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It's time to leave and go elsewhere..

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Thank you so much!  Happy future reading!


Art and Life. Life and Art.

(originally written on 11.20.12)

On my bus ride from New York to Philadelphia this evening I found my mind trailing towards the ideas behind my work. I am just beginning to be able to articulate and speak about them.  It feels like an artist statement that is taking years to be able to write, but it’s slowing surfacing. 

I am consistently inspired by the people I surround myself with and the stories that present themselves to me through simple conversations and honestly caring about others.  I then use symbols (artifacts, body language, facial expression, light) to articulate these ideas.  Although what I present in my work is always intentional, I attempt to keep these pictures open-ended. I hope I can allow my viewer the space to bring their own experiences and thoughts (personal, historical and instinctual) into the scene I have created.  With this, I aspire to connect my viewer to my subject and because of my connection to those I paint, a connection with me.  I want to show (somehow) that we are all joined together, no matter our age, cultural differences, economic states, or social statuses.
As my bus ride was ending, I turned on some music to clear my head and prepared for an extended weekend back home.  The bus crossed the bridge and my mind left my art practice and focused on other things. 
Upon leaving the bus, I grabbed my bag and headed towards 30th street station.  A woman on the corner asked me where to get the train, I told her and we both headed inside, parting ways.  After a few minutes within the station, I came out the other side to hail a cab.  The same woman I had seen just 5 minutes earlier asked if I was heading towards the airport.  I said I wasn’t and she told me she was just trying to find someone to possibly split some cab fare with.  She explained that with the heightened holiday prices of the bus, her cash was limited to be able to get where she needed to go in a timely manner.  I stated that I was sorry and hoped she found a way.  I seemed to be the only person who would talk to her.  Perhaps it was our previous conversation, but I believe it was something more.

She wasn’t asking for any monetary help but it was clear she needed a way to bring some sort of joy and ease to her night.  Looking slightly alternative myself, I noticed her dreads and relaxed demeaner.  Others around weren’t giving her the time of day and I guessed that was the reason why.  She wasn’t homeless or a beggar.. just unique.  Seeing her, I reflected back on stories my fiancé would tell me about his days on the road as a touring musician.  He hit some hard times, never asking anyone for a single dollar.. but damn, how just one could’ve helped.  His sleeve of tattoos and punk rock attitude would’ve deterred people from caring about his misfortunes and often did. 

I put my bag in the trunk of the cab and reached in my pocket to make sure I had my keys out.  I remembered that I had a $5 bill tucked away for coffee or food that I didn’t use.  Without thinking about it too much, I ran back to her and handed it over.  I told her I hoped it helped some and she immediately turned it down, saying she’d just wait for the train.  I insisted and with a look of shock and awe, she immediately broke into one of the most genuine smiles I’ve seen in quite some time.  She gave me the biggest, warmest hug and we wished each other a very happy holiday as she thanked me again.  
Connecting with a story from someone I care about brought light into a new experience.  Inspired by someone I love, I related to a total stranger. 

They say art imitates life and life imitates art, but why can’t they just be one? The things we, as artists, choose to present to the world should be genuine.  They really shouldn’t stop with paper, canvas, clay or camera.  I truly believe it is all connected and it’s time to start making a change.
Today’s experience reminded me that the path I’ve chosen is not in vain.  It is a representation of who I truly am, both with a brush in my hand and a spare $5 in my pocket.


JP Roy at Mark Moore Gallery.

Video from Mark Moore gallery featuring my former painting professor, JP Roy.  He's absolutely incredible and one of my favorite painters.

To anyone working in a realistic style, I highly encourage you to watch this even more.  His description of why he paints as he does is brilliant.



Inside The Studio with Meg Franklin.

Meg Franklin is a fellow artist, New York Academy of Art student and good friend of mine.  She is an incredible talent and one of the most creative individuals I’ve met in quite some time.  Not only does Meg work as a visual artist, she also has her MFA in creative writing.  She runs a naming website called Gabooldra that combines both her creativity with text and drawing. I’m a frequent visitor and big fan.

When I began these artist interviews it was a delight to find out how hard Meg was working this past summer.  As with all studio visits, I couldn’t have been more honored to be behind the scenes in her painting environment.

Meg is originally from a small town in the Appalachian Mountains called Young Harris in Georgia. She came to New York about three years ago for work and describes life as a student in this city as “really wonderful.”  When I asked her what drew her to NYAA she describes the location as being essential.  “There are so many advantages to studying in New York: some of the best teachers, gallery exposure, access to the best museums in the world, constant gallery openings. Also, of course, I was drawn to the academy because my work is primarily figurative.”

Maria: “What does your artistic background look like?”
Meg: “I studied creative writing, specifically poetry, before landing on painting. I actually have a MFA in creative writing from the University of Florida, which I received almost straight out of college. I had a great experience there, but soon after finishing the graduate degree, I realized that I didn’t enjoy the act of writing. In fact, it sort of felt like torture. 
I fell back on painting, which I’d always done for fun, and after a few years of working on portraits from my apartment, I began to take my painting very seriously. I enjoy the act. And I found in painting something that I didn’t even fully realize was missing from my writing pursuits: it holds my attention. In fact, painting completely lords over my attention. I think the word “passion” is kind of cringe-inducing, but it’s the only word that really fits what I feel for painting.”

Maria: “Why have you chosen to pursue becoming a fine artist?”
Meg: “Because I love painting, because I don’t mind being poor, and because it allows more personal freedom than most other jobs.”

Now into her second year at the academy, she says her experience so far has been both enlightening and exhausting.

Maria: “What's the most valuable thing you learned last year?”
Meg: “My drawing really improved. I used to rely on gridding, but now I can draw and paint without the grid. I still wouldn’t say I’m even close to the top of the class in terms of accuracy in drawing, but that’s fine. I got where I wanted; I refined my skills while retaining a bit of my personal hand--scrappiness included.  
Also, I learned not to be afraid to put a lot of paint on my palette. I used to treat the stuff like liquid gold and would only squeeze out pea-sized amounts to work with. I quit that.”

Maria: “What is the class you learned the most from?”
Meg: “Probably my two painting classes.”  

Maria: “How were you able to bring your own ideas into an assignment heavy first two semesters?”
Meg: “I chose subject matter that I thought was very rich.” 

After an intense year, Meg found herself spending the entire summer in her studio just ten minutes from her apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  It was a shared space in a nice building just far enough away from any main streets to be comfortably quiet.  When first walking through, the bright white walls and cubicle like spaces could’ve felt cold and unwelcoming.  This wasn’t the case when I came to photograph Meg’s actual studio space.  Natural light came through a large window to show off walls of paintings, drawings, trinkets, and still life set-ups.  The large spot towards the back of an aisle of other studios (that were empty) felt like a little piece of home.  

Maria: “How important is your studio space to your creative practice?”
Meg: “Very. I wish I could say that I would happily paint anywhere, but that’s unfortunately not the case. My perfect studio is the one I have this summer: close to my apartment, mostly private, distractionless, large, and with a big window.” 

Maria: “Do you work on several projects at a time or just one?”
Meg: “Several.” 

Maria: “How long does a piece take you to complete?”
Meg: “It differs. Sometimes a few hours, sometimes months.” 

Maria: “Do you listen to the radio or music while creating?”
Meg: “Yes, music.” 

Maria: “What are your favorites?”
Meg: “This summer: really just the Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Neil Young. Sometimes after I finish that rotation, my iTunes moves on to Britney Spears’ latest album. I know I’m really into a painting if I let it iTunes get several songs into “Femme Fatale” before I notice and turn it off. Britney has her place. But it’s not the painting studio.” 

Maria: “Have a favorite color?”
Meg: “I like titanium white. And caput mortum, partially because of the name, partially because it’s good with shadows on skin.”

Maria: “Any favorite painters?” 
Meg: “Giorgio Morandi and Wayne Thiebaud are my two favorites. Then I like Fairfield Porter, Alice Neel, early Vuillard, Lesley Vance, and Khalif Kelly.”  

Maria: “Is there anything you keep in your studio for luck or inspiration?”
Meg: “I usually put on the same Bill Callahan song when I start a new painting. I’m not sure why. It’s called ‘From the Rivers to the Ocean.’ ”

Meg tells me she might be interested in too much and feels like someone coming into her studio might assume that three or four people might use the space.  Her productivity this past summer shows her dedication to all of her interests. Viewing all of the work together in one space, I don’t share her opinion.  For me, it’s very clear that the hand in all of her paintings is the same.  It’s refreshing to be able to look around and see so much. You become quite captivated and just want to keep looking around.

“This summer I’ve painted people sleeping, made multi-media 2-D diamonds, composed and painted still lifes made up of unidentifiable objects, copied Morandis, done portraits of friends from life, painted geometrical abstract works, and built on my website, Gabooldra, which combines my drawings with a strange fixation I have with naming things. There’s probably more that I can’t remember.”

Maria: “Where does your drive to create come from?” 
Meg: “My brain chemistry? Who knows.”

Maria: “Any thesis ideas brewing?”
Meg: “Right now, I’m pretty into the still lifes made up of non-object objects, aka pieces that the viewer can identify as real physical things, but can’t quite tell what they are. The confusion is not because I’ve painted them especially abstractly, but just because they are objects the viewer has never seen. They have no real function.”   

Maria: “Any advice for artists thinking about grad school?”
Meg: “Go when you’re a little bit older. See what the real world is like before jumping into graduate school. You’ll appreciate your school experience more and take it more seriously.” 

Two months into her second year now, Meg has picked up her summer studio and moved it back to school.  It looks pretty similar to her comfortable summer spot and she’s working just as hard.  A few of her pieces are currently on display through the halls of NYAA but if you can’t make it to New York, feel free to check out her work on her website:  http://www.megfranklin.com


Inside The Studio With Aleah Chapin.

Even though Aleah and I are in the same age bracket, going to the same school and she is someone I would consider a friend or confidant, I was nervous to interview her. Risking sounding strange, I admit that I'm a big fan. Her work has always exuded this pure sincerity and it is something I am continually striving for myself. Only one year ahead of me at The New York Academy of Art, I look up to her, her work ethic and ability to stay who she is (while continuing to discover who she's becoming) in an ever-changing art world.

I photographed Aleah in her studio about a month before she graduated this May. She had just been accepted as one of the four finalists in the 2012 BP Portrait Awards. An exciting time for her for sure and the entire school was also buzzing with joy. We met up early in the morning and began talking about her recent success. Albeit filled with excitement, she was calm and rather serene, simply happy to have been a finalist and gotten that far. I can exclaim now, that just a few months ago, Aleah has been named the winner of this year's BP Portrait award. With it comes the prestigious first prize of £25,000 and a commission worth £4,000. This is an incredible achievement for anyone and certainly for someone only 26 years of age, graduating from getting her masters just a month before. In case you haven't heard, Aleah is also staying aboard at NYAA, as she has been awarded one of three fellowships. We're pretty excited that we get to keep her for another year and I am certainly thrilled to be able to watch her work and learn from her for another two semesters.

With all the great accomplishments surrounding Aleah this summer, she found some time to answer a few of my questions about her life, her work and what's been happening.

Aleah grew up on an island north of Seattle about as far west on this continent as possible. She had to make a quick adjustment to NY, moving in just four days prior to starting her first semester, but feels like she's really discovering a new city now, two years later. " I've spent the majority of the last two years at my studio at NYAA, so now that I'm graduated, its like adjusting to a whole new city, one that I have only seen bits and pieces of." She's recently settled into a studio in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn in a building that is full of artists, many figurative. "It feels good to burrow myself into a new part of this city, but I am really looking forward to coming back to the Academy in the fall for the Fellowship!"

Maria: "What does your artistic background look like?"
Aleah: "My artistic background is quite varied. I've been extremely lucky to have parents who are very supportive (and artists themselves). Throughout high school, I would go one evening a week to the studio of a local artist named Pete Jordan. By 18, I knew I didn't want to stop painting. I attending Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA and received a degree in painting and video. This school was fantastic in opening up my eyes to where I could take art and what I could do with it. Throughout college, I took several one week painting workshops at Gage Academy. I also did a study abroad at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. In my year between college and NYAA, I attended an intensive 2 month drawing program in Paris at a small and wonderful school called Studio Escalier. "

M: "Why have you chosen to pursue becoming a fine artist?"
A: "Besides a few rocky years in high school, I have known I wanted to be an artist. I remember drawing a tree when I was about 4 years old, and thinking "this feels good". So, maybe thats how it all started? Or going to my mom's studio early in the morning and watching her paint when I was so young I can barely remember. "

When I asked Aleah what drew her to the academy she tells me that the moment she saw the website, "It felt like home. I had to go." "It was like if someone said 'dream of your ideal school' and voila, here it is. I couldn't quite believe there was an MFA program that was focused on painting, drawing and sculpting the human body," she says. Now, about three years later, one of Aleah's paintings is on the first page of the academy's site. One can only imagine that her work is now inspiring others to feel the same way and send their applications in.

M: "How would you describe your first year at the academy? Your 2nd year?
What's the most valuable thing your learned?"
A: "My time at NYAA was the most exhausting, invigorating and inspiring two years of my life. I didn't know I could work this hard, or paint this many hours a day, this many days a week. The first year is heavy with assignments, which I suppose could have been frustrating, but honestly, each one, no matter how simple, I felt that I could put my own artistic vision to and get something out of. It was a challenge, but a very rewarding one. I came into my first day of school thinking I knew exactly the kind of work I wanted to do. It was sometime in the first few weeks that I realized I had to let go of my "plan" if I wanted to grow and become a better artist. It wasn't until the spring when I felt like I was perhaps finding something. The summer between first and second year, after a lot of confusion, I realized that what I was finding was myself - confidence and acceptance in the kind of person I am and of work I want to make."

Aleah accredits the community at NYAA as being one of the most vital aspects of her two years studying. She considers them something beyond peers and more like family. "I think they are just as important in my education and development of my work as the teachers have been." I have to agree with her there. The academy is a place where you really learn from everyone, most importantly those around you. Having open studios within the school during the semesters allows you to keep a consistent flow of energy around you at all times. From personal experience I can tell you that breaks from painting, drawing and sculpting include walking around your peer's studios, discussing projects, pieces, the art world at large and grabbing coffee with those available. It's an inspiring place to be at all times, as you're growing and learning every minute you spend there. I can personally credit Aleah to encouraging me to take attend a dissection class at the end of my first semester. It was one of the highlights of my NYAA career thus far, and if I hadn't felt like I was part of this little family, I never would've asked her advice about it.

M: "What are you planning for your year as a fellow?"
A: "I am really excited about this coming year as a Fellow. I don't know exactly what the work will look like, but something that I learned over the past two years is to trust that the most honest work comes from being okay with not having a plan and being led by personal inspiration and intuition. What I do know is that it will be an extension of my thesis, the Aunties Project. I think that an artist's best works comes from being honest with who they are, making work about what they know, which can only come from the life that you have lived."

M: "Name some of your favorite painters."
A: "Some of my favorite artists are Jenny Saville, Ron Mueck, Lucian Freud, Rembrandt, Velasquez. "

She goes a bit further to tell me some of the experiences she's had with those that inspire her.

"I remember walking into the National Gallery in London when I was 16 and seeing a hyper real sculpture of a women laying on her back, her belly sagging slightly beneath the weight of her newborn child. This was Ron Mueck, and that show has stuck with me for the last 10 years.
In my first drawing class at Cornish College of the Arts, my teacher showed us a book of incredible figure paintings. They were simple; unidealized figures lounging on beds, their pale flesh painted in big, gooey, confident brush strokes. Of course I completely forgot the name of this artist and spent the next 6 months running into every book store I saw and frantically browsing the art section. Finally I found the book: Lucian Freud. Of course, I haven't forgotten his name since then. "

M: "Is there anything you keep in your studio for luck or inspiration?"
A: "For the 4 years I studied with Pete Jordan in high school, I had a piece of cardboard which I would put all my paints on. This increasingly got smothered in paint and became something I had to always have in my studio. I think I still have this bit of cardboard somewhere. And then there is my apron. It was my moms before it became mine 10 years ago, and was covered in paint then. I have finally retired it (but not thrown it away!) because it has become so stiff with layers of paint that I've been told that much heavy metal on my body could be dangerous…but I am very attached to it. "

M: "Where does your drive to create come from?"
A: "My inspiration comes from different places. One is just that I love paint. I am a bit obsessed with it. And risking sounding cheesy, I believe it has magic. It can be extremely frustrating at times, mushing around in all the wrong ways, but when its working, the whole world disappears, and its just me and the canvas. Oil paint's ability to not only re-present flesh, but become flesh, is one of the reasons I love to paint people. But I think I also paint people to better understand them. "

Going to Aleah's studio for the first time, it was evident immediately that she just loved paint. It was most certainly everywhere, including layers on her computer. When I first walked in to take a few photos, she made the joke that her laptop was actually her thesis work and the rest was really nothing. Although I have never actually seen the cardboard piece she keeps or her mother's old apron, previously mentioned, I can imagine they look similar and it gives some wonderful "behind-the-scenes" about how often Aleah paints and how much she simply loves the material she uses. Her dedication to painting shows within the walls of her studio, beyond the finished pieces that most only get to see on white gallery walls.

M: "How important is your studio space to your creative practice?"
A: "The most important part of my studio practice is dedication, and perhaps a good cup of coffee. Going into the studio every day, even if I don't feel the slightest bit of inspiration, is extremely important. Treating it like a job but not in the negative sense. When it's your job, you give it a certain amount of priority in your life, it gains that extra importance and becomes routine. For me, this routine gives me the freedom to feel inspired and excited. And when I'm not at "work" I'm able to relax. This last part is harder, and something I'm trying to work on. But I have found that having a schedule of some kind gives me the permission to enjoy life a bit which is vital for creating work. "

M: "Do you work on several projects at a time or just one? How long does a piece take you to complete?"
A: "I generally work on a few paintings at a time. I never used to do this, but since my painting days have become longer, I have found that having a few projects going on at once helps a lot. My paintings vary in size quite a lot, and so does the time working on them. The smallest take about a week, the largest one, 6ft x 10 ft, I've been working on since January. But most are about 2-6 weeks. "

M: "Any advice for artists thinking about grad school?"
A: "My advice for artists looking into grad school is find a place that feels like home. One that you can take risks in, push yourself in directions you never knew existed. But also be ready for it. Be in a place in your own work where you are confidant, where you don't just want to hide away for two years, but want to get out into the art world and show it what you have to offer. Its a combination of these two things; freedom to experiment, but also the confidence to show your work. "

As Aleah's future is shaping up to be a beautiful one, she tells me bit more about her current state. It has taken her a while to finally feel like she was making work that was honest. This is clearly important to her and her practice. "I had to let go of thinking I had to make work that was 'important', 'smart' or 'clever'." It's a motto she goes by and continues to strive for.

"I finally began to examine, and really accept, my own life and world. The subjects in my current series are women that I have known since birth. Titled The Aunties Project, this work examines my personal history through the people who have shaped it. On our bodies is left a map of our journey through life. The process of painting these women allowed me a glimpse of that journey and brought me into the present moment of our shared history. What has also happened since I began this project a year ago, is a transition from personal to more universal. I'm finding myself wanting to paint images that are not only representations of specific people, but explore something larger. I don't know exactly what this is yet, but the evolution of discovery that painting leads me through is really exciting. "

The BP Portrait award is still so fresh in our minds. Being such a wonderful accomplishment it is something we're all so proud of Aleah for winning. She tells me she's know about it for years but never felt like she had anything strong enough to submit until the last year. "I was just crossing my fingers to get into the show, so what happened - getting in and winning - is absolutely the best thing ever. Honestly, its still sinking in. Recently, a lot of good things have come my way. I feel incredibly lucky to be graduating with such support and my only hope is that I can live up to it all. "

We know she will.

To read more about Aleah's BP Portrait award win please check out this article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-18506435
To see more of Aleah's incredible work go to her website here: http://www.aleahchapin.com


A Studio Visit With Artist Shannon Kenny.

What an artist can create on paper, canvas, or with clay, is quite magical.  A mere thought can be turned into a tangible masterpiece with the ability to awe, inspire and connect strangers. To get a glimpse into an artist's process and be able to share in their creation is like getting the opportunity to see into who they are.  It doesn't take away the magic of a finished piece but does add the essence of a real human being into something quite extraordinary.

Conducting artist interviews is something I've always desired to do.  I've been consistently fascinated with the ideas and spaces (both inside the artist's head and where they work) that help in the creation process of painters, draftsmen, sculptors and the like. A month ago, I decided to stop wanting to interview the incredible artists I know and go ahead and do it. I sent messages to those I know at the New York Academy of Art and the response has been wonderful.

And so we have my first artist interview. Shannon Kenny, an MFA 2013 candidate at the New York Academy of Art has just completed her first year at the Academy.  She's spending her summer painting away at a studio just a block or so away from NYAA and interning with a local photographer.  She's dedicated to absorbing as much creative information as she can, and it shows.  When I asked Shannon if she had any favorite quotes or mottos she goes by, she gave me the beautiful words of her grandmother. “Without self-discipline, you will accomplish nothing in life.” - Alison Williams.  Spend five minutes with this artist and it is clear that she stays true to the words she lives by.

Shannon originally comes from Trinidad and Tobago, where she lived up until moving to Tampa, Florida for her undergraduate studies.  She currently lives in Manhattan where she also has her summer studio. It's a clean, cool, bright space shared with other artists, just off of Canal street.  She grabbed this studio from a fellow classmate who is in Germany for the summer.  She calls it a "steal of a deal" and we all would.

Maria- "What does your artistic background look like?"
Shannon- "I’ve been an artist all of my life, but never got serious about it until my last few years in high school. I would spend my lunch break in the art room with a few others and our art teacher. We would eat lunch together and just talk, which makes me look like the biggest nerd, but I am totally fine with that. In addition, I would rather spend my weekends painting than going out with friends. Then, I studied art therapy in undergrad, which to be honest, was a compromise for my parents’ sake. They wanted me to have an education that I could support myself on, and I wanted to study art. So art therapy allowed me to get the “real degree” that they hoped for, while still allowing me to take tons of art classes. Truthfully with a few more courses, I could have double majored, but I didn’t want to pay the extra money, especially since I knew I was going to do my MFA."

M- "What drew you to the New York Academy of Art?"
S- "Coming to the Academy was a situation where all signs pointed in that direction. I felt that I needed more technical skill, especially in the realm of figurative artwork. In undergrad, they always tried to push me conceptually, but I felt that I still didn’t have the technical skills that I needed to successfully communicate my ideas. When I was researching schools, I saw that Steven Assael, an artist that I had admired and taken several workshops with, taught at the Academy. After that, I discovered the work of Alyssa Monks, to then notice that she also went to the Academy. After being accepted into the program, I went on a travel course to New York with my undergraduate school, and we visited Steven Assael, Alyssa Monks, and Jane Hamill’s studios, all people associated with the Academy. I just felt that the artists who I admired believed in the same ideas as I, which is what the Academy bases its program upon: traditional skills, contemporary discourse. Upon visiting the school and receiving a tour from Peter Drake, I fell in love with the Academy. The rest is history: all roads led to New York."

When it came to adjusting to New York, Shannon explains that it took about six months to really feel settled.  The subway travel, sidewalk traffic and more specifically the noise was difficult to get used to.  Her first year at the academy is described with a similar manner, with one word: intense.  "They don’t call it boot camp for no reason. But truly, the first year basically re-taught me how to see. You think you know how to see all your life, to soon be told, there’s much more in front of you, you just have to know what you’re looking for."  She tells me she's "learned more about art, or anything for that matter, in this past year," and I don't think she's alone in those thoughts.  I've been lucky to have spent my first year at graduate school alongside Shannon and I can tell you that her growth is apparent every way you turn.  She tells me she's learned her artistic weaknesses and shortcomings this year and more importantly how to overcome them.  " I am still working on doing so, and will be for a long time, but at least I am aware of them."

Being that the first year at the New York Academy of Art is so intense with classes, I asked Shannon a bit about her personal experience, now being able to reflect back on year one.

M- "How were you able to bring your own ideas into an assignment-heavy first two semesters?"
S- "It was hard, and to be honest, not much of that happened in the first semester. But the second semester was more directed towards your own work and ideas, especially Composition and Design II, which allowed the students to create a body of work. This was so refreshing after the first semester, but hard at the same time. It’s easier to create when you have restrictions, but when you are given complete freedom to do what you want, it can be a little scary and intimidating."

M- "What class did you learn the most from?"
S- "Painting 1: the simple act of painting from life, which I had never really done in depth before, was extremely helpful. In fact, the Academy was where I painted my first nude model. My undergraduate university had a small art program, so the most we had was one figure drawing class."

Being a few months out of our first year, it's really inspiring to see Shannon working as hard as she is without anyone asking her to create something.  When I walk into her studio, I notice a few things right away.  The first are two large self-portraits, both in progress but looking incredible.  The other thing I am drawn to is the metro card paintings she has been working on.  There's a large grouping of them tacked to the wall. They are incredibly well done and I immediately have a favorite. Shannon tells me she comes in nearly every day and to get herself motivated, begins and often finishes an entire painting on her former passes for public transportation.  Knowing that mass transit was something she had difficultly with in her first few months in New York, I find the pieces just a little more exciting.  There's something really beautiful and calm in her little portraits, a feeling that I see replacing the anxiety that may have come earlier with those little scraps of plastic.

M- "How important is your studio space to your creative practice?"
S- "My studio space is my little bubble that I can step into and leave everything else at the door; I don’t even need windows. It is very important for me to exclude anything that is not relevant to my studio practice; this allows me to get into 'the zone.' "

M- "Do you listen to the radio or music while creating? If so, what are your favorites?"
S-" It’s all about Pandora for me. I don’t know what I would do without it. I’ve never been good at remembering artist’s names or songs, so Pandora is the perfect solution for that. In addition, it allows me to change the music depending on what mood I am in at the time: dubstep, dancehall, techno, mellow vibes, they all play a part in my studio practice. In fact, I can even remember exactly what songs I listened to when I was working on certain paintings."

M- "Is there anything you keep in your studio for luck or inspiration?"
S- "Music and headphones!

M- "Do you work on several projects at a time or just one?"
S- "I used to concentrate solely on one piece, but now I try to work on at least two at a time. This allows you to be less attached to each piece, and helps you to be more observant and objective about your work."

M- "How long does a piece take you to complete?"
S- "It varies, anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the size."

M-"Do you have a favorite color?"
S- "In terms of oil paint, my favorite color is Flesh Ochre because it has so much range, especially when painting flesh, hence the name."

Shannon lists some of her favorite painters in two different categories.  The first being a little bit "old school".  She says Dali and Ensore both had incredible imaginations and used that as a platform for their work.  Her contemporary favorites are all figurative artists: Alyssa Monks, Jenny Saville, Jérôme Lagarrigue, Sangsik Hong, and Lucien Freud.  When asked where her personal drive to create comes from, she tells me, "When I am creating, I get this feeling of satisfaction; it’s as simple as that."

M-"Why have you chosen to pursue becoming a fine artist?
S- "Throughout my life, art has always been something I have come back to. When I was younger, I went through phases of it, but it has always brought me joy and satisfaction. Since being at the Academy, I’ve come to see it as a spiritual practice. I know that sounds a bit strange, but it calms me; it allows me to zone out any worries or distractions, and I feel good while doing it and especially after it. Even if I am feeling under the weather, I totally forget about it once I get into the zone of painting. I would say that it can be compared to meditating or going to church."

M-" Explain a bit about your work: past present future or all. Any thesis ideas brewing?"
S- "I’ve always visualized my ideas in respect to the human figure; never have I been able to think otherwise.  I used to see that as a weakness, until I realized: if this is how I think, then I need to embrace it, not run from it. My work has always had the common thread of struggle, in particular the inner struggle one has with him/herself. I have an idea for my thesis, but I want to explore it a little more before I am willing to talk about it."

It looks like you'll have to come by the New York Academy of Art to see the future of Shannon Kenny's work.  I can tell you that by diving a bit deeper into who she is as an artist and how her studio practice has been going, I cannot wait to see what she will be bringing to the table come September through next May.  She is a dedicated and thoughtful artist who is working her way through this larger creative world.  As Shannon and I finished our conversation, she shared with me her growing drive to reach beyond her comfort zone.  She's entering as many shows as she can and working as much as it is possible.  Her work was recently in a show called "Art Student Exhibition in NY 2012" at the ISE Cultural Foundation Gallery in soho.

When I asked this incredible artist if she had any advice for those considering graduate school her reply was one of mature thought and pride in the decisions she's made this last year. "Truthfully, you can take advice from as many people as you want, but only you will know if grad school is the right thing for you. With that said, if you want to be a figurative artist, the Academy is your perfect match."
It looks as though Shannon has taken what was once an intimidating struggle to be comfortable and turned it into a true learning experience.  To go from taking months to adjust to the busy life of being a New Yorker to pushing herself in brand new ways, Shannon is setting herself up for new goals that are much bigger and brighter than she might have ever known when first arriving at the New York Academy of Art.  It's inspirational, to say the least.
To see more of Shannon's work follow the link here: http://shannonkennyart.com/


50 Portraits in 15 Days.

Every year I go on tour with Proof and Proving (Brian Dougherty, solo singer/songwriter, also my fiancé). Amongst the years we've toured, it's also included Giving Chase and Dr. Velvet and the Social Drinkers. I come along as many roles including merch girl, photographer, tour manager, roadie and wing woman (obviously not for Brian). Along with the band's merch, I set up my photography prints to sell. It's been one of the greatest things I've done in my life. The travel, laughter, stories, whiskey and beer, as well as the people that we've met while being on the road has been an irreplaceable experience in my life.

Last year, as we geared up to go on tour with Dr. Velvet and the Social Drinkers, I decided to begin a travel project for myself. 50 portraits in 15 days started out as a personal challenge. I can get quite shy when talking about my paintings and photography with others. This was a way to make myself less timid amongst strangers than could possibly become new friends. I wanted to hear stories, get to know new faces and a photograph was my way to remember them. I found a way to get out of my comfort zone, even if it was while hiding behind a camera.

This was not a challenge to make a great picture. The only equipment I bring abroad is one hot shoe flash, two lenses and my Nikon. The conditions in basements, coffee shops and DIY venues aren't ideal for portrait photography so I focused on being brave enough to say hello, explain my project, grab the photo and write down email addresses. Sure, sometimes it took some whiskey courage to do it (so pardon bad focus points and ridiculous shots) but I did and wound up exceeding my expectations of the project.

It's been almost a year since we set out for Europe and I began this project. Grad school got in the way of editing and posting up the shots, but it's never too late to share your stories with whoever wants to listen.

Proof and Proving and Dr. Velvet and the Social Drinkers are heading out west this time for tour. Of course I'm going, but the question is.. Do I do another round of this sometimes scary and anxiety filled portrait series? It's a lot of work and for me, takes a lot of nerve to begin the conversation. I'm still contemplating, but for now, enjoy the first series as it goes up.

I want to thank everyone that has ever welcomed Brian, the bands we tour with and I into your lives and into your homes. You have made some of my favorite memories and I will never forget the kindness you've shown us. Thank you for listening and thank you for getting behind my camera.

My gratitude is endless.