Hava Java (https://havajavacoffee.com/) is the local coffee shop literally around the corner from us on 32nd and Camelback in Phoenix, AZ. I was thrilled to be the featured artist for their rotating exhibits – you can see my work there until September 8th, 2017!
I wanted to get a little background on the who, why, and how of Hava Java’s rotating artist feature so I asked their curator, Melissa Elias, if I may interview her. Find out what brought her into the curatorial space as well as her own artistic history and path below. Plus – have a look at my work hanging up in this wonderful cozy little coffee shop.
Melissa Elias – Curator for Hava Java Coffee House (2017)
How long have you worked at Hava Java?
I have been working at Hava Java for two years now.
When did you start curating the artwork?
I took over curating the artwork at Hava in January 2017. The previous lady that was
in-charge of it moved on to other projects and it left the position open to in-house
employees or outside hire. Since I was already going to school for Fine Arts and taking
charge of a space as curator would be an impressive addition to my professional
resume, I expressed my interest to Lance, the manager at the time, to take over that
responsibility. I remember he was incredibly pleased to hire someone within and that it
was none other than me!
How did you get interested in art and curation?
It’s a very curious question.
My passion for art has been engrained in me for as long as I can remember. Oddly
enough, I would say that it wasn’t much of a choice but more of a natural ability that I
was fortunate enough to be blessed with. Even though I will have to admit that I
became self-aware of it and began polishing these abilities by age 14! I always had
this innate inclination to the arts, but as I grew older and became more aware of the
struggles in life, I realized that a career in Fine Arts would not necessarily make me
skyrocket in the economic spectrum.
So I opted for Languages and Translation with a focus in Spanish, (I am a true fanatic
of travel, accents, languages, cultures, traditions, and communication) but that didn’t
last very long since I knew I wasn’t whole-heartedly invested in it.
So I made another bold move and finally decided to try to make something out of art
by applying to ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Art Education
Program. This soon made me realize that I had been going around the one thing that
made sense to me, which was painting and making art. So I slowly transitioned to the
final move and made it into the Painting program at Herberger.
As far as curating, I have been actively involved in art shows and art festivals with my
friends back home in San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico and San Luis, AZ (I
come from a very small bordertown 30min south of Yuma) for some years now through their foundation Consciencia Colectiva which aims to promote an active art movement in our town.
I moved to Phoenix three years ago, I was a founder, main curator, and created the
logo of the booming Art Gallery/Bar and Lounge, “La Galería,” in Mexico. I think my
passion for art naturally lapsed over to curatorship and recruiting talented artists in
order to help them expose their work and become more involved in the art scene.
What do you look for when finding artists for the shop?
Specifically geared towards Hava Java, I look for artists whose work is leaned towards
the PG-13 spectrum. Being that is a family coffee house, I am conscious of the kids
and parents that walk into the shop and I always want to make sure that what is on the
walls will not be offensive, vulgar, violent, political, etc…
I don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable through art; I want people to actually enjoy what is on the walls and potentially invest in the amazing work that artists make. With that in mind, I’ve realized that the work that makes more sense for such a small warm coffee house are large, colorful, fun pieces that makes our guest stop and take notice of them!
Who have been some of your favorite artists that you’ve put up?
I respect and admire all of the artists that I have exhibited at Hava Java. There are some, though, that I completely melt over:
Natalie Strait https://www.instagram.com/nectarine_art/
Papay Solomon https://www.instagram.com/papaysolomon/
And you Skye, of course! There are still plenty of new artists that I have my eye on to showcase at Hava Java. All in due time!
Doing anything at all for 365 days straight is difficult. Ask anyone who has ever successfully completed a New Years Resolution. Throw in the need for input from other people to complete the tasks – and artists at that – and you have an impressive endeavor. Shelley Whiting is succeeding beautifully at just this.
When Shelley approached me to be an artist for her ‘Arizona Artist a Day’ blog, I was thrilled. Thrilled that such a blog exists and that I’d be apart of it. However, once I received the questions – I was truly impressed with the level of care in which Shelley put in her interview. This was not just a fast copy/paste job. Shelley had researched my work, art history, and biography to come up with amazing and thoughtful questions. This care shows through in each and every terrific interview she’s done with all kinds of Arizona Artists.
I thought it high time to return the favor. I asked Shelley if I could interview HER (maybe even stealing a question or two from her roster) and she obliged. See her full interview below along with a fascinating sample of her portfolio.
Arizona Artist: Shelley Whiting Interview
You grew up among a family of artists and writers that also have strong religious roots in the Mormon faith. You mention this as an element in your most recent exhibit at Burton Barr – “Before Time”. In what other ways has this part of your life affected the way you work and your subject matter?
Before Time 3
My late mom was a Mormon history buff who spent ten years writing a book. She would take trips to BYU to research for her book. She had articles in LDS magazines. I was proud of her writing. I wasn’t a big Mormon back then. Thought it kind of boring. Now I realize the connections to Mormonism were some of the most fascinating things about my mom.
There are three creative people in my family of 6 siblings: myself – an artist, my twin sister – a writer, and my brother – a muralist. The three of us are the ones that are active in the church. I think spirituality makes you vulnerable and that vulnerability connects you to an imaginative side. You find your faith and enlightenment in something that isn’t tangible.
The religious part of my painting started on a whim. LDS paintings are typically very conservative, i.e. a semi-naturalistic picture of Jesus with a light behind him. I grew up with that all my life. My art has always been more outsider or abstract, and my style not for everyone. So, the idea of actually doing LDS art as part of my career was never seen to me as a possibility. My brother who went to RISD talked about a Mormon classmate named Jeff Larsen. He said Jeff did a performance piece where he dressed up in a yeti outfit on stage and recited the LDS children’s song “Once there was a snowman.” I was impressed that he didn’t let conservative artistic traditions hold him back from how he chose to express his faith. So, I began to think about how to paint spirit babies. I did some paintings of some old men as spirit babies in pajamas. I thought of spirit babies as old men full of wisdom. It was fun and goofy. My brother called me and encouraged it, saying “That’s definitely not the usual LDS art.” I wouldn’t say I’m a Jack Mormon. But I was never the Molly Mormon go-to girl. I was not happy-go-lucky, nor ready to be a missionary.
Before Time 11
You are posting about an Arizona artist every single day for 365 days. What has that process been like for you? What have you learned from the interviews you’ve had with these artists?
I have a friend Ione Lewis who started a Central Arts District Blog. I was hanging out with her while she was writing up her blog, and was inspired through her to do a blog myself.I had been going to First Fridays for a year and the same ten artists were rotating in the same five galleries. I thought “There have got to be more Arizona artists out there.” I thought about the 365-day format because it’s a large number but on a daily basis easy to absorb. I did a lot of research. I looked up all I could about vendor artists and artists who stand outside Revolver Records. I researched different scenes like Yuma and Tucson. Also different types such as glass and ceramic artists. Looked up graduate students. I emailed a million artists on Facebook asking them if they wanted to be on my blog. I really love helping out emerging artists the most, but also enjoy including seasoned artists.
I feel that I’m more aware of the Arizona art scene in general. I realize the artists are showing everywhere now. I also try to make it to shows by the artists on the blog. It’s nice to meet them in person.
The photography scene is the most provocative and some of the most cutting-edge stuff on my blog.
Apotheosis exhibit 2014
If all of your artistic dreams were realized – what would that look like? You mentioned you’d like to do installation art. Do you have a concept in mind for what that would look like?
I would love the opportunity to work bigger, I stopped doing large works because of storage problems years ago.
It’s funny I started a painting series a month ago. When I started I decided to do it as an installation series. I didn’t listen. seventy five percent into the series I realized that my intuition was right.
I have this I idea of canvas cut outs of these tall pleurant figures around a room with thousands of little paintings in the middle of the room.
At ASU Sandy Winters came to visit. I looked at her installation work and it was very amazing. Would love to do something larger than life.
Eye of God 1 2015
You mention you spend five to six days a week at Warehouse 1005, an art studio and gallery in the Phoenix art district. What has that experience been like?
Warehouse 1005 is an art therapy studio. I have bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. I have been going to Art Awakenings and the Warehouse for five to six years. My self-confidence has increased and the diagnoses define me less. For years I felt like I always had this load on me and it would never go away. When I entered the program I started painting about my mental illness. I never liked painting about the darker side of me. Also, I never liked being too introspective in my work. I don’t think I was excited about revealing the unglamorous sides of me. But when I did a feeling definitely showed up in my work that hadn’t before. All the pain made my work richer. I still paint about the topics but less obviously. Confronting those arenas of my life made me more self-accepting and overall a more well-rounded person.
How long have you been showing your artwork in Arizona? What was your first show here?
I’ve been showing my art in Arizona since I was 19. My first show was in The Paper Heart which was a great place for emerging artists in Phoenix at the time. I showed for two to three years. I really wasn’t prepared for all the hard work that I would have to do to get my work out there. I was naïve thinking things were going to happen to me really fast.
I stopped showing my art for five years because my thoughts were too fast and I couldn’t concentrate. I was later put on the right medications again and my focus was back. The experience has taught me never to take my art for granted.
What impression do you want the viewer to have from your artwork? What do you want others to remember from your work?
With the current work I’m doing I’m hoping have a connection to spirituality and to a perspective that is uniquely my own. One viewer at the show said “I didn’t even read your artist statement but I knew it was spiritual.” I know my LDS perspective might weird some people out. One person even said “Don’t give me no Book of Mormon.” That is far from the point. I am actually conflicted about my spirituality. I would even admit I don’t fully have a testimony yet. So my artwork is me trying to question and still connect to the spiritual on some level.
What social causes do you advocate? What do you have passionate opinions about?
I’m not extremely political. Feminist, but not an extreme. I do try to keep my positions on issues moderate, despite having an extremely conservative upbringing. I am that way. My mom was extremely black-and-white in her way of thinking. She would say “It’s bad. It’s a sin. Case closed.” Though I do tend to have mostly Christian friends, I recognize there is value outside of that bubble. Some artistic people aren’t Christian and have intellectually sound opinions.
What art genres categorize your work?
Probably outsider art. I’ve had my art called that negatively. In art school I found it insulting. Now I realize the best artists are from that genre. I remember seeing the art of Adolf Wolfli when I was 20. I was a pop artist at the time so my work was far from that at the time. But I saw an artist who created his own cosmology and artistic language. You know there is a hidden artistic language in his work. He has layers of musical notes and swirls. Yet it doesn’t matter because its intensity and different cosmology draw the viewer in.
Butterfly Wings and Angelic Messengers 4
What is your artistic process? How do you start a piece and how do you finish it? What is your studio like?
Each series lends its own kind of figures. I have questions like: “How do I dress them?”, “What art period do they come from?”, and “What do their anatomies look like?” I generally use a reference. For the “Before Time” series I printed pictures of Renaissance sculptures. I sketch but generally distort the figure in some way. A lot of this is because I started out studying caricatures when I was seventeen. I don’t see things realistically. They always come out looking cartoony and unreal. Once I have the figures sketched out I imagine some sort of backdrop. With the “Before Time” series I thought of some Roman buildings and some open organic form in the background.
I start a figure in terms of layers. I look at the sketch and paint the shape of the body and the face. With the hundred figure project, it was 100 or so of these types of figures lined up. With a close up of a face, it’s the shape of a head. I layer first in black, then blue, then red. The layering makes it more sculptural and gives it some history. I then do some line marking. I scribble some dark red, dark yellow blacks, yellow blacks and some neon dark reds. I then proceed to do the eyes. The eyes are really important as they show the soul of the figures. I do the mouth and the lips. After the eyes and the lips I call it a day and then do the flesh tone the next day. It’s not usually obvious but I do add neon pink and neon red in my colors. It helps brighten the skin tones. I usually do most of the blending of the skin tones with big brushes but usually my fingers. With the Before Time series I did hundred so of the figures. One painting took me a month. Very detailed work. Every figure had their own personality and soul. I finished the painting think almost of a spaceship on top. One person even commented “Beam me up.”
What’s your current studio practice? What is your studio like? How often do you do art in a week?
I paint right now upstairs at Warehouse 1005. I rent a little space. I no longer do art therapy there. I graduated from the program. It’s affordable. The table I paint on is full of paint. So is the floor. I paint five to six days a week I usually start painting at 10 am and go home around 2 pm. I think that’s as far as my attention span can go.
The night time, in general, is when my creative juices start working. Between twelve am to three am I usually binge on some TV show and sketch all night.
I’d gotten a large (4x6ft) canvas last summer that was literally collecting dust on my wall. I finally made the time to put a design on it! I started a new audiobook “Everything All at Once” by Bill Nye. This is what I listened to while drawing this design – so I thought it apt to title my painting that as well. Shout out to Bill Nye! He’s saving the world y’know?
A funny thing about our apartment in Argentina – you had to have a separate key to get into the building and another to enter the apartment door (both of which locked automatically), but you also had to use a third key to get *out* of the building.
Picture me on June 6th, 2012. My Kickstarter campaign was set to end that evening and not end well. Charlie, my ever supportive partner and some-times therapist, had his luthiery class, so he wasn’t home. He offered to stay, but I said I could suffer the defeat alone.
By alone, I realized, I didn’t mean *totally* alone. I decided that I wanted to have some tall company – by that I mean a **Quilmes Stout. This flavor of decision always comes with a ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ debate. Classic angel and devil shoulder sitting and all that. Devil won and won so hard I rushed out the door before the angel had time to talk sense. Rushed out with out my wallet I realized while I was in the hallway. Rushed out..with out my keys.
Since Buenos Aires is in the southern-hemi, it’s cold in June. Especially cold if you’re wimpy about cold and you’re trapped in a hallway, no way to get in to your apartment and no way to get out of the building to a coffee shop.
This is the part where I sat and ugly cried in the stairwell. It was the point where my miserable surroundings matched my miserable mood. It also gave me a solid stretch of time to think about what went wrong with my Kickstarter campaign. The campaign that failed in front of everyone I knew.
Reasons for A Failed Kickstarter Campaign
I wasn’t Molly Crabapple.(aka – The “Hey if they can do it, so can I!” fallacy. )
At the start of this whole Kickstarter business for me was brilliant Molly Crabapple. Her Kickstarter for “Molly Crabapple’s Week in Hell” was the blueprint for my own. She locked herself in a hotel room for 5 days, covering the walls with paper, and then covering the paper with art. Her goal was $4500. She got $25,805!
The concept was the same, but the people were decidedly NOT. I’m very, very pleased to be Skye Lucking, make no mistake, but I am no Molly Crabapple! Ms. Crabapple is/was a full-time artist working in the Lower East Side, Manhattan, NY. She’d started an art school called Mr. Sketchy’s. She had several successful art shows…well, you get the idea. In researching this blog, I see she’s grown an even more impressive portfolio. Go Molly Crabapple! Always an inspiration.
Bottom line – Kickstarter success is very much about the network you already have. Don’t mistake the fact that you have a similar concept as another person to mean you have a similar circumstance or chance for success.
Math (aka – I didn’t know my numbers.)
It’s not that I’m bad at math. I’m fine at math. I’m no Dr. Frances Allen but I’m fine. It’s more that I can’t seem to be bothered with figuring out the numbers until I realize that not figuring out the numbers is a HUGE bother.
I wasn’t sure how much it would be to ship out some of my prizes from Buenos Aires, Argentina to my backers. I wasn’t sure exactly how much the materials would cost. I wasn’t sure if I’d lose a great deal of money or walk away with a nice chunk of change. I didn’t know and couldn’t be bothered. So – I just padded the amount I was asking for. By…um..a kind of ridiculous amount: $7,654.
Why $7,654? That’s a great question! Answer? Red wine and hubris. Also, not knowing my numbers.
“What to do tonight? I know! I’ll cruise around a crowdfunding site to find strangers whose projects I can back!” – Said no one ever. (aka – I didn’t realize how reliant success was on friends, family, and acquaintances.)
At the end of the day – my Kickstarter was just a way for me to have an amazing good time just before leaving the movable fiesta that was Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In my mind I was giving people this wonderful opportunity to be part of an event. I imagined this fun intense whirlywind of art and collaboration – finished off with the shipping out of my work that everyone was eager to get.
It wasn’t to start a business. It wasn’t going for a good cause. It was just to fund my great arty adventure. Those who backed it probably weren’t excited to get that piece of art. They were excited to show me support and love. Keep this in mind when you’re deciding if you really want to go down the crowdfunding road.
A super long, super cutesy, super cringe-worthy video.(aka – I didn’t keep my video short and sweet.)
That video, tho. I’m going to be honest. This right here is why I’ve never written about my failed Kickstarter campaign. I realize now, 5 years hence, that I was trying to woo some stranger into giving me money for my art. I was trying to be charming. I was trying to be cute and it is very, very obvious. Cloying even. For FIVE minutes. Frankly, it is embarrassing. However, we struggle through vulnerability to come out stronger on the other side. So, here it is. Feel free not to watch it all.
Total Preparation Time Was Not Enough (aka: I didn’t research my market, potential media options, how it would ‘work’ if I did get backing…)
As I said, I didn’t really do the math. However, there was more to it than that. For example, I had a solid group of arty friends in Buenos Aires who wanted to support the campaign…and they were not able to. Kickstarter used Amazon Web Services (or something like that) which was completely unavailable for use by people in all of Argentina. So, that was an awkward setback. I had more than a few people say that they tried to back the campaign – and they just couldn’t. Doh!
I was begging to get interviews and press during the campaign – instead of researching the best podcasts or ezines or what have you to be in well before. Don’t do this. It’s kind of a pathetic exercise.
Reasons Why I’m So Glad My Kickstarter Failed
In the end – it was likely a blessing that my Kickstarter Campaign failed. I’m not sure how it’d have all gone down had I actually gotten that cash and needed to fill 27 feet of canvas, cut it up, and organized shipping for all of the pieces. Also, it would have been hella stressful given we were preparing a big international move back to the US.
More than that – I was so heartened by those that were supportive of me. Also, I made note of those folks for whom I shouldn’t look for support. The concept that I really need to know those numbers was reinforced (constantly so). The understanding of who I do and do not want to portray myself as was made clearer. This is all very useful information.
It’s good to fail. I know that isn’t what our ‘winning’ societal message is these days, but winning takes some failing beforehand, no matter how good you are. You fail when you get a rejection letter from a publisher. You fail when you hear nothing back from a retail shop you’ve sent your catalog to. You fail when a painting doesn’t quite work. Does this mean you stop? No. You change your approach. You learn from your mistakes. You fail some more – until – you don’t.
There is a large part of this story left unwritten – and that’s a renewed gratitude to those that helped me in this process – Charlie, Beatrice, Haje, Vivi, and all of those that backed it. Thank you for believing in me back then. Thank you for believing in me now.
Portrait of Minnesota House Representative Ilhan Omar by Skye Lucking.
It was tough times between November and January in terms of political feeling. I was (and still am) energized and ready to take action when and where I could. If art was associated with that action – all the better. One of the opportunities I had was to donate artwork to the “Nasty Women – Phoenix Unite” Art Show. My idea was to look for the positive and I identified 3 Notable Women that gave me hope and inspired my action. You can read more about that here.
One of those notable women was Ilan Omar.
Ilhan Omar is the newly elected, Minnesota House Representative for District 60B. She is the first Somali-American, Muslim woman in the nation to hold an office at this level. After the start of the Somali civil war in 1991, she and her family left the country and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya.
I was so pleased to see that Representative Omar was a guest on The Daily Show last night. She’s one of those people you want everyone to know about. A child refugee. A Somali-American, Muslim woman. She’s strong. She’s eloquent. She’s American through and through. She’s part of a government that is increasingly hostile to those people exactly like her. She’s crushing it.
Representative Ilhan Omar on The Daily Show (Video)
Time-Lapse Video of Representative Ilhan Omar Portrait
Peace comes by way of inviting and understanding those that are different from you, not blocking and hating them. This is why Ilhan Omar is important. She shows us that there is no one-type of American and that’s what makes America great.
What I love about creating art is that each art piece and art product encapsulates a story. There was a certain timeplace and personspace that occured during the moment of its first creation and then again in its iterations. A perfect example is this pillow: Blues Prismagic #14.
The positive mantra is also translated for the Tagalog, Spanish, and Dine (Navajo) versions.
First: A Drawing in A SketchBook, then a Coloring Book
Before it was anything – Blues Prismagic #14 was ink in a pen and a blank piece of paper. That transformed into a drawing. That drawing went into the coloring book for adults I’d created: Prismagic Coloring Book For Adults It was the 14th drawing in the book (hence Blues Prismagic #14) and the positive mantra that went with it was “I breath in calm and breathe out anxiety”. Nice, eh!?
Prints created from the digitally colored image Prismagic #14 in Prismagic Adult Coloring Book.
I liked that design so much, I decided to make a print out of it. I played around with a few different color palettes and ordered them printed on canvas (there was a sale – what can I say?!) (Side note: these prints are now hanging in the very hip halls of F.A.B.R.I.C. – the Fashion and Business Resources Innovation Center – in Tempe, Arizona! )
Here’s one of the most fun parts of this process. Art is not created in a vacuum and no artist is an island. My brother, Zac, saw the print and asked “Hey, could I get a pillow with that design?” And…BOOM…the Blues Prismagic #14 pillow was born.
There was some research into where I could get the best possible quality of pillows with my design printed on them, and I think I found it. I ordered a sample for myself (also hanging out in a chair at F.A.B.R.I.C) and then sent one to my brother.