Lauren Levato Coyne & Rory Coyne — Mythic Realism: the body as story in their art

Art is anchored in reflection of the self. There is a reason why every art student is made to sketch human figure after human figure until they perfect the contours of every bodily imperfection. The beauty in art is revealed when an artist can truly look inward, into humanity, and interpret a story we can all relate to in some way. When two artists find each other and find a common language in that pursuit, there is a rare and real connection. Lauren Levato Coyne and Rory Coyne talked with me about this connection and their individual stories reflected in their work. As artists pursuing their professions, they are tenacious. After opening shows for both of them, they opened up their own studio space in Evanston called Sidetracked Studio. All of this accomplished within the course of a few months. As storytellers, they succeed in continuing the human tradition of interpreting the body as a relatable subject with a history and a myth. I sat with them in their home to discuss the myths and realities revealed in their art just before the opening their shows back in August.



I first saw your art in person at the Wunderkammer show at the Aaron Parker Gallery last year. What struck me was the minimalism you used to create each piece. But at the same time the themes are very complex and personal. Can you talk about you use of Personism in your art? (A note about Personism – this is in the context of Frank O’Hara’s definition of Personism, or rather my interpretation of his definition where the art piece tells a personal story that relates to most who then read or view the piece in some way no matter how subtle.)

Lauren: So the minimalism…I always want to pack it full. When I do the sketches I have tons and tons and tons of stuff that I want to do there. I have tried it several times and every time I do a piece like that I get pissed off. I get really annoyed at it. Because it’s kind of like overkill. I like to keep it focused. There is so much to unravel in there. It’s an intentional and a forced decision. The Swan piece is probably one of the most expansive and packed pieces I’ve ever done. But the personal…well…

Rory: Well when I first met you, you were working on that big goat piece…

Lauren: I was working on an 8 foot goat piece and I threw it out the window. Literally, I threw it out the window.

Rory: It was packed and fully rendered.

Lauren: There was just so much stuff in it and it was hard to do. The goat is just hard. I tried to put a goat in this show but I only got the hoofs in. And I have the goat eye. But I would try to put the goat head in because the goat is, that’s my dad. It’s all about him. I haven’t made the goat yet. I’m not ready I guess. I don’t know. I have a hard time making work that is about not me. I have tried. Even the insects are about me. In other interviews, I refer to them as stand-ins for people and things going on in my own life. I have too many deep imaginings. I used to write a lot of poetry. That’s how I started. I was always trying to get these images out in the poems. I did an okay job at it but the visual just kept taking over until I wound up here. I pushed myself to this point to be able to express the complicated, internal, symbolic logic.

Do you still write?

Lauren: Barely. But I have the urge to do a book. I don’t know if it’ll be a written book or visual or a combination. A book project is on my mind. I write essays for artists so I might start again, but for now the visual has taken over. Back to the personal, I make associations in my head…like everybody does. I’ve been thinking a lot about Agent Orange. I’m always thinking about my dad.

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The references that you have, do you try to make them more personal to you or do you get enough out there so that the viewer can also relate? Or do you even worry about that?

Lauren: I don’t really worry about it. The only thing I worry about is making the elements clear enough so that people aren’t wondering what they are. When I’m doing a piece it may be all dark clouds and shit but that’s not what people necessarily see at all, which always surprises me.

In a review on the Huffington Post, you said “Sometimes I should be unable to get it.” You were referring to the personal themes in art work and how viewers try to comprehend art from their point of view. I appreciate this sentiment. Do you find it frustrating as an artist that very few people accept this notion when going into a gallery?

Lauren: I guess that’s when I do think about the viewer. Because it would be a lie to say that there’s no consideration for the audience. I do think about if I’m communicating clearly enough. Not specifically enough but am I communicating clearly enough.

Rory: People like guessing anyway. Sometimes that don’t even want to know what the piece means to the artist. They have their own meaning associated with it and that’s what they want to have.

Lauren: I think they way Rory and I work, when you have a clear representative form, you get that reaction less often. I find. My goal is to evoke a wonder. When they come into a gallery and say “Wow.” Even if it’s just one element like a wing or whatever that’s a success to me. Because they’re going to keep looking at it. If they can get into it by some recognizable thing. Like my insect pieces. People would tell me they hate bugs but my work made them like them and less afraid of them. And then I can tell them a story through the insects. Suddenly they’re engaged in way they would never have been.

Legacy - Lauren Levato CoyneWhat Plagues May Come - Lauren Levato Coyne

Mythology plays a large role in both you and Rory’s pieces. The influence reminds me of D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths a book that has fond childhood memories for me. How far back does your fascination with mythology go?

Lauren: The first time, I think I was 9 or 10, I was in the library and the first book that wasn’t something like Bridge to Terabithia that I checked out was a book on the goddess Hecate and then a book on occultism and then on how to levitate. These were books that were behind the desk and I needed my mom’s permission. I also checked out the Velvet Underground on tape (laughing). So I took all those things home. Hecate was the first that I was truly fascinated with. She was deadly and powerful and I was in a shitty situation at home so to retreat in that world where you could turn men into stone was great for me. I had all kinds of mythology stuff growing up with my mom being a hippie and watching the classic mythology and monster stuff with my dad on television. The older I got, it took a more feminist bent. I got a degree in Women’s Studies. Now it’s more well-rounded. Most of the symbols are more personal. I will do some research to figure out why I want to do a specific thing. Usually when I do the research it does make sense. Rory has a different set of mythological knowledge.

Rory: Yeah, mine was all based on the Arthurian tales. My mother taught Native American Studies and read a lot of their mythology to me. That’s what I grew up with and you add to that the comic book world which is all mythology. I just continued on with that and made my own. If you grew up with storytelling, all you want to do is storytelling.


Your work has always had a Caravaggio style lighting to it for me. There are sharp shadows. The light is duskish but still bright. Since your work makes use of every element to tell a narrative, I’m curious where the light is coming from?

Lauren: That’s a good question…he hasn’t got that question before.

Rory: Light source…I’m assuming metaphorical light source?

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Rory: It’s all based on my life so there are metaphors for feelings for struggles for anything that’s happened in my life. Especially since Lauren and I have gotten together…it’s…I can’t really think of it…powerful…less self deprecating. Confident! So it’s not so much about past relationships as it is about what we have now. And feeling the confidence of being more artful and having more powerful women in the art now. It’s spawned from being a lot more insecure to being much more professional in general, in the art world, and in life.

Lauren: Do you think that’s why…well your skin tones have changed but the light has changed now that I think about it.

Rory: They’re a lot lighter than they used to be. I can trace my way of painting the way the light’s turned going from Leonardo da Vinci. Then it went from the Renaissance to the Baroque…Rembrandt and Caravaggio.

Lauren: In your inspiration…

Rory: Yeah, so I’m looking at those a lot more. And now I’m going toward the nineteenth century going toward Mucha and Alma-Tedema. So the light has completely changed from being very light and dark contrasts to having a lot more lighter areas and showing a lot more lighter shadows. So in general, everything has changed. A lot less dramatic contrast than it is now. Which has been great! I think in terms of the confidence anytime when you’re learning new techniques and looking at different artists.

In this show, I wanted to go into something that was much more grand. The show last year was a step towards that. But I needed to take it in more. I needed to explore it more before I take it to a much more grand…

Lauren: He’s talking about epic tale stuff…

Rory: It’s a step towards it but I wanted to take a step back and explore it more. But eventually these images will go into much larger pieces.

The tattoos on your subjects seem just as important as the settings. They are stories within the story. What extra insight are we given when we follow the images on the bodies?

Rory: What I love about people’s tattoos…it started off with doing a portrait of Leah Young who’s our alternative model. What was nice about it is that I was trying to explore color and the way I did it was to color the tattoos. I was using colors I hadn’t used before. I had it in mind to add the tattoos to my mythological stuff. I love that that in most of the paintings you’ll see a personal piece of jewelry and now it’s their tattoos. So the tattoos have the character’s own mythology that even I don’t have access to unless I ask them. So it becomes our interpretation of it and then the viewer’s interpretation of it. And then you put it in a different setting and you start reading into the tattoos more.

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So you haven’t changed the tattoos at all in the pieces…

Rory: No I haven’t changed them. I like the fact that they’re so personal to our model. And that’s why they take so long. The tattoo artist created it so I’m trying to be true to that as well. So that takes the longest time.

Lauren: In some cases, it’s like 15 to 20 different artists’ works. Some of the models have so much tattooing.

Your work is not surreal to me as it is super-real. That is, a reality superimposed onto another reality. Can you discuss this layered technique in your work?

Rory: Yeah, my purpose is to make it as probable as it can. So it doesn’t look surreal or a dream-like state. I’d rather have it be that this could possibly be a reality. I like that more than it being viewed as fantastical.

Lauren: I think of your work as being like…what the name of the creature in the labyrinth?

Rory: Minotaur…

Lauren: Yeah but what’s his name?

Rory: Minotaur.

Lauren: (laughing) See this is why I need your reference. With your work, it’s like that…where you would encounter these characters in an underground setting or you stumble in some place and here is this creature.

Rory: Well, that’s what I like about all of these mythologies. Like in north western Native American mythologies there is the Raven but you can never tell if it’s an actual raven. Which it never really is. It’s just a human being who is the Raven, who is a trickster, who is a shapeshifter . But you never know what the actual shape is so it’s never really a raven. I mean, it would be a really strange tale if a raven mated with a human. I like that you can’t really tell what the creature is even though there’s so much description or a name like Raven. It’s magic realism. It’s real but not real.

You have taken an ax to your own abstract work. Can you discuss your aggressive opinion toward abstraction?

Rory: (laughing) I know there’s another artist that does that all the time. But when I did that it became such a statement that it became a symbol. That’s why in my logo there’s an ax and a fan brush. That act was for a show called Fuck em/Forgive me and we had to do one piece that was the “fuck em” piece and the other one was the “forgive me” piece. I was really excited about it and I couldn’t come up with anything and it finally dawned on me…there’s a “fuck em” piece that’s basically the art that I just don’t relate to.


Rory: Not all Abstraction. Just a specific kind…

Lauren: Who’s the guy?

Rory: William de Kooning. So many people love him.

Lauren: And you actually offended some people.

Rory: Oh yeah, it was great. It was really fun. So I did a mimicry of one of de Kooning’s pieces. His painting of a woman. So I gave myself a half hour and I finished early. I was so angry about it. I couldn’t stand it. I had to just put it away. And then I did the piece that I really wanted to do which was a realistic portrait of Leah, our model, in the same pose. So in the show, I covered that piece. And the piece I hated was shown next to the covered one.

Lauren: It was really funny, people were coming up and asking, “Is that Rory?” “Is this what you’re doing now?” And some people were saying “I love it!”

Rory: And there was an ax hanging underneath it too. So there was this ominous what’s going to happen here? So the first part of the show it was that. People would walk around and ask the artist about the piece and the artist would talk about their work. And it finally came to my piece I said “This is my fuck em piece. This is my take on de Kooning. I really don’t like the work. I don’t have the respect for it because I feel there’s a disconnect in technique versus just stating the conceptual.” And then…I took an ax to it. It was great. I thought it was going to take a couple of hacks at it because I told the Gallery owner before the show that this piece was not leaving the gallery. If someone wants it, too bad. They’re going to get it in pieces. There’s no way this is being associated with me. So I had planned on just keep on chopping at it. But in one single chop the room went silent. And it was a wonderful feeling. I felt justified. It was good enough for me. After the chop I revealed the real piece.

Ultimately what it comes down to is – to each their own. We went from being very angry about the huge focus on the conceptual and the, I don’t want to say “garbage art”, but making art out of found objects. There was a huge statement on it from the Whitney Biennial. And we were at a place with other drama but now it’s – they can have their world we can have ours and it’s fine.

Less aggressive now and more truce.

L: Yeah it’s fine (laughing)

You both seem to be influencing each other. Informing one another in your works. It’s a conversation that I, as a viewer, feel privileged to overhear. How do you see that dialogue developing?

Rory: I think the biggest influence is just that we just work harder. Because we want to impress each other.

Lauren: We’re really accountable to each other. When we were scheduling our solo shows we coincided the dates because it’s a lot easier when we are both in this mode.

Rory: Because if one of us sits on the couch while the other one is working, the pull to the couch is much stronger.

Lauren: Yeah yeah, but if we both have work to do, not that we would intentionally distract each other, but when one of us is relaxing you really want that too (laughing). So it’s a really good reason to have a studio. I think we have similar personalities. We’re that kid that if you dared us on the edge of the bridge we would do it. That’s how this is. We are kind of daring each other.

Rory: We don’t sugar coat for each other. If something seems off we’ll tell it to each other. First we’ll wait to see if we discover it ourselves. If not then we’re like “Well, what’s this all about?”

Lauren: For instance, Rory’s instinct is to pack everything full. And he’s done that mostly for all of his painting. So when he did this series…whichever one you did first…

Rory: It was the big one the girl with the wings…that was the spark…

Lauren: Yeah, I encouraged you to do a series that was just figures. That was more my aesthetics…

Rory: I was already starting to lean that way and without even having to say anything she really pointed that out. And there you go.

Lauren: And with me there are some times when I think I’m putting too much in and then he’s like no do it, do it, do it. So there will be continued pushing and pulling and daring to do better work.

Rory: Since we had a similar language to begin with in our themes and our art, it made it very easy to talk to each other about the work and not get lost in trying to translate what she was saying or what I was saying.

Lauren: We’re finally to the point where we can recognize what the other is trying to do and not impose our own thoughts on it too much. He definitely pushed me to go larger.

Rory: And I have always wanted see that progression in her work. So when these pieces came out it was like yeah…keep doing that.

The spark of an idea is, to me, a very solitary process. But for both of you being married to each other it’s almost like a collaborative process.

Rory: I don’t think we could every see each other doing actual collaborative work.

Lauren: We work so differently…

Rory: But we’re around each other so much. We have a continuous conversation. So there’s no possible way of keeping it out of the work anyway. But professionally, I think it has helped us move further and push each other more.

Lauren: When we first started dating we talked about if there’s going to be some sort of competition. Like this could go down in flames. This could be a terrible idea.

Rory: Everyone always warns “Don’t marry another artist.” It’s never been a competition. There’s never been a time where we’ve ever felt neglected or the other’s doing better. And I feel like if one of us has a show the other one has one somewhere else. Like you had one in LA and I had one in New York. And we did that. We went from LA to NYC in one week. So it’s been nice. People know us as a couple but not as a “couple artist.” If that makes sense.

Lauren: Some people have thought that I do the drawings like we have a comic book art relationship where I do the pencils and he does the ink. No. And we have a division of church and state here too…oils and dirty there, pencils and clean here (laughing).

Rory: Wet and dry (laughing). There are times that I can’t walk near her because I’m terrified on getting oil paint anywhere near her art.

It’s fun. It’s been a good relationship both professionally and personally.


You can see Lauren Levato Coyne’s Wolf Peach show at the Packer Schopf Gallery until October 18th here:

Rory Coyne’s art work from his most recent show The Fire Pit: Glimmers at Galerie Fledermaus can be viewed here:

Julia Haw – A Connection Must Be Made

It is an intriguing fact of this modern life that I don’t recall the first time I ever encountered Julia Haw’s art. If I was cornered I would have to say it was through a mutual friend through facebook or another social media outlet. On an ironic note, what has stuck with me in my appreciation of her work is her dedication to find a real human connection with her audience. She paints deeply felt portraits of friends, herself, and intimate details of everyday life. Her passion for her subjects and her career is seen in her talent. I have wanted to reboot my inDevelopment blog for some time now and Julia was gracious enough to answer my sometimes awkward questions on a clear June day. Her newest series called The Western Veil can still be seen at the Illinois State Museum in the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago through August 15th.

Nari's Hands

I’ve been following your work for quite some time now and throughout your work I’ve noticed a wallpaper theme. Images and symbols in patterns on the walls. Where does that come from?

I think honestly the repetition comes from my want and desire to be comforted. And that’s an idea that’s going to be running through my newest series. This idea of comfort and control. I think as human beings we do feel a sense of lack of control because we are going to die ultimately. So for me this idea of repetition instills this very very meditative quality. I think it was more for myself. And I say “was” because I think I’ve taken a huge departure from the repetition. I’ve realized through myself and through conversations with close people involved in the art world that the work was piggy backing other artists. And then I realized that I was using the repetition as a sort of crutch. It’s pleasing to the eye, it’s meditative, it’s nice to do, it’s comforting, but in the same sense I realized it was detracting and it didn’t add to the work. It didn’t necessarily take away, but it didn’t add to the work and one of my biggest goals is refining and extracting and leaving only what is essential, what is important, in order to more directly reach my audience.

I think now, more than ever, in this time we’re inundated with information. Information coming at us from all sides—different opinions, the internet, articles, everything. So I think what people are really really craving right now is a sense of reduction and a sense of minimalism. A sense of peace. A sense of connection. I felt like the repetition wasn’t even necessary. So letting go of that was really huge for me. With this new body of work there are just one or two disparate elements coming together in order to allow my audience to understand it better.

In your Fear series you convey a lot of realism. Can you discuss the the emotions it conveys for you?

Fear seriesAbsolutely, I find that a lot of people connect with that series. Because I think a lot of people are riddled with fears. Everyone has a really big fear and it’s very personal. So that series was a way of connecting directly with people whether they were strangers or friends or lovers – in one case, The Fear of Ray Noland, an ex-boyfriend of mine – and just talking to them candidly. One of the biggest goals of my work is to connect with people. I found it really really cool and interesting that people would open up right away even strangers in the context of that series because they knew they were going to be painted. It was an awesome opportunity to get to know people who I wanted to know. The objects in the background did represent elements of their fear. Like the luna moth in The Fear of Russell Joslin represented his fear of going blind or losing his eyesight because he’s a photographer.

So I think that series hit a psychological nerve with a lot of people. It’s kind of creepy. It’s a little darker. It’s also colorful at the same time. So a goal of mine for a while was to candy-coat these darker themes. Almost as a euphemism for reality. Now I’m trying to be little bit more direct and candid. While I don’t want to be overtly dark and depressing. Some of those things were just unnecessary. So in recognizing that, it was really necessary for me to take a departure. I still feel my earlier work is absolutely necessary so I’m not discounting any of that because it’s all a bridge to where I am now. It’s all beautiful, I love it, I’m still connected to it, they’re like my children and I know a lot of people are connected to them.

The works Yet Each Man and Enveloped come to mind as profound evidence of this exploration of emotions to me. They take a true un-cynical approach on human emotions/relationships.

Both stories about ex-boyfriends (laughing)

Do you see yourself as a romantic in this respect?

Devastatingly (laughter) Yes! Yes, I feel like my work has elements of romanticism. I believe in love whole-heartedly. I really really do. For as many times as I’ve been hurt. I still trust.

And you’re proud of that…

Yeah! Going into a relationship now, I was talking with Nari and he was like-trust is built over fifty years of marriage. I was like listen, I choose to trust you now. I choose to trust you now. Trust is a choice and a lot of people forget that. But a lot of times the past does cloud that. But I’ve had ex-boyfriends lie to me and I still choose to trust because if you don’t give that to the other person…I don’t know if it takes something away from them or doesn’t give them enough credit…it’s unfair.

It’s incomplete…

Yeah…it’s like you don’t trust me because there’s something within your own psyche because I’m not doing anything. It’s like a gift that you give to someone…I give you trust. Then they have to be responsible for that…it’s off your back…so…I don’t know why I went off on that trust issue…

That’s okay…that’s okay…

Yeah, I’m a hard core romantic for sure.

That is good to hear from an artist doing the work that you’re doing…

Well listen, I’ve felt really alone in relationships and Enveloped was about the idea of feeling isolated feeling apart from my partner. And I didn’t really recognize that when I was with him and yet I still wrapped myself in a blanket, had him sit next to me and we set up the camera and took the photo that would become the painting. This was back in 2005 or 2006. So we were in a relationship at that time. So I often tell people, emphasize, often times artists don’t really know what they’re creating. A lot of it is coming from a darker or embedded psyche. There’s this misconception that artists know what they’re doing all the time and often times they’ll go back to it later and find, oh my god, this is what that was about. That piece was about feeling isolated and alone and the other piece was much the same thing. I drew my boyfriend as headless, he’s carrying a stack of books, the focus is not on me it’s on the wrong things it’s on material possessions and other psychological aspects of the world. But in the same sense, all relationships are 50/50. I chose that. I chose to be in those relationships. So there’s something about me…I have done a lot of self-work recently…but even in that even being in those hard situations and going through the heartbreak, I still look for it. I still equate love with art. I still equate love with my passion. I put it on the same level. It’s of the same importance to me. And ultimately, at the end of our lives we do have our paintings, but I’m interested in the idea of love too.

I see “Power Pussy” as a work that is very daring and romantic.

Wow, no one’s called it romantic yet!

I do see it as romantic…

Wait, why…I got to ask you…what makes it romantic to you?

Why? Well, the color palate appeals to me. It’s sexual but without being overtly sexual.

I know, isn’t that funny…it’s so in your face but at the same time…(laughing)

I know. I think it just evokes romanticism for me…

I also installed it with two candles in the gallery on the sides.

Did that painting mark a turning point for you personally?

I don’t know about personally but it definitely marked a turning point. I did it the early part of last year around March and April. It’s funny because at that time I was invited as a guest artist for my alma mater Western Michigan University. So that was an honor in itself. How cool…I get to come in as a graduate of the school and talk to these kids. So I was working on the Olga series. The one above the fireplace here. So it was a series about the passing of my grandmother it was a series about placing her on a level of importance with movie stars and celebrity bravado because she was “a nobody” who lived on a farm. So I’m working on this very sentimental series. So the class comes in (on Skype) and they see me working on this heartfelt tender saint-driven floral love ode to my grandmother. And then, after some time, they Skype in the second time and I’m like “I’m working on a new piece. Claire Molek invited me to show down at the Hauser Gallery.” It was a show about Georg Baselitz comment about how women can’t paint. That comment threw the art world in a tissy and women at large. There was a lot of retaliation about that. So that show, in part, was a retaliation of that. It was a women only show. Which is something Claire has never done. So I was like, what can I do? I really dug deep and I went through several different options. One was going to be me straddling a middle aged man and it was about that baby boomer generation and how they viewed women. And I was like that’s not even necessary.

So then I thought about how I felt at the time. I was 30, going on 31, a woman in Western culture, examining specific examples of Western culture that marginalize women still. I examined certain themes that have carried through from more overt days of sexism – for example humor. At the Oscars last year there was a lot of commentary about the jokes that Seth McFarland performed. In examining this continued “humor” and other prevalent issues such as the wage gap and the “glass ceiling” in western culture, I was able to better understand why I had these perceptions of how I felt whenever I look in the mirror every day. And then I started doing research about “The Beautiful Year.” I read that The Beautiful Year is when a woman is 31 years old. They will never be more beautiful and after that a woman is likened to a flower that wilts. So the background of that piece is the rotting corn stalks that were wilted and twisted around. So that element of repetition was to represent the ageism that women experience on a much larger scale than men. The reason why I left the head off is because I wanted to make a portrait of the misogynistic view that some people still carry of women. And then the roses and dollar bills and coins that are coming out of her vagina was just equating those things even further. But you’re right; it’s very soft and romantic. And there’s something subtle about it even though it’s still in your face.

Family portrait  Power Pussy  Studio wall  Palette

The piece itself was very successful because it helped me to carry my message. It was definitely a vehicle, a conduit, and I definitely got my message across. Not without some friction. It was flagged and removed from Facebook, not just the piece but the link. The Chicago Reader had it removed from their website. And I was dis-invited to a local high school because they felt like I was going to be a liability if parents looked up my work and saw that piece. I had a friend say that the Guerrilla Girls had already done this. There were a lot of examples that came to surface. A lot of waves. And ultimately that was the reason why I got the show at the Illinois State Museum. They found me by way of the article I wrote about the piece. So I’m very very glad I created that piece. I wouldn’t do it again. There are people who ask are you going to do a series? No, because pieces like that they work one time and after that it’s a ploy. So there is a lot going on in that work, for sure. In the article itself, I prefaced it by saying I am a woman, I have gotten noticed for my looks, I have gotten noticed for my sexuality, and I’m not going to lie about it. But what backs me up every time is my talent and my work ethic. And the other preface is that I do still listen to rap and hip hop music and they’re always talking about bitches, hos, and pussy. We can’t avoid that. We’re a part of it. We’re in that culture. I don’t choose not to listen to that music. It’s a part of who we are as a culture. I think the best thing we can do as a culture is heighten our awareness of these underlying jokes or themes. My artwork has been a really awesome platform for that. And ultimately it leads people to find the article I wrote. My writing is just as important as my work. It helps to further connect with my audience.

In The Western Veil series there is a subtle theme of glamour and aging. The Veil of Memory is beautiful and, to me, combines these two traits.

Wait wait, how do you see glamour in that piece? Where does the glamour come in?

To me, there is an attention to detail in that piece that I don’t think other artists put in portraying the elderly. There’s color. There’s light. There is a sense that this person is alive and has a rich life. It’s beautiful to me.

Thank you. I think that piece connects with people so much because it’s not an easy piece. It’s not easily digested. It’s really hard because a lot of people experience memory loss and memory deterioration in their family. For me, the hardest part was watching my mom go through that watching her mom loose that memory. It is honoring my grandmother even though I covered her face. You’re right it is honoring her. Paying attention to the seashell on her shirt. God, that shirt is ridiculous. It was hysterical. My sister and I laughed about that shirt for hours! It is older people fashion. But it’s fascinating that a shirt can tell that story. No one young would wear that unless it was tongue-in-cheek irony. Focusing on that shirt…(laughing)

It’s a very earnest shirt.

Veil of Memory

It is right? Who made that shirt. What were they thinking? I don’t know…there’s like a seashell and squiggle lines. Still they chose the colors for the threading on the fabric. It’s so humorous! But so dark. And I think that’s why that piece is so successful because it lines with that beautiful line…that tender sweet stuff that I’m trying to get to so badly. People connect with that. People connect with dark humor because coming back to that idea of comfort and control. It allows us to feel more comfortable with this absurdity of reality that we are going to die. I know I keep coming back to that theme but it’s something that I think about all the time. We all experience it. It’s the one unavoidable aspect of being human. We’re all finding ways to deal with it, avoid it, or confront it. The biggest part of my work is to connect with people empathetically to know that we’re not alone to share in these experiences. This guy came up to me after the artist talk on Wednesday and said I just wanted to let you know that this piece effected me profoundly because my wife at 40 years old developed premature Alzheimer’s and I spent the last ten years taking care of her. To experience a lover to no longer know your face or who you are…that would be devastating. That’s pretty much what making work for me is all about. Or me sitting here with you and having this conversation. It’s so simple. For a long time, especially with the emergence of conceptualism in Chicago, there was a lot of avoidance of what the work was all about. Do you know what I mean? There was this big garbled art statement. There was like a donut thrown in the corner of a gallery or like a weird object. That was all fine and it served a purpose. It was a beautiful thing. But I think it’s just gone on too long. I don’t think that’s what people are craving anymore. They want to get back to the truth. They want authenticity. They want to see people who are real. People who are in love. People who are in real relationships. People who don’t want to craft a persona. They want to know that you’re real. They want to know that you go through breakups too. They want to know that you’re suffering too. It’s the only way that we can connect with people. So my work is like “Yo! I’m hurting too.” And that’s okay and we can talk about it. There’s nothing shameful in that. Being human.

In the work Harvey Moon you have the subject staring straight on.

Do you know Harvey Moon?

I don’t.

He’s awesome!

That portrait struck me. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the films of Jonathan Demme, but in his films, a technique that he uses is to have the characters talk straight to the camera when talking in dialogue. Like you were supposed to be that person? It broke that third wall.

That’s amazing. I love that. It’s like in reverse, if you were to paint the back of someone’s head that would also break down the third wall. Because then you’re a voyeur. I think Edward Hopper did a really good job of that too.

The work Harvey Moon uses this technique to me and it creates a personal space between the viewer and the subject. I would like to compliment you on this and do you do that purposefully?

I did it only one other time before. I used to tear out pages of National Geographic when I was in college. I did this one piece I still have it…it’s so Harvey Mooncreepy. This guy follows your gaze around the room. I still don’t know to this day how I did it. I was very young. I was only really learning how to handle paint. So I think that would be one of my most successful cases of that technique. The only bummer about that piece is that I did it from a photo. With Harvey I actually took the photograph myself. The story behind that piece was that I told him I really wanted to trade a piece with him. I love and respect Harvey very much. He’s one of the best artists I’ve ever met. He said absolutely. So I get to work on this painting. The background is a replica of one of his machines that he made; the drawing machines. Then came the day where I was ready to show him his piece and I’m ready to trade. I don’t think he knew that I painted him. So he comes over, he gets to the studio, and he takes one look at it and he says “No…no no no…I can’t…I can’t.” And I was like “Whoa!!” I wasn’t expecting that reaction at all. He told me it needs to be something else. He could not take the piece. Later on he clarified better and said it was so intense. It was too much of a confrontation of himself.


I know. And you know, I didn’t take offense at all. That’s a beautiful reaction. I sincerely appreciate that reaction. I told him when he’s really ready to take this piece the piece it his. I won’t sell it. It was such a cool reaction.

That aligns with my reaction to it.

Yeah, it freaked him out a little bit. He loved it and adored it but at the same time it was a confrontation of himself and he wasn’t quite prepared.

So you really picked up on something.

Something…yeah. It’s really cool that you bring that piece up. I haven’t talked about that for a while.

It’s great that you can do that.

It’s weird. It’s like a photograph but it’s different. You know that someone’s studying your face. Someone’s looking at the lines and every little hair. So it’s not just you looking at a photograph of yourself and saying “Oh god I look like that?” That’s part of it but then on the other side it’s very voyeuristic from a painter’s standpoint because I am analyzing every wrinkle. And then when you see yourself in painted format there’s a different kind of attention to it. It’s not just taking a photograph, which are very beautiful and can also be very revealing. It’s just a different and added element.

A lot of people may not know that you design the labels for Journeyman Distillery. Can you talk about the commercial side of your creativity?

I’m a believer in having edges of commercialism if you so desire. As long as it stays in line with your integrity. As long as you still maintain your artistic voice. If you choose to do something different, that’s perfectly fine. It’s all a matter of personal choice. For me, I like to keep that continuity. So I’m super stoked that the labels do speak to who I am. I’m recognized for it. My sister does all the graphic design. She does most of the work anyway. Yeah, I found this ad on craigslist from this guy who was starting this distillery and looking for someone to design the labels. I was like, “Oh my god that would be so dope.” So I was like “Yo, let’s meet up!” He responded and I drew up that label that day or the next. We met at Longman and Eagle and I pulled out the drawing and he was floored. It was a simple drawing of a raven which ended up being the Ravenswood Rye design. So once he saw that, even though he had met with other people—there were over 150 responses just to that one ad—he could not get that raven out of his mind. I’m so glad I did it. So he came back and said we want you. So I pulled my sister into it. It’s been a blessing, a lot of people see my name on the back of each label. So that’s further recognition. Even though I don’t drink I don’t feel bad about promoting alcohol. I know that some artists would have a problem with that but I think it’s been wildly successful. They’re all over the nation. They’re in Whole Foods now. It’s been amazing. But I will only choose jobs now I think because I have a little more freedom. I hate commissions. It’s so boring and I’d rather work a day job then do dreadful commissions. It takes away the fun of what you’re doing. Why do you want to impose on your passions. Yeah the labels are a little bit different and they a little bit more like “work” but they really don’t take that long. They’re fun to do.

That aspect of your work is fascinating. A lot of artists get into the integrity of their own work. And they don’t try to branch off into something that could be commercially viable.

While I do see that, it’s very limiting. It also translates to galleries. My friend Dmitry Samarov is one of the hardest working artists out there. He shows anywhere he can. He doesn’t discount places just because of venue. It’s about finding out what works for you. It’s all extremely personal.

You have mentioned in other interviews that you’ve been sober for the last four years. I would like to know how this has affected your work.

Much more vibrancy. Much more clear-headed. Much more time. I found that when I was drinking, because I had a problem with it, Tony Fitzpatrick put it best “one drink is too many and a hundred is not enough.” I felt like when I opened that door of drinking when I was seventeen I just wanted to keep drinking. I had this tendency to draw things in and be attached to them. But with drinking it was a very destructive relationship. It was like being with a bad partner. It took a lot of my time. It really robbed me of my time. I just came to the realization that I didn’t want to spend my life not remembering part of my life and not being fully aware. I also knew that if I really really wanted this dream that I had to give it up 100%. It was for health. It was for mind. It was for spirit and soul. And for my passion…for my career. I did want to be a role model especially if I’m putting stuff out there. I don’t believe all artists have to be destructive and get wasted.

Do you think the art going public is too enamored with the struggling/suffering artist?

Yeah absolutely. It’s absurd. People are super attached to that. Stories sell. Coming from nothing to something sells. People love that. It makes the work more wild. It’s completely falsified. It’s untrue. There are a lot of hard working artists that don’t drink. And their work shows it. Yeah people get wrapped up in the sad-sap struggle. They want to hear a story and they don’t want to hear that you’re doing great and that you’re clean and you’re sober. They want to buy a story. My story is, I quit drinking I had a problem with it…end of story (laughing).

There are many other stories that are beyond that…

Yeah, absolutely! I agree with that and a lot of people want to focus on the darker side. It’s like gossip.

For the final question; as a writer, I am fascinated by your use of the type-written word as canvas in your recent series The Western Veil. What was your motivation to combine the two?

Brushes  The Blind Traveler

At that period, I was going through a lot of different emotions. My friend, who passed away in July of last year, the anniversary is coming up. I was in LA when I got the news. I came back to Chicago and threw a ton of shit out. Threw my bed out, my couch, a ton of clothes. I just wanted to strip myself of everything in the context of his death. I then went to New York. I was making the same tired work and I was really annoyed. I was like, I’m here for a reason. I’m here to soak in and obviously I’m going through a period of ingestion rather than of creation. Which is perfectly fine. I think a lot of artists and a lot of people in the western hemisphere have this notion to just work through it…just plow through it. I’m not necessarily a believer in that. Yeah, don’t put your art work down for more than a few months at most but if you’re not in a healthy state of creation take the time to soak in. I was going to artist studios. Just learning. I wasn’t asking for anything except for advice. I was also taking long walks through Park Slope and I noticed a lot of people would leave stacks of books outside their house. So I was pulling together all of these elements in my mind. The act of discarding. The act of using limited materials. Maybe two different colors…taking away color. I also took away the act of referencing or looking at something in order to draw it. I always hated that. I always thought it was too childlike. But anyway, I found this book on the side of the road. It was a yellowed book from the 1950s. There was something in taking this discarded object and making it valid. Or giving it another purpose. Giving it a new life. Maybe in the way I also felt in throwing away things and reducing materials. I just used black and white. Non-reference. Very simple elements. Drawing on the book. It just ended up working. It started this whole series. It was the impetus for the entire series and felt so fucking good. It felt so good to just do what I wanted. I think people loved the repetition of the early work. They loved all that and patting me on the back but, as I said in my talk last week, if you’re getting patted on the back and doing really well with something just stop it. Cut it out. Go outside your comfort zone. When you’re too comfortable you might as well be dead. We have to continuously learn and explore new territory. Going into areas that are unknown and that we’re afraid of. With this new series, yeah I was scared but then I realized that I could do whatever the fuck I want. I think we often forget that. The Gladys Nilssen piece, in particular, was my statement against “finishing” a piece. Leaving the piece raw points to it being a painting but there is something to be said for things left unfinished. Artists can trap themselves just as much as the public can trap them.


Check out all of Julia’s work on her website


Avoid clichés. Get Versed.

Hello friends! This is the first post of the new year, 2011. No, I have not forgotten about you or In Develop[ment. One of the main goals of starting this blog was to spark my own imagination and creative development as well as put a spotlight on some really great artists creating in a multitude of fields. That goal still stands and so does my original promise, “I write with wanton focus.” Well, that goal is paying dividends for me now. Since January I have been focusing all my energy on an idea that came to me last July. Many of you know that my writing talent lies mainly in poetry. For those not familiar check out the ongoing series, “Poetry Without the Smoke and Mirrors.” Poetry has been a part of my creativity for over twenty years now. I graduated with a BA in it and, in my humble opinion, I am damn good. The ability to convey emotion, image, location, and resonance within a single line of poetry has been my aim and struggle. I have a passion for this medium and this passion has sparked this new idea.

Favorite T-shirts of mine...A little background–I do like well-designed t-shirts. I buy well-designed t-shirts. I think if there is an image that I have not seen and it’s on a t-shirt, that image will say something about me as an individual. Mainly, that I look for art in the most mundane of articles. We all have to get dressed right? Some of my favorite t-shirts I own have have very little printed in words and use unique imagery. I also like the idea that a t-shirt can become an iconic image. Jean Luc Goddard’s first and ground-breaking film, Breathless, featured a young American woman selling The New York Herald Tribune on the streets of Paris. She wore a t-shirt displaying the moniker of the paper. That iconic t-shirt worn by American actress Jean Seberg came to symbolize the birth of the French New Wave.

I have always wanted to get my poetry read by more than just my immediate circle. Any poet who tells you they’re writing for any other reason are lying to you and themselves. However poetry as a written medium has a limit to the audience it can reach. Let’s face it, unless a poet is slammin’ on Def Poetry Jam or are not already a laureate of some sorts in academia the writing falls only on other poets…a dwindling population. The idea that my poetry can be both image based and read is the foundation of this idea. The t-shirt element came as a natural extension of my interest in finding well-designed clothing. While driving to Michigan last July, these concepts collided and Versed Apparel started.

Versed combines my talent for poetry, photography, and my search to find a meaningful well-designed t-shirt. In this modern world where literature and poetry are ceding their traditional paper mediums, I’m printing my voice on clothing.

My original designs are screened with environmentally safe materials by the wonderful people at Replica Chicago on American Apparel 50/50 t-shirts. The poetry lines are chosen to convey the immediacy of a moment. I truly believe a poem can be a short film that reflects a state of mind. A line in a poem can be a still of that film. The resulting t-shirt design will have a different meaning for each wearer and a different interpretation by each on-looker. I have set up a facebook page for Versed Apparel for now while I work on my shopping cart website which will launch on April 18th. I will be releasing the first design at Rapt in Maille’s Spring Studio Opening this Friday, April 15th. Read all the details for the event here. With each shirt bought from me or through a postcard will be included with the design image on front and the complete poem on the reverse side. Buy the shirt. Read the poem. Avoid clichés. Get Versed.

Kiku Handmade — A Little Moment Frozen in Time

Glass captures.  It traps heat.  Transforms light.  Makes interiors exteriors and makes what is seen within slightly skewed.  To work with glass as a medium for art one must see those qualities and be patient in trying to manipulate its unforgiving properties.  Laurie Freivogel, owner and artist behind Kiku Handmade, has honed the patience to work with fused glass.  She also has a slightly skewed take on a variety of subjects that will have anyone within earshot tearing up from laughing.  Ultimately, she is a passionate creator who has amassed many images and kept them warm within the properties of her chosen medium.  They now adorn many houses.  They are keeping quiet company at your dinner party.  And they may be even holding your jeans up.  Laurie invited me into her studio and into her beautiful home to talk about her process as an artist and her place in the community of artists here in Chicago, IL.  She reflects her art, simply put; classically cool.

in Develop[ment:  I know you have your creative hands in a lot of projects.  Can you just briefly list the mediums you’ve worked in throughout your career as an artist?

Laurie Freivogel:  Kiku Handmade started out as Kiku Fused Glass but I sew, I knit, I used to make little Ipod felted cozies, and I make knitting needles.  I wanted to have an umbrella that anything can fall into.  I also work in resin and make resin rings if I have time.  I haven’t had time in a year which is a bummer because I have all this forest material like lichen and wood and moss and stuff that looks really neat when it’s preserved forever in a block of plastic.

i-D:  That’s awesome.

LF:  It’s fun.  When I have some time I will totally get back to it.  They’re super time-consuming.  I cast it into a block, like an ice cube tray, then I drill it then I carve and refine it with a sander or a saw.  It takes a couple of hours a ring.  People maybe wouldn’t want to spend a lot of money on a plastic ring.  And I get that but, I’m still going to make them because they’re fun.

I still sew when I have time.  I use either t-shirts usually or sweaters cashmere when I can find it.  But now I’m afraid to go to the thrift store cause of the whole bed bugs scare.  I have a freezer and apparently if you put it in a bag throw it in the freezer for three days it will…

i-D:  …kill everything.

LF:  Now every time I get a mosquito bite [makes a slapping motion to her arm] “BED BUGS!!!”

i-D:  So you’re mainly working with fused glass?

LF:  Yeah since I got my giant blue kiln last October the big stuff takes way longer.  Everything has to go in the kiln twice. After I print it and stack it and fuse it once, I have to take it out cut it on the saw make sure my edges are super straight sand it so I don’t have saw marks on it clean it abjillion times then put it back in the kiln at a lower temperature over a longer period of time to slump it into the mold.  So we haven’t had a lot of sewing time or resin time.

i-D:  What attracted you to the fused glass as the medium for you art because it sounds like torture?

LF:  Oh let me go get it.  I can show you the exact piece.

[Laurie runs upstairs]

We bought this in New York, I don’t know, about seven or eight years ago and I still think it’s amazing.  It has my two favorite colors, looks like there’s some white in there, I still don’t know how the artist did it.  It’s so beautiful and perfect and organic.

It’s a pendant…I don’t wear it anymore because I’m not a big fan of the wire wrap.  But it is exactly what called me to glass.  A little moment frozen in time.  It looks like water, it looks like red coral.  It shows that it’s transparent.  I still don’t know how it’s semi-opaque on the back.

I quit my job right before my daughter Anna was born.  She was a difficult birth and needed a lot of care and attention for the first couple years.  Then after that she became a pain in the ass.  Like literally, attached to me all the time.  So I had to start doing something.  So that little kiln I showed you in my studio was around $300 and a fusing class was around $200.  I figured I can get it and buy some glass scraps and a book and if it doesn’t work I can always resell the kiln and my husband Andy was there pushing me and so I did it.  I made really crappy globs of glass for a while and then I honed my skills…

So it started with that piece.  That’s the one.  I haven’t looked at it in years and I still think it’s as beautiful now as when I bought it.  I would totally buy that piece again.

i-D:  You are one of the many artists that I know who create their work in their homes.  You actually have a space in your home for your studio.  Did you always envision yourself as your own boss from your own home?

LF:  Yeah, I don’t like to leave my house ever.  I love it.  Everybody has to wear shoes here because there’s broken glass all the time.  I can get up first thing in the morning and open the kiln to vent it.  Then I can go upstairs to make coffee.  When I used to smoke I used to smoke with my neighbors outside all the time.  Now I just don’t take a break.  Last thing I do before I go to bed at night is load up the kilns and turn them on.  I wouldn’t get half as much done if I weren’t here just because of how long the cycles take.

i-D:  Your website includes a very informative HGTV clip of you

LF:  …of me counting…

i-D:  …yes ha ha…of you showing the process of creating a fused glass ring and belt buckle in your studio.  How did HGTV contact you for that clip and how was the experience for you?

LF:  They contacted me…it was exhausting.  Believe it or not but I have shy tendencies.  I’m not very comfortable in front of a group.  But Andy again pushed me to do it and I talked to a lot of people that said you won’t get a lot of business from it but do it just to do it.  So I cleaned up my basement—more than I did for you.  They came in with the cameras and said, “uh this is really small.”

So yeah, they came to Chicago, I don’t know how they found me, and asked if I would submit a proposal.  So I said yeah let me make some knitting needles.  And they were… [shakes her head discouragingly].

I didn’t want to have on this clip how I specifically do my silk screening thing because I am the only artist I know that does it and I’d like to keep it that way.  So I did the stencil one which anyone could do and then they asked if I had an extra project and that was the buckle.  I still wanted to do my knitting needles.  I want people to make resin rings and I want people to make knitting needles, I do not want someone to make my buckles.

i-D:  I thought it was fascinating and fun and kinda cheesy too…

LF:  Oh my god was it so cheesy!  And so much less cheesy that it could have been.  I don’t know if you saw any of the others…I mean really, are you that animated??  I’m just oozing with opinions, which is why I don’t leave here very often.

i-D:  In the time that I have known you, you have increased your art fair visibility by doing more fine art shows like One of a Kind, Uptown Art Fair, and Bucktown while still keeping a firm foot in the craft art shows like Renegade.  How has that transition been?  Have you been able to find more customers by selling your work at the bigger shows?

LF:  Totally, but it’s really funny that you mention Renegade because I didn’t get in this year.  And I’ve been in every year since the second year but I didn’t get in this time for whatever reason.  It is what it is.  Renegade…my stuff is just too expensive.  Period.  And I can’t fill a booth space with little $35 a piece stuff.  I just can’t.

DEPART-ment is what started me on doing these shows.  I didn’t buy my first kiln until after I went to DEPART-ment.  It was an amazing show.  It was on Fulton and Damen in a loft space overlooking the city on both sides.  Artists would come in and set up their goods in a very limited amount of space.  All the items were SKU’d and run through one central register.  I think it was started with the idea that all the people who didn’t get into Renegade should have a forum as well.  The stuff was so good it was so inventive.  And it was right at the beginning of everything, the whole craft scene, and before Etsy.  It was the same time that Renegade and DIY Trunk Show started.  I think Chicago was at the forefront of that scene in the country.  So it was really amazing to be a part of it.  I went on to be one of the volunteer organizers of that show about a year and a half later.  It was always fun.  It was really community based.  You worked with your neighbors and helped out selling each other’s stuff.

So now I’m planning to do the 50/50 Pilsen show soon.  It’s run by a great group of girls.  So I still do the smaller shows because it’s important to keep with your roots.  But I sell better at the art fairs because my big platters are $150 and my coaster sets are $70.  I mean a lot of twenty-somethings who appreciate handmade arts do not have a place to put a $70 coaster set and they don’t serve things on giant platters.  But every one of them should have a belt buckle for sure.

i-D:  I agree with that.

i-D:  You have headed your own art show; Coterie Chicago.

LF:  Oh yeah with the people from DEPART-ment.  For all the reasons that DEPART-ment came together it started to be too much work for the volunteers.  And people’s lives started evolving and couldn’t give everything to the show anymore.  So three of us, Janet, Sarah, and I kept up with the Coterie show which is now mostly the Pitchfork show.  It’s still fun but it’s really not my audience.  I mean, glass at a rock fest?

i-D:  So how did it become involved with Pitchfork?

LF:  One of the organizers was friends with Mike Reed.  He and some other people organized the first Intonation Music Fest and there were talks of having a craft and record fair.  And then when Intonation and Pitchfork split they kept us and from then on it was understood that a craft fair would be hosted by us for them and it’s been wildly successful.

I know a couple of artists I’ve met there that have been really successful at that show.  One of them is sixteen.  A bunch of them are in their twenties.  They go home after that and they’re so happy.  One of them had to keep going home every day to make more stuff because they kept selling out.  It’s like the rising stars of craft.  And it’s neat to know these people.  They’re these fascinating, awesome, funny people.  It’s neat to be a part of that.

i-D:  From your perspective, where do you see handmade crafts going in the future?

LF:  I think all of the mediocre stuff is…everywhere…

i-D:  Like zombies and owls?

LF:  [exhausted sigh]…whatever.  Everybody keeps telling me, “You should do an owl buckle” and I keep telling them that I do custom stuff and if you want an owl I’ll do one for you but I’m not putting it in my repertoire.  Got a crow.  Want a bird there’s a bird.

…I don’t really mean the themes, I mean the quality of craftsmanship.  I think a lot of people think that “I took a class so I can do it now.”  And Etsy, for as wonderful as it is and it’s allowed a lot of people to quit their day jobs, but there are a lot of frauds out there, a lot of copycats.  And then there’s the giant chain stores stealing independent artists’ designs.  But I do think there is more good than bad.  I think craft is allowing more people to focus on doing what they love.  Maybe take a pay cut from working in the corporate world but do what they love to do and grow and change and keep going.

i-D:  If I’m following history correctly, your business started in 2004 and the online shopping site Etsy started around 2005.

LF:  Did it?  I did not know that…I wonder when I became a seller.

i-D:  How has Etsy changed your business?

LF:  It hasn’t.  I don’t do a lot of stuff on Etsy simply because it involves so much work.  I will put one-offs, discontinued, or miscellaneous stuff on my Etsy site.  My knitting needles, resin rings, and one of a kind clothing are on there.  It’s nice to reach a larger market but you really have to keep on top of it and be constantly listing and really good at your photography and I hate that.  Listing on Etsy is really a full-time job.  I do all my own website stuff, marketing, and advertising.  I would like to clone myself.  Not that I’m good at a lot of the stuff I do but I can yell at myself if I fuck up.  Had an intern once…wasn’t very much fun.  I mentioned that I don’t like people right?  Goes back to the whole reason why I don’t like to leave my house.  Really, I do like people but not…not a lot of them.

i-D:  Well, it’s good to have standards…

LF:  I don’t know what the standards are…you have to be a total smart ass or at least tolerate that.  That’s why I married Andy.

i-D:  Finally, because I know you’re a connoisseur, what is your favorite beer after a long and hard art fair weekend?

LF:  Revolution Brewing Bottom Up Wit…absolutely bar none.  Now picking the food to go along with that is hard.  Depends on my mood.

On Sunday November 14, 2010 Laurie will be having a Holiday Open Studio event from 1:00pm-6:00pm.  Check out the details here:!/event.php?eid=153273661381936&index=1

Shop Kiku Handmade online here:

And on Etsy here:

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Die “fokken” Antwoord – The Double Door, 14 July 2010, Chicago, IL

Imagine the hottest concert you have ever attended.  And I am talking heat! Now multiply that heat by ten.  The type of heat and humidity that would only come off Satan’s taint.  Now imagine an act that would make you forget the massive discomfort of that heat.  Die Antwoord’s performance tonight at Chicago’s Double Door embraced the inescapable heat that pervaded every corner of the small Wicker Park venue with wool pullover sweaters.  After months of viewing the interwebs! videos from this refuse-to-be-described-easily zef-rap group from South Africa, my girlfriend and I and everyone else in-the-know here in Chicago got our chance to experience Die Antwoord live.  Ninja and Yolandi Vi$$er, who make up two thirds of Die Antwoord, well…blew my fucking mind.  The excessive heat, on this the hottest day of the season so far, was a part of the show.  Everyone in the “100% sold out” show melted in their own sweat.  I sweated from places I never knew could sweat.  It was one of the hottest concerts I’ve ever attended and I loved it.

“Enter the Ninja” was one of the crowd pleasing openers.  The energy then turned rapid-fire by the belted out lyrics from a less-single-friendly track “Wat Kyk Jy.”  For a moment I thought this concert was going to turn into an amazing and hellish South African rave.  If it had, I think I wouldn’t have minded so long as Yolandi kept spitting cold water on the crowd.  What is so fucking rad about Die Antwoord is that underneath all the aggressive bravado Ninja projects in his lyrics, he’s really a nice guy.  In my book, any front man that will stop performing to point out assholes getting into fights in the crowd and tell them to “cool out…now kiss and make up” is a class act, Pink Floyd boxers and all.

The ongoing highlight of the night has to be Yolandi Vi$$er.  Not five minutes into the show and my girlfriend turned to me to say, “Yolandi is my new hero.”  For those who haven’t seen Yolandi, she is the pixie-voiced female of the group.  Ninja towers over her and she barely cleared the adoring fans pressed up against the stage.  But Yolandi makes up for her size in the insane amount of kinetic force she possesses on stage.  She exudes a strange sexual appeal as witnessed in “$copie” and commands a strong voice in the Yolandi-dominated “Rich Bitch.” Toe to toe, lyric for lyric, she is Ninja’s equal.

The group pumped out a good handful of tracks from their freely, until recently, downloaded debut $O$.  Ninja even interjected educational translations of their multi-lingual, multi-cultural lyrics.  So if you ever want to diss your nemesis’ mother in a very South African way, go to a Die Antwoord show.  And go soon because like that the show was over.  One encore.  No complaints here.  I loved that the show ended on the decibel breaking wail from Yolandi.  No goodnight, just a thundering exit.  Very ZEF!

Mike Ruzicka, i-D

Leonard Cohen live – Like A Drink (re-post from May 7, 2009)

Leonard Cohen live – Like A Drink

This is a re-post from my blogspot/blogger site that I opened up last year before I discovered the wonderful world of wordpress.  I also wanted to re-post this entry as an anniversary to arguably, with myself, the best concert I have ever attended.  Enjoy!

“You see kid…if you sip your drink slowly over the course of the night your whiskey on the rocks becomes a whiskey and water and then water with a splash of whiskey.”  Being young and new to the whole brown liquor thing I looked quizzically at my father’s intention in his face as he focused on his point.  “It’s like having three drinks for the price of one AND, more importantly, you can remember the taste of all three by the end of the night.”  Leonard Cohen’s performance Tuesday night was the perfect analogy to this lesson in drinking.  I will always remember May 5th of 2009 as the night I experienced a perfect concert.

Now I will have to admit, I am relatively new to Leonard Cohen.  The ironic thing is, that newbie status began back in 1990 when I was an angst ridden sullen teenager watching the movie “Pump Up The Volume.”  Seems I was not the only one as many of my peers at that age were similarly taken with the honesty projected through the asphalt voice of Mr. Cohen’s more popular hit, “Everybody Knows.”  I never went out and bought his discography when I heard that song like many of my peers did…apparently on the sly, as I would have surely followed suit in that impressionable age.  I went with what I heard on many “alternative” outlets and stocked up on U2, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Love and Rockets, The Smiths, New Order, etc. etc.  Little did I know that in every band I was listening to, I was hearing Leonard Cohen’s influence.  It was heard in every exalted-rebel-like lyric in U2’s early years.  The darkness of Nick Cave ’s murderous mock trials started out as poems tucked away in Mr. Cohen’s heavy overcoat.  For me, high fashion in pop music went together like Bryan Ferry in a shiny suit.  But Leonard Cohen’s gentlemanly sophistication required something more than just a skinny tie.  And ten years had passed by the time Jeff Buckley made every college girl in the mid-nineties swoon with his version of “Hallelujah.”  No, I was never a seasoned veteran of Leonard Cohen’s subtle genius, it was never imprinted on my DNA at birth like the hits of the Beatles, but I did grow up with his music.

To see this concert at the Chicago Theatre was an extra treat.  The stage was simply set.  There were enough adornments on the walls and ceilings of the place to add a Catholic-Mass-style to the ambiance.  The band wore classic suits and hats.  Mr. Cohen came in, waved, and knelt before the seated guitar player as he growled out “Dance Me To The End Of Love.”  Pitch perfect.  To the point of making the grand occasion seem almost less than his first appearance in Chicago in over fifteen years.  In that moment, I could have been in a corner bar, smoke trailing from a cigarette against my sweating glass of Jameson, getting up the nerve to ask the girl across the bar for her number…or to dance…whichever came first.

“Bird On The Wire” came on with instant recognition from everyone in the theater.  After the requisite applause I witnessed the most beautiful performance of a song in my lifetime.  Mr. Cohen’s voice hung thick like city fog and soft.  As a writer of poetry, I was taught early in college to avoid overusing the clichéd simile.  Why write something is “like” something else when, as a writer, you can just make it into that idea on the paper.  For Leonard Cohen, Like is not a cliché.  Like is a tool, like a pallet knife, to render a scene AND an emotion that makes the song more real, more painful, when heard.

“Who By Fire” had a biblical atmosphere that made me focus on just how humble Mr. Cohen was to every note, every song, every musician, and everyone in the theatre.  There were moments when other musicians and singers took center stage.  At these times he fell back by the drum kit, took off his hat, and listened.  At first, I thought how wonderful it was to see him enjoying the music just as we were in the audience.  But then I thought of the history every song must have with him.  For him to hear it in such a place must have been an indescribable moment.  Leonard Cohen is in his seventies, and while it looked like he could skip in from backstage for encore after encore, as he did for three mind you, I do not know how many more tours are in line for this self-described “tired old man.”  In those times by the drum kit, I would like to think he was reverently taking it all in, all the inner stories, the struggles, the laughs, the deaths, the pains, the joys and the silence.  Like a true monk.

The night unfolded as three hours of beautiful music, history, and poetry were shared generously.  I let the hard cold ice melt into my drink through the night.  I sipped slowly and felt the sweet ribbons of Irish Whiskey warm my throat and settle into my senses.  Intoxicating, like a drink, but better for I remembered every last note.

Mike Ruzicka, i-D

PWTS&M Day 3 – Felix on Sunset

So I’m doing laundry yesterday listening to NPR in the parking lot during the spin cycle. Fresh Air with Terry Gross was on. It’s near the end of the program with all the miscellaneous reporting that doesn’t get the full interview treatment. Entertainment Weekly editor Ken Tucker came on to review and re-introduce, as the case may be for some, a new live recording of the Plimsouls, Live! Beg, Borrow and Steal. I remember the Plimsouls from growing up in the Los Angeles suburbs listening to KROQ. I wasn’t a part of that original early eighties L.A. punk scene. I was born about ten years too late to be captivated by the early rumblings from X, the Vandals, Black Flag, The Descendants, and the like. For me, the Plimsouls came to me in Flashback Lunches on the radio. But the energy in their music still had the stuff to inspire a lanky kid from the San Gabriel Valley to travel across freeways and make himself deaf in haunts dotted across Hollywood and west L.A. This is a poem that attempts to capture that energy. Some of you might recognize the name of my poetic alter-ego in the title. Yes, Felix is back.

Here’s the poem:

Felix on Sunset

come in gaps of time
we drive
on railways through
fire & asphalt
smoke in
basement spaces
with instruments
and youth.

We never knew
our own sweat
until condensed mobs
crushed us
with twisted fists
into agonized bliss.

“And there was nothin’
left to bring me back.”

Here’s the poem’s meaning:

I wanted this poem short.  I do write short poems most of the time but I gave this one only two major stanzas for a reason.  The punk scene was short.  Anyone who lived through it, any documentary, any reliable music source will tell you punk, as a musical style, exploded and fizzled out in a very short time.  I wanted to give this poem that sense with short bursts of language.  The first stanza describes how we kids would drive through long distances to get to the clubs with the music that mattered.  Driving in Los Angeles is measured by time, not miles.  To get from the ‘burbs into Hollywood took about forty-five minutes if there was no traffic.  And since no concert would ever start on time, driving into town late was always the practice.  The venues were legendary in name, the Whisky, the Roxy, the Troubadour, but in actual physical space they were “basements.”  Clubs outside Hollywood were worse.  The places never mattered as much as the music being played there night after night.

The second stanza describes the moment of joy when everything is right; the crowd is pushing toward the stage, the heat is unbearable, there’s an urge to embrace someone or punch them in the face.  Nothing is in the first person.  The misfits have found themselves in the mob.  Ending with a classic refrain from a Plimsouls’ hit, there was no turning back.

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Mike Ruzicka, i-D.