Ohio artists

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.

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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.

Snack Recipes

by Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

While conducting studio visits in preparation for Snack, which runs through September 3 in the Judith Bear Isroff Gallery, conversation inevitably meandered toward the edible. Pizza, milk, tater tots and deviled eggs are just a few of the foodstuffs that came up for discussion. With those exchanges in mind, I invited participating artists to submit recipes for the museum blog. To my delight, Brandon Juhasz and Kristen Cliffel responded with lists of ingredients and instructions for foods with strong conceptual links to their works in the exhibition. Brandon sent along an over-the-top how-to video for what is perhaps best described as a meat mass. (Vegetarians and vegans: consider yourself forewarned.) Kristen, whose experience as a wife and mother inspired her sculpture The Dirty Dozen, shared a recipe for her son’s favorite birthday cake.

Epic Meal Time’s TurBacon “A bird in a bird in a bird in a bird in a bird in a pig”
Submitted by Brandon Juhasz

Brandon Juhasz, What I Want To Be When I Grow Up, 2011, Inkjet print, 24 x 16 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Brandon Juhasz, What I Want To Be When I Grow Up, 2011, Inkjet print, 24 x 16 in. Courtesy of the artist.

My work is really a satire on consumption as well as a metaphor for the body and existence—the mortal coil, if you will. I hope that the viewer is both attracted to as well as repulsed by the picture. Often times those two emotions go hand in hand with the experience of desire. The overwhelming control that desire can have is also something that went into the making of this picture.

With that in mind I want to share this video.


I couldn’t find the recipe transcribed but this video has stuck with me since I first saw it 2 years ago.
Enjoy!!
—Brandon Juhasz

Chocolate Cake, Frosting and Bourbon Cocktail
Submitted by Kristen Cliffel

Kristen Cliffel, The Dirty Dozen, 2010, Low fire clay, glaze, lustre, wood and Lucite, 32 x 23 x 23 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of the artist in honor of Mitchell D. Kahan 2012.102 a-n.

Kristen Cliffel, The Dirty Dozen, 2010, Low fire clay, glaze, lustre, wood and Lucite, 32 x 23 x 23 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of the artist in honor of Mitchell D. Kahan 2012.102 a-n.

My son’s favorite birthday cake is the traditional Hershey’s chocolate cake. The recipe is from the back of the cocoa tin. I’ve been using it for years. I modify the frosting to be one that he loves and usually will do something jazzy on top, depending on where his interests are that year.

I always feel like a child’s birthday is also a celebration and a sort of congratulatory event for the parents as well—successfully bringing the child to that moment in life.

The artist’s son with his favorite birthday cake. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The artist’s son with his favorite birthday cake. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Traditional Hershey’s Chocolate Cake: From the Tin of Cocoa

First, get your oven hot. 350 F is what they recommend.

Now cut some parchment circles for your cake pans—very important. I like to use three 8” pans so my cake is nice and high when I layer it up with frosting.

Butter and cocoa the cake pans.

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Sift these ingredients so they are well mixed and the particles are happy together.

Another bowl. Now for the wet stuff:
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons good vanilla, like Madagascar (vanilla bean paste is good too)
1 cup boiling water… I know. Boiling water, but it works…

OK, mix all the wet ingredients except for the water… mix them and then add to the dry mix and mix for a couple minutes.

When this is all mixed well, add the boiling water and mix. It will be soupy. Don’t worry.

Pour into your prepared pans and put into your hot oven. Bake for 30 minutes or so … check with a toothpick.

Cool cakes completely. They will pop out nicely because of your diligence with the parchment and cocoa/butter in pans.

Frost when completely cool. This is the fun part!

Chocolate cake by Kristen Cliffel. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Chocolate cake by Kristen Cliffel. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Frosting: Malted Belgian Chocolate (From another cake recipe—not mine. I just hijacked it for this cake.)

One pound butter
4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cups Ovaltine malted powder
Pinch of salt
8 ounces Belgian chocolate chopped, melted over a double boiler and cooled
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Whip your butter and sugar together for a minute or so…nice and fluffy.

Add the malt, vanilla salt and beat on low for a bit.

Now add the melted and cooled chocolate and beat until smooth … 2 minutes or so.

OK, now add the whipping cream and beat on high for a minute or two.

This is the most lovely frosting for this chocolate cake!!!! Have fun frosting and decorating it. This is really the best part. This frosting is best in winter due to the whipping cream added. If it’s a summer birthday, make sure you have air-conditioning.

Enjoy!

Kristen Cliffel, The Dirty Dozen (detail), 2010, Low fire clay, glaze, lustre, wood and Lucite, 32 x 23 x 23 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of the artist in honor of Mitchell D. Kahan 2012.102 a-n.

Kristen Cliffel, The Dirty Dozen (detail), 2010, Low fire clay, glaze, lustre, wood and Lucite, 32 x 23 x 23 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of the artist in honor of Mitchell D. Kahan 2012.102 a-n.

Winter Manhattan

I like to put some cloves and a cinnamon stick in the bourbon for at least a couple of hours before serving. Strain out the cloves and cinnamon and then mix your cocktail.

1-1/2 jiggers of bourbon. Don’t be cheap. Use something nice like Maker’s Mark.
1/2 jigger of sweet vermouth
2 nice cherries, luxardo or make your own (steep them in ginger and bourbon overnight)
Bitters of your choice. I like orange for this drink.
Orange peel for garnish and rim

Ok, so you put your ice in the glass, get ready… Mix two of these for sure, I hope you are sharing with someone.

Pour your bourbon and your vermouth into a shaker, add bitters. Stir and swirl around the glass gently.

Garnish your ice with the cherries on the toothpick. Rim your glass with the orange peel. Pour the cocktail into the glass, over the cherries.

Place your orange peel inside the glass but sticking up a bit.

Toast to the other person across from you. Enjoy!!!

—Kristen Cliffel

NEO Geo Studio Visits

By Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

If philosopher Alan Watts is right, and museums are the places art goes to die, then the artist’s studio must surely be the birthplace of a work of art.

For the record: I disagree with Watts. But I do relish the opportunity to see art in its native studio environment, before it’s displayed on the museum’s pristine walls. The context of an artist’s workspace offers clues as to how or why a particular artwork was made.

Studio visits made up a large part of the efforts required to organize NEO Geo. After scoping out an artist’s website, I would set up a studio visit to observe the work and ask questions. Not only did these observations and conversations guide my selections of works to include in the exhibition, but they were integral to gathering key information I could then convey to museum visitors through labels, tours, the brochure and this blog post.

NEO Geo artist Erik Neff

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

I visited Erik Neff’s studio in Newbury in rural Geauga County in early April and mid-May of last year. A prolific artist, Neff creates pastel drawings on paper in addition to the oil paintings and wooden sculptures selected for NEO Geo.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Neff’s studio serves a dual role of a place to make and store artwork. His flat file drawer holds examples of the modestly scaled paintings the artist made when his children were younger. Now that they spend their days at school, Neff has more time to devote to larger canvases like the ones you see in NEO Geo.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

During my visits, Neff displayed his larger and mid-sized canvases propped up on aluminum cans, leaning against the wall. Neff’s painting Between, which is included in NEO Geo, is on the right of this photograph; the edge of Breakwater is barely visible on the far right.

The studio mascots in the studio.

The studio mascots in the studio.

Neff places his small wooden sculptures, or studio mascots, as he likes to call them, on a wooden bench. Here you see a set of Neff’s pastels in the background, and the wooden stove that heats his studio is visible on the far right. The wooden blocks Neff uses to construct his sculptures would have ended up in the stove if they hadn’t had a visual appeal to the artist, who sets them near his palette and brushes paint on their surfaces from time to time.

NEO Geo artist Paul O’Keeffe

I visited Paul O’Keeffe’s studio, which was specifically designed and constructed for the backyard of his Cleveland Heights home, in mid-March and late June of last year. A beautiful natural light fills his workspace.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

O’Keeffe purchases colored acrylic pieces that are rejects from improperly cut commercial orders. He layers the translucent sheets atop one another, creating new hues in the process.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

When I visited O’Keeffe in June, he had begun work on his two newest sculptures in the exhibition, a distant silence XXX and XXXI. You can see the skeletons of those two works, which were constructed in part with materials from a botched job for a Victoria’s Secret store.

O’Keeffe’s method of combining individual components comes from an example set by sculptor David Smith. “Years ago, as a student, I came across photos of him laying out individual found metal elements on the floor prior to welding (and also composing with cardboard). My acrylic pieces are generated in a similar fashion although the sensibility is considerably different.”

NEO Geo artist Janice Lessman-Moss

I first visited Janice Lessman-Moss’ Kent studio in mid-March of last year, with a follow up visit at the end of May.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Pinned to the wall above her flat file are print-outs of digital sketches for the artist’s Random Walk series. The random walk theory, which is used to explain the unpredictability of the stock market’s rise and fall, serves as inspiration for the patterns that appear in works in this series, which Lessman-Moss weaves on a digital jacquard loom in her studio. None of the Random Walk weavings are on display in NEO Geo, but the work visible on the right in the above photograph, #420, is part of the series of tapestries created at the same industrial mill in North Carolina where the textiles in NEO Geo were woven.

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

On the opposite wall hangs what Lessman-Moss refers to as her “crayon box,” a tapestry that doubles as a palette for the colors the artist creates by instructing the industrial digital loom to weave threads in a particular order. She set up a corresponding digital palette in Photoshop, the program she uses to create her designs before transferring them into files for the digital loom using software called Pointcarre.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the "crayon-box" during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the “crayon box” during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Each of the many, many colors featured in the complex designs of the weavings on display in NEO Geo corresponds to a square on the crayon box. This tool, which hangs on the wall directly above the desk where the artist sits to design her tapestries, provides valuable insight into the work’s creation—insights best obtained through visits to the artist’s studio, the birthplace of the works of art.

Find out more about NEO Geo, on view at the Akron Art Museum through April 24, 2016. • View the NEO Geo exhibition catalog online.