Contemporary Art

A Conversation with Erin Guido & John Paul Costello

Interview conducted by Alison Caplan, Akron Art Museum Director of Education

Erin Guido creates brightly colored dynamic shape and text murals often found in surprising places, like abandoned buildings, offering friendly encouragement as they declare “come over all the time” or “hi.” With the help of carpenter John Paul Costello, Guido’s works became durable, movable pieces, such as “How Are You Feeling Today?” a large sculpture that asks visitors to dial in their emotions.

Erin Guido and John Paul Costello, photograph courtesy of the artists.

How are you feeling today?
EG: I am feeling pretty good today!
JP: Today as with most days lately I’m feeling a bit stressed out, my furniture business has me extremely busy. However, I am really looking forward to this collaboration with Erin as a time to step back and let those creative juices flow in another direction.

How do you come up with the phrases you include in your artwork?
EG: Usually the phrases are something I am thinking about someone specific—sometimes a person I know really well or sometimes a complete stranger. I mostly just like writing nice or silly notes to people! Recently, I’ve been thinking more about the range of feelings or thoughts that I experience or that I imagine someone else experiencing and how to make artwork that can change with emotions.
JP: Ha! I will take no credit for the phrases, that’s Erin’s department.

Erin Guido and John Paul Costello, It's going to be, 2017, mixed media, courtesy of the artists. Photography by Joe Levack/Studio Akron

Erin Guido and John Paul Costello, It’s going to be, 2017, mixed media, courtesy of the artists. Photography by Joe Levack/Studio Akron

What inspired your pieces in the Please Touch exhibition?
EG: My favorite part about putting up artwork outside in the public is that it goes from being my own personal art and feelings to something that is anyone’s and everyone’s. I love when people interact with pieces that they connect to. The Please Touch exhibition is the chance to take that one step further and actually let people change the pieces and create their own public artworks.
JP: For this project most of my inspiration has come from Erin’s artwork. She uses such great colors (something my work is usually void of) and shapes, I just wanted to bring them to life.

L-R: Erin Guido and John Paul Costello, Melpomene and Thalia, 2017, mixed media, courtesy of the artists; Shapes and Pegs, 2017, mixed media, courtesy of the artists; and Today I feel, 2017, mixed media, courtesy of the artists. Photography by Joe Levack/Studio Akron

L-R: Erin Guido and John Paul Costello, Melpomene and Thalia, 2017, mixed media, courtesy of the artists; Shapes and Pegs, 2017, mixed media, courtesy of the artists; and Today I feel, 2017, mixed media, courtesy of the artists. Photography by Joe Levack/Studio Akron

It seems like all of the artist in show have some connection to childhood games or picture books in their work. Do you have a favorite childhood game or book?
EG: I loved all kinds picture books when I was little, but I especially liked pop-up books and flip books (and still do!)
JP: Who didn’t love pop up books? I could sit for hours looking at them, in awe of the simple yet genius mechanics behind them.

How do you collaborate?
EG: It has been really helpful working with JP to see how he makes functional pieces so beautiful and how going from two-dimensional space to three-dimensional space can open up so many options. JP’s mind is has both extremes—really really creative and really really logical. So coming up with crazy ideas with him is so much fun—he can actually figure out how to build them! I usually just add too much color or make the shapes a little bit more wonky.
JP: Extremely well I think. Outside of the furniture my personal work can be a little dark at times so working with Erin has been a welcomed change.

Erin Guido’s & John Paul Costello’s artwork is on view and accessible along with artwork by Jordan Elise Perme & Christopher Lees (Horrible Adorables), and Jay Croft in Please Touch at the Akron Art Museum through July 16, 2017. 

Please Touch shakes off all of the traditional museum-goer behavior and asks visitors to use their sense of touch to experience the exhibition.

For Please Touch, the museum commissioned a group of regional artists to create new works that actively engage audiences of all ages. Erin Guido creates brightly colored dynamic shape and text murals often found in surprising places, like abandoned buildings, offering friendly encouragement as they declare “come over all the time” or “hi.” Jordan Elise and Christopher Lees create mounted animal sculptures they call Horrible Adorables and design patterns for fabric and wallpaper, as well as plastic toys for Kid Robot. Inspired by skateboarding and D.I.Y. culture, Jay Croft’s illustrations have donned skateboard decks, his zine Street Canoe, and most recently, a mural at Chill Ice Cream in downtown Akron.

Read our interview with Jay Croft.

Read our interview with Jordan Elise Perme & Christopher Lees (Horrible Adorables)

For Please Touch, each artist has created an interactive work that visitors can touch and manipulate as they make meaning of it in their own ways.

Please Touch is organized by the Akron Art Museum and supported by a generous gift from The Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation.

Advertisements

A Conversation with Horrible Adorables Artists Jordan Elise Perme and Christopher Lees

Interview conducted by Alison Caplan, Akron Art Museum Director of Education

Jordan Elise Perme and Christopher Lees create mounted animal sculptures they call Horrible Adorables and design patterns for fabric and wallpaper as well as plastic toys for Kid Robot.

Jordan Elise Perme and Christopher Lees (Horrible Adorables), Hiding in the Hollow (detail), 2017, mixed media, courtesy of the artists.

Jordan Elise Perme and Christopher Lees (Horrible Adorables), Hiding in the Hollow (detail), 2017, mixed media, courtesy of the artists.

Can you talk about your Horrible Adorable characters?

Horrible Adorables are strange creatures from a fantastical land. They are hybrids of selected animals, and have qualities that are both sinister and sweet (horrible and adorable, if you will). We bring the imaginary critters to life by hand carving foam forms, covering them with wool felt scales, and topping them off with eerily realistic glass eyes. We explore relationships that exist between our beasts as well as how they interact with their environment to reveal recognizably human emotions. Horrible Adorables have taken many different forms over the years; as fine art pieces, home decor, and even vinyl toys.

Jordan Elise Perme and Christopher Lees (Horrible Adorables)

Jordan Elise Perme and Christopher Lees (Horrible Adorables)

How did you come up with the idea for this work?

We often dream up many new styles of creatures and narratives for them. Our work is very character driven and is often displayed as solitary pieces removed from their natural environment. In keeping with the theme of the interactive exhibit, as well as our playful style of art, we imagined a page out of a lift-the-flap-book that the viewer could interact with. Behind the doors are detailed dioramas and descriptions about each creature; including some of their more quirky attributes. Creating this interactive mural for the Akron Art Museum gives us the opportunity to place our characters in context which provides a complete story for each of our pieces.

Please Touch, installation view of Jay Croft's artwork (left) and Horrible Adorables (right) Photography by Joe Levack/Studio Akron

Please Touch, installation view of Jay Croft’s artwork (left) and Horrible Adorables (right), Photography by Joe Levack/Studio Akron

Jordan Elise Perme & Christopher Lees (Horrible Adorables) artwork is on view and accessible along with artwork by Erin Guido & John Paul Costello, and Jay Croft in Please Touch at the Akron Art Museum through July 16, 2017. Look for interviews with Erin Guido & John Paul Costello coming soon!

Please Touch shakes off all of the traditional museum-goer behavior and asks visitors to use their sense of touch to experience the exhibition.

For Please Touch, the museum commissioned a group of regional artists to create new works that actively engage audiences of all ages. Erin Guido creates brightly colored dynamic shape and text murals often found in surprising places, like abandoned buildings, offering friendly encouragement as they declare “come over all the time” or “hi.” Jordan Elise and Christopher Lees create mounted animal sculptures they call Horrible Adorables and design patterns for fabric and wallpaper, as well as plastic toys for Kid Robot. Inspired by skateboarding and D.I.Y. culture, Jay Croft’s illustrations have donned skateboard decks, his zine Street Canoe, and most recently, a mural at Chill Ice Cream in downtown Akron.

Read our interview with Jay Croft.

For Please Touch, each artist has created an interactive work that visitors can touch and manipulate as they make meaning of it in their own ways.

Please Touch is organized by the Akron Art Museum and supported by a generous gift from The Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation.

A Conversation with Please Touch Artist Jay Croft

Interview conducted by Alison Caplan, Akron Art Museum Director of Education

Inspired by skateboarding and D.I.Y. culture, Jay Croft’s illustrations have donned skateboard decks, his zine Street Canoe, and most recently, a mural at Chill Ice Cream.

Can you talk about being a parent and an artist?

It’s the best thing ever! I love it. My kids are always drawing and making stuff. We definitely encourage them to create. Our house is filled with all types of markers, paint, papers, and glue. I encourage them to help me with some of my projects too. It’s pretty cool that they are so receptive to it.

Jay Croft, Friends, digital rendering, 2016

Jay Croft, Friends, digital rendering, 2016

Do you bring your kids to the museum?

Yes, we bring our kids to the museum for sure. We try to bring our kids to everything that we do. We want them to experience everything that they can growing up. Going to an art museum is something that I didn’t experience until I was much older than they are now. Not that my parents wouldn’t do it. The opportunity never really presented itself. I think the world is way more kid friendly than when I was growing up.

We are always trying to come up with cool things to do with the kids and what better thing to do than go to the art museum.

Jay Croft, Friends, installation view in Please Touch 2017

How did you come up with the idea for this work?

The inspiration actually came from a puzzle that the kids own. I just wanted it to be as fun and hands on as possible. Plus, I always liked the idea of mashing things up and putting things where they might not actually belong.

Jay Croft, installation view, Please Touch 2017

Jay Croft, installation view, Please Touch 2017

How does/has DIY culture influence/d your artmaking?

Besides my grandpa, it’s the one thing that has pushed it the most. As a kid growing up in Ohio, skateboarding and listening to punk rock music was the one thing that made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself. Even though I probably didn’t understand it like I do now. I just couldn’t get enough of it. From looking at skateboard magazines, to the liner notes in punk rock records, it made me feel like I could do it too. It made me realize that there wasn’t much separating me from the people I was checking out. I have always tried to go against the grain. Not in a rebellious way, but in a way that I could make it my own. I never wanted to be like anyone else. Not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of being true to myself.

It seems like all of the artist in show have some connection to childhood games or picture books in their work. Do you have a favorite childhood game or book?

It’s funny, I don’t think I actually do have a favorite book as a child. But, I have always wanted to make my own kids book ever since I can remember. Maybe someday it will happen…

Jay Croft’s artwork is on view and accessible along with artwork by Erin Guido & John Paul Costello and Jordan Elise & Christopher Lees (Horrible Adorables) in Please Touch at the Akron Art Museum through July 16, 2017. Look for interviews with Erin Guido, John Paul Costello, Jordan Elise and Christopher Lees coming soon!

Please Touch shakes off all of the traditional museum-goer behavior and asks visitors to use their sense of touch to experience the exhibition.

For Please Touch, the museum commissioned a group of regional artists to create new works that actively engage audiences of all ages. Erin Guido creates brightly colored dynamic shape and text murals often found in surprising places, like abandoned buildings, offering friendly encouragement as they declare “come over all the time” or “hi.” Jordan Elise and Christopher Lees create mounted animal sculptures they call Horrible Adorables and design patterns for fabric and wallpaper, as well as plastic toys for Kid Robot. Inspired by skateboarding and D.I.Y. culture, Jay Croft’s illustrations have donned skateboard decks, his zine Street Canoe, and most recently, a mural at Chill Ice Cream in downtown Akron.

For Please Touch, each artist has created an interactive work that visitors can touch and manipulate as they make meaning of it in their own ways.

Please Touch is organized by the Akron Art Museum and supported by a generous gift from The Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation.

A Conversation with Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle Artist Jimmy Kuehnle

Interview conducted by Alison Caplan, Akron Art Museum Director of Education

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view. Photography by Shane Wynn

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (exterior). Photography by Shane Wynn

You develop your works on a computer. What is it like to not fully experience them until they reach a gallery or museum?

When I come to the gallery to install, it really feels like I have been walking around the space for a long time virtually in the computer. I know the places and can recall them. It is a strange sensation in the beginning to have most of my memories of the place be digital memories. As I work on the installation actual memories of the physical place replace former digital memories. At first, designing with the computer made it difficult for me to realize form. Now when I look at photos taken from site visits I get frustrated that I cannot spin the photo around to see behind objects in the way I can when I am modeling in a 3-D program. The main downside of not seeing the work before installing is I can never be really sure if it absolutely fits or if everything will work as designed. A really fun yet challenging aspect of one off site-specific work is that every time is the first time for all projects. This challenge adds to the potential joy I receive from installing the work since I see the work for the first time just like the audience.

What’s your studio like and what are the main tools you use to create your work?

I use a double needle industrial sewing machine set up in my attic. I can roll out the fabric and make simple pattern pieces ready to sew. When deflated the fabric does not take up a lot of space so I can store large-scale work. When I need lots of extra space I collaborate with local institutions to use available space and facilities on a temporary basis. For more complex shapes I use a digital projector to project the pattern shapes directly onto the fabric pinned on the wall. Then I draw the pattern pieces directly on the fabric with a sharpie and label it for later sewing in my studio.

Jimmy Kuehnle lowers fabric for Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle from his second-storey studio in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Jimmy Kuehnle lowers fabric for Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle from his second-storey studio in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Why did you choose red for the color of Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle?

Red makes a very bright environmental ambiance that attracts viewers’ attention and it is warm and pleasant to be around. Museums often have stark whites, grays and cool colors and the red provides a nice contrast to potentially sterile environments.

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

How did the Akron Art Museum’s architecture and collection influence the work?

The Akron Art Museum has very angular and eccentric architecture without a lot of right angles. As I designed the two appendages on the lobby inflatable to go up and down I referenced the museum’s exterior cloud forms and the form of the walkway on the second level. In addition, when the up-and-down movement is at a slightly bent state it intentionally mimics the Claes Oldenburg sculpture installed in the lobby.

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

What role does humor play in your artwork?

Life is a pretty absurd thing if you stop and think about it. It can be overwhelming and depressing to consider the inconsequential nature of all the things that you or anybody that you know may do. Therefore concentrating on the more pleasurable aspects of life including joy and humor is a better use of resources in my opinion. Also, museums can be places where most people whisper and don’t scream and shout. I really like that aspect of museums since it provides a great place to contemplate and really study a wonderful work of art. At the same time I like to question traditions by making something more playful that allows for audiences to laugh and giggle together. Hopefully the humor in the work will make human connections between each of the audience members and the piece.

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle visits Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle, 2016, Akron Art Museum installation view (interior). Photography by Shane Wynn

Can you tell us about the polyester material your sculpture is made out of? How did you ended up working with that material?

The inflatable is made with a lightweight polyester material that has a coating on it. I began working with nylon when I first made Inflatables. As I started to put work outdoors for long periods of time, I needed to use fabric that would stand up in ultraviolet light. The polyester fabric is very similar to the nylon but the main difference is that it does not absorb moisture and has more UV resistance.

Some of your work incorporates performance and even this piece has time based elements—light and movement. Do you feel like your performative practice and sculptures are closely related?

I really enjoy performance-based work because of the spontaneity and the action involved. I can interact directly with the audience and change things on the fly based on the situation. Conversely working with a sculpture can be rather static compared to the performances. When I first started making installation work I wanted it to be interactive so the audience would still have a new novel experience even if it did not have a performance component. The recent Inflatable installations have intentional kinetic actions so people can see the work change over time and relate to it as a living creature that changes just like they do. Blinking lights give even more sensory experience and show the viewer that things do not exist just in a static place or moment in time but everything exists on a continuum.

Jimmy Kuehnle, You Wear What I Wear, inflatable suit, 2009

Jimmy Kuehnle, You Wear What I Wear, inflatable suit, 2009, photo: courtesy of the artist

Any surprises when creating or installing the work? There was one point when you were lost inside a sea of fabric and you stayed pretty cool and calm. Is that a usual occurrence? Our installation crew was struck by how visually appealing the works are on the inside.

The inside of inflatables is visually captivating and aside from the inflation process is my favorite part of inflatable sculpture. It can be difficult to safely allow the audience to go inside inflatables to experience the surreal environment so I design installations to simulate that experience. The inflatable in the Corbin gallery changes the viewer’s experience of a normally simply shaped exhibition space. Since the work is thoroughly planned out prior to fabrication there are not many surprises. The site-specific nature of the work means that unknowns always exist until the piece is fully installed. In the Akron installation we added sandbags to keep portions of the installation in place and I sewed more internal structure into the lobby piece after doing a test fit. During those sewing adjustments I left a pair of scissors in the inflatable that I had to fish out later and temporarily got lost in the pile of fabric. The crew in Akron helped me overcome any and all unexpected situations that came up during installation.

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle  in the process of being installed at the Akron Art Museum in August 2016. Photo: courtesy of the Akron Art Museum

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle in the process of being installed at the Akron Art Museum in August 2016. Photo: courtesy of the Akron Art Museum

Jimmy Kuehnle: Wiggle, Giggle, Jiggle is on view at the Akron Art Museum through February 19, 2017.

Stephen Tomasko’s Fairgrounds

By Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

This season marks Stephen Tomasko’s seventh summer photographing county fairs throughout Ohio. Three of the artist’s untitled photographs of foodstands appear in Snack, which runs through September 3 in the Judith Bear Isroff Gallery. The Akron Art Museum blog chats with Tomasko about his current work as well as projects the artist pursues far from the fairgrounds.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2013, 18 x 12 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2013, 18 x 12 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Akron Art Museum: Fair season seems to really pick up in August. Which fairs do you plan to visit this month?

Stephen Tomasko: August is amazing for fairs. I’ll definitely hit the Ohio State Fair. The county fairs are all over the place this month. On my schedule is Columbiana, Medina, Holmes, Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Portage and the amazing Canfield fair at the very end of the month. There are some other good ones as well which I may fit in if time allows.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2012, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2012, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Do you see the same vendors at different fairs?

I do see many of the same vendors and carnival game operators at different fairs over the course of the season. Many of them are quite supportive and have a real interest in what I’m doing as they see their way of life as a disappearing piece of history and want to see it documented and remembered. The people with the games, in particular, are full of stories from their travels and the past: How far a particular game has traveled over the years, how old their metal milk bottles are, various bits of carny history, scams they have seen over the years, stuff like that. Also once you get to know some people over time you hear more about their own past and what their families are up to and how they got on the road. It seems that, like making art, once you get the traveling fair bug some people get pulled in and never get out. It can be an obsession as well as a lifestyle choice.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series I’m so Happy I’m Happy!, 2013, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series I’m so Happy I’m Happy!, 2013, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

You tend to photograph in crowded, chaotic situations—county fairs, tailgate parties, outside of the Republican National Convention. What attracts you to those environments?

I am really interested in the crowded and chaotic lately, especially those groups that are formed around a shared interest or passion as opposed to, say, everyone on the sidewalk heading from work at the same time because it’s rush hour. I’m fascinated by what it is that makes people identify with a group enough to show up and join and dress a certain way and act a certain way. What drives people to spend all the time and effort to buy or make the stuff to fit in and stand out?

Also, with a certain density of engaged people you get a critical mass where everything gets noticeably intensified. People feed off of one another and really commit to what they are doing, emotions run higher, it’s much louder, even the smells are stronger. These are elements that I want to convey in my work.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Winter Was Hard, 2009, Inkjet print, 11 ¾ in. x 17 ½ in., Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Museum Acquisition Fund 2011.2

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Winter Was Hard, 2009, Inkjet print, 11 ¾ in. x 17 ½ in., Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Museum Acquisition Fund 2011.2

It’s not that different from my spring flowering tree work really. I pack those images from edge to edge with blooms and supplement the natural light with very theatrical flash to create an over-the-top, more-real-than-real tableaux and when it works people respond all the time with comments like “It smells like flowers in here!” So what I’m obsessed with doing now is entering into these energized packed places, distilling down the action there into the frame, capturing what it feels like to be there, maybe even reminding you of what it smells like to be in a place like that, not just what it looks like to be there even though that is of primary importance, too.

I think another part of it is that I like to do things that are hard, to make things that have not been done well before. Crowds are hard and these places are a mess. As a small example, the fairs are loaded with big ugly trash cans that will kill an image in a second if you aren’t careful about excluding them. You never notice that they are not there in the prints, but the work would suffer if they were in the image. Making visually coherent and beautiful photographs is a real challenge. My wife always says about these chaotic images “I love to look at the prints, but I wouldn’t want to be there!” They are a fun challenge to make.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series First Place and Our Congratulations, 2011, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series First Place and Our Congratulations, 2011, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

How do your subjects typically respond when they notice they are being photographed?

Photographing in a crowd can be easier to move around and work without people noticing you ahead of the exposure. By the time most people notice they are being photographed, if they notice at all, I have usually made my best shot. The reaction of those who do notice varies a great deal from venue to venue, and sometimes I can’t really figure it out ahead of time. In general, out of all the situations I photograph, the county fairs are toughest. The participants there, even though it is a very public venue and they are “showing at the fair,” tend to be very suspicious of outsiders. I’m not sure if they think I’m from PETA or something, but the reaction is sometimes pretty unpleasant. On the other hand, tailgating at the Muni Lot before Browns games is a blast. Sure I’ve got to clean beer off my camera almost every game, but the reaction of my subjects to being singled out and noticed is almost always very positive. I’m constantly offered food and drink.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2015, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2015, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

In the spirit of Snack, I have to ask this last question. What’s your favorite fair food?

I’ve been to so many fairs now that the stuff that is straight up bad for you holds no more interest to me. The deep fried and the sugar doused has long since lost any allure for me. I’m usually looking for something that is good and will sustain me through the summer heat. A best bet for me is to get a ribeye sandwich from the local cattlemen organization at any given fair. That almost always satisfies and usually they will have some fresh sweet corn roasted on that same grill.