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Kitti Touzeau, vellum blossom

Kitti Touzeau is something of a crazy cat lady. Okay, she’s more like a crazy art lady, but that’s not too different. She wears shawls and funky jewelry, she’s a classic introvert, and she’s slightly batty- in the most endearing way.

“I’m going to have to sleep for a day to recover from all this talking,” she said partway through our interview. “I don’t want to talk about art, I want to make art.”

Touzeau is the owner and sole employee of Tornheart Paper Designs. It’s a fine art and greeting card company she formed after years of designing for advertising agencies. “Sometimes I would think, ‘If I could just sit down and do something I want to do,'” she said. “‘But is it going to sell?'”

Inspired by Braveheart, Joel 2:13, and a stint working for a greeting card company, Touzeau struck out on her own with a novel idea: “Everything will be torn.” She’s now a professional paper ripper, piecing together tiny, hand-torn scraps of fiber into intricate floral designs. She’s also my friend Danika’s aunt, which is how I connected with her. As Danika explained to me a few weeks ago, the Beaverton artist is trying to break into the Eugene art scene.

“She just needs to get out there,” Danika said. That’s what Touzeau did all Friday, with varying results. She visited several local galleries (one bite so far), met up with a team of UO P.R. students who are promoting her (lots of enthusiasm), and finally sat down to teach me how to tear.

“As you rip, just move your thumb and imagine the curve,” said Touzeau, gracefully conjuring a daisy petal from a square of watercolor paper. It was so delicate and natural, as though she could see the petal in the paper before she started.

To create an entire piece, Touzeau will rip out hundreds of components, dabbing them with glue and inserting them into her whirling, dynamic compositions. Her assembly process is as surgical as that of a clockmaker, though she’s not nearly as concerned with perfection.

“I want to create the feeling of looking into nature,” explained Touzeau. Her key is to balance creation’s intrinsic order with spring’s exuberant chaos. Of course, even her artistic disorder is carefully controlled. “Don’t press that down too hard or I’ll smack you!” she said as I attached the center of a pink blossom we’d constructed from scratch.

Touzeau and I headed off across a drizzly campus, carefully cradling our creation. I perched the blossom on the bare branch of a particular tree and positioned Touzeau next to it. At first, she seemed hesitant.

“Is this good?” she asked wearily as she struck a pose. That’s when I caught sight of a twinkle in her eye. Despite her grumbling, she seemed please with the peculiar magic of the unfolding blossom on the bare, hibernating tree.

“I think we’re done,” I said, satisfied with what I’d captured.

“Thank goodness,” said Touzeau, breathing a sigh of relief. As we walked back, however, there was still a bit of a glow about her. Our flower was crumpling in the rain, but Kitti Touzeau seemed to be opening up to a new beginning.

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Jenna Han, untitled

My eyes were burning and a strange mask had been strapped to my face. I was lying in a room with hard floors, bright lights and strange white curtains. Above me, a fuzzy silhouette pointed to a shiny, multi-legged device and said, “It’s your turn.”

If you’ve ever had a friend who was in a photography class, you probably know what it’s like to be inducted into the cult of the portrait subjects. After you’ve signed your name in blood in the big golden book (or something like that), there’s nothing to be done but cheerfully participate in the creepy rituals. Just put on the ankle shackles, drink the goat’s blood and don’t ask questions.

After all, the cult leader probably knows as little as you do. What, exactly, did a terracotta warrior mask and a black pea coat have to do with my friend Jenna’s analog photography assignment entitled “Body”?

“I thought it would look cool,” Jenna said while she applied my black eyeliner.

“Okayouch,” I said.

You might wonder why I agreed to do this, and the answers are that (1) Jenna is actually much sweeter and less likely to found her own Jonestown than I’ve made it seem, and (2) after all of my adventures involving portraiture, I thought it might be time to step in front of the camera.

While Jenna photographed two other inductees, I tried to get into character. Because I’m blind as a bat and couldn’t wear my glasses with the mask on, I had absolutely no idea what I looked like. Maybe this could help me believe I was a real terracotta warrior.

My art history class is about western civilization, so I turned to Wikipedia to research my new identity. I knew that the Terracotta Army was discovered by Chinese farmers (of the Shaanxi province in 1974), but I had no idea that for centuries before that, people had been finding chunks of terracotta in the soil and at one point maybe even dug down to the army but didn’t realize it.

The first emperor of China commissioned the army’s creation so that he’d be protected in the afterlife. His burial mound is at Mount Li, about 1.5 km away, and includes a replica of his imperial palace. It also once had 100 rivers of FLOWING MERCURY and ceiling frescoes of the constellations, at least according to a historian from 145 BC.

I’d always imagined the 8,000 soldiers in one giant pit, but there are actually four main pits and dozens of auxiliary pits filled with terracotta entertainers, burial sites for horses and even an entire underground park filled with bronze cranes and ducks.

I tried to imagine just what people had to go through to make this great treasure. The monumental task employed 700,000 workers, many of whom apparently produced body parts assembly-line style. How loyal do you have to be to the Emperor to spend your life creating terracotta legs? “Left, right, left, right, left…”

At this point, it felt like the mask was chemically bonding to my face, which was a good sign. In my research, I’d found that the taller the terracotta warrior, the higher their rank in the army. I deemed my gangly, 6’5” self a general in the terracotta army. With my nose in the air, I rose solemnly and prepared for my portrait.

Jenna sat me on a stool and started setting up the shot while I attempted to arrange my face into the placid, powerful stare of the terracotta warrior. If anyone knows they’re in control, it’s these dudes.

CLICK. “Raise your head higher.” CLICK. “Okay, we’re done.”

I sat for a moment, stunned by how quick the process had been. The creative windstorm of an amateur artist comes in great, shaky gusts and passes before you can blink.

A few weeks later, Jenna handed me two prints, and I saw myself with the mask on for the very first time. I was surprised by how smooth and stony the film camera made the paper mask look, and by how it had shaped my eyes.

I’m not sure what to think about the tufts of hair sticking out from behind the mask. They destroy the illusion that my face is transforming into terracotta, but they give the picture more of a human story. I look like a disheveled guest at a masquerade party or a wannabe superhero.

Please tell me, dear reader, that just for a second you saw a terracotta warrior in the picture. The general is pleased.

BONUS LINK: My other adventure with Jenna, involving the naked Garrett Royce Kovaks, is here.

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Ken O’Connell, “Chinese Garden in March” (left) and “Villa Lante in Bagnaia”

If you’ve never been to the Duck Store’s annual Tools of the Trade show, here’s a quick orientation video: 

That’s about what it’s like when the Creative Duck slaps “25% off” signs on everything and unleashes a horde of creatives into its winding corridors. Someday I’ll produce a little action movie re-enacting my Copic marker duel with an orc– I mean, artist.

The downside to all of this is that people often rush past, bowl over or nearly impale the awesome local artists stationed at tables throughout the store. When I found Ken O’Connell, he was tucked in a stronghold on the main floor, sketchbooks stacked around him like a great battlement.

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Ken O’Connell, “Venice”

I first encountered O’Connell’s sketchbook art at his DIVA show last year. He’s a UO professor emeritus and a professional sketchbooker, which is a job that involves (1) European travels, (2) a million fancy art pens and (3) pastry eating. Dream.

O’Connell patiently answered my incessant questions about his drawing habits, all borne from my own recent sketchbook obsession. My notebooks usually end up being akin to angsty teen diaries, while his are filled with intricate architecture and quirky characters he encounters during his travels. I wanted to know how much his emotional state affects his work.

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Ken O’Connell, “Saturday Market”

He flipped through his books and found some drawings that he colored with airbrush pens. There was a little airplane docking at the San Francisco airport lost in a puddle of melancholy blue, and two views of a Saturday Market performer highlighted with bright tones of robin’s egg and mandarin.

“People kept telling (American master photographer) Alfred Stieglitz that he made all of his portrait subjects look like him- stern and serious,” said O’Connell. “So he decided to photograph clouds. You can’t change the weather, right? But his pictures of clouds ended up looking just as stern and serious.”

It was an interesting meditation on how feelings influence an artist’s work. It’s easy to get swept up in the romanticism of Europe– did O’Connell don a pair of rosy glasses to sketch Venice? How might a jaded Venetian teenager portray his town differently?

At the end of our conversation, O’Connell and I exchanged cards… and I found out that he happens to be the PRESIDENT (of North American distribution) OF COPIC MARKER, which has headquarters in Eugene. Let me tell you, these are the highest quality markers in the world. For real.

Trying not to mention my recent duel using his product, I humbly begged for a tour. Oh, it’s coming folks. It’s coming.

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Sarah Refvem

Sarah Refvem and I stood in the ladies’ restroom, cold walls on all sides and a system of paint-chipped pipes curling above our heads. She stood facing the mirror, staring deep into her own eyes as if trying to unravel a great riddle. With a few swipes of a chalk marker, Sarah connected a series of squiggles to form a face.

“Try to line up my face with it,” she said, sounding unsure. “You might have to stand behind me.”

I snapped a few pictures, shuffling around the tiny space. Suddenly, Sarah reached up and erased the face. She hesitantly drew a circle. A few shots later, she wiped it away and scribbled an arrow. She turned sideways for a profile shot. Her eyes were hardening a bit- something about this shoot wasn’t working.

Sarah had first caught my eye (and I hers, per se) when the UO BFA student was featured in the Oregon Daily Emerald for her show of paintings at the WOW Hall. There she was, staring out at me with a look so personal and vulnerable that it held spectacular power. I remember flipping through the stack of papers, meeting a hundred sets of those eyes. Who was this woman, and how did she learn to be utterly fearless?

We sat down yesterday on the roof of the EMU to talk about portraiture. Here was the same girl who was described in the article, her bright red hair flaming in the sun and a quirky flower print skirt smoothed across her knees.

I asked her if she ever paints self portraits. “I paint so many self portraits,” she said, her hands suddenly flying into rapid motion. It was as though she could see, hold and run her fingers over the works as she talked about them. “When you’re painting yourself it’s the most personal experience. My hands do it for me, if it’s a fully honest moment. I can be painting something, and my brain will be working on a hundred things.”

Sarah’s lips and hands told stories of a childhood in wealthy, suburban Lake Oswego, of a great upheaval at 16, of the moment she discovered she was a painter and of rebellious, barefoot explorations at art school in Oakland. She spoke of her first tastes of success as a professional painter in Eugene, but also of social anxiety and long nights spent in her studio sipping wine and swinging between depression and euphoria.

Her eyes followed her gestures, inspecting the memories she was juggling. Every so often, she would break concentration and meet my eyes, fixing me with the same gaze that I’d seen in the paper. She was letting me into an internal world of creative forces, light and dark. Did I understand what she was saying? I wanted to say, “Yes! Yes, I understand.” I knew it wouldn’t quite do, though.

Lately, Sarah’s been painting photos that she finds in thrift stores- a detail from a photo of fidgeting summer campers, a child lost in his own world while the rest of his family smiles for a portrait. She sees group pictures as brief nodes that tie together dozens of narratives, an opportunity to find and recapture individual stories in paint.

“Looking at these photos, I realized that gender and time period and all these things aside, you can just look at a picture and say, ‘That’s me,'” she said. “In a way, anyone you paint is a self portrait. It’s like a bridge between you and whoever you’re painting.”

After my recent picture frame adventure with Kelsey Ivey, I had the idea to play with self image in a mirror, and Sarah seemed like the perfect person to do it. I had tried and failed to find an unlocked room of mirrors on campus (Gerlinger dance hall and the rec center workout room are no-no’s), so instead we trekked to this forgotten bathroom tucked into a stairwell of the AAA building. But now, in this claustrophobic place, the muse was stretching out of reach.

At the EMU, Sarah had talked about her uneasiness with painting live models. “I’ll get so curious and start to ask them questions. What do they think about while they’re up there? Do they ever wonder what we’re thinking? It becomes this weird, psychological, f’d up, jumbled thing.”

Sarah usually paints portraits from photographs her subjects have snapped of themselves, and she’s been putting off posing live for a painter friend for ages. “The idea of sitting there and being aware of what it’s about…” she said, trailing off. “Painting is like my little safe hiding place.”

Sarah paused for a moment and looked down at the chalk markers lying in her open hand. She closed them into a fist. Perhaps a mirror was the wrong stage, a medium where bridges double back on themselves. “Can we go to the drawing room?” she asked.

We walked up two flights of stairs and she punched a code into a door handle. Here was a place in total contrast to the cramped bathroom- an expansive floor, dozens of lights, walls of windows. Sarah was suddenly a whirlwind of energy, pulling me into her vortex as she unfurled sheets and snatched up random objects from a set of shelves.

When she sat atop the pile, surrounded by the subjects of a hundred still life studies, she looked up and stared directly at the lens. Something was back.

Here was the result: a Francis Bacon-esque composite of two images, a self that projects and divides and combines in electric ways. Sarah Refvem.

BONUS LINKS: Click here to see photos from Sarah’s studio, and here to check out more of her paintings on Flickr.

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Joe Sacco, art from Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995

“There was this Sumerian leader whose face appears over and over. There are lots of statues of him,” said Joe Sacco.

“Yes! yes! His name was…” I said, as enthusiastic and stupid as a golden retriever puppy. “It was… umm…”

Gudea,” said Sacco. “I was looking at statues of him at the Louvre. Sometimes, his head has been cut off from the statues. I saw tourists posing behind a beheaded statue and taking pictures, putting their heads where his was. I thought, this would be perfect material for a comic.”

Sacco is featured in an exhibition in the Jordan Schnitzer MOA, and I was at a little “meet the artist” luncheon in the Marche Museum Cafe. I was pleased and shocked to end up sitting right across from him.

It’s crazy. Last week I remember pondering the fact that Mesopotamian and Egyptian steles, which often show plot sequences in stacked registers, are the original comic books. Now, I was discussing this idea with an internationally renowned cartoonist and journalist.

Sacco is known for his in-depth investigative reporting and its products- ink-and-paper journalistic epics. His comic books tie together the stories of people caught in war zones and areas of conflict, from Palestine (his most famous work) and Gaza to Bosnia.

Sacco’s Schnitzer exhibition shows original work from Safe Area Gorazde, which follows the residents of a small Bosniak town literally caught in the middle of the Bosnian War of 1992-1995. After reading the book, it was great to be able to lean in close to the original drawings and inspect the line work, some of which is so dense and detailed that a single panel must have taken hours.

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Joe Sacco, the evidence

Of course, every page of the book couldn’t be hung on the walls, but additional materials bring the story alive. Photographs, work permits, maps, objects, press sketches… two glass cases on either side of the exhibition room are full of interesting knick-knacks, some of which are instantly recognizable from the book. The shots of Gorazde are especially thrilling to see. The intricate black lines of the comics are suddenly blasted with color.

Here’s a little interview I did with Sacco by email the other day about the exhibition:

Me: What’s your research and recording process? (While you’re on the job, do you sit down every night and write in a journal? Do you pencil and ink the pages in short bursts or all at once? Do you doodle while you’re taking interview notes?)
Sacco: My process begins with research so I feel I understand some of the background of whatever place I’m traveling to.  When I’m “in the field” I basically do what any journalist does — I interview people and take notes the scene.  I seldom sketch because I find it takes away from interview time; I take photos for visual reference.  I do doodle somewhat while I’m taking notes, but those doodles are for informational purposes.  For example, if I am in a room with some people having a conversation and I think that conversation might appear in a book, I might quickly sketch out the layout of the room and where people were sitting.  That helps me build a realistic image when I’m drawing that scene later.  Anyway, after I’m back home, I index all my notes and photographs, transcribe my tapes (most of my interviews these days are taped), and then begin the long process of writing a script.  I seldom start drawing before I complete the script, which can take weeks or months depending on the nature of the material.  The drawing itself can take years, but I have a fairly good idea of how far I can get each day.  Writing is actually the hard part.  The drawing is either pleasurable or tedious, depending on the day or the material.
Me:  Why did you choose Safe Area Gorazde for this exhibition? What do the book and exhibition mean to you?
Sacco: Though Palestine was my first extensive journalistic work, for me Safe Area Gorazde is a more fully formed and, for better or worse, self-conscious journalistic project.  When I went to Bosnia in 1995, I had a better understanding of what I was trying to accomplish and how I should accomplish it thanks to the experiments, successful or not, I’d tried in the Palestine series.  I think my drawing is better, too.  I treasure the memory of the time I spent in Gorazde because I met some amazing people there.  They let me into their homes and getting to know them was a privilege.  So the book remains dear to me.  As to seeing my art in an exhibition, I’m a little ambivalent because comics art is meant to be published in book form, not seen hanging up on a wall.  On the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed seeing the work of other cartoonists on display and seeing their line and brush work up close.  
Me: Can I be your apprentice please please pretty please? Take me with you!!!!
Sacco: (answer pending)
Sacco repeated that part about his ambivalence to the exhibition during the luncheon. The idea of hanging comics on museum walls struck me as a little strange as well- until I entered the exhibition and was suddenly surrounded by those stark black-and-white pages. The style and themes of Sacco’s work are suited for the interactive art exploration that is a gallery exhibition. Just as the residents of Gorazde are trapped in the awful limbo of a war, so the exhibition traps us in a black wicker cage of sometimes terrifying images. 
Sacco’s most recent book, Footnotes in Gaza, investigates two 1956 mass killings that were swiftly bumped to footnote status for history books. “It was awful,” he said of the research process, which was at times incredibly emotional. “It took seven years to make, and now I’m done with it.” After one more reporting project, he’d like to verge away from journalism altogether and do a comic book on ancient civilizations, which is why he was hanging with Gudea at the Louvre.
I’m with you, Mr. Sacco. Like, seriously with you. I’ll buy my own plane ticket, just let me stalk you to
the Louvre.

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Joe Sacco, “Down with vases! Up with comics!” 

Look at the date! I haven’t updated this thing in two whole days. Two is also the number of essays I’ve written IN SPANISH in that time, which I hope gives me a little more leeway. I know, I know. It’s really all my fault for procrastinating.

Anyway, just because I haven’t posted doesn’t mean I haven’t been up to some art shenanigans. I hung out with cartoonist/journalist Joe Sacco today, which I’m still geeking out about. I WOULD tell you all about that adventure (It involves Paris, ancient Mesopotamia, journalism, chicken paninis, the kitchen sink… ya know, all of the usual things), but I’m going to have to procrastinate a bit more because it’s 1:00, and one is approximately the number of hours of sleep I’ve gotten in two days.

So I leave you with this tantalizing sketch that Sacco did in the museum copy of Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95, which is also the name of his current exhibition at the JSMA.  So til tomorrow, down with vases! Up with comics!

STOP!!! Before you ask about the strangely off-kilter photo above, you should know that today is a TAG TEAM MEGA MONSTER BLOG day. Before you read any further, please click THIS LINK and put the windows side-by-side so that you can see both pages.

All right, now you’ve connected the Joyful Shoehorn and One Step Big Shot, which is what photo blogger Kelsey Ivey and I did in real life yesterday on the UO campus.

I’ve been following Kelsey’s quirky exploits on the Joyful Shoehorn for the last few months. The blog is chock-full of gorgeous photos along with pensive, frantic and/or hilarious descriptions of Kelsey’s adventures in Eugene and beyond.

Kelsey and I superteamed a photo project, which I dreamed up not long after I meditated on the idea of the frame at The Voyeur gallery last fall. I wanted to create a frame, kind of like The Voyeur’s Polaroid window, and ask people to interact with it. What would they decide to put into the frame? What would they leave out? How does a frame create or edit reality?

It’s time to play some blog tennis to find out the answer. Look between the blogs to see what people kept in the frame and what people left out.

A supermodel couple…

An adorable history professor…

A spontaneous shot of my friend Melissa, who happened to drop by.

A European filmmaker who knows his angles…

Notice how the first guy’s raised eyebrow is left out of the frame? His expression totally changes when you cut out the context.
The girl in the second shot’s pretty red hat is removed but for a sliver, but that glimpse of red still adds emotion to the lovely duo’s portrait.
The professor’s photo would have lost its charm had he not perfectly framed that bow tie.
A glimpse of Melissa’s earring becomes the focal point in her wonderfully candid portrait.
And, of course, the filmmaker knows just how to manipulate the frame to his advantage.

The frames uncovered insecurities (see the shot of the dog in the gallery on the Shoehorn, whose owner refused to be in the picture) and revealed values (one kid made sure to thrust his guitar inside the frame, while another left his cup of coffee out of the picture). It just goes to show: what’s left out of the frame can be just as important as the things included.

I have to laud Kelsey’s spectacular photography skills. I mostly harassed passersby while she charmed them into smiling and snapped the shots. What a pro!

Kelsey frames her pinky