Posts Tagged ‘art’

Mr. Kiji

Friday, May 28th, 2010

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Kiji McCafferty is a Japanese-born, New York-raised artist and graphic designer whose vivid work comes in all shapes and sizes, from intricate illustrations to large-scale painted murals. Before setting out to contribute to the Welling Court Mural Project in Queens with some of graffiti/street art’s most famous and recognizable names, Kiji sat down to describe what the day to day life of a working artist consists of.

AM: What materials do you use aside from your computer? Is there a palpable process to making something digitally for you, like hand sketching, or do you basically go from brain to screen?

KM: It really varies from project to project. I usually make thumbnails and notes in my sketchbook trying to utilize both my analog and digital tool chest as appropriately as possible. The computer does save me a lot of time, but only when smart decisions are made from the start. I always welcome happy accidents.

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AM: Where and how do you draw inspiration from for your work? Are you one of those people who systematically writes down ideas in a notebook or keeps a folder on your computer of images you come across and want to consult later?

KM: I am pretty methodical about keeping sketches and compiling longstanding lists of notations. I have stacks of sketchbooks of all sizes. The drawings aren’t always great but the important thing is that it conveys the idea. I think it’s a great exercise to constantly be sketching. It allows you to have a healthy and immediate outlet from your mind’s eye to the real world.

AM: Are there any particular projects you are especially proud of and, conversely, anything you feel like you really flubbed at the beginning of your career that you wish you could do over?

KM: There’s no one project I’m overly proud of. I’m really critical of my own work and always look at a project in hindsight wondering how I could do it better the next time. There’s lots I could have done over, but all of it brought me to where I am now. I just try to keep a forward momentum; it seems like the healthiest means to success.

AM: What are the challenges of working from home for you?

KM: Some people think working from home would be fun. It’s definitely a double-edged sword. On one side, you have the freedom to set your own hours choose your projects and do what you want. On the other, you’re your own boss, accountant, project manager, negotiator and motivator. It’s a balancing act. I commend anyone that does it well. I sometimes miss working in a shared studio environment.

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AM: Do you find it difficult to balance creating work for a living and creating work for pleasure/yourself and art shows?

KM: I’m not always hired for the same aesthetic. I think that versatility has made me a commercially viable illustrator. On the flip side, jumping back and forth between such vastly different aesthetics and processes can be a bit confusing sometimes. The work I make for a gallery setting usually has a bit more subtext both on a personal level and on a semiotic level. It’s a balancing act, but I think I’ve learned and grown very much by the contrast between the two.

AM: What is a typical day like for you?

KM: It’s pretty straightforward; up and at my computer around 9am with a coffee in hand. The first half of the day is a juggling act of doing revisions on an existing project, working on a current project and email correspondence. I cat nap, but all in all, it’s a labor of love. The best time for drafting and drawing is at night. I feel my hand is steadier and my mind is clearer, so once the sun sets, I usually shift over to the drafting table if I have the time. My day ends anywhere between 1am and 4am. The cycle repeats. I try to only do three days on this schedule before I spend a day or two on a lighter schedule.

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AM: Any upcoming projects we should be on the look out for?

KM: There’s a bunch of stuff! A mural project organized by the people of Ad-Hoc in Queens called the Welling Walls. A group show at Yes Gallery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with a bunch of my good friends. In July, the Electric Windows 2 project in Beacon, New York. Lots of fun stuff!

For more on Kiji check out his online portfolio at mrkiji.com.

Pamela Wasabi

Monday, May 24th, 2010

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Let’s start out with your background; where are you from, and how did you first get into fashion? Did you go to school for it?

I grew up in Colombia, I have lived in Paris and now home is Miami. I really don’t care about belonging to any place in particular but every place that I have lived has contributed to who I am.

I took a fashion associate program in Miami back in ’03 just because I wanted to be in a creative field, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

How did you come to live in Miami? What do you like about it? In general, or career-wise?

I came to Miami when I was 16 and I had no choice but to come, as it was a family decision. I hated the decision back then, but now I think it is the best thing that has happened to me. To come from Bogota, a cold, conservative, religious, close-minded, man’s world, to Miami, a young, full-of-energy, free spirited and next-to-the-ocean city, it woke me up! And now I don’t rest until I know that what I am doing is for my own benefit. Call me selfish, but it is my life and I just have one to live.

How did you come up with the moniker Wasabi? What does it mean to you? Stretching it out further, what do you want the name Wasabi Fashion Kult to signify?

My personal fashion style, color preference and even graphic aesthetic is very similar to the one built into the Harajuku culture. I have developed this saturated style since I can remember but what is funny is that I was never exposed to the Japanese pop culture until ’05. A friend gave me a Fruits postcard and opened a whole new universe and new obsession for me. Since then I love, love, love anything that has that colorful, dolly, j-pop strokes of energy.

Therefore, Wasabi stands for that eccentric flavor and colorful, expressive style. It is a word that has the Japanese culture built into it and no matter what language you speak it correlates to something hot and stimulating. Later on as my concept grew, I tied in the Fashion Kult words and formed a name that I want to signify a movement, a house, a brand, an icon that stands for expression, freedom and individuality. Like creating a religion, this one is my own.

You have many different types of content in your online magazine. Art, music, interviews, video…what’s the overriding ethos that drives it?

The first thing that I intend is to document our culture, what is happening right now, how we evolve, how we behave, what we like, and, most importantly, why? I am very, very curious and seek to know how others make something out of their lives. But the common ground for this type of history that I want to observe is the one where the individual is really looking for his or her independence.

You also do fashion street photography. What draws you to that? What kinds of people do you most like to photograph?

I am attracted to see how people express themselves. How they break the mold and don’t give a damn about it. Those are the people I photograph.

You do so many different things…is there one medium that was your first love, or did they all grow organically at the same time?

I call what I do, solving puzzles. I like to see the big picture and then move the pieces to make it work. It is like a kind of math and everything that I do, from my fashion journalism to organizing the magazine, advertising, promotions, styling, producing and art directing has this creative arithmetic. I think conceptually, and mostly through images. And that is how everything in my life organically happens.

What are your biggest aesthetic inspirations? Have you been to Japan? Your style, as you said, is often similar to j-pop imagery.

The big picture will be, to be the bridge or some sort of blender that communicates, and documents both cultures. The creative, expressive avant-garde Japanese pop culture with the free spirited, artistic Western one.

I have never been to Japan; I will go when WFK gives me the opportunity to travel. It will be the peak of my career and the start of a new chapter.

How did you get into producing fashion shows? What do you like about doing this particular line of work?

It’s putting into practice my artistic mathematics and my creative conceptual thinking. Like creating a big assembling machine and making everything work flawlessly. I like to entertain people, and while I dress up what I do with a big fashion smile, I play my game backstage.

What exactly goes into producing a fashion show? What are some of the unique challenges?

The biggest challenge is to dare oneself to create what hasn’t been done before, and since you do not have a point of reference you only know if what you are doing is successful after the show is over.

To produce a fashion show it takes a lot of organizational, communication and visualization skills. As the producer and art director I like to get my hands in every department; from the idea to the making of it.
It is a big process: looks, casting, models, sizes, fit sessions. Styling, outfits, make up and hairstyle design. Venue, production, runway, coordination. Music, dates, PR. Dressers, timing, dead lines, adrenaline and show time!

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

I love to watch movies, mostly old ones. Film is a perfect art to me and it gives my imagination wings. I also love adventure and action; I practice boxing and go for runs very often. It’s my discipline.

What advice do you have for a young person who wants to get into fashion?

Fashion is a business and can be a monster. Selling and making clothes is just like selling and making French fries, you just have to be smart about the game.

For more Pamela Wasabi, check out her ‘zine at WasabiFashionKult and her street photography at WasabiBlackMagic.

Life Size Maps

Friday, May 21st, 2010

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There have to be some mixed feelings attached to the title of “best unsigned band in New York.” On the one hand, you’re the best! On the other hand, you’re the best at dealing with the thankless toil that fledgling, hopelessly under-the-radar bands have to withstand in this town if they want to make even fitful progress.

Just ask Mike Mckeever, guitar player and songwriter for Columbia University-based Life Size Maps. It took him months of hanging out at Brooklyn DIY mecca Death by Audio, a veritable proving ground for the borough’s legions of talented musical unknowns, before he could talk the venue’s bookers into giving his band a 30-minute set. On a Thursday night in late April, the band played soaring baroque-inflected power pop for a crowd of about 50 Columbia groupies and a small handful of miscellaneous scenesters. A weeknight DIY crowd faced with a band that no one in north Brooklyn has ever heard before usually watches with their arms placed stiffly atop one another. But Williamsburg’s trademark diffidence was no match for a song like “See it Differently,” whose exuberant and impossibly massive chorus shreds all cynicism within earshot. The members of Total Slacker and Fiasco, two established scene bands sharing the night’s bill with LSM, were among the converted.

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Total Slacker especially. This past Thursday night, the band weathered a journey that few Brooklyn artists would dare to undertake, dragging themselves and their instruments to a basement dive underneath the subway tracks at 124th and Broadway in Manhattan, just to headline a Life Size Maps gig. “Umm yeah, this isn’t the kind of place we usually play,” guitarist Tucker Rountree said, scanning the underclassman-packed, defiantly un-hip downstairs area of the Pub. With its molded linoleum dance floor and hideous neon-red booths, the basement looks like someone’s badly—albeit endearingly—misfired attempt at building a respectable club space. The result is more serial killer’s basement than Music Hall of Williamsburg, but the combination of dirt-cheap drinks and a small horde of excited undergrads made the place feel like the perfect DIY dive.

As did power pop from a trio of music nerds. “I just wanna write great pop songs,” says Mckeever, a hyperactive and shorter-than-average mop top studying towards an English and music double major at Columbia. Mckeever’s songs carry a decidedly classical sound, and have an obvious and relatable quality that distracts from just how mind-blowingly complicated they are. He started the band as a sophomore, eventually trimming an unwieldy flute, oboe and two-guitar ensemble to a taut guitar, drum and cello three-piece. He writes the sort of songs that you can sing along to the first time you hear them—even though they’re dizzying, thickly layered marvels of pop symmetry that only a trio of classically-trained musicians could execute.

Mckeever is backed by drummer and fellow Columbia music student Griffin Kisner and cellist Rob Karpay. The basement looks like it’s never met a classical instrument in its life, but Karpay seems to relish the incongruities of the evening. “Yeah,” says the gangling, Manhattan School of Music junior. “I guess I might be the greatest rock cellist in the world!” He had no competition on Thursday night. The meandering “Meet Me in the Shade” is all Rob, with his cello providing a frantic, anxious counterpoint to Mckeever’s sweet falsetto. He furiously shakes his head with every stroke of the bow, pinching the instrument’s fret board as a couple of exuberant fans hovered a few inches from his face.

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Life Size Maps might not have a record deal, but they have something that could be just as valuable: fans who are ready to swear that they’re listening to one of the best bands on Earth. The number of people who mouth along to every one of LSM’s songs, who know that “See it Differently” will always be the set the closer and who hang on every key change and hook seems to grow from concert to concert. “We even have a stalker,” says Mckeever, pointing to a steely-looking acne sufferer towards the back of the venue. “He like, follows us everywhere. I don’t know what to do about him.” He’s half-joking. A band too big for its campus roots yet too small to make the jump to the DIY circuit needs all the stalkers it can get.

By the time Total Slacker finished their set at around one in the morning, a couple of young, ridiculously talented acts had laid waste to a random basement bar in a remote and culturally (or at least rock-musically) blighted part of town. Life Size Maps is simultaneously inviting and devastating in a way that only a well-practiced pop act can be. The “best unsigned band in New York” is a title they might not need to get used to.

For more visit Myspace.com/lifesizemaps

Filmmaking with Judah Switzer

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

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Judah Switzer is the 28-year-old director behind the esoteric videos for the most recent release by DFA recording artist YACHT. Fittingly for an album titled See Mystery Lights, the music videos contain the kind of mystic symbolism most often associated with tarot cards or Freemasonry. However, Judah is no crystal-clutching fanatic. His work has also been screened at several film festivals. Today, Judah explains what it is exactly a director does—besides calling “Action.”

Helen Schumacher: You went to college at the University of Oregon. What did you study there? Is that where you got into filmmaking?

Judah Switzer: I was fortunate enough to study the fine arts under some extremely moving and challenging people—talented artists and thinkers experimenting with ideas at a state school that weren’t really being explored at any of the more regarded arts schools in the nation. And yeah, probably a lot of their guidance helped me establish my own directorial sensibilities, but it was all explored through a fine-arts lens. The work was much more conceptual and procedural. I’d like to think that I engage this process in my current projects, that some degree of higher level artistic development is being applied rather than just making a wacky set and calling “Action.”

My school never had a “film school” so to speak. You could go the route of film studies (purely academic), or get into production through the journalism school, or study art and hope you had crazy professors who let you break free of the traditional drawing classes and other absurd requirements. I was lucky, and basically made bizarre Lynchian short films. Aside from my formal schooling though, I think primarily I became interested in visual storytelling around the third grade, when my friends and I began making silly videos and projects. In a sense, my upbringing as a so-called “digital native” also directly contributed to my own visual discoveries.

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H.S.: More specifically, how did you get into making music videos?

I was called into a pre-production meeting in 2007 with a Portland-based animation studio called Feel Good Anyway, whom I had worked on a few projects with. The meeting was actually about making a music video for the band YACHT, and Jona Bechtolt was there so that’s when we met. The video never got made; I think at that time the animation budget was just going to be too high or something. But a few months later Jona sent Emma [Scout] Niblett my way when she asked him about Portland directors to do a video to accompany her “Kiss” single. She liked my reel and that was that, really. At the time I was still working a full time gig at an advertising agency, so I’d work 8-10 hours a day at my day job and then stay after hours and edit with Emma until, like, 3am in the editing suite, then wake up at 8am and do it all over again. I had a lot of fun working with Emma and Will Oldham, and the video was really well received, so it became a fun creative practice for me. And of course since then I’ve worked with Jona and Claire on several projects.

H.S.: I feel a bit silly asking this, but what is it exactly that a director does?

J.S.: Well, it can mean different things depending on the situation, but for music videos generally I conceptualize and pitch projects to bands that request treatments, then depending on the budget I hire producers and crew, help storyboard and art direct, and then finally work directly with the talent and everything during the shoot. It also involves making people comfortable and willing to experiment on camera, being able to communicate your ideas to people within an inherently vulnerable environment. And also, directing is about having an image in your mind profound enough to will it into reality, and then once you are in production and post-production mode, being able to have an open enough mind to accept or negotiate away from that original idea. A large part of the job is about coming to realize the loss of your conceived original image and instead refining and making it something even more amazing.

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H.S.: Yeah, I always imagined filmmaking would be especially difficult because the level of collaboration required. Is that the case? Is it difficult to negotiate between your vision, the band’s, and others’ on set? In other words, how do you manage to be a part of a team while still retaining some level of creative control? Are there advantages to this collaboration as well?

J.S.: It is difficult, for sure, but I’d want it no other way. Having the opportunity to work with other artists is the most exciting and invigorating part of directing. I’ve been lucky enough to work with friends and clients alike who trust my own creative judgments but also aren’t afraid to explore other options. Working collaboratively will always solve more problems than not, and I think that if you believe enough in the idea you can convince other people as well.

H.S.: You’ve also done animation work. Is that something you’d like to continue to do and incorporate into your videos?

J.S.: Absolutely. I’ve loved getting into animation, and have been really lucky to have worked with amazing animators. Eric Mast and I are working on a second animated video for the Portland band White Fang; we’ve been tag-teaming on it for like a year now. And more and more I use animation in commercial projects, which is great.

H.S.: Most of your work so far has been shorter pieces, any ambitions for a full-length movie? Or are you more interested in the fine-art realm of video? What are your future creative goals?

J.S.: Yipes! It seems too early to talk about it yet, but yes, I have a couple of long-form projects in the works. I have an interest in continuing shorter video projects too though, especially with installation and performative pieces. Ideally I would love to be making and showing artistic pieces and still be able to support myself with commercial work.

You can check out Judah’s work at Jude Says or peep his Vimeo channel at vimeo.com/judesays

Art and ‘zines with Austin McManus

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

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Austin McManus, the man behind the San Francisco ‘zine company The Flop Box knows how to stay busy. He recently started curating monthly art shows at FREEGOLDWATCH in San Francisco, and managed to churn out two new ‘zines recently despite also preparing for a split show and joint ‘zine project with close friend Brandon Chuesy, as well as a solo photography show in Japan at the end of summer. Woah. For what Austin refers to as “seven foggy years,” The Flop Box has been putting out ‘zines filled with photographs, graffiti and artwork from his Bay Area friends and acquaintances. He recently took the time to tell me a little bit more about how he juggles everything.

AM: First off, tell me a little about yourself.

AMM: I am tall. I’ve been an occupant of planet Earth for 29 years. The seven most recent years were spent residing in San Francisco. I quit college several credits away from graduating. I am currently a freelance photographer, graphic designer, publisher, and curator. I haven’t had a “real job” in three years and feel fortunate to not have a structured schedule. I spent five months of 2009 bedridden, wondering if I was gonna live the rest of my life in horrifying pain. I like grainy black and white film and dislike bulky cameras. I ride a bike every day of the week and want to wear a new pair of socks for the rest of my life.

AM: When did you start making ‘zines?

AMM: I have been making ‘zines for six or seven years now. Seeing older kids making punk rock and graffiti ‘zines when I was younger in Los Angeles probably had a large impact on me. My brother used to mail me these obscure conceptual graphic design ‘zines he was making in the early 90′s as well. It wasn’t until I moved to the Bay, though, that I got obsessed with them. My friend Pez has had a huge influence on me. One day he came over to my house and gave me a stack of ‘zines from his archives, and I knew I had my work cut out for me. My love for independent publishing grows stronger everyday as the power of Internet photo sharing becomes more commonplace. You don’t have to work for your advertisers and anyone can do it. I suggest you go make one right now. I’m waiting.

AM: What materials do you use?

AMM: Anything that I can get my hands on. Offset printers, photocopy machines, home printers, long arm staplers, industrial paper cutters, stencils, silkscreen presses, Gocco printers, etc.

AM: How long does it typically tell you to assemble a ‘zine?

AMM: Anywhere from one day to one year, depending if there are other artists involved or if it’s just a personal ‘zine. Supplies are currently acquired through a generous barter system.

AM: How do you select the artists you work with?

AMM: All the artist who have had ‘zines on The Flopbox are San Francisco artists and personal friends. The original idea for the site was to utilize the Internet and offer something of tangible value, giving access to people outside of San Francisco.

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AM: What has been the most fun one for you to put together?

AMM: They have all been very enjoyable. The ABC #2 ‘zine was great, though. I gave each artist different direction and some absolutely none. Everyone who contributed to that ‘zine sent me top-notch sketches. It was really interesting to see how far the artist would take a single letter of the alphabet. After twelve months of harassing people to give me drawings, it became an exercise in patience. There were many writers that I wish would have contributed and that I asked to be in it. But, some people are too cool for school sometimes and you know how artists tend to be…flakey.

AM: How difficult was it for you to get your materials stocked in stores – do you rely solely on online sales? Does it end up being cost-effective for you or just something you enjoy doing?

AMM: In S.F. it’s easy. I walk into the store, hand them ‘zines, they hand me money, and we thank each other. That’s San Francisco though, they know me here, and are willing to support local folk making things. As far as other cities and countries, it’s difficult. There is this worthless middleman called a distributor. Cut the middleman out if you’re not producing large quantities of product. I was in Japan recently and brought a large box of ‘zines with me. Not only my own, but ‘zines from several different artists. I had generous Japanese friends take me around to stores where they knew shop owners for meet and greets. The same scenario always arises. They tell me I need to have a distributor. People say “Oh, we would love to carry these and want to, but, we only really deal with distributors.” Even if I’m standing there with ten different products, from ten different artists, right in front of the buyer. I’m still trying to figure out what the difference is between what I do versus a distributor. They would suggest to go all the way back to the U.S. and sell it to a distributor for practically nothing, so it can get shipped all the way back over, so they can be charged more than I’m charging?. This is bad business practice in my eyes, and so impersonal.

I would say 75% of the ‘zines sell over the web, though. The demand over the Internet is high enough now that I don’t really have to deal with stores to much. Profits are minimal and the craft, rewarding.

AM: What other ‘zines from the past did enjoy the most?

AMM: Finding a good ‘zine is a real treasure hunt. I think every ‘zine in my collection is my favorite. The more limited and smaller pressing they are, the luckier I feel to have gotten my hands on them. I have run out of space on the shelves, I’m starting to fill boxes.

To order zines and find out more, visit The Flop Box

Leslie Van Stelten

Monday, May 17th, 2010

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JV: So, you’re based in New York City. Where did you grow up?

LVS: Colorado. In the suburbs.

JV: And when did you move to New York?

LVS: In 1997. I went to art school and only packed two suitcases. Had never been here before, didn’t have any friends here, just sort of moved.

JV: How was that?

LVS: You know, New York is so exciting that it was really an adrenaline rush for many years. It was a struggle making friends and everything and finding my way, but it was definitely an adventure, very exciting. I sort of recommend everybody do that, you know?

JV: Absolutely. I agree. How do you think New York City influences your work?

LVS: I think what really motivates me is the scenery of New York… A lot of my photographs have New York City skylines, bridges, the streets of Brooklyn–just something very distinctively New York. And I like to take portraits that way a lot.

JV: Tell me about your history as an artist. Was photography your first artistic passion?

LVS: I sort of had another life before photography. I have a degree in biology. I actually was in the Peace Corps for a little while, and I was in Panama City just hanging out in the French District and I just sort of had this epiphany, this feeling that I wasn’t really doing the right thing with my life and I had to explore this other option. From then on I started doing photography- I took a photography class and I knew immediately. I just understood the physics of lighting and everything; it came to me naturally, so I knew it was the right way to go.

JV: How has the digital age changed your work? I noticed that some of your work seems to combine digital and traditional photography.

LVS: Ten, fifteen years ago when I was starting it was all film, mostly. The kind of cameras I used to make portraits then, medium format and a lot of large format cameras, I used because you could slice through the depth of field with a 4×5 camera, which is a really interesting way to take portraits. I still have that camera and I still do that sometimes, but I find with digital when I’m shooting I can look at the LCD screen in the back and see the lighting instantly, and make adjustments immediately. So I think as far as the flow goes, as far as it comes in with how I see things being lit, digital has really helped me. And also the post-production part of it- it’s much easier to edit digital.

But it doesn’t quite have the feeling that film does. I’ve always liked experimenting around with polaroids, and I find the experimental process with film much more fulfilling. With digital it’s sort of like what you see is what you get, but it makes jobs- when you have clients looking at your computer screen- it makes that flow much easier. So, you know, everything is a give and take.

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JV: I really love the attention to detail in your fashion work. For example, some of the photos makes me feel like I’m looking at stills from a film. When you’re coming up with props and locations for your shoots, do you think of there being a narrative that the photos will fit into?

LVS: Yes, often I do. It depends. Often I pre-plan the shoots with stylists and a makeup artist and we come up with concepts and a story. But then sometimes I’ll walk into shoots and just make use of the available space. It depends, but for a lot of the fashion and beauty stuff I like to have it pre-planned, and I do like to have a narrative, some sort of story going on.

JV: How is working with models vs. working with bands and individuals?

LVS: It’s easier as a photographer to light models and everything because, you know, they have perfect skin, perfect facial structure (laughs). If you’re doing true, hardcore beauty fashion stories, it definitely makes it easier because models know their bodies, and they know what angles work for them. But it’s not as interesting sometimes as working with bands or regular people. I like a lot of character in people. Oftentimes on the fashion projects I choose my own models, people that I know from clubs and whatever, because they’re a little bit more interesting to me. They’re not so “cookie-cutter-model”.

JV: Some of your personal photo-illustration projects have a really interesting Goth edge to them. What kind of music or scene do you think has been most influential to your aesthetic?

LVS: Oh boy, that’s a tough one. I’m a DJ, also.

JV: What kind of music do you DJ?

LVS: Totally depends on where I’m playing.

I’d say rock ‘n roll. I’d say that’s the core of who I am. And yeah, definitely there’s a dark feel to the photo-illustration work, because I like comic books, and I like that vibe.

JV: I actually thought that when I saw your work. I thought of the graphic novels I kind of grew up reading in high school.

LVS: Exactly! I haven’t been doing photo-illustrations that much lately, but I just did one for a band called the Johns that’s going to be in my show on May 2nd. I’m excited to show it…I haven’t shown it to anybody, it’s just going to be this new thing at the show, and I’m very excited. But I haven’t been working on them in a while. I don’t know, I’ve been sort of vibing on that whole fashion thing. And I have this little team that’s been sort of pushing me, keeping a flame going on that stuff. But when I was experimenting around with photo-illustration, that comic book vibe influenced me a lot. I’d go to comic book stores and get influenced by them.

JV: Do you think your work has recurring themes, and if so, have they changed with time or remained fairly consistent?

LVS: I do so many more shoots than what’s in my photography book, I think that’s something most photographers do, and the ones that I choose for my portfolio are the ones that tell a story. There’s a sense of eternity, an emotional sense of eternity that makes people seem bigger than who they really are…I don’t know if that makes sense at all, but it’s a sense of lighting and a sense of the look in their eyes and the way they’re styled and everything. I don’t know. People have told me throughout the years that my work really has a “Leslie Van Stelten” look to it.

JV: What advice do you have for people considering a career in photography?

LVS: It’s a tough road, but I’m not even going to focus on that because I don’t want it to sound negative at all. You just have to keep shooting and have fun with it, because it’s a blast. The people alone that you meet while you’re doing it- it’s not the final photograph, it’s not the success of it or any of that, the greatest thing about photography are the people that let you into their lives. You’re granted access to people’s lives, to people that normally you wouldn’t have access to. And it’s a collaborative thing, working with makeup artists and stylists- it’s just all a magical thing. And I think it becomes a creation of its own with the collaborations and the crazy accidents that happen. It’s the process that makes it so amazing. It’s an amazing career.

For more, visit http://www.leslievanstelten.com

Photos by Leslie Van Stelten
Makeup by Marisa Franco
Styling and art direction by Jet Olivia

Martha Grover

Friday, May 14th, 2010

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Helen Schumacher: How would you describe your ‘zine’s content to someone who has never seen an issue?

Martha Grover: Overall, Somnambulist is comprised of artwork and personal, creative non-fiction writing. Most of the stories are about things that have happened to me. For example, in one issue I wrote about gentrification in Portland; in another, I interviewed my grandpa who was a heroin addict for ten years. Occasionally I’ll publish other people’s writing, but it always has to fit with the theme of the issue. I try to elevate the “Perzine” [personal zine] to the level of literature—I don’t know if I always succeed, but I really don’t want anyone reading my diary. I don’t want to just vomit on the page and ask people to read it. At the same time, I think candid, unfiltered personal stories are what makes ‘zines so absolutely addictive.

I’m a visual artist as well, and put a lot of my own work in the ‘zine. I’ve also had the privilege of knowing a bunch of talented artists from Portland and have worked hand-in-hand with them. My friend Aron Steinke does a comic called Big Plans. He’s done quite a lot of artwork for me. My other friend Kate Berube is illustrating my next issue. It’s all about “breakfast around the world.” I asked some of my friends who are living abroad to write little stories about their breakfast routines. Kate is going to illustrate the issue. I’m excited about it.

HS: Most of your writing seems to center around personal stories. Are there difficulties in putting so much of yourself into a story? Benefits?

MG: There are definitely difficulties, though not about what you’d think; I’ve never regretted anything I’ve written about myself. It’s only the things I’ve written about other people that I’ve regretted. I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes over the years and hurt people’s feelings or pissed them off. I try to think more about my stories and how they may affect people now. At the same time, people are always going to have issues when you write about them. As a writer, you always have to weigh the benefits and the downsides. And then you ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” I am kind of naïve though, and sometimes people are upset and it totally comes out of left field for me. So what can you do? I have soooo much material in my personal life. I guess that’s a blessing and a curse. I just seem to have a weird life, or at least, I seem to have some kind of knack for turning what happens to me into interesting stories.

I also figure as long as I just keep writing about my family, I’ll be in the clear. My last ‘zine, and by far the most popular one to date, was a record of family meetings for a year. I was really sick and had to move in with my parents for a year. Every Sunday morning we (my parents, four siblings, and myself) were required to have a family meeting to air our grievances and make new house rules. I started taking “the minutes” and posting them on my blog. People went nuts over them. So I decided to compile them into a ‘zine. My family was a little bashful and embarrassed about some of it, but I know deep down they loved it. I mean, my mom gave all the women in her book club a copy!

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H.S.: A lot of your writing these past couple years has been about living with Cushing’s syndrome. While it’s something that has obviously changed much about your life, I’m wondering how it has impacted your creative process and you as a writer?

M.G.: Living with chronic illness has given me a lot of material. At the same time it has taken away a lot of my stamina. So, as far as my creative process goes, it has changed the way I write. I am tired all the time. I take a lot of naps and just lie around thinking. I can usually form what I’m going to write just by thinking about it for days on end. That isn’t to say I don’t edit, that I don’t re-write and work hard, I just spend a lot more time now thinking about what I’m going to write before I actually sit down at the computer.

H.S.: How did you get started writing?

M.G.: Like a lot of folks, I wrote “poetry” in high school. After high school I attended the University of Oregon and enrolled in their undergraduate creative writing program and got involved in literature and poetry readings in Eugene. It was a really nurturing community and helped me become comfortable with writing and performing my work. I think that’s where I learned that to be a writer, you have to either be really confident or, like in my case, so naïve really, that you fall down in public and you just keep getting up.

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H.S.: Despite the fact that everyone has a blog, ‘zines seem to be making a small comeback. Do you think this is just ’90s nostalgia or is there something else about them that keeps drawing people to making and reading them?

M.G.: I can’t speak for everyone in the ‘zine community; I can only speak for myself. I don’t think ‘zines are “making a comeback,” I don’t think they’ve ever really gone away. I think though, that since their heyday in the ‘90s, they’ve changed a lot because of technology. Since anyone can start a website or a blog, the attraction of zines isn’t necessarily having your voice heard. What I think draws me and a lot of people to ‘zines is the community. Doing my ‘zine for five years now has connected me with people I never would have known otherwise. I have tons of pen pals. I have “fans” of my zines and I’ve become a fan of other writers. This is different from blogs because I actually get things in the mail. Which is just totally awesome! It’s brought back “mail art,” which is a tradition dating back into the last century. On that note, I think people are paying a lot more attention to how their ‘zines look and feel. They are putting a lot more care into them as art objects. The worlds of underground comics and ‘zines are becoming very intertwined. That’s something that the Internet can’t compete with—the sense of community created by people sending things to each other in the mail and meeting each other at ‘zine symposiums around the world.

H.S.: Are there any new projects you’re working on? The next issue of Somnambulist?

M.G.: Well, like I said, I’ve sent the breakfast issue off to be illustrated and I’m excited about that. I think it’s going to be really great. In the meantime, I am thinking about doing a little mini-’zine about body parts. It’s going to be about the metaphors we use to describe our body and how those have changed throughout history. (Can you tell I’ve been going to art school?) I’ve also drawn portraits of several friends over the years and put them in my ‘zine as personal ads. I’m thinking about doing a couple more of those. That was a lot of fun—although I don’t know if anyone ever got a date! I’m not very good at drawing teeth!

For more information on Martha and Somnambulist visit her blog at somnambulistzine.blogspot.com

Surrealism in the Jungle

Monday, May 10th, 2010

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In Xilita, Mexico a real, concrete fantasy exists. It’s called Las Pozas, and it’s just a six-to-eight hour, bleary-eyed bus ride from either Monterrey or Mexico City. The juxtaposition of entering the small jungle village from greater Mexico is jarring because Xilita radiates this ethereal, light-headed feeling that stems from its buoyant citizens and surrounding pristine green hills and valleys. It can be sickening, not unlike altitude sickness, if you’re not expecting extreme elation. The cause all this jubilance is, of course, Las Pozas.

I knew little of the place other than what a friend described as “these crazy Surrealist sculpture gardens built in the 60’s in the middle of the jungle!” And, since my Spanish is only capable of getting me confused, lost, and visibly distraught, I wasn’t able to glean much prior to entering Xilita. I had a faint idea of what to expect, but no real understanding beyond a few vague descriptions. This naïveté isn’t altogether bad when experiencing Las Pozas, except that you could miss something truly profound. Thankfully for you, I’m writing this. And thankfully for me, my little gang of four with whom I was traveling Mexico was privy to an introductory special most Las Pozas’ visitors are not—a charming labyrinth tucked neatly and discreetly some 100 yards before the official entrance.

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Despite being simple in design, and thus easy to conquer, this quaint white maze provided the perfect template with which to think and navigate through Las Pozas’ 80 acres of non-linear, jungle-web terrain. There are many routes with dead ends and stairs that lead to nowhere.

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But there are just as many hidden passages and secret rooms which, when discovered, give way to new, heightened levels of experience. And when traveled successfully, Las Pozas should, like any proper labyrinth or maze, shoot you out where you began—albeit via a convoluted whirlwind in transit that leaves you forever changed and suffering from a hangover that oscillates somewhere between anesthesia and amnesia. But let me back up, lest I lose readers who suspect hyperbole.

At the entrance—a little neon plastic-flagged kiosk not unlike a churro stand you’d expect to find in a theme park—you pay a mere 30 pesos to gain entry. You are offered a tour guide like you’d expect at most tourist destinations, but it’s simply as a courtesy. The real difference between Las Pozas and, say, most tourist attractions the world over, is that the overwhelming industry and bureaucracy that goes along with most tourist spectacles doesn’t exist here. Compared to Machu Picchu—a place that feels like an American theme park due to the hordes of daily visitors, relentless picture taking, and kitsch souvenirs—Las Pozas is a nymphet whose beauty has yet to be understood and spoiled. As a result, you don’t actually feel like a tourist when there—there’s no map to follow and no security trailing you—so you can gallivant about as you would in the privacy of your own bedroom.

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Essentially, Las Pozas is one mammoth, mythical outdoor bedroom. Its creator was a wealthy English Surrealist art-collecting eccentric who, as a child, built forts in his backyard to facilitate fantasy. As an adult, having never outgrown his pre-pubescent penchant for an imaginative play place, he turned this secret world into reality so he could traipse around in a white robe with lions and Surrealism’s finest practitioners. Wandering around Las Pozas, you get lost in this fruitcake’s vision: the further you go, the less you’re able to distinguish fantasy from reality.

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The full experience can be both physically and mentally dangerous. Physically so because the terrain can get as dangerous and dramatic as you can imagine—ascending and descending mountainsides with little to no trail and booby traps of loose rocks and thorns if you venture wrong—and mentally so because, well, you might never want to leave. But the full experience is crucial. It entails breathtaking views, swimming naked in waterfalls, and completing the entire maze the wacko envisioned. And very few people, we later learned, ever go through all the way. So if you make it to Xilita and its dream-world ruby, Las Pozas: first, make sure to check out the labyrinth at the outset to acclimatize yourself to the type of thinking that is required to move through its mother’s womb; second, ask the man—the one that looks like a cool uncle or rad dad—selling handmade jewelry about Casa de las Nubes (House of the Clouds), from which you can see everything; third, enjoy.

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All Photos by James Cromwell Holden III

Brett Walker

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

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SY: Which did you acquire first in your orange uniform: sunglasses, beard, or underwear? And did it inform the rest of the getup or has it always existed as an artistic trinity?

BW: I’ve had the beard for some time. Then the underwear was given to me, and I found the sunglasses at a truck stop somewhere east of the Bay Area. It never really manifested as one outfit until I had the sunglasses. The color orange and those items of clothing are really just another piece in a long line of personal costumes and disguises I’ve maintained over the years while doing certain projects. You can see different pieces of work I’ve made, and see links between outfits and types of characterizations and personas I’ve created. I don’t think of them as uniforms or anything that is intentionally created; most of those different pieces of attire are items I wear on a daily basis.

In fact, I was just finishing having lunch with a friend the other day, and I was getting on my bicycle outside of the restaurant, and a random passer-by asked to take my picture. I had a pair of women’s designer sunglasses on, and in the basket on the front of my bicycle I had a gold painted ceramic squirrel statue and a copy of an old rock record on vinyl. Sometimes art just happens.

SY: Would Brett Walker still be Brett Walker without the beard? How has that crimped curtain helped shape your artistic practice?

BW: It’s definitely added something to the persona of Brett Walker, but again, like the clothing and such, I am not trying to create anything intentional. Shaving’s a pain, and my beard looks pretty decent, so I just let it go. People remember me, or know of me because I am so easy to remember, because I have this huge red beard. I would definitely much rather be remembered for the art practice I maintain than the color of my underwear or the size of my hair package; however, those elements have become a very prominent part of what I do as an artist.

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SY: Your video performance work has a spontaneous nature—i.e. you walking onto set and odd balling it out as though on a whim—but most your work also seems conceptually motivated and executed. How much is premeditated versus improvised? If it’s a healthy mixture of both, how does this seesaw function?

BW: Almost all of the work I make, in fact, with the exception of a few random pieces, everything is very thought out and deliberated upon. I usually begin with the title of the piece or a basic one-line summary of the piece, and then I draw it out or story board it, and usually it sits and ferments in my head for sometime before I actually get around to making it. In this manner, most of the editing is done before the work actually gets made, so when I do get around to making something, I can just go and do exactly what I know needs to be done to realize the piece. I think formally my work suffers sometimes, because I don’t feel the need to do anything more than what is necessary to articulate the concept.

That said, while everything is fairly well planned and thought out, I typically have no idea what it will actually look like when finished. There are a lot of things that I just allow to happen, and I have to accept the fact that they are now elements in the work. For instance, I used to have my friend Ben film a lot of the video pieces for me. Ben had no real knowledge of art making before he met me. I just had a video piece in my head I wanted to make; I drew out a crude storyboard, and explained it all to him, and then just put the camera in his hand and told him to roll tape. His filming was amazing and I went on to have him film a few other pieces for me afterwards. I don’t think this piece is on my site, but I can toss it up there, it’s called “40 Feet of Bread.” I made it in France, my wife was a translator for a group of students and Ben was one of the students. The piece was very conceptually thought out, but realized in a very improvised manner. I suppose when you think about it, with a lot of things I do, I don’t know exactly how things are going to pan out no matter how far through I think them.

SY: Is there a thread that runs through your art practice—an idea or aesthetic that you’re attempting to create or bring to life—or are your projects a result of fancy and curiousity?

BW: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my work functioning as if it was a novel about my life. I am interested in creating a broad narrative that deals with different aspects of my life, the roles I take on (common laborer, husband/provider/father, artist) and how I am able to memorialize all these different things into formal art contexts. Early on I realized there wasn’t a need to create anything, because life itself was interesting enough. All I had to do was receive it and present it in a way that was meaningful to me and maybe caused people to pause and reflect on their own life through the scope of my work. I don’t have any overt political statement or concern; I am a slightly rotund, Caucasian dude from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. I am married to my wife Kathleen and we have a daughter named Elanor. I’ve made coffee for a living since I was 18 and that’s currently how my family survives in San Francisco. I don’t work with colored pencils or textiles or ceramics. I don’t really view my work as anything more than the sum of all these things.

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SY: With unlimited resources (yes, including money) what would your next piece be?

BW: I don’t even know where I’d begin. I have stacks of drawings and sketches and notes for work to make, and it’s largely time and money that prevents me from making the work. I have an entire suite of work dealing with commercially printed t-shirts that I am dying to make. I’ve screen-printed my own shirts before in the past, but I would like all of these to be done professionally, it’s going to be a slow process to get them going.

I am also working on a body of work that deals with the concept of the cowboy and his relationship to contemporary men; this work would largely be some sort of a sculpture or installation piece. I wrote a proposal for the work and sent it to a residency out in Nevada somewhere; I am waiting to hear back. If I don’t get in, I’ll just go ahead and start making the work.

I also have a significantly older body of work called “Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow.” A few of these pieces are more or less finished and you can see them on my site, (“It Was All Just A Pipe Dream Anyway, Right?” and “The Transporter”). However, there are about two pieces left that I haven’t completed, and I really just need a large gallery space, or solo show to fully realize the work. One piece is a plant watering system built from a dehumidifier to water and grow carrots in the gallery space.

I’ve been talking a lot about these individual bodies of work, but the thread that really binds my book together are the photos and videos I make. I have a pretty long list of photographic images to make. The process of photography and, even more so, video work, is easier to make for me. I have the processes for shooting, processing and printing already figured out so I can typically make them much quicker in comparison to some of the more installation-based projects. I have at least 10-15 images to make right now, and I usually make one to two photographs a week, during a period of studious working. The only thing that would make the photo work easier would be the ability to print and mount my work more quickly, as each photograph costs close to 300 bucks to make and often times I don’t get a good print of the images made for some time after I initially shot it.

For more info and images, check out www.everybodydoesntlikebrettwalker.com

Tom Knight

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

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Tom Knight is an up-and-coming fashion designer who produces eccentric and intricate corsets, dresses, tops and skirts that have been seen on rappers, singers, drag queens and actresses alike in the last few of months. Covered in glitzy diamonds and sequins, tough heavy metal and swatches of fabric containing iconic pop imagery, Tom’s corsets are all one-of-a kind, uniquely Tom Knight. Tom took a second to answer a few questions recently about how he came to be so dang fabulous.

AM: When do you first remember wanting to design clothes?

TK: I started sketching when I was a kid and then I went to a high school that specialized in fashion design. I went to F.I.T. for menswear for two months but I was over it quickly so I just left and started just making crazy little pieces in my room. Guys’ shirts, girls’ skirts and little tops. I always wanted to have my clothes in Patricia Field’s shop because I just thought it was the best place ever and everything looked one of a kind. So I brought some of those pieces to her store and a famous female rapper ended up buying a micro mini army fatigue skirt. That lit the match.

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AM: What materials do you typically use when constructing one of your pieces?

TK: Everything. Things that are not supposed to be on clothes, honestly.

AM: How long does it take you to assemble a corset? Are the usually custom fitted?

TK: I usually just make a sample size or the size of the client if it’s custom. I don’t like to spend that long working on them, because I won’t stop. I’ll keep adding and taking away and it just becomes annoying. A week or two, usually.

AM: Quite a few entertainers have been pictured wearing your designs. How did this all happen: the magic of word of mouth, or friends in all the right places?

TK: My Friend Dequan Glover has always been very kind to me from the beginning. He was a stylist working at Patricia Field’s Store. Patricia Field has been very supportive. My friend Kerin Rose (of a-morir; www.a-morir.com). Really the artists and musicians have access to a million things from a million designers, so I think my work speaks for itself.

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AM: What is a typical day in the life of Tom Knight like?

TK: I wake up to the sweet sound of [sassy urban talk radio] at 10am, usually. Then, depending on the hot topics of the day, I may enjoy a little bit of the girls of [TV talk shows]. Then I lip synch like a drag queen while I run on my treadmill for two hours. Then I’ll make lunch and get to work on the project at hand.

AM: Do you have any objects that you own that you cannot live without?

TK: My dress form, stereo and treadmill.

AM: Any big upcoming projects?

TK: You can check out my latest work at www.tomtomfashions.com. I’ve been busy working on custom pieces for music videos and promotional appearances, mostly for Hip Hop and R&B artists.