Erika Simmons is an artist who can look at discarded items and see a masterpiece hidden within the pieces. Her fascination with perspective and her ability to create something out of nothing makes her one of the most resourceful artists I’ve come across. Her “Ghost In The Machine” series has to be her most unique and cleverly created pieces of art. Using nothing but cassette tape, video tape pieces and a knife, Erika is able to create an exact and elaborate image. So the next time you think about throwing something away, take a second look because you never know what art lies within it.
Q. What is composite art?
A. Composite art is when you take small objects or items and arrange them, using them as parts of a greater overall image.
Q. What was the first piece of composite art that you ever created?
A. The first piece was a portrait of Shakespeare made out of bits of pages of his sonnets. It’s still one of my favorites, the author revealed through his own words.
Q. When you go to garage sales and thrift stores, what items do you look for to create your pieces?
A. I look for things that I can easily take apart, and that once broken or torn, things that still have some character that you would recognize in the pieces. Playing cards, newspaper, clock parts, baseballs, these kinds of things.
Q. Tell me about your “Ghost In The Machine” series. Where did you draw your inspiration from?
A. My true inspiration is an artist named Ken Knowlton. I had no interest in being an artist until I saw his work. After, I thought I had to try it! The "Ghost in the Machine" series explores the arrangement of data and how we interpret meaning out of it.
Q. Continuing with the last question, your ability to create portraits of people is so close to the actual image. How are you able to do this without adding paints or pigments?
A. Thanks; it takes a long time. Its slow work, but I like to work a little at a time so it doesn't feel so bad. I use xacto knives to get the details looking perfect, but the real beauty comes through when I can leave as much of the tape intact as possible... it’s a compromise.
Q. You recently had a show opening, what type of art are you displaying?
A. I've got all kinds on display, sheet music portraits, experimental collage pieces, several cassette tape and film pieces from the "Ghost in the Machine" series, and four Nintendo pieces.
Q. As an artist, what does it mean to you to be able to display your art for the public to see?
A. Most of the time I create art that I want to look at, ideas I want to explore, but for shows like this its fun to create art for an audience. I enjoy seeing people have fun with it.
Q. Writers get “writer’s block”, do artists get “artistic block”?
A. I get burnt out more than blocked... I can certainly get frustrated with any individual project, but I just move on to something else and come back with a fresh head, that usually helps.
Q. What message are you hoping to convey through your art?
A. I like the idea that inside of an object there is another reality hidden away. I love finding something new and unexpected in something I thought I knew well. That's what I try to share.
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Have you ever wondered what the street art and graffiti scene was like in France? I was able to find out for myself by interviewing the TSF crew who live in the suburbs of Paris. This crew consists of members that each specialize in different techniques of graffiti, perspective and illusion art. Their work is a perfect representation that the creative spirit is not something you can be taught, but something that you are born with. This is their story…
Q. What does TSF stand for?
A. TSF, at first, meant The Simpsons Family. It was like a joke where every member had a Simpson’s character name. It was a tradition to call each other by these names but now we try to find new meaning for TSF. Just find yours.
Q. How many people are in your crew?
A. In TSF we are 9 painters in France, 1 in Burkina Faso and 2 in Mexico.
Q. When did TSF start? How did it start?
A. TSF crew started around 1995. It started like a joke with kids who wanted to paint on the wall.
Q. How is the graffiti culture like where you are located?
A. We live in a Paris suburb so there is a lot of graffiti artists, street artists and other street activists around us. Like other places, I think there is some work that is good and some work that is bad but more and more people come in the street to show their work. They make the street as their own free gallery and that’s great.
Q. Is there competition with other graffiti crews in your area?
A. We don't have a competitive spirit but we regularly see some paintings and think that if they were able to make it, we have to do it better. For us, it's in the roots of graffiti to want to be the best and to paint better that the others. It's a cool, good spirit and artistic competition.
Q. I love your work in illusions. Where did you learn your technique?
A. We never had something like school learning to know how to draw and the same goes for the illusions that we do. We are self-educated painters and for the illusions, we just try and try and try again. We work a long time on optical illusions and perspective and anamorphous art was the natural next step for us.
Q. What are you hoping to accomplish with your graffiti?
A. We don't have the pretention to leave an impression to the world, but if our work can make someone dream or smile, we will be proud. We hope to give to people who see us work a little magical, poetical time.
Q. Tell me about your favorite piece of art that you have done.
A. We don't know what our favorite piece is because they all have a story. Hopefully it will be whatever we create next.
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Eric Staller has created art pieces that have spanned 30 plus years that have captured glimpses of his subconscious and his surroundings. Being a veteran in the art community, Eric’s art has continued to challenge and amaze audiences of all ages and walks of life. His forward thinking has set a path for the artist to dig deep and create art that pushes the envelope and sparks the thought of the unknown. I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric on his amazing career and how his imagination has influenced the art he has created. This is his story…
Q. At what age did you begin your artistic journey and what steps did you take to hone your craft?
A. I was working toward my degree at the
Q. You are quoted on your website as saying, “An artist is what he culturally eats, or is immersed in”. In what cultural surrounding have you found your art to flourish the most?
A. My 20 years in NYC are the foundation of my inspiration and output. I then moved to
Q. Your involvement in the art community has spanned many years. What has been the most exciting development you have witnessed in the evolution of art?
A. Only art that challenges the status quo is of interest to me. Art has to push the envelope of what is considered art. Christo is doing that with his gifts to the public of his temporary installations.
Q. I am a big fan of your light drawings and light sculptures that you created in the 70s and 80s. What inspired those pieces and do you plan to create more?
A. I was interested in other-worldly architectures of light; something that’s there but not there. I took that series as far as I could and moved on before beginning to repeat myself. I don’t plan to go back there. It’s the unknown that interests me.
Q. Your Light
A. My Lightmobile in 1985 was probably my most powerful moment as an artist. I drove it around NYC on more than 100 nights, looking into the startled and delighted faces of hundreds of thousands of people. That inspired me to want to share my art with a cross-section of the public and not just the art world cognoscenti. This was the beginning of a continuing series of what I call 'urban UFOs'.
Q. What sparked the idea for Octos and why did you decide to turn it into an actual product for people to use?
A. All of my ideas bubble up from my subconscious, in formed by observations of the world around me. My first 4 urban UFOs were lighted objects. Octos was a conscious decision to reach a daytime audience. It was also informed by the oil crises of 1990: a metaphor for travel in the post-petroleum age. When I moved to
Q. What has being an artist helped you to discover about yourself?
A. I didn’t choose to be an artist; it chose me. It is a calling, a religious feeling, and a compulsion to peel away layers of a subconscious onion. It’s a mystery to me where the ideas come from. It is the idea that initially appears the most absurd that I am ultimately compelled to build.
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When you think of the name Nic Adler, owner of the Roxy comes to mind but did you know that he takes great pictures? I am a huge fan of the iPhone app Instagram which is a social photo sharing app that allows you to take pictures and add different filters to the shots you use. People from all over the world who have this app are able to like, comment and follow users with pictures that they enjoy. One day I was looking through my list of followers and there he was, Nic Adler himself. I was curious to see what kind of pictures he would have in his album and I have to say that his pictures are definitely one of my favorite to check out. Each of his pictures has its own story to tell and it’s as if you are looking through Nic’s eyes as he experienced the moment in time himself. I was able to interview Nic and learn more about his photography, his thoughts on Instagram and his favorite things to take pictures of. This is his story…
Q. Many know you as the owner of The Roxy. Are people surprised when they find out that you take pictures as well?
A. Some are. Elmer Valentine, The Real Godfather of The Strip, who helped start The Whiskey, The Roxy, The Trip and so many more, gave me my first camera when I was 8. I knew that photography was always going to be part of my life, but it wasn’t until I took Photography in High School that I knew that it would be a life long passion.
Q. How did you get into photography?
A. Taking Photography class in my junior year I was really was pushed to think out of the box in terms of what and how I shot. Not only shooting the photo but developing them myself really taught me about contrast, focus and composition. For my spring sabbatical I was lucky enough to work with Andy Bernstein, pro basketball's most legendary photographer. I worked underneath him at both Laker and Clipper games. Number one thing I learned from Andy was anticipation. It’s been the one thing that really allows me to get the shot I want.
Q. What are your favorite things to shoot?
A. Street scenes, my dogs, sunsets and of course live music.
Q. Does music play a factor in your photos?
A. Funny you should ask. When I shoot whether I am listening to music or not a song always pops in my head. Music grounds me, so when that song starts playing I can concentrate on my subject. More I’m focused, the better the picture.
Q. Would you consider your photography as a hobby or has it become something more?
A. It’s a hobby, but that said it’s also very therapeutic. As long as I have my iPhone or my 5
Q. You are very involved with posting many of your shots on Instagram. What do you think about the application and what type of feedback have you received?
A. I love Instagram. I was very social and active online as it was but when Instagram started social became about art as much as it was about text. The best part of Instagram is going on a journey and not knowing where you will end up. I go to my feed, see a picture I like, then I click on the location where it was shot, look at those pictures, find one I like click on that user and repeat. I find myself starting in
Not sure if everyone knows yet but with the last update of Hipstamatic (My favorite Camera App) you can now post directly from Hipstamatic right into Instagram. It’s the only app that allows you to do that. BTW, I have my own “pack” that’s available for download in the Hipstamatic Store, inside the app. It rocks!!
Q. What are you hoping to accomplish with your photography?
A. Although I love talking about what’s coming up at The Roxy, my favorite restaurant, the new download available, my favorite new app, I would much rather be sharing a picture. It really gives us the chance to get away even if it’s just for a minute. Photography is the great escape. It allows us a window into someone else's reality. I know its cliché but a photo is worth a thousand words, and some are worth much more.
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Instagram: Nic Adler
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When researching for an artist to feature for this week I came across the amazing work of Tracy Lee Stum. Her 3-D art chalk pieces are internationally known and celebrated within the art community. As the current Guinness World Record holder for largest street painting by an individual, Tracy pushes the boundaries of the imagination and creates pieces that leave you saying “WOW”. This is her story….
Q. Tell me about your time at the
A. That was a terrific experience for me in that I was immersed in drawing and painting in the naturalist tradition, which certainly impacted my skills positively. Being in
Q. Do you like to incorporate your self-image in your pieces?
A. I’m not focused on my self –image through a drawn representation, if that’s what you mean. When I create works, I open them up for everyone to become a participant in the painting. I intend for my work to be inclusive, which means creating compositions that invite the viewer to complete the image by being an integral part of the piece.
Q. If you were only allowed to use one color of chalk, what color would you choose and why?
A. Easy – caput mortuum! Its literal meaning is “dead head” or “worthless remains.” It’s this amazingly rich and complex deep purple / burgundy / brown – it changes tone depending on what you lay next to it so I love that transformative aspect of this color. It was also called Cardinal purple. I love this color.
Q. How did your Guinness World Record come about? Do you still hold that record?
A. This was a serendipitous event in that I was contracted to create a painting for the
Q. I’ve read that you are interested in creating art festivals of your own in different parts of the world. How will your festivals differ from the ones that you have participated in and what type of artists are you hoping to showcase?
A. Actually I am not interested in creating festivals around the world – I am interested in educating other cultures about street painting through teaching workshop programs. I have introduced street painting to
Q. What are your thoughts on art education and how far do you think your art would have gone without it?
A. We all know that art education & practice are vital for healthy, thriving communities. In the
Q. Your art has reached international recognition and I’m sure that you have been asked many of the same questions from people who are interested in your art. What is one question that you wished people would ask you that they haven’t asked already? What would your answer be?
A. That’s tough as I think I have been asked every possible question related to street painting!
Here’s one: Did you ever imagine you’d be drawing on the street for a living when you were studying to be an artist? My answer: Never in a million years!
My advice to others in this regard – stay flexible, be open to the unexpected and don’t be afraid to go with what feels right!
Q. What is the best piece of advice someone has given you in regards to your art?
A. Two suggestions stand out for me:
1. Pay attention to the details!
2. It’s ok to let it all go!
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