"What I try most to express is the fluidity of memory. Places and times can blur together, or have very sharp, focused edges. Seeing an image can remind you of something else from a completely different time and place. This is how stories start, how stories are shared. I just try to be a conduit for those."
It's always nice to meet another Jes. Especially Jes Lee.
I admire how Jes explores nature, landscape, and the environment through her layered and interdisciplinary photography. Her use of narrative, history, and impact in her art is rich and compelling too. Her recent exhibitions explore all of these very themes. One show is an ecological comment on water and light and the other is an intriguing study of a human being through the places and spaces they inhabit.
Jes is a photographer and printmaker, living and working in Minneapolis, MN. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Minnesota in 2003. She studied book arts and printmaking at Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Like me, she enjoys reading and traveling. She has a number of fiber-related hobbies, mostly to justify her desire to buy pretty fabric and yarn. I can relate!
Her day job includes being one of the studio technicians at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in the Visual Arts Department. She lives in a house at the top of a hill with her significant other, and two spoiled house rabbits.
Please read on to learn more about Jes. In this interview, she talks about her recent shows, the processes she uses to create her photography, and what she loves most about being an artist.
Jes: I am interested in the ways you push the boundaries of photography. Can you describe your process and when you first began this approach?
Jes Lee: I have been interested in making multiple exposure images since my first photography class in college. I loved how surreal they could be, how two images together could completely change the story told by just one. During my BFA degree, I took a class on Photoshop, and learned to scan negatives and layer bits of images together, having full control over how the parts blended together. It continued from there.
One part of my practice is creating images digitally. I photograph using mostly medium format film, scan it in to a digital format, and manipulate it in Photoshop. These images exist in the world as prints, and books. This process I have been using since that Photoshop class. The layering of images is a process that takes place mostly subconsciously. I collect images, sort through them, and wait for something to catch my eye. It all goes from there.
The other part of my practice involves printmaking. I use the same process of digitizing negatives, and creating a layered image in Photoshop. The image is printed on a transparency, which I use to expose the image on a hard plastic, light sensitive photopolymer plate. The image is etched onto the plate. I ink the plate by hand, and print the image using an etching press. This process I learned five years ago in a workshop at Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Every time I make an image using this process, it is a practice. I learn new things about it, usually the hard way.
I get very different results between the two techniques. The story within the image dictates what medium I use for the image.
I learned photography using film. While a large portion of my work is done digitally, I still start out almost always photographing using film. I have a relationship with those cameras.
What are you looking to express most through your photography?
What I try most to express is the fluidity of memory. Places and times can blur together, or have very sharp, focused edges. Seeing an image can remind you of something else from a completely different time and place. This is how stories start, how stories are shared. I just try to be a conduit for those.
Tell me about your recent exhibitions with The Phipps and Concordia College. What was it like to organize these bodies of work? What went into these pieces too? What are the themes you are exploring?
Both were continuations of series I have been exploring for a while.
Gathering Water and Light which was on display at The Phipps in Hudson is a series I have kept going back to for many years. It explores our relationship as humans with water and light, too much of each: light pollution, flooding; or too little of each: darkness, freezing, drought. The exciting part of putting together this exhibit was going through pieces I have created over the last few years, and looking at them critically. It was a chance to change their story a bit, and create new work. In May, I finished a year-long project of photographing Lake Superior every month. I was able to create new work from those images, and incorporate it into this series. That was really exciting, to focus on a different aspect of the water side of the series.
The Digital Dreams of You series was at Concordia University in St. Paul. It started out as a way to explore creating Photopolymer Photogravure prints, to teach myself the medium and master it. (I have not mastered it, but I have improved from my first attempts!) The basis for this project is a digital personal assistant that becomes sentient and falls in love with their human. They gather information about their person by analyzing the images this human collects, the places this human visits, objects and trails left behind by this human and others. An attempt to understand what being human means, combining and comparing images to get a more complete understanding. The project grew way beyond what I first imagined. With this series I was awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant that allowed me to purchase my own etching press. I was awarded a solo exhibition in Iowa at the Octagon Center for the Arts, as well as the solo show at Concordia. Being able to exhibit it at Concordia gave me a chance to once again edit the series, and make new work for it. I don’t believe I am completely finished with this series yet.
Having two large exhibitions at the same time was exhilarating, and completely exhausting. The end right before the exhibitions opens is always the hardest, editing, editioning, cleaning, framing, etc. I am really proud of the work I created, and how the exhibitions turned out.
Do you work with other mediums?
Besides photography and printmaking, I also use book arts and ceramics as mediums to create with.
What is your studio practice like?
This is a tough question to answer! My studio practices change a lot based on the time of year, what I’m working on, etc. I am always ready to collect images. I always have a camera with me, ready to photograph what I see when I want. Some weeks I spend a lot of time developing film, scanning negatives, and sorting images. I share a studio space (that once existed as a science lab) with two amazing women. No matter what I’m working on (digitally layering images, pulling prints, making books) I try to work and be in that space at least twice a week. During the summer, I don’t work my day job, so I am at the studio a lot more. I tend to work on smaller things during the school year, the little pieces of larger ideas, practicing a new medium, collecting images and ideas, things like that. I don’t always have as much time as I would like, so working on smaller things that I can accomplish in less time is much less frustrating. Over the summer I have a lot more time to be in the studio, so I try to save the big things, finishing series and editions, long days of printing, pulling together all the little things I have finished into something larger to be done over the summer.
What are some challenges you face as an artist? What do you need to help you and your career?
Currently, a lot of my struggles come from myself. I was quite burned out after all the work I did on those two exhibitions. For a long time, I didn’t want to create anything, didn’t have any ideas, didn’t know where to go next. That was mentally hard to get through. I tried to be patient, and give myself space. I’m finally coming through it I think. I have some ideas, and some new ideas that I’m really looking forward to working on. For me, being patient and kind to myself, and just being ok with not always creating something new and spectacular is often the toughest part.
What do you love the most about being an artist?
I love how it has taught me to create something from nothing. To gather a bunch of images, or paper, or ink, or whatever, and make something completely different out of it. Being an image maker, especially a photographer, has a unique feeling. When someone looks at old photos, from 50 years ago, they see what life was like back then. Someone witnessed that exact moment and captured it. That is the basis of photography. Someone in the future will look at the images I have created, and see what I witnessed of life as it is now. It is a magical, and humbling experience.
Where can we find you online?
My website is a constant work in progress, and I am making peace with that. Most of my newest work is up there. I am also on Instagram quite a bit.
Is there anything else you would like to share, Jes?
Thank you for asking me to be a part of this!
All images courtesy of the artist.
"I have started a series of paintings about the items that women carry with them for protection while walking, running or just generally out and about. Each item represented in the paintings are from real women and each have a story behind it. It’s really fascinating to know that this is a shared experience between so many women, yet it’s not really talked about."
In the early part of this past summer I visited the Women's Art Institute's exhibition of the 2019 Studio Intensive cohort. I wanted to see my friend Cory Favre's latest series of works. I had seen some sneak peeks of the new art she was creating on Instagram and I was intrigued to see it in person.
As I approached her art in the gallery I was immediately attracted to the bright color palette she worked with. Each piece was a portrait of an everyday object. The pop art feel and bubble gum color, strategically and ironically used, depicts something a bit darker. These objects represent what women have used to protect themselves from being hurt, assaulted, or raped. A set of dirty plastic teeth or keys are among these items. Cory had collected stories from real women on this topic, inspiring this new series.
Cory's art brings to conversation a topic that is terribly real for women and that isn't always talked about. The work is a form of consciousness raising: comforting and upsetting as well as unsettling and relatable. Her art makes me feel like I am not alone; that my fear of being attacked or assaulted isn't uncommon; that other women too carry objects of protection. My objects have often been keys, but I have also held a book and an ice scraper.
Cory’s primary mediums are oil and encaustic (beeswax). She is influenced by such artists as James Rosenquist, Kiki Smith, Jenny Holzer, CJ Hendry, Shawn Huckins, and Nancy Spero. Her recent work lives in the space between sarcasm and snark, humor and the serious, fun and not so fun. Social issues, politics and human nature are all inspirations for her work.
A visual artist living and working in Minnesota, Cory has a BGS from Ball State University with focuses in Studio Art and Interior Design and is an alumni of The Women’s Art Institute. Cory serves on the Board of Directors for the Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota and is a member of Arts Roseville and the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association.
In this interview, Cory talks about her experience at the Women's Art Institute as well what challenges she faces as an artist (like finding time to make art or apply for opportunities - I can relate!) Read and admire on!
Jes: You recently completed the Women’s Art Institute. For those who don’t know what that program is, can you talk more about it. What was your experience like? How did it help your art career?
Cory: I did! It was an amazing experience that really pushed me to be more deliberate with my work. The Women’s Art Institute (WAI) is a four week studio intensive at St. Catherine’s University taught by Pat Olson (founding member of the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota) and AK Garsky. It is a mixture of discussions, studio visits with amazing local women artists (we have SO many!!), artist talks, and independent work in a studio of your choosing in the art building. Some of the artists we were lucky to hear from were Hend Al-Mansour, Harriet Bart, Dyani White Hawk, and Katayoun Amjadi.
The class time is directed by questions that we, the students, come up with. We brainstorm on the first day and widdle those questions down into the seven most important. Our class discussions are then prompted by each of those questions. I found this to be a really interesting way to guide a class, it wasn’t as though we were being lectured each day, it was more of all the people in class offering their wisdom and insights. I believe that many answers we were looking for were within ourselves and that when we can all come together we are stronger for it.
The afternoons are broken up into studio time to work on your own project. We would meet with Pat and AK individually once a week to discuss our work and get feedback. This was also very helpful for me because I haven’t really had much ability to get constructive feedback on my work since college. Now that WAI is over, I have a network of fellow students to get support and critique my work. We meet once a month to discuss what we are working on.
By the end of the month, we have a body of work that gets a final critique by Pat and AK, as well as the class, and pieces are chosen to go into the Work from the Women’s Art Institute Exhibition.
This experience was truly something that I won’t forget and was so beneficial for my work. I had been struggling with subject matter and feeling like perhaps my work didn’t have an audience. The Women’s Art Institute helped me get over that and learn I do have a wider audience that I thought and focus my messaging more accurately. Also, it was just nice to work in a huge, bright studio for four whole weeks! I would highly recommend this for any woman artist looking to deepen their own understanding of their work and learn from some amazing women.
What do you love about being an artist?
I love that being an artist gives me an outlet and freedom to try different things. I love that I can have my own space to get away to and just be myself and create. I notice that my mood is better when I get to create something. When I can’t paint or draw in my studio, I have noticed that my creative juices come out in other ways. For example, we moved into a new home this summer and my studio is still not fully operational, so I have been baking. A lot. I find that being an artist lets me do all of these things and that I am very much a real artist whether the medium is cake or oil paint.
What challenges are you faced with as an artist?
There are many challenges to being an artist as well. Imposter syndrome is a real thing and I feel like more than previous years I have struggled with this. The Institute helped quite a bit and I constantly try and keep that thinking at bay.
I would have to say, however, my biggest struggle lately is time. Being a mother of a toddler makes it really tough to find a balance. Since being an artist doesn’t usually have set working hours, it can get really difficult to fit in studio time. I have had to be easier on myself with regards to time, it’s okay not to get into the studio every day. I have to remind myself that my paints aren’t going anywhere, despite the pressure I put on myself to get work done and apply for shows and grants. My son is only going to be little for so long.
What do you need as an artist?
Time. And space. As I mentioned before, time is a tricky thing to manage right now in my life. Kids take up so much of it! Space is equally important. I need a designated, quiet space to work. Currently, that is a home studio in my basement - which isn’t always quiet and I’m usually never alone. But, you have to work with what you have and I am doing my best. Things aren’t always perfect, but I am thankful that I have the space in my home for a studio and that even if I can carve out a few hours a month for my art then that is a success!
What’s next? Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
Currently, I am starting a project that I hope will be funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant (should find out in a couple months!). The idea came to me at WAI and has been received so well in it’s little beginning forms. I have started a series of paintings about the items that women carry with them for protection while walking, running or just generally out and about. Each item represented in the paintings are from real women and each have a story behind it. It’s really fascinating to know that this is a shared experience between so many women, yet it’s not really talked about. My hope for the project is to complete 100 paintings from 100 different women about what each of them carries for safety. I believe having so many stories shown together in a large installation will both give women a greater sense of community in a shared experience, as well as, show that this is a regularly lived experience for so many. I am really excited about this project and hope that it brings a lot of people together.
I will also have work shown at Gamut Gallery’s Raging Art On during December 2019 and work at Red Wing Arts Small Works show November - December 2019.
Where can we find you online?
You can find me on my website, www.coryfavre.com, or I am usually most active on Instagram, @the.beatnik.
All images courtesy of the artist.
“I purposefully leave questions unanswered. I understand that this can feel uncomfortable, but I think there is merit in complexity and dissonance. I believe that art should be challenging. Unfortunately, the film industry is still heavily male-dominated and I feel, at times, that sexism negatively affects opportunities for my work to be seen.”
My favorite kind of film is interdisciplinary and is inspired by questions, where the narrative is non-linear, lives within a surreal in-between tension, and struggles to be defined by a genre. That is partly why I love the handmade films from artist Kiera Faber. I connect with the intricate, meticulous and dreamlike nature of her films. I am also in awe of her aesthetic abilities and the themes she explores in her work. Her films are haunting, raw, and complex. It’s hard to categorize her work which I think is exciting and compelling.
Kiera Faber is an artist working in animated film, photography, and drawing. Her work explores the repercussions of loss and trauma through enigmatic abstract narratives. Faber creates the entire world and experience of a film; from concept and design to image and sound. Her auteur, award-winning films are entirely crafted by hand and are internationally screened and exhibited at film festivals, galleries, and museums, most notably the Museum of Contemporary Photography, George Eastman Museum, and the Walker Art Center. Faber received her MFA from the Visual Studies Workshop after completing a BA in Psychology from the University of Rochester. In 2018, Faber received a McKnight Fellowship in Media Arts. She has received numerous regional grants and a film production grant from the Jerome Foundation. Faber currently is in pre-production on THE GARDEN SEES FIRE, creating the surreal and fanciful characters and sets for her next animated film. She is a dual national of Luxembourg and the United States and resides in Minnesota.
T FOR TURNIP was the first film I had seen of Kiera's and I was immediately enamored. In this film, 3,467 hand painted 16mm frames metaphorically explore three siblings’ collective childhood trauma. It took Kiera 1,000 hours to hand paint the film, using the smallest paintbrush available to apply silk dyes to the film’s emulsion, while looking through a stereoscopic microscope to see the tiny objects on the film. After I watched T FOR TURNIP, I saw her film LIVING ORGANICS, and I was like, yessssss, Kiera, thank you. You can say that I am a big fan of her work!
I am delighted that she let me ask her some questions. I always want to know more about Kiera and, as the years have passed, I am glad that our paths continue to cross! In this interview, she discusses her hand-crafted film, her path as an artist, and the new film she is working on. She also touches on what challenges she faces as an artist.
Enjoy! Admire on!
Jes: I have been enjoying your hand-crafted film, animation, and photography for quite a few years now. Your style is unique. How do you describe your creative approach and how do you make your work?
Kiera: Foremost, I consider myself to be a traditional fine artist; where materiality and texture are essential components of my work. I want my films to look visually complex and richly textured, referencing the emotional complexity embedded in the work. Creating films by hand, evinces the makers mark, and produces imagery that is raw and imperfect, rather than overly clean or slick. My films involve extensive drawing, sculpture, and painting for sets, puppet stop motion animations, and other forms of frame-by-frame animation. Before I was introduced to artistic, experimental film, I would envision completed paintings in my mind, now I do this within the medium of film. I think of my films as surreal paintings that animate in the viewers unconscious through the transitory intermingling of image, sound, and meaning.
My cinematic process starts organically by snippets of a shot or a portrait of a character presenting itself to me. The remainder of my process is more deliberate, laborious and organized. I spend a lot of time writing; beginning with an initial investigation into what a film feels like and who and what the characters are. I research and experiment with a sundry of materials for character and set constructions. I create detailed drawings of the film’s characters, sets, and write a linear script describing scenes, shots, and characters’ interactions. I love designing and creating a whole world and spending hours working alone on drawings for characters and animations.
I have only one assistant on my films, my partner Ben. The intimacy of working with my partner suits my creative needs and personal expression in my work. My left hand is paralyzed, making two handed activities impossible for me. Ben constructs and animates the armatured puppets for my films, while I create the two-dimensional animations. The valence of sound is important to me, how it emotes and complicates a film: Designing the soundscape for a film is an integral component to my work. Since I work with only one assistant, my films take a significant amount of time to produce, but I find the direct engagement, creative agency, and intensity very rewarding.
What is it that you are most interested in expressing with your art?
My work addresses themes of loss, isolation, and trauma. I am interested in deeply seeing; creating work that is disturbing and validates traumatic experiences by drawing viewers attention to aspects of human behavior we would rather ignore. I create enigmatic abstract narratives; entrusting the viewer to bring their own perspective to their reading of my films. I ask the viewer to watch, listen, and have an experience. This is an interaction; a combination of the world I create, referencing my own psyche, and how it affects the viewer’s affect. The viewer and I meet in a middle space of a shared emotion.
Tell me about your latest film project, Obscurer. What is that film about and where did its inspiration come from? Where can folks see the film right now?
OBSCURER (2018, 19:00, DCP, 4K) explores the fragile microcosm of a reclusive children’s author and her figmental companions where reality, illusion, and madness intermingle. Stop motion animation seamlessly interweaves with live motion to create an abstract narrative where themes of isolation, mental illness, and loss are enacted through characters that evade trust. Obscurer questions agency, power, and vulnerability within a framework of dysfunction and ambiguity.
Two women were the inspirational roots for OBSCURER; the children’s author Sylvia Cassedy (Behind the Attic Wall, 1983) and a curious individual I observed trimming a tree in her front yard with scissors while wearing welding goggles and red coveralls. I molded these women into a fictional depiction of a solitary writer who lives a constrained existence that blurs the line between reality and delusion. She hypnotically writes in an indiscernible script. The language appears linguistically plausible but is semantically meaningless. Her animated companions are psychological manifestations of innocence and malevolence, disparate traits also present in the main character herself.
OBSCURER took three years to complete, was supported by a grant from the Jerome Foundation, and currently is being submitted to film festivals, galleries, and museums worldwide for screening opportunities. It will be screening at MassArt on October 3rd with the Black Maria Film Festival, at Alfred State College on October 7th and then traveling to the Gwen Frostic School of Art in Michigan on November 5 as part of an exhibition titled 17 days curated by Adriane Little. OBSCURER’s trailer can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/244418412
I am very curious about your path as an artist. What helped start your career and what has sustained it?
I have made art since childhood, drawing at the kitchen table, while my mother, a ceramist, worked close by. I remember visiting her studio; light streaming through the windows, illuminating the aromatic clay dust hovering in the air. It was a place of autonomy, possibility, and exploration. My early experiences with art fostered the value of being an artist. After surviving a deadly car accident, but suffering a stroke, I studied Psychology to understand the mind, brain, and cognitive effects of emotional and physical trauma. I returned to art after meeting my partner Ben, who took an interest in my artistic ideas and offered the use of his hands to help me make my work. A pivotal movement in my career was seeing the hand crafted animations of Stacey Steers and the animated worlds of The Brothers Quay while in graduate school: I knew I wanted to make films that incorporated fine art materials to construct an abstract narrative.
I sustain my career intrinsically by believing that to create is to be fully human. Art celebrates our intelligence and apical cognitions that realize creativity. Art is a collective signifier; exercising personal expression and simultaneously impacting audiences profoundly by challenging perceptions and convictions. I am an artist to honor our unique humanity.
Extrinsically I sustain my career by receiving support and recognition through exhibitions, screenings, grants, and most recently The McKnight Fellowship in Media Arts to validate the merit of my practice. I reach out to other artists and curators to share my progress on projects, discuss ideas, and stay connected. A past mentor of mine once said, “take care of the work and the work will take care of you.” This phrase sustains me after rejections and reinforces me to keep working.
Can you tell me more about your McKnight Fellowship in Media Arts? What was that experience like for you? What type of commitment is a fellowship like that?
It has been a great honor to be awarded a McKnight Fellowship; to have my work recognized by the Foundation and curatorial panel. Through the Fellowship, I have loved working with FilmNorth and meeting current and past Fellows for connections. FilmNorth is a wonderful resource in Minnesota and genuinely wants filmmakers of all genres to succeed by having their work seen and celebrated. For me, the most lasting effect of being awarded a Fellowship has been the validation it grants. This helped me reach out to well known artists around the world for conversations, something that I normally would not have done, as I am an introvert. Since the Fellowship is a recognition of artistic accomplishments, and not a production grant, its scope and meaning extends beyond a specific project and advocates continual exploration, development as an artist, and encouragement to keep creating your work. A short artist profile film created by FilmNorth’s students about my practice can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/315714095
Are there challenges that you face as an artist? What do you feel you need more of as an artist?
I feel the biggest challenge I face as an artist is that my work is not easily classified, making it difficult to program for film festivals. My films are not advocacy and have a loose narrative structure rather than telling a direct or clear story; they span across the genres of Experimental, Animation, and Avant-garde. I purposefully leave questions unanswered. I understand that this can feel uncomfortable, but I think there is merit in complexity and dissonance. I believe that art should be challenging. Unfortunately, the film industry is still heavily male-dominated and I feel, at times, that sexism negatively affects opportunities for my work to be seen.
I would love for there to be a broader acceptance of artistic film and more venues to share these productions with the public. For me, an audience concludes the artistic process, by sharing in the experience.
Do you have any new projects you are working on?
I am concluding pre-production on a new film, THE GARDEN SEES FIRE. Conrad Richter’s novel, The Trees (1940) and my family’s hereditary struggle with bipolar disorder are catalytic inspirations for the imagery that will inform the film. THE GARDEN SEES FIRE is the second installment in a trilogy exploring mental pathologies and loosely inspired by specific literary works. It will be an armatured puppet and drawing stop motion animation incorporating hand manipulated 16mm film frame-by-frame. The film will explore the untamed wildness of the land and mind and a burning desire to besiege and control both. I hope to release the film in early 2021. Original character drawings and plasticine sculptures for mold making can be seen here: http://www.kierafaber.com/The_Garden_Sees_Fire
Would you like to share anything else?
Thank you Jes for your enthusiasm and support of my work. It is meaningful to me to have my practice recognized and appreciated.
Thanks for answering my questions, Kiera! You’re amazing!
All images courtesy of the artist.
"Many of the things that I find myself doing - writing a song, making up a recipe, creating a story, drawing pictures, taking photos, filming a silly movie with the kids - leads to unintentional creative practices."
Steph Budge is hesitant to say she is an artist. But as she read in the interview with Laura Brown, anyone can claim the title of artist and that is a beautiful thing! The funny thing is that I personally have always considered Steph an artist. I have admired her work as a musican and most recently I have been addicted to her visual art, checking in on her Instagram account daily!
Steph played in a number of bands over the past twenty years. Bands I have loved! She has recently turned her focus to drawing and painting. While she works mainly with pencil and watercolor, she is now also exploring digital illustration using Procreate.
Steph lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with her two young sons and works full-time as an editor.
Enjoy the interview. Steph is amazing! Admire on!
Jes: How would you describe your creative/artistic practice?
Steph: My creative practice is a crucial component to my overall health and happiness. I have a daily craving to bring something to life that has not previously existed. The creative process itself feels joyful and rewarding. Many of the things that I find myself doing - writing a song, making up a recipe, creating a story, drawing pictures, taking photos, filming a silly movie with the kids - leads to unintentional creative practices.
For many years, I played in rock/punk bands - which are obviously collaborative efforts. When my children were born, I transitioned into solo creative endeavors due to the time constraints that naturally occur for new parents. Right now, I am mostly drawing and painting. I am also slowly starting to work on music again. I would love to do some creative writing in the near future as well.
So much of what I know of being an artist came from being involved in local music communities - and I am not even a musician! Maybe it’s the values of punk and independent music that has shaped my outlook on creativity and expression. For example, I think I am a collaborative artist because of the community building components I learned through punk rock. Have you had a similar experience with being involved in punk and the music community? Has it influenced your overall creativity?
Yes for sure! I have spent the majority of my life with people in the local community who are constantly creating. Like yourself, not everyone in the community is a musician - a lot of people play music, but some are visual artists, screenprinters, woodworkers, painters, some write poetry or short stories, some take photos, write jokes, or direct time traveling plays in the basement of a bar. It leads to a comfortable cozy feeling that anyone can create things while not knowing exactly what they are doing. People can try new things without having the fear of being perfect or refined. Perhaps because the community is typically not a group of trained professionals, it feels like anyone can teach themselves, either learn things on their own or from their peers that are experienced. I am lucky to have a community that really supports each other in their artistic endeavors. I participated in my first art show/sale this past summer - I was invited by someone who I met playing music and my table was next to a person I met playing music. The camaraderie is really special to me and I am very thankful for the community.
Are there particular interests that you have when it comes to making music? Do you have a preference over what themes or sounds your bands explore?
My interests have changed over the years. For many years, I wanted to create angry, aggressive, and heavy music. I played in several rock and roll guitar/bass/drum three-piece groups with loud amps and shouty vocals. While I still enjoy listening to that style of music, I am not interested in creating it at the moment.
Lately, I have wanted to increase my piano skills and go back to writing electronic pop music like one of my old groups called Finger Pressure.
You come from a very creative family. Have you always been involved in the arts?
Yes to a certain degree. My sisters and I were encouraged to play piano, listen to music, daydream, read lots of books, write stories, and draw. My mom took me to a used music store to buy my first acoustic guitar when I was fourteen and drove me to a weird musical flea market to buy my first electric bass guitar when I was fifteen. However, my parents started our family when they were both pursuing artistic careers and it was financially difficult for them. Because they found it difficult, they were understandably not as encouraging when my sisters and I wanted to pursue creative careers as well. While I did not study art or music in school, I always played music during my free time. I love playing music and making art and I cannot imagine I will ever stop. But it is also difficult to refer to myself as a “musician” or an “artist” since neither have ever been my part of my jobs, career, or studies.
I know you are a mother of two (very cute) boys. There’s this horrible myth that artists, especially women, can’t be parents while also maintaining a career. So many women have been debunking this myth. What’s been your approach with parenting and being an artist?
It is definitely a different world maintaining a creative practice as a parent. In some ways, it is almost easier because my free time is defined and usually short, so I am extra excited to have the chance to work on something creative. It is easier to stick to a schedule. Sometimes I feel the most productive that I have ever felt. The hard parts are feeling too tired to work on anything. Or feeling a certain amount of guilt when I take a night to draw rather than do laundry or clean under the couch. There is always something that needs to be cleaned!
The kids themselves are a great source of inspiration. Since kids are always drawing or painting or making up stories, a parent’s mind can easily slip into a creative place. Sometimes we will sit down at the piano and I will try to learn a song and they participate as well. It is a lot of fun.
Lately, you have been making visual art under the moniker Tootooalso. Your drawings and paintings are colorful, playful, and cheerful. Animals tend to be your subjects. What has inspired this line of art for you?
I have always drawn in a very cartoon-like style. I enjoy drawing animals and plants because they are universal and inclusive. Creating a colorful, playful, and cheerful world is a bit of an escape from real life. Recently I have wanted to create cute, jolly, and pastel drawings. When my sisters and I were young, my dad sculpted a set of alien creatures. I remember him getting really into creating the different characters’ personalities, backstories, and their universe. I can see that same path happening to me at any moment!
Where can we find Tootooalso online? Do you sell your work at events?
I am on Instagram as @tootooalso and I have a small number of works on Redbubble. I also have an Etsy shop but I haven’t set it up very well yet. I am new to selling visual art and I am still brainstorming the best way to go about it.
Are you currently playing in any bands right now? If so, where can we find your music online? Do you have any upcoming shows we should know about?
I am not playing in any bands right now. I am tentatively calling my new project Side Text and I have an Instagram account @sidetext but nothing booked or online yet!
Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
Thanks for considering me an artist and bringing artists together in the community. All the interviews in this series have been inspiring and very enjoyable to read!
All images courtesy of the artist.
"I'm working to approach my art practice like I do meditation, as a connection to the present moment, because it is this space I am less confined, more open, less likely to question myself and just go for it."
This past Saturday I met artist Toni Gallo and I viewed her multimedia solo exhibition, I CAN FEEL TRUTH SOMEWHERE OVER THERE, HERE BEYOND FURTHER, showing at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis. After immersing myself in her art, I participated in a special meditation she lead in the gallery. Ten minutes into the meditation, I felt my closed eyes begin to water, thinking that maybe teardrops where forming. I touched my face and felt dry skin. At that moment, I felt the very essence of meditation - the feeling of being connected to the self, the body, truth, and the inner mind. I felt present and moved. I also felt a release that I think created the sensation of tears. It was transformational. I hadn't experienced anything like that during any of my previous meditations.
So, thank you, Toni, for letting me enter that place - though your art and openness.
You can participate in her next meditation session this Saturday, August 24th at 2 PM at SooVAC. Toni will be available from 1-3 PM to talk about her art as well. You'll see so much and feel so much!
Toni Gallo grew up in Minnesota drawing dinosaurs and pond life, graduated from Perpich Center for Arts Education and headed to California where she received her B.A. in studio art and was awarded a scholarship to attend California State University intensive painting program in Italy following graduation. After returning home she continued making and exhibiting art in Minneapolis and between 2008-2012 was a member of Rosalux Gallery. Over the past 6 years, integrating yoga and meditation practices and eventually becoming a yoga instructor now compliment her studio practice. This combination of practices has formed a body of working exploring consciousness on an aesthetic level. Toni currently lives and works in NE Minneapolis with her husband and children. Toni is also a fiscal year 2019 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
I feel fortunate that Toni answered some of my questions about her art and practice, featured here in this special interview! Read and admire on!
Jes: I am excited about your exhibition with Soo Visual Arts Center. It’s strongly interdisciplinary. Can you talk more about your show and the themes behind the work?
Toni: Originally, I had proposed to make 8-10 new paintings and offer meditation sessions in the exhibition space. I ended with 11 paintings, some much larger than I had originally imagined, an audio component, and a few scheduled meditation sessions.
The project is about practice. Developing the habit of awareness.
A combination of practices have converged in the studio, which have formed paintings exploring consciousness. The paintings express captured experiences of connectivity. Although it may be fleeting, the momentary connectivity that occurs to make the art is present moment awareness. Being awake and engaged to the current moment is access to self under the ego; your vital energy permanent and connected to past future and everything in between. It’s the state you’ve been pining after. Here beyond further.
The works are suggestive, figurative, landscape abstractions, naturally uncovering paradox through a balance between polished and raw, busy and calm, intuitive and intentional. Each painting is a different path to the same place.
The idea of the paintings talking to the viewer came later. It made so much sense. Writing, teaching, yoga and meditation are so integral to where I am with painting, because of the stretching of myself it demands, which has empowered my life beyond measure. People want to know the why and how behind art and I would absolutely not have been able to unearth this expression in paint without exploring these other practices. It made sense to find a place for this expression.
I am interested in how you explore impermanence in your art. Can you talk more about this and how it relates to the body as well as the mind?
It seems fitting that I answer this question with one of the pieces I recorded for the show [above image].
THE WALLS SEEM SURE OF THEIR SEPARATION EVEN IN THEIR STATE OF DECAY.
You think you don't have an impact, but everywhere you are leaving a trail.
Nothing is permanent, but all leaves a mark.
The moment of construction is the beginning of decay.
Notice the intricate structures you've built around yourself.
Let go after you build up.
Become aware by observance at the seat of consciousness
Awareness is illuminating, is knowing.
Once something is known, let go, because it has already changed.
The challenge in letting go lies in our belief of the importance of forms holding everything together.
The walls come down, by practicing non attachment, what's left is THE stuff.
The reach to achieve another version of yourself dissolves, authentic expression flows, fleeting, impermanent and perfectly as it is.
these are the rough parts,
the fluidity in between, puts union in focus
Connect to your knowing. Your intuitive validity
It is housed in an inward focus rather than an external search.
As you observe the endless waves of change unfolding, it increasingly becomes easier to practice non attachment, knowing that this too will morph, transform.
Just when the habit of awareness is developing, serendipity becomes the current wave.
It carries an ease. Along comes change, without care and space, attachment to the experience emerges and the push and pull sets in, the search is on again.
Away from self the naming begins
Roles are confining.
Get out of your own way.
Identities are the product of naming, these forms are limiting to infinite potential.
To understand what is divisive becomes the force of unification.
To let go is the only way in.
growth turns towards decay
the fade becomes the build
I appreciate your poetic and mindful response! I feel this moves nicely into my next question: How would you describe your art practice? What’s a typical studio day like for you?
I'm working to approach my art practice like I do meditation, as a connection to the present moment, because it is this space I am less confined, more open, less likely to question myself and just go for it. When I get too tripped up in my thoughts and start looking too far ahead, I remember to notice my breathing as it is happening. These moments of connectivity are for sure fleeting, but the habit of awareness is building strength.
During the preparation for this exhibition I worked longer stretches of time, more often than I can EVER remember. It was amazing!
Most of the time I'm working on more than one piece. It's important in the moments where I hit a block to have something else to turn to, otherwise I start to force it, which usually causes more problems. When I'm inspired by a new piece, I get the materials right away to keep the connection strong and stay open minded. I write a fair amount too. My meditation cushion is in my work space. I don't have a specific time or structure around when I sit or for how long, it's a gentle, resonant reminder of the power of practice. And, I listen to music, so much music. Although, this last few months I spent hours listening to the Ram Dass Here and Now podcasts, which I highly recommend.
You recently received the Artist Initiative Grant through the Minnesota State Arts Board. What was that process like for you? Do you have any recommendations for other artists who are interested in applying for this funding source?
Writing the grant was so hard for me. Honestly, a few times I wanted to give up, but I kept questioning the truth out of myself. I’m so glad I did, because the process and the experience have been transformative and I am so grateful.
My best advice for artists interested is to make it another practice, go through the exercise of challenging yourself. Even if you don't receive the grant it's important to stretch out of your comfort zone and articulate things in another way. I was able to look back at a previous attempt and consider the strengths and weaknesses. They offer valuable resources, it’s helpful to read the other recipients’ proposals as well.
Now that you have this show under your belt, do you have anything on the horizon that you’d like to share?
I'm so inspired right now. I'm planning on applying for another grant. I've got a handful of short-term plans/projects and a long-term dream to have a large studio space outside of my home to work, experiment, teach and exhibit from. I'll continue building the body of work that is on display, exploring what is expressed from the habit of awareness.
I had never before done anything multidisciplinary and now I'm really curious about creating spaces and happenings that offer people an opportunity to view and experience art gallery spaces with a different sensory component. And different, meaning closer to home rather than far out. At home people are raw with a greater tendency for the intuitive spirit to permeate, while outside there is a more calculated presentation.
This fall I'm planning to do a series of smaller still life paintings tentatively named, My Living Museum. The intent to continue exploring the power of expression through documentation of external accumulation, personal aesthetic and design; the visual materialism/make-up of home. I've never previously painted subject matter for the purpose of documentation in time and place, but I was reminded of the intrigue that looking into a record of how things appeared in times past held, by looking through art history books, the recognition of sameness and contrast in living then and now.
"I view fun as a catalyst for change and believe in the importance of providing immersive spaces where people of all ages and demographics are given permission to play."
I love Robin Schwartzman. Not just because she is my friend but because she is truly inspiring. I have never met another artist that explores color, play, and place in such a way. I have been admiring her for years! From outdoor art installations to mini golf, Robin invites you to explore, have fun, and connect with others!
Robin Schwartzman is a Minneapolis based artist, educator and lover of mini golf. She works as a Research Technician for Drawing, Painting, Printmaking and the XYZ Lab in the University of Minnesota Department of Art. She also teaches a class on 3D Modeling and Digital Fabrication. Outside of her day job, Robin is one half of A Couple of Putts as well as a professional caricature artist.
Robin’s sculptures and installations use 3D digital fabrication mixed with a colorful and playful aesthetic to create participatory and immersive experiences. She has worked on commissioned projects for the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar, Northern Spark, Made Here, Artscape Baltimore, Canal Convergence Scottsdale, and the Art Shanty Projects, to name a few. She received a BFA from Syracuse University in 2008 and an MFA from the University of Minnesota - Department of Art in 2011. Robin has received honors including: ArtPrize 10 Juror’s Shortlist for 3D; Award for Innovation, American Institute of Architects, Spartanburg 2015; Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artists, 2013-2014; Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, 2012.
In this interview she talks in more detail about how she makes her work, what Holey Moley is, and how you can hire her do caricatures at your next event!
Read and admire on! You'll love Robin too!
Jes: Your artistic interests and art projects in leisure and play have brought you all over the world. I also notice that the idea of place is important to your work too. Can you talk about your what attracts you to these themes and how they appear in your art?
Robin: This story will start how many do - childhood memories. I grew up on the east coast and every summer, my family would take an annual, week-long trip to the Jersey Shore. For me, the best day of vacation was when we got to go to a small amusement park called Fantasy Island. The visuals of bright lights, moving colors, a cartoon alligator dressed in a dapper top hat and red and white striped vest and trash bins topped with smiling clowns stuck with me. Between the ages of 4 and 11, there would be countless trips to the plethora of amusement parks, large and small, that dotted the tri-state area of NY/NJ/PA. Every carousel ride, hand painted ice cream sign, cloud of cotton candy and scream of pure happiness that I shared with my sister and cousins became the ultimate distraction to my parents’ tumultuous, 7-year divorce. I turned the focus of most of my childhood back to those moments of joy.
And as I got older, I found ways to continue to surround myself in fun environments. I spent my summers through high school, college and grad school drawing caricatures at amusement parks and fairs across the country. After school, I spent time working in a fabrication shop that makes oversized props for waterparks, cruise ships and theme parks. After spending a lot of time with themed spaces and researching their history, I realized that many, many people have fond childhood memories of them. That’s when I became more interested in the idea of leisure space, collective nostalgia and the power of using signs and symbols to tell a story and sell an experience.
In my own creative practice, I borrow playful visual and social elements from leisure culture and transform them into new ways to experience ourselves, our communities and each other. Tropes such as Burma Shave style signage, classic marquee letters, hand-painted type, specialized color palettes, anthropomorphized characters, larger-than-life objects and chasing lights are inspired by memorable aesthetics of a bygone era and my own enthusiasm for lo-fi fun. Working at the intersection of art and design, I create interactive games, large scale installations and participatory performances that encourage play and re-imagine place. I view fun as a catalyst for change and believe in the importance of providing immersive spaces where people of all ages and demographics are given permission to play.
I am often asking questions about how theming can function outside of its commercial roots. Can a giant marquee transform a familiar urban landscape into a Wonderland? Can the game of mini golf highlight a community and celebrate its history? And can a flashy façade be used to entice people into finding value without money, being kind to strangers, and collecting and memorializing moments of generosity?
Many of your projects fall within the public art realm. You also build a lot of your art from scratch. What kind of tools do you use and what’s your creative process like?
For years, it was challenging for me to turn the ideas I was imagining into physical objects and to the quality and scale that I dreamed. But that challenge is what motivated me to learn how to use digital fabrication technologies to help produce my work. Every idea always starts in my sketchbook with quick scribbles and fragments of ideas jotted down on the page. I often pull together many visual references and inspirations, whether its historical photos, my own photos or works by other contemporary artists. From there, my ideas move to the computer. I use programs like Adobe Illustrator and Rhino to digitally illustrate my ideas, either in 2D or 3D space. With Computer Aided Design (CAD), I am able to quickly work through iterations of concepts without any commitment to material or scale. Sometimes, it takes up to five or six drafts of playing around with an idea to finalize it. Being able to see a scaled and dimensional version of my idea in digital space is so helpful to its realization. Once it’s time to actually make/build it, the hard work is done. I can pull dimensions or curves from my models and use those to help me cut structural wood and metal or to use a laser cutter or CNC router to cut organic shapes and forms. It’s all like one big puzzle, where I use different tools to make the pieces and then use my digital model as a map as a guide for how to put it all back together.
Once assembly is complete, I always like to go back in and do hand finishing work to bring the artist touch back in, whether it’s drawing, painting, using a jig saw or hand sanding.
What kind of advice would you give to an emerging public art artist?
Always leave room for error. Both in your timeline and your budget. Public art takes a lot of work and a lot of people coming together to make things happen. In fact, sometimes I feel like being a public artist is more about managing people and schedules than it is about actually making the art.
That being said, between weather, durability, scale and scope, things that you could never have planned for inevitably will go wrong. There’s no way to prevent them from happening, you can only anticipate that something will happen and be ready for it. Stay patient and flexible (two things I’m admittedly not great at myself) and be kind and grateful to everyone who helps you make it happen.
What kind of resources have you used as an artist?
I look on mnartists.org all the time to scope out new opportunities. I use Google Drive for everything, from budget sheets to folder and file sharing. Especially when working with collaborators, having a living version of everything is so helpful. I’m also addicted to Instagram, sometimes to share my work but more so to get a daily look at work by hundreds of so many different types of talented artists from across the globe.
I love the Barter Boat. Tell me more about it, RADAR Art Collective, and how the project lead you all to be part of ArtPrize 2018. What was that experience like?
RADAR Art Collective consists of myself, Anna Abhau Elliott and Desireé Moore. The three of us met during our six-month Artist Residency at Hub-Bub in Spartanburg, SC back in 2015. We kept in touch after the residency and accidentally stumbled into the idea of Barter Boat together back in 2016. It started as a different project, really. It was originally called Minnesotan Ice and was made for the Northern Spark Festival themed around Climate Chaos. The idea was to freeze tiny objects and trinkets, what some may consider trash, into ice pops (made of literally ice) and exchange these with people for their own stuff out of a giant and brightly lit carnival-inspired facade of a boat. The logistics of making thousands of ice pops was insane, so instead we transitioned to just putting the stuff into the eco-plastic bags we were using to package the ice pops, except without the pop. And the title of the piece evolved into Barter Boat.
We got invited to bring the project to the IN Light IN festival in Indianapolis later that year, and things just sort of snowballed from there. People love trading their things and telling us stories. We love collecting things and curating them into packages, or we like to think of them more as handheld assemblages. And we found that it all becomes more meaningful as we travel from city to city across the country, collecting small treasures and connecting strangers through their stuff. Since 2016, the Barter Boat has been to Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Atlanta, Scottsdale, Breckenride, Grand Rapids, MI and Spartanburg, SC. This October, it’s headed to Bentonville, AR for an event at The Momentary and then onto Cincinnati, OH for the BLINK Light-Based Art Festival.
Barter Boat was fortunate to make the Juror’s Short List (top 5) in the 3D Category at ArtPrize 2018. Juror Rebecca Carbin said this amazing quote about Barter Boat:
"It uses humor and lightness as a way of introducing and unpacking some pretty complicated questions about commodification and consumer culture -- the things we value, the things we throw away, and how those things, those little pieces of nothing, actually become a thread that connects people."
Many of us know you love mini golf and co-founded A Couple of Putts with your husband Tom. Can you talk more about your background with mini golf and how you’ve built a career around an activity that you love so much?
Tom and I had both played mini golf growing up. He has memories playing at LilliPutt in Coon Rapids. I have memories playing in my hometown of Bethlehem, PA as well as at the shore. I always enjoyed the game, but it wasn’t until I met Tom when our passion for mini golf moved to another level. Our first date was at Big Stone Mini Golf in Minnetrista, MN. It was a magical place that was the perfect backdrop for a magical day. After that, we kept dating and playing mini golf together. The more we played, the more we realized that there weren’t a ton of great resources out there for the game. A lot of courses had super dated websites or none at all. It was hard to find good photos or history of the game, aside from the one mini golf book that was published back in the 80’s. So we decided since we were playing anyhow, that we’d start documenting and reviewing courses and put them on a blog. We came up with the name A Couple of Putts while waiting in line for a water slide at Noah’s Ark in the Wisconsin Dells.
From there, things just sort of took off. Later that year, the Walker Art Center put out its call for Artist-Designed mini golf. We designed and built our first hole called Can You Handle This? and it all just came so naturally to me. I was able to mix my cartoony aesthetic with my growing fabrication skills all in the name of something unapologetically fun and playful. Since then, we’ve played and reviewed over 200 courses as well as designed, fabricated and/or consulted on holes for the former Indianapolis Museum of Art (currently known as Newfields), Virginia Commonwealth University in Doha, Qatar, ArtCourse at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Bull City Mini in Durham, NC, Sparkle City Mini Putt in Spartanburg, SC, and have contributed designs for the last six years at the Walker Art Center.
You’ve been pretty busy lately! What you’ve been working on? For folks out there who don’t know - what’s Holey Moley?
It’s been a busy year for me, but somewhat quiet in regards to my art-making. This past spring, Tom and I filmed Holey Moley for a week out in California, finished consulting on two different mini golf projects in Kansas City and Durham, NC, got married, and went on our honeymoon to Tanzania.
What’s Holey Moley, you ask? It’s a new extreme miniature golf game show on ABC Primetime. There are 10 episodes and on each one, 12 contestants compete head to head over three rounds for a chance to win $25k, the Golden Putter and the coveted Plaid Jacket. It’s like Best in Show meets Wipeout combined with Double Dare and mini golf. There are 25’ windmills and holes that stand 12’ over a pool of ice cold water where you get dunked if you miss your putt. It’s crazy and insane and we both got the amazing opportunity to be contestants on it. Tom’s episode aired on August 8th and mine is coming up on Thursday, August 22nd at 7pm EST/8pm CST. And if you miss it on primetime, it’s streaming on Hulu as well as abc.com.
On top of all of the cool things that you do, you are also an award-winning caricature artist! When did this part of your career start and can people hire you for parties and events?
This part of my career actually started first. I started drawing caricatures at a local amusement park near where I grew up as my high school summer job back in 2002 and I’ve been doing it ever since. I love this art form so much, as it allows me to go back to simple analog drawing with a pen and paper. I can also push my limits using digital drawing apps like Procreate on my iPad. It’s really a fun way to observe and connect with total strangers. Drawing the face is also like a puzzle. You have to observe all of the shapes and unique characteristics that make up one’s likeness and figure out the best way to stretch, skew and scale them on the paper. It’s a real challenge that I don’t feel like I’ve mastered as well as I’d like to, which keeps me curious and motivated to get better year after year.
There’s also a great caricature community out there called the International Society of Caricature Artists (ISCA). I’ve been a member of ISCA since 2006 and try to attend the annual conventions whenever I can. It’s one giant family of caricaturists from around the globe who gather for one week each year to draw each other, share skills and push the limits of the art form. Plus, I have a killer collection of caricatures drawn of me from the last decade.
I still draw at parties and events when time permits! You can find my caricature services online at caricaturesbyrobin.com.
Where can we find you online?
You can find me on instagram @robinschwartzman or follow my mini golf endeavors online at acoupleofputts.com or on twitter/instagram/Facebook as @coupleputts
Thanks for answering all of my questions, Robin. I will be for sure tuning into Holey Moley on the 22nd, and I hope my readers will too!
All images courtesy of the artist.
Artists I Admire is a series of interviews with artists I think highly of.