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Visually Oriented: Artist Profile – Ellie Howard

Artist

-Emily Fraysse

In her room that seems smaller than the size of Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs, Ellie Howard manages to pull four different copies of her latest print from her print-making class titled “Victory” out from underneath her white iron-cast bed. Her long blonde-ash locks are pulled back into a messy ponytail and her fingers, stained with different colored paints, are dead giveaways as to what she had been doing for the past six hours. Her room is plastered with ripped-out pages from fashion magazines, an American flag fan, a flag from Sienna, Italy, small cut-outs of famous paintings, a billboard collage of colored ribbons, and photos. Her voice is calm, yet she has a spark of laughter that’s contagious. Cracking jokes left and right, she sits Indian style upon her floral-printed bedspread as she tells me of her passion for art.

I got the privilege of talking with Howard, a senior and artist majoring in Studio Art and minoring in Art History at the University of Oregon.

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What inspires you the most?

“I don’t know how to narrow down what inspires me other than what strikes me at a moment. I was thinking of an instance that this happened to me the other day. In the EMU I saw this golden drinking fountain…. It had a plaque to commemorate somebody. [It was] in this weird stairwell that broke off and there was a brick wall with this golden drinking fountain. And I was like, ‘that’s the coolest thing ever.’ I felt like I wasn’t done thinking about it…. I really like flowers, I really like clothes and looking at what people are saying and doing.… It’s hard to narrow down. I have a lot of interests. I get a pull from all over.”

How long have you been making art?

“Since forever. I have one of those second memories like where you remember the incident, but you don’t remember anything else really. I was probably five-years-old and everybody was out playing on the playground. I was sitting alone drawing a picture of my family under a rainbow or something. In Kindergarten, when we had that sponge brush and we had all the different cut sponges. And we did the coolest thing ever… I was like ‘This. Is. Awesome!’ I think it sparked in Kindergarten.”

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What’s your favorite medium?

“There’s so many types of ways to make things which I definitely learned in undergrad. Taking printmaking, which is something you don’t do too much in high school if you take art. I really liked printmaking, but it was really stressful. It’s cool to be able to make copies of stuff. I really, really like painting, but it’s a struggle sometimes. It’s hard to be original and find satisfaction in your own work when there’re a lot of other people like that. A lot of people make art. I like all different mediums.”

Which era of art would you go back to and why?

“Probably the late 1800’s in Paris and England because they had these great exhibitions and it was so romantic, the notion that everyone was going out to see what had been painted. It was more in the public eye, which is cool. That’s why people make things for other people to look at.”

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Do you usually have an idea first and then create it or do you start off with a plank medium and work from there?

“It depends on the class. When I have a prompt, it’s kind of like going at it like a math equation or trying to think back to what I’ve thought about recently or what’s in my sketchbook or collage. If it’s a literary reference, I think about all my books or pick an image that is blank. You just fill in the blank with something that pertains to your interests. It’s almost easier coming up with something. The carrying out of it is the hard part because it never turns out exactly how you pictured; well, not never, just rarely.”

Ellie plans on graduating from the University of Oregon this Spring and moving back to her hometown of Lafayette, California where she will begin looking at internships abroad.

The Pleasure of Print

[cap]A[/cap]fter ten years of graphic design with creative firms in Boston, Beth Kerschen decided to uproot her entire life and head out West. She settled in Portland, Oregon, and traded the high-pace life she knew for a new life of observation and creativity. Today she practices the craft of a multi-disciplinary artist by combining photography and printmaking to produce prints, cards, and shirts with digitally manipulated urban landscapes.

With a bachelor of fine arts, Beth reflects, “The irony is that what I really wanted to do was exactly what I did in college and the degree that I did got.  I needed to get that because that’s exactly what I’m doing now.”

Beth’s career as a graphic designer was simply a hiatus from what she truly loved:  photographic illustrating.

Whether to seek a stable job or pursue her true passion was a dilemma Beth knew all too well.

“There’s all this pressure; like, you have to make a lot of money, and you have to be practical, and you have to find a good job—a solid secure job.  I always had that fed to me for so long,” she says.

Everyone struggles with conjuring up the confidence to believe in his or herself, and Beth is no different.

“I’ve always felt not enough confidence to feel like anything I did people would like.  And there is that risk.  You do something and you hope people will like it,” she says.  Beth took that leap of faith and decided to follow her heart, diving in headfirst.

After ten years of personal conflict, Beth has since come full circle and is doing exactly what she did in college, printmaking. She loved it then, and she continues to love it now.

“When things aren’t right for you, there are so many obstacles—everything feels like an obstacle—but when you love what you’re doing, it flows better. It made me happier . . . It’s that simple.”

Chris Jordan’s Exhibit Raises Environmental Awareness with Breathtaking Imagery

http://www.chrisjordan.com/books/

– Mike Munoz

Over the past couple of years, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art has held a variety of popular exhibitions, such as The Art of the Superhero and Giuseppe Vasi’s Rome. While the museum on campus has never had an issue drawing a crowd, perhaps no exhibit has carried a message as important as Chris Jordan’s Running the Numbers.

The gallery features large-scale photography by Jordan, which is meant to expose environmental issues and wasteful trends in the United States. By digitally manipulating his photographs, he is able to create illusions of vast quantities of various objects from fields of toothpicks to mountains of paper bags. The art featured varies drastically in style, as some are simple patterns and sequences, while others are more distinct images such as landscapes and portraits.

The idea is that the images will put harmful habits practiced by US citizens into perspective. “My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone,” says Jordan on his website. “Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year.”

Most of Jordan’s work focuses heavily on the green movement, and how wasteful we can be as a country. One image, simply titled Light bulbs, depicts 320,000 light bulbs to show how much energy households waste every minute. Another piece titled Denali Denial features a landscape made entirely out of Denali SUV logos, which are deliberately misspelled “Denial.”

While some of the imagery is abstract, other pieces are inspired by the work of other well known artists. The picture, Cans Seurat, is a portrayal of George Seurat’s famous A Sunday on La Grande Jatte made entirely of aluminum soda cans. Another photograph shows Chris Jordan’s spin on Vincent van Gogh’s Skull with a Burning Cigarette. The image, titled Skull with Cigarette, is composed of 200,000 packs of cigarettes, which is approximately the same number of American citizens who die from smoking every six months.

Although most of his work focuses on the environment, Jordan does not limit his message to the green movement. His picture, Barbie Dolls, depicts a pair of breasts made up of 32,000 dolls; the same number of elective breast surgeries done monthly in 2006. Another photograph titled Handguns is meant to raise awareness about gun violence in the United States. The mural depicts patterns comprised of 29,569 guns, which is the number of gun related deaths in the US in 2004.

Whether you are actively involved in the green movement or not, there is no doubt that the numbers presented by Chris Jordan are staggering. The show will certainly dazzle many with its astonishing imagery, and hopefully convince some to change their habits and pursue a more efficient lifestyle.

Jacob Hutchins: Graffiti Artist

[cap]J[/cap]ust north of downtown Eugene, across the train tracks from the Amtrak Station and the Lane County Jail, on a small patch of grassy wasteland, four large, vertical wooden boards have been inserted into the ground. The boards were originally whitewashed, but are now covered in bright flashes of different colors. They are what graffiti artists of the area refer to as “Eugene’s legal wall”, and they have been decorated with cans upon cans of spray paint applied with varying degrees of skill. Anything painted here disappears within a few days under a fresh layer; art covers up art as new artists express themselves.

This is where local graffiti artist Jacob Hutchins wants to meet.

He’s wearing a purple corduroy jacket over a t-shirt, jeans that are slashed at the knee and blue suede sneakers. His hair is light brown, shoulder length and very straight. He’s friendly, but quiet; he’s ready to show us what he does.

Jake, as most people call him, has always been interested in artistic activities. He says he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t drawing, and he usually carries a sketchbook around with him. The one he shows me today is filled with pages of doodles and intricate drawings.

On one of the pages is an American Splendor style cartoon about the job he currently holds at a convenience store near his house. In the cartoon, a homeless man is hassling an uninterested Jake about the store’s bottle return policy. When I ask him about it, Jake smiles and says the cartoon isn’t meant to be dark, but rather to gently poke fun at his current occupation. “It’s actually the best job I’ve ever had,” he says. “It’s the kind of job you love to hate.”

Jake’s graffiti name – or tag – is Blue. Most of the other pages of his sketchbook contain different designs and letterings of the word done in graffiti style. “I’ve tagged as that forever,” he says. “I like the color blue, but it’s more that the letters flow nicely into one another.”

Jake tells me a little bit about graffiti’s history and shows me some of the flaws in some of the pieces already up on the wall. “See here,” he says, pointing to a tag with gray lettering on a brown background. “Those colors don’t really work well together. If the painter had used a thin outline in a bright color, it would have had a lot more pop.”

He also explains that what we are going to watch him do today isn’t considered graffiti by all. Purists would say that by definition graffiti is illegal art and therefore can’t be done somewhere like this where it is encouraged. But Jake, who knows a graffiti artist who was sent to jail for multiple offenses, is quite happy to settle for “graffiti-style art” here if it keeps him out of trouble. “On YouTube, you can find a guy tagging Air Force One,” he says with admiration. “It’s impressive, but I like my freedom, so you’re not going to find me doing it.”

Once he starts painting, Jake’s entire demeanor changes. His face becomes a mask of concentration and focus. His right hand holds the can of spray paint and moves quickly over his canvas, but his left hand down by his side is also tensed. He works rapidly, pausing occasionally to step back and consider his next move. Although he usually starts with an idea of what he wants from the final product, he also likes to improvise. He retouches some of the letters and retraces some of the outlines.

His final product is a large “Blue” tag that covers almost the entire board. The letters are dark green and maroon with a peppermint light blue frosting across their top half. Bright gold and orange outlines accentuate the piece.

As Jake finishes up, he steps back, debating any more possible additions. Finally, he seems satisfied with his handiwork and gives the thumbs-up as he walks away. “A lot of people [who do graffiti] are very political; that’s really the root of graffiti, protest and making a stand and all that jazz,” he says. “But I just like having a big canvas to work on. I don’t even care if anybody sees what I do or not, I just like to have a big canvas to work on.”

Art Kicks

[caps]U[/caps]niversity of Oregon advertising student Evan Schultz knows he could make more money doing grunt work in the food industry or in landscaping, but he’d rather kick back and draw on a pair of shoes.

Luckily, he’s got a large handful of adoring fans who gladly pay him up to $179 to do just that.

Schultz, 22, is the creator of Art Kicks, a one-man “company” that transforms white pairs of Vans slip-on shoes into one-of-a-kind works of art. Schultz will draw just about anything his clients want, from Alice in Wonderland themes to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly tributes to a montage of unicorns destroying a city’s skyline.

Oddly, it wasn’t artistic inspiration that prompted this quirky Albuquerque native to enter the world of shoe art — it was poverty.

“During my junior year, I was really poor and very hungry,” Schultz says. “I came home from class and I realized I had probably fifty-eight cents in my bank account. All I had to eat was ravioli and noodles from Costco that I bought nine months earlier.”

He thought back to his freshman year, when two people — a friend and his then-girlfriend — had asked him to draw on their shoes. He remembered getting lots of compliments on the art, and he recalled the friend later admitting he would gladly pay for a second decorated pair. Schultz took him up on the offer.

“He went out and bought white Vans and he gave me $30, or something,” Schultz says. “And I said, wow, this is totally the answer.”

That night, Schultz bought ground beef, salad makings and some dressing with his shoe money and ate a “real meal” for the first time in what seemed like forever.

In a matter of months, everything blew up. Schultz launched a website, artkicks.blogspot.com, and offered to draw on shoes for free during the entire month of April. His offer earned him more publicity than he could have imagined when he and his advertising classmates met several executives in New York City while sporting pairs of Schultz originals.

“These professionals with six-figure salaries would talk to (my classmates) and say, ‘Hey, you have really cool shoes, you must be a designer,’” Schultz says. “It was huge for me.”

Next thing he knew, he upped the price of custom shoes from $80 to $100 to $139 and finally to the current going rate, $179. Only University of Oregon students are entitled to discounts.

“There was a critical moment where I breached that gap between students and people with money,” Schultz says. “All of the sudden, people in their thirties and forties wanted in on it, and I thought, it’s stupid for me not to charge them more.”

And charge he did. He began getting shoe requests from both sides of the U.S., some of them uninspiring and some of them fascinating. One New York advertising executive has commissioned seven pairs of shoes, all of which he let Schultz dream up based on bits of inspiration he sends to Eugene.

“He buys me things off of Amazon, and he says, ‘This is going to inspire you for the next pair,’” Schultz says. “And the next week I’ll get a box with the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory DVD and I’ll have to use stills from it for the shoes.”

Schultz initially thought his creations would have only limited appeal, mostly to West Coast skateboarders and surfers who wear Vans every day. Somehow, though, Art Kicks seems to transcend typical boundaries — and thanks to the shoe’s universal appeal, Schultz is currently working on his fortieth pair of Art Kicks.

The number seems huge, but Schultz knows it can get even bigger with some strategic advertising moves and a solid source of funding. He doesn’t look much like a future advertising executive in his Buddy Holly black frame glasses, his studded belt and his worn pair of Chuck Taylors, but he has impressed and brushed shoulders with enough of them that he could be well on his way to creating something bigger than just a blog and a Twitter feed.

Ad executive Simon Mainwaring, a University of Oregon alumnus, “really changed my perspective, and he said, ‘You could really do something with this,’” Schultz said. “His perspective was, ‘wow, this could be your job, there’s something about this that’s more authentic.’”

For now, though, Schultz will stick to his low-key under-the-table operation to pay his rent — and who knows? He might tackle some of Simon Mainwaring’s big ideas when he graduates in the spring.