Tuesday, June 5, 2012

nine: nina levy

More on Nina Levy can be found on her website and her Tumblr page, which takes a look at children and art and the like.

Tell us about your relationship to your art.

The stuff that I make is certainly central to who I think I am at any given moment, but I rarely think about calling it  "art".  Growing up in my parents' 24-7 small business workspace, I acquired two understandings from them: to be alive is to be making something, and that there is little or no distinction between work and leisure activities- ideally work is both labor and recreation.  These ideas have had been both positive and negative consequences for me. And perhaps obviously, I have had to relinquish my adherence to them as a consequence of being a parent myself.  High productivity and the care of small needy people just don't work go well together.

In years past, I used my own body and physical and social experience of the world as source material.  It was the most expedient solution, and I hoped that my specific case could have some universal qualities.  Since becoming a parent, my work has been mostly focused on parenting and the dynamic between my kids.  Again, it is the most accessible material at hand.  And I try my best to turn the reality of not being able to escape from my kids into something useful within the work.

What's a project (yours or another's) that has been exciting you lately?

Perhaps in the absence of any definite deadlines, my attention is spread all over the place lately:  I’m working on sculptures for photographs, illustrations for a couple of books and large plaster sculptures of superheroes with my sons.

 Tell us a little of your motherhood journey.

Motherhood has definitely been a challenging experience for me.  While it is without a doubt an honor and a privilege to be my sons' mom, they are absolutely unrelenting.  I trust that their tenacity will stand them in good stead when they have meaningful goals to focus on beyond resisting and antagonizing their mother.

What are some crucial elements of your process?  How has that changed since having children?

My work has always been terribly labor intensive and time consuming.  Since having a couple of kids, I have tried repeatedly to find a more efficient way to work, mostly without success.  In my recent work, my kids have become a part of the process, although their actual involvement is quite brief.  99% of my time is invested in making sculptural objects in an old fashioned studio process, and the final 1% is the taking of the photographs.

What are some of the ways your family and your art interact?

I make various sculptural props for the kids to play and pose with and then photograph the results. While I always have a plan for how these photographs are supposed to look, the results are always vastly different than I would have predicted after we have finished struggling our way through the shoot. 

To cite a recent example:  I hoped to photograph them laying in bed wearing sculpted superheroish muscle chests that I had made for them.  I was having camera problems and did not have enough light, so I asked them to please be still for the photo.  They responded by animatedly singing a song from Alvin and the Chipmunks, trying to drive me crazy.  The resulting image, I think, is actually more effective than what I initially had in mind.  There is always an unpredictable outcome.

Do you find your attitude towards your art might be different because of your parenting / has it changed since you became a parent?

Through consistent immersion in kid pop culture, graphic novels and video games, I have become much more interested in illustration.  I've done a lot of drawing as well as sculpting for the kids.  Most consistently, I've been drawing an increasingly more complex picture on each child's lunch napkin for school or camp every day since the older one started preschool back in 2006.

(Editor's Note:  see-- New York Times article on her napkins.)

Are your children ever subjects in your art? 

My kids have become the primary source material, if not the actual subjects of my work during the last few years

How does travel figure into your art?  Do/did your children come along?  How has that worked out?

We have not had the opportunity to travel very much since my kids were born.

What about promoting the arts with your own children--any fun projects to share? 

We are working cardboard, masking tape and plaster sculptures together. The subject matter was their choice:  Ace the Bat Hound for my younger son, and Hiccup from "How to Train Your Dragon" for the older.  Ninjas and further superheroes are planned.  When it comes to the napkins, they play the art directors, giving me an assignment every night for the next day.  I rarely complete the request to their satisfaction. 

 How do you escape?

I brush my teeth very slowly while reading the newspaper from the previous week or listening to astronomy podcasts.

What advice do you have for expectant mothers in your field?

Being my sons’ mother has taught me that I am not in a position to advise anyone on the topic of parenting.

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