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2012/12/30

Sketch Happy

by John Bloner, Jr.

I've been drawing for most of my life. In Catholic grade school, a nun made an error of seating me next to the art supplies, where I filched pieces of paper, day by day, to draw race cars and rocket ships. I drew because the action of moving a pencil across paper helped to center me and gave me joy.

As I grew older, I drew less and less and that feeling I knew as a child became harder to find. Visits to art galleries and fairs discouraged me with their works of finely rendered lines and vibrant colors contained within expensive frames. My own "art" was in notebooks, on the occasional handmade Christmas card, or on envelopes that contained letters to friends. This art was ephemeral, as it was lost, given or thrown away. I had no idea in those years that there were many other people around the world who were also scribbling, doodling and sketching in order to calm themselves and get a private thrill from drawing.

Among those other people was Danny Gregory. In his mid-thirties, he began to draw the objects that populated his New York apartment--the medicine cabinet, cowboy boots, light bulbs and his breakfast.


What Danny Gregory and other sketch artists were doing was a revelation to me. By looking at their work, I was given permission to haul out my pencils, purchase a portable watercolor set (complete with its own tiny brush) and sketch a dental floss container, my wife's giant eyeglasses from the 1980s (I call them her "Ellerbees", after the pair that journalist Linda Ellerbee once wore) and anything else I encountered around the house--a phone, a watering can, coffee mug, the Bible, a bottle of essential oils and my own hairy hand.


Sketch artists not only draw the objects around their homes, they perch around their towns, alone or with other sketch-happy friends, and render landmarks, fences, telephone poles, sewer grates and passersby, people in libraries, coffee shops and commuter trains.  In San Francisco, artist Enrico Casarosa decided about eight years ago to dedicate an entire day to roaming his city and capturing his experience in his sketchbook. He wrote about it on his blog:

I had a great time throughout San Francisco and it actually felt like a small adventure. It's amazing how something like drawing makes you see things differently, in different degrees of depth. It really makes you stop and smell the flowers. Well, draw the flower, but you know what I mean.

image by Enrico Cassarosa
Cassarosa enlisted his friends to join him on drawing adventures and dubbed the activity, Sketchcrawl.  It soon became a worldwide happening, from Berlin to Barcelona to Baton Rouge, in which artists of all abilities and all ages get together and "crawl" about their cities, sketching anything that catches their eyes.

"After a whole day of drawing it proved to be amazingly interesting and inspiring to share and compare other people's drawings and thoughts," Cassarosa later wrote."Different takes on our surroundings, different details, different sensibilities"

Sketchcrawl in Davis, California
My home place of Kenosha, WI and its neighbor, Racine, have hosted Sketchcrawl events, outdoors and in, and have welcomed writers to join us. Our Sketchcrawl group has met in a cemetery, a used tire shop that doubles as a bird sanctuary, a 19th century lighthouse and an historic fire station. We've met at sunrise on the summer solstice, among the dioramas of a Civil War museum, as well as in libraries and coffee shops.

One of my favorite places to visit is a nature sanctuary and arboretum, Hawthorn Hollow, where the historic buildings, Pike River School (d.1906) and the Somers Town Hall (d. 1859), await everyone to learn about the area's past and enjoy its beauty today.


Sketching allows me to slow down. Once I start drawing, I stop seeing the world in stick-figure symbols of trees, cars, houses, flowers, and other objects of man and nature and instead caress (with my eyes and my pen and brush) the contours and colors of my neighbor's dwelling and the golden coat of the greatest dog in the world. (R.I.P. Chloe.)


Sketching isn't just about finding your inner Zen. Michigan artist Rick Beerhorst writes in the book, "An Illustrated Life": "My sketchbook is a place where anything goes. It doesn't have to look good or smart or professional. If there is any rule, it's that it needs to be fun and sometimes stupid or silly."

Sketchbook pages of Michigan artist Rick Beerhorst
My friend Jeffrey Johannes taught art in the public school system of Wisconsin Rapids, WI for many years. As I prepared this article, he told me, "I love the sketch stages of a work of art. They seem more spontaneous and refreshing than the final work itself. A lot of comic books have sketches in back nowadays. I always told my students that the visual history of a major work of art is as exciting as the final work." His words find proof in Steven Heller's new collection, "Comics Sketchbooks: The Private Worlds of Today's Most Creative Talents".

Heller's book features many artists, including Javier Mariscal, who comments, "The purpose for me in sketching is to try to understand better the world around me, to amuse myself, to enjoy watching and observing, and to draw."

Drawing by Javier Mariscal
I've gained my education of being a sketch artist by reading the books of Danny Gregory, looking at his artwork, discovering other sketch artists through him, and most of all, by sitting down with my sketchbook, pencils and watercolors and seeing and creating the world anew.  

Gregory and his son, Jack Tea, have crafted a series of videos about other artists in order, in Gregory's words, to "capture the adventure of drawing, the discovery, the spirit, the fun."  One video profiles Tommy Kane, who characterizes himself as "a complete idiot who can draw really well." Like my own experience, Kane spent his youth in parochial school, drawing instead of doing his homework.


By drawing, the familiar becomes unfamiliar. Below are pieces of furniture and things around my home that I pass by many times each day, taking each one for granted. By drawing them--granted: not with the precise lines of an architect--I can feel their energy.


I hope you've enjoyed this little tour of the world of sketching. It has not only changed the way I see the world, it has transformed me, too. Its purpose is like a prayer by Richard Cardinal Cushing:

Slow me down, Lord. Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.

If you're seeking some books on sketching and artists I've mentioned here, you may wish to begin with Danny Gregory's illustrated memoir, Everyday Matters, which not only serves as an ode to common things but also as a reminder that every day matters. You may also wish to take in Frederick Franck's book, The Zen of Seeing. Seek out a Sketchcrawl group in your town or start one of your own. You don't need any of these things to get started. Just grab a pencil and piece of paper and start drawing.

I've recently encountered the book, "Keeping A Nature Journal" by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. The book not only provides lessons in keeping an illustrated journal for every season, it's a delight to the eyes and soul for its images of rocks, trees, hillsides, acorns, birds and more objects of nature.

Drawings by Clare Walker Leslie
By keeping an illustrated journal, you may find, as I have found, that the joy of translating the world onto paper transforms yourself.

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Kenosha artist Brigitta Richter--she is also the subject of a terrific 2FL article by Lisa Adamowicz Kless--and I continue to reflect on her words when I am sketching or writing in my illustrated journal. I hope they become a part of your experience, too.

Why does an artist make art? The answer is the same for why a golfer plays golf: because it completely relaxes you. There's no time, no stress. Everything else is gone. When you have that connection, then you have oneness. You're not afraid of being judged. You're in a different space, which is so wonderful.

Happy sketching, everyone.

2012/12/23

Playing For Change

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless


“A Better Place” is the latest song/video featured by Playing For Change, and every year, as the winter holidays arrive with their messages of peace on earth and goodwill to all, it’s what many people hope our world will become as a new year approaches.  If there is one universality that seems to speak to and can be understood by everyone, it’s music, and Playing For Change, a multimedia project began in 2005, uses that belief to try to connect the world and foster peace.



The project began when, using a mobile recording studio, the Playing For Change crew began traveling around the globe, with the first of the songs they featured recorded in Santa Monica, CA, USA; Barcelona, Spain; and Africa.  The goal was to record the music on both audio and video so that it could be shared with other parts of the world.  The equipment that they used to reach that goal started out humbly enough and has evolved over the years, but their core mission has stayed consistent:"to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music."  Often, the artists that they’ve featured have been doing exactly what the name of the organization states: playing for change, only in this case, literal (monetary) change.  So to help lend further support to these musicians and the communities they live in, a nonprofit corporation, The Playing For Change Foundation, was set up in 2007.  Then, in 2008, Timeless Media, a for-profit entity was created, to help fund and extend the work that Playing For Change was already doing.

The first time that I happened upon Playing For Change, it was by watching their third “episode” video for one of Bob Marley’s best known (and a personal favorite) song, “One Love”.  The video interweaves clips from vocalists and musicians in Italy, Africa, France, Nepal, Israel, the United States, and India, all performing Marley’s classic in their own unique way.  Better yet, the clips were recorded so that I had a view into each artists’ homeland, whether they were on a rooftop surrounded by local architecture or standing outdoors.  With a love of travel and a curiosity about other cultures and places, I was hooked.  If the premise of the project hadn’t been enough to pull me in (and truly, it had been), or the music itself wasn’t the deal breaker, that was.



Besides locales that I'd never seen before, there were musical instruments that were, truly, foreign to me.  In some ways, I was like a child discovering exciting new sights and sounds, and all of it was speaking to me in a very real and tangible way.

Each episode shows moments that are universal to all of us too, no matter what country or continent we live in.  A parent dancing with a young child in their arms, a look of pure joy as someone is lost in the magic of singing out loud...all of us can find something to relate to, no matter how fleeting, and find a connection that transcends culture or nationality.  And so I've looked forward to new episodes of Playing For Change videos each time they come out.

Since its humble beginnings, Playing For Change has expanded in many ways, extending their reach and including more artists.  Musicians have come together to perform at benefit concerts, building art and music schools in communities where facilities like this are scarce or even unheard of.  A Playing For Change band has been formed too, with musicians from no less than five countries as a part of it.  No wonder then that shows are also being held around the world.  “When audiences see and hear musicians who have traveled thousands of miles from their homes, united in purpose and chorus on one stage, everyone is touched by music's unifying power”, the Playing For Change website explains.

The Ntonga Music School in Gugulethu, South Africa
And in a time where being bombarded by news of violence worldwide can make us question what things are coming to on this planet that we’re living on, and what kind of life will be left to offer up to future generations, the pure joy that often emanates from the Playing For Change videos is a welcome, well...change.  A new year is just around the corner.  If all of us would join in and play for change in whatever way that we can, then maybe peace through music is possible.

To see more episodes of Playing For Change videos and to learn more about the foundation, visit www.PlayingForChange.com.

2012/12/16

Deconstructing Harry

by Dave Gourdoux

Woody Allen in "Deconstructing Harry"
When an artist spends his whole career carefully constructing an image of himself, and when that image becomes accepted and adored by critics and the public, and then scandal occurs, what happens to that image and how the artist reacts is nothing short of fascinating.

It’s been twenty years since the Soon-Yi scandal changed our perception of the cultural icon that was Woody Allen.  The famous neurosis that was at the center of his persona instantly transformed from quirky and funny to strange and self absorbed.  The author of so many witty one-liners who was once perceived as having remarkable insight into our culture was suddenly out of touch and aloof.
Debate raged whether the scandal was cause or effect of his diminishing artistic output.  Having become inarguably one of the world’s greatest directors in the 1980s, with films like “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”,  “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, and the film that was in production when the scandal hit, “Husbands and Wives”, Allen’s immediate post-scandal output was weak, with uninspired films like “Manhattan Murder Mystery”, “Everyone Says I Love You”, and “Small Time Crooks”

Allen seemed lost, clinging to the old, established image he had worked so carefully to create.  He didn’t seem to understand that the scandal had not only changed the public’s perception of that icon, but that it had exposed the dark underbelly of conceit and narcissism that was always just beneath its surface.
All of that would change in 1997, with the release of “Deconstructing Harry.”  The film is the funniest since his early comedies, but  it’s painful to watch, even as we laugh, especially as we laugh, because we’re watching the cultural archetype Allen spent his entire career creating be ripped apart and destroyed.  Only Clint Eastwood, in his 1992 film “Unforgiven,” has similarly destroyed a myth he helped create, but that pales in comparison, because it is a western, a period piece, and there’s a distance between actor and character.  In “Deconstructing Harry”, Allen is Harry and Harry is Allen, and we are watching Allen destroying Allen, what was left of him after the scandal.  

Stand up comedian
It’s difficult to overstate the impact that the character created by Allen, first as a stand up comic in the 1960s and later as the star in his own films, has had on our culture.  Before Allen, comics were primarily joke tellers and clowns who rarely wrote their own material.  Usually the warm up act for a singer or musical act, they aimed at the lowest common denominator.  Allen, along with Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, changed all of that, making stand up intelligent and personal.  He created a character, neurotic and inept, obsessed with hypochondria and sex, the victim of bullies and criminals, but intelligent and edgy, that perfectly matched his physicality: short and slight, pale and redheaded.  You couldn’t help but root for him, not only because you saw your own imperfections in him, but because you got his jokes, and you knew on some level that like him, you were smarter than those who didn’t.  And these weren’t the old “take my wife, please” jokes.  These were sophisticated and clever, oftentimes surreal, and the more you thought about them, the funnier they became.

Allen wrote and directed a series of movies putting this character into unlikely situations.  “Take the Money and Run”, “Bananas”, and “Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask” were sloppily made exercises where he was learning filmmaking craft; they were also the funniest movies to come out of Hollywood since the Marx Brothers.  These were followed by the more competently made variations on the same formula: “Sleeper” and “Love and Death.”
Then, in 1977, Allen released his masterpiece, “Annie Hall”, and things started to change.  A truly great film, it showed remarkable artistic maturation, as Allen was able to insert the character he’d created into a semi-serious romance.  In doing so, he exposed the pain and isolation implicit in the neurosis of the character.  The film’s working title was “Anhedonia,” or the inability to experience pleasure.  Between the laughs, we got glimpses, for the first time, of the very real difficulties such a neurotic character had in dealing with life.

"Manhattan"
“Annie Hall” was an enormous critical success, winning Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director Oscars.  Always adored by critics, Allen was now universally praised as a genius.   This praise only heightened the egotism inherent in the neurosis of his character; it rose to the forefront in his next two movies, only the critics were too blinded by his “genius” to see it.
First, there was his first “serious” film, 1978’s “Interiors.”  A tribute to his hero, Ingmar Bergman, “Interiors” is a terrible movie.  Pretentious and stiff, it barely moves, with characters so unlikeable and self-centered that you couldn't care less about the themes that Allen tries to explore.  It comes across as what it was – an amateurish attempt by a comic to make a big and important drama.  Most disturbing is, with barely a joke to be found in it, how little respect Allen had for his own previous work.

This was followed by “Manhattan", in 1979, one of the most visually stunning films ever made, cementing Allen's status as a serious artist.  However, beneath the incredible black and white cinematography by the incomparable Gordon Willis, Allen’s narcissism is at its own disturbing zenith.  Set aside for a moment his character’s romance with a seventeen year old high school girl (made all the more disturbing in the wake of the scandal) and focus on the relationships between Allen and all the other characters - Allen's character is the only one who has a moral compass.  He remains true to his art, while his friends betray themselves and each other with shallow love affairs and materialistic pursuits.  In the movie’s climax, we listen to Allen self indulgently explain what makes life worth living, and then he literally runs to the young girl.  Only Allen can see the unsullied innocence and perfection of the girl.  It is the only film I can think of where a middle aged man’s fixation on a young girl is portrayed as romantic and heroic.

Enamored as they were with the now heroic character Allen had created, critics lauded both “Interiors” and “Manhattan” as masterpieces.   They seemed blind to the serious flaws that were present in both works.  That changed with his next film.

In the 1980 release “Stardust Memories”, Allen portrays filmmaker Sandy Bates, who has graduated from making “early, funny films” to being a successful and serious director (Sound familiar?  In interviews, Allen has always maintained that the film isn’t autobiographical, but he’s not very convincing).   The film shows Bates, at a weekend retrospective of his films, dealing with his fans, and it’s not a pretty sight.  Shooting them in tight close ups that conjure up Diane Arbus photographs, Allen seems to view his audience with a mixture of disdain, fear and disgust.  Glimpses into his private life aren’t any prettier.  At first glance,  “Stardust Memories” comes across as a successful artist trying to convince his audience how rotten his life is.  But upon closer examination, it becomes, for me, Allen’s first attempt at a more complete and honest exploration of the character he’d created.  We see some imperfections, and (almost) gone is the narcissistic romanticism of his previous two movies. 
Critical reaction to “Stardust Memories” was, for the first time in Allen’s career, largely negative. The unflattering portrayal of his fans and the critical look at the flaws in his character wasn’t what they were expecting.  This lead to what I call the apology phase of Allen’s career, with slight but earnest attempts to win back the critics like “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” and “Broadway Danny Rose”.

This period was followed by Allen’s renaissance, his greatest period, the mid eighties to early nineties, where he seemed to find his stride.  He found a balance between the romantic and the flawed views of his character, and used it to create deeper and more nuanced explorations of a wider range of themes.
Then the scandal hit, and the fall from grace was hard and sudden.  The self-centered shallowness that was always implied in his character was now exposed.  His work was seen in a new light, and he seemed out of touch and isolated.  Allen didn’t seem to understand this until 1997, when he released “Deconstructing Harry."

In "Deconstructing Harry”, Allen not only acknowledges the self absorption and misogyny of his character, he heightens and exaggerates it to devastatingly funny effect. “Deconstructing Harry” is painfully funny, and you can’t help but wince while you laugh. In “Deconstructing Harry,”Allen is essentially burying the character he created.  In the process, Allen also explores the relationships between art and artist and between art and life.  What makes it a great film is that Allen doesn't flinch from any of this.  For the first time, he is uncompromising in showing the depths of his neurosis, warts and all.  In "Annie Hall" and other films he presented the anhedonic as a misunderstood and sympathetic outsider; in "Deconstructing Harry" the anhedonic is still alone and outcast, but gone is all of the romanticism, and all that is left is the miserable unhappiness at his core, and the pain and suffering inflicted upon those who try to get close to him.

Allen plays the part of Harry Block, a writer who draws upon people and events in his own life as thinly veiled inspiration for his work, and remains oblivious to the anguish he causes as intimate details of real lives become fodder for his books.  The central plot line of the film has Harry being presented with an honorary degree at the college he was thrown out of years ago; on the way to the ceremony, he is accompanied by the only people he can get to go with him:  a prostitute, a casual acquaintance, and his own young son, who he has to kidnap from his ex-wife.                  

The film begins with a woman named Lucy (Judy Davis) showing up at Harry’s home, gun in hand, intent on killing Harry.  The book Harry has just published details an affair that everyone will know was based on a real affair between Lucy and Harry that occurred while Harry was married to Lucy’s sister. Lucy is suicidal and murderous at the embarrassment and shame Harry’s book will cause.  Harry talks his way out of the situation by telling Lucy a story he is working on, an autobiographical story of a young man obsessed with sex who is mistakenly claimed by death.  The story calms Lucy down, and Harry lives.  His imagination, his art, has saved him from a situation that his art put him in.  This is the central conflict in the move – art vs. life, and how for Harry, and for Woody and the character he created, the two become indistinguishable from the other.  The movie is about what happens when one becomes his own art.

Allen tells the stories in extremely funny and star studded vignettes.  For example, the fictional counterparts to Lucy and Harry are expertly played by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Richard Benjamin, and the young man in the death story is played by Tobey Maguire.  There are appearances by Robin Williams, Demi Moore, Elisabeth Shue, Mariel Hemmingway and others.  The vignettes recall the sketchy quality of Allen’s early films with one notable exception:  the use, to great comedic effect, of vulgarity and sexually explicit language, which Allen had always avoided.  This is important in not only delivering laughs, but also in stripping away another layer of the icon.  To see and hear Woody Allen delivering f-bombs with the same precise comic timing he'd always delivered his famous one-liners is jarring.  It's as if he's saying what he'd always been thinking, and in the process revealing a layer of ugliness that laid just beneath the surface of the myth.

Woody Allen, Billy Crystal and Elisabeth Shue in "Deconstructing Harry"
There are some of the funniest moments in any Allen film, including a visit to Hell and a sick and twisted conversation with the devil (Billy Crystal) about which one of them is more sick and twisted.  My favorite scene is with Allen and his psychotherapist wife (Kirstie Alley) in which she discovers he’s been having an affair with one of her patients; the two play off of each other perfectly as Harry reveals the extent of his misogyny to a disbelieving Alley, all while her patient, a Mr. Farber, waits patiently within earshot on the couch in her office.
At the end, stripped clean of any romantic ideals, Harry is arrested at the ceremony for kidnapping his son and having Lucy’s gun in his car and possession of drugs (that belonged to the prostitute). Harry is subsequently bailed out of jail.  Alone, he returns to writing.  He can only exist in his art; he is incapable of the caring and decency that happiness in real life requires.  Thus, the myth Allen spent his entire career creating and nurturing is laid to rest and exposed as only a myth.  The truth is that the exaggerated neurosis at the core of Allen's character is symptomatic of an overstated sense of self, and while on the surface it may be amusing and quirky, dig into it a little deeper and you'll find an isolated and tortured soul that has difficulty functioning in the world.  It is little wonder, then, that in "real life", Allen cannot see the moral transgressions implicit in falling in love with his wife's grown adopted daughter.  His only response was the famous quote "the heart wants what it wants," and that pretty much sums up the selfishness at the heart of the character.  Never mind the pain and suffering that will be inflicted upon those close to him; the heart wants what it wants. It's no different than attending a Knicks game or practicing his clarinet or any of the other neurotic rituals he mindlessly obeys.  

At the end, what "Deconstructing Harry" seems to be saying is that one cannot live entirely within and for one's self.   The neurosis that Allen fed and cultivated his entire career drove him deeper into isolated self absorption, and rendered him incapable of being a part of anything like a society or a culture or a family.   In the end, Harry/Woody is alone with his art, but it's not the romantic notion of an artist suffering for his art; rather, it's the sad sight of a man trying to hang on to the only thing he has left.  This is an extraordinary and painful thing to see; it's a tribute to Allen's genius that he can pull this off.  One wonders what would have happened if, back in 1980, he'd approached "Stardust Memories" with the same objective eye to all of his flaws.  
Allen has repeatedly claimed that Harry is not autobiographical, but I don’t know how anyone with the slightest familiarity with his career or the scandal could believe that.  The question that remains for me is, is “Deconstructing Harry” an honest self assessment by Allen of himself and the icon he created, or is it his reaction to the fall from grace he experienced as a result of the scandal?  Either way, despite the fact he has continued to make movies, “Deconstructing Harry” remains for me the last Woody Allen film.  It’s a necessary ending in that it completes the myth he began in the 60s, and reconciles the icon and the fallen idol.

For more information, visit Woody Allen's IMDb: www.imdb.com/name/nm0000095

2012/12/09

Hui Min Liu: An Interview with a Truly Unique Artist

By Jav Rivera

Several years ago, I was looking for an artist to illustrate a children's book that I had written.  I posted a calling and received nearly one hundred responses from artists all over the world.  I read each email and viewed all of their artwork.  And in doing so, I noticed that many of these artists, as talented as they were, appeared to have very similar styles.  Many, that is, except one: Hui Min Liu.  Her use of color, composition, and endearing character design stood out among all these talented artists.  Without any doubt, I knew I had found the perfect style for my children's book, and I would later discover that not only had I found one of the most brilliant artists, but I also found a perfect collaborator.

Hui Min Liu
Hui Min Liu was born in 1980 in Taichung, Taiwan, where she would eventually receive her Bachelor of Landscape Architecture at Tunghai University.  She later received her Master of Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, where she majored in Illustration.  During her time there, she was awarded the Combined Honors Fellowship, an award given to students who demonstrate both academic and artistic achievement through a presentation of outstanding portfolio and above average grades and test scores. Since her graduation, she has worked as a landscape designer, freelance book illustrator, and art instructor.  Her paintings have been exhibited internationally in Italy, New York, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Seattle, San Francisco, and of course Taiwan.

"A Blowball" from Hui Min Liu's "I Have a Dream" series
Among her many talents, Hui Min is an artist, painter, illustrator, and photographer.  Her background in landscape is clearly apparent in her work, but more importantly it's the heart within each stroke of her brush.  Whether it's the main focus of the piece or the little creatures among the background, she breathes life in each character.  But it's not just her ability to create life that amazes, it's also how she can do it in such a unique style.  She can make something dreamlike seem plausible.  The worlds she creates, be it within a painting or a digital creation, can best be described as awe-inspiring.

I have had the honor of working with Hui Min on several projects and for that I am honored.  Our first collaboration was for our children's book, Sometimes I'm Sad, in which we also produced a film.


When we began work on this project, I remember sharing with her the words to my story and telling her the goal of the book.  I never suggested any character designs, nor anything relating to the look or style of the artwork.  A short time later she sent me drafts of her designs and I could only stare in wonderment. How could this artist create such wonderful ideas from so little amount of information?  It's been several years since we first started working together and I still wonder.  I recently asked her if she would participate in an interview.  Humble as she is, she was embarrassed at the idea but was still willing to take time to answer my questions.  Perhaps this interview will help bring us inside the mind of this incredible artist.
-----------------

When did you know you wanted to create art?
Creating art didn't seem like a must when I was younger; it was like a lollipop that could satisfy a young heart easily. As I grow older, I realize there are only few things able to occupy my heart as a childhood lollipop, and creating art is probably my favorite one. “When did I know I wanted to create art?” is like a tricky question as “When did I find the satisfaction from a lollipop?”; the answer is a mystery.   

Where do you get inspiration?
I usually don't know where my inspiration comes from, but I feel my visual experience is like a database where the most inspiration to create art is stored. Once, when I watched the movie Immortal Beloved, there was a scene making a great impression on me. Young Beethoven swam in a mirror-like lake which reflected the beautiful starry sky; with a sudden twist, young Beethoven seemed to look like swimming above the Milky Way. Years later, when I found my old drawing depicting the floating figure of my cat, the database in my brain functioned immediately and the inspiration to create my painting "A Stolen Night" just flashed through my mind. I've never tried hard to seek inspiration; inspiration comes to me often. 

old drawing
"A Stolen Night"
What kinds of projects do you like to do?
I think both the contents and the client of a project are important to me. I can only do a project that the subject matter interests me and the client gives me the space to develop my ideas freely.   

How much of your work is experimentation, and how much of it is pre-planned?
The composition of my art is usually pre-planned. Before I start a piece, those pre-done outputs of images produced by my imagination factory are always imprinted on my brain deeply. Nevertheless, during the process of coloring, I like to experiment on the combination of colors and the mix of different media; while holding a brush, I can feel all my emotions stirring on the fingers, taking over my painting, and searching for something unexpected.   

How did you develop your unique style?
My undergraduate major was Landscape Architecture, I hadn't enrolled in any formal art class until I pursued my graduate studies in Illustration. Even when I was studying in Illustration, the graduate level classes didn't  focus on drawing skills at all. These conditions gave me diverse viewpoints on my work and also allowed me to discover my personal style by refining it through trials and errors.    

Which artists (current or past) do you appreciate the most?
Alexander Calder is my favorite artist; I love his kinetic sculptures and wire figures. "Cirque Calder" is one of my favorite works of all time; I'm captivated by the chemistry that Calder created as he performed the handmade miniature circus. I believe a great artist, like Calder, must be deeply in love with his or her own art, otherwise a viewer's heart would never be unlocked.

Do you try to emulate any style or artist?
I've never tried to imitate any style or artist, but I believe any work of art, which has ever made a profound impression on me, does have partial influence on my work.

How do you begin your pieces?
I usually draw sketches on grid paper to start my pieces. On grid paper, I can easily see the whole composition, the places for every elements, the hidden pattern, and the relationship between spaces. To sketch on grid paper not only helps me to trace out the images in my mind rationally, but also encourages me to seek out some interesting connections in a composition.  

"S910 and His Puppy" (sketch form)

"S910 and His Puppy" (final version)
In what way do your methods differ, depending on digital versus tradition art?
I think there's not much difference for me to create art by digital or traditional means; it's just medium change. Different medium has its own properties, to know how to play with a medium is the technical problem. However, to bring out the soul of a piece depends on the aesthetics of an artist. I like the preciseness, efficiency, and easy-adjust functions of digital media; I also love the actual texture and happy accidents on the works by traditional techniques.

Digital art created in Illustrator software
What would be your dream career?
Working while traveling would be a perfect dream career. I love to travel, visit different places, and meet other cultures; if there's a kind of job that I could make a living by creating art and also be able to travel to many places at the same time, then it would sound like a desirable career to me.

What advice would you give to other artists?  
I think it's not my position to advise any artists. But I always tell myself to open my mind to see what is happening in the contemporary art and yet not to lose my way creating what I want; true to myself, and never go with any trend against the voice in my heart.

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Hui Min Liu is an artist of her own design, and in my opinion, she is the best living artist.  To know her is something I cherish every day, and to work with her is beyond words.  In this article, I hope not only to learn of her technique, but also to share her work.  And I do this both as a sign of gratitude, and out of respect for someone's work that whole-heartedly deserves to have more attention.

To Hui Min: I thank you.  To anyone reading this, please take some time to discover and study the artwork from a truly unique artist.

For more information, visit Hui Min's official website: www.huiminliu.com

TRIVIA: Hui Min Liu's piece entitled "Invasion - Tree From the Backyard" from her Beyond the Mirror series was the inspiration for the window in page three of Sometimes I'm Sad.  Furthermore, the artwork in her Beyond the Mirror series showcase hidden figures within the background images.

"Invasion - Tree From the Backyard"

Page Three from Sometimes I'm Sad


2012/12/02

Patrice Oneal

by Jav Rivera

I first discovered comedian Patrice Oneal in the 90s during one of his performances on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien".  He was wearing a light-yellow button-up shirt (untucked) and casually walked out from behind the stage curtains.  His first topic: how big he was.  Like Bob Newhart before him, Oneal had one of the best comedic deliveries.  With a slight hesitation, he posed as an audience member and said, "Da-da-dats a big dude."  I was hooked.  He didn't mind poking fun at himself but he could trash others just as badly.  Some of his routines may have come across as vulgar and controversial but you couldn't help but agree with some of this points.

Patrice Oneal
During that same performance he talked about how hard he had to act "street" and use his "angry face" to hide his love of The Beatles music while driving.  He also joked about his size.  He even showcased his "skinny look" by posing in a very distinct way and adjusting his shirt appropriately.   He wasn't like most comics, and certainly not like most Black comics.  Clearly, Oneal felt like an outsider.  Given his short stints on bigger projects throughout his career, it's more than a possibility.  And even though he was an expert at arguing the general consensus of topics that were a bit taboo, perhaps it was his fearless approach that made him an outcast.  But it's this unique way of doing things that made him one of the most respected and loved comedians.

Before his death (aged just 41), Patrice Oneal had appeared in several popular TV series, on stage, and most regularly on radio.  On television, he appeared on The OfficeArrested Development, and Chappell's Show which are among his most famous credits.  For whatever his reasons may have been, his tenure on such quality programming were always short-lived.  His film credits weren't as impressive but Oneal was more of a hit on stage and radio.  It's there where his talent could be better utilized.  I imagine on television he felt restricted, and instead preferred a media where he did not have to censor his material or accommodate the general audience.

Michael Cera, Patrice Oneal (as T-Bone), and Alia Shawkat on Arrested Development
As underused as he was on TV and film, he made his moments count.  Oneal had that unknown ability to make you laugh just from looking at him.  Not because of his physical features, but by simply having a presence of humor that surrounded him like a cloud of funny.  And whether it was self-imposed or simply by virtue, he made great use out of this talent.  His vocal inflections were completely in sync to the meaning of words he was saying.  It's no wonder he made such a successful career on radio.

He also knew how to translate people's inner monologue into words.  It didn't matter how dark or strange the thought, he understood what was on most men's minds and could communicate it to the world, from the differences in men's facial reactions to a good-looking butt and good-looking breasts. And there is a difference - but only Oneal knew how best to explain it.  His examples (if you can picture these) was a look of being impressed (bottom lip out and head nodding) for the former, and a look of pain (eyes closed, head turned to the side, and lips miming the word "Ooo") for the latter.

And though that topic may seem sketchy to some, the humor was more in his delivery and extensive explanations that detailed every bit of thought process, whether talking about women, marriage and dating, health concerns, or racism.


Among several other performances on HBO, Comedy Central, and on the web*, his first one-hour live performance was entitled Elephant in the Room.  It aired on Comedy Central on February 19, 2011 and would be his last live performance recorded for television.  His digital comedy albums Mr. P (February 2012) and Better Than You (November 2012) were released posthumously and are available on his website, iTunes, and Amazon.

Fortunately for fans new and old, Elephant in the Room is one of the best examples of an artist in his prime.  It showcases everything about what makes Oneal so great - his topics, his delivery, and best of all, his hilarious point of view.

Oneal on Elephant in the Room
Patrice Oneal was a comedian on the rise with his talent already intact.  His hard-core fans include Louie CK, Chris Rock, Colin Quinn, Wanda Sykes, Ricky Gervais, Jim Norton, and Kevin Hart, among many more. Unfortunately, Oneal struggled with diabetes and weight issues, and on November 29, 2011, he died from complications from a stroke.  He died too soon but his comedy will never be forgotten.

For more information and to watch clips from his performances, visit his official website: www.patriceoneal.com

* Patrice Oneal's webcast was entitled The Patrice Oneal Show - Coming Soon! and is available digitally and on DVD.

TRIVIA: Patrice Lumumba Malcolm Oneal was named after Patrice Lumumba and Malcolm X.  And although credited more commonly as "Patrice O'Neal", he preferred his surname name spelled without the apostrophe.