I am a visual artist working mainly in video, photography, and installation. I have a Masters of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, a post-baccalaureate certificate from SACI, here in Florence, and an undergraduate degree with a major in Psychology from Wesleyan University.
Via dei Fossi, 4
How long have you been in Florence, and where did you grow up? I’ve been in Florence for a little more than ten years, and I grew up in Massachusetts and Hawaii.
What influenced who you are today and who you are as an artist? I think having lived in three very different places certainly has made an impact on me. It ties into a lot of the themes that I address in my work, which have to do with place, identity related to that place, fitting in or not fitting in to a place, and themes of mimicking or camouflaging yourself in a space. I don’t know how specifically each one of those places manifests itself, but I think certainly the fact that I have lived in different places is important.
What brought you to Florence? I came to Florence after I finished my undergraduate degree, and I had this idea to just take a year off to get a portfolio together; I was interested in going back to school to get a Masters in Art Therapy. What I found while being here was that dedicating my time to art full-time was really exciting, so I decided to stay another year, and then another year. And time marches on, and here we are!
What are some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome as an artist? I think choosing to be an artist is a pretty big decision, and I think to be a contemporary artist today, it has to be more than just making art; you really have to be an entrepreneur and create your own opportunities within the art world and also adjacent to the art world. Particularly in Florence where the contemporary arts don’t necessarily get the attention that they should get, it is important to diversify your energy and interests, and that’s also why I dedicate so much time to Creative People in Florence, too. A challenge is figuring out how to make it all work, like figuring out how to dedicate the time you need to dedicate to your work; I think that’s really hard. Once I finished school I didn’t have assignments or professors making suggestions or critiquing the work all the time, and I had to do it on my own—that’s still a challenge and I think it always will be. Just making the art itself is a challenge. And if it’s not, I think you’re probably not doing it right [laughs], if there is a right way. There’s sort of this cycle of ideas—no ideas—ideas—no ideas—and that can be really hard.
Along those lines, how do you get inspired for a piece? I think an idea can come from absolutely anywhere; I know that’s probably a cliché answer, but it’s true. Recently I’ve been really interested in themes of vanity and the cultural history of vanity, and, in that sense, ideas are all around us all the time. More generally, I’m interested in themes of identity, themes of the history of myth and contemporary myth and how they match up or don’t match up. With those themes, an idea can really come from anywhere. It comes from a conversation, an object, seeing other work that I like, or talking to people about my own work.
Can you describe your art and the style that it has? The aesthetic that I tend to really like is highly centered on composition, so that’s often how I start a piece. That probably comes from initial training and painting and drawing where you start from the composition; but even before the concept, a lot of the time I start from a piece that in some way I can already see—as simple as that. The aesthetic tends to be pretty symmetrical and minimal, often with muted colors.
The history of art is contemporary art. it’s all a part of a continuum, and you can’t really separate them. The art we make today wouldn’t be made if the art in the past hadn’t been made in the way that it was. I don’t think we can really talk about one or the other because they’re all related.
Who or what has influenced your style? That’s a hard question because all the visual information that we collect throughout our lives is what influences our style, right? The people that you listen to, the work that you look at, the things that you do in your free time—all of that is material for your style, so I don’t know if I can specifically pin-point where that style comes from; certainly from living in Florence I can see that creeping into my work all the time, particularly relating to composition and my interests in architecture. When I was doing my Masters degree in San Francisco, I started to realize how much Florence was playing into the work, how important the aesthetics of the Renaissance were, of the Baroque and Mannerist periods; these things were just in the work without me necessarily being aware of them. That’s maybe one specific thing I can say that influences my style, but generally, the answer is that anything, anything, can influence the style, the same way that inspiration can come from anywhere.
What role does your work play in regards to the city of Florence? I think I’m becoming increasingly aware of how important that connection is and how important that tie to Florence is. Aside from creating a lot of the work here in Florence, the aesthetic concerns of the Renaissance are things that I think have popped up in my work as well: composition, a sort of perspective that was being developed in the Renaissance, a very planned type of space; if you’re around in the piazzas around Florence or the buildings around Florence of that time, you would really notice that very planned and structured type of style in the architecture. But Florence is a funny place; I’ve lived here for ten years and am still an outsider–I think that’s a characteristic of Italy, not just Florence. I will always be able to play that role as the outsider, and that initially really bothered me. Initially I would try to do everything to fit in: wear the right clothes, drink the right coffee at the right time of day, and really work on getting my Italian under control. I thought, “Wow, why are people always referring to me as ‘l’americana’ or ‘la straniera’—When is it going to change? How many years does it take?” And then I had this kind of shift where I went, “Actually, being an outsider lets me occupy this really fun position where I have that permission to be different, because I’m being categorized as an outsider, but I also know enough to see behind the scenes and be this sort of hybrid insider-outsider figure.” And I have to say, I am really comfortable in that position and have to thank Florence for teaching me how to inhabit that role, enjoy it, and use it in my work.
What role do you think that historic and contemporary art play with one another? They’re all a part of the same thing; I don’t even think we can really separate them. That’s something that I think artists find here in Florence and something that is a huge asset for students who come here to study in Florence; you start to understand that the history of art is contemporary art. I mean, the way that we make and interact with contemporary art has maybe changed since the Renaissance and before, but it’s all a part of a continuum, and you can’t really separate them. The art we make today wouldn’t be made if the art in the past hadn’t been made in the way that it was. I don’t think we can really talk about one or the other because they’re all related. That’s another thing that Florence has taught me: it’s all part of the same continuous art history. To say that you don’t like art history or you don’t like contemporary art—if you’re interested in art, you’re interested in all of it.
What is it like to create new art in a city where everyone comes to visit the old art? Creating the art is really a personal interaction with the work, so I think that you can create it anywhere—in a closet, a cardboard box, anywhere. Then when you want to go share the work, that’s another experience and another challenge altogether. I have two answers for that. One, I often show my work outside of Florence or outside of Italy, which is one solution [laughs]. I’ve found that there are more opportunities for me to show my work in other countries in Europe, or in the US. The other answer is that here in Florence you have to create your own opportunities a lot of times. There are a few good contemporary galleries here, and there is a small, but active, contemporary arts community; but, what I find often—not always—around the contemporary arts here is that the dialogue is pretty negative. And that’s a dialogue that with Sara and Creative People in Florence we’re really interested in changing, and as a contemporary artist working here, I think it’s part of my responsibility to make work here and do the best I can to get it shown here. Maybe I’m not going to have the same type of gallery space I might find in another city, or I won’t have the same audience, but that’s okay. I think people need to know that the work is being made here, and they need to start seeing that or adding to that dialogue in a more positive or constructive way.
What are some frustrating things about being an artist in Florence? As I was just saying, there are not a lot of contemporary galleries. Something that challenged me for a long time was gaining access to the contemporary arts community here because I didn’t come through the Accademia or the University of Florence. Because of the fact that I’m not from here, and like I was describing earlier, there’s this strange outsider position that I really enjoy occupying. It’s hard to make those contacts here. There aren’t a lot of contemporary arts events happening all the time, so there aren’t as many opportunities to meet people, introduce yourself, do that kind of networking that you may be able to do in a city that has a more active or thriving contemporary arts scene. So for a long time I was frustrated by feeling that I was just on the outskirts, and wondering if I would ever be able to get in. And as I was saying, making it a priority to show my work here although it is much more challenging than showing it abroad. I think that’s sort of the biggest frustration to overcome. I think another thing, is that finding materials can be challenging here and finding a space can be challenging. There aren’t big studio spaces available for affordable prices. I work in a beautiful studio, but it is very small. I’m happy to have a studio, but I can go visit friends abroad or even in Prato, the next town over, where they have giant warehouse spaces. If only there were spaces like that in Florence, but we just don’t have them. That’s the way the city is.
Despite all those challenges, what motivated you to push through and really make it a priority to see your work actualized here in Florence? I think one thing that keeps me here in Florence, for now, is the community that I am a part of thanks to Creative People in Florence. Another thing is that I’ve been living here for ten years—I have a house, two cats, and a wonderful husband; our life is here. I think at a certain point that just became the reality: I live here—make it work here. I don’t know if we’ll be here forever, but when I am here I think it’s important to be here and to make the work happen. I don’t think I can blame the location on whether or not I’m making work.
In your opinion, what makes art meaningful? I think art becomes meaningful when you can connect to it in some sort of way, and I think for most artists that’s the hope: that people will see your work and there will be some kind of resonance with that person. I think in order for it to be meaningful you have to create it with authenticity and make the work because, for some reason, you feel that it needs to be made. I hope the work that resonates with people is the work that is made authentically and sincerely by the artist.
What is your purpose for creating, and what do you hope that others understand about your work? Purpose number one is for me to understand my work and understand why I’m making it because I think that the work contains a lot of information that the viewer doesn’t need to know, but that I need to know about what I’m doing and why. So that’s kind of the personal, psychological answer. And then my purpose is because I want people to look at it. That’s so simple, but I want people to look at my work, and I want them to have some kind of connection with it and identify with it, or have some sort of resonance with the work. I don’t have some kind of message, like, my work is about creating an awareness of this or that; that’s not the way I see my work—there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the way that I see my work. So yes, I hope it gets out there, I hope people can connect with it, and I hope I can eventually understand why I’m making it [laughs].