They Left Their Hearts at Casa Azul: How The Frida Kahlo Emojis Came To Be

The spell of Frida Kahlo is like a beacon, drawing to her work those who see their anguish, heartache, resilience or celebration of life expressed in her paintings.  Under Frida’s hue, they find inspiration enough to keep, share or pledge allegiance to her memory on bags, t-shirts or pilgrimages to Frida’s beloved home, Casa Azul.

This year Snapchat devoted one of their International Women’s Day filters to Frida—just a click adorned you with her trademarks braids, a crown of flowers, and red lips underneath a proper unibrow.

The multi-generational Mexican artist with a devoted fan base is the inspiration behind 160 new emojis – called FridaMoji – available in App stores now.

Museumito — a father and son design team, designed the first Kahlo-inspired emoji last summer.  They run Cantor Fine Art and wanted to engage their Instagram audience in a fun and memorable way.  That’s how their Fine Art Emoji project came to be.  The Frida emoji was getting the most attention and the project snowballed from there.

We spoke to Museumito about the success of the FridaMoji app and what it took to make it happen.  Our candid conversation delves into the process and rabbit hole that led to an obvious crush on all things Frida.

“The art of Frida Kahlo is a ribbon about a bomb” – Andre Breton

 

Don’t mind me, I’m just going to barrage you with questions.

Why Frida Kahlo? How long did it take to bring this project to fruition? Did you experience any hang-ups along the way?

It was a long and winding path. I think it took 8 months in total with lots of hang-ups. The biggest of which was that we really did not want to do this project. Not with Frida. Not with any artist.

Larry, my dad, and I are just two art history nerds who run a fine art gallery without a ton of resources. To make emojis for someone like Frida would and should take tons of energy, and emotion, and research.

Here is a timeline of hang-ups:

We launched the fine art emoji project in July last year and it got all that attention online. The comments, emails, and phone calls just never really stopped for four months. It seemed the like the more we told people no, the more they pushed back and the more people reached out. Last week I had a meeting with someone who found the emojis for the first time last week. I wonder if it will ever stop.  After 3-4 months, and enough attention from the art history community, we decided we would entertain the idea…but we would give up a lot of control to make our lives easier and partner with a Korean company, whose name I will leave out, to distribute the emojis/stickers worldwide.

I created 25 animated Frida stickers for them, they showed them to the head of Kakao Talk, and that homie was smitten and said that this was no longer for worldwide release but exclusive only for Kakao Talk. Even though we had already signed contracts for worldwide release.  Frida is HUGE in Korea. There are like Frida stores and Frida makeup lines….

They also wanted me to cut out a bunch of references to Frida’s work and replace it with “more useable emotions.” Sooooo I was like naw. Our goal was to spread Frida’s message, not make a ton of money for a company.  So, through some legal ugliness, we yanked our images and started looking for a new partner.

When we found out that the people who make Kimoji worked in the same building as our gallery, we reached out. We were just about to dump the project but, they were like ‘no dude this is cool, and worth it’. They thought about taking it on, but like, one of the Kardashians was getting a divorce or something, and they decided it wasn’t for them and their brand. Those guys’ are really nice and smart and helped us a ton.  We were like, ‘Ok we said we would do this. Let’s just make it us. We will probably lose money on developing it, it will take a lot longer – but we have gone this far.’ I designed the apps and hired a freelancer — had a ton of learning along the way. However, it was really rewarding. Now we have the app that we own, and I didn’t have to compromise on any references that we were allowed to use from Frida Kahlo Corp.

In terms of why Frida… Frida painted around 143 paintings, 55 of those are self-portraits. Each of these self-portraits had its own emotion or style that we could reference for the emoji.

So why Frida? Because we are living in Frida Mania and there were already so many images of her iconic face expressing anguish, beauty, betrayal, love, happiness, passion, pain.

Plus people were already using this amazing FridaMoji around the world.
}:)   No joke. Fridamaniacs throw a unibrow on all their emoticons. I love it.

Frida Kahlo Emojis _The Two Fridas

I read that you spent some time in Mexico City studying up on Frida. Now that you have bonded with her self-portraits, what elements were the most important to retain when creating the corresponding emoji?

Ya. WOOF. Have you been to Mexico City? That place is amazing. Everyone is so scared of it. I loved my time there. Never felt unsafe. Ate such amazing food. I cannot wait to go back.

The process was – we researched Frida, read books, studied all of her work, and watched the movies. I spent two weeks in Mexico City visiting Casa Azul and all the museums to see as much of the work in person as possible. It really is amazing seeing the work in person. Then spent six months working with the Frida Kahlo Corporation making hundreds of emojis.

I mean before really diving deep into Frida, I knew she had a unibrow, flower crown, a pet monkey, and parrot was married to Diego and was often sad. I think for a majority of people she is a unibrow and flower and they know they are supposed to like her. When I started reading about her and her work and her life, it is impossible to not get swept up in it. She was such a remarkable figure. She was so honest and so brave. She was so beautiful and so ugly. She was so tortured and yet found bliss. She was so romantic and always heartbroken. She was so secluded and yet so popular. I just fell in love with her character and her message, in a way I never really have with another artist.

I swear you can stand in front of Los Dos Fridas for days and still not take it all in. Then some of her work is so intimate and small. So when I went to Mexico I just gobbled everything up. Just tried to take in the overall messages and jotted down notes about recurring images or themes beyond a third of paintings are self-portraits. This might sound silly but before I went to Mexico I hadn’t grasped how prevalent or important watermelon was to Frida or what the monkey actually stood for.

Then I came back to the states with a head full of ideas, and I took in every image and painting the Foundation had. Each painting has its own emotion or style or story. So I took all of Frida’s paintings and photos, and thought about what people could actually use in conversations, looked at the most used emoji worldwide, and thought about what could open people up to more of Frida’s work. The process wasn’t necessarily easy. We ended up making over 400 emoji, and only 160 made the cut. Things were cut because they didn’t truly reflect Frida or felt like they wouldn’t be a useful emoji.

So now the question will be can we open up Frida’s legacy to more people?
Can we usher Frida and everything she stood for into this very new medium?
Can she become more than just the iconic flower and a unibrow to her new young fans?

If this is a way to do that….then awesome.

Frida Kahlo Emojis

You mentioned the art history community embracing the project. Could you share a few examples of that?

I can’t track it down because it happened so long ago, but LACMA reposted all the emojis on Facebook after the Artnet article came out and it just went gangbusters. It was as if everyone had to qualify their emails to me with “and you can trust me I’m a museum director” or “and this is coming from an art history teacher.” I loved it. Got lots of emails of die hard Frida fans.  Last week I helped a preschool teacher, and we were in someone’s master’s thesis in Europe.

Projects like this are sustaining new ways of educating and engaging a new generation – what artist is next in the emoji line?

Not sure. To do this right takes a lot of time, energy, and brainpower, and maintaining it takes some work. We have definitely been flirting with other artists estates that we admire, and there is definitely interest.  So we will see. Stay tuned to our Instagram, hopefully, there will be some news soon.

The Cross Stitch Lure of Ulla Stina Wikander

Cross-stitch is the oldest form of count thread embroidery where a stitch formed of two stitches crossing each other (x-shaped) in tiled, raster-like patterns form a picture. In the United States, Loara Standish the daughter of Mayflower passengers Myles Standish and Barbara Standish made what is believed to be America’s earliest known cross-stitch sampler.  Currently housed at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts; it is thought to have been stitched while Loara sat in her doorway awaiting the return of a lover, lost at sea.

Artist, Ulla-Stina Wikander admittedly doesn’t cross-stitch; her work is helping uncover old stories set in thread, giving them new life within a different context. Ulla skillfully covers recognizable items whose functional use has evolved or been updated in found cross-stitching.  Some of her more popular pieces pair household items with cross-stitch – both, these unchanging symbols of domestication whose correlation is not unlike stitching – it has not faded away, though it has seen a transformation in the way that people view it.

 

The Cross Stitch Lure of Ulla Stina Wikander

We caught up with Ulla to discuss her process & maybe confess our cross-stitch crush:

I really enjoy how your work updates these older cross stitch pieces.  You’ve given them a new life, managing to keep the essence of them – they’re still a source of expression. What makes the perfect cross-stitch for your projects?

When you source the cross-stitches – are you looking for any particular colors or patterns?

Ulla: The embroidery must be clean (and they usually are, because they are framed) I buy almost every embroidery I come across, but I do not use them if they aren’t well embroidered, good craft. I have some favorite motives and colors and I often use the same patterns for big installations. For example: Typical Swedish small red cottages in the countryside with blue sky and birches. It is a very common pattern in Sweden and a kind of national romanticism. Another type of pattern that I like is the wild animals, like elk, deer and birds, often placed in the wood.

Do you make any of the cross stitching yourself?

No, I do not make any cross stitching or other embroidery. I´m more interested in choosing embroidery and covering the items – to see what is happening with the objects, how they transform. It takes some time to dress up the items, so I don’t have much time left to embroider.

It’s difficult for me to wrap my brain around your thought process on this project.  I mean, I’ve never looked at an item and wondered how I could change the context of it by covering it.  Can you tell us a bit about the first time you covered something?

I started to collect cross stitches 10 years ago, but I didn’t really know what to do with them. I found them beautiful and I admired the work behind. Then my ordinary vacuum cleaner broke down and I had this idea to cover it totally, and then put it against the wall as if I just had walked away. Then I invited some friends and let the vacuum cleaner stay in front, and it was amazing to listen to the reactions. Every body just loved it and they were at the same time a bit confused. I decided to try to cover things from the 70`s, a sewing machine, a typewriter for example, and it went well. It was like you saw the objects for the first time, and you weren’t sure of what you were looking at …In 2014 I had “My previous sewing corner” at Liljevalchs Konsthall and it got some attention.

The Cross Stitch Lure of Ulla Stina Wikander

Did you realize the artistic impact the items would have, or did it start out as a design aesthetic?

I realized the opportunities in an artistic way and decided to continue to explore how the different objects would transform when I “dressed them up”. It had to be ordinary things, that were related to women. I was not sure if it was regarded as art and that was not important to begin with.  It was more important for me, what it aroused in the observer.

I imagine, based on the types of items you choose to work with, that you are a bit of a purist when it comes to design — does that carry over into your everyday design?

Yes, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to everyday design, my home and clothes are clean and simple. I think that the artwork I do, is more a bit like kitsch and sometimes ”to much”. It must also have a sense of humor and recognition.

 

The Cross Stitch Lure of Ulla Stina Wikander

Seeing the pieces in a gallery setting really opens up the interpretation of the work. Each item technically has new life in a sculptural form, showcasing its functional design.

Do you think that viewing it this way places more emphasis on the way you select items now or the way you’d like to exhibit them in the future?

I love the fact that ordinary obsolete things that nobody wants, can be placed in a new context and seen for ”the first time”. I build large installations as well, like armchairs, table, lamps and I would like to see my things in a large exhibition at an Art Gallery.

Can we talk about how seamlessly you cover these items? Where are the seams? How are you achieving that?

I am very meticulous when I cover the objects. If these women has made a perfect embroidery, I would like to make a perfect covering and I make that by sewing and gluing. It is my way of showing respect to these women whose embroideries I cut apart (that hurts, every time).

The Cross Stitch Lure of Ulla Stina Wikander

Ulla’s work is now at Paradigm Gallery + Studio  for “Stitched”, an exhibition focusing on artwork that makes use of embroidery and stitching techniques.

Enjoy these great links to more information on Wikander:

[Website] [Instagram]

Beauty In The Eye of The Beholder – The Embroidery Work of Hannalie Taute

South-African artist, Hannalie Taute’s contemporary take on embroidery happens on rubber stitched together from discarded inner tubes. Her work is dark and edgy. I can only think of words I would not use to describe it, like: sedate, subtle, or delicate.  The faces stitched into the abandoned materials scream at you from their tough leather looking exteriors – this is not your grandmother’s embroidery.

I’m a fan of Taute’s work.  She masters the askew – doming it under bell jars, framing it in silver serving plates, leaving threads to dangle out of her stitching, letting the danger seep into our realm.  I find it difficult to look away from her strangely beautiful things.

As time drew closer for me to call Hannalie for our interview, I imagined a husky sounding woman picking up, morosely explaining her work to me.  All of that dreaming, fell completely out of context when this sweet-sounding mother, who admits she sometimes patterns her work after pop culture offerings, greeted me with a cheerful ‘Hello’.

What we assume is not always so.  Hannalie owns many expressions of her personality which allow her to evolve creatively.  Just like embroidery is composed of more than feminine linens stitched with sweet sayings for butts to sit on.

Before we get started, Hannalie apologetically warns me that Afrikaans is her first language, so the interview might get a bit rocky.  She mentions this after we have gushed on about The Little Prince, Minecraft and an Andy Warhol penis.

I think she did just fine…

This is the first time I have seen embroidery on rubber. To your knowledge, are there any other artists that work with this material?

Hannalie: I know that there is another South African artist, Nicholas Hlobo – part of my inspiration. He works with rubber as well, but he uses it differently.  He takes ribbon and rubber, and makes sculpture & abstract works – but he doesn’t embroider per say. He works with the medium, but I said to myself, ‘I can get a lot of artists that use oil paint, and each one would employ it differently.  I can use rubber as well, but make it my own.’

It is a lovely medium to work with. Even though I’m inspired by his use of rubber, our process and concept is very different.

That is what’s lovely about inspiration; that spark you can spin into something else.

On average, how long does it take you to complete a piece? I want people to get a sense of how labor intensive your work is.

My huge wall hangings can take up to six months. A smaller work, like the one I sent for the STITCHED show at Paradigm Gallery took about 2 months – that includes sourcing the rubber, cutting the rubber, cleaning the rubber, stitching and framing the piece.

 

What a process … How do you prime the rubber to then begin working with it?

I get it in a tube from the company. Some companies just throw them away, so I go and collect them.  I wash, dry, and polish them before I draw on them.  I don’t have an assistant at the moment, so I do everything myself.

 

Woah.

Yeah.

 

Creep(er) embroidery on rubber, 2017  – now on display at Paradigm Gallery for the STITCHED group show. | Taute explains how Creep(er) self-portrait came to be: “Minecraft is a computer game and my children play it a lot. Apart from Zombies and Skeletons, one can also encounter a ‘Creeper’, and they normally explode. A Creeper can be recognized by its tall vertical structure, and green pixellated skin. I can relate to their need to explode, so I decided to embroider a self-portrait wearing a ‘creeper’ jacket, but instead of holding dynamite or some sort of explosive, I decided to embroider an Andy Warhol inspired-penis.”

 

I’m curious, are you constantly bending your needles trying to pull your thread through the rubber?

I’ve broken a couple of needles…the rubber is not that tough, its’ softer than leather actually. So I don’t need to make my holes beforehand, the needle goes straight through.  I’m struggling to work with fabric at the moment because I’m used to the thickness of the rubber.

How long have you been working with this medium?

I started in 2012 – so a short while ago.  My first Solo Show was called Rubber Ever AfterI’ve got so much to learn still.

There is something macabre about the aurora of your work, which I find quite interesting.  But then, I suppose it might be a bit difficult to go sweet with rubber.

Yeah, all the connotations to bondage and stuff. (laughing)

Maybe ‘sweet and leather is the perfect juxtaposition.

You also draw inspiration from books and your children’s interest. Does each piece start with a particular memory?

I love reading and listening to other people’s stories about their relationships, and such. Even if I don’t find my inspiration directly at that moment, I’ll collect those moments, write out my thoughts and revisit them later.  Mostly, its driven by how I feel at a certain stage.

‘What is essential is invisible to the eyes’ is on display at Paradigm Gallery for the STITCHED group show. | Taute on this piece: ‘What is Essential’ was inspired by The Little Prince – I read it every year at least once. The quote goes, “What is essential is invisible to the eye. It is only with the heart that one sees rightly.”

How has your work been received in South Africa?

Very good… I won my first art award working with rubber. I like it when people come up to me after a show to chat – I’ve had a few great discussions with them about ancient embroidery.

Ancient embroidery? Is this art form older than most realize?

Oh yes.  There’s a pretty good book called Subversive Stitch… you know, men used to do this too and not just women.  The book has a detailed history of how women used needlework in the 18th and 19th centuries. Stitching has such a rich history throughout the world. The origin of it is fascinating.

My mother-in-law does needle work as well. When she sees my work, she gets so frustrated because she believes it must be perfect. If she makes a mistake in her work, she will pull everything out and start again. I don’t allow myself that luxury, I keep on going and working.  Its’ ok to make a mistake and carry on.

Well then, your imperfections make for unique pieces. I really enjoy your sculptural work; they are fascinating and a bit scary. There’s one from your series Implanted Memories that I love – the pig face on the body of a young child.

That’s She Wants to Build a House with Thread.

It is interesting what people find scary.  My children watch monster movies; I remember scary monster stories from my youth. Compared to theirs, my monsters are cute and cuddly.  I’m wondering what is scary out there still?

She Wants to Build a House with Thread, 50 x 30 x 30 cm Medium: Fabric, found object, cotton thread and rubber

 

I don’t know.  Maybe we’re afraid of the ‘imagined threat’. I still get chills when I read older stories from The Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen.  That’s what I meant when I said I love the scare factor in your work, because they remind me of darker fairy tales – the ones without the cute moral endings. 

I had an exhibition called, The Grimm Needle. I asked people, ‘What did they fear? Could they name a fear for me based on the unknown?’ Their responses were quite interesting. I suppose there is a lot of fear around that – the unknown.

Because you don’t know what to expect. If you can’t prepare for something, then comes the onset of anxiety.

I guess that is why people fear death because it is the unknown.

So many questions swirling around that.

Wonder if I could stitch it…

“Heks/Witch” Altered photograph, cotton thread, rubber and wood. 61 x 42 cm

 

The More You Know:

Ask A Curator: Wassan Al-Khudhairi Talks About The Exciting New Exhibit Third Space At The Birmingham Museum of Art

 

The new contemporary art exhibit at Birmingham Museum of Art, Third Space  borrows its name from philosopher and Havard Scholar, Homi Bhaba‘s term ‘third space,’ which he defines as a space that “challenges our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force, authenticated by the originary past, kept alive in the national tradition of the People.”

Wassan Al-Khudhairi is the Hugh Kaul Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art; as curator for Third Space, Al-Khudhairi is quite aware of the power of shared experiences.  Her personal experiences growing up in one place and traveling to others color the exhibition.  She reaches, through the selections to explore the commonalities that draw communities together and make them stronger.

Third Space is intended to create a dialogue that allows for the discovery of connections between the American South and the rest of the world,” Al-Khudhairi said. “We hope visitors walk away from this exhibition with the desire to have those important conversations related to the experiences we share.”

We put together a brief Q & A together for Wassan Al-Khudhairi – we hope this will allow the readers to understand some of job responsibilities of a curator and how Third Space came together. 

 

Wassan, can you tell us how the idea for this exhibition come about?

The exhibition idea was inspired by thinking about the Birmingham Museum of Art’s collection and its relationship to Birmingham, the American South, and the Global South. The American South is often discussed within the parameters of the United States of America and within a North-South dichotomy.  I was interested in thinking horizontally and creating an opportunity to have an south-south conversation.  The Global South refers to a loose geographical space, a space that is often a post-colonial space.  I wanted to explore the Museum’s collection through this lens of post-colonialism — a condition that is quite similar in many ways to other places in the Global South.  The exhibition title, Third Space, is a term borrowed from Homi Bhaba a philosopher and scholar who coined the term to describe another space, one where commonalities come together to create an alternative space.  The term felt like the perfect way to encompass the exhibition ideas.

 

What was the largest hurdle in pulling it all together?

Pulling it all together– being sure the exhibition ideas are being communicated to the visitor and creating the conceptual space for people to feel like they can reflect their ideas and experiences onto a work of art.

On another note, the exhibition is open for 2-years and within those 2 years we will have 3 changes in the galleries. The first one takes place this August– many of the large works will remain on view but photographs and works on paper throughout the exhibition will be replaced with other works from the collection.  This will happen 3 times in two years… it was a challenge to think ahead in planning the works that will be on view for example in Fall 2018.

But these changes every 6 months will mean that there will always something new to see for our visitors, so we hope people will keep coming back!

 

How did you go about selecting these works of art?

It’s not such a linear or defined process as you might be imagining. It is more of a constant back and forth between building the framework for the ideas of the exhibition and selecting works that help shape and push those ideas further. It is a back and forth, back and forth until it feels like you have been able to find the right balance.

Wassan Al-Khudhairi Talks About Third Space At The Birmingham Museum of Art

Jose Bedia Mpangui jimagua (Twin Brothers), 2000 (Acrylic and conte on canvas with objects)

Assuming you had more pieces in mind than the show could contain, and how did you narrow your choices?

Its a juggling act– and many different things factor into how to make those decisions. You have to take a lot into consideration and one decision affects another so its a domino effect.  Which works speak to the exhibition ideas the strongest? How works relate to each other in the space? Will the work physically fit in the space? What works will our visitors respond to?

 

What piece do you think will receive the most attention (whether its via social media or conversation gold) and why?

It depends on who you’re talking to or what platform you’re looking at. Contemporary art has the ability to allow for multiple interpretations and what I hope Third Space will illustrate to our audiences is that there’s something very personal about what works you are most drawn to and that you may see something in a work that I don’t– that there are many interpretations and the hope is that all our visitors can find something to relate to in the works of art in Third Space.

 

I thought it was an interesting choice to use perspectives of the selected works for the audio guide, instead of the merely quoting the artist. How did you arrive at that decision?

This was a very deliberate decision that my colleague Angela May and I made– we wanted to include voices of people in the community speaking about the works of art in the exhibition. The hope is that by hearing a ‘non-art professional’ speak about a work of art our visitors will feel empowered to make their own interpretations and speak about the works in the exhibition as well.  We also wanted to weave into the exhibition the voices of people in our community to show that there is no one way to talk about these works of art and that the exhibition should be a place for conversation and sharing of ideas.

 

I noticed a mention for the upcoming video diary allowing for visitors to share their experiences with the exhibition. How will the museum utilize those perspectives?

We aren’t sure yet how we will use these perspective immediately– but including an audio guest book was a way to create another space for visitors to the exhibition to leave behind their story, their voice, their perspective. If we want the exhibition to be a space to share ideas and create conversation then we needed to keep our work by offering the space for that to happen…. we hope it will be ready soon, so if you’ve visited the exhibition already please come back!

If you’re still intrigued, please check out our 10 of our favorite pieces from the exhibition, they’re sure to provoke stirring conversation on the exploitation of people and land, identity and race relations.

Stitching Less to Convey More – Tsurubride’s Charming Embroidery Confession

 

meghan-willis-tsurubride-embroidery

It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon and Brooklyn based artist, Meghan Willis (aka Tsurubride), and I are chatting about the calming effect embroidery has on us. One of us ‘might’ have mentioned that embroidering keeps us from murdering people at work. And while mine might actually look like it was stitched by a shaky hand after an actual stabbing, Meghan’s hand embroidered work delicately captures women in various stages of undress, laced in bits of boldly colored textiles.  She gives her women strength within the stitch, dressing them in a celebration of their sexuality, creating an illusion of movement with clean lines — my favorite are her double and triple takes stitched like a series of rapid blinks.

Three of her newer pieces will be exhibited in Paradigm Gallery’s upcoming group show, ‘Stitched’.  The show focuses on the shift in opinion toward embroidery, stitching, and other fibers techniques historically associated with women and “domestic tasks”.  Sadly, this type of work doesn’t get shown in museums a lot.  Is that due, in large part to an ongoing contested artistic legacy of the work? Or is it lack of knowledge of the skill and creativity required to create these artworks? Do you think shifting the focus toward the creativity required to produce these pieces pushes the conversation into the art realm?

Meghan and I jump right into our explorations on the evolution of stitching:

 

I want to steer the conversation away from craft, by refraining from overuse of technical terminology. I think it’s a real concern, that if we continue to talk about the medium in terms of crafting, that’s the way people will continue to view it.

Tsurubride: I see the point. It’s just another way; another medium.  Instead of a pen or a paintbrush – even with digital art and collage – a combination of all these skills come together to bring whatever is in your head, onto the fabric.

It has excited me to see opinions shift drastically about fiber techniques—I stitch during my commute on the train. Sometimes people sit down next to me and either recount watching their grandmothers stitching or express a surprise that anyone still does it.  I’ve noticed that most people don’t recognize what an embroidery hoop is.

I sometimes take my work with me when I travel, but I rarely get a chance to touch it.

How do people react to you embroidering while you’re traveling?

I have stitched while riding Amtrak a couple of times.  Once I was in business class sitting around people in suits.  There I was, in my jeans and t-shirt, stitching a nipple.  It was actually the perfect thing to be stitching in that environment. It was like, ‘yes dude, I’ve got my boobs over here, it’s all fine folks.’

What a juxtaposition (laughing). 

Tsuru Bride-double-exposure

For a while, embroidery seemed to be viewed as a lost art form and an antiquated one at that. We generally tend to think of older women embroidering.  So I think people are shocked to see younger women – even men, now taking up this art form.  Even the way they choose to express themselves with it seems to raise eyebrows, and a lot of curiosity.

I’ve been stitching forever and I know a large part of the embroidery community have stitched for a long time as well. When you hear words like “a resurgence,” its’ like, ‘No we’ve always been doing it.

I do think there’s more awareness being brought to it. Hopefully its less in the shadows – hopefully receiving less craft credit and more art credit.

With a rise in popularity, how soon do you think it will be before embroidery kits are being stocked in the novelty section of Urban Outfitters?

I think that would be fun.

I certainly like to create my own work, but if you’re just getting started and see that kit at Urban Outfitters, perhaps you’ll pick up that hoop and have some fun with it… Maybe they start with that kit, have their own take on the product and build into some really innovative ideas.

meghan-willis-tsurubride-embroidery

I learned my basics from aunts and my grandmothers, but I still take to resources like YouTube to learn more from other people in the stitching community.  At the end of the day, I’m still thinking about how to transform that information into my thing.

I think places like YouTube are great for learning new techniques, but you have to find your own take on it – your own approach to it.  At least those sort of resources are there to start with the fundamentals…

The question is, ‘how do you now incorporate that into your work?’

People on Instagram will comment and ask what stitch I’m using.  I only use backstitch, but it’s the way that I’m using it – people are surprised that that’s the way it ends up looking. Taking something as simple as that stitch and being able to translate it into my work ends up creating this visual that’s my trademark.

Were these skills passed down to you?

As a little kid, I was very crafty.  Both my grandmothers were very much into sewing – they encouraged the habit.  I started making terrible clothes for my Barbie doll. The fabric would be sewn wrong sides together  You’d turn it out and the seam allowance would be all wrong.  Everything would be done with these really long stitches cause I was impatient, I just wanted to do it.  I never thought about how the Barbie doll would then get into the clothes.

It seemed like a natural progression to be in fashion.  During the day I do that, and then at night I don’t want to make clothes anymore – partly because that is part of my day job.  This is a lot more relaxing, to be able to sit and create something.

I still have that same impatience though – I love the beauty of fill stitches but that’s part of the reason I never really incorporate it into my work.  I have an idea and I need to get it out of my head and create it.  fill stitches seem like they’re going to slow me down.  I’ve got too much art to make!

I love that confession. Impatience is such an oxymoron when you think about embroidering.

When I look at your work I’ve always thought , ‘it’s so purposeful in what side of the story you choose to tell by what was meaningfully left out’.  Knowing this now doesn’t make your work any less lovely, it enhances for me. You’ve really made the point that less is sometimes more.

Even when I started with the leather appliques… that happened because I used to make handbags in my spare time, and I had a lot of leather lying around .  I thought, ‘well this could be neat as a mixed medium, so I started playing around with it.’.

Even now, I’ll try to go back and work with some fill stitches, but it’s too slow… I’m so jealous, there are many other artists out there who do incredibly beautiful work with fill stitches.  It’s like, dammit. How do you do that so well?  I know it’s just practice, but I can’t… I got to get the ideas out of my head now.

I think it’s more than just ‘practice’.  Especially after talking to the other artists participating in Stitched.  It has a lot to do with the way the artists sees things and how they translate that.  A perfect stitch is pretty to look at, but perfection can be wearying.

That’s true.  I saw your post on Michelle Kingdom. There’s a great example of someone using fill stitches, but not in this clean, overly perfect way.  It’s got a movement and a romanticism to it.  Her stitching is more painterly.

I always feel like my work is more illustrative versus that painter technique.  Its’ more about clean lines and movement in that sense of after the thread versus following brush strokes.

It’s just another way of expression.

meghan-willis-tsurubride-embroidery

Fun Facts:

The Stitch Acquiesces To The Dream – The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom

“Drawing with thread,” is one way LA-based artist Michelle Kingdom describes her intricately embroidered small-scale worlds – threaded dreams and inner voices that cause her needle to meander away from technical techniques in favor of following her vision.

“There is truth to these compressed moments; there’s fear, hope, and gut instincts. It’s more about those moments when you are lying in bed, looking up at the ceiling, thinking – not subconsciously – not moments you can’t remember or access. It’s the chatter that you can’t shut off or shut out… My work is about snagging these vignettes. What I’m not stitching is just as important as what I am.”

Her commitment to capture the imagery makes conventional stitches acquiesce to a more expressive turn. Each thread has a different intention than the colored stitch you see at first glance. Even the names of her pieces are well thought out, “It takes a couple of days sometimes.  I compile/collect quotes and passages from books, and verses for inspiration.  It has to feel right.”

The art-craft aesthetics of the traditional vs. modern values being assigned to embroidery is sometimes still debated with a look into the artists’ process.

Traditional embroiderers’ tend to flip the embroidery over and check out its bones – so to speak.  Michelle and I talked about that inclination to read a piece by checking the backside to see if the stitches are tidy. “Mine are often a war zone of stitches and knots. When it’s too tidy back there it often means I’ve lost something.”

Spontaneity in embroidery is an irregularity –if a ‘read’ is betrayed by the threads in the back of her pieces, then Kingdom’s organic arrival to the end of her journey is a fantastic maelstrom of threads exposing the depth and the complexity of their layered emotions.

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom_Tending Mislaid Burdens

Tending Mislaid Burdens

You can see Michelle’s work during the upcoming show “Stitched”, an exhibition focusing on artwork that makes use of embroidery and stitching techniques. The group show will be in two parts, the first opening Friday, March 24th and the second opening Friday, June 23rd at Paradigm Gallery + Studio.

Enjoy these great links to more information on Kingdom:

  • Two of her favorite inspirations? Henry Darger  & Darrel Morris – “Both made great works based on snippets of their childhood. Very dark imagery.”
  • bG Gallery published a book on works compiled from Kingdom’s latest show.

 [Website] [Instagram]

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom_Duties of Gossamer

Duties of Gossamer

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom_Roots became Skeletons

Roots became Skeletons

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom_Headlong over Precipices

Headlong over Precipices

The Embroidery of Michelle Kingdom_The depths of the sea are the only water after all

The depths of the sea are the only water after all

 

Michelle Kingdom: Facebook, Instagram

All images via Michelle Kingdom.

The Kids’ Eye: An Interview with Kid Hazo

The Kids’ Eye is where creative kids interview artists whose work they admire.

We prep — give them tips on proper interviewing etiquette, arm them with a camera, a recorder and then we let them loose.

We’re only there to observe.  The questions are theirs, the interviews haven’t been rewritten to sound like anything other than the probing journalism of a tween.

Tatianna is 14 years old – the kid behind the ‘Kids Eye’.  You might recall her inaugural interview for the series was with Philadelphia artist, Drew Leshko. This time up the hot seat belongs to Kid Hazo (pronounced has•ohh).

This go around is a tad different – Kid Hazo is a pretty mysterious figure.  The Philly based street artists’ work punctuates our daily interactions with his light-hearted – one step ahead of you – clever pieces that parody the heart of Philly culture. We contacted Kid and he arranged a Google Chat. There wasn’t going to be any identity unveiling, not even for a eager youngin’.  What you’re going to read is a cut & paste from their chat session.

Ready? Because here’s what happens when you let a tween off the leash… the creative leash that is.

Kid Hazo

photo courtesy of Kid Hazo

 

Day before the Interview

Kid Hazo: Let’s chat on Hangouts!

Tatianna: Video chat?

Kid Hazo: txt only!

Tatianna: Aww.

 

Day of Interview

T: Helloooo Kid Hazo, it is Tatianna.

KH: Why hello Tati. How are you?

T: I’m good how are you?

KH: Very good, thanks for asking!

T: Ok, are you ready for some questions?

KH: Ready when you are!

 

T: How long have you been an artist?

KH: I have been Kid Hazo since 2013, so 3 years?

 

T: Did you always know that you wanted to be a artist?

KH: I did not. I am just a big fan of street art. When I saw less being put up in Philly I decided I would step in and try to help out with new installations under this new identity.

 

Kid Hazo Insecurity Cameras

photo courtesy of Kid Hazo

 

T: Why did you pick street signs?

KH: Because I was a big fan of TrustoCorp’s work. I wanted to put my own twist on it.

T: Cool. How do you do all of your big pieces? Like the underwear

KH: Depends…sometimes I make things by hand, sometimes I buy things and alter them… Sometimes I use magic.

Kid Hazo takes out the Laundry

photo courtesy of Conrad Benner/Streets Dept

Kid Hazo White Undies

photo courtesy of Conrad Benner/Streets Dept

T: What type of magic do you use?

KH: Usually the same magic spells as Harry Potter does…that’s how I stay invisible!!

 

T: So you work alone?

KH: For the most part yes. Unless I do a collaboration with someone.

 

T: Why do you wear a mask?

KH: Because I would rather people focus on the artwork than deal with identity politics.

 

T: Where does a girl like me go to get a mask like yours?

KH: At the street art mask store…..?

 

T: Are you playing with me?

KH: Hahaha. Yes.

I have all of my secret spots. I can’t just reveal all the magic to you Tati!

T: why not :(

KH: Well I certainly can’t have Kid Hazo look alike characters running around the city ya know!!

 

T: Is being a artist your only job?

KH: No the artist job is just part time!

 

T: So what is your other job?

KH: My other job is working with computers…

 

T: So you’re smart.

KH: Hahaha, perhaps..

 

T: It is time for the fun questions!

KH: Yay!

 

T: What is your favorite TV show?

KH: Hmmm….right now Silicon Valley

T: I’ve never seen it before.

 

KH: What’s your favorite show?

T: I watch a lot of TV, so it is hard to pick just one.

KH: Haha gotcha.

 

T: What is the craziest thing you ever did?

KH: The craziest thing I ever did? HMMM….

One time I dressed up as a city street worker to install my “With Love XOXO” spoof ads and got away with it!

T: LOL. I remember those.

Kid Hazo XOXO Sign

 

T: If you had to pick a song that played every time you walked into a room what would it be?

KH: Boyz II Men – Motownphilly

 

T: Wow, now i’m listening to this and dancing right now. Thanks for that information.

KH: Hahaha no problem!

 

T: If you were a super hero who would you be?

KH: Hahaha awesome.  I like Spiderman, he seems like he has a lot of fun swinging around the city

T: Spiderman is ok.

KH: SPIDERMAN IS THE COOLEST.

T: I like Batman, he is so much cooler.

KH: Ugh….FINE.

But yea Batman is pretty cool

T: I’m always right.

Now it is time for the last question.

KH: I am actually like Bruce Wayne at art gallery shows anyway.

T: K, last question!

What would you do if some told you that you could never do art?

 

KH: I would do it anyway!!!

T: And if they stopped you?

…….?

…………..?

………………..?

KH: I would start all over under a new name!

Can’t stop, won’t stop!

 

T: This was very fun, sadly I have to go.  I hope to see you next year and good-bye.

KH: Sounds good! Thanks for interviewing me! Bye Tati!

T: You’re Welcome!

 

Amberella’s Goth Hearts

Goth Heart by Amberella. Photo - Conrad Benner/Streets Dept

Goth Heart by Amberella. Photo – Conrad Benner/Streets Dept

Amber Lynn (aka Amberella) is a Philadelphia-based mixed media and street artist who sees the world through candy-coated eyes. Most of her work is conceptual and often comments on popular culture, body image, or lady drama.  What we find intriguing is her honest draw on past and present personal life experiences and how she freely she lets it all bleed out into the street.

Her newest series, Goth Hearts is a culmination of feelings pulled from diaries, notes, sketchbooks, scribbles, memories, and every day feels.  It’s raw and vulnerable, seeking to touch on the viewer’s emotions and evoke feeling upon first glance.  Here, there are no candy-colored sappy sentiments packaged and disguised in an array of pretty lies.

“This work speaks to my own experiences and vulnerabilities. I’m revisiting, exploring, and releasing these emotions, whether past or present, back into the universe. The streets serve as a platform to create an unexpected raw reaction for the viewer. The streets are conceptually part of my process and I’m passionate about it enough that I push myself to places that are uncomfortable at times; literally putting my heart into the streets .

Besides the therapeutic nature of the work for myself, I hope that it will trigger emotion in others. In regards to the viewer, that’s all I’m after. The viewers experience is truly dependent on that persons’own thoughts, experience, perception, personality, and a plethora of other factors. I just want to provide a moment in time for people to connect with themselves and their emotions. Feelings, -all types- are so important. It means that you are alive and present.”

Truth.

Visit Amberella on Instagram and check out her past work on Streets Dept.

Amberella at Front Street Walls. Photo by @ronzanetich

Amberella at Front Street Walls. Photo by @ronzanetich

Amber Lynn_Goth Hearts 7

Photo: Amber Lynn

Amber Lynn_Goth Hearts 6

Photo: Amber Lynn

Amber Lynn_Goth Hearts

Photo: Amber Lynn

Amber Lynn_Goth Hearts 4

Photo: Amber Lynn

Amber Lynn_Goth Hearts2

Photo: Amber Lynn

The Kids’ Eye: An Interview with Drew Leshko

The Kids’ Eye is our new series where creative kids interview artists whose work they admire.

We prep — give them tips on proper interviewing etiquette, arm them with a camera and a recorder and then we let them loose.

We’re only there to observe.  The questions are theirs, the interviews haven’t been rewritten to sound like anything other than the probing  journalism of a tween.

Tatianna is 13.  Last summer she stumbled across Philadelphia artist, Drew Leshko’s miniatures at a gallery exhibition.  Her first thought, “Can this really be art?” We assured her it was; she marveled at the possibilities of new mediums she could explore.  Daily Googling marathons turn into allowance fueled trips to craft stores – all efforts to see if she could create her own miniature stories.  When that stopped being enough, we called up Leshko to see if he’d be up for a studio visit.

DSCN0926

Tatianna: So how long does a regular piece take you to do?
Drew Leshko: Well, if we’re talking about buildings, that’s a long process. They take me anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months, depending on the size of them. If we’re talking about other works, like the dumpsters – those are hard to quantify. They’re my relief when I’m spending two months working on a building, and it’s getting to the point where I want to rip my hair out because I can’t stand looking at them anymore. I take some time off and pull out a little sculpture because I can finish that relatively quickly.

I’ve talked to a lot of different artists and they like to do two pieces at once.
Totally, you have to.

Yeah, it just drives you insane if you don’t.
It keeps you moving at a reasonable rate if you’re trying to be productive, and I am.

Are all your sculptures like…Because I heard you do them from real places. Are they all in Philadelphia?
All the buildings are based on actual buildings in Philadelphia. I start with a photograph that I take and I work to get the main structure of the building. So I’ll get the photograph out and use it to generate all the important parts; like where the beam is, where the awning is going to plug into, where the basement entrance is. After I get the main bones of the building, I put the photograph away. I work off of memory at that point.
A lot of the work has that human element of memory. I’m only trying to make buildings that don’t have that much longer to live because once they’re gone
… They’re gone.

DSCN0923

Did you want to do sculptures of buildings when you first started out as an artist?
No, I made sculptures of water towers — a lot of them. I was making sculptures to become the subjects of photographs I was taking. So, in a gallery setting, there would be both photographs and sculptures.

The idea was to ask the viewer what was going on, essentially — Which came first? Is it a photograph that he’s recreating, or is it a photograph of something that he’s built?

So how did that lead you into buildings?
I moved here (Philadelphia) in 2007 and the environment really informed my work. I think many artists would say that. If you live in the Hudson Valley in Upstate New York, you might be painting trees and fall scenes with the changing leaves.

Yeah… Philadelphia is just full of art. It’s everywhere you look, from graffiti on. Street art is just everywhere.
So, a lot of it came from my environment. A lot of it came from older artwork projects that I admire. Walker Evans, I always speak about him. He was commissioned by President Theodore Roosevelt to document life in the United States after the depression. He went around photographing all these down and out families in the South. He was photographing churches and creating essentially an archive of what was. It’s something real, you and I could go to the Library of Congress now and look at the slides and see portals into life. So, I can’t take photographs, I’m no good at that. I can’t paint…

I think I’m good at a little bit of everything. I can paint really well, I can draw really well, and I can take good photos.
(What you hear now is the ego of a 12-year-old, bearing the confidence that I wish I’d had at that age. Drew is being very patient. Wait, there’s more…)

I think I was born with an artistic side.
You could make a lot of money with those skills.

I think what I was saying; was in the same way that Walker Evans was trying to really capture a feeling and a time period in his project; I’m thinking about my work in the same kind of way.
DSCN0924

Well, if you had to do something different than building your sculptures and your dumpster and your RVs and your water towers, what would you think your options would be?
That’s a tough one.

I am tough – I like it. I want to know everything.
I don’t know if I can answer that. The campers are relatively new for me, I’ve only been working on them for about 2 months. I still have a lot to see through with this project. I plan on having 40 of them.

40? (Astonished)
Not to all be installed at the same place, at the same time.
I’m really interested in artists that pursue serious works, not like an artist that has four paintings and that’s his series – that’s not for me. I want to go over the top until people think it’s totally nuts.

The signs that you put on your buildings, do you copy them and just cut and paste them on?
Some of them I just Google. Most of the time I photograph them on the street, resize them in Photoshop and then I print them out.

DSCN0946

Have you ever thought about teaming up with another artist?
I thought about it, and a lot of people have approached me.

It would be cool if you got that girl who does the Urban Geodes, you know, to put miniature geodes in the bricks of your buildings.
Oh, you mean Paige.
DSCN0934

So what is your favorite piece to create? Is it the buildings, the water towers, the dumpsters or the campers?
I’m really in love with the RV’s right now.

Yeah, they’re neat, I really like them. Have you ever thought about making cars?
I’ve thought about doing some vehicles, but my work is mainly about the temporary relationships we have with things

Like things that aren’t going to be here in 10 or 20 years.
Right. So the buildings…It’s really obvious that they’re not going to be here after a while. For the campers’, maybe the thing that’s not going to be there is their natural environment – like the destinations that you’re traveling to. I think things are shifting in our culture, our ideas about leisure activities.

When I was growing up, my parents had a really crummy Motorhome, and my grandparents had one of these pull behind trailers. We would drive from Baltimore (where I was born) two hours away to the middle of nowhere in Maryland. And we would go to the campgrounds and spend the weekend there. It’s something that I really look back on fondly. It’s a feeling of nostalgia… I think that it’s something people aren’t doing anymore for whatever reason. There’s definitely a new resurgence of camping. There are designer camping shops popping up, but still as a culture, I think something has shifted. I don’t know if I’m right, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about while doing this work.
DSCN0922

Is it hard working at home? You have a TV down here and the studio space is next to the kitchen – do you get distracted? Do you have any hobbies?
I like to ride bikes but haven’t been able to get around doing that lately.

Anything else? Like learning a new language? You should learn a new language because you’ll need it to open new doors.
You’re right. I should learn German – I’m showing a piece in Berlin soon.

I’m going to learn French. And then I’ll take a trip to Paris.

 

Leskho’s current exhibition Home Is Where Your Park It opens February 26, 2016

Opening Reception
Friday, February 26th • 5:30pm – 10:00pm

Closing Reception
Friday, March 25th • 5:30pm – 10:00pm

Exhibition Hours
Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays • 12:00pm – 6:00pm
And 7 days a week by appointment: info@paradigm-gallery.com / (267)266-0073

Location
Paradigm Gallery + Studio / 746 S. 4th Street, 1st Floor / Philadelphia, PA 19147

IMG_8141

NEON CRIME SCENES OF KRISTEN LIU WONG

neon crime scenes of kristen liu wong

Resides: Brooklyn, NY

Work: Contemporary & Fiber

Links: Website/Tumblr/Instagram

Still Life with Pineapple_neon crime scenes of kristen liu wong

I’ve been a fan since my first stumble into the messed up world of artist Kristen M. Liu. Liu makes you feel like you’re harboring a morbid sense of humor gone bad — her scenes are oddly funny, detailed in paint colors that I pray come in packs called ‘Highlighters gone to the Dark Side’.

Venture further into the mayhem and join us mid chat…

 

You have a wonderfully morbid sense of humor — artistically, it’s such a defining part of your signature style. It’s this cool blend of generational influences – a 70’s sort of tiki color palette with a 90’s underground comics/zines vibe. That’s what I see, but what styles or artists are you influenced by?

Thanks! I love that you see tiki-influences in my work. In terms of “style” (referring to how I draw, use pattern, etc.) I really love to look at American folk art in addition to the obvious cartoon and comic influences.

My mom was a textile major so she always brought us to craft exhibits. I grew up looking at Gee’s Bend quilts, Grandma Moses paintings, Native American pottery and weaving, the list could go on forever.

I love the graphic quality of work from artists like Alex Katz and David Hockney. More contemporary artists like Clare Rojas and Margaret Kilgallen are also HUGE inspirations. The first time I saw their work I knew I wanted to make paintings that could be even a fraction as visually impactful. And of course, a shout-out to my favorite artist in high school, Salvador Dali. Even though I’ve obviously strayed off course from his aesthetic approach, his work, along with all the other Surrealists I copied in my teenage years, will always continue to influence me conceptually.

Waiting_neon crime scenes of kristen liu wong

Talking about aesthetics, I noticed you’ve worked with the same color palette for some time. It catches your eye immediately and lures you in. What colors are your staples? Why those particular colors?

Well I cycle through what colors will be dominant in my works but I always tend to go for hot pinks and pale mints (even if there are just touches of it). I grew up with a lot of Polly Pocket so you can blame that.

I read somewhere that you coat your pieces with resin once they are done – first off, expensive process – but the resin gives the pieces such an effortlessly hazy effect, which I think is perfect for the imagery. It’s like waking up in a glossy dreamlike state and witnessing something that perhaps you wish you’d hadn’t seen…that’s a lie. You make those fluorescent murder scenes so bait worthy, I’d always want to open that door to mayhem and take another peek. How did the process of coating your paintings in resin come about? And is that ‘out of body’ – outside looking in perspective created intentionally?

I actually got the idea to coat my pieces from my professor, Kenichi Hoshine (who is an AMAZING artist btw and also one of the coolest dudes out there). I liked the way it looked so much the first time, that I’ve been using resin ever since. Since I flat paint, it smoothes everything out and gives it a really nice finished quality. It also helps the neon colors glow- if you ever see my pieces in person you’ll understand why I use resin!

And yes, I intentionally want to have a very voyeuristic feeling in my work. I watch a lot of bad crime shows and I’ve always been terrified of the idea of someone stalking me so I try to recreate that creepy sensation. Also, sometimes don’t you just feel like you’re looking at your own life and everything is happening separately from you? It’s interesting, it makes you feel completely detached and scared and as quickly as you noticed it, it’s gone and you’re just being paranoid.

Yet those aspects of voyeurism combined with the overt sexuality and non-threatening color palette really draw you into to this curious feeling of sensuousness as the scenes play out the violence in almost a casual after-the-fact way. What’s the story behind your consistent theme of chaos and mayhem?

neon crime scenes of kristen liu wong

As I mentioned earlier, I watch a lot of crime tv. I’ve always been fascinated by violence, not only from personal experiences with it but because mankind’s potential to do great evil is so interesting to me conceptually too. We’re all capable of really great things and really terrible things and because I’m a glass-half-empty kind of person I’m more interested in exploring that aspect of our natures. It’s just a fact that people can be really shitty at times (and I’m no exception) so even though I paint all these terrible things I always want the people to have slightly blasé reactions to all the horror around them.

Oh, please don’t leave out the sex that is sometimes happening in the midst of murder. To which I guess is a great transition into the nudity that exist in these mini stories. I noticed that the sex isn’t always the center of the story, the nudity is sometimes just the state they’re in.

A few reasons I paint naked people a lot. First reason- it’s fun! I love to paint boobs and butts and dicks! They’re really funny and the human body is so interesting to look at that I can’t help myself. Another reason I use a lot of nudity is because it can enhance a figure’s sense of vulnerability or empowerment, depending on how they are posed. Also by making a figure nude in a situation where it is unusual for them to be naked helps add to the surreal quality of their environment.

neon crime scenes of kristen liu wong

neon crime scenes of kristen liu wong

A lot of that happens in your sketchbook – which is pretty amazing. I really like that in addition to posting your paintings online, you often share your sketchbook drawings. Does the process start there and then move over to the paintings? Or are they separate beasts?

They’re usually pretty separate. I actually only started keeping a sketchbook after I graduated because I knew I would get obsessive about making it look “right” but since getting one, I really appreciate it as a place to just do stupid, fun drawings where I don’t have to worry about whether or not something is good enough since it’s just for me.

You’re amazing fiber artists as well – how does that fit into your shows?

Unfortunately it hasn’t factored too much into my shows :( Since I’ve graduated, I have a lot less time to experiment and since galleries primarily want paintings all my spare time is spent doing that. I have a day job so I only have time to work on art weeknight and weekends so yeah my social life can get pretty dead. I’m hoping to eventually get more time to really play around with different mediums so we’ll see!

INTERVIEW : ALEAH CHAPIN

Resides: Brooklyn, NY
Work: Contemporary, Nude, Realism Painter
Links: Website, Facebook, Instagram

“I remind myself that getting harsh criticism means that I’m making work that is worthy of a conversation.”

Some would call the works of Aleah Chapin “tough” or “repellent”, but what do they know. The talent and brilliance behind her contemporary nude paintings make some say, “is this a photograph?”. Realism at its finest. Aleah was raised outside of Seattle, where she discovered art and has since moved to New York to study and continue making one of a kind pieces. Here we discuss being comfortable in your own skin, her small hometown, and her BP Portrait Award.

Aleah, let’s get this going. You’re currently living in the amazing and incredible New York City, but you’re a West Coaster originally. What brought you over?

I came for graduate school at the New York Academy of Art. I actually didn’t really want to move here, but after a few months I realized I loved it. I’ve been here a little over four years, but I miss the West Coast quite a bit.

Do you make it back often?

Yeah. As often as possible. Its like a re-start button for me.

What’s the art scene like in your hometown?

My hometown has 1,000 people, but all are very creative so its relatively good.

Outside of Seattle, yes?

Yes, on an island north of Seattle. It was a great place to grow up in and I was surrounded by interesting, artsy people, which was not only inspiring, but as a young child I knew that I could grow up and do anything I wanted. I had a lot of good examples of what was possible.

Is that what sparked your interest?

I think so. All kids draw, I just never stopped. My mom is also an artist, so I knew that it was possible. I was really lucky that way. I think a lot of kids love to create, but parents don’t always encourage it because they feel like it won’t be a supportive career. While I admit, it is difficult, it absolutely can be a career.

There must be a span of several years in between drawing as a child to drawing realistic nudes. What attracts you to this style of painting?

(laughs)

Yeah, true. Since I was a little kid, really since I can remember, I was fascinated by “making things look real”, and I always loved drawing people. It was pretty frustrating because there’s only so much a five year old can do in terms of realism. I remember my mom showing me how to draw a face when I was probably that age. In terms of the nude thing, there’s so much that is said through the clothes that we wear, and I was never really interested in that when it came to making work. I wanted to have a sort of timelessness, and we all have bodies.

Do you still have these creations lying around somewhere?

My parents have a box in their basement. Probably quite a few boxes.

(laughs)

You make a great point. We do all have bodies. You’ve said before that “women are not supposed to show that they have lived”. Society has seemed to create this image of the perfect man and perfect woman, and that’s all we see. You’re absolutely knocking that barrier down with your work.

Thanks. I hope so. We can also hide under clothes, but we can’t hide what our bodies show, and I don’t think we should. Of course, I don’t think we should go being naked all the time. I love clothes! I just think we should be more accepting and compassionate towards our bodies.

Comfortable in your own skin.

Exactly. We hear that term a lot, I think, but its easier said than done.

Of course. On the other side, you’ve got some tough critics out there calling your work “tough” and “repellent”. What do you say to them?

Yeah. Not sure what to say to them actually. It can be hard to hear, but then I remind myself that getting harsh criticism means that I’m making work that is worthy of a conversation. I suppose its also because of those people that I continue to make the work that I make. If our culture will call a healthy (yet not unrealistically perfect) body “repellent”, then its something we as a society need to look at.

In a way you’re creating conversation, which is always great. Get people talking, thinking about ourselves as a society. Art and criticism go hand in hand.

Yeah, they do. I think art can be a mirror to how a society thinks.

Also, in a way, you’re a photographer. What is your process from start to finish?

I wouldn’t call myself a photographer, but I love photography and I do use it in my work. I have found that a camera can be an incredible way to discover complex aspects of an individual. One of the reasons I use a camera is because I can see the person as they are, and their personality can come through instead of me imposing an idea on them by way of making them stand in a certain pose for 100+ hours. The camera lets the project be a collaboration between myself and the person I am painting. So, I will often take hundreds of photos. Then, I will choose one or two to become paintings. I then draw the composition on the canvas with paint, trying to get the under painting done in one day before it dries, which can sometimes be difficult, especially with the big ones. Then, layer after layer of color until the painting breaths.

Do you set the scene for them, or are all their movements and poses their own?

I will sometimes suggest a bit, but I like to leave a lot open to the moment and the environment.

Such a natural feel to your work, almost palpable. Let’s talk about your BP Portrait Award. How did it feel receiving that?

Amazing, and really surreal, and thank you! I was just hoping to get into that show. Getting shortlisted was insane, then being there and finding out that my painting, a naked painting of this woman I’ve known all my life (literally, she was in the room when I was born), had won. I still can’t believe it sometimes.

Thats amazing. Was she there?

No. She almost came, but decided not to. She was really supportive of the whole thing. It was a lot for both of us to handle at times, in very different ways of course. Neither of us knew how big of a deal it would be though.

What a surreal feeling. So you have a show in London coming to an end soon. How has it been?

Yeah, it ends on the 8th. It’s been amazing. Having a solo show there is a bit of a dream come true. Everyone at Flowers Gallery are such wonderful people that its been a great experience.

What are your top 3 “dream-come-trues”?

Well, besides everything that’s happened with my work already, which is more than I could have dreamed of 10 years ago, build my own house (or renovate one), have a family, and continue to make the work I want to make and have opportunities to put it out in the world.

Keep doing what you’re doing, Aleah. Any last words for readers to know?

Maybe just a sincere thank you to everyone who has supported what I’m doing. It means so much to know that my work is bigger than just me in my studio trying to make beautiful things. It helps me continue when I have doubts and when it gets difficult. So, thank you, thank you!

All work Copyright (c) Aleah Chapin. You can check out more from Aleah on her website and Facebook.

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Copyright (c) The Kind Artist. 2014.

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Kids Eye: Tatianna

We’re reintroducing our series ‘Kids Eye’, where we spend time hanging out with an Art-tastic kid. Here’s a look back at our very first art kid interview…

A while ago I came up with an idea to spend time observing an art-tastic kid in their environment.  Can I experience art again through the eyes of a child?  In the process, can I introduce them to something new?  I’ll talk to them about their interests, and maybe even convince them to take a field trip with me. The goal is to learn from one another.  

All I had to do is borrow someone’s kid, not as easy as it seems – but I got one.

Tatianna lives in Pittsburgh, PA and started second grade this past September.  Due to the short attention span of the little one, I broke my visit up into two days. This is our mini story.

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Day One:

Tatianna invites me into a small studio space that she shares with her grandmother. Her side of the space is filled with colorful paper lanterns, tiny chairs, and an easel.  Various ceramic pots lace makeshift shelving, filled with paints, brushes, scraps of paper, ribbon, pipe cleaners, and other found objects. Paint splattered tutu’s and shirts hang from pegs above her easel.

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Thank you for letting me come watch you paint.

You’re welcome; I like company when I paint.

Tatianna, how old are you?

I’m Seven.

And have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?

Art Teacher.

That’s cool. When I was in school I always looked forward to art class. Do you have a favorite artist?

Yup, the Illustrator from the Pinkalicious books, Victoria Khan.

I’m impressed that you know illustrator’s name.

My grandmother always tells me the name of the writer and illustrator before she reads.

I see. I notice you have the radio on. Do you always paint to music?

Sometimes…I wanted to paint today because I saw that movie Frida Halo. It inspired me.

Oh, you mean Frida Kahlo.

That’s what I said.

Sorry. So how does it make you feel when you paint?

I feel great, it gives me a chance to enjoy myself and let myself go. I can make whatever I feel, I mean the feeling is so good. Though some days I get upset when I feel my art isn’t coming out very good.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I’m learning to skateboard. It’s a mini one, but when I get older I’ll get a big kid one.

I was wondering if you’d like to go to a museum with me tomorrow.

Dinosaurs…?

Art.

That would be alright.

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Day Two

Tatianna and I hop a train bound for New York City. We’re going to visit the Museum of Modern Art.  I finally had a kid with me; a pretty good excuse to check out the museums kids space – The Shape Lab.

Tell me, what do you enjoy about museums?

It’s exciting to be around things that are created by other people. I really like children’s museums because you can touch stuff.

Once we arrived at MOMA I got excited; she got excited.  As it turns out, there were very different reasons for our glee – Tatianna had never been through a revolving door before. Five revolutions later and we were ready to take on the Shape Lab.  She immediately makes a beeline toward the 3D shape magnetic wall.  The wall is broken down into four different stations where kids can explore how shapes are used in art. There are activity cards hanging next to each station, so I challenge her to finish all the activities listed.

 

After the Lab we go to some of the recommended kid spots:

This painting is titled One.  It was done by an artist named, Jackson Pollack.

Hey, he copied my style.

What do you think about this one, it’s called Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian? 

It’s making my eyes bleed together.

That’s about the time that Tatianna suggested that we walk through the permanent collection and rename pieces.  So we did, along with several guards.  

After about thirty mintues of renaming we were tired and hungry, so we decided to call it a day. But not before Tatianna recorded a message for the lovely MoMA employee, Kristen who’d been friendly to her during her stay at the Shape Lab.

You can see that and other video clips from our weekend with this link to our Vimeo account.