Saturday, 27 June 2009

Sarah Maple interview

Sarah Maple

Location: Crawley (UK)

How would you describe your art? Light-hearted, funny, political

Currently working on: Just been working on some new photographs for a group show at Scream Gallery

Day job: Bookshop

3 Likes: The Apprentice, Dinosuars, Kate Moss

3 Dislikes: Money, holidays, Kate Moss

Daily Inspirations: Things people say

People & artists you admire: My Tiger My Timing, Sophie Calle, Stella Vine, Charlie Brooker, Chris Morris, Patrick Wolf

Favourite album(s) to listen to when working: Anything by The Smiths
Interview date: May 2008

Hi Sarah, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?
Really great, Just had a group show at Salon gallery in Notting Hill, another coming up at Scream Gallery in Mayfair and my first in New York next month!

I’ve dithered a little bit with this interview cuz I’ve been a bit disappointed in myself; but I realised I must suck it all up and write these questions regardless... You see, despite knowing just why the discussion of race and ethnicity (or lack of thereof) in contemporary art is so important to discuss and raise and challenge, I have done so little of that within this zine in the past, and I feel so shitty that it’s with a Muslim artist that I begin to ask questions about race and ethnicity - why haven’t I been able to do this with white artists??
Anyway, less of the guilt, and more of the discussion -- is it important to you that by its very nature your art challenges, and raises awareness of race and ethnicity within (largely white) contemporary art circles?

This isn't something that I aimed to do when I made the work, I made the work for me because it was what I wanted to do at the time. Now I can see what it is doing in the art world. I think it has opened people up to not make an assumption about someone because of their race etc. A lot of people are surprised that I was raised Muslim. I think people are so scared of Islam and are surprised that I make light of things that people are taking very seriously.

Your work, whether the self-portraiture, or the representation of yourself as a Muslim woman, or indeed your representation of yourself as a female subject all quite clearly pinpoint the importance of Identity within your work.
How important is representing identity in your artworks and to your artistic practice/production?

Again this is not something I actively seek out to do - it always seems to creep it's way in there. I think people are obsessed with their identity and self image and this is important because we all want to know who we are and where we come from. In my work I am the subject but I become different people, different identities. I think we all have different parts of ourselves that we are almost unaware of. They lie beneath the surface. I've always thought of my art self as another person, like an alter ego, like it's a character, but then I think that that part of me has come from me somewhere so it must be part of who I am. Different people/circumstances etc bring out different parts of us I think.

Aside from the politics of ‘representing’ identity, it seems clear that it is important to you to *challenge* pre-conceived, or prejudicial notions of what it means to be identified as ‘Musilim’, or ‘female’, or ‘an artist’, or any number of other identifiers.
To what degree with your work are you wishing to provide alternative viewpoints, and provide a less blinkered understanding of what modern-day diverse ‘identity’ means.
(I’m thinking here of your Burka photographs taken on Brighton pier, enjoying deckchair and mermaid fun!)

I think we all make assumptions about other people based on race, looks etc. My friend was showing me her university pics and showed me a picture of this Muslim girl in a headscarf and said 'You wouldn't think it to look at her but this girl is really funny'. I found this hilarious as it was almost as if she thought I would presume this person completely dull because she had a headscarf on. I think the humour in the work I made with the burkas is that the burka is such an eastern symbol and to see it teamed with western icons (e.g my painting 'blue, badges, burka') just looks very odd, almost wrong. In a way I suppose this is symbolic of the difficulties in combining extreme eastern influences with western culture, and the impact this has on Muslim kids that end up going all nutty and extremist because they can't find a happy balance between the two.

I am very interested in what you have written in ‘artist statements’ etc about how some of your work represents the confusion Muslims do, or may, feel between the cultural attitudes of Islam, and those of western societies and environments. You have claimed that your work questions ‘what makes a ‘good’ Muslim, especially in a western society’.
Something that is keenly obvious to me is that this questioning is made all the more challenging when the subject in question is a *female* subject.
Is this part of the reasoning why you use yourself, a British, female, Muslim, as the focus of many of your pieces?

Not necessarily...I suppose in a sort of confessional way, the work came from my own experience and feelings about this. I found the headscarf amusing after a while because it seemed many women began to wear it to make a point, like they were scared to lose their identity or it made them feel more holy. I always felt bad for not wearing one and thought how much better these women were then me. Then one day I suppose I thought thinking that way was bollocks and then I did all this art.

I guess, linked to the above question is the notion of (tongue in cheek?) ‘deviancy’, or ’subversion’ in your artwork.
To what degree do you think using female, or Muslim subjects and points of reference helps you to explore (and ridicule?) the politics of ’appropriateness’?
I’m thinking here of your triptych, ‘Signs’ which has images of yourself in more ‘sexual’, ‘assertive’, and ‘confrontational’ (for whatever these words mean) guises than some would find “comfortable” being expressed by a Muslim woman. (Bleugh!)

I used the words ‘deviancy’ and ‘subversion’ and ‘appropriateness’ above and not the word ‘controversial’, or the term ‘offensive’, because I’m hugely aware that as a Muslim yourself you are not aiming for your Islamic based art to be offensive in any way. Have you received any feedback from people who have not understood this, and your own personal connection to your subject(s)?
Some people thought I was just trying to be really offensive when I first started out. But I think more people know about me now and just accept what I do or want to pretend I don't exist, haha! I have been called all sorts of things which I'm totally used to, it's just if they attack the work itself without giving it any thought, that really annoys me. What I want is for people to think. I think I get away with a lot because the work is playful. If it was aggressive in anyway I think I would be in a lot more trouble.

Alongside identity, within your work there seems to be a discourse around the nature of ‘art’ and what it means to be an ‘artist’.
I’m thinking of pieces such as your paintings, ‘I can paint. Where’s my fucking medal’, your photograph ‘art is crap’, and your piece, ‘I am talentless. I do not have the answers’.
Does being ‘an artist’, studying art, and the whole realm of the ‘art world’ sit somewhat uncomfortably with you in the sense that these pieces would make me think?

I find the art world absolutely baffling and it makes me feel quite uncomfortable, I would like to live in a cave and make all my work and have someone else deal with all that business and wanky stuff. Art is a business which is a fact. but I just want to stay in a romantic world where creativity and actual appreciation of art is the most important thing, not just money. I found art school quite hard as well because people were always talking arty bullshit and I couldn't really understand what they were talking about. This has fed a lot into my work like you mentioned above and with reference to money - 'Minimun' for example which is a white board that simply says 'I am £10,000.'

Last year you [quite deservedly] won the Saatchi/Channel 4 ‘4 New Sensations’ art prize.
What will, or what has winning this Saatchi award already granted you? (whether in terms of exposure, or luxuries, or space, or whatever else!)
I think the connections I made were great and being able to put Saatchi's name to me is a head start a new graduate can only dream of really. It's amazing what a name can do for you.

A large portion of your work depicts cultural subjects and pop culture icons.
How obsessed with Kate Moss are you, really!!??

Haha!! It's not so much HER I am interested in, I am fascinated by her as an icon. I fascinated by the fact she goes wrong all the time, but still gets it right. Like her tripping up all the time makes her all the more perfect. She can do no wrong, she is an icon and everyone bloody loves her.

Is your focus on pop culture celebration, or subversion?
Umm......both! We cannot hide from it's influence.

I have fallen head over heels for pieces that take a tongue-in-cheek look at sexuality. Pieces such as the ‘have you wanked over me yet’ photograph, or the pieces featuring melons and tampons!
These three pieces are great examples of your use of humour to tackle tough conceptual and political ideas.
To what degree does your work require you to have a sense of humour, and require the same of your audience in tackling such strong and complex issues?

It is obviously very important to have a sense of humour when looking at my work, some people totally miss the point which is also quite funny. Some people do not get it at all. It's needed in equal measure because I'm not sure people would get the point without getting the humour first. I'm also lucky because even if people don't really care for my point, they still got something from the work in terms of a giggle.

A huge aspect of your work involves use of your self within your art. As a young, Muslim women, parallels are obviously going to be drawn between yourself and the subjects you portray. To what degree is your work portrait and autobiography?
I think it is very much autobiography because I base it all on things I am thinking and experiencing but I think I am quite good at detaching myself also. So it's not always traced back to me. Even though it came from me. If that makes sense!

How much do you enjoy the dressing up and performative aspect of your work and artistic process? Looks like hella fun to me!
I bloody love dressing up, I didn't realise how much so until I did it for my art. I love choosing quirky things that I think will look great in a picture, it's just finishing touches like a pair of pants or earrings then can make or break an image I think e.g self portrait with Kate Moss (I'm wearing 'I heart England' pants!). I definitely become a different character when I'm in front of the camera, i think that's why even though they are all pics of me, they don't get boring because I'm a different person in each one.

Parts of the British media have been dubbing you the “heir to Tracey Emin’s throne”. As such, sitting on your throne, who would you knight, and whom would you throw to the lions?
Hmmm.........I could not possibly say!!!

Sara Rahbar interview

Sara Rahbar

Location: New York (right now)

How would you describe your artwork? A mirror image of my life

Currently working on: A new flag series & a new photo series

Day job: Full time artist

Daily inspirations: Life

People & artists you admire: Too many to mention, just to mention a few; John Luc Godard, Sylvia Plath & Mona Hatoom

Favourite album(s) to listen to when working: No favourites, I listen to everything. I usually obsess over one song and play it over and over again until I can’t stand it any more, or until I have finished the piece I am working on, which ever one comes first.

Interview date: May 2008

Hi Sara, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?
I am well Melanie, wonderful in fact, getting over a broken heart but stronger than ever and happy. I am currently working on 2 or 3 solo exhibitions and some other stuff, new work, always new work.

How long have you been making and creating art, and how did you first become interested in art and develop the skills that you currently employ?
As far back as I can remember. It became a bit more serious as I got older, but it was always with me at a very young age. I just always wanted to make things, to transform things, challenge things by changing their shape and colour. And maybe by creating a new context, I rebirth it and as a result create a new perspective, a new way of looking. I always saw the world through my own personal filters, and as life occurred and time passed, I picked up different skills with every new experience. Although I don’t always know exactly what I am doing when I start a new project. My idea comes first then I figure out the best medium that suits the idea. I do not like to limit myself in any way, shape or form. If I don’t know how, I will figure it out. I recently made a chandelier out of bullets and crystals, and I want to return to Iran and learn carpet weaving, new, always new ideas and mediums.

Your art work clearly has a footing within activism, humanitarianism and within the realm of human rights. Why is such activism important to you, personally? And why did you decide to use art as a medium for your humanitarianism?
I am by no means an activist. And being an artist was not something that I choose to do; it was just always a part of my being. I always had a lot to say, and a view that I wished to express, and by no means did I want to be involved in politics, or become an activist, so it was just an organic progression for me to express myself and take on bigger issues through my work. I am not political. I address current events and political issues through my work. I am an artist first, and this is my interpretation, my perspective, it is how I view the world. In the end I think that that is all any of us are doing, communicating our perspectives. Whether we may be artists or politicians.

As a global citizen, how important to you is breaking down barriers [through your work, and otherwise] between countries and cultures - to look at the identities of global citizens as *Human Beings,* without the lines-in-the-sand and borders that separate, divide, and create difference between people and communities?
A lot of my pieces focus on just that concept of breaking down barriers. My work addresses identity, and the notions of invisible borders, whether they maybe cultural or geographical. I question the concept of belonging, as I don’t believe in the borders created by the devotion towards a flag, a country, or, a religion, so than what do we belong, or not belong to when its all imaginary and made up by us. Through my work I want to remind people that we have built these imaginary borders, and only we have the power to take them down.
One of the challenges at hand is that we have made our personal identities so important and supreme above all. We believe that it is our countries, our nationalism, our religions, our cultures, our beliefs and so on, that make us who and what we are. And this has become eminent above all to the point that we are terrified of giving any of it up as we feel we would no longer be special, individual or important, and so we divide, separate, and label, and as a result give more fuel to the fire.

In reference to the above question, you have stated that intention and the driving force of your work ‘is to focus on our similarities rather than our differences’. Whilst I understand the need to break down the barriers [commonly understood as ’differences’] that challenge our understandings of each other, globally; and the need to see others as human beings, not flags, or armies, or stereotypes, or as ‘other’, I wonder whether by wishing to focus on ‘similarity’ you think it has the potential to unify at the expense of maintaining and protecting cultural and social difference that makes each individual & culture unique and special?
This is not about killing off our cultures, it’s about seeing that at the core we are the same, our foundations are the same, we have all come from one place and we are all returning to the same place. It’s about returning to the simplicity of things. It’s not about erasing our uniqueness; it’s about unifying and coexisting as opposed to tolerating, separating and dividing, because of our cultural and social choices and differences. And I say choices because I always believe we have one, we are not victims to all of this, and the second that we all realize and acknowledge just that, things will begin to shift.

One of your exhibitions was entitled ‘Continuity and Change: Islamic tradition in contemporary art’. In thinking about such a provocative title, [addressing both continuity/permanence and current changes occurring and needed], to what degree does your work as a Muslim artist confront ’tradition’ without diminishing or offending your ’traditional/cultural’ identity as a Muslim? Are such concerns important to you, or do you see forward movement and challenging traditions more important?
I in no way consider myself Muslim, or believe in organized region in any shape or form. The cultural background that I was born into is Iranian and Muslim and there for it plays its role in the background of my work, as my work is a direct reflection of my life; my geographic locations, my history, my present, my environments, and my memories

Alongside your photographic/painting/and textile work addressing and approaching areas such as war, identity, Islamic tradition, politics, divisions, roles, experiences, freedoms, perspectives, and communication, you have also created documentations on the youth culture in Iran. What youth cultures has your work specifically focused upon, and why was it important to you to focus on the current young citizens in a tumultuous, changing country that is part of a very fragile world?
Because 70% of the population of Iran is under 30 years old (The Youth), and they are the future of Iran. And we all know from experience and from history that one countries fate can affect an entire world, it’s like a domino effect.

Your work has been seen as art that ‘challenges current clichés and stereotypes about Islamic practices’, and evoking ideas of ‘the complex life in present-day Iran, countering the western media’s one-dimensional portrayal of the country’. Firstly, to what degree do you wish to present a multi-dimensional portrayal of Iran to communicate to the world ideas about how we view each other, and to present a multitude of realities about Iran, to create alternative perspectives on how Iran could be viewed. Secondly, how do you see your work as specifically and directly challenging current perspectives and stereotypes?
This all stems from ignorance, and brain washing by the media which is controlled by our governments. Iran is a very misunderstood country, and it has been interpreted, analyzed and used by all, in the end the only thing that Iran is, is what you say it is. In order to find truth, we must go above and beyond the filters, and find our own personal truths. Its quite sad that it has come to this that I have to paint a multi-dimensional portrayal of the Iranian people in order for people to see it as that, when all they need do is look in the mirror, we are not so different, only our circumstances are.
Also the mere fact that my background is Iranian and Muslim, yet I do not necessarily fit into the clichés and stereo types, that factor in it self challenges clichés and stereotypes about Islamic practices and the western media’s one-dimensional portrayal of the country and its people. Lets not forget about its people, its seems that these days we are so focused on countries and labels, that we have forgotten about the people, the human beings. And that without them none of these things would matter or even exist, things are a lot simpler than we would like to see them.

An article was written about you in the media, entitled, ‘Sara Rahbar: Addressing the personal, cultural and political’. With humanitarian art work such as yours, do you see differences and divides between ‘the personal‘, ‘cultural‘, and ‘political‘, or are they all combined/intertwined; your work itself a product of the ways these three aspects are inherent in of your life, without distinction?
It is not so much that I am purposely choosing to be political, cultural, and personal and specifically attempting to break down perspectives and clichés. This is only an outcome of the work. Through my work I address subjects that move and inspire me, and that I am passionate about. The rest is just an organic bi-product of the work.

Another article in the media addressed you as, ‘Sara Rahbar: The Activist-Artist’. How difficult/easy have you found it for you and your work to be recognized as both?
I don’t really think of myself as an activist artist, I think because I tackle and challenge current events, politics, war, and such subjects, the word activist came about when referring to my work. But by no means do I picket or protest and I absolutely do not consider myself an activist. If my work challenges, educates, shifts perspectives and makes a difference, than I am happy. But again all of this is a bi-product of me taking on subjects that are important to me, and that I wish to focus on.

In your photographic series ‘The Veil’, you use images of draped flags covering individual’s heads and faces, and individuals using flags as headscarves. How does such work aim to confront the issue of visibility/invisibility?
Actually there is no “veil series”, my two photo series that you are referring to are called, Oppression series 1 and 2. There is a travelling exhibition that my work is a part of called, “The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces.” Oppression series 2, which consists of the draped flags, fabrics and half faces, that consists of 12 images, which actually are all me.
I used myself in all of my new work, its only mask series that is not me, and I used a model for. The work confronts and tackles so many issues, and has so many layers and levels to it, that “visibility & invisibility” is only a small fraction of the core of the work. I play with concepts of woman’s rights, Iran, human rights, current social and political states in Iran and America, visibility & invisibility and much, much more. It’s important for me not to reveal everything, and to simply start a thought process in the viewers mind.

You have claimed (or it has been claimed of your work) that, ‘we are all a collection of our experiences, our understanding of the self and perhaps the issues of worth are always intimately entwined, my work is a mirror image of my life; my geographical locations, my history, my present, my environments, and my memories’. In order to make questions and statements though your work [about the development and constructs of identity, the concepts of belonging, and changing common views and perspectives], how instrumental to your work-process is using *yourself* within your work? E.g. use of self-portraits, etc.
I never set out to use myself in my work. But because I was tackling so many personal issues in my mind at the time and my work is a direct result of my challenges, my perspectives and my everyday life. It seemed like a natural progression to use myself in my work, it was all quite organic.

Finally, what are your favourite aspects of being an artist?
Creating the work.

Allyson Melberg interview

Allyson Melberg

Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States

How would you describe your art?: Funny, gross, pretty, tricky, and maybe mysterious at times!

Currently working on: New drawings/paintings, small soft sculptures, new large-scale drawings, and a book with my husband Jeremy.

Day job: I am a professor of Studio Art Foundations at James Madison University. I teach 2 & 3D Design and Drawing.

3 Likes: Animals (especially cats), drawing, and sushi

3 Dislikes: Smoke, most television, and overall ignorance/intolerance

Daily Inspirations: My husband, my cat, the ocean (especially Rodanthe, Avon, and Sandbridge beaches), “Colors” book by Victoria Finlay, Haruki Murakami novels (I pretty much re-read them over and over again)

People & artists you admire: Jeremy Taylor, Louise Bourgeois, Catherine Stack, Fernando Renes, Raymond Pettibon, Kelie&Sto (Cinders), Lump Lipshitz, Barry Mcgee, Kiki Smith, Margaret Kilgallen,

Favourite album(s) to listen to when working: Anything by the Smiths, Belle and Sebastian, Best Friends Forever, Basically I like to sing along while I work. I also like to listen to movies while I work (my favorites are Pillow Talk & The Big Lebowski)

Some related websites: They are my gallery representation in Brooklyn and are awesome awesome people! You can see our last show in “past shows” under September 2007

Interview date: April 2008

Hi Allyson, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?
Hello, I am well thank you! I am working on these questions from our family’s home in Virginia Beach. We visit a lot. Its beautiful here, we are way out in the country very near the ocean. My Mom-in-law is an Art Teacher too and its really nice to visit her.

What is your artistic history? How did you get started, and how long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
I was born into a creative family. My parents met in college at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My Mom’s family is full of musicians and people who make things. So I never really thought that I would be doing anything else- My current style really started evolving in graduate school - Having a concentrated period of time to work and refine my ideas plus a focused dialogue with others really helped my work. This is also the time that I started collaborative relationships with my husband and Team Lump. I have had an active studio practice since I graduated from college. It is a part of life just like eating and sleeping.

Is creativity something that has been encouraged of you from an early age?
Absolutely, my parents each kept studios in our basement. My mom really involved my brother and I, getting us working with clay and drawing/painting very early. She made large ceramic vessels and would glaze them in a kiddy pool in the basement – when I was kid that seemed like magic. I really wanted to learn how to make everything! I still feel that way.

How would you describe your illustrative techniques and materials; what processes does your work go through to reach a ‘finished product‘?
I like to work out of a ground so brown/grey paper or a tinted surface are always part of beginning a piece. My technique as far as painting/drawing goes always starts out with pencil drawings. After that I work back in with walnut ink and a metal nib. If you ever feel the surface of one of my drawings you can feel that the nib has scratched all of the lines into the paper, so there isn’t much room for erasing. I like this because when I make a mistake I have to deal with it and work it in to the piece. The final step is adding egg tempera/coloring.
With soft sculpture/installation work I usually start with used/recycled fabrics and build from their individual characteristics. Most sculptures/installations are collaborative with Jeremy so we each bring our own sketches and choose materials together, then we both sew/embroider/silkscreen different parts before assembling.

I read that currently you’re working on a book project with your partner, Jeremy, about the use of non-toxic art materials. How and why is the use of non-toxic materials important to you, and your artistic practice, personally? Why do you think toxic materials aren’t questioned by many, and that alternatives aren’t sought (hence why toxic materials continue to be produced)?
Could you explain some of the books focus?

Its true! We are trying to finish it by June now that we have Archaic Mess in Richmond, (VA) putting it out. The use of ecologically sound and non-toxic art materials is important to me personally for a number of reasons. One being an educator and witnessing students who are careless with materials possibly endangering themselves or their studio mates only because they do not know better. Many instructors do not see this as a priority and set a very bad example. I do not allow the use of any toxic materials, paints, glues, etc. in my classes. Students have to be resourceful and find other solutions for making art and putting things together. In my mind if you really want to make something you will do it despite material limitations that you may find when you exclude toxic materials.
Several artists/teachers that I know have been physically affected by this but the most influential of all for me was Jeremy. He has always been an environmental/animal activist, and had been doing research on natural pigments throughout graduate school. During his assistantship in graduate school he was exposed to some toxic chemicals in the print studio and suffered irreversible lung damage which caused him to have multiple chemical sensitivities. He is a bad ass and has recovered from a lot of it, but it was a huge lesson and very scary. He was in the middle of his master’s thesis show when this happened and could not just stop making work so he used the research he was already doing on ecologically sound studio practice/natural pigments and put it to use in his work. All of his beautiful thesis paintings were made without solvents, heavy metals, or any toxic chemicals. They are biodegradable just like we are. It had a profound effect on me and was an inspiring, life-changing event. After learning about all of the things chemicals can do to your body, your environment, washing your cadmium red paint down the sink, etc. how could I possibly work with anything but natural ecologically responsible materials. Once you are cognizant of these things your conscience takes hold. It has been a really good change, I will always wish that I could take back Jeremy getting sick, but I am glad that we are making work the way we are.
I could ramble about this for hours! I guess that is why we are writing the book. We have shared a lot of this with our students at different schools, but we want the information to get out beyond that. We will be posting a PDF version of it on our blog as well.

You have worked with the band, Rainer Maria on the artwork of many of their releases. How did this collaboration come about, and is working alongside a band easier if you like, and are aware of their music (to creatively draw from, or to inspire your work, or merely to prevent your work being attached to something you aren’t comfortable with)?
My collaboration with the folks in Ranier Maria came about through our mutual friend Marshall Weber. We are all from Wisconsin! Its definitely easier to work with a band whose music you are already aware of. It felt very collaborative in the sense that we were both aware of each other’s creative work and had a very easy discussion about what they wanted and how it could relate to my art. So I felt like I was able to still make work that was natural for me and they got something really specific to their record. One interesting detail is that I didn’t hear the record for a while, I actually worked from their lyrics first so my images were based on the words not the music. By the time I worked on the music video for “Ears Ring” I knew the music well. They were really fun to work with and were extremely supportive and kind.

Your work has been published in magazines such as Bust and Venus. Is working with feminist and women-driven projects such as these important to you personally?
It was really exciting to work with these publications. It is very important to me to work with feminist projects as well as independently run projects. It was especially great to work with Venus because when I was a featured artist Sarah Silverman was on the cover! Its also great to work with women-driven projects because in some of my experiences it has really felt like a boy’s club – its nice to get outside of that.

You are a member of the art collective, Team Lump, who provide an artist-run space dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art exhibitions and projects from emerging and under-recognized artists.
How and why did you become involved with Lump?

Well, Lump Gallery is run by Bill Thelen (aka Lump Lipshitz), who is also a UNC Chapel Hill Alumni. Bill is from WI, where we had mutual friends, so when I came to graduate school at UNC we went to every Lump opening and got involved. After a year or so Jeremy and I got invited to work with Team Lump for a show called, “All Hail the New Flesh”, showcasing their newest artists. We worked with them pretty regularly after that. Lump is an amazing space, Bill works really hard to bring in challenging new work from all over.

It seems that Lump have created a great resource for artists. And in having the experimental attitude of an alternative space it appears to display diverse art in a very approachable way.
Do you think that being an artist-run space it has been set up in a way that is artist focussed, as much as art focussed?
As such is Lump supportive of all aspects of creativity, thus expanding its’ approachability on both the artist and viewers side, as a comfortable, non-elitist art space? I ask this, partly due to how alienating and ‘stiff’ some gallery and art spaces can be, and how off-putting that is.

I feel like what Bill/Lump is doing is really pure. He is supportive of the artist and the artist’s undiluted vision. Its definitely not a commercial gallery so there is so much freedom for him as a curator. He can have a show that is all wall painting or installation and he can take a lot of risks that a commercial gallery would not – which means he always shows really amazing work. I like Bill’s approach because the space definitely feels very non-elitist and welcoming while still being contemporary. Bill, who you will often meet gallery sitting on the weekends, is really approachable himself. He is this super sweet laid back guy.

Speaking of alienation in art spaces; access to viewing and thus appreciating art is often denied people (from certain economic, cultural, gendered, racial backgrounds) as much as access to and encouragement of our own creativities is, and thus the opportunities for our own artistic expression can be limited.
Have you ever encountered barriers to your creative access, or your access to art - whether as a creator or viewer?

I think spaces like Lump are really important in addressing the fact that art is not as accessible to people of all different backgrounds (economic, cultural, gendered, racial). This is why I believe that it is really important to support independent/DIY spaces. I have been extremely lucky to work with mostly independent spaces and with people who I like a lot. I also think that it is important as an artist to embrace non-capitalistic & non-gallery related ways of sharing your art with others. Personally, I have only faced one really bad situation as an artist because of my gender (and my age). I won’t name the museum but I will say it was surprising and disappointing and I had to fight to keep my show intact.

Are spaces, like that of Team Lump, something that you would have wished existed when you were first starting out in art?
Yes, of course. Lump is amazing! The fact that it is what it is and has been around for over a decade is something to be really excited about. I feel really lucky in Milwaukee, where I started out there was a really supportive and lively art community. Now that I live in a rural college town I am really missing that sense of community. We are definitely looking to move for that reason.

I am aware that your own work has appeared in exhibitions as part of Team Lump’s programme, as part of group shows. For you, what are the benefits (socially, culturally, artistically?) of being a part of group shows, over solo exhibits? Is collaboration and collectivity important to you?
In the last few years I have learned a lot about group shows since I have participated in many of them. To me they can be both good and bad. Group shows with Team Lump are really focused – we usually have a set concept so its not hard to follow through. My favourite show we did together was “Goodbye Says it All” at the Atlanta Contemporary Museum. We all stayed in an apartment together for a few days. It was so much fun and such a good show. All the group shows that I have been in with my main gallery Cinders, are really well curated so when they ask me to be in a group show I know it will be a good fit.
Group shows can be tricky though, especially if the theme is too far flung from your own content. I don’t want to be in a position where I am making work that feels unnatural to me, or contrary to what I am trying to say in my art. For example I have stopped saying yes to shows where everyone is using nasty paints in the space and spray painting all over the place because I don’t support the use of those materials- what they do to the earth and to the artists using them (even if I like their work visually). I am by no means a perfect activist, no one is! But, I do feel that I have a responsibility as an artist to say something and stick to my guns so when I get invited to a group show that is strictly based on cute animals or cool music or something I have to question it.
This is the first year we finally learned to say no to stuff that didn’t seem to fit – its really hard for me to say no to stuff because I always feel really honoured when people ask us to participate in their projects, so it has been an difficult experience, but I find that I am less stressed and making more work that is of better quality. We live in such a fast moving society, everyone is multitasking everything and most of my work just is not made that way. Realizing that and trying to get things under control has made a huge difference in my studio practice (and I actually get to sleep more!)
Solo shows can be great and allow for the further elaboration of a very specific idea/body of work. But I have often asked for collaborators in solo shows because I am not dead set on it being all MY work at MY show! I love working with my husband and when I had a residency at UVA which entailed 3 solo shows in 4 months at different university venues I made one of them into a Team Lump show and invited my students to collaborate as well. That was a great experience.

I viewed photographs from an exhibition that you and your partner were a part of, and your intricate and delicately lined work was displayed in a really fun, unusual way -- work roughly pieced and sewn together to form a giant triangle, or work pinned up under gaffer-tape signs, or pinned to a giant black thought-bubble backdrop, or on china plates, all of which presented your ideas in very approachable ways. It’s not the sort of art that I’d want to view from across an exhibition room, but would want to get up close to, bending and craning my head and neck this way and that to soak it all in, and participate in it; grinning as I went!
Your work is rarely displayed in the form of framed, polished, elitist artefacts. What are your thoughts regarding such notions of perfection and flawnessness within your own work, and the way that people can or may view your work?
Is ‘perfection’ and ‘elitism’ in art something that concerns you?

Well, I am most certainly not a robot so perfection is out! and I am very sentimental, I love mistakes and I love seeing them dealt with in resourceful and inventive ways. I like to see an artists ‘hand’ in their work and in my own work. I definitely want my viewer to feel comfortable to approach the work which, in many cases is small or had small details and needs you to come closer! I don’t want the work to be interactive (as in, I don’t want people to play with my soft sculptures as if they were toys!) but I want you to be comfortable and feel like you are participating in a dialogue. I want to share with viewers, the worst thing is going into a gallery space and feeling like you are not in the same league as the artist, that you almost couldn’t have a discussion with them even if they were right there in front of you; I welcome discussion, always. Jeremy and I also really want to create an environment for the work so that it all works together cohesively so wall painting, and hanging in a non-traditional way helps change things up. We really like to use the floor for soft sculptures so that you are not just looking at the middle of the wall for the art, its all over the place – you are in it.

How much fun is the laying out and exhibiting of your pieces (as described above) - creating an installation with your ideas?
It is a lot of fun and a lot more work than it probably seems. We make plans/sketches of possible install layouts months in advance and once we choose one stick to it pretty faithfully. We have friends who respond to a space when they get there- which can be amazing but, I guess we like to have a plan, to me that is less stressful, even if you make some adjustments while installing that change things, at least there is a sense of direction. Installing with Jeremy especially is fun. We are a good team. He always brings me tea.

The human form (in all its shapes, sizes, guises, and disguises) is something that is regularly depicted in your work, often in very truthful and realistic ways (that may be viewed as disturbing, or maybe a little grotesque in its honesty and frankness / or conversely surreal due to atypical truths). What is it about people that inspires your focus?
Being a human (and wanting to communicate things about humans to other humans) makes using the human form in my work a very easy decision. My inspiration comes from real live people, storybooks, and pictures of those who are ailing (skin disorders, tumours, etc). We have a collection of old lithographs depicting skin diseases/disorders which are beautiful and terrible. There is this sense of unapologetic grotesqueness in those types of images that is really appealing to me, the sitters look so proud. When I started making work about parabens and other endochrine disrupting chemicals in women’s body products using those images of skin diseases/tumours helped me give a form to my ideas. It also gave me a point from which to abstract and exaggerate, so that they were plausible and fantastic all at once. Disgusting and beautiful, sad and proud all at once. Using the human form makes sense to me because its what I am! And I think of it all as communicating so I figure people will understand and be able to relate to images of humans even if everything else in the image is completely surreal.

Finally, what is your favourite and most enjoyable thing about creating artwork, and being an artist that makes you continue?
For me the desire to communicate combined with curiosity about making things has kept art-making really satisfying and productive. Drawing makes me really happy. I feel like I am pissing my time away when I am away from that for too long (a few days!) It is my dream to be able to survive financially off of our art alone so that we can dedicate more of our time and get some of our bigger ‘dream’ projects made. Whether to continue or not isn’t a question, we are in this for life!

Lizz Lunney interview

Lizz Lunney

Location: Birmingham, UK

How would you describe your art?: Lots of different easy to digest cartoons, like sushi. Yum.

Currently working on: My next comic

3 Likes: Tea, dinosaurs, knitting

3 Dislikes: The num lock key, mornings, headaches

Daily Inspirations: Food, dreams, nightmares

People & artists you admire: Jeffrey Brown, David Shrigley, Art Speigelman

Favourite album(s) to listen to when working: Any Beatles, and Jeffrey Lewis.

Interview date: March 2008

Hi Lizz, how are you? What are you up to?
Hello. I'm good thanks. At this very moment I’m drinking tea.

One of the things I really love about your art is the immediacy of it. It’s almost like breakaway art; art that needs to be created there and then, in biro and on the back of an envelope if necessary, rather than ascribing to high “art” notions of painstaking creation over time with a ‘perfect’ or laboured product. How important to you is the access you have to making your art in the here and now, as and where ideas come to you?
Ah I'd say its really important. If I don't draw ideas down right away I just forget them! Often the first scribbled drawing is the best, I'll draw them up so they are more polished but I always like the original sketched one most as it captures the original idea. I also try to carry a sketchbook round with me but it’s always when you don't have it that you think of something you really need to save so have to draw on a napkin/plate/leaf/cat or whatever.

Is placing and sharing your work on your website either as an ‘online sushi to eat in or take away’, or as your regularly updated ‘today’s special,’ linked to such ideas of immediacy at all?
Yeah definitely. My online comic is often the first original sketch of something that I then develop for my printed comics. So its a great place to look if you want to see my ideas right away varying from initial drawings to final cartoons. Its a bit like an online sketchbook for me.

Do you think such freeform creation of art, and comix art, often expressed as a doodle, or a line drawing, is widening out understandings of what ‘art’ is and can be, and widening out individual’s relationship to comix artistry and art work? I guess what I’m asking is, did you ever previously feel a sense when viewing similar work of “hell, I can do that too, and I can be waaay funnier!”, and is that sense of inspiration something that you’d like to inspire with your own work?
Ahem. Well... I think art in general is always like this, through all periods of art you will find artists that challenge the idea of what is "art" so comics are not doing anything new. I think the fact that everything is becoming more commercial and throw away encourages freeform creation of art be it comics or graffiti and such like. In a way it can be good but it also means all the bad stuff out there is also getting seen and so it can be hard to find the good stuff amongst all the rubbish- especially on the internet. I never really think much about other peoples work, there are a few select ones that I like but I don't actively connect it to my work. I just enjoy them for what they are.

What are your thoughts on your “simple” style of art in terms of audience accessibility, and in terms of generating a level of innocence, and thus humanity and heart within your comics.
[By the way with these questions I am in no way AT ALL inferring that simple=inferior. Quite the contrary. Who wants an oil painting by one of ‘the masters’ (gag!) when they could be loving the self-defined mastery of your cartoon instructions on how to knit a beard, the adventures of disco rabbit, or my mate primate? I sure know my stance on this!!]

I don't really think of them like that, its all about getting the idea across. I developed my style originally from drawing left handed (I’m right handed) and also with my eyes closed. These kind of drawings are always more dream like and disjointed as you can't labour away at them too much. Now when I draw I try to capture the characters and stories in the lines rather than worrying about making them perfect. To me, the imperfect lines are perfect. If that makes sense at all?!

I read that you studied animation at University. How long have you been drawing static comix, and what made you wanna shift from animation to cartooning? What other forms of art have you practiced/dabbled in/enjoyed/experienced?
Yes I studied animation but I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil! Animation was interesting but a bit of a mistake now I look back, I'd have been better studying illustration. Although it was good because I learnt about storyboarding. I felt that the actual animating destroyed the immediacy of my drawings that I talked about earlier as you need to redraw images hundreds of times slightly differently for each frame. It is not as exciting as it sounds. I've done most kinds of art- painting, pottery, sculpture, photography, music, life drawing, etc etc. I'm pretty good at life drawing which often makes me worry that people see my cartoons and think I can't draw when the reality is that I actually just choose to draw this way because I like the way it looks.

One of the joys I find in your work is the characterisation; characters such as Keith the Wizard, Leaning Rabbit, and especially Depressed Cat.
What part of your warped consciousness dreams these characters up!? And how central to your strips and books is the need for continuity of characters and character development, as opposed to one-off characters or one-off ideas?

I'm not warped! ha. No no, to me the characters don't seem that strange. They mostly just come to me right away, some are from dreams/nightmares that I develop into a story or character (eg. Gummy Cat in my mini comic YUM) and some are based on aspects of myself or people I know. But nothing direct or obvious. The characters seem kind of real to me. Not in a creepy way.
I think its important for me to have both types of stories that you mentioned- some characters are one off stories and you will never see the characters again. Others keep coming back again and again like the ones you mentioned and Hairy Midget Elf, Creep Garden Elf, Human Faced Cat, Dinosaurs on Holiday etc etc. It depends on the character, I don't really actively decide which I will lose and which I will develop- it just naturally turns out a certain way.

I find myself laughing at and feeling sorry for your characters in equal parts. Is it easy for you to convey your humour within your comics due to your characters being non-human? Is humour important to you as an artist?
Well, to me the characters are all human even if they are burgers, cats, pigeons etc.... I don't think much about the humour when I draw something because everyone has a different idea of what is funny. I usually test them on my brother to see what he thinks. I never try to be funny, it is all about the characters- if people want to laugh they can. If they want to read them with a miserable expression of doom and despair they can do that too. I just don't mind as long as they give me money! ha. No, really...I kind of think, if it makes one person laugh then its worth it. Even if that person is me, laughing like a maniac at my jokes... on my own... on a train....with people staring.

Your ‘Burger Love’ strip was short listed for the 2007 ROK comics humour competition. How did that feel to see one of your babies up there for an award?!
Hmm, well it was really cool but I’m not that precious about my characters. Its like... once they are on paper they are in the world on their own so if they do well it is their own merit not mine!

I am very interested in how and where women gain access to their own confidence, and self-belief -- especially in terms of how they are able to produce and create with a sense of assurance, belief and certainty.
What is your personal relationship with confidence towards your work?

I think every person has both confidence and uncertainty in their minds. I'd say in general I’m pretty confident about my work because, like I said, I’m not precious about it. But there are always times when I’ve left things to the last minute and have a comic due to the printers the next day and its 5am and I haven't thought of a title I like yet and I’m thinking "This will be so rubbish!! no one will like it!! another comic for the bin!!!" or that kind of thing.

Were your artistic endeavours encouraged from an early age, perhaps giving you a sense of perspective over your productivity and its worth?
Yeah, my Grandad and Mom were both artists and so the house has always been decorated with family paintings etc. So drawing and making things have always just seemed a normal things to do that were actively encouraged. Those were the days, when you could make something out of a rock from the garden painted with a face and taped up with bits of string for arms and legs and everyone would be saying "oh that’s so great, did you make that yourself? Wow!" I still do that actually, but people are not so impressed these days.

I first stumbled across your work when your comic, ‘Party Animals’ was included in the reference section of the ‘Cult Fiction’ comics exhibition; a terrific touring exhibition stopping off at art galleries countrywide, exposing the artwork of a host of ‘cult’ artists, (largely comics artists) to a larger audience. It featured not only hundreds of exhibited artworks, but also documentary notes on each artist, plus a huge ‘library’ section of comics, books, examples, do-it-yourself handbooks etc etc. plus a space with pencils and paper for people’s inspiration to overflow. How important do you think such spaces are for celebration, documentation, and encouragement of ‘alternative’ forms of art?
Very important, it means the public can discover things that otherwise would only be known of by people with a particular interest in comics. It was a great exhibition. I discovered loads of new work I hadn't heard of too. I think I went to the Walsall one a few times and then I saw it up in Leeds as well.

How and why did you get involved with the exhibition?
I went to the one in Walsall and saw a flyer to submit work. Then they accepted my comic and so it went touring with the exhibition. When I went to the one in Leeds was amazed by how many comics the resource space had accumulated. In Walsall there were about 5 and in Leeds there were like a million (approximately)

To what degree do you view your artwork, and your chosen ‘genre’ of art to be ‘cult’?
Um. Hmm. Erm. I think cult is something quite specialist with a small dedicated following so I’d say small press publications are quite often cult. However, I think something can get quite well known and still be considered as cult if it began in that way- like American Splendor or Ghost World. I'd still say these are cult even though both became mainstream films just because of the following they have and the way people view them. And the spin off merchandise too.

How important do you think it is that such ‘cult’ / ‘alternative’ / ‘lowbrow’ forms of art are increasingly exhibited within ‘high art’ spaces (here in Leeds the Cult Fiction exhibit was shown in the Leeds City Art Gallery next door to the Town Hall, rather than any independent gallery space).
Really important.

I read that you are taking part in this year’s ‘UK Web and Mini Comix Thing’ for small press publications and their distros etc. Last year (2007) you also participated in the ‘Thought Bubble’ comic book convention, featuring more mainstream, or ‘big time’ (gag!) artists. As a self-publishing artist what is your connection to, and thoughts on acceptance within both of these sorts of conventions?
I like them.

What is your motivation for being present at, and being a part of such events?
I like them.

Have you seen an increasing role of women and of female creators and audiences at such events?
Yes, well there is a good mix really. I guess audiences are mixed more than creators.

What is your favourite part of artistic creativity? Why do you keep on going and doing what you do?
I can't stop! Its always nice to get positive feedback and that encourages me to keep self publishing and updating my site so I’d say that is one of my favourite parts. I also like getting a comic back from the printers for the first time as its exciting to see your work finished.

Your work, alongside your online comics, has been published in three solo print collections (so far), ‘Party Animals’, ‘Tofu and Cats’, and ‘Waiting For Sushi’. How would you describe and explain each of these?
Waiting for Sushi was my first comic so it is an introduction to a variety of characters, many that reappear in Party Animals and on my Online Comic Sushi. Party Animals also has a few new characters and then Tofu and Cats was my attempt at two complete stories rather than lots of little ones. They are about cats, dinosaurs, burgers, tofu, monkeys, elves, unicorns, people, rabbits and more. They are all worth a read if you like that sort of thing.

How does online publishing differ to print publishing, for you and your work and creations?
Both have pros and cons, online is free and widely accessible so it is quicker and cheaper. However, actual comics can be sold and I always think its nicer to have an actual comic you can hold and carry with you, to read in bed/on the bus/in a tent/in the park, to caress the papery pages and talk to.

Animals and food seem to play a huge part in your artwork. Would you say that these topics are so prevalent in your work due to them being everyday, regular, local muses and inspirations - and as such it’s a natural progression for them to be such lynchpins in your work?
I just like food and animals.

Do you find that ideas and inspiration comes to you thick and fast, or is often much harder than people would think to be a prolific creator?
Nah. I work really fast, I can create a comic in a few hours if I’m in the right state of mind. I don't think this affects the quality either, often something I have spent a long time on doesn't have the same punch as something I have done late at night in a few minutes.

As well as other surrounding inspirations (food etc.) your locale has also inspired some of your artwork such as ‘Concrete Birmingham - a comic about post war architecture,’ which I think is fantastic.
Have the good people of Birmingham forgiven your critique yet?!

Birmingham is awesome!

What’s next up your sleeve?
I'm working on my next comic which I’m aiming to get done by May in time for Bristol Comic Con. It will be bigger and better than my other comics featuring all the regular characters and loads of new ones. I'm also working on Hairy Midget Elf toys. There are a few other things coming up, are releasing Tyger Tyger on a tshirt and I Dress Myself are doing a dinosaur T-shirt. I've also done some comics for the Topshelf website. So plenty of exciting things!

Meghan Murphy interview

Meghan Murphy

Location: Rochester NY USA

How would you describe your art?: Weird, cute, funky, sweet... and maybe a little more weird.

Currently working on: This week's Kawaii Not strips, and a couple of illustration commissions.

Day job: Freelance illustrator

3 Likes: Good books, good movies, shiny things

3 Dislikes: Black liquorice, ketchup on hot dogs, hairballs

People & artists you admire: Oh no, I don't think I could narrow that list down to less than 100. I am continually finding cool, new (or at least new to me) stuff to dig.

Favourite album(s) to listen to when working: I'm always mixing new playlists to listen to while I work. I'm fickle.

Interview date: February 2008

Hi Meghan, how are you?
Pretty good, thanks for asking.

I guess I’ll start by referencing one of your Kawaii-Not pieces that (naturally!) I adore… Why *does* scribbling outside the lines piss some people off?!!
Ha! You know what? I'm really not sure. I figure as long as there still some crayon to use, might as well keep on coloring.

For those who don’t know, what’s Kawaii, and where does Kawaii-Not fit into that mad ‘lil world?
Well, "kawaii" is a Japanese term that basically means "cute". In a larger sense, it stands for a particular culture of cuteness, probably best represented by Hello Kitty. To put the "Not" in Kawaii Not, I try to take the visual cues that represent this particular style, and mix them up with a little attitude... and often a dash of inappropriateness.

What’s your favourite Kawaii that you’ve seen?
I adore a cuter-than-cute t-shirt I saw with the slogan ‘Kawaii 5 – 0’!!

That is damn cute. My favorite kawaii-type stuff tends to be illustrations, but I do have a soft spot for cute cupcakes.

Is there a small part of you that gets frustrated with the endless, smug optimism of kawaii, and thus drives you to make the cute-go-bad (as the strip is subtitled)?
Frustrated? No, in fact I find that kawaii optimism in the face of everything really rather subversive in a way. But then again, I'm a little bizarre.

You have said of Kawaii Not that ‘when I get mad, or sad, or glum, I torture cute things. It’s such fun!’
Which moods work best for you to work in? Does your mood ever alter your strips?

Any mood will do! I've made happy strips, sad strips, and almost psychotic strips. I would have to say my mood is often a key factor in creating a Kawaii Not.

By putting a cute face on everything and anything within your ‘experiment in cheerfulness’ it seems that you can also get away with expressing the darker, or yuckier side of things, and life, right?? (I’m thinking of strips depicting burst bubbles, gone off food, jigsaws that don’t fit in, stabbity knives, gross and scabby plasters, etc…)
Absolutely I can get away with more by using the cute faces. It's amazing how humans react to just two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth. Brains are weird.

As an ‘experiment in cheerfulness’, how’s the experiment working out for you? It seems that the online strip is pretty well loved to me! What do you think?
I am continually flabbergasted, and eternally grateful, that other people find my strips funny.

By putting a cute face on everything and everything, and being a bit mischievous with it, must make ‘work’ a whole lot less miserable than it could be, right? How much do you enjoy doing what you do?
I enjoy it a ridiculous amount.

By working in adobe illustrator, and producing a webcomic, do you have square eyes or mouse-induced RSI yet from all your computer time?
I think my computer whispers threats to me in the middle of the night -- but besides that, everything's fine.

Following on from your visual arts degree, what led you to specialise in computer-based graphic design/illustration?
I was hoping the more specialized degree would make it easier for me to get a steady job, which it turned out it didn't -- but because I didn't get a "real job" right away I was kind of forced into focusing on freelance as a viable alternative.

Alongside Kawaii-not you also have MurphyPop, your website featuring your bold, fun and colourful illustrations. I can’t help but notice all the cute, colourful, kick ass girls you depict in your work. What inspires you to create such female images?
Because I think the world needs more cute, colorful, kick ass girls!

You work as an illustrator and designer, freelance. I once spoke to artist Sarah Dyer who’s currently working full-time freelance. She stated she was stressed and busy, but that was okay cuz busy is good when you’re freelance. Do you find you embrace the same kind of positives from busyness?
Oh yes. I get nervous when I don't have a couple projects brewing. I think that is just the freelance mindset.

How does working freelance allow you to fit art creation into your life, and have it as such a huge part of you?
Freelance demands that I fit art creation into my life, whether I feel like it at the time or not. Which I think is a pretty good position to be in, since I think the more you work at something, the better you get. Freelance makes me be more disciplined than I probably am by nature.

Does the process of kicking out (aprox) two Kawaii-Not strips a week on top of your freelance and illustration work ever knock the smile off your cheerful face?
I'd complain, but then I realize I am a lucky bastard -- so I tell myself to shut up and get on with it.

What is the process of getting an idea from your head to the published web-comic?
Some scribbling, a little research if I need to figure the best way to draw a subject, more scribbling, heavy doubt as to whether anyone anywhere would find this strip funny, scanning the sketches into the computer, snacks, creating the final work in Illustrator, doubting the humour again, fiddling with the wording, playing with my cats, fiddling with the wording again, and ta da! It's just that simple.

How important is the sketch-book process to your work? If you ever left one of your sketchbooks on a bus would the finder of it think you were nuts?!?
I usually have a couple different sketchbooks going at once, and they are pretty damn important to how I work. Hmm... if someone found one of the sketchbooks and I wasn't there to explain some of the weirdness? Oh dear, I would feel sorry for them.

Viewing your webcomic is one of the first thing I do every morning (well, apart from dragging myself out of bed!), because I know it’ll help set me up for the day in a laugh-out-loud kinda way.
In a world where 99% of people would rather slag something off than praise it, and in a culture where there’s so much to make people unhappy and miserable it must give you a fuzzy feeling inside to be counteracting all that with your artwork, right? Is that a conscious aim when coming up with your ideas?

Why thank you! I think most humor artists/writers are working at pushing back the bad stuff, and bringing out the awesome. It seems like a good way to spend my energy, anyway.

I once read an interview with artist Elisa Harkins, and an idea was generated that said perhaps one of arts’ most important ‘purposes’ (for whatever that means) is that it can provide the viewer with a form of enjoyment, and of light relief within this world-gone-mad.
Viewing art (such as yours) can help us to recharge our batteries, give us a break from the hells of life before we head back out there into the world again. That’s really important to our collective sanities, right?

That's what Kawaii Not is all about. There's nothing really deep in my strip, just some crazy stuff to make people giggle and enjoy themselves (hopefully). I figure it's either be crazy on the outside and get it all out, or be crazy on the inside and let it fester till it blows all at once.

What are your thoughts on the sceptical notion that internet-based ‘success’, appreciation and recognition means nothing unless it passes and crosses over into the “real” world, or the “real” art world?
The internet is the real world. And increasingly, it is the whole world.

Do you think working on web-art, and in digital artistic fields is a natural progression in the developing, tech savvy, increasingly computer-literate world; (i.e. comics and art being created in and of mediums that are the most readily accessible/read/appreciated)?
All I know is that Kawaii Not would have never happened without the internet. I never could have reached the audience I have.

Do you think it is a good thing that increasingly artistic ‘recognition’ is not being based on that in the big ‘A’ art world only?
Hell yes.

Do you believe that everybody is inherently artistic and creative and that we all have the potential to be artistic by our own value judgements (as opposed to the hegemonic, dominant judgement of arts’ worth by ‘higher’ parties)?
I think everyone can create and have fun. Now whether anyone else appreciates the results, I can not say and I can not control. You just got to do your own thing and enjoy it yourself, and maybe some other people will want to go on the ride with you.

Introduction to issue 4. July 2008

Colouring Outside The Lines.
Issue #4

Something really great has happened during the four years, and four issues of this zine’s existence. It’s something I hadn’t really expected, but a vibrant community of creative minds has developed around it, within it, and through it. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many people off the back of this zine, and through the buzz and name it has created for itself; I’ve had the opportunity to include many people’s work in the zines’ pages who were able to contact me (or visa versa) and get involved; I’ve had the opportunity to support and champion work that not only means something to me, but that is of great importance to its creator(s); I’ve had the opportunity to have been invited to attend events and festivals with the zine, and further spread the word of the artists included within its pages, as well as encourage creativities; I get some of the most encouraging and inspiring mail from people who have been moved into action by reading and viewing the zine; I have had the chance to personally meet a number of the interviewees over the years at events, and connect in ways other than through the medium of an interview alone; Friends-of-friends have got in touch after finding this zine and discovering that it intersects with their own creative work, work that I‘ve then been able to access, promote, interact with, or become involved in; I’ve had exciting and excited emails from across the world from female artists excited by the project; I’ve made great friends and allies; I’ve been able to promote others’ projects as well as luckily being able to get involved with projects people have got in touch with me about - from websites, to blogs, to magazines, to interactive art projects, to mail art, to further zines; I have seen peoples’ creativities develop and flourish by keeping in touch with past interviewees and gallery artists; I’ve developed a net of individuals who I have been able to approach about other artsy projects; I have become aware of artwork previously unknown to me, and been completely bowled over by it; I have made links and connections with a wide network of people; I have made connections with people I never imagined I would; I have had interviewees say how stoked they are that so many of their friends and neighbours have featured in the zine over the years - while I was unaware that those people were linked and networked too.
In short, Colouring Outside The Lines has helped me feel connected to and via an ever developing community of interested parties, and has developed a great feeling that the vast world in which women are creative is a much smaller place - ever reachable, possible and accessible to us - and also that art and creativity not only has the power to bridge such geographical distances, but that it also has the power to breach borders - geographical and, crucially, otherwise.

The nature of community, and all that is has to offer a project such as this, is of such great importance to me as it means that the work I do here is not in a confined bubble. The art created by women out there is also not segregated. And the readers of this zine are not kept at a distance from either this zine’s production, art being made and spoken about, or crucially the creative opportunities out there that are available for us to access or interact with; Communally this whole project is about opening up and demystifying what art is, and can be to all of us through taking inspiration and confidence from those who are doing a great job at it and shining a flashlight on a yellow brick road for both us and them to continue along.

However, something else that has also developed over the past few years, as articulated to me via private emails and messages, is how this zine has had the potential to brush people up the wrong way. I was sending out a call-for-submissions for the gallery in this issue, sending the call out to women and female-identified folks. In doing so I got emails from some men who felt marginalised by the call-out, and the zine itself; a collection of artwork and creative expression by women alone. One particular email ended with a message along the lines of “fuck you for not being open to including women-friendly male artists like myself. I’m gonna go start my own magazine to spite you, and it’ll be for men only.” Such emails make me laugh with anger at how blinkered people can be; and like my ally, Paulina at Art XX magazine whom I told about such emails said: “I can't believe you got so much crap from guys, yeah my answer is : go ahead make a magazine for men artists, oh wait they already exist!”
There’s a song by Bongwater called ‘Power of Pussy’. Before the song’s intro kicks in a voice says, “Many people believe almost any darn thing they’re told; especially if it sounds like something they already believe.’ I keep thinking about this statement whenever I receive emails like the one mentioned above. Because the current coverage of female art in the press is enough already, right? There‘s absolutely no need for a zine such as this to exist, right?… Somebody’s saying this, and people seem to keep believing it. In this weekend’s Sunday papers there was an article about Louise Bourgeois - ”Oh no, ’they’re’ right, women are all over the press, and gaining all the plaudits they deserve. Why the hell should I dedicate a whole zine to female artists; I’ve been caught out“ but, ah, read again… Louise Bourgeois’ work was contained in that paper as part of a feature entitled (once again), ‘There’s Never Been a Great Woman Artist’. The fact that no-one writing such drivel ever looks beyond the High Art establishment, or alternative ways of viewing, creating, performing, or appreciating art, and the variety of transgressive artists who are unconcerned at such critique or establishmentarianism, gives me enough ammunition to diminish and rubbish such writing alone, never mind the ludicrously laughable things said about important artists such as Bourgeois (one classic line in the article reads, “only men are capable of aesthetic greatness“ !!!!)
Returning to that Bongwater speech, I’m reminded of Susan Faludi writing in ‘Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women’ that through trend journalism, what suddenly turns a given idea into fact is the mere repetition of it. As I, the artists interviewed in this issue, and the supportive community that has developed around this zine would probably agree, representation of women in art publications, galleries, etc. etc. isn’t anywhere near as good as it should be (despite angry comments to the contrary written to me about how a zine such as this one excludes men who have numerous other avenues open to them, and in doing so supports the fact the publication is ’unfair’ to men. Ha! I‘ll show you unfair!) - and so, yes, I am going to make a zine featuring the work of women and women-identified artists only. It’s still really important to do so in order to support and honour these transgressive artists, champion them, and hopefully inspire others through the reproduction of artwork that may mean something extraordinary to readers, as much as it does to me; work that does not necessarily wish to fit within the art establishment mould, and if it does, will be doing so on its own terms. The women in this issue are *great* women artists in the view of a community of individuals who can see the power and importance, the humour and skill of their work outside of confines of belief about what a woman artist should be, or how “Great” their work is (in accordance to some rubbish repeated facts about male vs. female artistry and notions of ‘genius‘ (barf!)). For me, the women in this zine, and the power such a collection can hold to the community of people that I mentioned at the beginning of this introduction is unique. As Susan Faludi continues to state in Backlash, the false front that women are judged against ‘has encouraged each woman to doubt herself for not matching the image in the mass produced mirror, instead of doubting the validity of the mirror itself and pressing to discover what its non reflective surface hides’ (1992, p78. London: Vintage). That’s where the women here come in, I don’t believe a single one of them has ever failed to doubt the validity of the mirror Faludi refers to; each and every one of the ten artists interviewed here is producing work unique to herself, and in doing so is creating work that is able to communicate in a collective manner to a wide community of individuals drawn to it. Behind that mirror’s reflective surface lie the works of the artists featured here, and that work is tremendously challenging, important, stunning, and yes; great. And I’m gonna continue to shout about these artists from the rooftops!!

Melanie Maddison.
Leeds, UK.
8th July 2008

Saturday, 13 June 2009

COTL exhibition - Opening Night

Just a reminder that the opening, preview night of the Colouring Outside The Lines exhibition is on Thursday 25th of June 5-7pm, and you're all invited...

Gallery II at the University of Bradford hosts a new collaborative exhibition of female artists working beyond the bounds of the cultural mainstream.

Gallery II and Colouring Outside The Lines zine invites you to the private view of Colouring Outside The Lines: The Exhibition & zine launch (issue 5).
Curators and artists involved in the exhibition will be in attendance at the opening.

The exhibition seeks to open the discussion of who has access to art - in terms of both curators and artists.

Colouring Outside the Lines: The Exhibition will feature artwork and installations by Abigail Brown, Heidi Burton, Morwenna Catt, Naseem Darbey, Carolyn Mendelsohn and Helen Musselwhite.

If you've never been to the University before you are probably best to just head to Bradford and follow signs to the University. Coming up Richmond Road Gallery II is directly opposite the University Sports Centre. There is a downloadable leaflet at: with proper directions on!

After opening night, the exhibition then runs for a further month, from Friday 26 June - Friday 24 July 2009.
Opening times. Mon - Fri, 10am-5pm, Thursdays 'til 6pm. Or by appointment. Free entry

Also, we'll inform you about this nearer the time, but on Saturday 4 July 11am - 4pm we will be open and hosting a special opening and picnic, combined with a twisted storytelling event. More details TBC.

Hope to see you at the gallery!

Melanie & Rachel