Thursday, July 21, 2011

Artist Interview: AJ Grossman

What is your name:  AJ Grossman

Do you have a formal art education or are you a self taught artist: Yes &; No. I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and studied fashion design and had a great career on 7th Ave. My parents wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer as they wanted me to be able to support myself. But FIT was the compromise. I had a great career that started as a fashion illustrator and I spent every day drawing and sketching out my ideas and then became a fashion director and had someone else draw out my ideas. As a child, my parents would send me to art classes.  I then purchased a computer and learned this program called Corel Draw; I was living in Hong Kong and I knew that this would be important for my career. I made a wise move. My final stint in fashion was as art director for Carter’s children’s clothing. I was more of an art critic with a dash of business manager thrown in. So I guess I did have training as a fashion designer, which some people do not consider art. However how many artists can say that 1 in 6 kids in America have worn something that I have drawn.

What is the style of your pieces: I work in the abstract as I spent my entire career drawing rabbits, frogs, etc for children’s clothing or fashion illustration. I love line art, but I am drawn to the abstract.

What is the medium in which you work:  I work in encaustic which for me is a love-hate relationship. I love the medium, and feel guilty when I switch back to acrylic for a few days. I just hate when the wax decides to have a mind of its own and not allow me to do what I want.  I am a person who likes challenge so I guess that is why I can never turn my back on encaustic, it is a constant exploration and test of my patience.

What started you on your path as an artist: I think the first toy I ever had was a box of Crayola crayons. (My love affair of wax must have come from that) My mom would always have us kids drawing or playing with colorforms. I still have an original set of colorforms in my art studio.  I loved all the shine and the colors and the shape. I see everything as a shape still to this day. Everyone in my family has art ability. Some even better than me, but they just hate it. Can you imagine being given such a gift and hating it.  But my dad was in the fashion business and I would watch his designer sit and sketch clothing all day. So I guess I was born into it.

What is one of the most important things that art has brought to your life:  It has expanded my world. I had companies that would send me all over the world to get inspired for my fashion career. I would stand in front on stores and sketch the textiles, textures and silhouettes. Go to every museum to see art, color and again shape. Art history is so important. But it also makes you see differently. I see in shape and color as opposed to seeing objects. (Mom and those colorforms again) It has opened my eyes to other cultures and not be judgmental in my view of people.

What is your favorite genre of art besides the one you work in:  I love graphic design before computers. I am still intrigued by how a person creates a font.  It was all about the negative space. I love Milton Glaser.  Maybe because he created the I love NY logo (I bleed NYC)   I love the stories behind how he made the art or how the art creates a story. I must be from starting my career as an illustrator.

Do you have art showings, and if so what are they typically like: I usually enter shows at my local art guild.  I love to stand next to my art and listen to people try to explain what the wax is or figure it out. Sometimes I tell them I am the artist and I can answer their questions. Most of the time I just like to observe them and listen. Since I am usually the only encaustic piece in the show I do get recognition of some kind.

Do you have a certain set of clothes you make art in:  I always ask that of artists and I event posted that question on twitter. I always was my Barbara Streisand concert tour shirt in black and covered in paint, my black old navy cargo pants and my black apron. If I want to be a bit more dressed up, I just wear my black v-neck gap shirt that I purchased 5 of them years ago, so I always have one to wear in the studio. And I can never be creative if I have color on, so it is black all day.

What has been the most frustrating part of being an artist? Getting galleries to understand what encaustic is. I am surprised that many do not. I also live in an area of the country that does not support the arts or have a strong local sustainable art scene.

What is your favorite sandwich of all time: It is a sandwich named after my kid sister, called the Mona Special. It is a grilled cheese but with swiss or gruyere with tomato and my mom would grill it in a press to make it really thin and make the bread crunchy. When my sister got married I gave her a Panini press so she and her new husband can have Mona Specials for life.

Has this year brought about any changes in your work, and if so what are they:  Yes, I am more confident. I don’t think so much about it, I just let it evolve organically. Being in the commercial art arena for my entire career, my work was always under a microscope so perfection becomes the norm. I think that is why the wax attracted me, as it can but cannot be controlled. It is like the saying, imperfection is perfection. But I think the wax gives me permission to just let it be. Since I have been teaching more workshops, that also gives me a great sense of confidence and I like that with each workshop I learn something new from my students.

Who is your favorite artist alive or dead:  Of course Milton Glaser, Cy Twombly who just passed, Pollack,  Kara Walker (must be the negative space again) Laird Campbell, Chagall and Miro. I guess I am all over the place.

What is the most moving piece of artwork that you have seen in person: Guernica by Picasso when I was a child and it was still at the Met.

Do you have any animals, and what do they think of your work:  I have 2 dogs. One likes to eat the paint, walk in the paint and be part of the painting. The other is just an observer. Unfortunately, I am not telepathic so I am not sure what they think. But they must like it, as they come back each day.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions you would like to share with us:  Currently I am trying to find other artists in South Florida who work in encaustic to have a group show and I can self-promote it. It is 5 years already and I think I am the only artist who works in wax in my county. Maybe another one will move in town.

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