Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Morgan Craig

What is your background?
I was born in a suburb of Philadelphia. As a child, my family moved around, only to end up back in the Philadelphia area. My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me, which began with a paper route at 11, and led to my working full time throughout my high school and college years. I believe this has helped both with my development as a painter, and the formation of a cohesive body of work.

How would you describe your work?
The relationship between the interiors of buildings and the psychological makeup of the soul of man continue to be the fulcrum of my concept. For me, the interior of each edifice represents a multitude of semiotic messages written by the inexorable hand of time. In reality, buildings are as ephemeral as the ever-changing landscape, and the human form, prey to the vicissitudes of existence.

You’ve been to Chernobyl in Ukraine. Tell us a little about this trip. What series of events lead to you taking this trip?
The Ukraine was a welcome sojourn from my daily existence in the occident. The trip provided me with an abundance of subject matter, as well as an experience I will never forget. Standing atop a high rise in the middle of an abandoned city, can be a truly overwhelming experience. It was very hard to remain focused on the task at hand-gathering source material-and not become engulfed by all of what had happened in the Zone of Exclusion. My heart goes out to all of those who perished, suffered, and continue to suffer because of man, his avarice, and his insatiable thirst for power.

Tell us about a memorable experience you’ve had…
When evaluating a building, always make sure that it is unoccupied. Early one Thanksgiving morning, many moons ago, I received quite a surprise, when two men with cell phones came barreling out of a building.
I had been considering the structure’s potential for quite some time. Because of its close proximity to a thriving-well, I don’t know if thriving would be the best word to describe it, but let us remain positive-neighborhood, I felt it was best to attempt to gain access at an early hour, on a holiday. I surmised that most would still be fast asleep. My girlfriend was filming a documentary of my process, and thus decided to tag along. I brought along my mastiff, Tolstoy, as well.

We were out of the car for no more than 5 minutes, when the men appeared. Lucid, I remained. Any sense of panic would have caused more of a mess. Calmly, I explained to the apparent “man in charge” my intent. After allaying any fears he had of my vandalizing the building, he proceeded to tell me a tale of schizophrenia, drug addiction, and living in an amalgam of buses. I was denied access, but the tale he wove was worth the foiled attempt.
Do you have any other trips planned? I have a few trips in development, but nothing is indelible.
What about industrial decay appeals to you? The amount of abstraction within a subject deemed representational; the relationship between something manmade, and the elements that Mother Nature has at her disposal; the ability to toy with fact and fiction weft together by the irrefragable hands of time. Structure is metaphor.

What advice would you give to anyone considering going to school vs. independent study?
School provides a framework which forces one to produce, or fail. Unless you have incredible drive, independent study can lead to indolence.

Tell us a little about your experiences as an art teacher.
I could write a book, no, make it a several volume set. I think we will leave it at that.

Have you had any other careers, related (or not related) to art?
I briefly worked for a now defunct magazine.

How do you stay involved with Philadelphia’s art community? Are you a member of any local arts organizations?
I’m a bit of a recluse, and, at times, rather socially inept, therefore, I find myself to be somewhat removed from the Philadelphia art community. I have rather incendiary opinions about some of those individuals involved in Philadelphia’s “art” community that, for the sake of singing your reader’s ears, I will keep to myself.
How have you handled the business side of being an artist?
At the nascent point in my career, I had a fortuitous bit of good fortune: I was able to sell several paintings on my own. I was grateful, but had the prescience to know that I needed to find gallery representation. I have received a tremendous amount of support from the two galleries that currently represent me: Wexler and Lawrence Asher.

I have also had some experiences with galleries and individuals who were duplicitous, and engage in a variety of subterfuge. Fortunately, I was privy to their game, either through friends, people who had already fallen prey to their deceptive ways, or my own intuition. Needless to say, I cannot name the aforementioned parties, as I would risk legal action. Suffice it to say, when journeying through the bowels of the art world, one must tread carefully.

What are your goals? What are your plans for the future?
One of my goals has been, and continues to be to remain relevant to the discourse of contemporary art. I would also like to see my work continue to evolve, be it in size, scope, direction, or concept. The future is so unpredictable…
There are some inherent risks involved with exploring abandoned buildings and structures. Do you have a list of items you bring with you when visiting a new site (rope, rappelling hooks, flares, etc)?
(laughter) Some things are better left unsaid…
What are you currently reading? The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn.

Books that have strongly influenced you?
Celine’s Journey to the Edge of the Night, Proust’s 7 volumes of Remembrance of Things Past, Cioran’s A Short History Of Decay, various works by Russian writers including Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Gogol, the existentialists, Lefebvre, Bulgakov, and countless others. Literature has always been a significant part of my life and work.

Is there anything that you would like to share with our readers?
The George T. Stagg and the Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year are some of the best bourbons I have ever tasted. I recommend that you seek them out, and have a taste for yourself.

Do you have any upcoming exhibits? I am involved in a group show in Reading, PA. There are a few more in the works, but nothing definite.
Check out Morgan's current exhibit at the Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia. Show runs from March 6 – April 25, 2009.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sonya Berlovitz

What is your background? How did you get involved with theatrical costume creation? I grew up in the theatre. My dad was an amateur actor and my mom was a professional seamstress. They both encouraged my involvement in Community Theater as a child actor. Throughout junior high and high school I sewed most of my own clothes. As a young adult I was able to start sewing for a theatre company run by my sister and three other artists – they gave me my start in costume designing professionally.

How would you describe your work? Do you have an area of expertise/ specialty?
Many of my costumes have been constructed from several fabrics of the same color pieced together. For me this represents a kind of painting with fabric. Seams are sometimes left on the outside with raw edges showing, sometimes cutting across a costume at an odd angle so as to make the inner workings of a design visible to the eye, as if turning the process to the outside. I try to keep my designs fresh; unexpected; with details that sometimes surprise. I’d like the viewer to think of my costumes as a part of a theatre architecture that is revolving and evolving, never static. If I had to pick an area of expertise it would be in original works with a lot of movement.

Have you studied fashion design in school? What did you like best about the school you attended? What advice would you give to anyone considering going to school vs. doing it on their own? BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Certificate from La Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. I loved La Chambre for the discipline it taught me and that is where I learned to drape. I loved the Art Institute for encouraging my individual artistic voice. Well, since I have done both (I went to the SAIC when I was 30) - If you’re going to go to school choose one that is in a city and has a program that you feel passionate about – then figure out a way to afford it. There is great value in doing it on your own, but having the luxury of time you get in a school to research and develop your skills is invaluable. It’s a gift everyone should have.

How have you been influenced by the theater/ fashion/ costume community? Film community? Who/ what inspires you? My background in fashion and painting has contributed strongly to my process. I often draw on both contemporary fashion and historical references as inspirations. By using this eclectic approach I believe I can speak more directly to the audience by giving them something with which to identify. I am constantly researching designers’ new collections; in particular the Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo. I am strongly influenced by the poetry in their work. For any given production I will look at film and other theatres’ versions to see what kinds of interpretations have been made of a story. It’s a way for me to have an inner dialogue about the work.

Do you intend/ plan to continue to work in theatre? Do you see yourself working in film? Some other entertainment industry? Yes, I will always be working in theatre in some capacity. I have actually designed a few independent, lower budget films. I would like the chance to design another film, but since they usually require an overwhelming time commitment during a shoot, it’s often difficult to combine the two fields.

Have you had any careers not related to art? I have many times throughout my life taken on secondary jobs to supplement my income. Everything from waitressing to daycare.

How have you handled the business side of being an artist? It’s difficult. I am not naturally an aggressive person and I think you have to have a bit of that to make a good business out of your art. Although, I’ve been a costume designer for 29 years so in some regard I’ve succeeded.

What are your goals? What are your plans for the future? I am hoping to branch out into designing for more regional theaters outside of Minnesota. I would like to incorporate more travel into my work as I find it very regenerating and inspirational.

Do you have side projects you work on? Have you collaborated w/ other artists in the past? I am almost always working on commissions for clothing I’ve designed. More specifically, I am currently working on two wedding dresses, one for a woman who has written a script and will be presenting her ceremony in a theatre complete with extras.
As a costume designer I am always collaborating with other designers, the director, actors and technicians. My longest collaboration was with Theatre de la Jeune Lune of Minneapolis where I had designed over 50 productions – most of them directed by Dominique Serrand, one of the five founding members of the company.

What was one of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on? 1929 for Theatre de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis and Paris. It was the first production I designed and had a bigger cast than any project I’ve worked on since. More recently The Miser which was a co-production between American Repertory Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville and Theatre de la Jeune Lune. It toured around the country for two years with largely the same cast. All of the elements, design, direction and actors were in complete harmony on that project.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the costume industry since you got involved? Where do you see the industry going in 5 years? 10 years? I’m probably aging myself by saying this, but younger designers today don’t seem as willing to work for little just to gain experience. There doesn’t seem to be as much value placed on the process.

Favorite painter/ artist: Some of my favorites: Sonia Delauney, Picasso, Matisse, Egon Schiele, Anselm Kiefer, Maira Kalman, David Coggins

What are you currently reading? Azar Nafisi’s “Things I’ve Been Silent About”

Is there a book that has strongly influenced you? “New Fashion Japan”

Sonya's Website: www.flickr.com/photos/sberlovitz/sets