3 Question View – Cynthia Cusick

*Please note: this 3QV features mature work and themes by a very talented artist. Please do not click through if this is something you do not wish to see or read*

This post is the seventh of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

Cynthia Cusick
3 Question View – Cynthia Cusick 
Sculptor and Ceramicist, www.cynthiacusick.com
Anna: 
You describe your work as introspective, with a focus on sexuality and maturity. As an art historian, I’ve been trained to see “girl parts” in every flower and fruit, so it’s relieving to see it as clearly intentional. Why do these themes inspire you? How has living in Manhattan and now Kentucky brought different influences to your work?

Cynthia:
Being raised Catholic initially helped shape my views on sexuality as something to be hidden, confined, and separated from the self. The lip service was, ‘Yes, sexuality is a natural thing.” The unspoken message was that it was dirty, to be shunned and private to the point of being completely denied. This conflicting message made sex and sexuality an uncomfortable experience for me. I learned to avoid any sexual references, intellectually and emotionally, personally and collectively. As I grew older, I finally reached a place in my life where I assumed I had everything figured out. Instead, my marriage fell apart; I initiated the process without realizing it. I was out there alone and became acutely aware that I knew nothing.  I avoided things of which I was fearful, that scared me or made me uncomfortable. So I made the choice to face head on all of my fears and ask, “Why does this scare me?”

Making tangible objects out of intangible fears makes my fears approachable. Being alone was the biggest fear of mine at the time but it forced me to reconcile myself without outside feedback and approval. Sexuality and sexual identity elicited an uncomfortable response within me; it made me intensely curious. In current American culture, we view it as a power element rather than what it truly is: a biological construct that exists everywhere. I combine sexual elements or references with ambiguous, natural elements as a reminder of our most natural part of ourselves, that keeps us connected to the rest of the world. Some of the reactions to the genitalia-like parts of my work are thoughtful, some are repulsed, some reactions are funny. All are part of the mix. I respond to the quirky, unexpected and humor aspect. Humor eases the discomfort and make the scary less scary. 
The Incidental Observer

The Incidental Observer (Detail)

Living in Manhattan for over 15 years allowed me an environment rich with diversity of culture and points of view, the importance of being true to yourself in a sea of humanity. When I came to Kentucky, I came to fulfill my childhood dreams in an environment that inspired me. NYC has some amazing green spaces and parks, but nature is experienced in a controlled setting. I love the uninhibited quality of my rural setting; it’s never quite clear who or what has the upper advantage. I love that sense of the unexpected. It keeps me focused on the moment at hand and my relationship with the natural world. I find a sense of humility in that paradox. 

Anna: 
One of my favorite series is “The 35 Symptoms”, an exploration of the common symptoms of Peri-Menopause. How did creating these works express your feelings about this transition in your life? How do you think your work has developed and matured?

Cynthia: 
The 35 Symptoms is a cathartic work for me. Knowing ahead of time as much information as possible gives me the illusion of having control over uncontrollable things. When I first made The 35 Symptoms, I placed the little icons around this womb-like sculpture. It made a nice presentation but became static for me – menopause frozen in a metaphor. This phase of peri-menopause, the 2-9 years before actual menopause (yes, that’s right, sometimes it’s nine years, folks!) is anything but static. And the process doesn’t just affect me, it affects those around me. I need to give some warning and acknowledgement to the most problematic symptoms so I’ve created a kind of a shrine to display them. I use this small stage to contemplate my most prominent symptoms of the day and, in doing so, the little icons help me keep perspective. They keep me aware of what’s going on within me, but with a sense of humor about the whole process. 
When I was younger, my art was paintings, drawings, photography, two-dimensional pieces that tended to focus on solitude, stillness and isolation. Now that I’ve moved into three-dimensional work, there is more literal and metaphorical depth. Because my work in clay and other sculptural media is relatively new, I have a ways to go to feel as if my work has matured. Yet my perspective is that of a mature woman so I think I am able to use my experience to reflect and ponder some deeper experiences and questions that confront us. 

Feeling of Doom
Disturbing Memory Loss, in situ, in Adaptation Exhibit

 

Anna: 
Now for a little whimsy – you create personality by putting little feet on most of your pottery mugs and cups, which are historically utilitarian. It’s endearing and yet simultaneously earthy and organic. How did you come up with the idea of foot-ing your drinking vessels? What about the idea of usable art appeals to you?

Cynthia:
Many terms in pottery are derived from the human body so it’s a natural extension to turn a utilitarian object into something more human-like. Terms used to describe parts of cups, bowls, and bottles are things like “foot,” “lip,” “belly,” “body,” “neck.” Moving from pure utility to personality feels natural. I find that I enjoy making functional work that behaves more like an evolved creature as opposed to making very traditional utilitarian work. My talent lies in the clumsy dent, the falling handle, the bowed-out edge and then seeing what that flaw inspires. Nature, itself, is not perfect. Nature contains many flaws, mistakes and bumps in the road but it has this wonderful capacity to adapt and evolve from those points into something even more exciting. 
I find my passion lies in seeing the form and then letting myself go back to being a kid again and using my imagination to ask: what does this look like to me? Is is a little monster? A queen? A slithery underground creature? A twisted plant? Carving, pinching and sculpting things I can still use for everyday functions transports me into those imaginary worlds and moments. For me, it makes drinking a cup of tea a much more expressive act.

Chubby Cup

You can order Cynthia’s work on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/teahorsestudio

Cynthia’s portfolio website: http://www.cynthiacusick.com

You can visit Cynthia’s blog, reflections on art and life: http://cynthiacusick.blogspot.com

A Very Few Moments

I’m sort of a sensitive person (attention: understatement). I cherish the evanescence of beauty – the fragility of a wildflower or the shimmering high note of an aria. I cry easily at happy things and sad things and beautiful things and memorable things. There have been very few moments in my life, however, which have combined all of these things. This post is about one of those moments.

Royo

One of my very favorite (living) artists is Royo, the master Spanish Impressionist. I had collected several of his serigraphs, but was longing to own an original. One day the owner of the gallery where I worked came in with two sketches under his arm, then set them against the far wall. I identified them immediately as Royo original sketches (despite the fact that we carried 40 artists and I was ten feet away) and actually -vaulted- over the massive wooden desk and snatched it up in my hot little hands.

“What is this??” I asked. Actually, I’m pretty sure I screeched.

“New sketches from Royo. They just sent them over from Spain,” he said, “Nice, aren’t they?”

Al Aire (In the Air), Royo, Original Colored Pencil on Paper

“Nice”, dear reader, did not even begin to describe the sketch in my hands. I was devastatingly heels-over-head besotted with this gorgeously nuanced sketch done in colored pencils. Only Royo could do such a magnificent scribbling on brown paper and make it look half-Da Vinci. My throat was mostly closed-up at this point, but I managed to croak, “How much?” He named the price and I ruefully hooked the sketch on the wall and stepped away.

I spent the rest of the day casting furtive glances at “my sketch”, as I now considered it. Cleverly, I had positioned it behind a door, so almost none of the foot traffic coming into the gallery could see it, unless the door was closed. When someone did pause to look at it, I hurriedly called their attention elsewhere – to a landscape, a floral, anything to prevent them from glomming on to “my sketch” and realizing they could acquire a Royo original for less than $2,000. Royo’s oils started at $9,750, to give you a sense of the futility of my task.

I made it through the better part of the day and even managed to leave the gallery for a few minutes and head to one of our other locations. When I stepped back in the door, my gallery director said, “Oh, your sketch sold.” My heart plummeted through my pancreas and I stopped dead. It turned out that it was the -other- sketch that sold, but that was all it took.

I practically tackled the owner when he re-entered the building: “I’m buying that sketch.”

He laughed, until he realized I wasn’t joking, “You can’t.” He then explained that new works had a 30 day hold on them before they were available for employee purchase. This was a bogus rule, as I knew I was the first employee threatening to buy an original off the floor.

I didn’t have 30 days. In fact, I knew I likely didn’t have 30 hours. All of my coworkers were merrily emailing the new bargain originals off to their client list. Royo sketches are both rare and in demand, due to their affordability.

So I stormed, I cried, I threatened and charmed and, in the end, I think I just wore him down. I ended up paying wall price, of course, but it felt like the best money I’d spent. Al Aire was mine. The title means In the Air and that’s pretty much where I existed. My little heels weren’t touching the ground, my head was sky-high and I floated about, probably annoying everyone in my vicinity.

Fast forward to the Royo show.

Royo was coming to our gallery. I was going to see him and meet him and maybe, if I was lucky, speak to him. I was in the throes of a giant art-history nerd crush. I felt like I was meeting John William Waterhouse or W.A. Bouguereau.

When Royo entered, he was the personification of the charming, small-boned Spanish gentleman. His charisma was unmistakable. His voice was soft, but everyone hushed when he spoke. He kissed my hand when he met me and I’m pretty sure I tilted.

I wasn’t able to approach him about my sketch until the next day. I was deeply nervous and had over-prepared. I had typed my request in Spanish, because I didn’t trust my nerves or pronunciation. It read like this:

Estimado Señor, estaría muy honrado si podría firmar mi esbozo “Al Aire”. Ella es muy hermosa y me gustaría saber nada que me puede decir acerca de ella. Esta es mi primera original y la quiero mucho. Sinceramente, Anna

Which means, roughly:

Dear sir, I would be very honored if you would sign my sketch, “Al Aire”. She is very beautiful and I would like to know anything you can tell me about her. This is my first original and I love her very much. Sincerely, Anna 

I’m fairly certain that the sheet of paper was damp with palm sweat by the time I was able to hand it to him. He read it and smiled a half-pleased smile. He picked up the sketch and looked at her, made a small noise of recognition, almost an “Ah”. He spoke rapidly in Spanish to his translator, “He remembers this, he says. It is Maria, you know.” Maria is Royo’s daughter’s best friend and one of his favorite subjects, “It was effortless, he says, she is very free.” We then posed for this picture.

Royo, Anna, and Al Aire

He dedicated the back to me with several florid strokes of the marker. When he handed it to me, I was somewhere between bliss and dismay that I was tearing up. A lot. He smiled at me again and gave me a hug. Royo hugged me; that’s something to tell the grandkids, like “Oh, yeah, I bumped elbows with Monet.”

I walked back to the front desk and set the sketch against the wall, working to regain a modicum of composure. My friend and coworker Leslie had the camera in her hands. She impulsively lifted it and snapped off a candid shot. I demurred, “Oh, don’t take a picture; I look a mess.”

She lowered the camera and told me earnestly, “You want a picture of this. You only feel this way a very few moments in life.”

And she was right.

A “Very Few” Moment

3 Question View – Sarah Jamila Stevenson

This post is the second of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

Sarah Jamila Stevenson

3 Question View – Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Writer & Artist, Author of The Latte Rebellion (Flux, 2011), Co-Author of Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog



Anna:
The Latte Rebellion deals with some sophisticated themes, including racism, bullying and complex adult choices. The main character, Asha, is referred to as a “towel head”. What do you hope your book can offer young readers, multi-racial and otherwise, who might be experiencing similar challenges?

Sarah:
There are rarely easy answers to such challenges, are there? I suppose I hope that my book successfully conveys that while some situations can be tough, and there aren’t many easy answers, it’s still possible to survive and even thrive despite (and even because of) life’s challenges. That you can make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. That being yourself is a complicated endeavor, and every person’s journey is different. That having a sense of humor is an important survival tool. That friendships may change, and plans usually do change, and life goes on. That, even if high school is disheartening, (to borrow some words of wisdom from Dan Savage) it gets better.

Anna:
Your writing and blog focus on Young Adult literature. Why were you drawn to YA literature? What has been your favorite experience with a younger reader?


 
Sarah: 

I’ve always enjoyed coming-of-age stories, and stories in which the characters continue to grow and learn and change, and explore who they are. YA literature seems to specialize in that, for sure. And because of that, I’ve never stopped reading YA books–in fact, the range, depth, and quality of the YA field has only increased since I was a teen reader. It’s a very exciting time to be a YA writer, and some of the most thoughtful, honest, tightly-written, and pretension-free fiction I can think of is being produced by YA writers.

My favorite experience with a younger reader happened this past February, at a visit to Balboa High School in San Francisco. I was invited to speak to their lunchtime book club, which was great because it meant the group of students I spoke to had already read my book! After I gave my reading and answered some questions, one girl came up to me to say how glad she was that there was a book out there for kids of mixed race, that talked about their experiences, and said “thank you for writing this book.” I was thrilled! That one moment confirmed for me beyond a doubt that this endeavor has been worth it. 🙂
Anna:
You are also an artist. One of my favorite features on the ‘Finding Wonderland’ blog is your “Toon Thursday”, a humorous take on the pitfalls of writing
.

 

The Latte Rebellion features your artwork as well. How do you divide your time between your art and your writing? Do you ‘rotate the crops’ artistically? Does sketching lead to story ideas or vice versa? Can you tell us more about your new printmaking/collage project in the works?

 
Sarah:
I’m so glad you like Toon Thursday! It’s a labor of love, so my primary reward is when people let me know they enjoy it. With respect to my art and writing, it’s definitely a challenge to juggle them both. I’m usually focusing more on one than the other–lately it’s been mostly writing, but the artwork is never far from my mind. I try to take as many opportunities as I can to stay in drawing practice. Fortunately, my husband is a college art professor, and I have a standing invitation to come into his class and draw! That helps a lot.
Sometimes sketching does lead to story ideas, and vice versa, but usually the ideas are separate. I do have a strong interest in graphic novels, though, and would love to write and draw one sometime. Also, the project I currently have in the works combines elements of text and image. The plan is to carve an image into a linoleum block, print it several times, and then collage text and maybe images–different ones–onto each print. I want each print to have the same basic underlying image, but be distinctly different visually and tell a different “story” using found text. This idea got started after I worked on a collaborative print project with 9 other artist friends (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=36097397321). I used various collage techniques on my contributions for the project, and wanted to pursue that line of inquiry further. I’m excited about it, but so far I haven’t had as much time to work on it as I would like.

Thanks so much for interviewing me and asking such great questions!

The Latte Rebellion Manifesto

If you are reading this, you are clearly sympathetic to the cause!
What cause, you ask?
The cause of brown people everywhere—
whether you have espresso-colored hair,
a perfect latte tan, or you’re as light as a mocha bianca!
The world must acknowledge you!
The world will appreciate you!
Our philosophy is simple:
Promote a latte-colored world!
Forget bananas and coconuts!
Go for the seamless blend! You can’t un-latte the latte!
It doesn’t matter if you are only coffee on the inside.
If you’re a latte at heart, you are welcome.
Iced or hot, raise your cup to the cause!
Lattes of the World, Unite!

See Sarah’s very clever website for the book here: http://www.latte-rebellion.com/index.html

You can order your own copy of The Latte Rebellion at: http://www.fluxnow.com/product.php?ean=9780738722788

Synopsis:
When high school senior Asha Jamison gets called a “towel head” at a pool party, the racist insult gives Asha and her best friend Carey a great money-making idea for a post-graduation trip. They’ll sell T-shirts promoting the Latte Rebellion, a club that raises awareness of mixed-race students.

Seemingly overnight, their “cause” goes viral and the T-shirts become a nationwide fad. As new chapters spring up from coast to coast, Asha realizes that her simple marketing plan has taken on a life of its own-and it’s starting to ruin hers. Asha’s once-stellar grades begin to slip, threatening her Ivy League dreams, and her friendship with Carey is hanging by a thread. And when the peaceful underground movement turns militant, Asha’s school launches a disciplinary hearing. Facing expulsion, Asha must decide how much she’s willing to risk for something she truly believes in.

Visit Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog, the excellent writing blog Sarah co-authors: http://writingya.blogspot.com

See Sarah’s website: www.sarahjamilastevenson.com