Interview and photos by India Halsted
I’m Sophie. I’m a senior at Barnard and an artist. I’m majoring in Art History and Visual Art. I was born in Los Angeles and raised in Northern California.
What were your first moments of creating?
I was exposed to a lot of art when I was quite young: in the home, in museums, through conversations, through family members that are artists. There was a specific period of time when a group of friends and I would see gallery and museum shows and re-create the work.
Who are the artists who influence your work?
Lisa Oppenheimer, Emily Jacir, Rachel Whiteread, and Lorna Simpson have in large ways influenced my thesis. I am also very influenced by Eva Hesse.
What materials do you work with? How would you describe them?
They tend to be malleable, organic, and non-rigid – like wax and cheesecloth. I want to play with resin too. I am attracted to its luminosity: the way it glows and the way it can take form.
What classes have most informed your work?
Though it’s hard to locate a specific class, Leslie Hewitt’s “Freestyle and Displacement” had and continues to have particular influence on my work. In large part because of its focus on representations of cultural trauma: trauma of dispossession and diaspora. Leslie renewed my faith in the political power of abstraction. The Atlas Group’s work is a very good example of this subtle strength. So is Leslie’s – it’s quiet but deeply political.
Describe your studio space. Is it a place of exhibition? For yourself? For others?
It’s an exhibition space for myself, but then in the case of the open studios it’s a way to collectively open up the class’s thinking. When others enter the studio the thinking is on display in addition to the work.
How would you describe your artistic process and when would you say a work is finished?
Sometimes it’s clearer than others. Ultimately an artwork is finished for me when it feels that the work can stand. I always have my hands in a lot of places which helps because I don’t just have this linear way of saying “this is started” and “this is done.” Because I work so fluidly, I often find resonances between projects.
Describe your series We Are Not On Solid Ground.
The fires in Santa Rosa and Hurricane Irma happened right as I was beginning to think about what I wanted to make for the semester. I wasn’t preparing to respond to the trauma of natural disasters. That is the source of the images for We Are Not On Solid Ground. The theoretical grounding came from an idea in a documentary film class last year. We read an essay by André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” Bazin describes a film of a bullfight in which the bullfighter dies. He then recounts his own uncanny experience of seeing the bullfighter’s death a second time when watching the film on a different afternoon. Change is “mummified” in film for Bazin; film makes death repeatable. So, I was interested in this idea of mummification as the repetition of trauma.
What about these two events inspired you? Is it their timeliness or their personal significance?
I was feeling particularly affected by the news at the time. I was trying to insulate myself and so the work was a way to not insulate myself. And in the case of the fires I was particularly unsettled because they happened just half an hour away from where I grew up. I was looking at images of the fires in The New York Times. They were incredibly beautiful images – charred ground and soft pink skies, and that was unsettling. I was curious if the images of [Hurricane] Irma, which was happening simultaneously, would be equally romantic. I think beauty was a point of entry for me. Because these horrific disasters were photographed so beautifully, I could look at them and there was a sense of stillness as something captured. There is a dichotomy between the stillness of the image and my repetition of it through mummification.
How do you define mummification and what does this process mean to your work?
Mummification alludes to the journalistic original. It’s also a kind of psychoanalytic process. The masking (through gauze and wax, or in another case, Neosporin) re-enacts repression but at the same time it’s also a preservation, a way to bring the repressed material to light.
How is material important to We Are Not On Solid Ground?
The images are printed on vellum, which is a sort of filmic material. It’s an inkjet print that I wrapped in cheesecloth and embalmed in wax. This series in particularly was largely inspired by Eva Hesse but also by the idea of the wound, the materials that might dress a wound. Yet these dressings don’t necessarily fix anything. It’s a kind of naive attempt. With some of the works, like one image of charred washing machines, you can see the impression of the turkey pan – there are these domestic traces.
How do you separate the work of taking photos and borrowing and embalming images?
I recently got disenchanted with producing images given that I experience so many images. Relevant to all the work is the assembly of images or the assembly of an experience of images. There are these associative networks between each of the projects [some integrate the same events] which a part of me identifies as nebulous, but it is also a psychoanalytic logic.
Does the process of mummification bring you closer or farther away from the original?
It’s hard to call myself a witness because I wasn’t there. I try to emphasize my distance in all of my work and yet I think of my work as a kind of bearing witness. The process of mummification represents my distance but it also brings me closer because I needed to work through these events. I didn’t just want to hear about the ash that was falling on my friend’s car in Los Angeles when Southern California was ravaged with fires soon after [those in Santa Rosa] and not process it. There’s the witnessing and experiencing of these images and then there’s also its aftereffects. The aftermath of these events carried with them an atmosphere, both environmentally and psychologically.
Photography always raises the question of the original. But calling these appropriated images “sources” rather than “originals” more closely approximates what I’m trying to do.
Describe your series Picturing.
The name Picturing came to me as a way of saying that I was documenting, a kind of journalism of journalism, one or two steps removed. It locates myself. I applied Neosporin to my camera lens, which is a Pictorialist technique. Stieglitz used petroleum jelly to create a romantic effect, to make photography more painterly. I first saw this technique in this Man Ray’s film Étoile de Mer. It followed from We are not on stable ground to use Neosporin as another way to to mummify images, a more integrated affront than before. In this case [using Neosporin] was a way for me make the digital image more sculptural and material.
What about films or specific films inspire you or your work?
I think back to certain moments of stillness or repetition. There is a scene in Truffaut’s Jules et Jim where Catherine is laughing and her laughter stills, then continues, stills, then continues. Or at the very end of the 400 Blows when Antoine is suddenly freezes running on the beach. I think these examples were initial ways for me to think about photography and film. This reflexive thinkingthat the moving image is composed of stills informs my work. Chris Marker’s film La Jetée has this archival quality.
Describe your current project Junior.
I’ve been collecting junior pilot wings, the pins you are given on planes as a kid, in thinking about totems of safety. In my work that there is also this concern of nuclear warfare. I was thinking of the sky and atmosphere and these junior pilot wings came as a sort of solution. I soon found that photographs I took of the wings had more weight than the wings themselves. I wanted to play with the apparatus of display so I decided to use a commercial, museological postcard display so that viewers would be able to take them. So that they can carry a talisman. I liked the idea of passage, of publicly locating yourself, and I was thinking of On Kawara’s work.
I’m still in the process of theoretically framing them in all honesty. I went to the March for Our Lives yesterday and was really moved by the signs children had written. It really changed how I defined the wings and made me think, could they be voices unheard? What could they locate? What could they demand? I’m leaning towards putting these slogans on the back of these postcards vertically as a structural aspect. I want to leave space for other people to write.
How do you reconcile physical and cultural trauma with collective loss in your work?
I’m not exactly sure if these are concepts that need to be reconciled, but they are definitely all at play. Rosalyn Deutsche introduced me to an interesting rereading of Freud’s Mourning And Melancholia. For Freud, one withdraws from the world in response to trauma or loss. This is what he calls depressive melancholia. So what’s interesting about these works, There is No Threat in particular, is that they seek out another form of melancholia . Jonathan Flatley uses the term non-depressive melancholia to say there is a form of melancholia that leads to an interest in the world rather than a withdrawal from it. That through one’s own losses you can attach to others’ losses.
Is part of being an artist being sensitive?
I think sensitivity is essential to my work. Anxiety has taken on physical effects and that’s the juxtaposition I’m abstractly making in There is No Threat with the clinical swabs. It brings two languages together – the language of safety alerts (which I’ve screenshotted) of the false ballistic missile threat in Hawaii this January and the language of medical props. I’m trying to infuse a sense of healing but also of fragility or vulnerability.
Where do you see your work going in the future?
I’m very responsive and I typically have a lot of threads at any given time so it’s difficult to see exactly where my work will take me.
That said, I collected newspapers from the day of the Los Angeles fire – I bought about twenty of them. I’ve thought about dipping them in wax or stacking them.
In terms of my own plans, I will be in New York next year doing what I’m not sure but surely maintaining an art practice. I ultimately plan to get an MFA.
Interview by Maeve Flaherty, artwork by Amanda Ba
The shades in Dodge 501 are drawn, but the morning sun seeps in and mingles with the powerful overhead spotlights. They’re focused on a woman in the nude, who sits upright on a throne-like chair draped with flowing green fabric. Around her, twenty artists glance between her and their paper, capturing her figure on the page.
The model will spend the next two hours moving between positions as she models for one of Columbia University Artist’s Society’s twice-weekly figure drawing sessions. The sessions are free to the public and organized by Artist’s Society, a student-run Columbia club that provides studio time for the artistic community.
The models, who are paid and treated like any professional artistic model, are nonetheless faced with a unique challenge. Drawn from the Columbia student population, the single session they model for Artist’s Society is often their first time being naked in public. And they do it in front of their friends, classmates, people they’ve seen in dining halls and on College Walk- people they are very likely to encounter again.
To learn more about the student models, I interviewed Artist’s Society board member and graphic designer, Amanda Ba, CC’20. Ba rolled into our meeting on her trusty pink scooter. She explained that the models, who sign up by filling out a google form with availability at the beginning of each year, are selected alphabetically from a list of names. The length of the list means that the model is different for each session and Columbia students are normally only selected once in their four years.
I asked Ba what makes a good model. She explained, “It’s somebody who has versatility with their poses. This allows artists room to be more stylistic in how they choose to draw a body– because a body is a body, but you can play on it. Someone who will twist and create curves and folds and angles and convexes in their body. A pristine, beautiful body is actually the most boring body. What is more fun to draw is curves, undulations.”
Francisco Alvidrez, CC’19, was up to the challenge. “At the beginning,” he said, “I was doing weird, difficult positions. I was like, ‘Well, here’s how I can contort my body for you today.’”
As an artist himself and an architecture major, Alvidrez saw nude modeling as a creative exercise. He explained, “It was important to me, as somebody who makes the art and also as someone who partakes in it all, to be on both ends. To create with my body or with materials.”
The model is an active participant in the art created. In the Artist’s Society sessions, the model’s job is not to simply stand on the block-- it is to move in a way that pushes and inspires the artists.
Virginia, BC’19, had never modeled in the nude before. She found the creative conversation between artist and model surprisingly empowering. “Whenever I changed positions,” she explained, “I was presenting new challenges to them. I don’t know much about drawing people myself, so I assumed that I would be less in-charge because I couldn’t control how my body was being represented, but I actually had a lot of agency.” She added, “I thought it was a cool exercise, choosing how to represent my own body so that other people could represent me.”
But the line between choosing how to represent the body and being represented is thin. Inherent in the experience is a lack of control.
Alvidrez, who is very comfortable with his body, didn’t find the experience frightening or unpleasant. Still, he recognized the limits of his agency: “I’m completely naked on this block, in the middle of a room, surrounded by a bunch of people who I don’t know, who are drawing every knick and cranny of my body. It’s one of the most apparent affronts to my body-- I have no say over what people are drawing of my body. If they want to draw my left nipple, they can spend twenty minutes drawing it. Or they could be spending that same amount of time on my foot. It doesn’t matter. For me, it’s really weird that I am in total control of the situation but at the same time extremely vulnerable.”
Artist’s Society recognizes that vulnerability and tries to make their models comfortable. On the physical level, they offer a private changing space and keep a heater next to the stage on cold days. On a more emotional level, they make sure to talk to each model when they arrive to make sure they are clear on what will happen over the course of the session.
But at the end of the day, the model has to find it in themselves to get up on the block. Ba explained, “A good model is someone who is comfortable with themselves, who knows what they are getting into-- it doesn’t mean that they have to have done it before. But they have to have their minds wrapped around ‘Yes, I am going to be naked in front of a bunch of people but they aren’t going to sexualize me, this is in an artistic pursuit.’”
Artist’s Society emphasizes that the modeling is artistic, not sexual. Before the model enters each session, the organizers repeat a quick code of conduct on how to handle the session: don’t take photos, etc. To make sure the model feels safe, the artists are not allowed to instruct the models on how to pose their bodies.
For Virginia, that element of control was key. “One time, a guy suggested I stand up and the person coordinating the event quickly said ‘If you’re comfortable.’ I did stand up, but I didn’t feel like I had been forced into doing something I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I did it because I was like ‘Why not?’”
Virginia didn’t feel uncomfortable or sexualized. She said, “I didn’t know anyone and I could tell that they were not looking at me in a creepy, gazy way. They are looking at you and trying to capture you on the page. I felt really safe.”
Isaiah Feldman-Schwartz, CC’18, agreed. He’s modeled for Artist’s Society twice, and both times enjoyed the experience. “Something I really appreciate about the Artist’s Society is that it very much doesn’t feel like a sexualized space at all. It was like, ‘I’m standing here naked and that’s only weird if you think it’s weird.’ They’re here to do figure drawing, I’m here to model for the figure drawing, and it is what it is. Everybody was very professional.”
For a student modeling in front of other students, a professional and artistic attitude is key. Most nude models can show up to their job, do it, and leave, not worrying about running into the artists. But at the Artist’s Society sessions, the attendees are mostly either students or Morningside Heights residents. For many of the models, they will walk into a room and recognize one or several of the artists they are about to be naked in front of.
Although Feldman-Schwartz didn’t tell his friends about his modeling beforehand, a friend happened to be at his second session. It was “slightly more awkward,” he said. “In particular, it felt that way because it was someone of the opposite gender. Which I would be lying if I said didn’t factor into my consciousness. But it didn’t feel like a big problem. It was more of an awareness. I was like ‘don’t make too much eye contact, don’t be weird about it.’”
Like Feldman-Schwartz, Francisco Alvidrez knew several people in the room. During his session, both friends and classmates of his were drawing. Alvidrez felt more comfortable with the strangers present. “I think had no one I know been there,” Alvidrez said, “I would have been a lot more comfortable, but the fact that I knew people there didn’t hinder my experience or make me more nervous.”
Still, although Alvidrez was didn’t really mind seeing people he knew on the day of the session, he did mind the way the modeling bled into his later life. Several times after his session, people approached him in Morningside Heights to compliment him on his modeling. Alvidrez explains thinking, “I’m at a restaurant, why are you complimenting me on my nude modeling? I appreciate the compliment, but at the same time it’s like ‘why is this necessary right now?’”
Alvidrez felt comfortable during his session, but the later encounters broke the boundaries that Artist’s Society carefully constructs between model and artist. Those boundaries are fragile, and require the commitment of all artists and models to maintain a respectful distance between what happens during and after the session.
After being approached in public while eating a meal by someone from the session, Alvidrez wondered, “When does people practicing stop and sexualization start?”
In Virginia’s experience, the boundary between body and art form was clarified the second she stepped off the block. When Virginia finished her session and started to put her clothes back on in the back of the room, she assumed that after two hours in the nude, it didn’t matter where she got dressed. One of the organizers approached her and offered the privacy of a curtained corner to put her clothing back on. Virginia said, “I realized that once I wasn’t the subject anymore, it was like we were people interfacing in public, as public as a classroom is again.”
In that moment, the difference between nakedness and nudity became clear. Virginia: “Then I was naked, and then I needed privacy to change. When you’re in the setting where you’re the person everyone is looking at, then you’re nude.”
The nude model walks that line between naked and nude. The art critic John Berger wrote in his seminal text, Ways of Seeing, “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude.”
Amanda Ba agreed. She explained, “Naked is a state, right? Naked is ‘I am naked now but I will be clothed later.’ It’s almost like a noun, not an adjective.” In Ba’s opinion, nude is something else entirely: “You are using it to describe the visual term for a human body. It’s just ‘the nude’. When we have nude figure drawing sessions, you aren’t looking at somebody and saying ‘Oh, they’re naked,’ because you are seeing them in a naked context. You are like, this is just a beautiful form for me to depict.”
This difference between naked and nude is key to how the models and artists approach the artistic interaction they take part in. For Ba, nudity reduces or purifies the body to a form for artistic interpretation. For Francisco Alvidrez, the word nude has sexual connotations. He said, “Nude for me seems sexualized, and naked doesn’t. For me people being naked was always some nonsexual situation or not even fully undressed, but nude seems more charged with that connotation.”
For him, the sexual connotations of the word nude shaped how he experienced the session. He said, “We use it for this nude modeling. Maybe that’s why I had that thought of prevailing sexualization with my body. I associate that word, nude, with sex or with some charged other meaning. I was more in tune with that sensation afterwards.”
As much as Artist’s Society tries to present the session as a vacuum, a space in which the interplay between model and viewer is entirely artistic, it cannot block out the outside world. Each model walks into the session with their own understanding of their body and the meaning of being unclothed. They bring that perspective with them as they model for their classmates, and back out onto the Columbia campus.
I asked Feldman-Schwartz if he felt more naked or nude during his time modeling for Artist’s Society.
He responded without hesitation.
“I felt naked.”
[Artist’s Society’s figure drawing sessions occur twice-weekly, every Friday from 6pm to 8pm and every Saturday from 10am to 12pm in Dodge 501. They are free and open to the public.]
Interview by Yosan Alemu, photography by Evelyn Wolfley
I know that you express yourself through various different mediums; visual art, poetry, music, modeling, etc. How did you find these avenues?
I feel like in a lot of ways I was forced to find my art through more than one avenue because I think about art in terms of concepts. I think this can be attributed to my artist mentors. I was part of a nonprofit, and I was in this program, being taught by these really dope black conceptual artists who were working and doing their own thing while they were teaching other black or low income youth to make their own art and to make it really dope. So being raised under them, I was taught that your art has to have a concept behind it, and it doesn't necessarily always have to be political. I mean you could go off of the idea that the personal is political, and a lot of times, with black artists it is inherently that way. But because my art was centered around having a concept, or a language, I think there was never a time where I thought I could just do that through visual art. I felt like I had to do it through different mediums whether it be sculpture or just in general like creating a sense or an experience for the person who's consuming my art.
When you’re creating, do your different mediums of art ever overlap?
I definitely think so. When it comes to making clothes–for me at least–I definitely think of them visually. I think of them in a certain scene, and I didn't always realize this until somebody asked me where ideally I would like my clothes to be worn. And I was like "Oh I think of living in a post-apocalyptic world where niggas only listen to Missy Elliot and white people don't exist." And afterwards, I was like "Damn, I actually have an entire set up here”, and this is what it felt like when I started exploring that more, and then getting into being the photographer of my work. Clothes mean a lot to me because of the statements they make, and when I started to actually play around with how my clothes look in a visual sense, I started imagining what this specific world would be like, and how that reflects my experience as a black woman. In my art, I like to create worlds for black kids where they feel comfortable, where they are free to imagine and create concepts of their own.
When you’re creating a photoshoot, what is the process like?
Good question. I think it depends every time. Usually I’ll look at my clothing and then ask myself where I would want the pieces to exist. I also like to pair the clothes with a location that I have in mind just because the scenery is very important to me. For example, you know the idea that the people you see in your dreams are actually people you’ve come across in your conscious life? That’s how I see the locations I choose. I'll drive by a parking lot at night and realize this location is pretty dope, and I’ll go from there. And so, I come up with the location and then I come up with somebody who could fit the clothes I’ve made, and not to sound cheesy, but we build from there, start adding things until literally the very last minute. It’s a very interactive process.
What is your favorite clothing item? Favorite accessory?
If you could consume one medium of art for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I feel like I'm kind of cheating, but I would say film. In film you have the visuals, the movement, the people, and the story line. You also have the wardrobe, and the sound--which is so important. I’ve been thinking a lot about sound lately and how that pertains to seeing.
How have your life experiences been reflected in your art?
Well that's a big one. I feel like I could talk about this all day. If I were to tell the story of my life, I would also be telling the story of my art. A large part of who I am consists of my childhood and growing up with my grandparents, my mother, my foster siblings, growing up in a multigenerational home. My grandparents had foster kids all of the time so I was constantly being rotated in and out of people’s lives; I would have these very intimate moments and never seeing them again. And I feel like that rubbed off in a way, in the way I act towards people, because with my foster siblings I only had one chance to make an impact on their lives. I also, at a very young age was aware of my own privilege, the privilege of having a stable home environment and family–something foster children rarely ever see. Being self-aware at such a young age helped me afterwards continue to reflect these emotions in my art.
When people see your art, how do you want them to feel? What is the message you’re trying to portray?
I want my art to be transportative and transformative. I want people to look at my work and be transported into the scene, to feel like they can exist in this world I’ve created. I want my art to depict this world as a parallel to the other worlds I have created and am working to create.
Do you think social media influences the way people consume art?
Absolutely. But I also think it goes both ways. Social media has saturated us in art in terms of visual art on Instagram and even music on Soundcloud. It’s interesting how anyone can put their work out in the open and get immediate feedback from larger audiences all around the world.
How does being a black woman influence your art? Are you conscious of your identity, and if so, how do you perceive identity in your work?
When we go back to the idea that art is you announcing who you are to the world, being a black woman, we face a lot of pushback. And even from studying successful people in the conceptual art world and successful black people in conceptual art, a lot of the time feminine voices in general and feminine concepts are taken less seriously. You shouldn't have to have some sort of qualification to announce an idea to the world. But somehow the imagination of women–and especially the imagination of black women–is kind of demeaned or seen as impractical. Black women are supposed to shoulder all of these responsibilities for everybody else and we're supposed to be the most pragmatic, and I think that’s part of the reason why our voices in all aspects of the word, especially in art has been silenced. But black women have been trailblazers in the art world. It takes imagination to foresee freedom, and that idea of freedom is put into my work.
Going off of your last answer, of finding freedom in your art, Have you found it, or are you still searching?
I think I find freedom in the process. As I've grown as an artist I’ve found freedom in telling myself that my ideas are valid. And now, as I'm getting older, I’m more comfortable in saying just that. I exist, and my art exists.
Interview by Alexa Silverman, Photos by Aarushi Jain
Ashby Bland is a sophomore at CC focusing in literary non-fiction and concentrating in visual arts. We met in the sixth floor of Diana to discuss mixed media, bedroom art, and favorite words.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Ashby Marie Bland. I am 20 years old. I was born in Orlando, FL. I moved around a couple times -- I lived in Orlando, Charleston SC, and Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I have a little brother and two parents and a dog. My family is Bahamian, Guyanese, African American and Native American.
Did you grow up in an artistic environment?
I wouldn’t say artistic, but I grew up in an environment where my parents were like ‘you can do whatever you want to do.’ My parents were really encouraging and free. They pushed me to do what I wanted; they would never tell me I couldn’t do something. I’ve always had a lot of interests.
When did you first decide that you were interested in visual arts?
Visual arts came my junior year of high of school. I never thought I could do art, was never really into traditionally learning how to draw. I took this class in high school called AP 2D studio art, that was when I discovered the collages I do. I saw a bunch of subject matter, photos and imagery, that I liked and started collaging them. Progressively I got more crazy -- I would paint on them, I would draw on them, I’d rip them … then my concentration became sewing. I would collage images and then sew on top of them, by hand, with thread. It would take hours. My fingers would be bleeding, but it would be how I wanted it. That’s how I got into the mixed media style. It allowed me to see that I was talented in other areas.
So is mixed media your personal favorite of what you create?
Yes, not necessarily with thread, but just the freedom to put whatever I want on a piece of paper. All my collages I’ve done recently, I’ve taken all those photos; the real reason I got into photography is to have original photos to collage. Having that mix of photography with painting, drawing, or sculpture making … It’s about me being able to make mistakes. All of my collages are never how I originally intended them to be. It’s a cathartic thing -- my art is purely indulgent. I’ll make art for a certain mood that I’m in. I let my hand freely combine things, that’s why there are rips and shit because I’ll mess up and think, ‘well, I don’t want this anymore and I can’t get rid of it so i’ll just rip this piece off.’ Then there will be a hole in the paper. It’s very reactionary.
I love photography and I think it’s great, but whenever I take a photo, I don’t think it’s good enough. I can do something more -- why not? Take a photo of a person: why not print it out and add something else to it? I always end up layering photos or ripping them or adding a color. That’s me being indulgent and not satisfied with anything– I’m always changing things. I like playing with my hands. I’ve always been into design, creative directing, knowing where to put things … I’m really not doing anything other than just putting things places. The act of putting things places is what art is. You decide. If I take a photo, I don't just want to leave it on my iPhone or computer, I want to print it out and have a physical piece of paper. I could punch a hole in it and I don't think it looks worse or better, just different. It allows me to put my energy in a certain place. There’s a versatility too — I can have the original photo and the one that I edited a bit, and I feel happy with both.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I’m a big lover of words– my other favorite medium is writing. Last year in Poetry, we studied this poet called Myung Mi Kim. She has this poem called “Accumulation of Land” that has short statements set up in columns and rows. It’s a surrealist poetry thing; what inspired my surrealist poetry. I don’t always want to convey a meaning or theme, just a feeling. I become really obsessed with certain words because of the way they sound or look. For a while I was really obsessed with the word “degenerate.” Not because of the definition, but because I liked the way it looked and the cadence and flow within the word, I thought it sounded like a rollercoaster. I wanted to make art that embodied the feeling that the word gave me.
Do you have a current favorite word?
I started learning French last semester and I like ‘comme ça’ which is ‘like this.’ It’s a cool transition word and I like the way it sounds ... I think “cargo” is a really good word to describe baggage and things you carry because it sounds scientific and technological. I like the contrast between words that sound really scientific but describe certain emotions.
I like “gunwale”, that little boat that has shallow sides. If you look it up you’ll see the boat has chains hung over it … you’ve see in movies where they’re in a boat and they have these chains hung over that are tied to a buoy, and they pull the chains back into the boat and it makes a crashing sound? When I got to that line in [“The Writer” by Richard Wilbur] I was like fuck. I could hear the chains hung over the gunwale that she was pulling metaphorically. “Annex”, I think that’s a cool word because there’s two n’s in it. What else? I really like the word clientele. It’s so sharp … this is how I think. Certain words have certain feelings and sounds and color to me ...
Do you have synesthesia?
I don’t really like to label things. We’re in a generation that wants to label everything; some things just are. I was obsessed with this name Yusuke Urameshi from this rap song that I heard, it’s also the name of a character in this anime called Yu Yu Hakusho. That name is so sick. The way it’s said in the song has this cadence that’s badass; it almost sounds like it’s not a name, it’s one word … Everything is inspired by words.
Where do you work?
Famously, I do my work in my bed. I used to have an art account in high school I named “Bedwork” because I did all of my collages sitting in my bed. I would have all these pieces on my bed laying out. I didn’t need a lot of space. All of my collages are tiny, smaller than a sheet of paper. Although I was comfortable with this in highschool, now I wish I could expand my collages and make them bigger, show that I can work in a large studio. If I’m writing, I'm on a computer. If I’m doing photography, I’m out or in the dark room.
Tell me about the series on your website, “A Pest to Ears but Attest to Nothing.”
“A Pest to Ears but Attest to Nothing” was the last line of one of my poems. [The subject] is my really good friend. We went to a graveyard in Florida and I took a bunch of pictures of him. He inspired me to do film photography -- I have a lot of art of him because he was my muse back then. His lips are really nice. I liked the movement here, the way they’re turned. I picked these two pictures out, and I didn’t really want them on top of anything, so I sewed them together loosely. I’ll scan things a billion times until they come out perfect. I’m really into fuzzy incoherent photography with a lot of grain. It’s warmer. Because I don’t use a lot of colors, I need something that’s relatable. I love the texture.
Why do you find yourself working with black and white film?
Color is limiting. When you see color photography, you pay attention to how the colors interact and not the form. It’s a distraction. Also, when there’s color, it makes me feel anxious about collaging. I don’t want my work to be colorful because when there’s a lot of color you’re not paying attention to what’s actually there. [In this picture] he has tan skin, a white shirt -- that wouldn’t be too bad, but the background is green. I’d never be able to put a red thread through because then it would be fucking Christmas, you know? There’s too many associations with colors that make me feel like I’m trapped. The grayscale allows me to do whatever I want.
I see a lot of red in your work, is this color significant to you?
Yes. Red is a really powerful color; it makes me feel threatened in a way that contrasts with the softness of the photos that I take. A blue wouldn’t be strong enough, a green has too many associations (leaves, trees). There are not a lot of things I find that are naturally that bright red, so it contrasts with the basic nature of the black and white. Also, I have a lot of blood in my drawings and I’m drawing that red.
Tell me about your children’s book.
The first chapter … the entire concept, the title, I wrote when I was four. Obviously I spelled everything wrong and had horrible grammar, but the story was there. “The Girl Who Tried to Catch the Moon.” Every couple years I would find it … I moved three three times so when I would clean out my room I’d find my original draft sitting there and I would go on my computer and rewrite it. When I was eight I wrote it again — still with bad grammar, but I did it. When I got to 13, I typed it out. My parents always knew I had it and before I got to college my dad [said] ‘we need to publish this’ and I was like ‘okay, sure.’ I got it published in September of last year. I guess I don’t really see it as that big of a deal because it’s just something that loomed over me my whole life. I always had this written and didn’t think it was that important. Also, I’m not a children's writer, so I think it’s funny. Knowing that I was thinking about this when I was four is endearing and cool, but … my writing now isn’t anything like this.
How does it feel to be a published author?
It feels like nothing, really. [laughs] It doesn’t really do anything for me; I just like that I put something somewhere … I was never able to growing up because of Tennis. When you play Tennis at a high level, you’re not allowed to make mistakes. The tiniest mistake -- centimeters -- will change your life. Knowing that made me feel threatened. Art was an outlet. Who gives a fuck about three centimeters? I’m just gonna rip the whole thing and throw this paint on it and throw it in the trash and spray paint it. It’s freedom.
Filmed and edited by Ling Groccia. Music by Ike Allen. All ceramic work by Dominque Groffman.
Found art or finding yourself? Check out the works below and maybe you'll find some inspiration.
Send any submissions to email@example.com with the subject "Your Name, CTA: Found" by Sunday February 25th. Your work will be featured in an online gallery, in our annual yearbook, and on the walls of CU Records!
Interview by Yosan Alemy, photos by Shelby Hettler
When did you start making art and writing poetry?
I think, in terms of performing, I started performing, when I was young, and in terms of writing, I started writing in my second year of high school because my English teacher really liked literature, and nobody seemed to like her, so I wanted her to know that at least one person was paying attention. I used to go to the library and read poems and then write poems and then give them to her--this is how I got into it.
I know that you are Kenyan. How does being African, and being apart of this diaspora influence your art?
I think my first year when I was making art, I was still stuck in this mentality, that “Oh, I’m Kenyan, I need to make art that is Kenyan or represents Kenya”, and then when I got to my first year of college, I came to this realization that those things don’t have to be necessarily tied to me in those ways, because it was really blocking me from experiencing anything else. When you’re in a place where you’re so highly “othered” or made to feel different, you always end up in this place where you’re defending your “differentness”, or you’re ending up justifying it, saying that you are also human or alive. So I kind of stopped doing that and started to explore myself and the human condition as I come to it. I think sometimes when people are like “we want this Kenyan artist to come because they’re Kenyan” this kind of reduces what I am doing to one thing, but at the same time some of my work is very pointed in terms of identity in Africa and the diaspora. I really think it’s fun to be in this place that I am now because it feels like fresh ground, and not even fresh ground in terms of land, because I don’t think it’s even land; it’s a kind of fusion of different things. And by virtue of me being Kenyan in America, and having to come into my art and exploring myself then I guess this work is rendered as Kenyan, or “othered” on Columbia’s campus.
What life experiences have shaped you as a person and how do you reflect that in your art?
Everyday is a life experience. Literally brushing my teeth is an event. I think things that have really shaped where I am in this moment particularly is having to leave home (Kenya) to come here, because in those ways I got displaced so much I had to explore myself and had to figure out what the fuck was going on. I wasn’t on that normal playground. That was one huge life event that really rocked me, and everything else has been little things here and there. Another life event I would say occurred this past summer holiday and it has really helped me come into myself, and has helped shape the way I think about certain things or how I relate to things. Every event that has happened to me has been propelling me to do something. In my last piece of work, during the winter break of last year, I was exploring the idea of being in the home and being unsafe in the home. Thinking of that piece I made in the winter, and relating it to this hashtag of “MeToo” that’s happening now, and how there are so many of us that share this experience, even though this shared experience is very secret, and people know that it is happening but they keep it to themselves, and once we bring it to the front, the magnitude is so huge. I think the life experiences that really shaped me were the ones where I had to step out of myself a lot, to be displaced.
Do you take a lot of art classes?
I don’t think so. I think I take classes about my art, classes that allow me to think more about my art, but not actual art classes. I do take acting classes, however. So far as art goes, I am taking a class for directing theatre, solo performance--this class is making me go crazy in the best way. The closest to art classes I am taking are these acting classes. I wanted to take visual arts, but I just don’t have the time. I am also interested in the theory part of art, and how art places itself in society. Art theory is really helping me understand my art.
I noticed that in your photos on the Ratrock site, you played around with the lighting. How does light, both manmade and natural play into your art?
When I was taking those pictures I was thinking about light and how it can be placed and what it does, what it reveals, and what it conceals. In those ways, I was trying to tease out the concept of what I see vs. what I don’t see. I’m taking this oceanography class and the other day we were discussing that there are certain creatures in the ocean that are a certain color because they are absorbing light differently. Light is such a huge form, element, medium that we don’t even acknowledge. Light has the power to form shadows, but at the same time, form outlines, and also shine.
Do you shoot your own videos?
Yes, I do shoot my own videos. It’s funny because the other day, I came across this Instagram account where this girl shoots herself a lot, and I do that too. I prop up my phone and mount my phone to start recording myself. I do record myself a lot, because I can frame myself and direct myself to be in front of the camera.
In your video for, a tale of Spiders, what was the message you were trying to portray? Was it a depiction of life and death?
I think it’s a kind of death. The video was essentially exploring that “MeToo” thing even before the hashtag came about. No one ever talks about the pedophiles in the home. I don’t know how it is in white families, but in black families there is a lot of “hush hush” as to present this certain kind of image. Even though it happened to me, I was silent without anyone telling me to be. This was the first time where I actually explored that idea that those people really create webs in the house. Like when there are spider webs in the corner of your walls, and you just let it be. In those ways, a part of me died through that experience, and I was trying to mourn her in a tale of Spiders. I wanted to present life being stifled out of you in ways that you can’t really explain.
In your photos, I noticed that your models are typically--if not all--black women, is there a reason why?
There’s a 102,000 reasons. Well, first of all, I’m a black woman, and my friends are black women, and I’m surrounded by black people, and I love it. I want to say we are here, but we don’t need to tell people that we are here, because by our very existence, we are. There’s this South African photographer, and she does a lot of visual diaries and in one of her videos, this interviewer asked her how she uses social media, and she replied that she uses social media to tell the world that “I’m here”. We as human beings like to reconstruct history and people don’t like thinking of the present. I make art with black women as a way to add to the documentation, to the archives, of the collective memory of the earth. Like this is the way a certain black girl was living in New York in 2017, and no one is able to reconstruct that. Back then, people lived differently and weren’t as able to leave the same kind of footprints we are leaving now, especially with the use of social media like Twitter and Instagram--which is not a good or bad thing. But I think that their footprint is harder to track. So making art about black women is a political statement. I don’t want someone in 2064 to think inaccurately about black women in 2017. This has happened throughout history where the lives of black women in the 19th century, 18th century, etc. have their lives and experiences inaccurately analyzed, and I think that is a violence in itself, and I don’t want that to happen ever again.
Do you believe art should be politicized? If so, why?
I believe in Audre Lorde’s words that the “the personal is political”. I never understand the people who say we have to separate the art from the artist. What kind of mental gymnastics are they doing? The same brain that produces these fucked up political ideas, is the same brain that produces this artwork. The things that we produce in the world are a patch up of the experiences we have had both subconsciously and consciously. If this person is politically fucked up, and even if they are making this art, somewhere in there, the political fuckedupness is embedded in that art, and that’s an energy that shouldn’t be tolerated. I definitely think art is political because it’s simply created by human beings in societies, and human beings existing in societies are political, especially if you’re a human being that has a certain kind of position enforced on you in a society that politicizes your existence. Because you exist in such a backdrop, there is no way that everything you do is not political. In America for example, being a black women is the most revolutionary existence. Even thinking about you and I sitting here on Columbia’s campus is political. Columbia literally owned slaves, or the people that founded this University owned slaves, and the boys would harass and assault black women slaves. And you and I are here sitting in Columbia’s campus. I don’t have the luxury to not be political because the backdrop I’m living in is politically volatile. .
I noticed that in your videos, they depict emotions like love and pain, emotions that are very powerful, and even at times can be intertwined. Would you like to elaborate?
The way I live through life, I don’t yearn for love as much, that’s why through art, I can show it more. Most of the art I have been making has been coming from a secret garden in my heart. I have been producing these art pieces in the aftermath of feeling hurt, or pain. For me, I cannot separate love and pain as different entities. Now I feel like I need to tease out and explore pain, especially if it always comes with love. That’s why through art I am trying to depict pain in different ways. Can pain be good? I love love, but love comes with pain. Instead of creating a polar opposite of love and pain, I’m trying to find the common ground between the two.
You put a lot of your videos on Youtube. Do you think Youtube is a good medium for art?
I have been having such a huge problem with where to put my art. There’s Youtube, Instagram, Tumblr, and other mediums. If I put my work on Youtube that is somewhere where people can access it forever and ever--it’s very accessible. It would be such a milestone to reach people that don’t have access to Youtube as a base form, as a space. I also think I put my work on Youtube so I can visibly see my growth. I think I’m also moving a little to Instagram, but with Instagram I can only show snippets of who I am. I make a lot of videos for Instagram as a way to tell myself that I am here. Sometimes I walk around campus and record myself, so I can later watch it and tell myself that I exist. I am, I am, I am. There is the guy in the CC reading who says the "I think therefore I am" thing, what’s his name? Is it Kant… I don’t know, one of those people… but that fucked me up because when he's saying those things, only a certain subset of people are regarded as "thinking". So, if someone thinks that you don’t think, then they can say or think you are not there, so I am trying to be "I exist therefore I am" or "I can be perceived visually, therefore I am".
I am a third year in Columbia College. I am a black woman. I am a lesbian. I am a person who is trying to trace, leave, and document the footprints on this earth.
'Tis the season for nostalgia! Here at Ratrock we're thinking not only about the wistful sadness that comes with the holidays, but also about the use of older mediums to produce contemporary art. Just finished your Photogravure print class or Photo I prints in the darkroom? Send us your art work! Collaging vintage magazines as a stress buster from finals? Send it in! Working hard on your Shakespeare monologue? We wanna see it! All mediums are welcome! Send any submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Your Name, CTA: Nostalgia" by Sunday December 31st. Your work will be featured in an online gallery, in our annual yearbook, and on the walls of CU Records!
Tiffany Huang Fang
Naomi Chang @naomoart
Interview by Maeve Flaherty, photos by Charis Morgan
Connor Warnick is a filmmaker, artist, and fashion designer from Brooklyn, New York. He is a senior in Columbia College, double majoring in Visual Arts and Film.
So how did you first get involved in the arts?
My parents are both definitely involved in them, and so was the school that I went to from second grade through high school, but I was not personally very involved in the arts until college. They were just ever present in my life-- my dad is an architect, and my mom works at museums. I would take art classes, and I think I was interested in art, but I don’t think it really clicked for me how important it actually was to me and how much I enjoyed it until I went to UCLA for two years. It was really in that first year when I pretty quickly realized that art was what I wanted to do.
Was there a first class you took or something?
I think it happened a little bit before. That summer before high school and college, I don’t know why, the way that I was experiencing the world felt like it was changing a lot and I was appreciating more in terms of how much artistry really goes into a lot of the things that I enjoy. I had only been thinking of art as fine art and things in museums and not necessarily films and music and design .
I was a pretty dedicated athlete in high school, and I started to think about how sports could be arts. Basketball was my creative form of expression in some ways at my high school. Things were starting to turn inside my head. Then when I enrolled in classes for my first time at UCLA, I started learning more concrete history and theories and opinions about art itself and it started to influence how I was looking at art in the rest of the world. And then by the end of that year-- I was an English major when I started-- I felt very sure that I didn’t really want to be reading or writing about art or other artists as much as I wanted to be making the art. Visual art in particular, I found that I was especially drawn to, although up until that point the main thing I had done was creative writing, which I still enjoy a lot. But it felt like there was an imbalance in what I was actually practicing. I had done too much writing and not enough creating of images.
From there, I changed my major. I changed into the art school at UCLA and took more film classes. Since then, it has kind of just continued and I’ve gotten deeper into making images and things like that.
So you’re a transfer from UCLA. When did you transfer and what was the thought process that went into that?
So I transferred before last year, which would have been my third year in college and this is now my fourth year in college and my second year at Columbia. The transfer process was very bizarre. It was really not the sort of thing where I was desperate to leave at all. In fact, I really really liked UCLA, and I miss it a lot, to be honest.
UCLA is very divided academically. When I came in as an English major, I was in the big School of Letters and Sciences that most people are in. I also wanted to study art and film which are in two other separate schools. At UCLA, because it’s such a big school, you can’t take classes across two different schools, let alone three. So that’s why I decided to transfer into the art school at UCLA. That was in February of my second year. What happened was I didn’t get in at first, so I emailed them to ask if I could get feedback on my portfolio or appeal the decision, and they didn’t respond for a week. I’d kind of dealt with things like that before, because it’s such a huge bureaucratic institution. So I just assumed it was a lost cause, a dead end.
So I just said even though I love LA and I like it here a lot, I’m not studying what I want to study, so I might as well apply to transfer. So I did. But then about a month later, at the start of UCLA’s spring quarter, they enrolled me out of the blue in an art class, which should have been impossible, because I didn’t think I was in the art school. I thought they were just being nice and giving me a consolation prize or something. So I went to the office and spoke to the advisor for the art program, and they told me that in their system I was in the art program. Then I realized that when I emailed them when I didn’t get in, I had actually emailed them from my backup email and then stopped checking it completely. I was only checking my UCLA email and not my gmail. So let that be a lesson to everybody. You should definitely set up forwarding with all your accounts lol.
So I checked that email and it turned out they actually did respond to that first email. I guess they were moved enough, or something, by my email to let that serve as an appeal, and they reviewed my portfolio again, and let me in. So I was in the art school the whole time, and didn’t know it, which was crazy. If I’d known, I probably wouldn’t have applied to Columbia. So then all of the sudden I had this one great option--which was great, because I was actually considering dropping out completely without any academic options that I was very excited about -- it felt like I had everything I wanted at UCLA now, and then a month later I got into Columbia, and then I had no idea what I was gonna do. I took all of April to decide. I ultimately decided to just go to Columbia out of curiosity. I liked being far away and I liked LA a lot, but after the bizarre series of events that led me to that point, I felt that it was time to go. It felt like all these forces operating outside of my control.
You’re a filmmaker, fashion designer, and a visual artist. How do all of those things inform each other?
I think that my end goal right now is to just be making films. I want to be a director. I think all of the things I’m interested in-- fashion or costume design, visual art and art direction, photography, writing -- film is the medium where I can do all those things equally and create my own worlds with it and do everything all at once. That is how I think about it. Film can unite those other things. I think that over the 20th century, and definitely in my life, film has been the most influential art form.
So, popular with the masses and accessible?
In that sense, yeah, but that’s not really why. I think less so now-- now I think music and fashion are probably the two most relevant or omnipresent art forms in our lives, and the way those two mediums have come to be widely communicated is cinematically, or through moving images -- I’m thinking of music videos, concerts, performances, fashion runway shows, etc. But that sort of reality/ultra-reality was established because of film’s widespread influence, and screen culture and visual culture in the 20th century. And in my own personal experience, as a kid, I would watch a ton of movies and play a lot of video games.
Are there any particular films or filmmakers that inspired you?
As a really young child, my first favorite filmmaker was Tim Burton.
I love Tim Burton.
Yeah, I’ve loved horror movies more than any other types of movies for as long as I can remember. When I was five I saw Scream at a friend’s house during a sleepover and I was damn near crying out of love. It was the best thing I’d ever seen. I was begging my mom to let me watch more horror movies, but she didn’t think I was old enough to watch the real horror movies like Scream. So we kind of worked our way up through PG-13 ones. Just generally spooky things. So Tim Burton was not only the first director, but also the first artist that I was aware of by name and whose style I could recognize. I was five or six.
What is your personal style when making movies? What would you say is your process or your goal?
I mean I don’t know yet because most of the things I’ve made so far have been pretty short and pretty non-story oriented.
Yeah, I was watching Wonderwheel and it was very visual and there were incredible colors and it was kind of eerie.
Yeah, I really like making videos like that one. It feels more like painting. You’re not really ascribing any words or a story to it. I was kind of trying to mimic the experience of vision itself and how things unfold in front of your eyes. Memory was also something I was thinking about with that specific piece and more generally, with everything else I do. I think a lot about the way memories overlap and blend into each other. I feel like montage style editing and superimposition-- where you have multiple images blending into one image-- is sort of how I’ve always thought about memory. You can see everything at once from the past and the present and the future. There’s this filmmaker Stan Brakhage, who was definitely very influential for that piece and in the way I see things in general with my naked eye. In terms of ‘process’ or ‘goal’, up to this point, I haven’t been that focused on stories, but that’s something I’m working towards.
Do you have any story ideas you can give me right now that you’ve thought about?
I feel like I’m drawn more to themes than specific stories. I’ve never really been able to figure out why, although I don’t think it’s that uncommon. I think there’s something about death and darkness that I have been fascinated by since I was a kid. Even when I was a kid, my favorite characters were always the villains. The psychology behind evil is something I’m really interested in, and developing characters like that who are undeniably bad people but still have a logic and a humanity to them is something I want to explore. The best villains are humanized to a great extent, whereas there are also a lot of villains in mainstream films who are just pure evil and don’t really have any emotions, or an agenda, or opinions about why they’re doing what they’re doing.
This is kind of unrelated but I’m a big Sherlock fan and they were comparing all the different villains, and part of why Moriarty is so frightening is that he doesn’t have a set goal. He does what he wants.
Yeah, just chaos and anarchy. I think of the Joker too, Heath Ledger’s Joker. He was a really beautiful character because he was so smart and so well spoken. That was the scariest thing about him-- how right he was in a certain way. I’ve always found the character of Freddy Krueger, or John Doe in Seven, or even Darth Vader to be really geniusly conceptualized characters in the ways that their presences are always felt no matter where you are in the story, and because they have such creative methods of executing terror upon people who they feel did them wrong. It’s their own way of exacting their own awful, twisted forms of justice, and it’s a type of damn near genius-level creativity that I feel like you can only reach if you’ve truly snapped and lost all connection with or compassion for society. Characters like that are who I’ve always been drawn to, for whatever reason.
You’re also a fashion designer. You make really cool sweatshirts, and you were featured on the VFiles instagram page. Can you tell me about making those and what went into that?
What happened with that was also crazy. I didn’t reach out to them or anything. I was in class one day and my phone was going crazy so I stepped out and checked it and saw that they had posted me and my clothes on their instagram and they messaged me and asked if they could sell my clothes in the store. That was crazy.
If anybody else wants some advice on how to get your work out there, VFiles has their own platform, a social media app that you can upload your work to. You don’t have to be a designer-- you can be a model or stylist or photographer or just a fan, anything. It’s its own community. It’s easy to find cool artists on that page.
I made an account that week and four days later-- they reached out to me, and then I got to actually sell my clothes in their store in Soho.
You say on your website that your goal is to make clothes that address our inner anxieties. Can you expand on that at all?
Yeah, that was for the first season of the hoodies. They are all one of one, customized pieces. For the first couple of pieces I was asking people what they were afraid of and writing their fears on the hoodie itself. And there actually weren’t many images on them or painted renderings of anything. A lot of those were only words and very manic and chaotic looking. Fear is a theme that I’m clearly drawn to. It’s something that I return to a lot.
It’s very visceral. It’s probably the most basic human emotion.
Yeah, I definitely agree. And I think the hoodies themselves kind of turn out looking spooky and dark. People have told me that they felt afraid to wear them in a way. But I think that is one thing fashion can do-- help you overcome that and feel more free and empowered by it. I feel like a lot of fashion is about being very self-conscious and I don’t feel like that should be what clothes do. It should be the opposite.
Your website and instagram are under the name Orion Connor. Where did the name come from?
So Orion is my best friend’s middle name, which was how I landed on it, and then I was just thinking of the way ‘Orion’ sounds and looks it got me thinking of good color schemes and like outer-space and mythological imagery and that felt like enough to start with.
Orion is the name of my clothing line, but Orion is also a collective. There are other people who make work for Orion. I founded it, and the other kids are mainly longtime friends, people I grew up with. I envisioned it as more than just clothes, and the clothes were just our first endeavor. But we want to do other things. It's a group where our strengths and resources can be lent to each other. The other people mainly do music. One’s a DJ and another is a music producer/engineer/journalist. I really want to do a podcast. We all do, but we haven’t done it yet, which has partially been my fault for not making time for it, which I regret.
Orion is hard to keep up with during school. If you want something like that to really make it and succeed, you have to give a lot to it, and I don’t really have the time to give everything I’d like to give to it. But in a year or so I’ll be done with school and hopefully it will still be on the rise.
What do you have planned for the future?
I want to step away from making clothes. I’ve gotten the perception that since Orion has gotten recognition and done pretty well recently that people view me somewhat exclusively as a ‘fashion’ person, especially people who find me on the internet.
I don’t really feel like fashion is truly my passion. I think I started doing the clothes because it was fun. It became a source of income too, which is good. I’d rather be making money that way than working certain jobs or finding internships and shit. Though over the past summer, I found that I really wanted to have a mundane ass normal day job. I really wanted to work for a butcher. I wanted to be a butcher’s apprentice. There’s a time and place for both. In terms of the future, I see myself doing less fashion. If I did, it would be to fund films. I want to take a leap in my filmmaking and ramp up the level at which I’m doing them. Most of my films have been very guerrilla. Just me and a camera and a subject. But I want to step up my production level and get into making shorts that are more story driven and eventually, longer pieces.
I also want to take jobs on sets and get more hands on filmmaking/directing experience. I enjoy watching other people direct sometimes, even if I may disagree with what they’re doing. I always learn a lot from watching other people. That’s one thing about Columbia’s film program-- you don’t really get that experience here. It’s not very hands on. It’s aimed towards being a writer director, which ultimately is what I want to be some day, but there’s a certain point where you have to get past that more amateur style of thinking. You can come back to it, and I probably will, but I’d like to be working in a bigger format. I just don’t feel ready to yet. Film is very expensive. I think sometimes I feel like there is only so much I can do with what I’ve got. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at this format of short experimental film pieces, though I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered them by any means, but I don’t feel like I want to be making them forever.
During your time on Columbia’s campus, have you been involved in the arts here?
In terms of clubs or groups and stuff, I haven’t really been. At the start of last year, I went to a few Postcrypt meetings and a Snock meeting. There was one Snock event where I screened something. That was kind of it. I wasn’t involved in the actual community. But I’m an art major so I’m always doing art classes and meeting other art students that way. I’ve been in the end of the year semester shows at Prentis and I really enjoyed those. Those were fun ways to see what people were doing and think about what I wanted to consider taking in the future.
This year, I’ve been a little more involved. I was in the first Postcrypt show of the year. It was an iPhone photo exhibition. I liked that idea.
The Ratrock Call to Artists theme last month was “delirium”, any thoughts on that?
Yeah, I feel like delirium is something I think about regularly. I’m very interested in subconscious dreams and nightmares. I really like films and art that are chaotic and nightmarish, where it really feels like anything could happen and you wouldn’t even question it, no matter how bizarre it could be. I’ve always felt that the things that terrify and disturb me the most are the most beautiful. There is something so beautiful about things that are so unspeakably horrible. Something very visceral and subconscious, and I feel like delirium is tied to that.
So maybe we’ll see your work coming up?
Living in New York we constantly come into contact with individuals that are displaced from usual society. We rush by them rather than stopping to notice, made uncomfortable by inequity or the lack of cash on our persons. Though seemingly remote from our own experience, all of us have felt feelings of otherness, of displacement or discomfort, and these are feelings that connect us to everyone around us. We have all experienced those transitions that make us uncomfortable, that remove us from stability and take us into the unknown. We are calling for art that connects with these themes in honor of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness in partnership with Project for the Homeless to reckon with both each individual sets of feelings which create ties between us. All mediums welcome! Send all submissions to email@example.com with the subject "Your Name, CTA: Displacement" by Sunday November 26th. Your work will be featured in an online gallery, in our annual yearbook, and in an exhibition with its location to be determined!
Interview by Mary Ma, Photography by Maya Hertz
Oscar is a first-year at Columbia College from Liverpool, England. He is a visual artist and musician, who has a diverse portfolio consisted of painting, photography, video work, and music. Oscar’s portrait paintings strike me as incredibly vibrant, leaving a surreal first impression with their intense brushwork and dense layers. Impressionist in expression with a boldly fauvist use of colors, his paintings do not shy away from confronting the viewer with its subjects, often caught through a moment in time.We sat down on a Friday afternoon after his six-hour painting class to talked about art, music, and moving to New York.
How did you get into art?
I kind of just always did it and never stopped. I started with drawing Pokemon and things from manga and animes. Then I took art GCSEs, which are for British students from ages 13-16, they are like the end of examinations, a bit like APs in the U.S. And then I took art A level which was the next step, and from there I just kept going, and now I'm here.
How long does it take for you to make your paintings?
The portrait of my mum took probably over 100 hours. I spent a couple months on it, I would work 3 hours in school everyday, I can’t remember if the math adds up but the number is up there... A lot of my paintings take a very long time, but I lose track of it in the process, so it's not bad.
Where do you work?
When I wasn't working at an art room in school, I would paint in this small spare room in my house. It was really small, but there was a window so I didn't suffocate. (Although I'm pretty sure I'm permanently damaged from staying in that room for so long). I painted in a very solitary manner, so it was kind of weird coming to Columbia and having a studio space where there are also others working. Recently I just bought a big f**k-off canvas that I stationed in my room so I can start painting in there.
What are your processes?
It depends on the piece, sometimes I'd just start painting without any kind of sketch. Sometimes I would use a photograph as a vision of what it's going to be. Or I'd make various sketches in my sketchbook, and then sketch on the canvas with a paint brush, using a thin-blue color. I always used really thick acrylic paint, especially with thick layers, acrylic is nice to work with because it dries really fast. Whereas for oil, it'd take a very long time. And I was never really taught how to use oil paint, honestly I didn't even know what turpentine was.
But now I'm only using oil! I’m kind of applying the acrylic process to oil... which is kind of stupid... But I do think that oil smells better, and it feels better to use. It's natural and buttery. Let’s just say I would eat oil but I wouldn't eat acrylic.
Does your photography and painting overlap?
Not really. Any kind of artistic expression I have comes out through the most conducive path that leads me to where I want to go. Sometimes it'd be photographs, sometimes its paintings, sometimes music. I would say they all come from the same source, but I wouldn't say they interfere with each other that much. When I take a photograph, I see it as a completed art piece I’ve made, and there is a reason why I haven't painted that, because it only works well as a photograph. Like action shots or the feeling of being in the moment, that's mainly expressed through photography, it wouldn’t be the same thing painted. Paintings are more conceptual.
How do you choose your subjects?
A lot of them are my friends. I choose subjects that are meaningful to me. Some of them are just acquaintances, people that I'm friendly with but wouldn't want them over in my house, (maybe for two hours max). For example the portrait of Adam was from my prom. After the event, we were all in an apartment and it was just a bunch of teenagers getting wildly pissed. For a moment he sat there on the couch and dozed off, so I shot of photo of him and painted it. I don't know him that well but that was an interesting moment. I try to be friends with interesting people.
Ultra-marine. It's an electric-y, other-worldly blue. It's a blue that is not found in nature, and blue is almost everywhere. But ultra marine is very rare. I use it a lot in my paintings.
If you could talk to one artist living or dead, who would it be and what would you talk about?
Van Gogh. I'd try to make him happier, and give him some really unqualified therapy. He was a very troubled man, I don't like the idea that he was a great artist because he was sad, because he was depressed. If he were happy, if he lived to a ripe old age, we would have seen so much more stuff, he would have had such a happier life. He always tried to find happiness and beauty in his work. And I very much regret the fact that he died and I wish he were alive today.
Why use film?
I just took my dad's old film camera that used to be his most expensive possession when he first moved to England, even though now the value has depreciated. When I was first experimenting with it, I found it to be a lot better than digital cameras. It feels more wholesome to use, not to shade on contemporary trends of photography. With digital cameras, you can get a really good saturation of images. You can take 20 photos of the same thing and try to pick the best, but they'd look exactly identical besides a bit of difference, that seems like a waste of time to me. It's an information overload.
If you can only consume one artistic medium for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Visuals. it's an awful question to ask because it's asking which sense would I want to lose the least. That's so sad.
What’s behind your song "holy one"?
It's suppose to be a love song. It's about idolizing someone almost like a religious figure, but it's also sarcastic because of how forward it is. Most of my songs have a lot of meaning and are very personal. Not for the “holy one” though, I’ve never been in love.
What genre of music would you say it is?
I think indie. I don't purposefully stick to one genre. But now I'm moving into hip-hop and jazz. Everyone at Columbia plays jazz!
How do you find the art scene here differing from home?
There are so many crazy, hilarious, and weird looking people walking down the streets and in the subway. It's great, and very inspiring. Back home, if you are really into art, you will most likely try to move to London. The art scene in my city was not very present, but I’ve done a few exhibitions and met some really cool artists. It’s been a shift for me moving here. I'm very happy that I ended up here even though it wasn’t on the top of my list. (Then he throws shade at Yale, his first choice).
How do you see social media as a platform for artists?
Definitely a useful platform. If you are an artist in this generation, you need social media. Most of the recognition I've gotten is through social media, like magazine features etc. I think the best thing about it is that it enables people to bypass the standard and traditional path of getting a BFA, MA, and working your way up. Social media very much depends on networking. Instagram enables everyone to network, to meet other artists, and get to know them and their work. With social media, and the internet, everything is also much more accelerated. Even for 12, 13 year olds, they know things like feminism, social justice, racism. And I didn't know any of that when I was 12 or 13, WTF? We are in the age of information, and I think all the information made available is incredibly liberating.
December 16 featured artist Clara Hirsch's photographic work from her time in London.
If you have been featured on Ratrock and would like a platform for your new work please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured in an artist update!
In response to the show "Delirous: Art at the Limits of Reason" on view at the MET Breuer, we're asking you to submit work that responds to the idea that "delirious times demand delirious art". All mediums welcome! Send all submissions to email@example.com with the subject "Your Name, CTA: Delirious" by Sunday October 29th. Your work will be featured in an online gallery, in our annual yearbook, and on the walls of CU Records!