Saint Paul, Minnesota
What degree are you pursuing at KU?
I’m working towards my MFA in Painting.
Where did you complete your undergraduate degree? What was your major?
I went to the University of Northwestern Saint Paul and was a studio art major.
What brought you to KU?
I actually have a friend and mentor, Heather Bren, that went to grad school at KU. She was the person who first mentioned it, and then after looking into the program a bit I decided to apply, and it was the best fit for me.
When did you know you wanted to pursue art?
To be honest, I don’t really know if there was a definite moment. I enjoyed art in high school, but I wasn’t one of the kids who doodled and was drawing all the time. I think I just knew I was most interested in some kind of creative pursuit in my life, which kind of evolved into pursuing art as my career.
What drew you to painting/drawing?
I was a tattoo artist for several years before I pursued fine art. It was originally my desire to improve my tattooing that made me want to go to school to study drawing and painting. Once I was in school and studying fine art, I kind of fell in love with all the other ways of working there are. That foundation in tattooing really is still set in my brain though.
Which of your projects has had the most profound impact on you or others?
Several years ago, before graduate school, a friend of mine died in a murder-suicide. It was an awful and very confusing time. I ended up making a painting that, even though I don’t know if I totally realized it at the time, was really asking questions and trying to sort out how to deal with the memories of a friend who made such a terrible choice as their last one. I was really angry. I ended up showing that painting, and it made a space for other people who have lost loved ones to suicide to express their anger alongside their sadness. I think that piece was important for me because it helped me recognize that making art is a lot about asking questions with visual language. That piece was really helpful for me to express some things visually that I didn’t have the words for at the time.
How do the arts have an impact on your daily life outside of the classroom?
Pursuing the arts made me interested in pursuing knowledge, really. Trying to pursue my creative practice brought me to graduate school, and that has allowed me to learn about so many other things that have expanded my worldview and altered my perspective on issues that were never even on my radar before.
Who is your biggest inspiration either personally, professionally or both?
There are a lot of incredible artists in the world, and while they all inspire me I think on a grandiose kind of level, the person who inspires me the most on the daily is my partner Eric. Personally he is pretty much the best human I know, but also professionally he just has a really strong work ethic and self discipline that make me want to be more accountable for my own success. We’ve been together 10 years, and honestly, knowing him and watching him pursue things with focus really inspires me to work just as hard in my own daily life even though the things we are working on are different. He’s a writer who also has a full time job, and seeing him use free time to write and pursue creative work rather than just watch Netflix or play video games reminds me that the things we spend our free time on are the things we are investing in.
Why do you think the arts are important?
The arts are all about critical thinking. I know people don’t always consider them that way, but at least the way I work is all about asking questions and examining ideas in culture or from our own experiences. Since I work in visual arts, I use visual language to process, consider, and investigate ideas and questions. Being able to ask questions about the systems we are a part of is a really important part of life. Challenging your own beliefs is what helps you grow as a person. Personal growth helps facilitate social change. That’s super important.
What is your creative process like?
It’s sort of an ebb and flow, I think, if I’m being honest. I will come to the studio in late morning and listen to some music, try to assess what needs to be done for the day, make a list and start going. It sounds easy, but on days where you have no idea what to work on, or when everything you’ve made just isn’t working, it can be so frustrating. Those days really suck. I feel totally insecure, and just think “everything in here is so stupid!” I come back the next day, after days like that, and then maybe I have a day where one thing I am working on gets a little better. Then I get more energized and coming in to the studio is easier. The biggest thing for me is trying to keep coming in even when I am not super energized because those times happen, and happen frequently.
What advice would you give to students just starting their path to an arts degree?
Make a LOT of work! Ira Glass has a really great talk on creative work, and one of the things he says is that everyone who starts making creative work has a period of time where there’s a gap between your taste and your skill level. When you start, the stuff you are making isn’t that good. (That was/is certainly true for my own practice). It has potential and it is trying to be good, but it isn’t there yet. Since you have good taste, which is why you started creating in the first place, you realize it isn’t quite good yet and so there’s this frustrating gap between what you are making and what you wish or want to be making. The ONLY way to close that gap is to make a ton of work.
What has been your most valuable professional experience thus far?
It was actually probably a trip I took with KU this summer to Europe. I got to meet a bunch of artists in Berlin, and we also went to the Venice Biennale which was a really incredible experience. It was awesome to see how artists are working in different places in the world, as well as see what ideas and questions people are asking who are from other places. It was really awesome and inspiring, but also challenged me to work hard because this field is full of people doing amazing things.
If you could invite five people, living or deceased, to a dinner party, who would you invite?
Mary Magdalene, Samantha Bee, Amy Poehler….do they have to be real people? Could I invite Garnet from Steven Universe? I love her so much…Tig Notaro too.
If your life had a theme song, what would it be and why?
Right now I’d say “Love like Ours” by Estelle featuring Tarrus Riley. There’s a line in there that says “When they can't understand it, I know they really can't stand it.” That’s some real talk there.