BM: So I have seen your oil paintings. But when I was looking at your website at your collages & I was kind of intrigued. How do you do those?
MO: So, I realized when I was creating imagery for my other art, I realized that I had been laying it out in cut-outs and flyers. Just any paper cut-out that I find when I laid them all out there was some significant imagery that could be created with that. And so I started focusing on that primarily for a couple of months to see what kind of message I could send through those.
So I really just look at the shapes for any interaction of color and shape. They’re sort of moving. I particularly remembering the one with the girl kind of kicking something, thinking, wow, this needs to have a very imparting message.
-So it just kind of started out as a kind of model for your other work?
It really did. It did not start as, “I’m going to collage.” It started as I need to find some images to look at when I’m painting and Oh these all look really cool together, maybe I’ll do something with them.
-Yeah, they look super-cool!
-Do you sell them?
I’m working on selling them. Actually, I have folders and folders and folders of images. I have a folder of white balls. And I have a folder of neon colors. I have another folder of red fruit; I have berries. I have another folder of legs. I have another folder of arms. I mean, it’s very specific. I have a folder of fingers. I look through all of them and say these kind of interact well. Sometimes I kind of just lay them all out. I have to be careful that there’s not a gust of wind.
-Right, right, right
I find it very relaxing to work this way. It’s very easy to change my idea without having to start over again.
-Right, Right. I just love seeing cut outs and stuff like that. Like when I was younger, I used to do these things, I called it a modeling book. It was cut out pictures of people I liked…
I did that when I was little.
-And we went to this exhibition at the Mint. It was a fashion designer, which I wasn’t really interested in at first. I’d rather see an artist. But it was really really inspiring.
Was it recent or in the past couple of years?
-It was recent, like this past weekend. William Ivey Long, was his name. I had never heard of him. And I wasn’t very interested, but they showed these costumes he made. Oh, and he was from North Carolina, which was very cool. But they showed these boards he used; these vision boards, I guess they’re called. And I was like, that is so cool! I want to do that!
It’s really fun. And that’s honestly how I work when I’m painting. I have a drawing board. It’s just a big flat piece of board I can clip things to and
Right now it has artists I like, postcards my parents sent me from Italy or wherever and then words or swatches of color. I just feel like I work that way very well, so I kind of flip it and make that my art rather than the inspiration.
I totally understand the having a vision or an inspiration. I have multiple of those. I’ll switch it out when I’m changing out my work.
-Yeah, totally. I love that! So how did you get into art? How did you start?
Well, I would say I started very young. You know, my parents were the type of parents that were like, “here’s some play dough. You’re not going to watch TV.” You know, “here’s a box of crayons, go have fun” or “go play outside.” It was very much, we want you to entertain yourself…create…because that’s just a very enjoyable process. And I enjoyed creating art for a very long time until I got into high school. And I realized, wow, I could probably do something with this.
So I started pursuing it more. I mean, I went to three high schools: New Jersey, North Carolina, and California. So I kind of dabbled a little in each place and then when I got here for my Junior and Senior year, I did the IB Arts Program, and that really forced me to think about my process. My art teacher really started my whole process of creating a sketchbook page and here’s the imagery I’m going to use; here’s the processes I’m going to implement; here’s the artists I find inspiration from. Here’s why. You know, here’s a new technique I’m going to try. And that really caused me to…you know I have to write all this stuff down, I have to visualize it before I create. So it’s kind of a process. That’s how I find that my work is really a process. Inspiration; image to image board, product to final product.
-So how did you get into the paints?
Well I realized I liked tactile…I don’t really like drawing as much, because when you’re done and you rub your fingers over it, it smears. But with paint, you know, if it’s dry, I like the texture of it. With collage, I really like the texture of the papers. There’s glossy, there’s matte, there’s card stock there’s construction paper; there’s all different types of paper. You know I probably have four different types of white printer paper. I’m just like, this feels so nice.
I feel like art, for me, has to be tactile, so I really work on creating texture in my work. As for painting, I used to do a lot of acrylic and watercolor and I found that the color and intensity of the pigment wasn’t good enough, so I switched to oil, which is extremely intense pigment. I love oil painting.
-Yeah, I’ve never done oil, but I’m intrigued by it because I’ve looked at other people’s, like yours, and just been very impressed with the texture; I like texture too. I didn’t know you could get that! I use tempera paint and I like the texture I can get with that. I’m talking like I paint a lot…
No, it’s fine. Any one who paints is an artist, in my opinion.
-Yeah, I haven’t done it in a long time and I certainly don’t call myself an artist, but I definitely enjoyed it. That’s why I’m so impressed with the oils, because you can get all kinds of crazy stuff with that.
Definitely. My freshman year of college; the class I was in – I was the only freshman – it was all seniors. I was somehow blessed to be put into a really upper, advanced class. My professor saw talent in me, I think, which I’m really grateful for because the students I was surrounded by had been painting for eight semesters, at that point, and they knew everything; how to do it and how to achieve what they wanted. I was able to watch them. And I feel like…there’s this one artist, Laura Snell, I’m good friends with still, and one of the techniques she had was this very brushy, smoke-like texture she’ll create with a dark background in red or blue or a color that contrasts really well. I find myself returning to that a lot, because it’s a pleasant way to paint.
-How do you decide what subjects to paint?
Well, I have a religious studies minor. I’m not religious at all. I don’t consider myself to be very spiritual, either, but I find myself drawn to that type of art.
-Yeah, it’s beautiful art…and fascinating subjects…
Absolutely! One of the reasons I feel like that art is so prevalent is…I’m also an art history major…so I feel like that art is so prevalent because the church funded a lot of it.
-Right, that’s basically what all the subjects were.
Definitely! And they had all these fine materials, you know, jewels, guilding, nice wood. You know, highly exotic pigments that were preserved over a long period of time. So I feel that…I keep returning to that for imagery; especially from the 12th to 16th centuries; Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art; just cause it has a nice richness of color, a familiar story there. I obviously don’t paint realistically here, but I find the imagery to be very inspirational.
-Yeah, cause most people couldn’t read back then, so they needed things to remind them of the stories…
Exactly. So, I’ll kind of do the opposite thing. I’ll paint an abstracted version of what they’ll do and I’ll title it something similar. Like I just finished a painting based on a passage in Revelation. And obviously, looking at it, no one can say, “oh that’s Revelation.” And I’m like, this is the fire and brimstone hailing down. This is the end of the world. I felt very inspired by the passage, so I kept looking at it. I looked at other representations of Revelation. I was like, there’s a lot of red, there’s a lot of orange, there’s a lot of pink and I don’t usually use those colors. Let’s try that.
-Yeah, Revelation is a very very….
There’s a lot there.
-Yeah, there’s a lot there. I can see it would be very inspiring to paint. So you got into it just from the art history?
Definitely. And it’s, you know, my professors in school will say they like students who do both because they’re more informed about this dialogue they’re adding to. You know, I was originally an art major and I was like, I may as well do art history as well and I find that that was one of the best decisions and one of the best forms of inspiration for my work. ‘Cause I’m constantly looking at this imagery, You know, even if it wasn’t from the period I preferred, I’m looking at all this imagery, the entire dialogue from art history and I’m like there’s a lot of stuff that’s already been done, how can I do something different?
-It’s always inspiring to see what other people have done.
Exactly. I probably follow more artists on Instagram that I don’t know than people I do know because it’s a lot of nice symmetry.
-I took the art history classes, and they were more like Bible classes. I went to a Christian high school where we took Bible classes and these were WAY more interesting.
A lot of people are like why would you want to study something that people have already written about, already said things about, I’m like, well, art history isn’t just, here’s a pretty picture, here’s what it means. It’s here’s what society at the time wanted to express about themselves; here’s what was important to them. Here’s what they wanted you to think was important to them; it wasn’t, actually. It’s kind of like an anthropological study, but with images; and I find myself very image oriented.
-Oh, me too. I’m the same way. I like pictures.
Definitely! I have a friend who studied anthropology and she said, “I really wish I had studied art history.” I said “why is that?” She said, because there are pretty pictures in the books. I just look at pictures of, you know, here’s a person from a hundred years ago. Here’s how they look now. It’s so boring to me. But being able to see them in their setting, how they wanted to be expressed. Maybe even how they didn’t want to be expressed. I just think that’s interesting.
-That is interesting. So where did you go to school?
I’m currently at Randolph College in Lynchburg Virginia. I’m going to graduate in May.
-Oh cool. Very cool. Are you looking at grad schools?
I am. I’m in the process of completing applications. I’ve completed one for my MFA in studio art or in printmaking and painting. I’ve already sent it to UNC. Fingers crossed…
…And then I’m finishing my applications for Virginia Commonwealth, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
I’m just excited.
-That is exciting! You talk about the religious studies and things like that, so what do you ultimately want to do? Besides sell your art?
Well, that’s the dream to be a professional artist, but I find myself more drawn to teaching. I feel very thankful for my professors, but something I’ve noticed throughout my entire art career is that there’s a lack of fine arts in the studio program. You know, dance, theater, music, creative writing, composition, stuff like that, that I feel really is important to that practice. And there’s a lack of focus on art history, I’ve noticed over time, which is nothing against my professors. It’s just hard to focus on that when you’re teaching people how to paint, I feel it would be really easy to integrate both and that’s what I’m interested in doing when I teach is having a holistic art experience…
Something I had at some points and have had glimpses of, but for an entire curriculum or section of class.
-You should talk to Mary Kilburn at CPCC.
I think I might have been in contact with her. I need to talk to her again.
-She was my art history teacher and she was like an art history machine. She’s taught it for years and she can go….the class was like three hours, a once a week thing. She had no notes, she spouted off all this stuff off the top of her head.
When I started art history, you know it was a requirement for my art major it was an interesting class, so I thought I might as well major in it. I took classes it was a process of memorization, but now when I’m talking with freshmen or my brother, who’s a sophomore and he’s studying art. I’ll be like oh, this reminds me of this Delacroix painting or of this or that. He’s like, yeah, I don’t know what that is. I”m like you need to know what that is. You’re contributing to this art dialogue and you don’t even know what’s been done already.
It’s nothing against him. That’s just a trend I see. I find that, you know, how can you contribute to something without knowing what’s already been there?
-That’s a good point. That’s a really good point.
That’s kind of the argument I make to my other friends who are studying art. I’m like, you need to take art history, and it’s not because I want you to sit in a classroom for a boring lecture for an hour. Which, quite frankly, I don’t think any of them are boring. But you know, it’s really important to have that discussion. You know, why is this significant. You know the color white means purity. I use a lot of white and I don’t use it in that sense. How can I change that? How can I…Maybe I should use yellow; maybe I should use pink. You know, different considerations, rather than just, I want to create a pretty picture.
So it’s considering other parts of the aesthetic, I guess.
–That’s really interesting…
I mean, I had to write a little bit about that, so I kind of have my ideas down. But that’s really how I feel.
–I agree with you. Everyone thought art history was so boring, but I was like, This is fascinating! I wasn’t one for the tests. I hated memorizing dates and things like that, but it was just good to hear about.
And I feel like just if you get a good idea of the chronology, you’re fine. And, again, I really like my professors. They’re not like you have to know the month, year, and date this was made. No, you have to get the date, like within five years. Well, it doesn’t really matter as much anymore, It was sixteen hundred years ago.
But that’s definitely something I’m interested in.
–It’s just interesting to see that the inspirations and the problems they were going through, they’re not that much different than what we’re going through now.
Exactly. And that’s what I love. I’m definitely focused on, you know, I’m a feminist. I feel like you should be, at this point. Not you… universal…because, equality, I mean, duh.
I feel myself focusing on a lot on why are these female artists less represented than male artists, when they were creating just as good works. I’m like, oh, circumstances really haven’t changed that much in 200…400…600 years.
So I find myself…I don’t want to start screaming, look at this art! But I feel myself saying, you know if I could be doing that, I want to find myself educated on it.
–Right. And there were so many great female artists and they were largely unknown…
Exactly. My senior thesis in art history is on the first female artist. She is called that. She existed four hundred years ago. Like how is that person, even in writing about her at the time, they talk about other women artists who are her senior; and they’re not considered first. So I’m like, why is that?
First of all why is it significant that she is being called the first? Why weren’t the other ones first? That’s kind of the focus on my study.
-Yeah. That’s really interesting.
I love talking about this stuff! Lavinia Fontana, in case you were wondering.
-I have never heard of her.
No one has. She was just an Italian painter who was very successful, as a middle class person.
–So what kind of stuff did she paint?
She painted a lot of portraits of upper class women. And so what was unique about her was other women before her were only successful if they were from upper-class families, if they were in a convent, or if they were court painters. She was none of those. She was from a middle class family, her father was not a totally successful artist. When she got married, she was the breadwinner of her family. When she got married, in her contract, it said, you’re going to be the house husband and you’re going to follow me wherever I go. He was an artist, but he became her assistant because she was the breadwinner for their entire marriage.
–Interesting….Well, why did it change with her?
That’s what I’m studying about. So that is kind of what my research is involving.
–That’s really interesting. That’s really cool!
Tell your friends about her.
-Yeah…yeah, definitely. I want to read more about her.
She’s just really cool.
Another female artist, about 75 years later, Artemisia Gentileschi; she was considered to be more successful…or she was considered to be a better painter than Carravaggio. You know who Caravaggio is…
-Yeah, you know who Caravaggio is…
But you don’t know her name.
It’s something I love to tell people. Just a tangent; my mom was on a flight somewhere and the woman next to her worked at one of the Smithsonian museums, and you know, they were talking because it was a long delay and she was like, “well…I bet I know something you don’t know….Have you heard of Artemisia Gentileschi?” My mom’s like “Yes I have, actually. My daughter has written a lot about her.”
The person next to her was like, “I’ve never heard of that, so they were like….”
–Tell me about her….
Yeah, exactly. I’m like, that’s really cool.
-I’m honestly just curious. How much of that was that they just weren’t as public with their art or were really being repressed?
Well, I don’t know. Lavinia Fontana’s art was public. She had public commissions for altarpieces. And the pope had a portrait painted for him as did the pope after him. So she was known internationally during her time. Another female artist, whose name I can’t remember, she was a painter in Spain for like 13 years. You know, these are artists you don’t ever hear about. I feel like a lot of it comes from the fact that the majority of our history was written by men for a very long period of time.
And Lavinia Fontana was resurrected kind of in the 60s and 70s, you know, when the feminist movement began. And that’s when people started going, hmmm why don’t we know anything about her? That’s bad. We should know stuff about her. So I feel it has a lot to do with the dialogue of our history was written by men, about mostly men, and for men. Art wasn’t really created for women to look at…
…For a very long time. So I feel like that’s just like, you know, a patriarchal society. That’s kind of the circumstances. And it’s terrible, but it’s something we want people to change. I mean, the foremost scholar of Lavinia Fontana is a woman named Caroline Murphy and she only writes about women artists. Elisabetta Sirani was another Italian artist had commented on it too. “It’s like there’s nothing written about her. And she was fabulous.”
It has a lot to do with the fact that historians at the time weren’t writing about it and even historians, when they were alive weren’t writing about it because it didn’t matter
–You should write about it!
[Laughs] That’s what I’m trying to do. I have another friend who’s an art history major who’s like there’s nothing published about this one painting. I’m like, then you need to be the first one to publish something on it. Because then the whole world will say Melissa Hussey was the first one to write about this.
I got a book, you know, The 15 Women Who Made Art. Fontana’s not even in that book. Most of the artists in the book are from the past 150 years.
– Frida Khalo, Georia O’Keefe…
Yeah, artists like that. It’s like Ok, they’re were definitely artists who inspired and created work that’s just been destroyed, hasn’t been preserved well. It wasn’t important enough.
I know that has nothing to do with my practice, but it’s in the back of my head.
–No, tangents are awesome and it has to do with your inspiration.
Definitely, so I try not to look at other artists for inspiration when I’m writing about my inspiration, I don’t want to say, you know Michelangelo, Caravaggio, all these other household names, I want to pull out names people don’t know, so they’ll go look them up, you know, discover this.
–But I think people need to know about the Caravaggios and the Michelangelos to be able to compare.
Exactly, This was going on at the same time, but this was going on too, just so you know. Definitely. I totally agree.
-This is great! So what is next for you after graduation, after grad school?
Well, I’m actually focusing a lot on printmaking right now. It’s kind of a lost art, I feel. So for printmaking, there’s kind of two kinds, is what I’d say. There’s a type where you manipulate the plate, you know and you etch it and carve things out of it, use chemicals and what have you
And there’s another type where you manipulate the ink on a sheet of plastic and then you print. So I’m trying to find a place to fuse the two types of arts. They’re very few women printmakers. So I’m having a hard time looking at artists to find for inspiration…at least from the period of time I find inspiration from. That’s what’s next for me .
I’ve got a show I’m preparing for at the end of April…
At the Maier Museum in Lynchburg. It’s my senior show. So prepare for that; there’s another space in Mooresville; it’s a community art space I’m working on getting the pieces framed to hang there; I’ve got to rotate some art out at the Menchi’s community art display. So that’s what I’m working on now. A couple of art journals are about to publish my work, so I’m excited!
Yeah, that’s kind of been, I guess, a couple of months of work. I’m looking for others to reach out to. It’s a lot to balance: studying and being a double major and trying to create art and then trying to get it out in the world, all while maintaining my website.
–Yeah, I don’t know how you do it.
I don’t know either. Not a lot of caffeine, clearly. That’s kind of my focus right now. And interviews with people I know….I’m looking at fellowships, jobs in the art world. Teaching is obviously what I want to do, but I’m really interested in design. Not design like sitting in front of a computer all day, but like a food stylist.
I don’t know what the job title is, but it’s like a total dream. I want to be the person who messes up a room for a crime scene for TV shows. I don’t know how to do that, I don’t know who to talk to, but that would be cool. And it has nothing to do with what I’m doing now. I’m looking for anything that will come my way that will allow me to keep practicing my art.
–If there’s not a job like that, you should invent one.
That’s kind of what I’m like, because I want to be the one who says, there’s going to be six chandelier crystals missing and one’s going to be tucked under this couch, or whatever. You know? That would be so cool. They would be like, how do we justify this? And I’d be like, well, trust me on this, I’m an art historian, I know how this should look. So I guess that’s what I’m working on.
There’s a couple of art spaces at my school that I help run. I created two spaces, actually, and I’m trying to pass them on to someone else. So next year they don’t die, But my focus, other than getting myself out there is really helping these other artists in school who are like oh, I don’t need to sell my work. No, you really could be selling your work now. I’ve sold quite a bit of artwork, since I started doing it this year. I’m like, this is really easy to do. You know, you have to find a way to get it out there and then continue to update people on it. I guess I’m trying to translate my experience into something that will help others.
–That’s very noble.
Well, I feel like a lot of people in the art world are very isolated, And that’s not a generalization. I just kind of noticed that. It’s very hard to create good work when you’re isolated. It’s very hard to get yourself out there when you are isolated. So I’m trying to create these communities or pockets of communities so that people know they pay. Here’s how you do it.
–That seems rare. I don’t know many artists who are keen on sharing the secrets of their successes.
I don’t know, It’s really hard to crack the code. I don’t think I’ve cracked it yet. But at least i have a wedge in the door. I want to help other people open it.
-Now when you say “create art spaces,” what does that mean?
Well, for example, I work at the studio all day and I’ll say to Pete, my brother, “Come here, what should I do with this next? Should I do this or should I do that?” And I realized that when you don’t have someone to bounce ideas off of, you’re really creating this isolated pocket and you’re not able to gather influences easily. Obviously, the internet makes it a lot easier. If you’re creating work for yourself, that’s fine. But if you’re creating work to be seen by others, you really need to hear what others say or think. Even if you don’t agree with them. It’s still helpful.
For example, I showed my brother a painting I was working on. I said, this is what I’m going for. He said, “Well, I know you don’t like the color purple, but it would be really good for these reasons in this painting.” And I listened to him, and he gave me really good explanations.
And I said “Ok, I will include some purple because that is a great reason; it’s complementary, it fits what I”m going with, it’s divine, you know, blah, blah, blah. I was thinking, maybe I should paint over this whole thing.
He said, “No, purple would salvage this thing.” And I added a little purple, and Bam! It’s a whole new meaning now.
And I feel like that’s really valuable. At schools, a lot of the time you have open studio space for upperclassmen to sit and work in, it’s really really isolating to work in there by yourself. Especially, you know, a lot of artists will go in there for four or five hours to work. They’ll sit there and paint or printmake or whatever. And I’m like, “hey, I’m going to be in the studio for this time, if anyone else wants to come by and see me, talk to me, ask what I’m doing…
…sit and work with me, I’ll give you paint…and that has been rewarding. I have this art history professor who came down one day and said, “I’m going to paint with you.” I said “Great! Here’s a canvas, here’s an easel; here’s my paints, have fun. And she created this tiny little thing and when she was done with it, you can do what you want to with it.
It’s this really cool, detailed hand. And I was like, I don’t ever do hands, but I’m going to turn that into something cool.
I feel like you really need those communities. Even if it’s not just artists; people supporting your art. It’s just so valuable.
I love that! Because when you think of like, Michelangelo or Rembrandt…and I don’t know if they did this…but you think of them all alone, working…
And those two were artists who were notorious for working by themselves. You don’t think they had a shop full of assistants and stuff…and they did, They were not bouncing ideas off each other as much . There are correspondence between Michelangelo and other artists at the time, where he would say, “This looks terrible, this, this , this, and this looks bad,” and they would say, “thank you for giving me input because that’s great!” It would really improve their craft. But I feel that there is this stereotype of an artist as this crazy, alone individual, and I’m not really sure I’d reject it…but that’s not who you should be.
You should not strive to be like Van Gogh. He was bipolar, he had issues. He cut off his ear for a prostitute or his mistress, or someone else’s wife, You should not strive to be like that. You can strive to be great like he was. I mean, he only sold one painting in his lifetime. You should strive to be in a community, because that helps everyone else out too.
-That’s really inspiring! I mean, there are all these people who don’t believe they have an artistic bone in their body, because they’ve been told that. People like my mother, who will say they aren’t an artist, but she does this beautiful Spencerian Script, ornamental penmanship. I feel like you are opening the door for all of the people who have been told…or don’t feel that they could never be artists
Absolutely. And I feel like there is this stereotype of the poor starving artist. You don’t have to be poor or starving to be an artist. I joke all the time, I haven’t eaten all day, I’m a poor and starving artist, You know?
I feel like a lot of people have choices they can make in the world. And people say, “I don’t have time to do that.” You need to make time to do that. You need to make that a priority. You know, if you don’t make it a priority, it’s not going to happen.
You know this isn’t just creating a product. It’s stress relief, it’s fun. It’s pulling out a coloring book and coloring for five minutes a day. Just for yourself. It doesn’t have to be for anyone else.
And of course, then I’m like, “hey, that’s good, you should share it with everyone.” But step one, get them to do it….I hope that everyone I meet will feel inspired to do more.
All images c. Morgan Osburn
Check out more from Morgan at her website .
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