Today I’m very excited to share with you my interview with emerging Los Angeles based artist Essi Zimm. Essi’s work has previously been featured in numerous group exhibitions and she recently participated in an all female artist panel discussion moderated by Deborah Vankin of the LA Times about female artists in today’s industry.
Essi’s first solo exhibition “Upon The Sleeve” opens at Prohibition Gallery in Los Angeles this Saturday and will run through March 15th. Her new series of work is a vibrant, edgy representation of the folkloric tales she grew up with as a child. Her work centers around illustration and “surface wreckage” with paper being the main staple in all of her work. Her work can be found in various private collections across the United States.
This interview with Essi is one of my favorites because her responses are candid, interesting and detailed. Her work has utterly delighted me and I truly hope you enjoy her interview and artwork below.
How did you become an artist? Is creating art something you always felt you must do?
Yes I think from early on I knew I wanted to be an artist. I actually remember creating this collaged butterfly when I was six, and all the boys gaga-ing over how great it was. Granted, I have no idea if they were just buttering me up, as my butterfly was, as my teacher had put it "an interesting take" (and interestingly enough, mostly made up of collage).
What can you tell us about your upcoming solo show “Upon The Sleeve"?
Well for one it is an extremely personal show for me, not only because it is my first solo, but because all the stories represent a part of my upbringing, and personality. The reference for the title is about stories revealed in paper. I have always been obsessed with the elements of paper, growing up in a bookstore in the mountains, as an only child, books were, in a lot of ways, my closest friends; And the tactility of paper, that we see both in posters, prints, wallpaper, they are often things that want to draw you in, tell you a story, but they are so tangible and fleeting, due to the fragility of the material.
Plus, stories have always influenced me. Not only from the contents of the books I would read at the bookstore, but also the people that frequented the place: ufo hunters, philosophers, mad men (or women), zealots, mystics, native americans. Everyone had a story, and I became fascinated with these stories, these folk tales; as they told so much about a culture, and about the morals of a culture. Anywhere from native american tales, to Japanese ones, to european ones, they all have a way of wanting to view the world, and surprisingly, they all have very similar creation stories, most of the time involving an animal saving the world. That is absolutely fascinating to me, that here we are destroying our natural environment, but our ancestors believed that the natural environment is what saved mankind. It's very depressing actually. Biting the hand that feeds us.
You’re a trained architect as well as a fine artist and I greatly admire that you’ve been able to find success in both worlds. What advice would you give to someone trying to make it as an artist while they still have a “day job”?
First off, thank you. Secondly, I fell into architecture, because my mentor growing up told me that an architect, is "A master artist, master builder" and I thought, sweet, I can be both, I will make money AND be able to paint. Of course, what people really do not grasp about architects, is that we do not make a lot of money, we give a lot of hours, and if one is fortunate enough, as I have been, to be a designer, it takes a lot of creative energy. Plus, architects, have to be a team players 24/7. Painters, not so much. So I find architecture to be both a blessing and a curse, as I often wonder where would I have been if I had devoted all my time to art, rather than splitting myself into two creative fields. I do know that architecture taught me about the business side of being a creative, and it is a steady paycheck, which allots me a studio and so on and so forth, but I do trade in pound of creative flesh to do it. I do think, it is strongly important for any individual going into the creative field, to be realistic about making money. It is not to say they will not make money at their craft, but it's a rarity for them to be making money right away at their craft. So, having a day job, at least at the beginning, is kind of a must, and so if you know you are going to be whittling away hours at a job, then try to find something that is creative. As much as I may gripe about parring away creative juices being an architect, if I was in a job that did not allow me to be creative, I think that would effect my emotional mood greatly, and probably the way I produce. So I would suggest that people try to find jobs that give them the security to be a creative (and pay the bills). I also believe there is a certain amount of devotion that creative types need, and in a lot of cases, myself included, obsessive tendencies. I create, because it is like breathing for me. I work hard at it, because, in a lot of aspects, it keeps me sane, and there is always this drive to do more, improve my work, improve myself, etc etc... like I said, it is an internal obsession.
It says on your website that you were “raised in a bookstore” and that you “befriended the books”. Do you still feel a great connection to books? Do the books you read have a direct influence on your artistic work?
Yes most definitely, fairy tales from around the 1900s. Some of them being, Green Willow, a 1912, Japanese fairy book, and Andrew Lang's Fairy Tale books (his american side), the grimm brothers stories (though they often ripped off a lot of folklore around the black forest, and in France), native american stories, and Alice in Wonderland have been a huge influence. One of my all time favorite books is Grendel by John Gardner, that book had a profound effect on me and how I view monsters in literature. Well worth a read. Especially in conjunction to reading Beowulf.
I'm always very interested to know exactly how people got their start at something. You have your first solo show opening February 8th at Prohibition Gallery. How did this solo show come about?
I think it comes down to many many many connections. And I am always fascinated myself when i can follow the strain back, as if everything truly is defined in our life, fated, so to speak.
For instance, I am not classically trained with an MFA, or a BFA. I have an MArch and a BA in Environmental Design. So I figured, after working for Frank Gehry, that I would take some painting classes at Otis, I studied under Franklyn Liegel and Bonita Helmer, both amazing teachers. Franklyn, unfortunately passed away recently, but he was probably one of my best supporters, he truly saw what i loved and sought to develop that, and I miss not being able to bend his ear for a tick, but I am happy that I had the fortunate moment to be taught under him, but I digress, we are talking about connections, in one of these classes I met a student who was apprenticing under the painter Rebecca Campbell, and that started up a connection with her. A lot of my bright colors on skin tones is a direct result of her influence on me, and she helped me develop my oil styling a lot. She also pushed me hard to get a studio, I was, at the time, painting in my tiny apartment. Not only did it stink up everything, I could only work on one painting at a time, which was probably stunting my growth. It was possible, but until I actually got my studio, I had no idea how having a space, away from a living space, could drastically help my growth.
So that lead me to Beacon Arts Building in Inglewood, where I found a studio, and I currently share with the amazingly talented Holly Topping, who is one of the best studio mates in the universe. BAB loves to throw open studio events, and during one of these, Shanoa, from Prohibition Gallery, came to view my work, and well the rest is history. So all in all, what I have learned, is that the art world is all about connections and community. It is also something I really really strongly try to encourage. I believe in collaborating, collecting, promoting, sharing, showing, with every and all artist that I come across.
What is your dream collaboration?
Locally, I am probably going to say Allison Schulnik. I find her work to be so inspirational and emotional. Internationally, it would have to be Charming Baker. I have a little bit of a crush on him, and his work. They are wildly different, but, I love their work so.
If you could try your hand at any other job for a day, what would it be?
Fashion Photography. Setting up elaborate stages with elaborate costumes. From start to finish create a mini world.
Do you have a "dream" collector? Like if you found out this one person bought something you created, you would just lose your mind.
Bjork. I would outright lose my mind to know that she wanted to support my work, because it somehow spoke to her. Her music, and styles, have been so inspirational, that I would be beyond honored.
Do you have a spirit animal? If so, which animal is it?
Oh this is a good question, yes I do. But it is kind of a two fold question. I grew up in a family that believed signs were everywhere, so a lot of women in my family had crows (or ravens) that would follow them around. They were considered the in-betweeners, meaning they live both in the now and the spirit world. I have two actually, ever since I was little. Bob and T-Roy. It is, to outsiders, a kind of crazy thing to admit, but where I come from, it was the norm to be able to talk to the natural and spiritual world through an animal. As for my personal spirit animal, I have been told that the fox, the rabbit, the bear, and the raven are my totem. This is probably why they keep showing up continuously in my work.
Is there a question that you always hope you'll get asked in interviews, but then never do? For example, do you have a burning desire to tell the world what your favorite type of cereal is, but have just never gotten the chance?
Yes, I think people often think it silly that I have this obsession with Unicorns. Like I have some sort of girly my little pony fetish, but no one has asked me why do i love unicorns?
The thing is, they are an anomaly, yes a mythological anomaly, but let's go to a more realistic one and say T-rexes, which in many aspects, are the same thing as unicorns. One was a beautiful horse with a horn on its head that served really no purpose as hooves are far more dangerous than a horn, one was a huge apex predator with tiny arms that also served no purpose, except to be mocked; so here are these two creatures, with anomalies on their bodies, and they ruled their kingdoms, and they are wildly still used in stories and imagery to this day. So what is it with peoples intrigue with these creatures, are we inherently in love with the unique, the odd, the strange? That is what I love about unicorns, that aside from them being "majestic" they are also strange, and so they brooked the fine line between the two sides of the coin. That is amazing to me. And that is something that calls to me.