Class of 2015 Interviews Part 2: What are your inspirations?

Looking at the Inside - Class of 2015 Interviews (part two)
How is it already March?! It’s amazing to think how quickly this first year is going at the Academy.  We’ve got lots of exciting things happening in the next few months as we wrap up our first year.  But before it’s over, I wanted to introduce you to a few more of my classmates – to share their oeuvre and the interesting background that each of them come from.
I asked them a few simple questions: 
What inspires your work? 
And who are you inspired by?

Washington, DC
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Painting has been away for me to rescue my experience from the flow of time. To hold it out, so it can be revisited. Not necessarily to be revisited by me, but for someone else to have an opportunity to see or feel something the way I do. I think painting, particularly in the west, was almost intuitively invented to delay the fleeting reality of sensual experience. Lately, my paintings have been fueled by my fascination with mystery and wonder. I am amazed to be located on this planet, a ball of rock rotating around a spherical fire. It is a very odd, but common situation, and the more I look at things I can’t shake the feeling that my existence is quite weird. When I paint, I don’t think of subject matter or content, I try to let the meaning of the painting reveal itself to me through the process. I don’t know what question to ask when I set out to paint. But it’s not exactly a question that I’m wondering about, it’s a feeling that I have. I cannot formulate the question that is my wonder. When I open my mouth to talk about it, I suddenly find I’m babbling non-sense. But that should not prevent wonder from being the foundation of painting.
An artist that has constantly been on my mind since first seeing his paintings is Caravaggio. Before seeing his work I had my mind set out to become an abstract painter. Caravaggio’s compositions pulled me in, the way the shapes fit together and activate each other.  I have always been fascinated with the slight ambiguity that is in his paintings, which is hardly noticeable at first. When looking at his paintings one is never quite sure what is happening, it is always on the edge. As art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon noted, Caravaggio’s paintings “border between the sacred and profane.” 

Shaina Craft (MFA 2015)
Philadelphia, PA
Maryland Institute College of Art
I talk about existence by painting the figure.  Before I came to the Academy I was layering the figure over itself as a way to discuss the various levels on which we experience our lives and ourselves.  Now that I'm here, I've decided to pursue that same topic by other means.
Work by Shaina Craft (MFA 2015)
Veneers of painted flesh mingle on my canvases, blending the borders between figurative and landscape, portrait and abstract.  My deepest desire is to create provocative artwork that challenges the foundations of figure painting by continuing to blur the boundaries between digital and traditional work, pushing color, and recontextualizing traditional subject matter.  I wield my palette as another means of pushing limits, experimenting with extreme and unfamiliar hues for the human form, creating something recognizable and yet entirely alien, like landscapes comprised of bodies or fluorescent faces fading in and out of existence.
I don’t like the word ‘inspiration.’  To me that word conjures images of artists sitting around waiting to be struck by lightning so they can have a great idea and make work.  The body of work I made before starting at the Academy came by looking hard at the work of other painters, figuring out what I wanted, and experimenting with my medium and process until I came up with something that worked for me.  Starting in 2011, it was a year of research and trials before I made a decent painting.  I suppose that’s why these pieces are titled as ‘Experiments.’
Work by Shaina Craft (MFA 2015)
I use myself as a model frequently.  People mention it less with that past body of work, maybe because it’s difficult to recognize any one face or person in them.  But, I wouldn’t say I use myself as a subject.  I’m not painting me.  I’m painting the human experience; the faces and bodies are just stand-ins.  I work from photo-references most of the time.  I took a bunch of photography classes in high school and college so now I can very carefully stage and light my shots.  I've even shown some of that work in exhibitions.  For me, there isn't much of a boundary between what I consider reference material and what I consider the finished piece.  If an image seems to need a painted surface, I give it one; if it needs pastel, I use that.  I grew up with a metal sculptor as a mother so some of my earliest memories are of her explaining to me that form follows function.
Shaina Craft (MFA 2015)
I read constantly.  All kinds of things – poetry, philosophy, memoir, fiction.  I'm pretty obsessed with Sci-fi and urban fantasy.  My favorite contemporary fiction writer is Charles De Lint.  He combines myths and folk tales from cultures all over the world into these beautiful stories that take place in present-day cities.  The thing about science fiction is when it’s done well it’s always a reflection of modern culture, like looking in a distorted mirror.
An artist I’m currently looking at a lot is Justin Bower.  Bower is painting about all of the things I'm interested in; The state of human beings in this age of technological evolution and pop culture overload and what a slippery subject that can be.  It’s a new phenomenology, not what is being, but what have we become? I love his loaded brush strokes and crazy bright colors. My favorite painting by Justin Bower (it was really hard to pick just one) – “Architecture of Infection,” 2010.

Istanbul, Turkey
Ringling College of Art and Design
Work by Gokhan Gokseven (MFA 2015)
I was born in London and raised in Istanbul. I am the only child of an Opera director and a pharmacist. 
When I paint, either in the studio or during classes, I always try to design a general atmosphere for that painting. Now, that plan rarely succeeds - very often the result I get is something different than the initial feel I design before the painting. But usually those kinds of paintings of mine were turned out to be the most successful ones. And whenever I don't have that initial plan-they usually fail. So for me, having an idea in the beginning is the key, whether that idea later will be shown in the painting or not, does not matter. I like how after watching a horror movie, usually a creepy scene gets stuck in your head. I think that is sometimes the feeling I want to get.
Work by Gokhan Gokseven (MFA 2015)
I'm inspired by pretty much everything, and they constantly change. But mainly, I draw inspiration from the negativity. They don't have to be personal negative matters. I draw inspiration from the music I listen to, the neighborhood I live in, the other art I look at, what is going on in the world, being far from the country where I am from, all these kinds of things. I try not to listen to music much when I paint. I always put on a political talk program from a tube channel or a discussion about existence of UFO's or something like that. 
Work by Gokhan Gokseven (MFA 2015)
If I have to think of one name in the history of painting that had the biggest inspiration to me, without thinking twice I would say Hammershoi. I was introduced to his work by a teacher of mine when I was in my junior year in college. I was very influenced by how one can paint such simple subjects and invoke unsettling feelings on the viewer, and repeat this and never be repetitive. That is a very hard thing to achieve. His paintings are anything but epic. They don't beg for your attention, they just say “this is me. Like it or not, I don't care.” I think this is a statement that only the bravest artists can have. Maybe his influence on my work doesn't show directly, but it certainly made me much more mature in terms of how I approach to picture making.

Houston, Texas
Maryland Institute College of Art
Work by Gabriel Zea (MFA 2015)
I’ve always been drawn to the elegance of the human form and its ability to reflect our personal history. Bodies and faces typically reflect our lifestyle and I like the idea of being able to understand aspects of a person’s personality based on a sensitive observation of their physical features and gestures. The face especially reveals more and more of our temperament as we age, and it’s in the process of trying to duplicate the nuanced features of a face through elements of line and value that I find my most consistent inspiration. In devoting myself to recreating someone else’s attributes I feel that I’m able to meditate on their personality as a reflection of mine. Hopefully, through both consistent observation and introspection, I can make both our vulnerabilities evident on the surface of their figure.  In this world of unceasing flux I want to convey the steadfast brilliance and uniqueness of a person’s personality, and how against time and tribulation their individuality is their protective armor.  
Work by Gabriel Zea (MFA 2015)
As of late, I’ve been trying to integrate moments that are rendered monochromatically into my paintings, as a means of magnifying the symbolic power of a single color (in the context of a figure), and also in an attempt to simplify my images and give them an iconic quality. 
An artist I’ve been interested in for a while is James Jean.  Originally an illustrator, he transitioned into fine art several years ago and his work has since walked a line between an illustrative and fine art aesthetic. While his style can vary a lot, I admire his way of combining wonderful draftsmanship with very expressively and boldly applied chromatic colors. His use of color effectively imbues a sense of madness over the controlled elegance of his line work. One of my favorite paintings of his is entitled Lovers, 2011.  It aptly combines an overwhelming superficial beauty with clear themes of anxiety, chaos, and violence. The four round panels and overall circular composition evoke the idea of beauty and suffering being components of a circular process.


Camila Rocha (MFA 2015) will be blogging here throughout the year about her first year at the Academy and moving to New York City.  Check the label "First Year Experience" or "Camila Rocha" for more posts about her first year at the Academy. 
If you have any questions for Camila or her classmates, please leave them in the comments section of the blog.

All images are courtesy of the artists.

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