Artists To Know

Artists To Know : U of M Museum of Art

It had been awhile since I’d gotten out of town to do something fun, so I took a day trip this month to the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, because who can say no to free inspiration? In addition to an array of art from centuries past with an especially robust Asian art section, there were some more recent pieces that really impacted mem resulting in some new favorite artists – all with amazing stories.

Guillermo Meza

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I am a mask enthusiast as well as a fan of anything inspired by surreal or dreamlike imagery, and the composition and color in this piece propelled me over to it like a magnet the moment I walked into the first room.

Meza is known for fantastical landscapes and distorted figures. He grew up in Mexico City, the son of tailors. His family was not wealthy and he himself only completed school through 9th grade, but they were a family that valued arts, music, and culture, and he started drawing as a child and never stopped. He helped support his family by illustrating for magazines. Other working artists took notice, and he was recommended to Galeria de Arte Mexicana by none other than Diego Rivera. I love his story because it shows that yes opportunity helps, but what more so determines success or failure is an artist’s skill and devotion to creative practice. 

Marcus Jansen

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Marcus Jansen is originally from South Bronx and now resides in Florida. He was always interested in art, but chose to enlist in the military as a career. He is a veteran of Desert Storm who upon returning to civilian life in 1999 found he had trouble adjusting, and struggled to find work. He started selling his paintings on the street, and garnered recognition for his unique, abstracted landscapes that often include social and political metaphor. ​He is the founder of the Marcus Jansen Foundation Fund, which assists low-income community organizations in South West Florida by bringing them arts, music, and cultural awareness. His foundation also supports organizations that help veterans diagnosed with PTSD, bringing them art as a form of expressive therapy. This is another artist who I liked even more after not only just seeing their physical creations but researching their personal story. His work for me created a dynamic new world that I couldn’t step away from, with a unique blend of realism and abstract and a specific style that is completely new, a hard thing to achieve in this time when it sometimes seems everything has been done. 

Ouk Chim Vichet

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The above piece was part of the Peace Art Project of Cambodia. PAPC is a project sponsored by the European Union as well as some celebrity donors in which students at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh worked on projects turning weapons technology into peace time vocations by using them as an art material for beautiful sculptures. This particular piece depicts Asapara, a female Buddhist figure whose traditional dance holds an important place in Cambodia’s culture and history. The juxtaposition of the elegant, peaceful figure with what she is created out of is a strong image conveying the end of violence. 

Mari Katayama

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I had already been a fan of this artist, so in this case it was a very special moment for me to see one of her installations in person. I hadn’t even checked out the website for the museum beforehand, just decided to go, so I didn’t know she would even be showing. I love random life surprises like this! Mari Katayama is a Japanese artist who was born with a rare developmental condition. She had to have both her legs amputated at age 9, and has only 2 fingers on her right hand. She began photographing herself at first to understand her own identity beyond society’s simplistic, “one size fits all” view of individuals with disabilities. She says that she doesn’t view her images as self portraits though, more that she uses her body as an art material to communicate messages about body image that she feels speak to both individuals with disabilities and able bodied individuals. It’s no secret I’m big into mixed media, and I love the idea of someone using their own body as an art medium. I also am interested in her use of recreated fiber art limbs, and the mix of indoor and outdoor environments used in her overall installation. There is not near enough disability visibility in arts and entertainment, and Katayama’s work is incredibly important. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my favorite finds! As always, if you have a favorite artist feel free to leave their name in a comment. I love discovering new sources of inspiration!

 

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Exhibitions and Other News

Pantone Color Of The Year + What’s New For 2020

As I mentioned last year around this time, being an art and design nerd one of the things I look forward to with the turning of each year is finding out what the new Pantone Color of the Year will be. This year did not disappoint, and I swear I must have had some sort of premonition because I had been using shades of deep blue in almost all my art in the latter part of 2019. New color, new experiences in art!

In my personal art business, I’ve always worked alone and though it may be surprising given the fact that I’m employed at a gallery and on the board for a local artist guild, I don’t really know many working artists on a close personal level. Volunteering for a kids’ art event this past Summer, I had the opportunity to make friends with an artist whose vision and style compliment my own and vice versa (The koi fish and ballerina are his, the jellyfish a collaboration). Emiliano Vega creates fine art paintings and drawings but has also succeeded as a muralist and tattoo artist. He has been a part of a number of progressive collectives in Detroit and Saginaw earning him mainstream sponsors including Redbull, Sony and Ubisoft for his contributions to non-profit and volunteer work. I’d encourage you to visit his personal portfolio. I will also be representing his work in my eBay Shop, and you can visit his artist section for prints and original ACEOs.

As far as what’s next for 2020, we are preparing for a number of local dual shows beginning at Red Eye in January and Oracle in February for those in and around the Saginaw, MI area. We have plans to seek out opportunities outside the local radius later in the year. Those who are near enough to visit I hope will come out and see our art in person and get their hands on some original art or prints, and for everyone else, thank god for the internet ;).

I will also be setting aside time to do more teaching with Express Yourself Artshop, the inclusive arts and wellness program I direct. I will be continuing to teach my Creative Minds Art History class, and will also be working with a group to enter ArtPrize and collaborating with a fellow instructor on a Wearable Art class. As always, I will be sharing lessons here so readers can get inspired and try doing some creating at home :). Looking forward to all things new, Happy 2020 everyone!

 

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Art Education, Exhibitions and Other News

Closing Up 2019: A Year In Art

I have been pretty transparent in both my face-to-face public life and my online life about 2019 being one of the toughest years I’ve had in quite some time for a variety of reasons. Though I am more than ready to let go and look forward to 2020, and though “blessed” is definitely not the first word that would come to mind when I think of this past year (the word I’m thinking of starts with an f, guys …) … I am blessed that my ‘day job’ was many times my anchor through a tumultuous 2019. How many people can really say that???

For those new to the blog, I direct an inclusive arts and wellness program called Express Yourself Artshop that is open to students of all abilities, largely serving adults with physical, intellectual, and psychological disabilities. I have worked with Artshop in some capacity since it’s inception a little over 6 years ago, and have had the opportunity to see it grow and transform just as the program helps its participants grow and transform on a personal level. Looking back, 2019 was full of positive experiences and new adventures in creativity in our corner of the world.

The focus this year was definitely getting the students’ art out into the community. Creative expression is invaluable for the peace, joy, and confidence it can give an artist while creating. People really should do art primarily for themselves, but still, getting an artist’s work out of their own home and into the world allows that creation to further make an impact on the public that views it. Especially when it comes to artists with disabilities, society makes a lot of assumptions about what they can and can’t do. Educating through art is another part of what we aim to do.

Our Artshop crew was chosen to participate in the community’s Downtown Summer Sculpture Series. We made a proposal as to how we would transform the default mold, and once accepted proceeded to work as a group to create “Let Your Light Shine”. Not only does the positive message reflect our goal for anyone who participates in our program, but the idea of piecing together different shapes, sizes, and colors of glass to create something that would not be as beautiful were it covered in identical decorations is also symbolic of neurodiversity and the celebration of differences.

2019 was also a year of collaboration. In addition to the sculpture above, students worked on many 2D mixed media group works in a larger scale. Collaborating allows students to play off of each other’s strengths, support each other’s weaknesses, and push themselves to come up with new ideas and creative solutions as they work towards a unified vision.

Two of the collaborations were featured in Creative 360‘s annual fundraiser for auction, both highlighting a creative practice 360 offers. One themed around theater was a collaboration between two of my students, Melanie and Colleen, under my guidance. They collaged the background of a large canvas and a set of masks with old newspapers and magazines, and then chose colorful words that embodied what Creative 360 meant to them to include. We worked together on an overall design and pattern for the painting, and they came up with the idea to place butterfly cutouts flying across and did the layout on their own. I asked questions to prompt ideas, but the vision was theirs and it was truly amazing to see them get excited about what they were doing and bounce ideas back and forth, supporting and encouraging each other along the way.

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The second piece was worked on slowly over the year with a couple of different class groups, starting with a colorful abstract background over which they applied stamping, texture, and doodling with paint markers. Afterwards, smaller silhouettes of figures doing yoga poses were stenciled on (including a shout out to wheelchair yoga on the far right). Last, larger cutouts were layered overtop to provide a main focus. It was amazing how completely different groups were able to come up with ideas to continue the evolution of this piece for a unified final masterpiece.

Another successful collaboration was Creative 360’s performance of scenes from Alice In Wonderland over the summer. Students this year took part in every step of the process of putting on a small production, from deciding costumes to hand creating some whimsical and summery nature inspired backdrops. One of our Acting Class “regulars” even stepped up to fill the role of stage manager, and helped facilitate practices and organize the final show.

Videos of our different performances, events, and open mics throughout the year, including those at our most recent holiday gathering, can be found on Artshop’s Facebook Page. If you want to support our students and also snag some very cool original art, visit our Virtual Gallery, Ebay Shop, and Redbubble Shop. Happy holidays!

 

 

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Music and Film

Dir En Grey 2019 Tour: Music And The Power Of Vulnerability

I recently had the opportunity to get out of town and see one of my favorite bands, Dir En Grey, live in concert. I do not possess any musical talent or skill myself, but am a huge music appreciator. What I look for in bands is the ability to be diverse and work in a variety of styles while still staying true to their own unique creative expression, and Dir En Grey is one of the best examples of this I can think of. Each of their albums has its own distinct sound and story, and they can move between beautiful, melodic, and soothing and intense, hard, and aggressive seamlessly within the same song. I went into this experience with no expectations, just excited to hear a band I have enjoyed since late high school live. I never dreamed I would be so emotionally moved by an experimental metal band, or that I would leave with such a much-needed refill of artistic inspiration, a spark lit that caused me to reflect on my own life as both an artist and as simply a human being. The key to this connection was vulnerability.

The name of the tour was “This Way To Self Destruction“, and throughout the performance singer Kyo was playing a character that you could see slowly self destructing until their brand new, epic 10 minute song “World of Mercy” played at the end. The movements and miming, dance, and entrancing images played on the screen behind the band were so emotive that though the lyrics were in Japanese I could still understand exactly what each song was conveying.

Many of the band’s lyrics deal with depression, suicidal ideation, isolation, hopelessness, and anxiety, their art revolving around a lot of darker themes and imagery. However, the approach they use doesn’t glorify or romanticize negative emotions, but instead lays bare the things we all experience to some degree and asks us why there is so much greed, hatred, struggle, betrayal, and immorality in our society. Why is our world so hard to survive in? This raw honesty and straightforward, no-bullshit communication through their music is what makes them stand out, especially coming from a culture like that of their home country of Japan where transparency and public displays of emotion and opinion are more repressed and often considered inappropriate.

My friend Joannah, whom I attended with and who actually is a musician herself, posted this favorite quote of hers from 2007 before the show. For context, Kyo was asked in an interview ‘Is the purpose of Dir en Grey to disturb and unsettle your audience rather than simply to entertain?’

Maybe neither. I hate entertainment, but I’m not trying to disturb either: what I’m trying to do onstage is express the pain and frustration we all feel in life but also to look beyond it at a different world without that. If you’ve always lived in the light, then you won’t know what darkness is, and if you’ve only experienced happiness, then you can’t recognize real sorrow. You have to experience all of life to be truly alive.”

Just as their music moves back and forth from intense screams to melodic vocals and instrumentals, their ruminations on the burden of life are not without hope.

As a creator myself, I believe vulnerability is an inseparable entity from the creative process. Connecting with your viewers, watchers, or listeners requires honesty. One of my favorite TED Speakers, PHD Research Professor and Author Brene Brown, talks a lot about the power of vulnerability. I’d encourage you to take some time to watch her talk; it’s life changing.

I will leave you with another quote from Kyo,

“I think everyone has bad experiences and things they don’t want to say and I think there is meaning in letting it out.”

I’m definitely going to do a painting based on one of these photos. Any recommendations readers???

 

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Exhibitions and Other News

Weekend Art Experience at Creative 360

This past Saturday I enjoyed being a part of an art experience at my workplace, Creative 360 Studio and Gallery. I call it a art experience rather than an art fair because it was so much more than just an opportunity for people to “buy stuff”.

We had a diverse group of local artists working in a variety of mediums and styles, and also featured beautiful art and handmade items from our artists with disabilities in the inclusive arts and wellness program I run, Express Yourself Artshop. Treats were catered by the program’s culinary class.

Throughout the day, we also enjoyed a number of performances by talent of all ages and abilities. Our Artshop Community Theater members each performed the monologues they wrote portraying themselves as their favorite artist, writer, or musician. There was a singer who performed a song they’d written about their personal faith. We were treated to a vibrant stand up comedy routine by a very young aspiring comedian, complete with some mind bending riddles at the end 😉. A young woman with autism who has been passionate about playing piano since she was 2 performed a series of pieces.

One of my personal favorite parts about participating in fairs is the fun of art trades, and I was thrilled to go home with a cozy fleece blanket perfect for the sudden descent into winter over here in Michigan, and an amazingly unique “80s Death Mask” (Check out the artist’s shop for some of their other sculpture and mixed media work).

Attendees found the fair inspiring, joyful, and uplifting with an environment of openness that encouraged sharing and connection. These events can only be as successful as the number of people who come out to support our local talent and enjoy the atmosphere of creative community! We are hoping to do another fair in the Summer, and in the more immediate future we have our Express Yourself Artshop Talent Show coming up this Monday the 18th at 6:00 inside Creative 360’s gallery.

I am also working on adding more inventory to Artshop’s online store featuring all student made fine art and crafts. Having the opportunity to get their creations out into the world provides a sense of confidence, ownership, responsibility and motivation for our students and also allows them to make income for themselves. Be sure to check back as I am going to start filling the store this week and next! For those in the area, hope to see you at our next event :).

 

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Artist Bio

Interview With The Artist

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed for an article on the website of a local artists’ group I’m a part of. The interviewer asked some thought provoking questions, so I thought I’d share my answers here for those who are interested in gaining a little more insight behind my work and process. You can also check out the resulting article on the Exploding Circle of Artists website. Friend and fellow artist Heather Deogracia manages and writes articles for the site, and I’d also encourage you to check out her blog. She is an innovative artist, fierce mental health advocate, and regular volunteer and supporter of art happenings in the community.

1. Why do you do what you do?

I have been drawn to creating pretty much since birth, and was lucky to be supported and encouraged in this from a young age. Art has always been a therapy for me and a vital avenue for communication and expression as someone who has also experienced social anxiety well, pretty much since birth. In addition to creating art myself, I also run an inclusive arts and wellness program at Creative 360 geared towards adults with disabilities. Every day I see how creativity both empowers the creator and impacts those around them. Integral to my own personal art and my day job is the idea that everyone can be an artist, everyone can do something creative that touches another person and it is never too late to begin.

2. How do you work?

For the most part I work in my home studio. I started out as primarily a pencil and ink drawing and watercolor artist, but at this point it is rare that I only use one or two materials in a piece. I have fallen in love with mixed media, and though the main bones of my art are usually created in prismacolor pencil, ink or watercolor, I enjoy mixing in acrylic, metallic enamel paints, beads, fabric and lace, old jewelry pieces, collage from old books, and other findings. I especially enjoy using materials I have been gifted by friends or family that have a specific memory or story attached. For a recent project, I used sparkly lace scraps leftover from a very extra angel costume my mom sewed for me when I was five, and some mismatched clip-on earrings that belonged to my grandma.

3. What are the background themes and ideas that makes your work stand out?

With my art, I enjoy making the internal external. I’m very interested in the dynamic of the individual’s public/interacting self versus their private self. Rather than using dramatic facial expressions in my portraits, I tend to leave their expressions mysterious and neutral and let the external surroundings speak to the content of the subject’s mind and soul. This most likely stems from my interior design background, and the idea that the external environment should reflect the people who inhabit it. Much of my work involves psychology and is inspired by my own thoughts and experiences, but I like to leave the visual narratives open ended so that each viewer can bring their own experiences to a piece and connect with it in their own way.

I am fascinated with the detail in both the external and internal structure of all living things; humans, plants, and animals. The natural world around us is truly filled with the most amazing forms of living sculptures if we take the time to look, and keeping this idea in mind reminds me even on the worst of days how luck we are to be alive. This appreciation of observing and exaggerating the most minute details in the world around us is another element that finds its way into my work.

4. How would you describe your style and how is it integral to your work as an artist?

My style is very vintage inspired, and I like to make my art timeless in a way by incorporating visual elements from all different time periods. I am also influenced by surrealism, and always want to show people something in my art that they can’t see in real life. In my work with portraits and figures, I look to antique photos as a reference and usually combine multiple sources to create the exact body and face I am picturing in my head for a certain piece. I am very much a visual thinker, and one day a friend was venting to me over the phone about a stressful week she’d had. (I promise I was listening, but …) As she was talking, I started to see a little cartoon in my head of her standing staring at me, wearing a tall top hat, and her brain was growing out of the top of the hat with all types of different objects representing what she was thinking about sticking out of the protruding brain … The image was a nice blend of hilarious and disturbing, and also gave me the idea to start doing portraits with visual representations of each subject’s thoughts flowing outside of their body.

5. What role does the artist have in society?

Though we don’t always realize it, art and design is everywhere around us in our society … In the music we hear, in the buildings we live and work in, in the ads or posters we see, the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit on, the movies and tv shows we watch, and the list could go on and on. Without art, our world would be empty, inefficient, and without meaning. Beyond that, art has the power to give people a voice. Art is an important tool for communication, and is able to open people’s minds to ideas they may not be as receptive to if delivered in a different way. Each artist has to define their own role for themselves based on the goals they have for harnessing their own personal form of creativity. As for me, I feel called to use art as a tool for connection and reaching out to others. Sharing the therapeutic benefits of creating with others is a priority for me because of the anchor I know it has been in my own life. I aim to make art and creativity accessible to all, no matter their age, ability, income, or any other qualifier. Do artists have to use their skills to make the world a better place? I suppose no one technically has to do anything as we all have autonomy over our own lives, but I certainly think they should.

6. What is your favorite artwork you’ve created and why is it your favorite?

This is a hard question as I develop a connection to almost every piece of art I create like they are my children, no joke. That being said, at this point my favorite piece of art I created is “July: She Is Free”. This piece was from a 12 part series titled “Unlimited” that I showed at Founder’s Brewing Company for ArtPrize 2017. The series was comprised of 12 mixed media, surreal portraits in which the meaning was influenced by the use of pattern and color. The series depicted women of all ages, races, and time periods, each communicating a different story. The aim was for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we currently reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day lives all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears, relationships… Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. We are all worthy of love, safety, respect, and dignity. I am particularly attached to July because it depicts someone with a visible disability, something that is almost never seen in portrait arts. I am a huge proponent of disability rights, empowerment, and visibility. This piece was shown and awarded at the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition of 2018, and I actually overheard an attendee afterwards whispering to a friend, “But why would you want to draw those kind of people?” This is why I do what I do. Visibility and education are vital, as prejudice is rooted in ignorance. I aim to continue to challenge what beauty is in art.

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Art Education, Project Ideas, Travel

Isaiah Zagar : Creative Minds Art History Project

I love to travel, and was lucky growing up to be part of a family who enjoys a change of scenery every so often as well. An experience that still stands in the forefront of my mind is accidentally happening upon one of the most breathtaking displays of public art I have ever seen while in Philadelphia on one of the last trips my immediate family and I would take together in our little quartet before my brother and I were “officially” grown-up with our own jobs, schedules, and lives.

Mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar has his work across buildings all over Philadelphia and throughout the rest of the country as well, but his Magic Garden is something special, a truly immersive art experience that really does feel like you are being transported into a different universe temporarily as if by magic.

Though he started as a painter, he ended up becoming most known for his public mosaic work. He became an integral part of the “South Street Renaissance” in the 1970s, bringing excitement, inspiration, and beauty to the ignored and abandoned areas of his hometown. The interesting thing is, he only discovered this medium because of others’ willingness to invest and believe in the talents and well-being of those who are struggling. It was while being hospitalized for a breakdown related to undiagnosed bipolar disorder that he was introduced to mosaic making, and he credits this art practice with bringing him out of his depression. Zagar has stated that he was determined to use his breakdown as a springboard into positive mental and spiritual growth, and though mental health is a chronic struggle, he has done just that. At 80 years old, he is still here, filled with an enthusiasm for lifelong learning.

Zagar’s mosaics aren’t just glass and tiles. He utilizes a wide range of materials, much of it upcycled “trash”, and integrates painting and poetry into his designs as well. I had my students make their own mini mosaic on 12×12 tiles using a variety of mixed media materials such as glass pieces, broken jewelry, beads, discarded board game pieces, and more. This is a great way for art programs to use up any odd donations or miscellaneous supplies. I work with students with a wide range of abilities in my Express Yourself Artshop program, and we also have time constraints since we typically spend 1-3 weeks on one project before moving on to the next. To make mosaic art work for our needs, we had students paint the background of their tile whatever color they wanted to show through in between their mosaic pieces, and after they had chosen their pieces and laid out their design we used Weldbond adhesive to attach the parts rather than using grout.

It was interesting to see the messages and themes students were drawn to include in their work, and I was happy to hear that many of them found the process inspiring and therapeutic, same as Zagar did.

If you are interested in learning more about this artist, one of Zagar’s sons created a fantastic documentary about his father’s journey. You do not have to be perfect or feel like you have everything figured out to use your gifts and skills to bring light and life to others. Even through his intense struggles, Zagar has had a profoundly positive impact on his community and continues to do so to this day.

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