Posts Tagged ‘visual artist’

Elizabeth Gomez

Saturday, October 2nd, 2021

Elizabeth Gomez is a Redwood City based artist and children’s book illustrator. Part of Gomez’s practice involves designing and managing community participatory murals in both paint and mosaic. 

I first met Elizabeth during her July 2021 Redwood City Art Kiosk exhibition. Her installation, Naturaleza Muerta, was striking in the manner it pulled the audience in and then held their attention with an edgy softness—A lifesize deer and mountain lion hang upside down in the center of the kiosk. They are accompanied by a squirrel and a crow. These hand sewn creatures are made from pale, low contrast fabrics. Scatterings of thin red cloth trail from each body. The kiosk floor is covered with pink quilting and a spare grid of deep red, fabric roses. There is a feeling of being in a child’s bedroom. These layers of symbolism reveal a multi-dimensional philosophy about the relationship of humans to other animals, to profound effect. In this work Gómez brings together a blend of Louise Bourgeois construction with Sue Coe content to make her own statement about real life events involving wild animals in our suburban neighborhoods.  

Gomez has an MFA in Pictorial Art from San Jose State University. She has shown at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco; the Oakland Museum of California; MACLA in San Jose, California; and at the Mohr Gallery in Mountain View, California.

This week Gomez’s most recent mural, created with the help of many from our community, will be unveiled at the Magical Bridge Playground in Redwood City. We spoke during the last weeks of mosaic tile making under the redwoods and oaks on the back patio at Red Morton Park, the mural’s home.

Magical Bridge Playground mural, 2021

Whirligig: Let’s talk about your background. You went to San Jose State?

Elizabeth: I did most of my college in Mexico City where I am from. I did three years at the San Francisco Art Institute and then I did my masters in painting at San Jose State. I had great professors like Erin Goodwin-Guerrero and Rupert Garcia. It was an excellent program, lots of support, really nice.

Whirligig: How long have you been working in mosaic?

Elizabeth: I have been doing small things here and there but I am really a painter. I have been working with Redwood City for many years. I have done murals in the schools and parks. The city knows me as an artist that can create and facilitate public works with volunteers, with the help of the community. That is why they asked me to do this mosaic mural. I have learned a lot doing this. 

Whirligig: What are the dimensions?

Elizabeth: It is gigantic. It has more than 700 square feet of tile. 

Whirligig: You did the design?

Elizabeth: I did the design and many workshops. For example, here in Red Morton Park during the pandemic we were outdoors and indoors and outdoors again and then we couldn’t do it at all. Then, I had to transport boxes of materials to the volunteers, house to house, I would bring a new box and take competed work away. I did that for many months. It was a lot of work. Then we were allowed to work here outside again, almost a year and a half after we started. The hardest thing about this project has been the management. We have had more than 750 volunteers on this mural. Everybody is welcome. I have taught the class on how to make mosaic shapes hundreds of times now. I will be happy to see it on the wall.

Whirligig: You plan to install next week. . .

Elizabeth: We have two walls and a tunnel. We are hiring professional tile installers because it is so big and heavy. I will be there as support. I don’t know what problems we will encounter, but we will have problems. We already fixed a few things–the walls were uneven, there was an anti-grafitti sealant on one wall that would not allow the tiles to adhere, so we had to remove that.

Orange Halves

Whirligig: Tell me about your painting work.

Elizabeth: My work belongs to the Mexican tradition. I like surrealism. I like animals and nature. I like a lot of handmade patterns and decoration. I have been working on a collection called Madre Tierra (Mother Earth). They are women with the face of an animal. Very surreal. They represent the need to care for the environment. The most recent is Mother Earth Crow. She is signaling with her wings the end of the wilderness, saying “From here to here is wilderness, so you don’t build. And from here to here is for humans, so stay on the human side.” They almost look religious. They are big animals with dresses, in nature. One is Vindictive Mother Earth. She has humans in a cage. Bird Mother Earth is teaching little birds how to protect themselves against us. But all very beautiful and colorful, filled with flowers. Mother Earth Wolf is planting flowers on the pavement in Mexico City. She is taking care of them with a watering can, a nurturing Mother Earth.

Whirligig: Those are in acrylic, oil?

Elizabeth: I love to paint old style, oil on wood, because with painting in glazes it becomes very jewel like and medieval. You can touch the colors. 

I’ve also illustrated many children’s books. I just finished a book on El Salvador, ABC El Salvador.

Crow Mother Earth at the Edge of the Wilderness

Whirligig: Are there specific artists you are inspired by or look too?

Elizabeth: Sometimes I am a bit sad that the person most known here is Frida Kahlo. When you see Frida’s work it’s not only Frida’s style, but it is Frida’s style on top of the Mexican tradition. Her work makes a lot of sense within Mexican art. When she was painting there were a lot of women painting. For example Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo. There was a magical group of women painters that had this surreal, folksy, decorated, colorful work. I really like their work. Because I grew up in Mexico City it was normal for me to visit Frida’s house or see a show of Remedios Varo and other artists from that time. I don’t try to do what they do, but I like the visual language they were using. My own work is always about nature and the environment.

Whirligig: Would you say that you are mostly inspired by female artists?

Elizabeth: I would say that I really like their quality. I don’t want to generalize, but with Mexican women artists there is something that is, to use a trite word, feminine–care taking, nurturing and smaller–that I like. The famous male Mexican artists are very grandiose, “Industrialism came to save us! The workers will save us!” Full of big ideas, but with little heart. I like works with more heart. I am not saying that men cannot do this, just historically in Mexico it has been the case that women pay attention to heart.

Lion Fountain

Whirligig: You exhibited sculpture in your Art Kiosk show.

Elizabeth: I do a little bit of everything. I have created three installations with ideas of nature and animals. At the Oakland museum for the Day of the Dead I showed dead animals. I made a coal circle . . . where it is clean the animals are alive and flying. Where it is dirty the animals are dead. 

Whirligig: What is it about working with animal symbolism that you hope to communicate?

Elizabeth: I sometimes feel that we humans do not believe that animals have the same right as us to be here. That we are more than they are. That we own this place. After all of the facts telling us this is not the case, global warming. . . I want to be a voice for animals, even if it is a small one, saying “We are here. We belong. This is also our earth.”

Whirligig: So you grew up in Mexico City . . .

Elizabeth: Yes. I did most of my formative years in Mexico. I came here after I got married. I have been many years now here in California.

Whirligig: How is it to be an immigrant here in California?

Elizabeth: Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so much. Especially if you are from Mexico. My husband is from Argentina and he does not cross too many people with stereotypes about what an Argentinian is. Maybe they know about the tango. . . But if you are from Mexico the stereotypes are very, very, very strong. Sometimes when I encounter someone who knows only that I am from Mexico and nothing else about me, I feel discriminated against. For example, people who don’t know me immediately assume that I am not educated. They talk to me as if I didn’t know things. This actually happens a lot. I am not saying that everybody needs to be educated, but oh my gosh, they speak to me in such a way that I want to say, You know I have a graduate degree you don’t have to talk to me as if I don’t understand things.

Whirligig: Because of your accent?

Elizabeth: My accent for sure, and then they ask me, Where are you from? And I say, Mexico. In my life in California I have been hired at least three times as a babysitter. I would be with my children and they [some stranger in public] would assume I was a nanny. It was hard for me to convince these moms that I was also a mom and not the nanny. They would ask questions like, “The children speak Spanish to you?” And I would say, Yes. Then they would say, “That’s wonderful. Other nannies I know speak Spanish to the children but the children do not speak Spanish back. Do you have a driver’s license? How much do you charge?” They would be so surprised to find out I was the mother and not the nanny. Some assumptions are stronger than you think. In daily life doors can close easily because people have very strong stereotypes about what a Mexican is. I moved to a new neighborhood and the next door neighbor told me, “I don’t want to be discouraging but Mexicans are moving here.” Things like that happen here and there and everywhere. It always surprises me because most people are nice and good. But those who are rude and not nice. . . they don’t know me, I don’t know them. . .

Whirligig: Part of it is being a woman. . . 

Elizabeth: Yes. But why don’t they just ask me what I think rather than thinking I don’t know anything? Sometimes people start sentences like, “Here in California, we. . . ” immediately making me the other. I’ve been here 30 years. I can say, We in California. . . 

I like so many things about Northern California, but when I face those discriminating people I don’t like it.

Whirligig: I’m sorry that is here.

Naturaleza Muerta, at the Redwood City Art Kiosk

Elizabeth: People don’t know that if you have an accent you are asked a lot, Where are you from? How long are you staying? If it were a neutral question . . . but when you are asked that on a weekly basis it makes you feel as if you don’t belong, you don’t belong, you don’t belong. It makes you feel there is a wall around you everywhere you go. Now when they ask me, I ask them, And where are you from? Tell me about. . .  We all are from somewhere, even if we didn’t cross a border. I try to be light about it but I wish it wasn’t the case.

Whirligig: You’ve been working on a two plus year project. What will you do after?

Elizabeth: The park has asked me to make some individual animals. It will be only me in my studio. I will have control of everything. I am looking forward to that. Then I will paint. I have loved doing this, but it was a lot of heavy lifting.

Whirligig: It’s an important project.

Elizabeth: I love that we have so many community members taking part, and also, if someone came to a workshop and made a piece of the mural, it is included. I didn’t get rid of anything the volunteers created. I kept my promise, that “if you learn to do it, you are a part of the mural.”

Whirligig:  Do you think there was anything in your upbringing that made you particularly tune into non-human animals?

Elizabeth: My grandfather was a farmer. He could barely sell his cows because he loved them. He named them and the chickens and the pigs. When buyers came to take them, he had so much trouble. They followed him like dogs. He was a bad farmer in that sense. I think growing up with him I fell in love with the animals just like he did. Growing up in Mexico City, nature was so devastated by pollution, 20 million people in one city.

One day, everywhere I went, there were dead birds. Something was happening in the air or poison. Walking to school that day was one of the most important days of my life. I realized it was not a normal day. This was human induced. I think I became an environmentalist that day. Later we heard it was a paper factory that did not have proper air filters. They polluted the air. The birds died. . . It really welded a before and after for me.

Whirligig: Do you have a spirit animal? Is there a particular animal you are closest to?

Elizabeth: Not really. I strongly believe the earth would be better off without us. We are the extra animal.

Whirligig: Agreed.

Magical Bridge Playground mural, 2021

Elizabeth: Even sharks and insects have a right to be here. I’m a little bit of Buddhist in that sense. Everything that is living has a right to be here.

What makes me really happy is that I have found many paths to follow and they have taken me to incredible places that I never thought I could go or do. My parents were very sad when I told them I wanted to be an artist. But I am so happy that I am. A perfect day for me has art and nature. I have lived my life like that. And Northern California is a beautiful place and people respect nature here. People are also more open. I know that the Bay Area is the right place for me. Here I can blend in. California has a very nice collection of Asian art and Latino art and Californian art and good food.

Whirligig: How are you feeling now that the mural is up and complete?

Elizabeth: It was a tremendous amount of work. I am exhausted. I am happy.


Whirligig Interview by Nanette Wylde.
All images copyright and courtesy of Elizabeth Gomez.
Elizabeth Gomez’s website.

Minoosh Zomorodinia

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021
A Week Living Art, 2015

Minoosh Zomorodinia is an Iranian-born interdisciplinary artist and curator working in time, space and the natural world. Her current art practice involves nature walks which are documented via smart phone app. The resultant maps are then made tangible via a variety of both old and new technologies. There is an edgy, accessible humor in much of her work—this she calls “the abstract absurd.” In actuality, Zomorodinia uses all aspects of her making to parse and comment on current critical issues including borders and territories, colonialism, immigration, culture and identity, stereotyping, relations of the self to the environment, the power of technology, and the art world itself. Her work is both layered and engaging—smart, funny, and often visually exquisite.

Zomorodinia earned an MFA in New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). She has a Masters in Graphic Design and a BA in Photography from Azad University in Tehran. She is the recipient of a Southern Exposure’s Alternative Exposure Award, a California Arts Council grant, and a Kala Media Fellowship Award. She has received residencies at Headlands Center for the Arts, Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency in Michigan, I-park Foundation in Connecticut, Local Language Residency in Oakland, Santa Fe Art Institute Residency, Djerassi Residency in Woodside, and Recology in South San Francisco. Zomorodinia has exhibited locally and internationally. She volunteers for Southern Exposure Gallery’s Curatorial Council and is a board member of Women Eco Artists Dialog. Zomorodinia currently lives and works in the Bay Area.

We spoke in the studio at Recology, where Minoosh is resuming an artist residency interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minoosh Zomorodinia Integration with Nature
Integration with Nature, 2010

Whirligig: A great deal of your work has a focus on the body in nature—often your own body which is shrouded, wrapped, blanketed, responding to external elements. Why the body? Why your own body?

Minoosh: There are different reasons to use the body in my work. First, I want to acknowledge that my friend, Tara Goudarzi, generously accepted to be a model for the Destruction of Nature, Destruction of The Human Being as we were traveling together.

One reason to use the body is expressing self. I spend a lot of time in nature, it’s an extraordinary experience and inspiration for my practice. My mind opens and I see things when I’m in nature. I search for spirituality in nature and some sort of psychology for finding positive energy. I have been wanting to illustrate this feeling in different ways.

Another reason is to dematerialize and use my body as a signifier to lived experience as well as illustrate identity. I believe using my body offers a variety of contexts and perceptions. Employing my body in my work somehow represents time and space, especially in my performance installations. I consider my body as a sculpture—I make myself vulnerable to challenge the perception of the female body, and represent culture and religion. I want to emphasize a political perception from a Muslim woman’s body and how it’s been interpreted in the world.

Whirligig: Are you thinking of specific interpretations of a Muslim woman’s body? Can you explain?

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Felicia Rice

Friday, January 19th, 2018

Felicia Rice, well known for her fine press work and collaborative books, celebrated 40 years of Moving Parts Press in December with a solo show at Felix Kulpa Gallery in Santa Cruz, California. Rice has worked with notable Californian artists and writers including: Francisco Alarcón, Elba Rosaria Sánchez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Enrique Chagoya and Guillermo Gómez-Peña. As Moving Parts Press, Rice has received the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship, Elliston Book Award, Stiftung Buchkunst Schönste Bücher aus aller Welt Ehrendiplom, and grants from the NEA, CAC and the French Ministry of Culture. With Perseverance furthers: Moving Parts Press 1977-2017. Rice celebrates her history as printer, publisher, artist and collaborator. We visited the gallery to experience the work, talk about making books and working with other creatives.

Felicia Rice portrait

Whirligig: You started Moving Parts Press in 1977 as a printshop in downtown Santa Cruz. How did you come to letterpress?

Felicia: When I was a kid a friend’s mother had a letterpress in the family room. It was a little table top pilot press. I can remember standing in the room and seeing it, and maybe touching it.

My folks were artists and teachers: my mother was a sculptor and kid’s art teacher. I grew up in her art classes and was exposed to all types of fine arts. My parents were founding members of the Mendocino Art Center. My father was a mosaic artist in the Art and Architecture movement in San Francisco working with Lawrence Halprin. He did pool bottoms and walls. Later he made independent fine art animated films.

The critical point came after I had left home. I was living in Berkeley around the corner from David Lance Goines’ studio and letterpress shop. My mom accidentally sent me one of those San Francisco Chronicle Weekend Edition articles on “Letterpress Printers of the Bay Area.” Adrian Wilson, Jack Stauffacher–there were about five of them. She accidentally sent it to me instead of my older sister. So I’m reading this thing and looking in the window at what’s going on around the corner. I started thinking this might be something I could get into. It didn’t necessarily mean I had to stay with it. I was 18 or 19 and thought maybe I could learn more. I went to Laney College which had a print and graphics program. The instructor said, “If you want to be a printer you need to get into computers.”

It was a time when there was a lot of support for crafts. A lot of my peers who grew up in California were carpenters or in the trades, which were highly respected. And the newspapers listed a lot of jobs for printers; so I thought I could be a printer. I could get work. At Laney there was some old letterpress stuff, but there was mostly this idea that one would go on to computers. It was interesting. I had also taken a printmaking class in Oregon around this time. I thought I could go to school for this but if it was just a fluke I could change my mind and do something else. I started looking around for print programs. There wasn’t really anything going on in the Bay Area. I came down to Santa Cruz with a friend to visit the school, and a friend of my friend said there was a press in the basement of Cowell College dining hall. So we went down there and there was this beautiful letterpress studio with a Vandercook, type and floor to ceiling windows with a gorgeous view of the bay. That’s how I got started. Jack Stauffacher was teaching.

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Michelle Wilson

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Michelle Wilson is a papermaker in an extremely complex sense. Her work with paper is both conceptual and concrete as it extends from the making of sheets for artist’s books and printmaking to social practice, sculpture and installation. As a somewhat recent transplant to the Bay Area, Wilson has quickly embedded herself and her work into the consciousness of the local art scene with a residency at the School of Visual Philosophy, a Small Plates commission from San Francisco Center for the Book, teaching at both San José State and Stanford, engagement with a handful of arts organizations, and many exhibitions.

This summer, Wilson’s collaboration with Anne Beck, The Rhinoceros Project, travels to the Salina Art Center (Salina, Kansas), Shotwell Paper Mill (San Francisco, California), the Healdsburg Center for the Arts (Healdsburg, California), and later this fall to the Janet Turner Print Museum in Chico, California. Her work is included in The Power of the Page: Artist Books as Agents for Change at the New Museum of Los Gatos (NUMU in Los Gatos, California), and Pulp as Portal, Socially Engaged Hand Papermaking at the Salina Art Center in Salina, KS. Wilson has a BFA from Moore College of Art and Design, and an MFA from the University of the Arts, both in Philadelphia.

We got together on a lovely spring afternoon towards the end of the semester to talk about art and teaching.

Whirligig: I first became acquainted with your work in 2010 at an SGCI Conference in Philadelphia, occurring at the same time as Philagrafika, where I came upon a Book Bomb intervention in a public park. How did this collaboration with Mary Tasillo come about?

Michelle: Book Bombs began as a question I posed on Facebook. I was reading about yarn bombing, the tradition of knitting or crocheting something that is then bombed — left in a public space — a form of craft meets street art. I’m not a knitter or a crocheter; I’m a book artist, and so I posted a status update, “What would it mean to book bomb?” Mary took me seriously, and through our conversation, we discussed where people read in public space, who owns public space, and it led us to the idea of park benches. In Philly, every park bench has this center bar installed that is called the “arm rest,” but is designed to prevent a homeless person from sleeping comfortably on a bench. This seemed like an ideal place to install a book. Our project grew from this initial idea. And thus, Book Bombs was born.

Whirligig: What were you envisioning regarding the scope and effects of Book Bombs?

Michelle: We originally saw Book Bombs as just a project for Philagrafika 2010. However, we’ve had so much fun, we’ve continued. It’s been tricky to keep it up transcontinentally, but we manage. Most recently, we did a sort of intervention-workshop at the Center for Book Arts in New York called Keeping the Fire Alive. This was designed as a workshop for activists who were interested in using papermaking in their work, as well using it as a form of self-care against fatigue and for continued resistance. We’d originally proposed the workshop during the summer of 2016, before the election, thinking it would be a very different conversation.

Whirligig: How is papermaking used for self-care?

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C.K. Itamura

Monday, April 24th, 2017

C.K. Itamura is an interdisciplinary artist, designer and producer. Her work responds to a wide range of personal and social content; and is realized as richly engaging, metaphorically layered, participatory, conceptual installations. C.K. is Director of Marketing and Events for San Francisco Center for the Book and a board member for Healdsburg Center for the Arts.

Her most recent work s+oryprobl=m is a three part series of exhibitions which may be experienced at: O’Hanlon Center for the Arts, Loft Gallery in Mill Valley (June – July 2017); The Spinster Sisters in Santa Rosa (April- June 2017), and City Hall Council Chambers also in Santa Rosa (thru May 4, 2017).

We chatted over an early evening cup of tea in mid April.

Whirligig: You are making and exhibiting complex, multi-layered, series of works that are highly metaphorical and cross media distinctions. How would you advise new art audiences to approach and experience your work? What do you hope people will “get” from experiencing your art?

C.K.: I’ll use my piece Ladies (2015) to illustrate your point.

Ladies was inspired by a surreal hours-long conversation I had one afternoon in 2013, with two strangers in an art gallery. One woman was a retired physician with crutches, the other woman was an art patron that I’ve seen at artist receptions but had never spoken with before. Over the course of the afternoon, the retired physician revealed that she wanted to die because her crippled legs prevent her from doing all the things that hold joy for her, such as hiking, swimming and traveling. The art patron revealed that she had lost all of her money and was now living in a van that she had to park in a different place every night to prevent getting into trouble with the police. After the conversation concluded when the gallery closed for the day, I wrote down notes that would remind me of this curious encounter. Two years later, the notes evolved into Ladies, a wall mounted sculpture in the style of a mini-dress that Tina Turner wore on stage during a performance with Mick Jagger on the British stage of the Live Aid Concert in 1985.

Ladies is constructed of torn paper grocery bags; it is a bag dress that suggests the phrase “bag ladies,” a term recalled from childhood that was used to describe seemingly homeless women who kept all their belonging in bags they carried with them, from place-to-place, at all times. Ladies is symbolic of contrasts: the façades of the retired physician and the art patron vs. a hidden desire to die and destitution; the opulence of Tina Turner’s memorable performance during a come back era of her career vs. the desperation of forgotten “bag ladies.” Excerpts from the notes I wrote after the curious conversation were written on the paper bag sections in pencil then selected words were traced over in permanent marker. In a final nod to another lady, my maternal grandmother, who hung laundry outside, rain or shine, the inside of the piece is filled with wooden clothes pins that are not plainly visible from the outside, as my grandmother was rarely seen away from her home.

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