I sat down and asked Seattle based artist Stacey Rozich about her inspiration, process and a bunch of other questions. Stacey not only answers them so eloquently, but also gives us a great view into her world. I've admired Stacey's beautiful watercolors since the moment I laid eyes on her work. Her attention to detail and color is brilliant and intoxicating. So excited to get this q&a up! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. ;) - meighan.
Living in the Pacific Northwest has been a huge influence in your work. Can you talk to me about this?
I feel very privileged to have grown up in such a beautiful city that is in the middle of such lush and densely wooded forests. There is still a feeling of mystique around this land because it is such a young part of the United States and still largely undeveloped. I grew up going to a lot of museums that displayed Pacific Northwest Native American art. I am not Native American myself nor do I claim any special link, but growing up in this area you are exposed to a really sophisticated tradition of art that is hugely inspiring. The carved masks and costumes are done with expert craftsmanship; each creature denotes a specific force in nature and the after life.
You mentioned to me recently that you have become really taken with West African Tribes after reading Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart". How has that book affected your process and inspiration as of late?
Lately, a lot of West African and Nigerian tribal imagery has piqued my interest. When I picked up "Things Fall Apart" I was really taken by the story of an African Igbo tribe before and after colonialism. The incorporation of spirituality and superstition was fascinating; the figures of their ancestors were portrayed as frightening masked gods with horns and fur, in one case, smoke rising from his head.
If I may put it in a context of how I was raised, these stories are vastly different from what I [grew up with]. I was raised very loosely in a Protestant church where the stories I was taught were all based around people or an embodiment of a person in the spiritual context; pretty dry stories for a ten year old to be listening to. What draws me today to indigenous religions is the surrealistic quality of the deities or spirits, encapsulated in fantastic and intimidating costumes that convey such reverence.
You credit many different peoples and lands that influence your work. What (or who) is your biggest inspiration?
I don’t know if I could name one singular person or place that inspires me most, but I do have an ever-expanding list of things that do. I absolutely love Eastern European illustration and design, as well as Russian folktale cinema from the 1970’s. The documentary photography of Phyllis Galembo as well as the illustrations of Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin and Henri Rousseau. The figure as imaged by Gustav Klimt and Egon Shiele.
As for contemporary artists, one of my good friends from CCA, Gabriel Dikel, does these phenomenal portraits in graphite or watercolor that are so honest and heartbreaking. He painted my portrait a couple of years ago and I thought it unflattering at first until I realized, my god, it was spot-on. I envy that — the ability to convey someone’s best and worst features in an arresting way. I really like the work of Mark Warren Jacques, I think it’s my affinity for geometric shapes. My influences are all over map.
Your newest body of work has your subjects removing their respective masks revealing worm like intestinal guts as faces with eyes. You get both excited and freaked out reactions. Can you tell us a bit about these new faces & your feelings around viewers such strong reaction?
It’s been a three-year process of cultivating this series, and I’m feeling more comfortable in getting deeper into the physiological makeup of these creatures. I wanted to use the jagged teeth and crazed eyes to draw the viewer into the grotesque inner workings. Personally, I hate worms or anything worm-like, so perhaps this is a subconscious decision to confront what makes me so uncomfortable. One of the best reactions was from my father, who is also an artist – but more of a traditional one. I hold his opinion in very high esteem, so when he was helping me mat my pieces for the show he found the unmasked piece and stopped. I was nervous for his reaction because I had never done anything like it. He turned to me and said, “This is awesome!” As for the other grossed-out reactions, I’m excited! More guts to come.
I found your work through Fecal Face (thanks to Kate Miss of For Me, For You). That sort of exposure is so important to new and upcoming artists. What is your one piece of advice to artists whom want to get their work “out there”?
Keep doing what your doing! Get a blog, a flickr, or a website and actually update it. If you show your work ethic and motivation, people are bound to notice and keep checking back. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. It took me forever to e-mail John Trippe [of Fecal Face], I had a horrible fear of rejection. He e-mailed me back within a couple of hours being really excited about my work.
Tell me about where you went to school and your experience being in art school.
I went to California College of the Arts in San Francisco where I studied Illustration. I never had any formal training until I went to my first class there, so it was a real eye-opener for me. I learned to use watercolor and gouache as well as getting the opportunity to work with amazing instructors. But something told me I needed to go back home so after two years I packed up and moved back to Seattle. I got an art studio where I messed around for another two years and struggled with self-doubt and regret. I started exploring what life outside of school could offer me by starting a small inter-disciplinary collective with my best friends that was hugely influential. Through my real life experiences I started to develop my work and style into something I was really proud of. Once I gained a lot of momentum, I turned the negative energy I had from all of the debt from school and the confusion of leaving into something really positive: I went back to school for graphic design at Seattle Central. In retrospect, it was the best thing I could have done for myself.
What is your medium? Can you tell us a little bit about your process?
I work primarily in concentrated watercolors, gouache and acrylic ink. What I like about watercolor is the line quality I get from the medium; it allows me to draw with it. Drawing is what I do best. I’ve done it forever and will continue to do it forever. I gather a lot of inspiration from the Internet and keep it in a file on my desktop or I collect old books on tribal rituals and masks, weird animals, folk costumes, etc. I look through all of this when I’m starting new compositions. I look at certain color palettes and patterns that I’m into in the moment; a couple months ago it was all multicolored zig-zags and now it’s a lot of red triangles. I love bold colors and geometric shapes. I wear stripes all the time and people make fun of me for it. I’m wearing a striped shirt right now.
You have been expanding from your 2-d work to cut out & accordian books and most recently in 6 foot tall MDF board cut-out sculptures. How did this progression evolve?
It’s been a natural progression for this series to make a transition into other disciplines. Along with the sculpture installation I did for the Patterns of Renewal show at Pun©tuation Gallery, I’ve experimented in hand-painting Russian nesting dolls in my style as well as doing paper cut-outs and pop-up cards. Ideally I would love to do an animation of them or create a set of costumes for film. They keep growing and growing, it would be a shame to not bring them to life any way I could!
Monster like characters draped in elaborate clothing and adornment play predominantly in your work. Who or what are these gorgeous beasts?
The hairy beast mask came from this great book on Yugoslavia. It was in the Istrian region that large wooly representations of animals were used in different carnivals, rites of passage, etc. Through my research I have seen a lot of countries utilize the same folkloric interpretations of animal spirits that I have adopted into my own work. In terms of my process, I find painting the hair for the beasts especially therapeutic and satisfying.
What is coming up for you the second half of 2010 & into 2011?
I’ll be juggling my last year of school, personal commissions, a zine for Pikaland, putting together a higher-functioning website that will host a shop to sell prints and hopefully t-shirts. I’m in a group show at Seattle’s Flatcolor Gallery in November, in the process of negotiating a solo show in Milwaukee sometime next year and a definite group show in Melbourne in September 2011. New opportunities seem to pop up every time I open my e-mail. Overall, it’s going to be a crazy productive next year and I am going to be exhausted!