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Creating Common Ground

In Art, Feature, Interview, News on June 28, 2010 at 8:05 am

“Patching the Earth” by Bert Monterona

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Creating Common Cround

A conversation with Larry Richard

by Max Eternity

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Larry Richard in 2008 at the Common Ground exhibition in Beijing

Blending philanthropy with the visual arts and environmental concerns, Larry Richard has a long-standing career in bringing interested parties together through his own style of innovative marketing strategies. A humanist, naturalist and entrepreneur, Richard is the founder of Common Ground, a non-profit organization whose motto is “Merging art and Digital Media for a Healthy Planet.”

Richard says the organization helps artists and the environment in three ways: raising visibility and awareness in the media, selling books and prints then donating part of those funds to other environmental groups, with the third way being what he calls “leveraging corporate social responsibility”

First envisioned in 2004 and formally organized in 2007, Richard launched the Common Ground International Touring Exhibition in 2008.  That exhibition and presentation was first shown in Beijing, coinciding with the Summer Olympics held there that same year.

Selected from a pool of over 1000 international artists, 40 artists were been chosen to participate in the show, which makes its way to Los Angeles next month–opening at the A & I Gallery on July 8th.

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Max Eternity (ME):  Hi Larry

Larry Richard (LR):  Hi Max

ME:  In 2008 we met online through an arts organization you founded, Common Ground (CG).  You had a call-to-artist for an exhibition in China.  I submitted a work and was accepted with a group of about 100 artists from 40 countries.  Tell me about vision for Common Ground—why you created it?

LR:  Sure, back in 2004 I was approached by the Americans for Graphic Art (AIGA) who knew of my background in promoting events, some of which had to do with technology and art.  They came together with AIGA realizing that I have an interest in the cross-section of the visual arts and technology.  The asked how would you feel about working with us to help artists in Cuba and the US who would use the internet to share their dream—their perspective across the divide–being so close yet so far away?

They asked for ideas, and asked if I could go to Cuba.  They said sure, and I said…I’m in.  I connected with the idea of increasing communication between art in the US and Cuba, with an event called Shared Dreams, part of the Cuban digital design exhibition in 2004/05/06.  One of my ideas was to bring that concept to the US, and was told I couldn’t do that because the Bush administration would shut you right down.

I said I wanted to show art, and cleared some hurdles and we brought the exhibition to the US, selling posters (unsigned prints) donating the money to a non-profit that supports Cuban artist world wide.

It was at that moment when I realized that I could bring artists together despite all the boundaries.  If I could do that, I would bring artists together to work on the environment, starting Common Ground in 2007.  The positive response was overwhelming.

Larry Richard poses in front of the Huan Tie Museum in Beijing, 2008.

ME: “Merging art and Digital Media for a Healthy Planet” is the Common Ground motto.  Tell me some ways, this is achieved.

LR:  Well, in 3 ways.  The most important ways is raising visibility and awareness in the media—a group of artist can have an impact to have a much larger visibility in the press.  The second: through the sale of books and proceeds from the prints, donating money directly to 3 different non-profit organizations, World Wildlife Fund, Global Giving, and the Global Environmental Institute in China.  The third way is something I’m calling leveraging corporate social responsibility. By that I mean for example, with Hewlett Packard as a supporter, we’re able to leverage directives given by almost every fortune 500 corporate board.  Every one has a core directive–a corporate social reasonability directive, because every corporation wants to be seen as good corporate citizens demonstrating to shareholders and the public that they are good stewards.  So we use that that leverage to offer them an opportunity to be that by supporting CG—technology and the environment by giving us the ability to have a platform.

We give artist a way to express themselves about the environment, and give corporations a way to prove their good corporate citizenship.

“Time of Rethinking” by Li Tiejun

ME: And about yourself, where did you grow up?

LR: In Los Angeles

ME:  Were environmental concerns always important to you, and who influenced you in this direction?

LR:  Yes, being a Californian I live at the beach.  I have camped and hiked my entire life.  I’ve been a longtime supporter of environmental organizations for many, many years.  For most of my adult life I’ve been passionate about the environment.  One of the reasons that galvanized my passion was when I had a granddaughter–to imagine my going camping with them, going to the beach.  It would be such a loss to not have them experience the passion for a clean environment that I feel. If I can do anything to make sure they have clean rivers, oceans, skies and food.  I’ll do all I can. They are a good reason to make me maintain my passion about the environment.

“Common Ground” by   Victor Raphael & Clayton Spada

ME:  Before CG, you were experienced in organizing for various causes and missions?

LR:  Two things: back in 1996 I produced an exposition trade show here in LA called Online Expo.  Think back, most of us had no idea about what the World Wide Web was to become.  But, I knew it was about to explode.  So I gathered corporate sponsors like Sun, ADM and Microcenter and rented an L.A. convention center to create the event.   35,000 people attended.  We were talking about what the online world would be like for business and the consumer.  That was my introduction to producing an event that had to do with technology, bringing that to the public.

Many years before that, I produced a touring exhibition of photography back in 1989-1992, called the Fine Art Collection of Dezo Hoffmann.  His claim to fame was he was the personal private photographer to the Beetles.  This was way before digital.  The original negatives were owned by his family that had passed to someone in Australia. I went and negotiated rights to have the North American rights for distribution for signed and certified prints for this exhibition.

That’s the background that brought it all together.

“Hovering Child” by Fran Forman

“Ribs Cage” by Iv Toshain

“Miami” by Amalia Pellegrini

“Ec(h)o” by Peter Boyadjieff

ME:  I see so much overlap happening these days—artists becoming entrepreneurs, community organizers becoming environmental activists, writers becoming publishers and so forth.  Is this something you observe as well; a new more dynamic business model?

LR:  I guess the word overlap is good.  Another word might be multiple-income streams, because, it’s not enough in this day and age to be an entrepreneur.  It’s also about using that ability to identify a product or service to make money, and accomplish other good things…raising awareness. And money then gets donated for other good products.

If I can accomplish this, leveraging my talent and expertise while making money, and artists get to make money while donating some proceeds to environmental organizations, that makes a perfect storm for a good way to use my life, right for my own desk.  I would never have thought 20 years ago that this would have been possible—integrating passion with my work.

Me   Larry, thanks for your time.

LE: I’m very grateful that you took the time to speak with me.

“Mother Earth” by Karen Swaty

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To learn more about Larry Richard and Common Ground, click here.  A full 3-year archive of AD MAG articles and interviews can be found here.

Andy Huang’s Digital Face

In Art, Feature, Interview on June 22, 2010 at 4:58 pm

A graduate of the University of California, Andrew Huang got his start in art long before leaving high school. However, it was his short film mega-hit Doll Face, which generated world-wide acclaim and fame. Having gone viral on Youtube years ago, with several million hits, Doll Face is emblematic of Huang’s signature melding of live action, animation and CG visual effects. And while continuing to create a lush portfolio of pet projects, Huang is now in big demand, designing and directing commercials and music videos for a bevy of top-tier clientèle.

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Andy Huang’s Digital Face

CG Animation's New Boy Wonder

An Interview with Max Eternity

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Max Eternity (ME): Hi Andy, welcome to AD MAG.

Andrew Huang (AH): Hi Max.

ME: As far as I can tell, your rise to success came as a result of the Doll Face video that you created. I’ve watched it many times, he first time about a year ago. Tell me about that project.

AH: Yea, that is pretty significant. I made it in 2005-2006. I was at USC at the time, to study visual art, and to be near their film program. At the University of Southern California (USC) you could create anything in their curriculum, but they own it. So I did Doll Face outside of my schoolwork.

I was planning to go into animation, but I made it to show what I could do, not expecting to upload it online. I put it in SIGGRAPH in 2006 and the Annecy in France — a very big animation festival. I also put it on Youtube, and it went viral.

I wasn’t prepared for how much exposure it would get. But the Endeavor agency called me and that was that. A lot of opportunities came for me from that.

ME: Why do you think Doll Face resonates so intensely with viewers?

AH: Umm, I think it’s the visual, obviously. But also, it’s the content. It’s a narrative we can all relate to in various ways — about how commercialism really screws with us. I think it was just a theme that can be interpreted in so many ways, with gender and politics.

ME: And how did all this begin? Were you artistic as a child — who influenced you?

AH: Yea, I think I drew and painted mostly. But in high school, I did some animation. I learned Lightwave and Maya when I was pretty young.

When I started doing fine art, I missed the other. I love the Muppets and Jim Henson. There are so many people that influence what I do, like Jean Pierre Jeunnet.

ME: When did film work fit in, the digital aspects to what you do? Did it come intuitively? Was it always there — the digital?

AH: I think, it was one of the cheapest ways to do what I wanted to do and have it look realistic — the digital, I mean. I can animate, control the lighting and all with software, without having to create a film in the traditional sense, with actors and all that. I can make it look posh on a budget. People think if you do animation and graphics, you’re techie, but I still don’t know, really, how a computer works. I can’t take a PC apart and put it back together.

I wanted to work at Rhythm and Hue. I went there when I was a kid. And they told me that I needed to know how to draw and paint to work in effects.

You have to have a good eye to know what is going to look good.

You’re always learning how to use new software, but your ability to make an image stays the same IF you can draw and paint.

ME: You do art films and commercial projects as well, like music videos. Do you find it constrains you artistically when creating a product for a commercial audience? How do you balance the art with being commissioned to create a “product?”

AH: Yea, I’m still kinda learning how to do that, to be honest. That’s why I do so many videos, to have flexibility. But even then, it’s a reality that no one escapes. I think, um, I don’t know.

I do a lot of videos, and the commercial is very challenging, always finding a new technique, a visual grab — maybe I can change an angle, or use a standout technique. You have to look at everything as problem solving, as long as you are being challenged and doing something new. But, I always have my personal projects in the back of my mind.

Screenshot from AVI Buffalo’s “What’s In It For”

ME: I really like the video you did for AVI Buffalo, much better than the music they create, to be honest. The music’s not bad, per se, but it’s the visuals that caught my eye. Can you talk about that video, where did the ideas come from — the giant, floating jellyfish and the plants that look like organic jewelry?

AH: Um, well actually, I came up with the idea because I was looking at different photographs of slime molds — the beautiful structures that they form. AVI Buffalo is the really young band from Long Beach. So I thought to do this kinda photography, like the movie Fantastica Planet, to make things look surrealistic, like coral reefs. I was also looking at the work from Ernst Haeckel, who did these beautiful jelly fish drawings. So we built these jelly fish puppets, and it miraculously came out.

I like the band and the label. The video was a combination of puppetry and CG animation.

ME: Are you primarily a script writer, filmmaker or director? I ask because you create photorealistic CG animation, which is very painterly. I see lots of colorfield and color theory in your work. In other words, how do you describe your work, the role(s) you play in bringing it to life?

AH: I think I just have to say I’m a visual artist, because the word director is kinda of a 90’s concept. A director now day’s is so similar to a graphic artist. I’m not a bad writer, but not a great writer.

I wish I could be more an actor’s director. That’s kinda what I want to work on, but I’m definitely more of a visual artist.

ME: You have many videos on your website. In addition to Doll FaceThe Gloamer really caught my eye — haunting, edgy, lush — fabulous. Talk about that if you will.

AH: Yea, um, I was really thinking it would be fun to do a horror film. But, I’m scared of horror films. They freak me out because of my very active imagination. But I think I would have a blast making horror films. So I made that film.

I wanted to do a live action, animation combination, but couldn’t afford an actual camera, so I shot everything on stills.

I came up with this narrative of this guy working late at night. I like Hitchcock, so I used crows — ratty looking crows.

That project was just pure fun; I just wanted to do something visually fun.

ME: What would you say to someone who’s looking to get into your line of work — to a high school student, for instance?

AH: I think I’d say take a lot of drawing classes. From there if you can draw the figure, it opens up a lot of skills, and gets into art history. You gotta start there.

As far as the digital, take the time to learn Photoshop. Take the time to learn Flash. You will find it’s extremely useful. It’s not easy.

You can learn on you own, or go to college, but the drawing has to come first. The digital tools are there, it’s a language to get it done, but ultimately you won’t be able to communicate your ideas unless you do that art first.

And, I’m still learning too, struggling to find out what kind of work I want to make, what’s my voice — what kind of brand I want to create for myself — it never really stops.

Doll Face was done 5 years ago, and I almost don’t relate to it now, because I did so long ago. I’m in a very different place artistically, but I’m glad it’s still appreciated.

ME: Andy, thanks for taking the time to chat with me.

AH: Thank you, I’m honored.

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ABOUT: Max Eternity

At the apex of art and technology, Max Eternity is a artist, writer, musician, activist and art historian, specializing in digital art, Mid-Century Modernism and the African Diaspora.  He is an arts blogger at The Huffington Post, Editor and Publisher to Art Digital Magazine, and a contributing writer to Artworks MagazineEklektx, the Black Art Project and others.  Eternity is also an inventor, currently having over two dozen utilities and intellectual processes in various stages of development.

Koen’s Quest

In Art, Feature, Interview on June 8, 2010 at 4:34 pm

“Gifted”

____________________________________________________________Koen’s

Koen’s Quest

An interview with Viktor Koen

by Max Eternity
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“Quest Stenogaster”

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Viktor Koen is a mixed media artist who has the uncanny knack for blending the monstrous, playful and abusurd, to create photorealistic, composite illustrations, providing narratives of rich, surrealistic stories about things which don’t exist.  Born in Tessaloniki, Greece in 1967, he is a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Israel, and holds an MFA with honors from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

With his robust personality and delightful sense of humor, Koen’s gleefully horrorfying images are regularly seen in Newsweek, Esquire and Forbes magazines.  And his clients include, Delta Airlines, IBM, Random House, Harper Collins, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, The Boston Globe and many others.  He is the author of several illustrated books, and has participated in over 100 group exhibitions, plus more than 20 solo exhibitions.

Of one of his more standout series, entitled “Dark Peculiar Toys”, Koen says:

“”Dark Peculiar Toys” is an assembly experiment were philosophies of what a toy is and is supposed to do, differ and collide. These collisions deface, break or de-construct the toys into piles of raw materials, waiting to be re-constructed in alternative ways…”

In addition to having built a very successful career as a freelance artist, Koen is on the faculty of the Illustration Department at Parsons School of Design, New York, and he’s also a Masters Thesis Advisor at the School of Visual Arts, New York.

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Max Eternity (ME): Hi Viktor, welcome to AD MAG.

Viktor Koen (VK):  Hello, thank you.

ME:  You’re currently based in New York, but you were actually born in Greece.  Could you talk about bit about your childhood—how you became interested in art.

“Dark Peculiar Toys #5”

VK:  It was fairly immediate as soon as my mother went to my school to pick me up.  She spoke to my teacher and came to the conclusion that my art was more advance.  I was doing alligators attacking hunters in a canoe, while other children were doing stick men

I remember in first grade, my mother talking with a teacher, saying ‘he’s going to be an artist.’

I love doing these war drawings.  It was almost engraved in my head, my parents were good at encouraging it.  So I was also fortunate to go through school that had art classes, at that time rare for public Greek education, but I was going to what one would think of as a charter school.   I was terrible at math physics and chemistry.  But growing up I made a valiant attempt to be an architect, and failed miserably.  So I just decided to be an artist.  I got tutoring for the Fine Arts Academy Greece, but was not accepted.

ME:  In understand you’ve also lived in Israel?

VK:  Someone was visiting who was studying at the school at the time.  He said my drawings were very good.  As soon as I was not accepted in Greece I picked up and went to were was accepted, at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.  You go where they want you.

ME:  Like many artist today, you work in a variety of mediums.  But I wonder, being that you’re on the Faculty of the Illustration Department @ Parsons School of Design, if you would first describe yourself as an illustrator?

“Dark Peculiar Toys #15”

VK:  Umm, yes I definitely consider myself an illustrator.  But, because I exhibit a good amount—design some—it’s kind of a mixed bag.

ME:  You’ve completed so much work—exhibited so many places—won so many awards>  You’ve got a thick career, with a ton of work.  But it all ties together thematically, because of your ability to thread together playfulness, comedy, horror and Steam Punk.

VK:  Yes, concept is very important to my work.  It’s also one of the reason people choose to work with me.  I think it’s a combination for the concept of the way I work.  I have old school knowledge–having a solid understanding of art, regardless of the technology.

“Dark Peculiar Toys #36”

ME:  So tell me about “Dark Peculiar Toys.”

VK:  It’s a series that came right after “Damsels in Amour.”

I’m a toy collector.  I go to flea markets and fight with children over a bin of toys.  There’s no better excuse to buy toys, but to work on a series of toys.  I have a great time playing with them visually.

My father was an industrial designer and he gave me some of his old books and diagrams, and retooled it to match the fictitious toys.  The whole project was very playful.  I always wanted to have these dark toys.  That’s the last large series I’ve exhibited.

“Dark Peculiar Toys #18”

ME: #18 is striking with its teddy bear body and skull head, with a tummy that’s an old school rotary telephone dial.

VK:  The toys did not have my usual tedious schedule of sketching behind them.  They were all mix and match.  Juxtaposing different parts—proportions work–allowing for happy accidents to happen.  Things looked better than I meant it to be.  A lot of these are trial and error.  The juxtaposition of the sweet and something very wrong is something I always look for.

“Damsels in Armour #24”

“Damsels in Armour #13”

“Damsels in Armour #9”

ME:  Interesting, and in the “Damsels in Amour” series you created, the subtitle of the series is “A Proposal for 24 War Memorials.”  Are these of figural abstraction of real women throughout history?

VK:  The thinking was very simple behind that series.  I am a war buff, but I hate war.  I am enamored by the beauty of the beast of guns and armor.  All the women are 1950’s and 60’s models–very Hollywood model-esque, to a certain degree.  They have this timeless beauty that I deface.  One is a photograph of my mother that demanded to be included.  If I wanted clean laundry and food I had to put the picture in (laughs).

I photographed amour from The Met, because they have a wonderful collection.  I also took photos from the Military Museum in Athens, Greece, and the Imperial War Museum in London.

All the capes and drapes were photographs at bed bath and beyond (laughs).  There’s too many good curtains waiting to be come war banners

“Quest Parasite”

“Quest Instigator”

“Quest Detestus”

ME: You wrote a book responding to the Y2K hysteria, which seems all the more ridiculous now as we are seeing the 2012 hysteria get geared up.  But that book was called “Plug in the Quest for Mug.”  Tell me about that.

VK:  Well, I thought with all the mayhem: Of course I’ll just do the reverse.  I’ll create a positive bug, a hero.

I put it together as a joke.  I just played with it—creating this image as self-promotion.  I happened to be in Athens and got asked to show theses as a series.  At the same time I was creating transformations of these evil people coming back to life as bugs.  These characters were perfect villains to plug and his sidekick mug.

These images were shown at the Babel Comic book festival of Athens.  I frantically put these characters together.  They also become the villains in the book.  As soon as I had the characters I showed them to Melanie Wallace, a writer, she said ‘I love them.’  In two weeks she came with an early treatment for the book.  She said ‘I look at them and I know exactly where they live.  I read a couple of paragraphs and I said I think this would work great.’

ME:  Now you make prints and books, and you also make books of prints like “Funny Farm: The Alphabet of Mental Disorders.”

VK: There is a font—line art and clip art work—for the book and then acrylic paintings as well. Well here is the combination of the designer and the artist, not being able to get away from each other.

ME:  You’re using some innovative printing techniques as well.  Some are old, being revived, and some are new hybrids.  I see you’ve done some carbon prints, like “The Poet” and “The Metaphysisian?”

“The Poet”

“The Metaphysisian”

VK:  Eventually the result, like the series “Task and Gain”, were produced as photogravures.  It’s a beautiful continuous tone of black and white.  That was it.  I will always look for what’s the right vehicle for the series.  Budget comes in as well.   I love combining digital work with older printing techniques.

ME:  Anything coming up that we should look out for?

VK:  Several things:  I’m finishing a new alphabet, that is food based.  This will be exhibited in the International Typography Museum in Cyprus.  I am in the middle of a new large series called “Monsters.”  It’s Greek mythology based, most likely to be made as prints, though I’m not sure of the substrate yet.  And I have some smaller shows coming up as well.  I actually just had my first straight photography show at the Greek General Consulate in NYC.  These were photos from 2006 shot in Poland when I visited the concentration camps my grandmother Sylvia was in—she’s a holocaust survivor.

ME:  What a tragedy, but a beautiful way to honor the victims and survivors.  And what an extraordinary life you’ve lived.  Viktor, thanks–I’ve enjoyed our talk.

VK:  And as well