and Warhol, who are excellent historical references for anyone making queer art and, at least partially, deriving their imagery from popular culture and subcultural experience. Finally, the results of this process are extremely delicate, because the visible lines are actually the trapped ash remnants of the burning. For them to resolve into images against the busy backgrounds I frequently choose for them takes some work on the part of the viewer, and can only be done from a few feet away. They require a quality of intimate attention from the person who views them.
What is your studio practice like?
My studio practice is nomadic, which is partly because of my many processes and partially a relic from when my living situation was insecure and I could only consistently access scraps of paper and found ballpoint pens. My practice is also very academic. At least half of what I call my studio practice is research and reading, often things like queer and feminist theory. I have learning disabilities; I listen to my books with voiceover (my partner hates the robot voice) while I'm drawing, which actually helps me internalize what I read and feeds later concepts. I do consider that an extremely critical aspect of my studio practice.
There's also a segment of my studio practice grounded in writing; I'll often write about some concepts I'm interested in, or the things that are bothering me, and that I'd like to feed into a picture, in the form of little loose journal-essays, and then that will guide me when I start thinking about what iconography I need to turn those thoughts into an image.
My studio practice also shifts between digital and analog, but it's always grounded in drawing. I get the ideas into the imagery, and then I draw out the imagery either digitally or with tracing paper or in variously colored pens literally on top of one another, and then I translate that imagery into the media and/or states that feed its meaning.
You work in so many different mediums is there one that stands out to you as being your favorite?
The decision to work in a lot of media is a conceptual decision because my experience of being queer and LGBTQ (and neuroatypical) has been so fluid and variable and required a lot of adaptation. I also tend to genuinely enjoy all of the media I work in, but I think that's because I'm actually pretty easy to please. But in addition to their historical context and material traditions and their interpretations, which are the basis for my choosing them in any particular piece (a nod to my background in the academic arts and one that people with a similar background can find interpretive purchase in), each media and process has physical benefits and limitations that are both enjoyable and really frustrating in the making of each work.
If I had to choose, I think my favorite medium/process would be drawing, either digitally or with a ballpoint pen. It is the process that remains consistent (if, occasionally, invisible) across all of my work. I like it for its immediacy and for the flow of thinking through these ideas that bounce around my head all the time, and their translation through my hand, in real time.
Where do you hope to see your work go next?
I would really like my work to be included alongside of that of other queer artists and writers who are working to represent their experiences and lifeworlds, because I really do believe that the best way to represent and celebrate the fantastic variation of queer and LGBTQ communities & people is to elevate the voices of many of us at the same time, and to forge identifications and connections both across and within communities. I want to help make that happen.
I also have some projects in mind for the future that involve an element of curation and/or archiving.
By Sarah Mills
We Were Wild's paste ups celebrate often overlooked urban architecture, mostly from the metro Denver area. Scenes that we might pass in our everyday lives - our alleys, homes and businesses - are elevated and honored. The changes and development happening in our city today are combined with Denver's history through the use of calico fabrics, which represent the Western Movement. Mixing the paper image (parts of our work are printed on Tyvek for stability) and the dimensionality and movement of fabric, We Were Wild creates whimsical, interactive street art installations.
Tell us What We Were Wild is and how it started?
We met through Denver’s art scene, and instantly saw that our aesthetic, although expressed differently, was actually quite similar. We both love when nature and architecture intersect, finding beauty in hidden and unexpected places, public art, and collage. Our desire to create work accessible outside of galleries meant street art was a natural fit.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
We realized that we often notice the same urban details, stopping at the same time to take a closer look. For We Were Wild, these moments always involve architecture - ranging from busy demolition sites to quiet corners where nature is slowly peeling away paint and coming up through cracks. Our favorite sites are often aging but have strong lines, color and texture. We are drawn to places that are usually overlooked despite being located in heavily trafficked areas.
Once we begin the process of printing and collaging elements, the images become imaginary habitats for flora and fauna with working doors and windows and folded fabric curtains. As children, we both made doll clothing and built dollhouses. We are reminded of those days when working among piles of architectural images and fabrics in the studio.
What mediums do you typically work in for this project?
Photos printed on regular paper and Tyvek (to make the parts of the paste ups that open, such as windows and doors, more durable) combined with fabric and haberdashery make up our collaged paste-ups. We use traditional wheat paste or a gel medium when we want them to last longer.
How do you decide where to paste your work?
Other wheat paste artists taught us about the “rules” of street art. We paste on dumpsters, and temporary walls/windows that are already partially covered with bills. We also paste on private walls where the owners give us permission or request a piece. Part of our practice includes not covering up other people’s art and tags.
What do you hope the viewer takes away from your work?
We want to help viewers see everyday places in a new way - to notice color, lines, and textures they might have missed in the past, but in a fun and whimsical way. This is why we cut up the photos and often collage them back together in unexpected combinations. Art should be more accessible, so we bring art to the people on the streets and invite them to physically touch our pieces, opening the doors and windows and feel the texture of the fabrics. We are especially excited to see children discover that our street art is interactive.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned from this project?
Both of us, a photographer and artist/illustrator, had to adjust to the fact that we do not have control over the final outcome. Whether it is the fact that there are two of us making decisions in the collaboration, altering the layout to complement cracks in the wall, pieces blowing away in the wind, or pieces being ripped away, we have learned to love the fleeting nature of the initial idea, its execution, and eventual destruction of the installations. Once we were able to fully accept this, we saw that it fit with our initial concept of appreciating the wildness of both manmade and natural constructions.
What is the best piece of advice you have for an artist looking to utilize public spaces in their work?
There’s always an element of unknown when you work in public spaces. We’ve learned to appreciate the need to improvise as we don’t know exactly how a wall’s texture will change our piece or exactly how much room there will be to paste or how the weather might change how quickly the glue dries. We’ve also learned to not get too attached to each piece. Who knows how long a piece will last before somebody tags it or rips it or the colors begin to fade. We give each piece to the public and then it takes on a life of its own. That’s the beauty of street art; it can be fleeting and pieces often change quickly. There’s a constant collaboration with the weather and animals and residents and other street artists.
By Sarah Mills
I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting & Drawing from East Carolina University in 2005 and a Masters of Science in Arts Administration from Drexel University’s graduate program in 2010.
Originally from North Carolina, I relocated to Philadelphia in order to join the Drexel graduate program to pursue a more multi-faceted role in the world of art and culture.
In 2011, I founded the Artistic Rebuttal Project – a grass roots art advocacy initiative that strives to, through story-collecting and story-telling, emphasize the power and necessity of the arts. On the project’s behalf, I periodically travel around the country speaking with university students in art programs, creative adults and kids, imploring them to become active in their communities in order to better serve the places in which they are rooted. It is only when the public knows the importance of art and art’s way of connecting our past to our future, can the arts act as a civic lesson to citizens everywhere. That same year, I was nominated a Creative Connector, a recognition pioneered by Leadership Philadelphia. Creative Connectors are “hubs of trust, seen as trustworthy and credible who use art and design to mobilize people around an issue.”
In March of 2017, I moved to Quito, Ecuador to study how arts and culture are managed and appreciated in an older, foreign country. Living here, I am able to carve out a lot more time to create my own work.
My work is largely social issues-centered, ranging from global warming, mental health, immigrant rights to body positivity.
My recent body of work was sparked by a myriad of issues that were once at the center of a progressive government and leadership - broadening women’s issues and mental health policies, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, and confronting police brutality and many more - that are now being rolled back by an administration run by greed and ignorance.
Now that I am living abroad in Ecuador, I am seeing these issues from what is considered a third world country. In this third world country, the class of person who would be considered the minority in the States is the majority that runs the country. In turn, women and the poor are treated on the whole and with a lot more respect in my particular third world country than the United States.
My intent with the images enclosed is to explore the experiences I’m having watching and learning how Ecuador deals with these issues in contrast to my country of origin.
My work is created through a variety of mediums. I work initially with graphite and ink on paper as a first layer, then watercolor and acrylic on paper, as well as non-traditional materials like coffee (from the Galapagos). After scanning in these traditional/non-traditional mediums, I inject more color and detail digitally, creating a digital painting using a tablet.
How did you first start creating?
I first started drawing when I was 2 years old and I haven’t stopped! My mom saved everything (including the attached photo what "what mommy looks like when I'm bad"), put me in every after-school art class my parents could afford, art teachers from elementary to high school (I was lucky enough to have art classes every year) all encouraged and nurtured my inherent urge to make art and it blossomed into a skill that I’ve sharpened throughout the years.
Travel obviously plays a big role in your work, can you talk about your experience and the impact it had?
I didn’t travel much until I was 17 - the first time I ever got on an airplane. But since that first flight, I’ve tried my best to see and experience as much as I could afford. As fate may have it, I met an extraordinarily kind man from Ecuador while we were both earning advanced degrees in Philadelphia, PA. Pedro, by the end of his student visa, had to return to Ecuador, so after about 2 years of dating and living together in Philly, we took the leap of faith that we were going to work out and I moved to Ecuador with him in 2017. The shift to a completely different culture where I was now the minority took a long time to adapt to. In the States, I felt like things were “made” for me. Everything was in English, almost everything on tv and online is marketed towards women because women do the shopping...like the world catered to me and I had access to everything I needed, even when money was tight. And I wasn’t rich by any means - I grew up lower middle class in a very rural town. Once I moved out of state I had my struggles not being able to find full-time work after I got my Masters in Arts Administration and yet I feel I excelled because the society I was in was some-what tailored to help me, a young white woman, succeed. Therefore, to be taken out of that environment and placed in a city where I couldn’t understand one conversation being had on the street, needing my fiance to tag along everywhere I went to translate, I ultimately, after 9 months needed to fly back to the States because I had overstayed my time Ecuador without getting the proper documentation. I was a legit illegal immigrant for 5 of those 9 months. (Americans can stay in Ecuador for 4 months until needing to register with the government and we had a crap lawyer who didn’t do her job). It gave me a completely new look at the America I grew up in and I have to tell you, it’s not a positive new look. I think my South American now-husband and I are lucky to not be living in the United States at this specific point in time. We would be in constant fear that his status would be in question and that we might be separated. I have learned that all Latin Americans - from Mexico to Chile to Spain - are all lumped together when Americans in power talk about them. When the current administration started calling Mexicans rapists and Venezuelans criminals as they stood in line for asylum at the border, I listened as my husband, an Ecuadorian, called all of them “his people” as he watched in agony as the United States continued to perpetuate harmful myths, vow to deport them all, and separated children from their parents. And for me, who has always had art as a form of therapy, expression, and retreat, my subject matter naturally becomes a portrayal what I’m feeling in response to my husband and his family’s current state of shock surrounding what the United States has become - for them. I can always return and I have thousands of good memories of growing up in North Carolina and finding my voice in Philadelphia. America will always be my home but when you’ve never lived outside if it, you don’t know the true impact and role it plays as far as what direction the rest of the world is headed. As Mark Twain once wrote - “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
Much of your work involves observations on social, political, and cultural events, how did you get started creating this type of work?
My first major move, long before I moved to Ecuador, was moving from North Carolina to Philadelphia - which completely opened my eyes to how different races are treated across the country. I grew up in a somewhat mixed community, had friends of all colors, but we were in a rural town where law enforcement (from the point of view of a teenager who maybe wasn’t clued into politics quite yet) was community-led, everybody knew everybody. So there was a sense of justice and fairness spanning all ethnicities because if you were caught doing something you shouldn’t have been, no matter the color of your skin, the town sheriff knew your momma and knew she raised you better. Once I got to Philadelphia, things couldn’t have been more different. Avoiding eye contact with strangers was paramount because if you did say hello, more often than not it would turn into a creepy guy trying to follow you home from the subway or an arrogant man feeling entitled to let you know your tattoos are “unbecoming of a lady” and “your job should fire you” for letting one peek out underneath your shirt sleeve. And because none of those experiences are against the law, sometimes you have absolutely no one to turn to. From rural North Carolina where you go from home to car, to work, back to the car, back home, to Philadelphia where you feel you’re exposed on a regular basis - I became very hardened myself yet very aware of what women and men of color are subjected to on the daily. I could endure someone talking shit about my tattoos or my weight on the bus, at least I was never spat on because of the hijab being worn, or followed around a drug store simply because my skin was black and I was wearing a hoodie. Living in such proximity to racial profiling and racial biases has made me more empathetic and aware that racism is alive and well - and that I’m always working on my own biases that I wasn’t fully aware of having grown up in the South. That emotional work shows up in my artwork now - that idea from Mark Twain about travel, I’ll amend it to say that proximity is also fatal to prejudice. If you can SEE what happens to people of different races and backgrounds and be able to compare that to how you’re treated - your world will be flipped on its head if you think equality or equity has been reached in any way shape or form.
What is your favorite part of your creative practice?
My favorite part is I guess what you would call the middle part, where idea meets reality. Once you’ve conceived an idea and you begin sketching it - for me the first few sketches are never what I had envisioned in my head, but by the 3rd or 4th, it starts coming out the way it should. So when I’m able to step away from my work and say “YES! That’s what I was going for,” I get really excited to keep going and finish.
How has making art impacted your life?
That’s a difficult question, considering I’ve never NOT had art as a critical part of my life and being. I would say, having this ability has been the greatest gift, no doubt, but it has also been the root of some sadness as well. I’m currently writing a children’s book about my childhood where I was used for my skills and then discarded when my skills/I myself wasn’t “needed” anymore. Or times in my life where I wished I could have spoken my mind instead of keeping quiet at the moment and instead of painting about it later. Both are valid ways of communicating but I think I always wanted to be more vocal but didn’t know how which is something that maybe comes with age and experience. My voice is a lot larger than it ever has been - my family can attest to that - and now that I’m almost 35 I’m finding a better balance between speaking vocally and speaking through my artwork.
What is a piece of advice that was given to you that you would like to share with our readers?
The main thing for me, when I was in art school, I had a teacher named Mr. Hartley, who has since passed, but he told me being an artist had nothing to do with talent: it was all about practice and sharpening your skills. I had a lot of people tell me when I was growing up that I’ll be an artist, no doubt, it’s a talent I was born with and I shouldn’t waste it. But the work you have to put into it is NOT something the average person realizes. The amount of artwork that doesn’t see the light of day because it’s not up the artists’ ridiculously high standards is not something the average person realizes. So yes, you can be born with talent, but don’t let that for a minute make you think that being an artist isn’t all about the work. “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life” IS A LIE!
What is the most important thing you have learned from your creative journey thus far?
I have learned that the world and all its creatures are so complex, it’s beyond all of our practical comprehension. I grew up thinking being right was more important (to me) than anything else. In Philadelphia, I thought hustling and being busy from sun up til sun down meant I was doing all the right things. I learned that everyone’s got baggage so stop judging. In Ecuador, I am learning that the world was not made just for me, so I need to adjust-adjust-adjust myself on a regular basis and not be afraid of how other people see me. Through my journies of becoming an Ecuadorian resident, my own personal difficulties of learning how to speak Spanish, and now at the beginning of my marriage, I have learned that trying to be right all the time and trying to come off like I know something about everything is exhausting, arrogant, and won’t work for me or the important people in my life anymore. I’m settling into a place where most things are new to me and there’s no way I could have prepared for them or knew about them. Personal evolution is my current mindspace and I have to leave all the doors and windows open.