Interview with student artist, Allie Bajew

It was 9:15 PM, on Wednesday, September 30th, and I was with senior thesis student, Allie Bajew, at her studio in the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. The assignment was to interview each other as artists and students, while referencing each other’s past works. We went about this by looking over each other’s pieces first, and then getting into the interviewing. Here is the resulting dialogue (with physical actions displayed in italics):

Rohan Mitra: So, uh… should we start?

Allie Bajew: Um, sure.

RM: Alright. So, do you know what you’re interested in? Or do you have a specific purpose or direction that you are going in with your work?

AB: Well, I have certain things that I like and I just try focusing on those themes. A constant theme are bunnies and ghosts.

img007

RM: Haha, yeah, I can tell.

AB: Heh, yeah, I use a lot of children’s illustrations.

RM: Uh huh. Do you try and use children’s illustrations to show something dark or something more… lighthearted? It seems more lighthearted than dark.

AB: I use ghosts and stuff like that, but they’re not scary.

RM: Nothing comes out as overtly gothic. There is a lot of texture, or rather, a play between texture and flatness. For instance, there’s texture here, but the ghosts are still flat. And even the houses here—they have these faces that are really flat. It seems like a lot of your stuff has that going on.

AB: The thing is that, I almost never use backgrounds. It’s usually just a figure and then open space, and the collages help me with that since its like, instant background.

RM: Yeah, thats what it seems like. It seems like the magazine acts as the background and then you tend to draw either over or in between the cracks of the paper.

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AB: Yeah, and I have some more stuff over here too.
Allie hands over more sheets of paper, the paper being more artwork.

RM: Is this from stuff that you’re doing this year?

bunny_cakes

AB: No, this is from Silkscreen [class] last year.

RM: So all of this stuff is silkscreened?

AB: Yeah.

RM: Ah, that’s pretty cool.
I pick up a small piece done in a book format of sorts.

AB: Yeah, it’s supposed to be a series but I guess it didn’t really turn out that way since it’s all on one piece of paper.

RM: So was it originally supposed to be a series and then it evolved into this book format? Or was it originally supposed to be like a book?

AB: Well the assignment was to do a series but I decided to do a book but, printing all of the panels on one piece of paper and making it one picture. I like how all the images are connected, so it’s really just like one picture but with spaces between ’em.

RM: Do you like the spaces in between them? Or would you rather have done it as one continuous piece?

AB: No, I like the spaces; I suppose I could have ripped them apart and had them as individual prints.

RM: So they can also stand alone, basically.

AB: Nods

RM: Do you like using text in your work?

AB: I’ve only started to do that recently. That was the last project that I did last year and I’ve been using text in my work since then. But I never really have before then.

RM: Yeah, I think it definitely adds something to the piece. It’s a different texture. With text, people’s eyes are drawn straight to the text, but you did this in a way where the text does not really function as text—it’s more like a line.

AB: I think it also helps your eye move around the page a lot too.

RM: It definitely does that. It also connects the two pictures. Without the line, it would just be two sets, not one full piece. I really like the cover a lot, actually. That’s some really cool text.

AB: Oh yeah, I got a typewriter and it was broken; I actually spent two hours pushing the letters up with my fingers. Haha.

RM: You can tell that it’s authentic. It doesn’t look like it’s printed on a computer, at all. I do graphic design here [at school], so I really like type.

AB: So you do your stuff using the computer?

RM: Me? Oh yeah, definitely. Well, in design, the computer’s just a tool. Its not like I do everything on the computer. Designers do a lot by hand, or try to find other means to circumnavigate using a computer. The computer’s more a means to an end.

AB: Allie points to a new piece of work that I was looking at. That was a series I had to do on Goya. They all have to do with Goya prints.

goya_thingy

RM: Are they on a specific Goya piece?

AB: Well, his etchings. I hand colored some of the prints but thats the only one I have. I don’t know what happened to the other ones.

RM: Yeah thats really cool. Was that a conscious decision to leave the edges ragged?

AB: Oh, yeah, you can cut the paper down or you can tear it down. I usually tear it down.

RM: It adds a nice contrast to the border. And in this piece, I like how the border is overlayed here.

AB: Ah, that’s kind of a mistake.

RM: Really?! I think it looks good. It adds something else that’s surprising. I think the big benefit of printmaking is layering.

AB: Yeah.

RM: So do you have specific influences? For example, why do you use these ghosts and the birds and all of the childlike references?

img006

AB: I don’t know. I guess I just started using them because I like ghosts and birds and really happy things and dumb, kind of scary things. So I just kept using them. And I really like flowers a lot.

RM: You used text again here. The hand coloring came out really cool. It really pulls your eye out the center.

AB: Yeah, if I had more time, I probably would have silkscreened more colors in.

RM: I guess building too many screens gets annoying.

AB: Yeah.

RM: That’s really nice. It also has a lot of texture to it.

AB: That was an exercise on color separation. Have you ever done silkscreen before?

RM: Nah, I haven’t. I mean, I’ve silkscreened t-shirts at home, but I’ve never taken a class.

AB: Well you probably understand this more than I do then. It’s the whole CMYK thing—I didn’t really get it—but thats what my project ended up as.

RM: I think it came out well. It’s still really dynamic. Especially with the contrast of the background to the figures in the center to the edges.

AB: Thats the thing that I like about it. It’s kind of hazy in the background, but there are parts that I’d have rather done by using transparency.

RM: I think having the three characters in the center, with one of them having that bright, red cape really pulls everything centerwards, however, the flowers bring the viewer out to the edges, so there is a really nice play there. And it’s very fairy-tale-esque. Fairy tales are cool because they have so much depth and meaning that goes beyond the literal meaning. It seems like you have a lot of that in your work. When I think of fairly tales, I think of the Grimm Fairy Tales and how many of those can be read as morbid or have some kind of underlying pretext to them that goes beyond your typical “Little Red Riding Hood” story. I also like how some of them have lines patterning ’em cause printmaking tends to flatten things out, and the lines give those areas more depth.

AB: These two are the first two prints that I did, so they’re not done as well as the other ones. I thought I should show them to you so you can see the progression of how I got from point A to point B.

RM: This one’s still very collage-y. But this one seems like it was done later than this one. Was it?

AB: No.

RM: I’m thinking of an artist, but I can’t remember her name… Her stuff reminds me so much of yours. Or rather, your stuff reminds me of hers. I want to say that she did fairy-tale paintings and cartoony things in the 30’s? Maybe 40’s? Earlier?

AB: Oh, wait, Beatrix Potter?

RM: Yeah, there you go. I feel like this can be a graphic on a skateboard or something. Because it’s really graphic, as opposed to these, which are more like pieces on their own. I guess because it just sits on the page and is really logo like.

AB: Here are the things I’m working on now. I really suck at printing etchings because I just started doing it, but thats the direction I’m going in. I’ve been really interested in architecture lately, and I’ve been trying to incorporate that into my work now.

the_mnemonist

RM: It definitely feels, I don’t want to say, “thought through,” but maybe it’s more conceptual than the other stuff? But once again, what’s really nice about it is the texture.

AB: The thing about etching is that it creates its own ground in the white space.

RM: Yeah, you can really play with lights and darks. Do you like that?

AB: Well, I like anything that makes me not have to think about the background. Teachers always give me shit about it, but here, I don’t really have to think about it. There’s automatically a background.

RM: So, even in this piece, did you start with the figures in the center and work your way out?

AB: Well, this was all a photograph, and I drew on top of that, and then I drew the flowers on top of that, and then the clouds.

RM: I still really like that etching. All the little scratches and drips really make it.

AB: Yeah I like the drips too.

RM: I suppose it makes it feel more human and less mechanical. And because you don’t have a background, the little details become even more important. Even the coffee stain in this other piece—if you’re looking at it as a full piece rather than just a graphic—adds something to the white space. I guess I feel like getting away from the mechanical is a common trend now. Even in graphic design, a lot of designers are trying to do hand-drawn stuff; that’s like the way to go. I feel like being hip today is having  to acknowledge that technology is evil or something.

AB: Yeah, even in movies credits; you see it a lot more now, where it looks like someone doodling in their notebook—the way they right the titles. You know what I’m talking about?

RM: Oh yeah, definitely.

AB: Like after Juno—the title credits…

RM: Yep, I was just thinking that. Even in Superbad and all these new, hip, comedy movies. It’s this huge cliché and it bothers the crap out of me. Haha. But anyways, I like your stuff. The innocent motif is cute and funny, but when you start moving away from that and more in that direction (I point to the etch) then it becomes more than just innocence and happiness and lightheartedness. I suppose it becomes more dark and brooding in a way.

AB: I feel like my artwork needs to be more sophisticated. When I started I was all, “Oh, it’s so cute and happy” and I was really happy with the work, but I feel like it just gets old so quickly, you know?

RM: I guess that’s why I feel that some of your earlier prints are very graphic, because with graphics and logos—they may have meaning—but they don’t necessarily need or want a lot of depth or interpretation. But with other art, outside of design, I think that pieces need a lot more conceptuality. Do you have any thought about what you want to do your thesis on?

AB: Um, I did, but my instructor totally shot me down, so I don’t know what I’m going to do.

RM: Do you still want to work with the ghosts and animals, and the same kind of images?

AB: I want to, but she said that they were too predictable with the way that they’re drawn. that. I’m trying to work on that but how do you even go about that?

RM: I guess whenever I am working with one particular image or topic, I’ll do a whole bunch of sketches where I’ll keep one element from the previous sketch, but then really push and explode out the rest. Really explore and completely change everything. You might end up with something that suck, but at least it’s different, and will give you options. Something to compare to.

AB: True.

RM: Well, I mean, that works for me, I know people work in different ways and all…

AB: No, that’s good advice.

RM: In design, we have to do tons of sketches until it sucks and you hate it, but at least the end product always turns out better than the first five or six sketches. Usually.

AB: Well, I want to work with the same themes because this is what I like.

RM: Your is a breath of fresh air because of its lightheartedness, whereas, I feel like in the contemporary art world, pieces tend towards darkness and over-conceptualized ideas. I guess artists overanalyze stuff.

AB: I think it’s cause people think that artwork is an outlet for them and they have to sometimes tear these terrible things out of them. Haha.

RM: Therapy. Heh. I like how your work shows historical grounds. Or rather, is historically grounded. You reference victorian fairy tales, and even with the houses you work with, they seem like they’re very victorian. Do you like that victorian kind of style?

AB: Haha, yeah I do.

RM: Yeah, there’s a lot of depth in that time period. The Rococo era had this whole veil of delicateness and pretty-ness over a lot of messed up shit such as rioting and revolution, people’s heads being chopped off, the whole Marie Antoinette thing.

AB: I think there’s a lot of symbolism there as well.

RM: Yeah, the period gives you somewhere to go. And references to look at. Well, Is there anything else to add?

AB: Did you have any questions about the studio space or anything else here?

RM: Um, did you want to say something about the photos on the wall? Are they yours?

AB: No, I just cut them out. I like to keep a lot of things around me for reference. Like that’s a picture of Jesse James in his coffin. You were probably wondering about that, since it’s, you know, pretty weird.

RM: Haha. What’s the significance of Jesse James? I’m just curious? None?

AB: None. I just like the picture.

RM: Ah. Did you see the movie?

AB: Nah.

RM: I mean, The Assassination of Jesse James.

AB: Ah.

RM: I mean, it was alright. It’s kind of an artsy movie. I mean, if you could call a movie “artsy,” then I’d say it’s an artsy movie. It was good, but Brad Pitt gets a little annoying.

AB: Yeah, he’s a bit cocky.

RM: Thats a cool dear statue.

AB: Yeah, but the leg broke off. It was in my car for about a year and then the leg broke off.

RM: Have you used it for reference?

AB: No, not really.

RM: It’s kind of funny with the leg broken off.

AB: I feel like it makes it cuter.

RM: Kind of sad really. Alright, are we good?

AB: Yeah I think that’s good.

RM: Okay.

-rgm

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