Recently I was asked by Stefanie Zorub Montanha from São Paulo to do an interview for a Brazilian magazine about art and creativity. Following is the interview, to be published sometime soon:
I read in your website that you have very sensitive skin and the scratches last about 30 minutes. When did you figure out you could use your condition to make art and draw on it?
It started when I was in graduate school working on my MFA. I was photographing some kelp that I had brought home from Golden Gardens (a beach in the Pacific Northwest), when I decided to make some doodles on my legs. They were just small dots, but I noticed they sort of matched the texture of the seaweed, so I photographed my legs too. Not really expecting anyone to find that very interesting, I just had the photographs sitting on the desk in my studio. One of my professors and some of my peers saw the images and loved them! It was so surprising to me that an annoying skin condition could be interesting to others. Needless to say, I pursued photographing my skin with the support of people at the school (University of Washington, Seattle).
Do you consider yourself to be an innovative artist?
I consider myself to be playful and open-minded, so if that makes me innovative, then yes. I think it’s important to allow chance and intuition to play a large part in one’s process. Sometimes it’s the unintentional that can pleasantly surprise you.
Do you think innovation is necessary and/or important in art?
No. But as I said, being open-minded and open to chance is important, and that can sometimes lead you to an innovation. As long as you’re coming from a place that feels very relevant and important to your unique experience, then innovation can naturally follow. Trying too hard to be innovative might actually prevent you from making something meaningful.
Other than your skin, have you used other materials or supports to make art?
I’ve been making photographs for years, and they often end up having to do with the body–whether I’m photographing skin, body parts, or organic matter resembling parts of a body. I also make wallpaper and temporary tattoos inspired by skin, and use materials that showcase or remind me of skin, like mirrors and shellac.
Do you try to pass on any messages to society with your work?
Everyone has something embarrassing about his or her body, whether it’s skin, hair, teeth, size, etc. Rather than being ashamed of a bodily quirk, we should be proud! We each have uniqueness and can find inspiration in that–be comfortable in your own skin. And specifically, I think dermatographia is cool.
Where does your inspiration come from? Is there another artist you admire?
I admire artists who incorporate their body into their work, because that is how we experience life–through our bodies. This is where my inspiration comes from. Also, day to day things like clothing, facial expressions, reading, patterns, and decoration.
Have you ever hit an “artistic block” and ran out of ideas?
Sometimes I struggle in the studio and feel sort of lost, like I don’t know what I’m doing. But I always have ideas! I just don’t always know how they should manifest.
If yes, what was the solution?
Keep working, writing, playing, reading, and eventually things will start to happen. I think the worst thing we can do is just give up. Even if all I’m doing in the studio is cleaning, at least I’m there and placing myself in a creative space. I also like to write in the studio–free association, stream of consciousness, whatever comes to mind. Many ideas come to me this way. Plus I’m always reading to find new bits of inspiration.
To upcoming artists, do you have any advice?
Don’t try to become the next big thing, just do big things for yourself and share them with others. When we work from the heart with no expectation then our true selves come through.
About creativity: do you consider that people are born with creative minds or that’s something you learn to be along your life experience?
Creativity is something that requires time and energy. As I said before, we need to write, play, read, research, experience, and keep ourselves educated. Some people are naturally gifted at certain things, but everyone needs to work to nurture creativity.
Today, we see people creating almost everything there is to create. How can one innovate in this scenario?
I say give up the desire to make something brand new that’s never been done before, and just focus your energy on your own experience, using subjects and materials that inspire you.
Above image: ooooo, c-print, 16 x 20″, 2005 from Skin