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6527212 March 11, 2015

Master Innovation and Me: New Interview

[caption id="attachment_1458" align="alignright" width="300"]One of their favorite works, She Leads and I Follow One of their favorite works, She Leads and I Follow[/caption] I recently sat down with my friend, Lina Bonell at the Master Innovation Group, LLC, (aka The Taylor Dynasty) headquartered in Soho, New York City. It was great to spend some time talking about my work; what drives and inspires me to paint; and what I'm currently working on. Here's a brief except of the interview:

Lina: What and who inspires your paintings?

PenelopeMy work is inspired by my own emotional complexity and that of women, in general.  That complexity exists in men also. I just happen to primarily paint women because I am a woman and so that feels more natural for me. It’s really about the human spirit.  Growing up in Louisiana in a conservative culture and moving to the Northeast in 1991 inspires a lot of themes in my work also. Also, my mother was an interior designer with quite a personality. Both aspects of her life inspire my work both emotionally and visually.  Because I’ve spent so much time writing and love stories, it seems natural that my art should include elements of story and character.

 Lina: Who are your main artistic influences?

[caption id="attachment_1399" align="alignright" width="237"]The World is Full of Magic The World is Full of Magic[/caption]

Penelope: As far as the greats, I have been influenced by Frida Kahlo and Van Gogh in terms of their emotion and honesty. I’ve also been influenced by Dorothea Tanning, Kandinsky and Picasso.  Past and current artists who push the envelope in unique, honest ways inspire me. I’m not impressed or inspired by artists who go for the shock factor, thinking that is honesty. That’s unoriginal to me; if that’s all they have to give, I find that sad.  I’m attuned to learning from others but staying true to myself.  Sometimes that takes courage because you look around and realize that what you’re doing or who you are may not fit the mold, may seem boring, or less chic than someone else’s work, but you keep going knowing that perhaps no one will care or notice the value that you may have to offer.

To read the entire interview, go here:


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6527212 April 08, 2011

Water Diviner: Michael Seif

"I know that the camera long ago acted as a shield between me and the outside world."

If creative folks need an outlet to carry on, are we attempting to hide behind or step forth? I'm driven to write and paint to express what I can't otherwise seem to relay.

Does that mean something is wrong with me? 


Or could it mean I have something to express that goes beyond what the average person needs to relay?  Perhaps I'm uniquely wired, and without the right outlet, my inter workings will implode in a jumbled up mess of despair, frustration, and loneliness. 

That could be it.

Late, I have come to a parched land
doubting my gift, if gift I have,
the inspiration of water
spilt, swallowed in the sand.

To hear once more water trickle,
to stand in a stretch of silence
the divining pen twisting in the hand:
sign of depths alluvial.

From Dannie Abse's The Water Diviner

Sometimes I want to explode into some kind of bizarre animal state. I long to strip off my clothes, jump in a lake, and swim like a fish until my skin shrivels up. I want to wildly race off a cliff down into a giant pool of weightless water, and struggle until I drown in a flurry of rich life. I want to be alive in a way that doesn't seem easily accessible for me.  I want to feel the wind against my skin during that zooming fall, and feel the pain of my body slapping that cold sheet of water.

Do other people need that?  Do you?

Are these peculiar desires the very thing I'm hiding from, or what I'm trying to push forth?  I've come to the conclusion that the best I can do is try to understand myself.  If I can define who I am and how I feel, then maybe I can look over and see much more than just your interesting face glancing my way.  Maybe I can break through the mystery and feel another human being as deeply as I feel myself.  And maybe you'll find and feel me, and that will be enough of a fall for both of us.

Am I too self centered?  Probably. Sometimes I think that if I were a better person, I would spend all my time feeding the poor and figuring out how to achieve world peace.  I might be the woman my mother wanted me to be, and spend all my energy sharing God's word.  But I am not that woman.  Although I'm quite willing to engage in some of those activities, my place is with words, colors, sentences, and shapes.  I am somewhere in that churning mix.  That's where I am best when all else fails.  That's where I feel at home in my own skin. In other places, I'm a fish out of water.  I get by, but I'm always dreaming of the next chance I'll have to suck in a deep satisfying gulp.

My guest today, photographer Michael Seif, photographs nudes in water. Like fish, they swim beneath the water's surface in various formations.  The images he captures demonstrate that life is a flowing, sensual experience that somehow goes beyond flesh and blood, hiding, stepping forth, world peace, and self-centeredness.  He aims to capture the basic core of life we all share, especially when swimming in waters we call our very own. 

I recently met Michael at an art opening in New York.  His long-time commitment to this creative idea was inspiring.  He told me a story about how taking a gross anatomy course in graduate school influenced his thinking about the essence of life, and how it animates the inanimate body.  His thoughts on this led him to the concept of visualizing how our bodies move in water.  How that ebb and flow can demonstrate the spirit that is apart from the body.

My goal is to find that place in my life where I'm swirling, floating, moving naked and comfortable in my own skin.  It is there that I will discover the kernel that makes me tick.  I feel myself moving closer.  My feet are in the water.  Similar creatures are circling.  There it is!  A flick against my ankle, a brush against the toe.  My skin is tingling.  I think I'm nearly there.

What's your story? How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist? Was the journey on a straight or twisted path? Are you surprised by your success?

I've always enjoyed doing creative things - making silver and gold jewelry, writing fiction, woodworking, and photography. Over almost 50 years, I've gradually dropped the other things, but photography has remained as my creative drug of choice. In the 1960s I photographed on the streets and in the subways of NYC. Since then, I've photographed trips to Mexico, Europe, India, my daughter, my grandchildren, and for the past eight years, I have been working on photographing the human figure in nature.

I photograph for two main reasons. One is to save the past, to have something to remember in the future. The other is to see better. Photography makes me get up early when the light is best, makes me do things that might be uncomfortable so I can see what I would otherwise miss.  It causes me to look harder and more carefully at the world around me.

It was only about 10 years ago that people started referring to me as an artist, something I found hard to accept because I didn't think of myself that way. And it was a series of fortuitous events that led me to have even the modest success I have today--my work being accepted in juried shows throughout the country, some sales, and praise by those whose opinions I respect. So, yes, I am surprised by what success I have been able to achieve.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

There were actually two ah-ha moments:

First, was in 1969 when I took a class with Lisette Model, a photographer of world renown, at the New School in NY. In a tough critique in front of the class, she dismissed my photographs as derivative of just about every other photographer, until she saw pictures of a friend's feet I had taken with just a desk lamp as illumination. "Flesh," she said. "You should be doing flesh." So I hired models, set up a no-seam in my Manhattan apartment and tried photographing nudes. But when I looked at the work of other photographers, I saw my work wasn't doing anything new, so I went off in other directions.

The second ah-ha was more than 30 years later, when I went for a swim in a Maine granite quarry, where everyone swam nude. The site was deep in evergreen woods, the weathered granite quarry walls were lichen covered, the people of every age swimming and sunning, all led me to say - wow, what beautiful photographs there are here! Through a few interested people I met in Maine, I was able to obtain models and work on these photographs for over eight years now.

Many artist focus on one particular subject or style. How important is this for career development? Have you ever grown tired of photographing the same types of things, and if so, can you tell us about it?

I photograph lots of subjects because I simply enjoy making photographs and I like how photography helps me see better--travel, friends, family, flowers, landscapes. But my photography of the human figure is something that has drawn me in over the years, and which I feel I am doing better and better over time. This time has been necessary to allow me to move from what other photographers have done to doing something original. This takes time, and I will keep doing it because it is so rewarding to me personally.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I know that the camera long ago acted as a shield between me and the "outside world." I could see what was going on, but was occupied. I only had to interact if I felt comfortable doing so. Now I'm a bit more outgoing and sociable, and the camera helps me connect with people. Through my photography I have met wonderful people and have made many new friends.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

In fact, just the opposite has happened to me. I always photographed for myself--it was something I just enjoyed doing. During the 60s and 70s, my wife put up with a lot as I transformed the bathroom into a dark room on Sundays.  Yet she was always encouraging.  For more than 40 years I have been accumulating boxes of tri-X negatives and color slides and film--with no idea of what I would do with them. When digital printers became available, I scanned some of those old photos and printed them, and decided to try selling some at a local town fair. A representative of the town art center asked if I was a local artist (I told her I was local but not sure of the "artist" part) and she kindly found a venue for me with my first solo show at the town bank.

I received other encouragement by being juried into group shows, and one juror, a curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts kindly spent an hour with me critiquing my work and encouraging me to continue. Because I had little formal art training, that kind of support was crucial to me being able to feel a sense of validation, and to grow as an artist. A gallery owner in Maine was encouraging, too, and provided me with a show of my 1960s black and white photographs of New York City. She was instrumental in enabling me to find models for my most recent work, and has been nothing but encouraging.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals? If so, can you tell us about it. Where do most of your ideas come from?

When I began my series of nudes in the outdoors, one woman agreed to model for me. She swam in the quarry as I photographed from a ledge, and suddenly she made a quick turn. I asked her to do that again. (It turns out she had been on her high school synchronized swimming team.) Her body and the wave she made as she turned became almost one, and I gradually realized that the motion of the water implied that the figure was moving, and this led to a way of showing the human being as not just sculpture, as so many photographs have done, but as a living, moving creature of nature. I quickly acquired more models who were themselves creative and saw that I considered my work with them as a joint effort and were eager to help me make innovative and beautiful photographs.

At first, I was concerned that I would run out of ideas, but after eight years that is not a major worry anymore. The models and I look to nature (schools of fish, swimming seals), to dance, and to art for inspiration. We talk about what we want to do. And then they get into the water and they organize themselves, and they try variations, and they keep working as I take hundreds of photographs. Finally, I look at the photographs on the computer and am thrilled if I see three or four out of each 100 that are ones I am eager to print.

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

I think that the truly gifted have, in fact, received a gift that provides an inborn potential to create new art, and perhaps even new forms of art. But, whether highly talented or truly gifted, the ability to keep working is what sets apart the creative artists from those that "dabble."

In a photographic critique class that I took in Boston, most of us in the class were middle-aged or beyond. The (younger) instructor commended us for doing art while working, raising children, volunteering in civic organizations, and doing all the other things that encompass a busy life. The instructor found that among his younger students in other classes, there were some who were dedicated to their art, but most who loved the idea of being artists (loved the coffees with friends, the talk, the paint-smeared clothing) but were less eager to do the hard, often lonely work of actually doing art. He referred to them as poseurs.

I really believe that while talent is important, lots of hard work is often what separates an artist from his or her peers.

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6527212 February 08, 2011

Art of the Nude: Ilene Skeen

"It's a dangerous thing to believe that one part of you is at war with another.  It's not a good message to teach children; it leads to all kinds of trouble."

Growing up in the Deep South during the decade of free love and the one that followed, I was taught that my body was the worst thing about me.  What did it do? I wondered. Oh, it wasn't what it did, it was what it was going to do. Flesh was synonymous with sin, and we were all infected.  Apparently, only with God's help could I ever dream of overcoming my lustful nature.  I was taught to search for a way out of my own skin before I even had the chance to get comfortable.

I don't blame my parents; we were all part of a larger societal picture.  I stood at its center, gigantic plaid bows on either side of my tiny head, wondering how I could ever be a good person inside such a nasty shell.  The packaging I couldn't possibly escape was a large part of why I was so unfairly doomed from day one. Although that painful fight never quite made sense to me, I tried to fit in; to do the right thing.  I struggled to be as gosh darn good as everyone else appeared.

This led to all kinds of trouble. Self fulfilling prophecies ran rampant.  Needless to say, I failed.  The guilt and shame was unbearable. Remembering it now makes me sad, and a bit angry.  When I should have been celebrating my youth, I was waging a full scale, unnecessary war against myself.

Years rush by ...

Now I've gone and done it.   

When Bob Hogge (Monkdogz Urban Art) suggested that I step outside my comfort zone and paint a few nudes, I wasn't sure if I could pull it off.  It wasn't so much the actual painting that bothered me. The dark shadow of those old battles caused me to shake a bit in my boots although the war had long been over.  But because I've grown stronger than my past, I forged ahead.  Doing so enabled me to move to a new level in my painting. 

My guest today, Ilene Skeen, knows a thing or two about the great nude. She's become a champion of the art form. Unlike myself, Ilene was taught from an early age that questioning the world around her and formulating her own opinions is a great thing.  As an artist, the complexity of nude art has always fascinated Ilene. In 2003, after retiring from a technology-focused career in the publishing industry, she decided to create a web site devoted to the art of the nude.  After studying anthropology to gain a greater understanding of the cultural issues around art, she launched Barebrush.com in 2006.

On Thursday, February 10th, the first "brick and mortar" Barebrush art show will open at The Rogue Space Gallery in New York City.   

So this week in the Big Apple, the kid from the Deep South who was taught to wage war against her own body will cross paths with the kid from the Northeast who learned that thinking for yourself is a wonderful thing.  We'll find ourselves surrounded by flesh.  As Ilene puts it, we won't see "a shell of meat that has no spirit or a spirit that has no shape."  Instead, we'll immerse ourselves in an exquisite sea of full-bodied art to be appreciated and celebrated.  I plan to stand there, head held high, finally at peace with myself.

I can't wait.

Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am," spurring the cultural idea that the soul resides within the mind. Let's not forget the profound significance of that tender, vulnerable shell cradling it all.  For it's the two together who make us who we all are.

How has creativity shaped your life?

I’ve always been two-sided, being strong in both analytical thinking and creativity. I’ve never been purely one-sided. This is a key part of who I am. When I went to art school years ago, I didn’t receive any skills training. They just told me to be creative. Well, that didn’t work for me. At the end of my education, I wasn't confident that I could be an artist so I went into the business world. My creativity and analytical skills served me well there.  When I found myself unexpectedly retired in 2003, Barebrush emerged as my project.

How did Barebrush.com come about? Was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Around 2000, I was selling art through Yahoo auctions. Then Yahoo changed its rules and it became uneconomical.  However, I continued to paint.  When I retired, I decided that I was most interested in why people need to create art.  I tried to find the answer to this through an art history course, but they told me that’s not what art history is about. I ended up getting an MS in anthropology.  They invited me to study this question. After I earned my MS, I revamped my website, which had been on hold. In doing that, I realized that a group of artist on the same site would be much more interesting than just one artist. My watercolor series was called the Barebrush, hence the name. In 2006, I grabbed the domain name and drew my logo. Armed with a web site name and a logo, I bought a full year worth of advertising from Gallery Guide.  I knew I was going to do it.

I think the Gallery Guide guy thought I was crazy, but it worked out.

When I began painting nudes, my youngest daughter (age 10 at the time) asked me why I was painting naked people. She thought it was weird. I told her that many artists enjoy painting things from nature such as landscapes, animals, trees, water, etc., and that the human body is an important part of that. We represent a major aspect of nature and we shouldn't ignore that. She thought it made sense. Perhaps the answer is obvious, but from your perspective, why do some people have difficulty embracing nude art?

It’s a very good question! I’ve come to the conclusion that religion and the public school system teaches us that our minds are superior to our bodies. Many of us are taught that our bodies are either inferior, sinful, or something to be ashamed of. Artists who do nudes are concentrating on something that the rest of us are told we shouldn’t pay attention to.

Only athletes and dancers are encouraged to focus on their bodies. It’s an insidious and wrong approach. The mind doesn’t work without the body, and vice versa. You are one person with both aspects.  It's a dangerous thing to believe that one part of you is at war with another.  It's not a good message to teach children; it leads to all kinds of trouble. I’m really against it.

Have you always had an interest in art of the nude, and if so, why? Will that continue to be your focus moving forward? 

The first time I drew from the nude was first day of college. In my first art class on the first day, there was a male nude. Three or four people got up and walked out.  The teacher said, “Okay, that’s the way to eliminate people who are really not serious about art." (And in those days, male nudes models wore jock straps.) It so impressed me and it’s such a challenge.  I'm endlessly fascinated, so yes, I will continue. I’ve done other things – people, clothes, portraits, landscapes. But nothing fascinates me like the challenge of trying to represent both the physical and the spirit at the same time. That’s what I try to do, representing the body fairly, but more importantly, I try to bring out the essence of the person. I try to present the body as one the way I believe it is, not a shell of meat that has no spirit or a spirit that has no shape. I am dedicated and focused on that.

Nudes will continue to be the main focus for Barebrush, recognizing that there is a lot of other art. I was also interested in the controversy of nude art.  It is held apart, yet after a while I realized that nude art is just as much a part of life as our landscapes and pots. If I showed them all, then folks who shudder to think of looking at a nude may actually do so. My idea with Barebrush is to raise or increase the number of people who are aware of and can appreciate the art of the nude. I’ve had to walk a fine line with the other genres to make sure we don’t lose our main focus – nudes.

Kelly Borsheim
Have you had any major set backs regarding your creative endeavors that you can share with us? If so, how did you manage to keep moving forward?

Art school was a major set back because it confused me. I earned an art teaching degree, but decided that I couldn’t inflict my confusion on little kids.  I couldn’t bear the thought of not understanding what I was teaching, so I decided to keep my art to myself. For a long time I didn’t paint; I did other things. I found a lot of outlets in my regular work to use my creativity in positive ways, and I was well paid. I got into computers early on. Writing programs--making something out of nothing--fascinated me. You’re given a vague idea and then create what others envision. I would analyze, spec it out,  ask questions, research and put a design forward that would solve the business problem. There's a lot of creativity in solving business problems.

Eventually I got back to art. I began studying it. In the 90s, I took a course at the New York Botanical Gardens. For the first time, I was taught skills--perspective, shading, etc. So I have a certification in botanical illustration. The skills I learned brought me back to the nude. I decided to apply them to what I was most interested in. 

Aberration Nation focuses on creativity and life's aberrations. Some folks out there may believe that being so focused on nude art is an aberration in itself. Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I have to say that I was encouraged to think for myself when I was a kid, to look at facts and make my own decisions. I was not brought up to be one of the herd. I don’t think my parents did that purposefully to make me into a nonconformist. They just taught me to look at situations and assess facts.

I’m a pretty poor politician because I blurt out things that I probably shouldn’t say. I’ve learned over the years to keep my mouth shut and stop the tongue before it gets off the deep end.  In general, I’ve learned to stand up for the truth, for what’s right. I’ve had examples from my family that inspired me that way. If standing up for the truth and standing up for yourself is an aberration then at least whether you win or lose, you know you did the right thing. There’s no point in sitting something out, or having something you regret bothering you for the rest of your life.

Penelope Przekop
Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I think I’ve had trouble being understood since day one so I’m used to it by now. You just have to keep going.

Do you think there is a difference between creativity and talent? What are your thoughts on this?

For me, neither of these words have any real meaning. I believe in focus and hard work. If you know your basics and you work hard at it, you can get there.  I suppose creativity is the ability to put things together that are not obvious, and talent is the ease at which you do it.  You have to put in the time and effort to become skilled. Yes, it’s easier for some people, but none of us are going to be Michelangelo in a week. He didn’t become Michelangelo in a week. I believe that if you focus, work hard, and then assess what you’ve done ... you make progress. As you make progress, things fall into place and people say, "You're so talented!  You're so creative!"

Michael Seif
You've stated that the upcoming "brick and mortar" Barebrush show will be the first of many. What is your vision for Barebrush?

I would love for the shows to continue! What I’m hoping for is the ability to connect art dealers with our artists. It’s happening in a small way in that some of the art in this show has representation. If there is interest, there will be a dealer involved who will make the sale for the artist. Rather than get the Internet to take the place of the dealer, I’m trying to attract artists who know how to get folks excited about their work.I would like Barebrush to provide a way to promote and manage art.  Then also provide artists with an  invitational show in New York City.

Sandro La Ferla
My plan is to start focusing on other genres as well.  I also envision 'click and buy' technology being part of the Barebrush site (with only a small, reasonable commission for Barebrush).  The other genres will be bigger. Nudes represent only 5% of the art market. The other genres could have their own shows ... so I think I’ll be pretty busy.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

It’s hard for me to say off the bat. I really have a hard time following an authority just because someone says to do so. I learned that from the type of family I had. I was taught that you could get things right without having to tear the house down to do it.

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6527212 November 22, 2010

The Mind of an Artist: Karin Perez

" ... almost every single "normal" person has a hard time understanding the way my mind works."

Lately a few folks have asked me to describe how my mind works.  To address the question, I focused on things such as how I can zoom from detail to big picture and back to detail, or how I can manage to do a variety of different things at once while heads spin around me.

I didn't go into detail about how I sometimes notice things other people don't, but then miss the obvious element the crowd is busy focusing on.  That aspect is often tough to explain; I summed it up by saying that I'm creative.  Over the years, I've struggled to understand myself so that I can make the most use of my skills in a world that seems to best support the top of the bell curve. 

My guest today, artist Karin Perez, says that most "normal" folks don't understand how her mind works.  This comment brings up my suspicion that artists have a unique mental capacity or brand of focus.  I suspect that most folks would likely agree.  Somewhat like the LGBT crowd, artists come in all varieties.  We long to live unhampered by so called "regular" folks out there. We hope to be understood. We support each other. Many succeed, but some of us struggle at times, in closets, behind closed doors, ... or everywhere.  We are yet another variety of the square peg in a world of round holes.

I've gone through several phases in my life when I wished I was just like everybody else. Of course, everyone is unique, but let's face it, there are subsets or types of people out there, some more common than others. Even with the best intentions, stereotyping runs rampant.

When I was 24-years-old, I relocated to New Jersey from Louisiana in the Spring of 1991.  I was immediately amazed and mesmerized by how brilliantly green everything was. One morning, I made the comment at work, "The grass is so green!"  A not-so-nice woman looked at me like I was an idiot, and said, "Yes, well, grass is green."  Everyone laughed and in their eyes, I became someone much less intelligent than I am. 

That was before I understood the artist in me, and why the green of Spring in New Jersey so captured my attention.  Why I would notice that particular aspect of my new environment.  Why I became so focused on it, and why I wanted to talk about it. 

Now I realize that not everyone makes such observations, or puts such emphasis on them. Was it important?  Maybe not to that sarcastic woman I worked with, but it was to me, a young person desperately trying to adjust to a new culture.  A home sick misfit who'd never lived anywhere other than the Deep South.  In that green grass, something unique called to me.  I'd found a jewel that made me believe I could come to love my new home, that I could be part of it, and that perhaps I'd come to the right place.  It signified new life, something I desperately wanted no matter how much I missed my old one. 

So a comment that made me the work-place laughing stock held a tremendous amount of passion, observation, and significance for me.  I was expressing exactly who I was, but they were blind to it.  Now I know that the blind can't help but miss these things just as much as I can't avoid seeing them.  That's the world we live in.

Now, like Karin, I no longer feel an intense need to explain how my mind works.  After years of generating laughs based on seemingly off-the-wall comments and strange observations, I now understand where it comes from. I'm proud to be me, even when a blind world laughs.

What's your story (in a nutshell)? How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist? Was the journey on a straight or twisted path? Are you surprised by your success?

It's so hard to tell one's story, though each and everyone of us has one thing at least, that defines him/her from the other. I started my artistic life as something completely different. Ever since I was a young girl I was dancing, and this passion and dedication made me a professional dancer. That motivation is certainly something that defines me, that gets me where I want to go. After studying visual communication (while dancing), I started working as a graphic designer, and continued as an artistic director in one of Israel most creative multimedia companies.

After giving birth and moving with my family to Paris, I felt like my creative desire needed to find a new path.  With with my husband's support, I started painting with an immediate appreciation and interest from people and professionals. That was seven years ago.  Right from the beginning I was fascinated by this new way of expression and interaction with myself and others. My voice found a new path.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

There were many "ah ha" moments, but one that is definitely significant was starting to work in figurative art. When I discovered the process of photographing nudes and self portraits, and started using them, that was very new to me and something I would never have thought I'll do ... a very exciting new zone...  Another "ah ha" was starting to work with the NY gallery, Monkdogz Urban Art, owned by two wonderful people, Bob Hogge and Marina Hadley. Bob is working with his artists on a different level of commitment, and by doing so I'm able to really let go and not think about other peoples thoughts about my work, being really a part of it and free.

For you, is art more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist and why?

I think that weighing those two for me is impossible. Both definitely motivate me.

Many artist focus on one particular subject or style. How important is this for career development? Have you ever grown tired of painting the same types of things, and if so, can you tell us about it?

I think that for an artist it's very important to develop his own language, to create his own different world. It's like every human being has his own voice and nobody else sounds like him ... I believe that looking at an artist's work and recognizing it easily is a turning point. Once you have that,  you are unique.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

But off course it did! :-) Aren't we all (artists) a little bit scratched?

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Oh yes, almost every single "normal" person has a hard time understanding the way my mind works.  It's always about explaining (which I hate and usually won't do) my works, my decisions, my choices. I think that interesting art shouldn't be comprehensive from first glance, and should raise some questions in the viewers mind.  The viewers are participant of the work, which makes the work more interactive.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals? If so, can you tell us about it. Where do most of your ideas come from?

Most of my ideas come from my restless mind ... from imagination and images that are voyagers in my mind, for a second or for a long time, they will find their way to the canvas.

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

I think that what makes an artist really stand out is his determination, passion, and motivation. As you stated in the question, there are so many talented people, so in order to stand out is really about how dedicated you are to your art, how much do you invest in it in terms of commitment.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

My primary motto in life is to live in the present because you don't really know what will happen tomorrow (how banal) ... I believe that in most of my doing I am truthful to this motto, yet off course
you have other obligations to other people, so you can't really live like that 100% of the time, but you can try.

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6527212 August 04, 2010

The Real Deal: Ed McCormack

"A real artist has no choice and should be prepared to go down with the ship!"

Yesterday, the August 9th issue of Newsweek showed up in my mailbox with Mark Twain's picture on the cover. In the issue, Malcolm Jones writes about Twain's last essay in his article, "Our Mysterious Stranger."  The essay was written four months before the beloved writer died.  Jones says, "Twain meant to impress no one with that essay. Still, it is worth noting that, faced with an event that would have paralyzed most people, his first reaction was to reach for his pen and attempt what he had always done so successfully in the past--to write his way out of trouble."

Also yesterday, someone asked me why I write. For a moment I was speechless. I felt like an idiot. I couldn't think of why because it didn't seem like a real question. I was suspended in the thought of there not being a "why" because there was only me. It's quite different than asking a physician why she practices medicine or a teacher why he teaches. It's more like asking someone why they have to visit the restroom several times a day, why they have skin, or why their heart must beat all day and night.  

I finally pulled myself together and said that I write because it helps me understand myself.  While that is true, I'm not sure it's the full answer. Could I possibly decide that perhaps I don't need to understand myself? I guess that could happen ... although it won't. I also said that I've always had an overactive imagination--ringing as clear and visible as a bell. Could I possibly keep that all to myself?  Maybe I could try but I'd fail. I've tried before and if not on the page, it comes out in various self-destructive ways.

My guest today, Ed McCormack, suggests that the core need to be any type of true, down and dirty, nitty gritty artist has nothing to do with choosing a profession. It's a calling that can't be ignored.

By Jove, I think this wild-haired loner who hangs out endlessly with his wife and writes about art gets me. I know I get him. Professor Higgins would be thrilled. I've always wanted to be Eliza Doolittle. To be recognized and honed and polished into something beautiful that was all me to begin with.  As a little girl, I danced and sang, "All I want is a room somewhere, Far away from the cold night air," while my mother screamed her back-up vocals.

After reading Ed's answers, I sat back in my chair and took a deep breath. I realized (once again) that I will never stop what it is I do. Of course, my desire is to ultimately be recognized in some way for my efforts, to share my work with the world, to sail across that sea of ordinary and emerge on the side of spectacular. But if my ship goes down during the trip, I'll stay until the end. I may never be a Twain but like him, I will keep on keeping on with it.

Tonight I feel good about that, martini in hand.  My confidence is blooming and despite the growth I still need, I know I've got something.  Where did it come from and why is it taking so long to mature?  I don't give a shit anymore. All I care about it that hot core in my heart that will never stop burning. It burns for all the love I couldn't find in childhood, for all the breaks in my teenage heart, for all the wounds and joy and suffering and adventure I once had and still crave. It burns words and colors through my aging body and spits out its beauty through my hands. I don't know who else will see it or find it appealing but it's lovely for me. It's all mine like nothing else in my life and I plan to cultivate it endlessly. 

Ed McCormack is a man who seems to live on his own terms.  One who understands the ship and the burning, and could care less for the manufactured themes of the day created by masses of average people with big ideas. He's hung with Andy Warhol and his factory crazies, and has written for Rolling Stone. He's a writer and an artist, art critic, editor, hoodlum.  He's currently writing his memoir, Hoodlum Heart: Confessions of a Test Dummy for the Crash and Burn Generation. So, yes, he's burned, too. He's crashed only to come back swinging.

Ed's wife, Jeannie, told me that Ed grew up in the Lower East Side of New York and goes there often.  Since that's where my art is at the moment, she said they'll drop by and take a look. Great!  But what if this guy who gets me takes one look and looks away, ushering me into that overwhelming sea of average? 

So be it.

I can take it because I know that I'm not finished yet. I'm a little filly--an Eliza Doolittle--prancing around my pen, enjoying my legs. I'm looking beyond the fence knowing that one day I'll run and run and run. I'll prance until my ship goes down or until I reach the spectacular shore where all fences disappear and the running begins. I'm 44 years old and I plan to live until 100. That gives me 490,560 hours. I'll not waste a single one.  

I often wonder how much the stuff of everyday life and relationships influences our ability to create meaningful writing, art, music, etc. However, many creative people spend a significant time alone. You've spent time with and have written about many other creative individuals. In your opinion, how critical is it for creative folks to interact/engage with the world and with each other?

In the normal course of events one will be around people whether one wants to be or not. I enjoy eavesdropping on them rather than meeting or knowing them. That goes double for so-called creative people. I may like their works, because if they’re any good at all, that’s the best part of them. But I try to avoid hanging out with them because that only leads to a lot of empty talk about matters artsy fartsy.

Then again, I prefer not to hang out with anybody besides my wife Jeannie because we sort of grew up together and can communicate almost telepathically, I should also add, if I haven’t already given that impression, that one of the reasons I ended up doing what I do is that I’m kind of misanthropic anyway.

For you, is writing and art more about creation or expression? It can be both but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be a writer or an artist?

“Creation” sounds pretentious and “expression” sounds therapeutic, so neither term really appeals to me. But if I were to accept those terms as having anything to do with what I do, I suppose I’d have to consider them interchangeable.

What most inspires you to write?

For the most part I write to find out what I think. Also I suppose, to give form to all the surrounding chaos and to maybe construct a more perfect self, because I meant what I said earlier about whatever art we make being the best part of ourselves. The rest, to borrow a felicitous phrase from that nasty old bastard Ezra Pound, is dross.

I also prefer writing to being a social beast because frankly my social personality bores me. The very things that other people seem to be impressed, or at least entertained, by now bore the piss out of me. But when I’m alone I find my own company quite charming, Odd, isn’t it? But there you go.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

When I realized that there are no rules in art; anything goes. Another revelation was when I gave up alcohol and drugs about 20 or so years ago and discovered that they had been hindering, rather than helping, all along. And I suppose finally giving up my old Luddite’s loyalty to the manual typewriter and seeing how much easier it was to write on a computer.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc)? Can a person succeed at more than more, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?
You can do more than one thing, but not equally well. I can both write and draw but not with the same concentration. You have to cultivate your primary obsession.

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Yeah, there is a very big difference. Setting a table can be creative. But to make art, real art, you need talent.

Gallery and Studio reviews the work of many top artists. What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

That’s easy. What makes an artist stand out today is to draw energy from life rather than from other art. There’s too much of the latter today and it enervates rather than energizing, resulting in art that’s incestuous, inbred and not very interesting.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Do you have any advice for those struggling to make their creative mark? Is there ever an appropriate time to face reality and find a new focus?

Whose “reality”? What does “success” mean in relation to art? I never thought of art as a practical pursuit to begin with. It should be a way of life—a calling, if you will––rather than a career choice. I’m afraid I don’t have much patience with art yuppism. If it gets to the point where someone has to find a “new focus” he or she shouldn’t have gotten involved with art in the first place. A real artist has no choice and should be prepared to go down with the ship!

Harlan Ellison said, "No writer ever hits a slump. As Algis Budrys (who is a helluva writer, and who taught me about half of what I know) once said to me: You don't slump, you just reach a plateau. Then you have to get your wind, and readjust your thinking and your synapses, and get set to write better, with more maturity, with greater passion and purpose. He was right." Do you agree? What are your thoughts on the issue of blocked creativity?

Jimmy Breslin once answered someone who asked why he thinks the Irish literary tradition had declined and he answered, “Like most writers today they’re blocked because they have a loaf of bread stuck in their brain.” I think he had a good point there.

W hat is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

I’ve never gone in for mottos or mantras, but my wife, Jeannie, says that art has always been the motivating factor of my life and my mother used to claim that I was born with a pencil in my hand. My own thought about it is that I am otherwise unemployable.

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6527212 July 14, 2010

Hyperallergic: Hrag Vartanian

"I can’t help but think that creativity requires both constructive and destructive forces to make it really work."

Over the last couple of years, Aberration Nation has convinced readers that life sucks ... and that it sucks the life out of us.  It may seem sad but many years ago, I decided to embrace the concept and simply accept that regardless of how my life is defined (e.g., single, married, working, out of work, homeowner, apartment dweller, parent, full, empty), it will carry a touch of suckage.  There's no magical situation that will dissipate the sinking realization that everything wonderful, right, and spectacular eventually ends, including life itself.

So what we do with all that crappy reality continuously banging at the door?  Well, I could be wrong, but I believe that many highly creative folks bust open the lock and welcome it in, knowing that real life offers wealth that goes beyond rainbows, roses, and pots of gold. Yes, this best kept secret spinning down through the ages continuously offering up riches could be more earth-shattering than the power of positive thinking. Sorry Rhonda Byrne. It's simply called creativity

In this week's edition of Newsweek, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman tell us that creativity requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).  In their fascinating article, The Creativity Crisis, they also note that highly creative people are very good at marshaling their brains into bilateral mode, and that the more creative they are, the more they dual-activate. In 2008, I wrote about my own right brain / left brain partnership in my blog post, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left. 

Like many of the artists, writers, musicians, etc, whom I've interviewed, my guest today, writer and art critic Hrag Vartanian seems to recognize beauty in the unshielded cornucopia of life.  He knows that it ultimately reflects the larger human condition, which in the end is nothing but truth--real truth that doesn't sugar coat, mask, or mislead us into believing we are more than exactly what we see in each other.

In the end, we're all made of the same juicy constructive and destructive stuff whether we live in the ghetto or the White House; in a studio apartment in New York or on a farm; in the middle of Hollywood or the suburbs. After all, without a shared and honest full range of knowledge, emotion, and insight, how can an individual expect to produce anything of lasting value within ourselves and for the human race? Over time, culture changes but that kernel of humanity remains steadfast in its endless march toward the final reality of death. It's our glorious and tragic shared humanity that we recognize when we gaze upon, read, or listen to our greatest works of art--the ones that remain relevant for all time.

Hrag often says he's allergic to anything other than New York City. In some parts of America, the Big Apple is considered one of our nation's sin cities.  Yet its left-right-brain-diverging-converging environment coupled with constant blasts of hustle and bustle, good and evil, and a million constantly evolving stories has given birth to unparalleled levels of creativity.

Newsweek warns that we're failing to foster creativity in our children while other nation's efforts are surging. I can't help but wonder if it's in part due to decades of working so hard to create a collective environment of smoothed over loveliness. Many creatives know that lasting achievement comes from embracing both the yen and the yang, good and evil, constructive and destructive because embracing it all ultimately bring more to the golden converging brain table. Perhaps if more of us were comfortable enough to finally rub off the sugar and throw down our masks, we could collectively rise out of our education system, corporate American, ghettos, energy and penal systems, finance, politics, and suburbs to create something worthwhile and sustainable for our children.

I just wish certain people would stop asking us to please think outside the box ... as long as we stay within the boundaries of the larger box they've handed us.  Perhaps then more folks Hrag (and me) wouldn't have to suffer from so many allergies.   

What's your story? Are you surprised by where you are or did you always see it coming?

I’m an Armenian Canadian writer who lives in Brooklyn, is gay married to an Armenian American and I should mention I was born in Aleppo, Syria — since people usually have preconceived notions about what that means. Am I surprised? Always, every day and that’s a great thing.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

That’s a funny question because I love asking other people that same question. Well, the funny thing is that tragedy often serves as an “ah-ha” moment for me. It is often a source of inspiration. So I have to say that my most recent “ah-ha” moment was the summer of 2009 when my then 92-year-old friend was hospitalized. Even though there was a great disparity in our ages, we shared many lovely moments together and I used to visit him once every month or two for the last 8 or 9 years. When he became ill I was reminded how short life was. He had many regrets in his life and I didn’t want to feel the same way. His illness made me realize I had to focus my creativity and it pushed me to launch Hyperallergic.com. Tragic moments often generate bursts of creativity for me. I don’t know if that is same for others, but it certainly is for me.

For you, is writing and art more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be a writer?

The decision to be a writer was an easy one. What to write about was much harder. I think people forget how much writing is an act of creation, even nonfiction writing. Writing is about forging narratives and I feel the pressure of fashioning new narratives everyday, which can be tortuous. The advantage of blogging — which I love to do — is that you don’t always have to create a new narrative but you get to continue them over days, weeks, months or even years. When I get to play with established narratives it becomes more fun for me. When I don’t have to worry about the “narrative” it feels more like a form of expression.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc)? Can a person succeed at more than more, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

Yes, I think it’s certainly possible. But I see very few people who do it really really well. I do think certain art forms naturally fit together, such as poetry and music, or architecture and sculpture. There are aesthetics that are common to many art forms, so it’s not a big stretch to use the same ideas across platforms. Though part of me believes people should submit to one art form at some point in their life. I guess it’s like a relationship. There are monogamous people and then there are others. I’m more of a monogamist; it just feels right and wonderful and challenging everyday. Though some people may argue that creatively I’m polyamorous

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

As I said before, life’s “aberrations” often inspire me. I can’t help but think that creativity requires both constructive and destructive forces to make it really work.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Umm, did I have people who failed to understand my creative personality? Yes, it was called my childhood. Parents are great but they are not always equipped to deal with everything. My mother understood my love of books and writing (she’s a big reader) but even she wanted me to be a lawyer or something. I was fortunate that there were strong people in my life who did “get” it. I simply gravitated to those individuals and listened to everything they had to say. They came up in some of the oddest places in my life. One was a debating coach who was such a character.  She was an odd person but so welcoming to my aspirations of being a writer or creative individual. She was probably one of the first people I met who seemed to embrace that notion so completely.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

I have the freedom to write, which is a very big deal and I consider--a success. I often think about people who are persecuted for writing in countries where freedoms are limited or monitored. I lived in Beirut, Lebanon, for a year in the late 1990s and as free as the Lebanese are, there are taboos that aren’t written about in the media, it was shocking for me as someone who grew up in the West.

Other successes, well, I have become an art critic in New York City (which I dreamt about as a kid), I write what I please. I consider these all successes. In terms of the future, I would like to write more long form works.  I find my writing shines in long form. So, next up are books, novellas, short story collections, biographies …

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Talent is overrated. Even the most talented people have to work at developing it. You can always tell when someone’s talent is underdeveloped. Creativity is multifaceted, talent isn’t really. That’s just the way I see it.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

That’s a tough one. I don’t have a motto or mantra but I do believe in questioning everything, following your inspiration, and feeling things passionately. I’m sure my mantra is buried somewhere in between all these things.

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6527212 July 08, 2010

A Jewel: The Pearl New York Lounge

" ...everyone who walks through our door is treated like a VIP."

If I can make it there,
I'll make it anywhere,
It's up to you,
New York, New York. 

When you grow up in a place some people refer to as the "The Armpit of America," you truly long for New York. Okay ... my deep South hometown ain't so bad.  The hot, muggy place has come up quite a bit in the world since I hung my hat there.  But nothing can compare to pull of New York City, especially for a smart, creative youngster like me whose sophisticated interior designer mom talked it up quite a bit while we were munching on grits and collard greens. She had once been on track to attend the prestigious New York Parsons School of Design but instead chose a different path ... or it chose her.

I grew up believing that creative dreams came true in the Big Apple. Novels are published, plays are produced, and movies are made. I imagined famous, talented folks walking the streets, rubbing shoulders with the sort of people who can make you famous ... or at least recognize talent and individuality. Like the trappings of the Christmas season, it could all be a bunch of hype but it was fun to believe.    

So every time I go to New York I can't help but feel that I'm having a grand adventure.  I realize that, to some extent, this seals my label of one who just fell off the turnip truck.  But who cares?  Who doesn't enjoy feeling like a kid on Christmas morning?  As adults, I believe we should cherish anything that evokes the feeling of candy canes and magical new toys.

Imagine my excitement at being invited to the opening of a brand new night spot in New York City!  In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that such an invitation would land in my lap.  I couldn't miss it. Since I had other business in New York, I planned a day in the city that would culminate with my visit to The Pearl New York Lounge.

And what at pearl it wasAs I walked into the long, narrow lounge, I immediately noticed that it was like walking into a jewel. Like the shimmering shallow grooves that hug a pearl, the pristine white seating twisted in eye catching loops that somehow provided perfectly engineered space to sit and have a drink, chat with friends, or check out the muscle-bound bartender in the corner.

Don't conjure up images of The Little Mermaid.  It wasn't like that. It was more like walking into the home of your most sophisticated yet down to earth neighbor who also happens to be your best friend.  People are smiling like family and you wonder how the hell she keeps the place so spotless as she hands you your favorite drink. You don't know all the others she's invited but they look quite approachable.  No matter what they're wearing or what "type" they are, they magically fit it because they're her friends. She's the-real-deal cool who knows it doesn't matter how a person appears on the outside, they're all human and that's fabulous. And because of her conviction, they're all suddenly okay, too.   

Do you see that one, lone person sitting in the corner?  She's okay, too, but it won't be long before someone starts chatting with her, just dying to find out who she and is and what's in her head.  Oh, that was me chatting away with her after my second martini ... Well, anyway, The New York Pearl Lounge met my expectations of adventure, open-mindedness, and a fantastic time in New York.  I had the pleasure of meeting the owners, Jeff and BK, who were quite interested to hear about and be part of Aberration Nation.

They're here today to share with us a little bit more about the latest addition to the exciting Chelsea district in New York City, a place where dreams come true ... at least for dreamers like me who tumble off turnip trucks on the way to growing up. 

What inspired you to create and open the The New York Pearl Lounge?

Our inspiration was the opportunity itself, providing us with a chance to open new exciting business … and what better place than the most exciting city in the world?

How does the Pearl differ from similar New York establishments?

We just do things in our own specific way and are happy watching our business grow. Each business has its own identity. We wanted to create an environment that would cater to the energy and soul of New York City, a place where culture could come together and kick back or explode, depending on the individual’s mood and desire.

I'm sure that you will welcome anyone but is there a specific type of individual who may be drawn to the Pearl based on your vision and business plan?

We originally wanted to open a new spot where any type of individual can discover something that he/she finds worth experiencing--both in those around them and within themselves.

Aberration Nation has a strong underlying theme of overcoming and learning from the tough knocks life throws our way. Did you have any challenges as you worked towards opening the Pearl, and if so, how did you deal with these and what did you learn?

We did face some considerable challenges while opening our business, but we also knew starting out that it would take a lot to overcome all the difficulties. Being prepared help us deal with some of the major obstacles.

If you think about it, creating an establishment that would engage the most interesting clientele in the world is no small feat to overcome. Through hard work and imagination we have accomplished our goal. We also have the advantage of working with an incredible staff.

The decor is unique and creative. Can you share with us the concept behind the design? How does it reflect your vision for the Pearl?

The design reflects our way of saying that something new and different in Chelsea can be a great thing. The key was finding a balance between style and comfort, the future, and in some ways drawing from the eloquence of the past. We had a sense of what we wanted to accomplish. After that it was just a matter of making sure that vision was turned into a reality.

When I was at the Pearl, it gave me a feel of being at a friend's home, hanging out with interesting people and having a drink. While highly sophisticated, it seemed quite cozy and comfortable. Was this your intention?

Yes, we had this idea of making our lounge cozy but also an exotic type of place.

How are you reaching out to the creative community to attract patrons who will appreciate your vision for the Pearl?

We welcome anyone who has some good practical ideas and wants to collaborate with us in making Pearl Lounge an even better place to hang out.

I've noticed that there are not too many restaurants or clubs in Chelsea. Why do think that is, and do you envision the Pearl filling a gap in that regard?

There is not any specific gap. We are simply adding one more interesting place to go to besides the already existing ones.

On a lighter note, do you always intend to have muscular bartenders? I suspect that may attract a few folks.

We did not specifically intend on having muscular bartenders and that is why we several bartenders. We chose our staff based on their professional skills. And personality was a priority! Our business is all about the customer having a great time to the point where they come back and of course bring their friends and business associates.

I've noticed that there seem to be many private events at the Pearl since opening. What types of events have been held, and is the Pearl also open to the general public?

The Pearl Lounge was always intended for service to the general public and we will continue that vision. Actually the general public is our greatest priority! Don't get me wrong, we love doing private events. And the people involved in these events have been very, very happy. But you grow a business one customer at a time. And everyone who walks through our door is treated like a VIP. But my suggestion would be this: if you’re in the neighborhood shopping or hitting the galleries drop in. I promise you will have a wonderful time.

I loved my night at the Pearl! When can I come back?

Come back tomorrow! We'll have your martini ready ...

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6527212 April 28, 2010

True Creative Blood: Charlaine Harris

"... by reminding myself that I can’t do a lot of things that other people manage with ease, I maintain an even keel most days."

This week The New Yorker said, "Przekop clearly has a gift for language." Awesome! (Never mind that I'm still looking for a new publisher.) On most days, I have to remind myself of comments like this one to boost my confidence. Being able to write (and paint) gives me hope that I just may be good at something after all.

Why is that so important? Well, because there are so many things I suck at. To name a few: I can't cook; I think too much for my own good; I'm terrible with managing money; my head is too often in the clouds; sometimes I'm a poor listener; I'm messy, forgetful, impulsive, obsessive, impatient; sometimes my motives are misunderstood due to my approach; and the list goes on.

I think there's something bad in my blood.

My guest today, author Charlaine Harris, is having phenomenal success. She knows a thing or two about blood types. I was interested to read that she also thinks about all the things she's not good at. Perhaps once you've reached a certain level of creative success, those things keep you grounded?

Okay, I'll shoot for that.

Meanwhile, I'm in New York City today writing this at a place called Earth Matters. It's a bit of a dream come true--venturing into the big apple on my own, hanging out in a hip joint surrounded by folks who are writing, reading, and surfing the Web. Later, I'm headed to The Pearl Lounge to meet artists, photographers, gallery owners, and all kinds of creative, interesting folks (more on the Pearl in an upcoming post).

During my hour-long train ride from Philly, I thought of all the girls I've wanted to be at one time or another, and how I either failed, was rejected, or missed the boat. To continue last post's Wicked theme, there were so many times I could have sang, I'm not that girl. But today as I watched Hamilton, Newark and Secaucus rush by, I was happy that I sucked at, got bored with, or fell just short of all the girls I could have been, despite any pain I've suffered.

I could have taken a hundred other paths but the life I have today has emerged as the best possible scenario. I could have married my high school sweetheart, the one who shattered my heart in college, or the one who gave me a child and then ran away. I could have become a teacher or a physician. I could have progressed as a corporate executive with little time for anything else.

Screw all that. I'm too busy attempting to defy gravity. So what if I'm not that girl. I'm on top of the world, swinging on the star I gazed at as a lonely, confused 15-year-old determined to find happiness.

If folks talented enough to work at The New Yorker believe I have something to offer, I'll not waste that gift--that chance. So what if I can't cook? So what if balancing a checkbook or keeping track of my spending feels like having my skin peeled. Other people can do that stuff.

Thank God for them. Amen.

Similar to Charlaine, I'm not surprised about where I've landed, but I am surprised that I'm sitting in the Lower East Side on a Wednesday afternoon. It thrills me to consider where I'll be next year, or in five years. Life is a wild ride, and I intend to stay on it. I know now that I can survive multiple falls and still keep moving forward. Like Charlaine's mother observed, "Women do whatever they have to do."

So what if I'm not that girl. I'm the best kind of girl.

What's your story (in a nutshell)? Are you surprised by your success, or did you always believe it would happen?

I decided to switch my career after I’d been a mystery writer for many years. I decided to write a book with a touch of everything in it. It took my agent two years to find a place for the first Sookie novel; a lot of editors hated it. Finally, he found an editor (John Morgan) at Ace who would take the book. I’m not surprised I’m successful, but I am very surprised by HOW successful I am.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

I’ve had a lot of “ah-ha” moments when I was working on the Sookie books. Since I’m not a great planner, almost every month I have an “ah-ha!” There was the day I realized Sookie had fairy blood, the day I realized why Bill had come to Bon Temps, and the day I realized that Elvis was a vampire.

For you, is writing more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be a writer?

I think more about creation. I love making my own world come alive. I love being the queen of that world with the power of life and death.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc)? Can a person succeed at more than more, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

I’ve never thought about this before. The only comparison I can draw is with athletes, who eventually must commit to one sport. If a gifted athlete keeps trying to play several sports, eventually she’ll exhaust herself or incur an injury that will put her on the bench for the whole season.

If I follow that analogy, I think it’s best to select a main focus and only “play” the other ones as entertainment; holidays, if you will.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I’ve certainly had some terrible and destructive things happen to me in my life that I managed to spin into gold. I think the creative force uses what raw materials it has to hand, be they wonderful or awful experiences, and transmits those events into something useful to the writer --- either emotionally or artistically.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Of course I’ve had to deal with people who don’t understand why or how I do what I do. It’s like being a perpetual teenager, some days; perpetually misunderstood and disgruntled about it. However, by reminding myself that I can’t do a lot of things that other people manage with ease, I maintain an even keel most days.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Do you have any advice for those still struggling to make their creative mark? Is there ever a time when it's best to "give up" and find a new focus?

I’m sure there is a time to give up, but I’m never going to tell a struggling artist that he/she should abandon his art. That’s an individual decision, one that has to be based on many factors.

Do you ever wonder if what you're creating or expressing is as meaningful to others as it is to you? How important is that to you with regard to your overall goals?

I don’t care if people get my message or not. I’ve made it, it’s out there to accept or reject or ignore as the reader chooses.

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Yes. There are lots of ways to be creative in your everyday life, but not all of these are driven by a specific talent. They’re just imaginative ways to make your life and the lives of those around you more interesting.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

“Women can do whatever they have to do.”

That’s what my mom always told me, and I think she’s right. She’s always felt that women are incredibly strong and resilient (on the whole), because they have to be to get through life – keeping a home running, raising children, and (now) working outside the home, too. My mom was raised in a different, but equally tough, time. I see the truth in that simple statement, and it’s kept me going when I felt like crumpling.

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6527212 December 30, 2009

The Milwaukees: An Aberration Story

... playing music is like reaching out and pushing those blocks, but playing for an audience is that blissful moment when the blocks hit the floor.

I've always wondered if musicians share the same creative drive as writers, artists, etc. If it really feels the same. Although we gravitate toward different forms of creativity, surely there's a common thread, a rope we all see and feel.

Sometimes we find that rope around our necks, choking us, trying to say, "Wake up and get over it!" It hurts. Yet, in the
end, it seems to be what we reach for, what holds us steady. What pulls us up, rescuing us from a life that might somehow ring empty without it. So we keep hanging on, believing that it's leading somewhere. To quote a Milwaukee's song title, it's our "highway to the sun." And I'm not so sure it matters what that sun represents in the end. It's just bright, warm, and comforting. Something we all long for, despite what road we take.

Happy New Year!

Since music and New Year's go hand in hand (and I have all these questions about ropes and such), I invited The Milwaukees to drop by for a chat. If you haven't heard their music, be sure to visit their site and check them out.

Here's a taste:

If you liked these, go here for a free download of their album, American Anthems, Vol. 1.

So break out the bubbly, kick off your shoes, get comfortable, and hear what Dylan, Donovan, and Jeff have to say about their never ending dance with music. It's in their blood. The won't turn back. Pull up a seat. Relax. Here's a peak at what their highway to the sun is all about.

How long have the Milwaukees been together. Are there core members who've played together prior to creating the Milwaukees? In other words, who's in the band and what's the story?

DONOVAN: The guys found me hitch-hiking on routes 1 & 9 carrying a bass (not true)

DYLAN: Not enough time. Blah Blah Blah. We're in our 30's.

JEFF: Some people are impressed to know that we’ve been at this in one formation or another for ten years. But I think that is something that guys in bands aren’t proud of. It almost feels embarrassing some times – sometimes it feels like Sisyphus. So we tend not to dwell on the gory details. The bottom line is that I joined the band in 2000 right before the release of the first real Milwaukees record. Dylan and I have been playing together as the Milwaukees ever since. We’ve been through a few different players in the rhythm section. I think that changing members has helped us evolve and keep things fresh. We still enjoy making music together now as much as ever. Maybe even more. (That's all that matters.) The Milwaukees are doing quite well in the New York/New Jersey area, which is a large market.

Is it a full time job or do you each have other careers/professions?

DONOVAN: Trust funds (also not true)

DYLAN: Let’s just say we are not strangers to elbow grease when we aren’t playing.

JEFF: Yeah, we all have jobs. The truth is, especially for a band that sounds like us, I wonder if being in such a metropolitan area, in terms of building a career, is as much of a challenge as it is a benefit. New York tends to favor more esoteric, avant garde music. That is not us. We have toured all over the US, Canada, and Europe, and I often wonder if we might make more of a mark if we were in a smaller market. We have always done well in smaller markets when we can muster consistent activity there.

Is the pull to be part of a band driven by the need or urge to create and deliver music, or is it more to do with being on stage? Is it both, and does it differ for each band member?

For me it is about creating music. I like to perform but I wouldn't spend time performing Eurythmics hits just to be on stage.

DONOVAN: I just really like music, and always have. It never occurred to me not to do it.

JEFF: In order to get myself on stage, I think I have distanced myself from the idea that I am performing. It definitely isn’t about the attention for me. I love playing music, and part of that process is the reaction and participation of an audience. If I didn’t play music, I wouldn’t have any desire to perform. Outside of music, I'm more of an observer.

Jeff once said to me, "The choice to be in a band for any length of time is definitely an aberrant behavior." While most probably think it's a cool fantasy life, there is certainly a down side. Can you describe what some of the lows are?

DYLAN: I think the ACDC song “Long Way to the Top if You Wanna Rock and Roll” about sums it up.

DONOVAN: Every band worth a damn has played a show to three people. That is never fun.

JEFF: Sometimes it makes it hard to listen to new music. I’m listening to what a band is trying to do. I know all of the tricks, and I’ve lost some of the innocence of just reacting to something that sounds good.

Tons of people love to create music; however, they're satisfied to keep it at the level of a hobby, church activity, sitting at a piano in their den, etc. If you've had to deal with and accept these lows/aberrations you've described, why do you keep at it? Is it worth it?

DYLAN: Sometimes it would seems like it's not worth it, but the alternative is just playing fantasy baseball and drinking. Music and drinking seem to be a better life.

DONOVAN: I may never know if it's worth it, but I enjoy doing it anyway. So I'm just going to keep doing it until someone stops me.

JEFF: I read a book called Stumbling on Happiness in which the author said that the purest joy in a child’s life is when they realize they can reach out and, for instance, push on a pile of blocks and the blocks fall to the floor. The realization that they can have an effect is bliss. For me playing music is like reaching out and pushing those blocks, but playing for an audience is that blissful moment when the blocks hit the floor. Trying to enhance that bliss is always worth it.

The The Milwaukee's are not a simple cover band. They create original music. From a creative perspective, what is the Milwaukees philosophy around writing music? Is there anything about the Milwaukees that is unique in this respect?

DYLAN: Nothing really original in the process. We try to let the song be the song. We try not to play too much.

JEFF: We’re real students of the game. We have studied our favorite songwriters. We’re always striving to be as good as the greats. We pride ourselves on song writing.

Is it difficult to maintain long-term relationships given the sort of on-the-road-out-late-at-night lifestyle coupled with daytime careers? Do those closest to you (parents, spouses, kids, girlfriends, etc.) have a hard time fully understand the commitment to the band / music that comes into play? If so, how do you best cope with this?

DYLAN: You've gotta get the right bird dog. Everyone else can go screw.

DONOVAN: I would think that maintaining relationships with people that can't understand my lifestyle would be difficult no matter what I did, so I avoid being around people like that. It's most difficult for me probably because I have to maintain the scheduling. I cope with it by drinking excessively. (That part is probably true).

The music and performing is obviously something you need. Where do you think you'd all be if there was no band, no outlet f
or what drives you?

DYLAN: Same place. Only jeans that have more room in them.

JEFF: If you watch Spinal Tap all the way through the credits, Rob Reiner asks the guys the same question. It's really tempting to quote them here:

“I’d probably work in a chapeau shop.”
“I’d become a full time dreamer.”
“I’d probably start making a fool of myself in public.”
“Well, as long as there is still sex and drugs…”

Those are the four best answers ever to that question. I can’t top them. I do other things creatively, but they all fill different needs for me. I don’t think that any one of them could replace music. Music is how I am wired.

For me, with my writing and now art, despite all the success that I want and crave, I simply have a need to continue expressing myself in the best way I know how, the way that works for me as an individual. At the end of the day, regardless of potential fame and fortune, what are your common goals? What will you think about once you're literally too old to play? What will give you satisfaction about what you did with your life on that day?

DYLAN: At this point for me, I have no regrets. I have an amazing, happy personal life. I also have great, golden memories of touring and playing with guys who I really care about and love like brothers. I really am satisfied but I'd be lying if I said I don't care that I never got a chance to make records as a job. It makes you bitter as hell and every band is. I still love playing a new song or even hearing a really great tune on the radio, even if it is Allison Krauss and Robert Plant or someone else you're really jealous of.

DONOVAN: Common goals are making good music. I don't plan on ever being too old to play. My styles may change, but I plan on playing until my hands fall off.

JEFF: We are voracious spades players (rhythm section v. guitar players). We play before shows. We play on breaks during recording sessions. We’ve even played while stuck in a traffic jam. I think we need to keep our music interesting enough that there is always another hand of Spades to be played.

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