artist interviews

The Future of Art

Vita Eruhimovitz is an Israeli artist currently living and working in New Jersey, whose work is inspired by her background in computer science and bioinformatics. Vita's concepts behind her work are based on artificial intelligence and her fascination with human-object relations. She explores these topics through different mediums such as sculpture, painting, drawing and interactive art. Each idea seems to find its own media, all of which are sure to challenge, educate, and engage her audience. 

" The Chatting Room " Installation at Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum 2015

"The Chatting Room" Installation at Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum 2015

A:  You seem to have made working across different mediums work for you, I have heard mid career artists and art educators talk about the importance of honing in on one media and perfecting your skills at it. I am wondering if you had struggled with this idea and how you made it work for you. 

V: I’m still not sure whether I made it work for me yet. I have heard the same opinion quite often, never liked it and still don’t believe it has to be true. Right now I am working to establish a sustainable cross-media practice and I hope that soon enough I’ll be able to say that working in multiple media from the very beginning worked for me. It surely is easier to focus on one medium, both in logistics of the work and when presenting myself as an artist, but this just isn't the way that I work. My art is really more idea based and every project finds its own medium and material. This way I can work on the same project in video performance and sculpture at the same time and for me, it cannot happen otherwise.

A: I am curious as to how you developed the form of the Wobbly-Bots for the Chatting Room installation. When you sketched out these forms did they stay true to your sketches or did they sort of form as you were making them?

V: It’s interesting that you are asking this! Usually my work takes form as I am making it and ends up being very different from the  initial intentions. However this project ended up very similar to my first sketches except for the foot part. The foot became much more sculptural and cartoon-like than I intended at first. Otherwise, the structures were really consistent with the way that I planned them, which is pretty unusual for me.

Wobbly-Bots are robots that resemble some sort of playful creatures. Each bot has a microphone,speaker,sensor and small computer inside. They are designed to engage in conversation with the audience and once the viewer has walked away, the Wobbly-Bot will continue to have conversations with the other Wobbly-Bots.

A: The foot part is so interesting, how did you come to that form and does it have a specific meaning behind it?

V: Yes, definitely.When I made the first Wobbly Bot with a minimalistic foot structure I felt like its form wasn't communicating enough on an emotional level. It felt almost as if I could have put a computer instead of the sculpture. I wanted to make the bots more creature-like, more of beings.  The domain of cartoons and animation was the middle ground between a cold conceptual work and representational art, which I wasn’t interested in. The feet forms resemble Mickey Mouse feet. They are just humorous enough and just likely enough to evoke sympathy in the viewer, while still remaining in a fictional domain. I imagine that one day I’ll be able to make the Wobbly Bots bounce around the room on their feet. I’d really like to see that.

A: Your Chatting Room installation seems to connect with your Human Mediated Machine Conversation performance. Did the performance happen organically while you were in the process of creating the installation?

V: Only after completing the installation I have realized that this project began four or five years ago when I was thinking about interaction between semi-organic creatures. At the time I made small sculptures of these organic-shaped worm-creatures that had box megaphones as their heads. I wanted them to use sound to conduct a nonverbal communication. At that point it wasn’t clear to me where exactly I’m going with this idea, so I sat it aside and after a while forgot about it. Much later I met Cleverbot (a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users over the internet) and was inspired by it. The idea of multi-directional communication between entities evolved and began to grow layers of meaning. I was thinking about our relationships with smart devices and other commodities, human-algorithm society and so on. I began to plan an installation where robots would talk to people and to each other. While I was working out the technological part of the installation, I noticed how interesting the act of mediating chatbot speech is, and the performance was born as a result of my experimentation.

" Human Mediated Machine Conversation " 2014-2015  Phase 1: Each performer has an instance of a Chatbot running on their computer. They mediate a conversation between the two Chatbots by saying the chat lines out loud and typing them into the chat line. The only human input to the content of the conversation is the initial “Hi” and the occasional misspelling/mishearing mistakes.

"Human Mediated Machine Conversation" 2014-2015

Phase 1: Each performer has an instance of a Chatbot running on their computer. They mediate a conversation between the two Chatbots by saying the chat lines out loud and typing them into the chat line. The only human input to the content of the conversation is the initial “Hi” and the occasional misspelling/mishearing mistakes.

Phase 2 and 3: During phase 2, gallery visitors take the performers' places and continue mediating the Chatbot conversation. In phase 3, the Chatbots spontaneously stop accepting input from the keyboard while still speaking to one another. The participant's role is eliminated and the continuing conversation is shown on the computer screens and projected onto the walls. 

Phase 2 and 3: During phase 2, gallery visitors take the performers' places and continue mediating the Chatbot conversation. In phase 3, the Chatbots spontaneously stop accepting input from the keyboard while still speaking to one another. The participant's role is eliminated and the continuing conversation is shown on the computer screens and projected onto the walls. 

A: Do you feel like that happens a lot in your work?

V: Yes. I am constantly closing circles revisiting my past interests and ideas. I often lay ideas aside for years and then find them again through new forms, areas of expertise and gained contexts. Closing a circle this way always adds a different level of complexity and is very satisfying.

A: Did you study art in college or are you self-taught?

V: I had a long and somewhat awkward path to the point that I am at now. When I finished high school my parents insisted that I do something useful with my life. I didn’t have any strong opinion in either direction and pretty randomly enrolled in school for computer science. I ended up not liking it much: it felt too far-removed from the physical world, and so I continued with my master’s in biotechnology hoping to combine programming with biology. For my master’s thesis I was working on a simulation of genetics of a population evolving through generations. This was my first encounter with the artificial life concept. I enjoyed this kind of work, even started a PhD, but soon enough realized that this is still not the right thing for me. I quit, left Israel, travelled and worked abroad searching for my calling. It was while living in Australia when I started to make art on my own and at that point I knew that l have found it. Eventually, I went back to Israel, started art school, and after my third year there I started realizing that things that I knew about computers and biology were really influencing what I was doing on the conceptual level. My last undergraduate work: the “Ears Mouse” dealt with biology, genetics, and artificial life. I realized that not only did I want to make representational work dealing with these topics, I also wanted to actually make the artificially-alive things. I taught myself some basic electronics and started working with physical computing, so my background in computer science definitely helped. As to my background in biology, it often inspires me, but I’m not sure if it necessarily helps: I don’t use any of my knowledge in the field in practice. Still it allows me to think about my topics of interest more broadly.

"Ears Mouse" 2012-2013

"Ears Mouse" 2012-2013

A: So at some point there was definitely a learning curve?

V: It's been a lot of learning and unlearning. Gaining skills and information and then putting them aside; learning something else and then realizing that the previous thing is actually relevant;  going back and picking it up, doing new work with the old things that I have previously abandoned. I feel that I’m constantly moving on a kind of spiral that becomes more and more interesting and context-bound.

A: Did you start to work in 3-dimensional form in Australia or is that where you started to paint? 

V: I painted a lot as a child but around the time of high school I put painting aside under my parents’ pressure. Later, when I was in Australia I had a lot of vague ideas for art pieces. These were probably ideas of installations but I didn't even know what an installation was at that time. So I started making sculptures and learning casting and molding from the internet.  I made large, multiple part molds and poured resin in my living room (which wasn't a very smart thing to do). It was a process of self-teaching sculptural techniques and gathering materials. Some of the pieces I made worked, some failed, and then more failed but eventually I got pretty good at clay and plaster, molding, casting, working with resins, silicone, and so on. After about half a year of experimentations, I realized that I can figure most of it out technically, but I was missing the conceptual thinking which was harder to learn on my own. I went back to Israel and started art school for my undergrad again.

" In the Shower with a Missile " 2012-2013

"In the Shower with a Missile" 2012-2013

A: How and when did you decide that you wanted to create installations? 

V: I did some installation in my undergrad, not heavy duty but some things with wood, plaster and chicken wire. I’m always tempted to work large scale and fill whatever space I have. Also, my work is often narrative-based and through it I create my own fantastic worlds. Building immersive environments that become parts of such world, feels as a natural outcome.

A: Do you feel like you can express yourself and ideas more clearly through three dimensional form than two dimensional?

V: Sometimes, but I’m not willing to set boundaries for my creative process. I love painting too and although I haven't painted much in the last couple years I’m finally ready to get back to it. Meanwhile I do a lot of drawing. Drawing is very intimate to me and as a medium it satisfies the personal aspects of my practice. The combination of drawing the private and the emotional and dealing with more general ideas through sculpture and installation feels balanced to me.

A: I am curious about the “Singing Lump” piece, is it part of an installation? 

V: Yes, it is part of an installation called “Soon After”. I made this amorphous shape when I was working on a body of work that dealt with a fantastic future where people aren't present anymore and the objects and creatures that they created gained an independent existence and agency. Particularly I was thinking about bio-engineered creatures and their fate. What would happen to them after humans are no longer there to define them? Maybe they would go through an entropic process devolving into inertious amorphous lumps of living matter.  I thought: what would this lump be doing all day? In a world that no longer inhabited by humans or animals, knowledge and abilities picked up at the cultural junkyard left behind by our civilization. It could have heard a single song played by some machine, picked it up and now just lying there and singing this song over and over again.

                           Singing Lump  part of the " Soon After"  installation 

                          Singing Lump part of the "Soon After" installation 

A: There was another lump in the “Soon After” installation that was on the floor, are these lumps similar?

Installation shots from " Soon After "

Installation shots from "Soon After"

V: Yes, I made a few of these, and they were all made the same way. Initially I had some different ideas as to how to install them but that changed so the one underneath the knives isn't singing it's just lying there.

A: Was the “Soon After” installation sketched out or planned?

V: No, this installation was pretty much improvised. I had multiple sculptures that all dealt with the post-human future idea: ceramic lumps, kinetic wall pieces, dancing knives, and a homage to Alba the GFP bunny (a genetically modified glow in the dark rabbit) inside a black box. At some point I got an opportunity to compete for showing in a certain installation space and I won the competition. I had some parts, the space, and one week to install. I went into the space and again making it into my own environment and the installation started to form. I was working with the space and in the space and seeing how different elements interacted with each other and with the space. It was a lot of fun because it was much more free and fast than a pre-planned process

      "Homage to Alba"  glow in the dark rabbit as part of the  "Soon After"  installation

      "Homage to Alba" glow in the dark rabbit as part of the "Soon After" installation

A: So if your installations are part sculpture, do they stay together as one unit or do you ever break them apart and exhibit pieces separately?

V: Lately I have been thinking about how to make my practice more sustainable. I make design choices that make my installations more modular. The installations are made in pieces, they can be put together in pieces, the pieces are not necessarily dependent and can be exhibited as separate sculptures. The added value is that they can be reconstructed into different installations, so the work doesn’t need to be finalized at any time.

A: Could you talk a bit about the “A Painting Humming Itself” installation?

"A Painting Humming Itself" Installation 

"A Painting Humming Itself" Installation 

V: This piece was preconceived but went through multiple changes. For a long while I wanted to make an interactive painting that would look back at the viewer and interact. Also I was interested in reversing the roles of painting and space by creating a trompe-l'oeil: a three-dimensional illusion of a flat surface. While still exploring interactive environments I experimented with wall-embedded framed tunnels. In this work I knew I wanted the viewers to become essential to the piece. The rest followed intuitively. The final version of this installation was a single wall in a black room that you could approach from both sides. In a sense it was a two dimensional work with a front and a back. Some of the ‘paintings’ in the installation were active, others were not. There was a playful and somewhat deceiving element which confused the viewer: it wasn’t quite clear what to expect from each tunnel, which are interactive and which are not. When the installation was finished the amount of viewer participation was enormous and I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from observing people interact with my work.

A: Is the whispering dialogue something specific like a message that you wanted to get through to the viewer or a story that you read that you wanted to bring into the work?

V: The whispering itself was an intervention into an appropriated text.The new text revolves around several keywords stripped from their initial context, you cannot hear it completely but you can catch some of the words. Some cultural references do come through and evoke a different association in each viewer. The whispering intrigued and lures you to come closer, which ignites a chain of reactive actions. The text is an additional layer of meaning, providing a cultural-historical context.

A: Was the idea of having people participate in your work always your intention or did that come as you were doing more installations?

Gallery Visitors interacting with " A Painting Humming Itself "

Gallery Visitors interacting with "A Painting Humming Itself"

V: It’s more of a recent thing. It started to happen around the time when I was teaching myself interactive and kinetic sculpture. When I made my first interactive work and saw people's reactions I realized how important this is for me. I want to make art that is able to develop an active dialogue with the viewer, not only reactive but also interactive. I want the communication between the work and the viewer to change something in both.

A: Do you feel that you approach your work differently now, focusing more on how you can allow the interactions from viewers?

V: I am not exclusively interested in interactive objects but working with them made me more conscious about the viewer's experience. This consciousness caused me to engage in interaction design as a part of my work. Today if I am doing something that isn't functionally interactive I still see the objects that I am making as evocative objects. I adopted and appropriated the term “Evocative Objects” from Sherry Turkle - a very interesting author and researcher in the area of human-technology relations. Evocative object is her definition is an object that affects us by evoking a change in our mind:  bringing up a memory,a feeling, developing relationship with us.

A: So interesting, thank you so much for your time Vita, it has been a great experience learning more about you and your work!

You can read more about Vita's work on her website




Raising Awareness Through Art

Michael Pittman is an artist from Newfoundland, Canada who works with multiple media to create images and objects that express his research, ideas and personal narratives sometimes associated with concepts around mental illness and addiction. He uses art to raise awareness and through his studies and direct experiences, he is able to create work that is engaging and incredibly intriguing for the viewer. 

Bear Cove . Ink, graphite, charcoal and acrylic on acid free rag board. 51cm x 76cm. 2015.

Bear Cove. Ink, graphite, charcoal and acrylic on acid free rag board. 51cm x 76cm. 2015.

AH: I read in a past interview that the inspiration behind your paintings is mental illness. Do you ever find it difficult to work with a topic that can sometimes be thought of as depressing?

MP: It’s not the genesis of all my work, but it has played a major role in my process in the past,   and is something that continues to inform what I do. It was difficult work to make on many   levels, but also rewarding and interesting. The source of the work was primarily the well- recorded history and philosophy of “disordered” thought and the historical diagnoses and treatment of mental illness. The images were informed by both the history of psychopathology and also from a much more personal record. Mental illness and addiction have influenced my work from a very intimate perspective. As many can attest, dealing with these issues within yourself and loved ones in an ongoing way really permeates everything you think and do -   there is no avoiding it; it is part of who you are.

AH: At what point in your career did you feel that you wanted to express this through your art?

MP: It’ s something that’s always been close to me, but I think that my academic interest was focused by reading Foucault’s "Madness and Civilization" near the end of my undergraduate studies. It remained an important topic of research for me for quite a while. Later, I also began exploring theories presented in Prinzhorn's "Artistry of the Mentally Ill" -    though the text is dated and highly problematic in many ways, I found the idea that specific psychological ailments could produce very specific patterns of  "artistic output" or "configuration" really intriguing, even if, ultimately, incorrect. There’s a lot of interesting visual material    associated with all this historical information.

Signal Fire.  Ink, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic on birch panel. 122cm x 81cm. 2015

Signal Fire. Ink, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic on birch panel. 122cm x 81cm. 2015

AH: Do you feel that your work has/is raising awareness as you had hoped it would?

MP: There was a great deal of interest in the project and it led to a solo exhibition at a large public gallery, which included several bodies of work spanning over 5 years. The images and sculptural pieces were influenced by some seemingly disparate ideas that rotated around a core of personal,psychological experience. I think there was a positive response to the work because of its introspective nature. When I make images or things, I project an accumulation of experience onto a specific subject: the result is representative of the particular way that I decode the world. Though it’s often very personal, I believe it is illuminated by a commonality in the way that we all process and internalize experience.There was some really positive press about the show – I suppose it helped a little to raise some awareness regarding a subject that people still find difficult to talk about.

AH: Can you walk me through your painting process?

MP: My painting process is as reductive as it is additive: I work in many layers of fast drying materials, then carve, scrape, sand and gouge back through to expose some areas while completely obliterating others. I’ve often said that there’s a distillation process that occurs when working this way. The superfluous stuff evaporates or disappears, and what is left behind is concentrated and deliberate. I predominately use acrylic paint and a combination of drawing materials to create my images on a wooden or paper substrate. To say that each image is representative of a specific story or narrative would be misleading. The images often begin with a core of narrative and accumulate material until they become something else. I try to make images that create a narrative sense; they tell stories and also expose themselves as such. They are neither transcriptions of fact, nor tall-tales. People, places and things overlap and intertwine with one another becoming something akin to multiple exposures in a photograph. Time dissolves the division between subject and meaning for me. Layers of memories, dreams and stories are combined without priority or differentiation. It is the stuff of early childhood memories or the blurry record of subjective experience without context. Our individual world views are essentially myths that we construct based on the facts that are most accessible, if not most relevant. We build spheres of meaning around ourselves with the material that we have on hand. I borrow heavily from areas of knowledge or phenomena that I relate to on some level. I absorb the information that I accumulate through my research, and it becomes part of my visual language or vocabulary. Once the facts are released from their context, I can manipulate them freely and use them to create personal narratives that embrace the ambiguous nature of things and the uncertainty of meaning.

Quarter Sawn.  Ink, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic on birch panel. 122cm x 81cm. 2015

Quarter Sawn. Ink, graphite, charcoal, and acrylic on birch panel. 122cm x 81cm. 2015

AH: Your paintings have a great deal of restraint to them. Do you ever find the restraint to be difficult?

MP: I find restraint very difficult- though it seems to be getting easier for me. I have always had a tendency to overwork my images, but lately I’ve been a little better at keeping things more immediate and knowing when to quit. The great thing about the materials that I use is that they can always be covered up (which happens quite a lot). Some of what might be perceived as restraint in my work may actually be the opposite- it’s the process of building up layers and removing what is unnecessary. I think what does remain is essential and purposeful...maybe that’s a form of restraint too. I don’t know…

Skein.  Ink and acrylic on acid free rag board. 51cm x 76cm. 2015

Skein. Ink and acrylic on acid free rag board. 51cm x 76cm. 2015

AH: Did you have inspiration come to you in specific ways to expand into different mediums at certain points in your career or did you always have an overall wanting to express your ideas and concepts in more than one form?

MP: The impetus to move towards sculpture was really to try to see what would happen if I actually made the things that I was painting; and would working on them simultaneously affect the outcome of both. I found moving back and forth between mediums, on pieces that had a strong relationship to one another worked really well for me, and helped me figure out what was really going on in them. At the time I was a little (ok...a lot) preoccupied with  beds… I think actually making some helped me to solidify my ideas. It was a big transition for me, and I’m still really developing a process and language for working in sculpture.

AH: I notice that the rocking chair and bed are repeated objects used in your work, what is the significance behind them?

MP: Chairs and beds...furniture in general figure heavily in some of my work. They’re most often representative of people, or used as a means of encapsulating complex ideas into a more singular form. A few years ago, I was following a stream of research that led me on my journey from the history of mental illness to an investigation of sleep disorders: traversing bodies of knowledge in which beds figured heavily. Eventually, my interest began to turn more specifically towards the object that had appeared so frequently in my work.

Procrustean Bed #1 . Steel, aluminum, casters and pneumatic actuators. Dimensions variable. 2012. Photo from “Michael Pittman: Haunted Half” Exhibition at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John’s, NL, Canada.

Procrustean Bed #1. Steel, aluminum, casters and pneumatic actuators. Dimensions variable. 2012. Photo from “Michael Pittman: Haunted Half” Exhibition at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John’s, NL, Canada.

No other piece of furniture carries with it such a weight of conflicted meaning as the bed. It is simultaneously functional, mystical, sexual and solemn. It is freedom and stasis: a nest and a prison. It is the threshold over which many of us enter and leave this world. In its proportions, it references our bodies. It provides regeneration, and waits quietly with us for death. Licentiousness, infirmity, vulgarity, and grace meet under its covers.

The image of the rocking chair represents a little bit of nostalgic longing, but has also been assigned a latent ominousness by local folklore (passed on to me by my mother). It can represent presence and absence and like the bed, it is an uncanny surrogate for the body.

Lies about the dead.  ink, graphite, charcoal and acrylic on birch panel. 31cm x 31cm. 2015

Lies about the dead. ink, graphite, charcoal and acrylic on birch panel. 31cm x 31cm. 2015

AH: The bed sculptures are almost cage like and give this feeling of both birth and death. Are they illustrating the feeling of waking up from a nightmare or some other dreamlike state?

MP: The idea was to explore beds themselves as both physical objects and as signifiers for (sometimes) conflicting ideas (i.e. birth/death). It started out as preoccupation with the idea of a “procrustean bed” : a device from Greek mythology, employed by a bandit from Attica, to inflict suffering on unsuspecting travelers. With the offer of accommodation, Procrustes would lure victims to an iron bed that would stretch them or dismember them to fit its unscrupulously adjusted dimensions, forcing the body to fit its shifting length. The term has come to connote any “arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced.” It was Procrustes’ rather macabre “one size fits all” solution, which led experimentation with pneumatic automation. and to also explore contrary ideas of hyper-specificity of function. I endeavored to create representations of beds for very specific uses, or that relate to very specific ideas- I imagined a bed only for dying, a bed for the depressed, a bed inspired by childish fears associated with sleep.

Trap-bed . Steel, casters and reclaimed Douglas fir. 142cm x 58.5cm x 142cm. 2012. Photo from “Michael Pittman: Haunted Half” Exhibition at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John’s, NL, Canada.

Trap-bed. Steel, casters and reclaimed Douglas fir. 142cm x 58.5cm x 142cm. 2012. Photo from “Michael Pittman: Haunted Half” Exhibition at the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John’s, NL, Canada.

AH: What was the process like behind the nightlights prop projection? Did it take a series of trial and error to execute it the way you envisioned it? Had you done something similar in the past that had helped you with the execution?

MP: The projection pieces represent a lot of experimentation and trial and error- I worked with the individual elements clamped to roughly made armatures on a workbench for almost a year before I figured out what lenses and light sources worked best. The pieces look quite simple, but there are so many fine adjustments that can completely compromise the image if they’re not exactly right. I had been working on another type of rotating projection piece when I stumbled upon the idea for these latest pieces. I call all my experiments with projection, nightlights.

The Nightlights were a departure from what I had been doing, and I really hadn’t come across anything like it before. I knew roughly what I wanted the pieces to “do” and I had some idea of what I wanted them to look like. Ultimately though, the process of developing them took over and the end results are a product of their function- they look like they do because of how I need them to operate. The development process was pretty arduous and the fine-tuning was equally as time consuming. With the engineering done, however, image development became quite fun.

Pittman refers to these projection devices as  Nightlights.  They are handmade, multi-slide projectors, which produce simple moving pictures.  

Pittman refers to these projection devices as Nightlights. They are handmade, multi-slide projectors, which produce simple moving pictures. 

The repetitive motion in this  Nightlight  work is of Pittman chopping at a  frozen brook with an axe.

The repetitive motion in this Nightlight work is of Pittman chopping at a  frozen brook with an axe.

You can see more photos of the  Nightlight  work   here

You can see more photos of the Nightlight work here

AH: Are the proto sequence projections executions of your own dreams or is the idea to make the viewer feel as if they are in a dream?

MP: The images that are featured in the sequence are mostly visual experiments with my first prototype projection device to see what sort of complexity was achievable with moving patterns in these simple devices. The Moth sequence is the only “finished” piece to come from this yet (I’ve only recently gotten back to these experiments). Very early on, I began working with images and ideas surrounding common clothes moths, phototaxis (the movement of an organism toward or away from a source of light) and light traps (devices used by entomologists to study phototaxic insects). Moth imagery had begun to appear in my work more and more over a period of about two years, having suffered through a moth infestation after acquiring some egg-laden second hand clothing. The idea of infestation and of an unwanted presence resonated with me and linked serendipitously with another element of my research.

The  Moths  light trap is a preview of a moving image created with a prototype of a rotating projector, based on the idea of a children's nightlight. You can read more about it   here

The Moths light trap is a preview of a moving image created with a prototype of a rotating projector, based on the idea of a children's nightlight. You can read more about it here

I had been investigating spiritualism, psychical research and mediumship for much of the previous year, and found myself drawing comparisons in all things to aspects of the “paranormal”. The comparison of moths to ghosts came about quite organically when working through some text on the surface of painting.

AH: What is next for you? What future projects have you started working on?

MP: All of the projection pieces are still works in progress, and I’ve recently applied for some funding to continue to develop them. I’ve exhibited some of the pieces while others are still tucked away in the dark. I’m looking for exhibition opportunities for the existing work and will be continuing to send out more proposals over the next few months. I’ll be undertaking some new but related research later this year that I’m excited about, and I’m hoping it will turn into some new two and three- dimensional pieces. Some of the work will be destined for a solo show in Toronto in 2016.

You can learn more about Michael Pittman and his work by visiting his website www.newfoundartist.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art Shapes Our Reality

Atle Østrem is an artist based in Oslo, Norway who has been painting graffiti since the mid 90's and has been doing artwork on canvas since 2000. He draws inspiration from life, traveling, music, film, graffiti, typography, and cartoons. He currently has a solo exhibition up at Exhibit No. 9 in Asbury Park, NJ until September 20th. 

Some of Atle's paintings on paper 

Some of Atle's paintings on paper 

A: What led you to become a graffiti artist? How did it all start?

Ø: I have been drawing all of my life and I remember seeing graffiti as a kid. I didn't really understand what it was at the time but I was fascinated by these colorful paintings on the wall. Around 1995, when I was a bit older, a neighbor introduced me to a video that he had called Style Wars. Style Wars is a documentary from the early eighties about the subway graffiti in New York City and watching this made me realize what graffiti was all about. I immediately knew that I wanted to do it myself and from that day on I painted graffiti every week for the next 15 years. 

A: Does it feel much different painting on canvas than it does when you are painting graffiti? 

Ø: I wouldn't say that the feeling is completely different because I do get some sort of the same satisfaction when I am happy with the results of my painting on a canvas that I used to get from graffiti. Graffiti was sort of like an adventure. I would walk the streets looking for spots to paint, and then go home and draw out sketches to plan out what I would do and when I would paint that spot. With graffiti art, you usually have to paint late at night and you have to do it fast so you don't get caught red handed. This is what gave graffiti a special kind of energy that is hard to capture when doing studioworks on canvas. 

I've always tried to keep separation between the two but I have brought lots of elements and references from graffiti into my paintings. With studiowork you spend a lot more time and thought on what you put into a piece versus doing graffiti on the streets. Graffiti is much more quick and spontaneous. 

"Closing the Gap Between Us" acrylic on canvas

"Closing the Gap Between Us" acrylic on canvas

A: At what point in your career did you decide to stop painting graffiti and start painting on canvas and exhibiting your work in galleries?

Ø: I don't think that I ever made the decision to go from one to the other. The transition was sort of natural. For a long time I was doing both and somewhere along the line they started to blend together. In the mid 90's at the beginning of my career when I started doing graffiti, I began to make a small name for myself within the Norwegian graffiti community. I started doing canvases around 2000 so at that point I already had a small following that liked my graffiti and also enjoyed my canvases. Later on I opened up an art supply shop with a friend selling spray paint mostly and this shop gave me the opportunity to hang some of my own paintings on the walls.

Fast forward a couple of years, and a gallerist from my hometown walked into my shop and invited me to do a show with him and from then on one show led to another. I have built a customer base brick by brick and for the last couple of years I have been lucky enough to be able to work as a full time artist. 

About 5 years ago I started to get really bad headaches from the spray paint fumes. The headaches started to get worse and worse and lasted longer and longer every time I painted. After a year or so of suffering through these headaches, I started to realize how serious it was and that my health was the most important so I completely stopped using spray paint and solvents. So for the past 4 years I have focused more on studio work and less on graffiti for this reason. 

A few of Atle's paintings on canvas and on paper

A few of Atle's paintings on canvas and on paper

A: Do you write the text that you use in your work yourself? 

Ø: I often make the title a part of the visual expression of a piece. Sometimes it is text that I write myself, and sometimes it is a quote that I feel describes the subject of my work. This comes partly from my love for letters and partly from the idea of wanting the artwork to communicate something to the viewer. The text often says something about the meaning behind the piece. 

"Peace, Love, & Homelessness" acrylic on canvas

"Peace, Love, & Homelessness" acrylic on canvas

A: What was your inspiration behind the painting, "Unsung Heroes"? 

Ø: Today with the whole street art thing being very popular and street artists are celebrated like rockstars, it's easy to forget that before street art there was graffiti, and before artists were getting paid and put up on pedestals for doing art on the street, people were getting fined and put in prison for doing it. I had gotten in a lot of trouble for doing graffiti. The first few times that I was arrested, I was released from jail after a night or so but in late 1999, I was taken to court and had to spend a couple of weeks in jail.

I ended up having to do 11 months of community service and pay about $30,000 in fines. The "Unsung Heroes" painting is shining a spotlight on the forefathers (and mothers) who had built the foundation for what is going on today, but who didn't get the same recognition from the public as the street artists do today. 

"Unsung Heroes" acrylic on canvas

"Unsung Heroes" acrylic on canvas

A: What did it feel like to be punished for your passion?

Ø: It made me angry that kids/youth are punished more for painting on walls than someone who has committed a violent crime. 

A: What is the inspiration behind the body of work that you are currently exhibiting at Exhibit No. 9? 

Ø: I would say that my art is somewhat of a journal of my own life. I use art to tell stories from my life, whether it be a specific situation I have been in, a certain way that I am feeling, or as a commentary to what I see around me. In many ways you can say that my art is like a visual diary. I create art from my point of view but also try and make my pieces ambiguous, universal, and open to interpretation. 

Atle's interactive art installation at Exhibit No.9 

Atle's interactive art installation at Exhibit No.9 

"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" acrylic on canvas

"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" acrylic on canvas

A: How can people learn more about you and your work?

Ø: I actively use social media to promote my art. You can follow me @atleostrem. I also write about my art, exhibitions, and commission work on my website www.atleostrem.com

Art Can Save Lives

Billy Hahn is a New Jersey based artist whose work ranges from paintings, to three dimensional stuffed creatures, masks, collages and insanely cool installations. He is living proof that art has the power to heal even in the darkest of times. He spent his early 20's in Brooklyn doing some crazy things and has one hell of a story to tell that will inspire us all to stay true to ourselves and keep it real. 

Some of Billy's collages

Some of Billy's collages

A: What is the inspiration behind your work?

B: What inspires me most is having an idea and being able to execute it. Whenever I see something that really grabs my attention whether it be in nature, from other people, or just the revolving of life itself, knowing that I can make that idea a reality is what inspires me. The overall meaning behind my work is my heart. Every emotion inside of me that people generally don't get to see is what my work is all about, the rawness of emotions that no one wants to convey, the things you can't really say out loud. Art is not separate from my life, I look and see everything as a whole. I create art for myself, it is the only thing that keeps me level. 

My art is based off of my deep imagination, my dreams and desires. It's my world from A to Z. It all started in college when I started making masks out of paper mache. The first mask that I ever created was a character called Bush Monster for an exhibition that I was in around that time. The whole concept of creating characters came from that time. I started creating more masks, each one a different character with a different name. After college I moved to Bushwick and started to make masks and put costumes together for the band that I was in. I would customize the whole setup. I would also wear the masks and sell my art on the street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  

You can see Billy's new masks in next months spread of  Buffet Magazine

You can see Billy's new masks in next months spread of Buffet Magazine

It evolved into making settings to evoke feeling and that's exactly what I created for the show entitled "Into My Brain We Go". It allowed people to connect with my imaginative level. The feeling of the fog, the cave, the sound, and the smell allowed people to connect with an alternate reality. 

Installation shots 

Installation shots 

A: What life experiences have you gone through that are reflected in your art?

B: I've loved, I've hated, I forgave, I've lived in a city and I've lived in the South. I have camped out in Miami Beach, I've been to rooftop orgy's, I've seen my peers pass away, and have almost lost my own life. I've been assaulted more than once, I've seen people held up at gun point, and I've skinny dipped in the East River. I've watched my apartment burn in flames, I've been pampered, and I've been broke. I have struggled, I have helped, I've done good, I've done bad. I'm the yin and yang, the black and white, the DIRTY DUNDEE and the Laughing Lemon Legs.

A: So would you say that art has helped you through difficult times? 

B: Of course, art is the only thing that I can turn to, to let my emotions out instead of keeping them bottled up inside. Art is basically what is keeping me alive right now as we speak. If I did not have art in my life I would be dead, which is an intense statement and sad to say but art is really that powerful. 

"Art has saved my life" 

I say this because I was addicted to drugs and art has been the only thing that has helped me get through the darkness. Art is the only thing that I feel such real passion for and that gives me something back in return. When I am making art nothing else in the world matters...it is the only thing that truly makes me happy. Being addicted to drugs was swallowing my life. If I didn't have art to turn to it would have swallowed me, the drugs would have killed me. 

Art is definitely the only thing keeping me sober, if I didn't have art I would be lost. When I feel like I am going to use, I ask myself, would you rather be high or making art? Being high is short lived and art has a lasting effect. It helps me stay focused and empowers me to stay sober and serve as a constant reminder that I don't need drugs. The drugs were what was holding me back. It took me a while to realize that. The whole time I was using drugs I was aware that I was ruining my life, but that's the worst part about addiction, you just don't care about anything. 

Some of Billy's watercolor and ink drawings

Some of Billy's watercolor and ink drawings

A: What does it feel like to be addicted?

B: It feels completely helpless. Truly sickening and awful. Being truly addicted to drugs is possibly the worst thing you can feel. It's like being in your own jail and not being able to live while it is slowly killing you. You are stuck in this tunnel vision and can't think about or see anything else and you don't even like the way you are living...it is slowly killing you and you don't even give a shit. 

A: Did you find that the art you were creating while you were using was different than the art you create when you're sober?

B: I have tried to look at my art that way but my art never changes. It was a little darker when I was using, but I always make art that has a dark side. You look at my work and you see the darkness, it's creepy but colorful and exciting at the same time. I had been on drugs for so long that I'm not even sure how to separate the two to make a comparison. I truly don't know if I can see a difference from the art I created when I was using versus when I am sober because now that I'm sober, I am still making the same things. My ideas are always there no matter if I am high or not. 

The thing is, the mindset when I'm on drugs doesn't seem different, it's the internal feelings that are different when I am using. It could depend on the type of drugs you are taking because some people who take hallucinogens have come up with different, crazy ideas they might not have if they were sober but the drugs that I was using were not like that. My ideas and inspiration have always come from within. I can trace that back to when I was a little kid. I was always being clever and creating. 

A: How did you get sober?

B: My parents have supported me and helped me get sober. I truly have the most magical loving family and was able to go to them and tell them that I really needed help and we devised a plan together. Part of that plan has been for me to use my hard earned money in a way that benefits me to have a brighter future versus pissing it away on drugs and putting things in my body that have no purpose. I want things out of life, and the longer I stay sober the stronger I get. As I started to get back to my true self again, back to that mindset of focus and awareness, I started to ask myself, "do I really want that kind of life for myself?" 

I know what I want and I am going for it. The past few months that I have been sober, I've had this fire in me and it would crush my soul if I went back to what I was doing before. 

A: What is the message that you want to send out to the world through your art?

B: That life is worth living. Be happy, laugh more, and judge less. Express yourself truly from within and find what you love to do because you feel it so much it makes you shiver. Don't waste your energy on negativity, take a deep breath, daydream, eat an extra cookie, and smile at a stranger. Be strong and work hard, always stay focused, and find your candy store. 

Billy working in his studio at  Art Space NJ

Billy working in his studio at Art Space NJ

You can learn more about Billy and his work at www.billyhahn.com 

How much feeling is in a line?

Jenny Casey is an artist who creates mixed media, sculpture-like paintings that document her emotions and experiences she has interacting with the city, with the people and in nature. Casey works in a meditative way stemming from her own thoughts evolving from one thought to the next, and incorporates collage elements into all of her paintings. She recently debuted her newest series, "Emergence" on Saturday, May 9th at St. Luke's Gardens in Manhattan's West Village.

"That was a moment"

"That was a moment"

A: Jenny, could you tell us a little bit about how you came to this series of work, “Emergence”?

J: The “Emergence” series is a process of refinement. It started to form when I started seeing small pieces of white space (or blank canvas) within a painting and something within me and on the canvas started to change.

“Emergence” challenged me to be more refined which was hard. It was different than my other paintings. In my old paintings when something wasn't working out I would paint through my emotions, cover it up. This process of refinement was a new challenge for me and now I love it. At first I found it so difficult to be refined but it became a purposeful balance of refinement and restraint.

About 3 years ago is when I started experimenting with mixed media. It was really a time when I felt I wanted to paint for myself again as more of a meditative journey and start to show my work to the world. Around that time,  I decided to take a drawing class with one of The Art Studio NY instructors, Linda Connelly. I felt comfortable enough with her to share what I was going through both on and off the canvas.  I told her I had worked my way up into more senior, management roles in the graphic design industry, but started to feel like I was loosing my creativity. She said:

“You should start sketching everyday and don't feel bad about anything you draw. You will get better as you practice.It helps to keep your creativity alive and flowing.”

I started sketching everyday. I started doing series of 30 days of sketching, 60 days of sketching, 90 days of sketching to get my thoughts out. Drawing was never a daily thing for me, but it soon became my daily meditation. As I kept sketching and sharing my drawings with the world on social media, things just started to evolve.

Sketches from Jenny's 30 days of sketching journey

Sketches from Jenny's 30 days of sketching journey

My mixed-media painting class instructor at the Art Studio NY, Edward Holland, and the Art Studio NY owner Rebecca Schweiger, saw the direction I was going in and encouraged me to add some drawing into my paintings. I started to experiment with markers and pencil, with leaving pieces of canvas exposed.

A: What made you decide that you wanted to start showing your work and posting your drawings online?

J: At first, I was scared to show my artwork. I cared what people would think, I had doubts, I am a perfectionist. I felt so nervous to post my art online. Then I just said screw it I am going to go for it! People started reaching out to me saying, “you really inspire me,” it helped shape me into who I am. It really started this process of evolving into my authentic self.

A: What inspires you?

J: I like bright colors and have always been inspired by hidden discoveries and beauty in my environment. In my most recent painting series, “Emergence,” I would close my eyes and try out just shaking my hand, and do a brush or pen stroke. It was very therapeutic like punching a punching bag while at the same time creating something interesting. Being okay with doing a small area of a painting and saying ”i am content with that” was how the series ended up evolving. It became more of this minimalistic, experimental approach to painting. To say, “okay, I am okay with this stroke, I really like this” was difficult because being content with just a couple "imperfect" strokes was always a challenge for me.

I've always been inspired by Andy Warhol. That's where my love of sculpture, graphic design and pop art came from. But as I was making this minimalistic transition, I became incredibly inspired by the work of the artists, Joan Mitchell and Cy Twombly. Then it all just came to a point where it exploded. I started to think...

“how much feeling is in a line?”

A: How did this show differ from your others?

J: I've been in a variety of gallery shows which were amazing experiences but there is something so interesting about showing my art outside in nature, specifically at St. Luke's Gardens. I discovered the garden about a year ago and knew it would be a wonderful place to exhibit art. 

"Emergence" exhibit at St. Luke's Gardens in Manhattan's West Village

"Emergence" exhibit at St. Luke's Gardens in Manhattan's West Village

At this show it was interesting to observe what pieces people connected with the most. People were most drawn to “On The Heels of Change” which was neat as it also happened to be the painting featured on the invitation and event poster. 

"on the heels of change"  photo taken at jenny's solo exhibit, "emergence", in the gardens at St. Luke in NYC

"on the heels of change" photo taken at jenny's solo exhibit, "emergence", in the gardens at St. Luke in NYC

I also loved watching people interact with my art. Some people were just walking by and it became this impromptu experience, like a pop-up gallery for them. Watching this interaction in the garden, a hidden oasis in the middle of the busy city, made it even more special. It was so fun to meet new people and share an environment together; the art was an added bonus. 

For more information on Jenny Casey's artwork contact jenny@jcaseycreative.com or visit her website at www.jcaseycreative.com