CAW member Barbara Vogel talks about her work process and life lessons learned in the upcoming exhibit Relaciones Extendidas, Extended Relationships.. featuring the work of Barb Vogel, Elsie Sanchez and Leah Wong. The opening reception is April 30th1-3pm at the Southern Ohio Museum (825 Gallia Street Portsmouth, OH 45662) and closes June 23rd.
The “clickless” botanicals images in my current exhibition, Extended Relationships, are created with a hand-held wand scanner, an instrument designed to be used on books and flat materials. My early experimental scans of uneven surfaces such as pine needles, fur, and faces resulted in endless error messages. To avoid such messages, I eventually held a sheet of glass in front of objects to provide an even surface for the scanner.
The soft focus of the wand scans gives these botanicals a sense of the historical or antique, while veils of light bathe the plants that elevates them beyond the commonplace or decorative. I fuse these images with encaustic medium, after mounting the photographs on wood panels, to add to their other-worldly, unattainable preserved quality. These images are printed larger than life and “full frame” or full scan.
Being an older artist I have learned at least four things in life.
Other people’s ideas are always brilliant next to your own but be patiently persistent and trust the process. Elsie’s work and Leah’s work in this exhibit both are brilliant and humbling.
Collaboration can be difficult but you learn so much in doing so.
You can do art alone, but it is very difficult. Ellen Bazzolli, a studio mate,took the time to teach me the basics of encaustic. My studio mates and the Columbus community have provided me with feedback and insights.
Evangelia Philippidis first came to my attention when she posted a phenomenal piece of work she had done on the 614 artist Facebook page. I was really enthralled by her technique and the vivid colors she used so I asked her if she’d like to be interviewed. She said yes so we started online and then I had the privilege of being invited to her lovely home for appetizers, wine and a tour of her studio.
As with so many other artists that I have met, we found some commonalities…the most prominent of which was that we both were ‘pioneers’ in the Olde Town East scene only she lasted loner than I did. We both had homes in that area way before it was fashionable in the 80’s. For all I know, I walked my doggies past her house! She lived on Monroe and I lived on Franklin Avenue. Small world!! That was led to a lively discussion of the area, the gorgeous houses, people we both knew. Evangelia lived in her home for 27 years before moving to Grove City (about 1.5 years ago) to be closer to her folks and to downsize.
Evangelia has been a freelance artist since 1987. Initially, she was doing advertising and editorial work but turned to more of a ‘fine art’ career in 2009 after losing her job as an editorial illustrator for the Columbus Dispatch. And I also found out that she knew a friend of mine who also was RIF’ed the same year! Once again, small world!!!
Born and raised until the age of 9 in the shadow of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, her first memories as a child were playing in the ancient ruins and museums of Athens always surrounded by art….wow, I’m jealous!!! Her parents moved to the US to realize the American dream. Her father, a salesman in gold jewelry, was unlike many Greek dads, wanting his daughters to go to college and make more of their lives than what they would be able to in Greece, hence, the move. The girls and their mother didn’t really want to leave Greece but Dad won out and they moved to a part of Ohio that Evangelia was less than thrilled with.
Initially, she wanted to be an archaeologist but since she is not a very science oriented kinda gal that dream ended in her junior year of high school in Lorain, Ohio. She always drew as a hobby, was always creative and imaginative, creating original Halloween costumes for her younger sister and posters for theater productions but she didn’t think it could become a vocation. However, eventually she sort of fell into it while trying to decide what to do with her life. While waiting for seat to open in the Navy’s photography school, she did research on art schools and found that CCAD was rated as one of the top art schools in the country. Soooo… she enrolled at CCAD on a whim and fell in LOVE! Read more
Kate Morgan exudes enthusiasm. Her studio at The Columbus Idea Foundry is the incubator for her mixed media portraits. Not confined to one medium, she utilizes painting, printmaking, collage and many other methods to articulate her figures. Elongated limbs, ethereal washes, and emotional tones signify her work. Kate is a relatively new member of CAW, but she is no stranger to art-making, nor the Columbus arts scene. She has been drawing since childhood and never abandoned that practice, even while studying fashion photography at CCAD. Since going full time as an artist, she couldn’t be happier. She is quick to mention the “fierce support” that has helped her get to this point in her career, from both family and friends, as well as other artists in Columbus and beyond. She is compelled to keep painting, drawing, and experimenting – constantly striving to discover the next thing on her artistic horizon.
Have you always drawn figures?
Originally, I was going to school for fashion photography. I would draw out little plans for shoots. Once I got an education about where the bones and muscles are in the body, I very quickly realized the models couldn’t pose like my drawings – it wasn’t humanly possible. So I let the drawings become one thing and the photography became another thing. Even though I studied photography, I have always drawn. A few friends from my high school history class have little drawings from me. It is fun to see those, before my formal education. Now I just let the drawing go free.
What part of the figure have you struggled to draw?
I hate feet. I don’t like them in person and I don’t like to draw them. I’ve always loved portraits, which are traditionally not feet. I accept that as a challenge that I need feet in some works. I try to make them cute to compensate. Like in this painting for example, I made round, little, berry toes. I have to make them not look like feet to trick myself into drawing them.
Your work brings to mind so many different references – Egyptian sculpture, Renaissance paintings, Modigliani’s eyes. What are some favorites of yours?
I run really hot and cold, not just between artists, but also within an artists’ body of work. I will love one piece, but not another. Egon Schiele was my first art guy love. There are things that he does, that just aren’t for me. That’s true for me too. There are some things that I make and it is an immediate no. Right now everyone is saying that I am channeling Gustav Klimt, and I can totally see that.
What influences might surprise people?
Folklore and history are both inspiring me lately. I’ve been listening to history and old time radio mystery podcasts. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History goes in depth and is outstanding. Usually I listen to music while at my studio. Since I need to pause podcasts when I get a studio visitor and more often than not, my hands are dripping wet or messy, music is easier in the studio.
How do you approach the gaze of the figures?
I am obsessed with profiles, which I think comes from my love of Egyptian and Greek historical figures. One of my teachers a long time ago pointed out that the figures don’t look at you. That it seemed like they were hiding something. Her words felt like a challenge. It took a couple years to turn their heads. Now I have done some that are directly straight on. I don’t find it challenging any more, but it really did take awhile. For the longest time, I didn’t put pupils in the eyes. Since the eyes are the windows to the souls – if there was nothing there, the figure was just the shell vessel that contained the soul. I have somewhat abandoned this, in part because it really creeped a lot of people out. I now add pupils. To me it makes it look more traditional, which is where most of my references are coming from anyway.
You obviously embrace experimentation. It helps you stay engaged in your studio practice. When did you begin incorporating found paper?
I started out making acrylic paintings with light washes and several coats of resin or polyurethane. Quite frankly, I was broke due to student loans right after school. I couldn’t afford a color printer, so I started experimenting with mixed media monoprints. I couldn’t print with color, but I could add color as a layer underneath a black and white print. It was at this time that I was getting into incorporating old paper. The historical aspect of it was also really appealing. I have always been into art history. I minored in art history because I had a great teacher who taught all of the surrounding history to explain the relevance of the art. The paper is a textural element, but it also has more to offer – different points of conversation that you can engage someone in. I like the way old things like maps and old wallpaper look. It’s a piece of history in your art. The next step has become collaging more and giving the works more depth. It has been really fun to see people interact with these new works.
What was the impetus to go back to school?
I was working at the photo lab at Wal-Mart. I had fallen down on ebad decisions and some hard times. When you’re not feeling good about yourself, you make little decisions instead of big, good decisions. It took about four years to pick myself up emotionally and financially from that. It also took the courage and self-awareness to know that it was not where I belonged. At the same time, my friend went back to school to CCAD. She got a scholarship and I didn’t realize you could do that as an adult. So I tried too, and I got a scholarship that helped push me.
At what time after school did you realize that you should pursue drawing full time?
Not until a few years ago. The very first show I did was Independents’ Day Festival. I prepared like crazy and brought all my college work and some of those new monoprints I had been making. I think I made $800 and I was thrilled. I initially started doing festivals to pay back my student loans. I had photography in there too, but I only sold three photographs and the rest were paintings and drawings. The more I did it, the more I realized the photography was not fulfilling my need to get dirty and make things with my hands. It was a different level of connection with the work when I was drawing or painting. I was working full time and it took about a year or two for me to quit my job and pursue art. I have been very happy ever since. I’m a giant dork. I make lots of lots of mistakes with my artwork. There are lots of rejects and things go wrong. Sometimes things just don’t work, and I am ok with that. I just want to be happy all the time, making stuff.
Many Columbus natives were introduced to Dana Lynn Harper by her installation, Bloom Bloom. The billowing cloud of red-orange flagging tape emanates warmth and transports visitors into a new, but decidedly friendly, other world. Recently, Dana’s mural outside of ROY G BIV has been greeting visitors to the Short North. It depicts colorful, polymer clay diatoms created through an artistic evolution at the hands of Dana. Her work, regardless of scale, pulls you in with its vibrant colors and playful abstraction. It is no surprise that her studio is also full of color and play.
Dana skillfully oscillates between making big and small works. This has been very apparent in her recent flurry of artistic output. She created a large, outdoor installation for Independents’ Day, while at the same time planning for a pint-sized exhibition at S.Dot Gallery. This dollhouse exhibition will premiere on S.Dot’s Facebook page in the coming days. Dana will also have a few small works on display for CAW’s A Little Bit Closer at the Vanderelli Room which opens November 13th.
How does your process begin for a piece? Is it different for 2D work, sculpture, and installation?
Yes, it’s all different. I am always working on something 2D that is small. The smaller ones are more about play and intuition. They are sketches to me. From these smaller works, I usually come up with an idea for a sculpture or a bigger piece. Doing this process also introduces new materials. I’m a stressed person with a lot of anxiety, so if I just approached a new project by thinking, “I am going to make a badass installation,” it would be too much pressure. I have to relax and have no overhang of responsibility. If I only did big projects, I think I would be a totally different person.
As for the installations, I usually find a material I can buy en masse. Then I buy a lot of it and play around. I search for a mark that I can repeat over and over to create a big texture or a big pattern. It is all about manipulating a material and a culmination of marks.
What materials do you frequently use?
Resin. Flagging tape. Plastic. Lots of times I list “found plastic” – just weird stuff that I find. I am also into transparent things right now, so I also use plexiglass a lot or even found glass. The plan for the glass globes I bought at thrift stores is to build little worlds in each of them. I’m going to stack these little worlds so that you can see and appreciate them, but they are protected and loved by each other. Each one of these worlds represents a person for me – not a specific person, but more the beauty in individuality.
I just want to touch all your art! It calls to me!
I make everything to be touched. I don’t take care of things very well, so things have to be very durable to last my beating. I make my stuff to last.
You describe your work between undergraduate degree in Art and Tech and graduate degree in Sculpture as very feminist. Why is that?
I think it was the materials I was using. Every material had an absolute meaning. Panty hose, for example, signified restriction. What girl likes wearing panty hose? At that age, 22 or 23, I was just figuring out all of the gendered shit that’s happening and all of the stuff that was ingrained in my head that I thought was the truth. That part of my life was about shedding those expectations to get to the core of who I was. The work wasn’t more feminist, but it was more obvious to other people. I don’t see my work as less feminist now, I just see it as more honest.
The work that people would recognize now began about a year into grad school when color entered in a big way. Where did the color come from?
I was making 2D works for my Etsy store, using a bunch of spray paint and colored paper. At the same time, I was taking advanced sculpture and I brought in some of the materials and things I was working on. Someone in class asked me why all my 2D works were in crazy colors and my sculpture wasn’t. The simple answer was that I didn’t know how to handle color in a three dimensional object. Slowly after that, I began to experiment. The first really colorful object that I made was this cone with cut paper triangles of color completely covering it. There were three chairs around it that represented the three female friends who have been the most influential in my life. The chairs were around this colorful, paper cone “bonfire.” Being a woman is really hard, but I don’t have to spend my life being upset about that. I can celebrate the amazing things about being a woman and the amazing relationships I get to have with other women. That color just switched everything – from trying to understand my life and being upset, to being able to celebrate and focus on what makes life beautiful. It is not that I am ignoring the unjust world, but rather doing my best to make work that can be accessed by all people. The “bodies” or objects and shapes that appear are genderless, they are free. As an artist it is my responsibility to find my role, to find my purpose. By making installations, I can physically shape the world, I can forever change it and I can make spaces that invite everyone and anyone to enjoy.
What feedback did you get about that early, colorful sculpture?
I would set my art out in a critique and my fellow sculptors would talk about the objects – what every form represented. They were very vocal about the materials I used. Color was the last thing that was mentioned. I took a painting critique by chance because I heard amazing things about this professor, Micaela Amato. I showed up and she asked, “Where is all the work that you’ve made during summer?” So I showed it to her and all she wanted to talk about was color. She was able to tell me what was working and what wasn’t.
A lot of your materials, especially found plastic, are sourced from thrift, craft, and dollar stores. What is going through your head when you pick them out?
My work and process are sentimental. I pick objects that you could have seen as a kid. The color palette is from a roller rink or laser tag. Each object doesn’t have a conceptual meaning in and of itself, but the process of choosing things is based on a familiarity and the ability to be two things at once. For example, this is a plastic toy, but when I set into a piece it could be a weird, robotic plankton. The materials need to feel accessible, but still have the ability to be abstract.
You describe your work as “gentle,” This is especially appropriate for Bloom Bloom, but does it still apply to your plastic/resin works?
Bloom Bloom is like a gentle embrace. I don’t like it when people make art to force you to have an experience that maybe you aren’t ready for. I am saying that because I used to make really heavy work. So maybe it would be appropriate to say I didn’t like that in myself – forcing someone to feel your pain in order to connect with them. My work doesn’t beat you over the head. It is there to enjoy – to give you a moment of pleasure. It is there to counteract the negativity that we all face. It comes from a place where all people have potential. All people are wonderful. All people deserve to be loved. It is my way of giving you a hug or a gift. The plastic/resin works are still gentle to me, they disappear into the wall, they do not demand anything other than joy and attention.
Does making the big works fulfill a different need for you, or is it all the same?
I love when someone walks completely into something that I’ve made and their environment is totally changed. That was my biggest goal. Then I started making small things because… look at the size of my studio! That was the only reason I started working small. I originally made tiny units to eventually build up to something bigger. But now I think that working small is just as important as working big. I have more joy in the process of working small – more fun! I’m not over making installations. If you look at Yayoi Kusama, she makes massive installations, but also teeny, tiny drawings. An artist can do both.
You make work quickly and without a preconceived notion. You have said that the significance grows with the piece. Does that free you, or is it scary?
It is both and that can be hard to get used to it. In graduate school it was the scariest, because that was the time I realized it was happening – that I was working too fast and my mind didn’t have time to catch up. Saying that in a critique is hard. People just don’t want to hear that. Now it is easier and I can trust myself. I have this philosophy that if you make something bad and it fails, you had to make the bad thing in order to get to the good thing. Any making is necessary and essential. If I’m in the studio, that’s good enough. At least I am stepping in the right direction. It is also liberating to have endless possibilities. That is why I don’t like a plan. I like for the end goal to change based on the making.
What reaction are you looking for with your art?
It is very specific. You know when you see a really cute cat, and you are like, “Squeeeeee!” Sort of like the way kids react to cartoons with excitement and imagination. I want people to look and feel empowered by their own imagination.
You are so busy! What is on the horizon for you?
I am teaching at the Cultural Arts Center this fall. I will be featured at Stephanie Rond’s dollhouse gallery, S.Dot, for the month of November. I have a solo with Sean Christopher Gallery in the Short North that opens December 5th. And I will be jurying the CCAD exhibition called “Young Hearts” during that time. I am also working in collaboration with The Vanderelli Room on a permanent sculpture called the “Vandelier Tree,” that will be comprised of painted chandeliers that are hung outside in one of the trees.
Creativity is like a fat, needy cat. You must nurture it, care for it, and feed it to keep it thriving and healthy. As someone who has experienced a creative lull early in adult life, I know what happens when you let your creativity sit idle. I blame my lull on a variety of factors, including a bad high school art teacher/uninspiring college classes, a lack of creative partners, and general laziness on my part.
“I HAZ DA CHEEZ PLUMPS”
Like most people who feel uncreative, I thought that my dearth of creative output was due to some innate lacking. However, in truth, I’d just had it drilled out of me and I needed to do a little work to call it forth again. Really, what I needed was a creative exorcism.
Right before she puked creativity everywhere.
Luckily, at the end of my fourth year of college, as I was nearing graduation with a Bachelors in Journalism, I FREAKED OUT.
Long story short, I started taking studio art classes and began an internship in the Education Department at the Columbus Museum of Art, which eventually turned into a jobby job. I began exploring various media and art concepts, something I was able to do at school and work. I met people who became my collaborators (RIP Art Club).
Art Club, when we were powerful business women.
Slowly, but surely, I became a creative person again! What was really cool was that, though I had switched my focus towards the visual arts, I became more creative in other ways, such as writing. As a journalism student, my writing had been grammatically sound but mind-numbingly boring, even to me. Now it’s not, I think…
So, now that my brain is “fixed” and I’m creative again, I’m very careful to keep it happy and fed on a regular basis, lest I become a sad, Fox News watching sheeple, with no ideas of my own.
Without creativity, the terrorists have really won.
Here’s how I do it:
Never go too long without a project. It’s nice to take a break but if it’s too long, I get antsy. It’s not that I’m a super serious, prolific artist, I just always have something on the horizon.
Collaboration! I’m better at going solo now than I was during my creative resurrection, but it still helps. That’s why I joined CAW. Even if we’re not working on a project together, a community of creative minds is inspiring, motivating, and fun.
Make life into a creative project. I’ve been planning my wedding lately and I’ve had a really good time making the invitations, coming up with a killer look, and envisioning decorations. I figure, if it’s not fun and creative, why do it?
Remember to be creative at my creative job. The longer I’ve worked at CMA, the more administrative duties I’ve had to take on. BORING. So, I have to remind myself to take time for creative ideas because that’s what makes my programs good and that’s what makes my job rule.
Healthy patterns. It may sound lame, but I can be the most creative when my house is clean, my fridge is stocked, I’ve exercised, and my other chores are out of the way. I try to keep up good habits between projects, so that it doesn’t get too chaotic when I’m in a frantic time crunch.
Constant inspiration. This one is easy because it gives me a good excuse to read a lot of books, watch a lot of movies, listen to a lot of music, and go to a lot of museums. Some of my more unique sources of inspiration are quirky museums and roadside stops, old toys, campy sci-fi, and punk rock aesthetics, just to name a few.
I’ve seen this movie a bajillion times.
At this point, I may not be an amazing artist but I’m totally owning what I am and it feels great. I know I will only get better.
In October of 2012 a friend and I drove west across the country. Our ultimate goal and destination was to visit with friends in the highly anticipated and beautiful Santa Fe but, (no surprises here), we also found the journey along the way through ever changing terrain and color to be quite beautiful. Those eleven days went quickly filled with beauty, newness and awakening. So many memories were created that I revisit fondly and often especially on real life, daily grind, Columbus, Ohio February kind of days. Big blue skies, surreal landscapes of wind farms set against sunsets that could melt the coldest of hearts and an inspiring visit to O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu are my favorites.
O’Keeffe. Standing where she stood, seeing what she saw, breathing in the same air, sun, sky that she did and seeing her pieces in the very real landscape that surrounded me was an experience that moved me and one that I hope to never forget. It produced stomach butterflies, quickened my heart rate and at the very same time, enveloped me with a feeling of overwhelming peace. In those moments I realized I was in the presence of greatness. Also in those moments I knew I would return to this place again and again.
At Ghost Ranch we met the resident librarian (a friend of a friend) who told us of a recently published book by author and University of New Mexico grad, C.S. Merrill. The book, Weekends with O’Keeffe, and related stories that we heard that day recount a young grad student’s first and once in a lifetime meeting with the artist and the companionship that followed. The book is nicely strung together, built from pieces of journals kept, sound recordings taken and memories. It replays the unbelievable account of Merrill’s first meeting with the artist, her weekend job of organizing O’Keeffe’s massive book collection and eventually the daily companionship that followed. (I have goosebumps thinking about it.) O’Keeffe was in her 80s and Merrill in her 20s, O’Keeffe was strong, hard and closed and Merrill was open. The relationship that followed was moving and proves to me in some way that magic does exist.
You don’t have to be an O’Keeffe fan to enjoy this book. It shares intriguing glimpses into the daily life of an aging artist, observations of another looking in at that mysterious life, and above all else an amazing connection between two women.
We are excited to announce a new format for the CAW blog! We’ve gathered some amazing women who will be contributing their views, ideas and knowledge regarding all aspects of the art world. This isn’t your ordinary blog!!!
If you have suggestions or ideas you’d like to see covered on the CAW blog, send an email to cawcolumbus(at)gmail.com.
Allison is an eloquent writer and mixed media artist who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She shares her passion for thoughtful interviews of our members through our blog and CAW Talk newsletter.
Mary Ann Crago
Mary Ann Crago is a mixed media artist who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Columbus College of Art and Design in 1995. When she is not creating, she is a Youth Services Manager for the Columbus Metropolitan Library.
Mollie Hannon is a photographer, mother and all around procrastinator extraordinaire. Mollie has been showing with CAW since 2010, and has exhibited locally and nationally. Mollie is excited to be back in the blogging world as she explores the multi-faceted world of the performing arts.
Cat Lynch is an artist, museum educator, gardener, tree-hugger, cat-person, library addict and drinker of all coffee and teas, currently haunting the west side of Columbus. She has shown in exhibitions throughout the Midwest and around the country, both in galleries and in nontraditional spaces. A multidisciplinary artist, her work often utilizes invented narratives and simple symbols to tell autobiographical, highly personal stories.
Peggy Mintun is an abstract painter and graphic designer from Columbus. She has shown her work in Columbus, as well as nationally and internationally. In addition to painting and designing, she has written for Sublime Rush and Omnibucket’s OLOGY magazine. Her interests lie in mad science and artists from around the globe.
Vicki Oster is a art blogger,scrapbook queen, mixed media artist,crafter extraordinaire, speech-language pathologist, animal lover and newbie to CAW! Having interviewed several of the CAW artists (along with other local artists), she is psyched to join the CAW blog and get to know more members. Vicki promotes Ohio artisans and crafters and their events on her blog
Melinda Eliza Sabo
Melinda Eliza Sabo is an Idea Chaser, Fiction Writer, Travel Photographer, Visionary Painter, and Creativity Coach who believes that life should be an artistic journey: truly well-seen and well-lived.
Susie is a multimedia and performance artist who has worked in the Learning Department of the Columbus Museum of Art for the last 8 years. Susie explores Living a Creative Life: How are the various pieces of our lives interconnected and how can creativity improve the quality of our lives?
I recently sat down to a delicious plate of pasta with Heidi Madsen in her delightful home to learn more about her artistic path. Her passion falls at the intersection of art and performance, and this is completely evident in the way she has decorated her living space. She has wonderful collection of clown art, including a portrait of herself done by Joey Monsoon. According to her, clowning is serious business, and it is clear that she is working towards a much larger goal than simply a chuckle. She approaches each new challenge with gusto! Her performance personas span from clown to drag king to Sasquatch. I hope you have as much fun learning about the person behind the performer as I did.
What changes when you put on a red nose?
The clown nose is the smallest mask in the world. It does not hide you, it reveals you! It doesn’t change [me], it is like an on switch. It is like an on switch for lighting up the authentic self.
Clown school was a bit of a legend to me, but you’ve actually been! What was it like?
I didn’t know what I was getting into. I had the same image that other people have of clowns. It was a five-week program about clowning through mask. It was in Toronto so it was based on Richard Pochinko’s clowning who is a famous Canadian clown. Everything was based around making six masks. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it was like doing improv on steroids. I had never spoken out loud on stage, ever, and I had to do that. Basically, I had to turn myself inside out on the stage and doing that consciously is a scary thing. The teacher was a tough love teacher! She was really good and knew you could do better. It was all about being authentic.
I went to clown school because I wanted to take my performance to the next level. I really wanted to learn new things about performance since I don’t have any training background at all, except for just doing. This was a chance to get some training and the idea of being a clown intrigued me. Going to clown school was my fortieth birthday gift to myself!
Before you were a clown, you were a drag king. What was your first performance experience?
I had never been on stage before and I didn’t even know there was a stage person in me. Today the core of who I am is a performance artist and I know that at 43 years old, but I did not know that in 1995. A friend of mine had a birthday party and 3 of our friends decided to do some performance at a bar and dressed up like men. We didn’t even know what a drag king was, nobody did. It was so much fun the bar owners invited them back, so I offered to help backstage. My girlfriend at the time told me I should get up there. She said, “C’mon, go up there and do Risky Business or something.” I thought that it looked fun and I could probably slide across the stage in my underwear. Once I was up there, there was some magic that happened. There were no words for what I felt. There was something in me that knew how to do this. I was surprised that it was part of me.
You described drag as a political statement. What do you mean by that?
I am on stage to reveal the absurdity that real men are 100% masculine and are only attracted to real women. And that real women are 100% feminine and are only attracted to real men. I didn’t know this immediately. In the beginning it was fun and was just getting used to my sea legs. During those first years of performing, a bunch of drag kings were in the Women’s Studies program at OSU getting their master’s degrees. They started to talk to all of us about what performing drag really meant. After a couple of years of learning more about what it meant to perform gender, my tendency to want to make the world a better place came out. If I am good at grabbing people’s attention, then I have a responsibility to say something important. That is how it became political.
Some CAW fans might recognize you as a giant, lovable Sasquatch. What was the significance of that performance?
Over the last three or four years bullying has become a big topic. Obviously it has been going on since the beginning of time, but when you have [the audience’s] attention you can get somewhere new with them. Heidi Kambitsch and I decided to make a performance with clowning and her body puppets. With those two things we created an interactive, anti-bullying performance for kids called Bully Eraser, Love Replacer. The Sasquatch character was about my sister’s story growing up being bullied. She had to change high schools because she was bullied so much. I was a year ahead of her and I didn’t understand why she was having such a hard time. In high school it is all about you and saving face in your grade. A lot of the bullying was emotional trauma, so I didn’t see the bruised feelings at the time. I’ve carried that around with me for years. This was an opportunity to go back and interview her, and then write a story for her. My sister was tall for her age and she hadn’t grown into her paws yet. This one asshole called her Sasquatch so the character is supposed to be my sister. It was my way to say that I am sorry.
Family stories are important inspiration in your artistic practice. Can you talk a little bit about the story of your uncle and the BIG project that you’ve been working on for several years?
Aunt Christine was a Catholic nun for 30 years. In the late eighties she left the nunnery to become a radical feminist lesbian. In the late nineties she decided to transition into Uncle Chris. So the name of the play is called From Sister to Mister. Uncle Chris is a real person who lives in Cleveland. He is a professional nurse and is 71 years old now. He is really important in my life because he is someone who made some really hard life choices. When she left the convent, it was the same time that I was a freshman in college so I felt like we were both leaving home. When she came out to the family at that time, I was also coming out in my mind, so we kind of came out together. When I found that she was transitioning, I had been a drag king for 5 or 6 years and realized that drag could be very serious performance. I really wanted to bring Chris’s story to the stage. In terms of the people in my life who I am really proud to know and can learn from, he is in the top three. I wanted to write a play about his life and I have spent eight years working on two versions of the play.
There is a performance related to From Sister to Mister that is coming up in October. What is it?
I have taken a three-year break from the play and have been focusing on my performances with Heidi Kambitsch. I certainly want to write the final version [of the play]. This is a life project for me because my uncle is so important to me and I know this story needs to be out there. And I know I am the one to put it out there.
I needed to see the play through a different lens because I was too close to it. Two friends, one who is the manager at the Garden Theater and another who runs a dance company here in town, came up with a project to choreograph dance pieces to local plays. So I sent them my play for consideration. Long story short, they picked it! There are three choreographers, producing three dance pieces, to three plays in late October. I get to be part of the artistic process with the dancers between now and the performance. That will help me figure out what piece is missing in the play. By the way, Uncle Chris’ story isn’t done yet! He just got married last August to a woman in a Catholic church.
What advice would you give a performer just starting out?
It is really important to find your authentic voice. Not only through your voice, but also through your movement, how you look, and especially what your subject matter is. Make sure it is something you really, really care about. Because if you care about it, you will become a mirror for your audience and they will find the things in that mirror that they care about. I have no desire to do any type of performance that does not bring the performers and the audience together to see something new.