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.

New Art + Forced Inspiration

So, awhile back I did a post on artist block, something I had been lucky to never really experience too much until very recently. It’s not that I didn’t have a ton of ideas, I quite simply wasn’t enthused about any of them for whatever reason and the execution just wasn’t flowing. I’m sure this had a lot to do with the crazy amount of stress I’ve been under this year for various reasons, but nevertheless I really desperately wanted to make some art I was actually excited about. I remembered how when I used to write poems and short stories back in college to unwind, if I felt the urge to write but had no clue what to write about I would put my iPod (HA, who has those anymore?) on shuffle and use the first song title that came up as inspiration for my short story, or else I’d use a random word generator and the word that came up had to be the title.

I decided to revisit this old, rather silly process of chance to see if it would jumpstart my creative but very stressed and exhausted brain. I did 4 trios of word generations, wrote them down in my sketchbook, and started drawing. It worked! I instantly came up with 4 ideas that I could easily relate to thoughts that had been jumbling around in my brain anyway, but that I just didn’t know how to access and release.

For this first one, inspiration was to be drawn from the words lung, tie, and morning.

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I ended up being so happy with how it turned out that I’m keeping it! I have the perfect spot in my living room, and actually only realized after I’d hung it up that the fabric I collaged for her jacket matches a swatch on my fabric scrap pillow I made about a decade ago that is now sitting on my accent chair ^_^.

“Breathe” was drawn using prismacolor pencil for the figure, and ink for the background. I used fabric for the jacket, old book pages for the wall art, hand marbled paper for the exposed lungs, and embroidery thread for the vein detailing that trails up to her neck and tangles around her fingers. The figure is a mix of multiple references I gathered to match the image I had in my head of what I wanted her to look like.

As I mentioned before, this year has been rough. I’d been experiencing sensations of feeling trapped, confined, constricted, suffocated … Even simple acts such as breathing, eating, sleeping were in a way loaded issues, made more complicated by both external and internal factors. This was some of what was on my mind while creating this piece, but as always it is not without elements of hope and promise of a future through the oxygen giving plants and botanical imagery throughout, and sunlight pouring in through the open window.

I’m sure others may even see something totally different in the story as viewed by their own thoughts and experiences, and if anyone wants to share what they saw going on I always love to hear others’ interpretations – Feel free to send a comment or message! Love to you all, and remember, you always hear that you don’t want to force inspiration but … sometimes you have to to get anything done and that’s okay ;).

Though I’m not letting go of the original as of right now, prints will soon be available so check out my eBay shop to snag one!

I’m Not Dead, Here’s Some New Art!

noboringwalls2I’m back again! I’ve been pretty quiet on here and have been taking a bit of a project hiatus in general as I go through some life transitions and changes in a couple of areas, but have completed a few smaller stand alone projects. I talked about some of my anxiety struggles previously, so while dealing with that at a higher intensity especially over this Spring and Summer, I really needed to focus on art that was purely therapeutic; not a job or another task to complete or something with an intense deadline or something that was going to take months to complete. 

I am obsessed with raven imagery, and parted with one of my favorite pieces recently as a gift for my brother, a fellow creative who just bought a new home and is getting married this fall. I knew I wanted to do another similar piece, but with a bit more color this time. I lead an art therapy program for adults with varying disabilities, and see every day how creation can be a life saving force that reminds people that they are worthwhile if only because they have made something that day. Art can be a window in an otherwise dark room. Part of the art therapy aspect of my forcing myself to keep making art even when all I wanted to do was watch movies or go to sleep early after getting home for the day was to inject my own personal thoughts and feelings into the chosen aesthetic of what I was creating. In “Flight Response”, the subject’s face is deliberately calm and expressionless while the birds flying around her appear fast and chaotic. Both she and the birds are done entirely in high contrast black and white to appear connected as one entity. They could be physical manifestations, or projections of the woman’s psyche. The background being almost opposite the woman and birds, a more expressionistic landscape in bright, peaceful colors, is also deliberate. There is hope, and there can always be better things ahead. Though not always aware of it, she is in control.Flight Response

I also wanted to take the opportunity to play around with some different techniques and combinations of materials with no pressure on achieving a specific result, another important aspect of art as therapy. In “Waiting”, I  tried watercolor painting on wrinkled lace, wire wrapped with yarn, embroidery, and weaving strips of hand marbled paper along with my traditional ink and prismacolor pencil drawing. Again, there is an aspect of sadness and isolation but not without a lingering hope. I aimed to craft a story based on what I was experiencing as a way to process my thoughts, but a story that is open ended so the viewer can create their own narrative as well.

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As the smoke is clearing, I’m still working on my series based around color psychology and looking forward to doing more teaching again in the Fall. Both of the above pieces are available for purchase, and I’m starting early on some small and affordable Halloween-time art that will soon be posted in my eBay shop, so keep an eye out! For a time lapse of some of the background illustration for “Flight Response”, check out my artist facebook page.

 

New Projects and Oddities

I feel like I’ve been sharing more class projects than studio projects lately, and wanted to update everyone on what I’ve been up to. I am still continuing to work on my series based on the symbolism of color, but have been trying to complete some smaller projects in between that are less about some complex visual metaphor and more focused on the interplay of pattern and things that I just plain find visually interesting. If I become to singularly focused on only one specific project I’ve found it makes me more susceptible to artist block, and I’ve also had a mentally and emotionally taxing last couple weeks that left me needing some of that creation therapy I’m always urging my students towards (nothing serious, never fear! This too shall pass and all that jazz…).

 

 

The amazing news is that all 3 of these projects from watercolor to mixed media to a doll repaint not only provided a bit of sunlight in my miniature storm, but also found good homes with art appreciators!

 

 

For a lot of my teens and early-mid 20s I felt like I didn’t have a cohesive aesthetic because I appreciate so many different types of visuals. Even when I get dressed in the morning, am I going to be goth, street style, barbie, androgynous, hippie, stepford wife, some odd hybrid of them all … It entirely depends on my mood for the day. I feel like in the last 5 years I’ve finally been able to marry my inspirations of nature and living things, the fashion world, vintage and antique, graphic patterns, and eerie elegance into a specific style without getting repetitive and monotonous.

Though I am not a very techy person and resisted bothering with both instagram and pinterest for longer than most, I have to admit I am now completely addicted to both for the constant stream of visual inspiration. To me though, at least looking at art and design on social media is a positive force, so long as you aren’t using it to compare yourself negatively to the journey of other creators! Today I wanted to share the current visuals I am feeling connected to right now. All are photography and fashion, which is an idea I feel like I try to bring into my drawings. I had a huge interest in pursuing photography for the longest time in college, but one can only focus on so much and eventually drawing won out! I also would have loved to go into fashion design but alas, I hate sewing machines!

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Creepy Kids by Ukrainian fashion artist Dina Lynnyk.

Lynnyk collaborated with photographer Roma Pashkovskiy to make this aptly titled series of disconcerting fashion collages happen. The mainly monochromatic yet still surprising color palettes, detail in the wardrobe and accessorizing, and the incorporation of wildlife in the form of winged friends in many of the images drew me into this project right away (I’ve long been a fan of matching birds to clothing). Also, the pale stares! It makes you stop, and it is undoubtedly creepy but there is still such an elegance to it, like these children are some evolved form we have just discovered.

97d1ee4d4d8547cb3083b34a19013a47Gareth Pugh Spring and Summer 2015 Collection.

Gareth Pugh is an English fashion designer, and though my favorite image was from his Spring collection a couple of years ago, the inclusion of all-absorbing optic-art geometric prints are just as present in his current Spring collection for 2019. Many of his models are obscured in some way or completely covered by the designs, demonstrating garments’ power to quite literally transform the wearer into something or someone completely new. His hard edged, high contrast designs when photographed almost look like an ink drawing or painting, making the model a living work of art. 

 

ab830156054015.5609a2c8de3fcElisa Lazo de ValdezFrench Postcards Photography.

Elisa Lazo de Valdez is a portrait photographer who specializes in surreal, dreamlike, fairy-tale images. Many of her costumes, makeup, and props are detailed and elaborate. Though it was these images that drew me to her work in the first place, I was struck by how simple this incredibly creative photograph was as far as decoration, yet the strong impact that results. I’ve been including butterflies in a lot of my new art since Spring began, which is probably another reason why this particular piece attracted me.

 

9b514eda1ec08bca74b6f8bfb9466475Matières Fécales.

I saved the most out-there for last. Montreal-based couple Hannah Rose Dalton and Steven Raj Bhaskaran make up the design duo whose name translates in English to, well, Fecal Matter. Everything sounds more elegant in French …  The couple are their art, appearing in public with no hair or eyebrows and alien-like makeup on the regular. Their designs are futuristic and slightly painful looking, but then there are nods to Victorian fashion at times, and every so often surprising botanical motifs will show up like in this favorite image of mine. Of their name, the couple says it is a comment on the relationship humans have with material possessions, their disposable nature. They also claim the unpleasant brand name forces the buyer to purchase one of their garments because they actually like it, not because they just want to own or advertise a certain name-brand. To me, some of their work seems like it’s more focused on shock value than creating art, but nevertheless there have been creations of theirs that have intrigued and inspired me, and that is no small thing.

Be sure to check out my Pinterest if you want to see more curated images of bizarre fashion and surreal portraits, as well as some really killer pescatarian recipes ;).

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Work Inspired By Spring (and Stress)

I’ve taken a short break from my new series to work on a stand alone project for a competition coming up. I always have a couple sketchbooks going filled with any ideas for art projects that I’ve thought up over the past 10+ years, some I’ve gotten to and some I haven’t. I think it’s the fact that I live in Michigan and the winter has been never ending that made me want to work on something inspired by plants, insects, and basically signs of life. When I began this project, I had also been having a bit of a rough patch emotionally with some minor life trials, nothing vast on their own but when all occurring at the same time… yikes. I had done a watercolor sketch way back in 2008 of a crying woman with ladybugs crawling our of her eyes, but it ended up looking way too gross which took away from the original intent. Another previous piece (Seriously, check it out if you haven’t already – it has a fun story.) from more recently incorporating butterfly designs into the human form had been well received when showed at a curated exhibit and to my surprise actually ended up selling right away. With this in the back of my mind, I decided torn butterfly wings were the perfect vehicle for melancholia – not so creepy crawly.

From this creative soup came my newest piece, Torn, on 18×24 mixed media paper.

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One of the biggest challenges with this piece was maintaining a balance of light and dark and achieving the bold contrast I knew I wanted without the figure looking disjointed. The white outlined pattern taken from both the background’s ginkgo leaves and butterfly designs layered overtop the black watercolor drip of her torso helped to blend the dark areas into the light and remove some of the heaviness. I included pieces of stark black scattered throughout the piece to balance everything out, from the hair and parts of the wings to the thin branches in the background.

butterfly shirtAn additional challenge – my two loves are watercolor and colored pencil, and I especially love to utilize these two vastly different mediums together. What paper to use, though? Colored pencils just cannot blend on watercolor paper with the strongly textured, bumpy surface so I tend to opt for mixed media paper when using wet and dry mediums together. However, watercolor does not  act the same way on mixed media paper as on traditional watercolor paper. Doing wet-on-wet color application leads to some really blotchy, unpleasant results so I had to be patient and do a lot more light layering to build up to the look I wanted.

All in all, I am happy with the result and enjoyed turning one of my concepts in idea purgatory into a reality :). Prints of all types are available in both my Redbubble Shop and Ebay Store.

 

New Series and The Symbolism of Color

I’ve always been interested in the social significance of color, both in cultural symbolism and in the psychology of how color can affect our emotions. Showing solidarity for a specific cause through a group of people all wearing the same color on a certain day or for the attendance of a specific event has become a common practice. My partner has a viscerally negative reaction to the color yellow, and will be caused agitation if surrounded by a bright yellow environment (so basically he just loves the bright yellow flower print wallpaper that was complimentary with the bathroom in our home upon move-in). I have received shocked reactions even from people in my own young-adult age bracket at the mention that if I ever get married at some point, I probably wouldn’t choose a white wedding dress. These are just a couple of examples of the strong reactions people have to color as a form of communication, tradition, and emotional influence in both our exterior environment and more personally in how we choose to adorn ourselves and present our bodies to the world.

Of course, I will be working on other separate projects in between but my main focus going forward will be on a new series exploring the symbolism of different colors worldwide, taking the significance of specific colors from regions all over the world and integrating these often opposing meanings into a single story about that color. I will be focusing on 5 main colors, the 3 primaries of red, yellow, and blue and then black and white. The first color I have represented is white.

Depending where you are, white can symbolize new beginnings and a clean slate, or endings and mourning making it very much a bookend sort of color. It symbolizes traits that are considered more docile like purity, innocence and virtue, but also more courageous sentiments like protection and sacrifice. White is also a color that across cultures is often associated with femininity.

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For “The End Is Also The Beginning” I used a mixed media approach, choosing the mediums that would lend themselves best to the look I wanted to achieve for different parts of the piece. I used watercolor for the ice figures, snow, clouds, and water. I used prismacolor pencil (including metallic silver accents) for the figure, rabbit, and areas of fine detail like the blossom trees and patterns in the sky. I used scrap fabric for the pattern on the dress (actually left over from the hemmed curtains hanging in my art room. This is why you never toss scraps!), and flat-back acrylic pearls and beads for the decoration on the neckline of her gown, and her earrings.

I have a couple of juried shows coming up, and this will be one of the pieces getting sent off, so wish me luck!

Artists To Know: Black History Month

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Artists To Know post, and I wanted to take the opportunity for February to highlight some of my favorite black artists currently working – most new, some mentioned before. Enjoy, and be inspired!

Lina Iris Viktor

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Viktor is a British – Liberian artist based in New York who creates “queenly self portraits with a futuristic edge”. Everyone knows I’m a sucker for surreal, fantasy-like portraiture and after coming across the image above, I had an instant new favorite! Viktor studied film, photography, and design and uses all of these backgrounds to create her unique fantasy worlds that combine elements of painting, sculpture, photography, and performance. What makes her art so compelling to me is the contrast of seemingly opposite elements … Her works are detailed with a lot of pattern and texture to look at but the colors are kept minimal; many of the scenes she creates are contemporary or futuristic in appearance, but still contain elements of the classical. As well as a diverse study of art, she also had a diverse upbringing as far as culture, being raised in London by Liberian parents and also spending time living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Viktor aims to use her immersive scenes to convey a philosophical commentary on both a social and historical “preconception of blackness”. Her work is a category all its own.

Woodrow Nash

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Nash is an artist from Akron, OH who works in stoneware, earthenware, terracotta, and porcelain. He is most well known for his unique bust sculptures that capture an expression, depth, and personality that I have never felt before in this type of art. He began as an illustrator, working as a fashion illustrator in New York in the mid 70s and then returning to the Midwest to do technical illustrations. Just as he uses multiple materials for his sculptures, he also employs various firing methods from pit firing, to electric, to raku (one of my personal favorites!). He calls his style “African nouveau”, because although it is influenced by African cultural aesthetic he blends in elements of art nouveau, and his sculptures tend to appeal to a wider audience beyond just those of African heritage. Each gorgeous figure he creates has a story, and they draw you in instantly.

Kehinde Wiley

If you can’t already tell, creative portraiture is my thing. I love portraits that transport the viewer to a new place of the artists’ making, where every pattern that is used is not only decorative, but an element that is used to speak to the subject’s unique psychology. I have been a fan of Wiley’s unique, powerful style of portraiture for a long time, and was excited when he was chosen to do Obama’s official portrait. Possessing a MFA from Yale, he combines contemporary figures with aesthetic elements from the past, giving his portraits a surreal, timeless feel. One of his most recent projects for the Saint Louis Art Museum featured oil paintings of black men and women dressed in their own clothing, styled for their usual everyday, posed in traditional poses from European and American art history to make a comment about under-representation. The photographic realism coupled with ornate pattern and creative approach make it no wonder his work has garnered the acclaim it has. His art is a testament to the fact that it is possible for an artist to stay true to themselves and not follow the crowd, and still be successful.

Tawny Chatmon

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A self proclaimed “army brat”, Chatmon did a lot of traveling as a kid and had resided in 3 different continents by the age of 12. Once settled in the US, she turned more in the creative direction of theater. She didn’t start getting into photography until her early 20s, when she was gifted a camera at 19 and through self teaching and experimentation saw an opportunity to make a living through the lens. After losing her father to a battle with cancer in 2010, Chatmon’s portrait photography became not only a career but a way to communicate and process emotions, an art. What first drew me to her work was the image above, part of her series titled “Deeply Embedded”. The composition and heavy use of pattern on the clothing reminded  me a bit of Gustav Klimt, one of my favorites from art history. Chatmon writes about this series on her website, “Deeply Embedded was created during a time where I continued to come across negativity centered around natural black hair & styles. Anger followed by frustration and sadness forced me to refocus that energy into creating work to speak for me as our words fell upon deaf ears.” There are many different forms of beauty in our world, and photography is the perfect medium to capture that fact.

Pierre Jean-Louis

 

I love art that plays with the merging of people and their environments, which is why I found this 26 year old artist’s work so inspiring. This self taught artist from New Jersey grew up in a deeply conservative religious household, but also a deeply creative one being the son of successful Haitian painter Bonaventure Jean-Louis. He moved beyond his roots with multimedia approaches, taking his inspiration from the beauty of the natural world that God has created, and with his series “Black Girl Magic”, explores specifically the beauty of natural hair. Models’ hair is transformed into forest, flowers, and galaxies, making a comment against exclusionary beauty standards.

I hope you will take the time to explore more of these artists’ amazing work. It was so hard to pick just one or two images to highlight!