Interview with Artist, Megan Wolfe
21 Jul, 2012
For more on Megan Wolfe visit her website at: www.MeganWolfeArt.com
& follow Megan on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/MeganWolfeArt
Dig In Magazine had the chance to catch up with Bay Area artist, Megan Wolfe before her next art show at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Wolfe, an artist, photographer and writer, grew up in a small town in Mississippi and later moved to San Francisco to attend Academy of Art University where she has taught art foundations, like Chiaroscuro and Still Life Painting. Her recent drawings and photographs have been largely focused on nature, specifically pigeons. She takes the point of view that “nature is perfect order. It’s chaotic, beautiful, emotional, visceral, living, and dead.” She loves the way “everything works in perfect synchronicity…operating according to its own timing and design.” More of Wolfe’s work can be seen at “A Tribute to Classic Cinema: A RAW Art Gallery Exhibit” on October 6, 2011 at the Mill Valley Film Festival. [October 5, 2011]
Dig In Magazine: Where did you grow up? Where are you based?
Megan Wolfe: I grew up in a Mississippi small town, just outside of Memphis, Tennessee (that was our closest city, so we were there almost every day). The first part of my life was spent there, eighteen years in the same house, and then I moved to the Bay Area for college. I’ve moved around a lot more since then, mainly within the downtown / Tenderloin area, and I now reside in Oakland, where I’m hoping to settle down a little more.
DIM: When and how did you get into art?
MW: Like most people, I’ve drawn since childhood, but I was lucky enough that, as I grew up, my family continued to be supportive of my creativity. I’m not sure what they were thinking, but I was perfectly happy skipping school to build websites, or my portfolio for art school. Consequently, my geography stinks, and I get lost on the BART frequently. I don’t think I started calling my work “art” until my last year of art school, when I learned to write about my work, and put it into context with what I saw in the gallery scene.
DIM: Where did you study art?
MW: I studied at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, which has its strengths and weaknesses, like any trade school. Sometimes, I envy artists from CCA or SFAI because they get to learn about the politics and the business of the gallery scene early, but the Academy has its strength in enforcing technical ability. I wouldn’t recommend the school for all students, but I do recommend it for anyone who wants a solid background in realism.
DIM: What motivates you to create?
MW: For me, the motivation is a slow burn, or a craving. I’ll go several days to a week of doing other things until I get to a point of frustration, and then I’ll draw until I’m exhausted. Currently, I’ve been listening to a lot of rap music too, and the timing of the songs, sometimes the lyrics, put me in the mood to work. I relate the timing of the music to the “timing” of the strokes I put down on paper.
DIM: What artists do you feel have inspired you the most and what have you learned from these individuals?
MW: I have several favorite artists, but they’re mostly ones I’ve found in books. I love fine art-illustrators like Phil Hale, Dave McKean, and Kent Williams, and also fine artists Zak Smith (who writes a lot), Robert Bechtle (my god of realism), and Kiki Smith (a woman of technical diversity).
However, I think I’ve learned a lot more from people who aren’t in art and have completely different lives, because that’s harder for me to understand. How do you have a non-art, normal life? I have no idea. Sometimes, I can relate by drawing parallels in what they do, or don’t do, to what I do as an artist, but it’s not easy. Still, they’ve taught me a lot about having a balanced life, and not a self-destructive one.
DIM: In which genre would your style of artwork be categorized?
MW: I think of myself as a “reformed realist”. I think curators are classifying me as an abstractionist now, but I have one foot in both camps, because my work is still representational; it’s just much more painterly and emotional than it used to be.
DIM: What is it about nature that inspires you?
MW: Nature is perfect order. It’s chaotic, beautiful, emotional, visceral, living, and dead. It’s the way everything works in perfect synchronicity, and, even when you can’t see or feel it, it’s operating according to its own timing and design. It’s a brilliantly orchestrated piece of music.
DIM: What are you currently working on?
MW: Currently, I’m gearing up for a group show at the Mill Valley Film Fest (curated by Carly Ivan Garcia), and I’m preparing to do a mural in the Mission. I’m especially excited about that, because I want to get into doing some larger pieces that are more commercial, or at least more accessible, and this is a great way to get started.
DIM: You are also a freelance photographer and writer, what is your favorite form of creativity?
MW: All three. I’ve tried to focus on just one, taking a year to write, years to just draw, and only taking photos when they complimented my artwork. But each kind of creative pursuit occupies a different section of the brain, so I feel like I’m missing something if I stifle one to exclusively pursue another. I don’t feel balanced, and then my passion falls flat completely. My writing often inspires drawings, and drawings inspire photos, and around in circles it goes.
DIM: What do you like to shoot? What are the subjects of your photographs?
MW: I enjoy a lot of documentary and lifestyle photography, and I especially love photographing creepy things when I come across them (but it doesn’t happen as often as it used to). In the last two months, I’ve found a great tie-in with my art. I had an epiphany one night to photograph a pigeon rescue, so I started looking around for one in SF. I was really lucky that Elizabeth from Mickacoo Companion Bird Rescue was interested in having a photographer stop by for photos and questions, so I’ve got some great shots of the aviaries she’s created and the birds she’s helping to save.
DIM: What publications have you written for?
MW: They’re mostly online publications or blogs, but I’ve written for a few art sites. The two main ones are Fecal Face, and now I’m writing for Warholian. Writing has been a great way to connect with other artists, and learn the art of “art speak”, which most artists leave up to the curators and galleries. It’s important to be able to vocalize what your work is about, because if you don’t, someone else will make it up for you, and they’ll never understand your artwork as well as you.
DIM: I understand that you are part of the faculty at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA. What do you teach there?
MW: I haven’t taught at the Academy in a while, but I used to teach foundations, like Chiaroscuro and Still Life Painting. I worked mostly with the high school kids who were doing AP classes, and then in my last year, I taught in the Masters department. Personally, my favorite time was spent with the high school kids; they were enthusiastic and excited about painting. They improved a lot in a short period of time, and they were great about listening when you critiqued them. Some have moved on to art school since then, and that’s been amazing to see.
DIM: When did you first start showing your art?
MW: I officially started showing in 2007, when I started submitting to competitions and group shows around the Bay Area. I never won anything, but I got into a few of them, and they had some great receptions where some of the work sold. My first real gallery show was in 2009 at Bucheon Contemporary (I made a video blog for the reception), and it was a group show featuring David Choong Lee, Mars-1, and several other great artists. I’ll never forget that because Bucheon was my dream gallery, and there hasn’t been a gallery quite like it since. Oddly enough, I photographed the same space earlier this year for my freelance work. It’s still a gorgeous space, but it’s not the same without Sheila (the curator) and the girls.
DIM: You have shown at a number of galleries and art shows throughout the Bay Area, can you name some of your most prominent or memorable shows that your artwork been featured?
MW: I mentioned the one with Bucheon Contemporary, which was my first “real” gallery show. They also sent some of my work down to Aqua Art Miami for the fair. The other “memorable” shows were firsts as well, actually earlier than Bucheon, because I was so green, so excited, and so nervous. I learned a lot from my solo “Missing Time” at Mars Bar, and my Open Studio. They were completely self-driven and I did everything on my own, but I learned how to hang artwork, make postcards, and talk to people.
Paul Madonna from All Over Coffee stopped by my Open Studio; he had given me some advice about the transition from student to working artist, and we had stayed in touch periodically. Barely anyone came by, but I remember how exciting it was to have an artist I greatly admire stop by to see my work. Though I can’t discount Steve Javiel and Brett Amory, because they came by to show their support as well. And now I’m pitching them kudos for it, four years later; it’s funny how that works.
DIM: What is your strategy for getting ahead in the art world?
MW: I plan to be more aggressive, and direct about what I want from my art. I’m better at that with my photography because it becomes a financial need, and then all shame flies out the window. It’s do, or don’t pay rent. With art, I’ve been too shy about asking for the things I want, so I’m taking my experience from my photo business and beginning to apply it to art.
DIM: Where do you see yourself heading?
MW: I see myself getting into some larger work, lecturing more (I miss teaching), and in general, finding avenues for my art to reach a greater audience. I think it’s time to start vying for contract representation with a gallery as well, but I want to find a gallery that I can build a lasting relationship with. It sounds like a marriage, but I’ve always heard that courting galleries was like dating, and it’s true. Most galleries are a great date, but after that, there’s very few you would want to settle down and raise a body of work with.
DIM: What is your next move in terms of art shows, freelance work and beyond?
MW: Art-wise, there’s the group show at the Mill Valley Film Fest, the mural I’ll be working on in the Mission, and now www.urban-muse.com is selling some of my work online. Curt Anderson wrote a wonderful piece that summarizes the evolution of my work, which is also on Urban-Muse.
In terms of freelance work, I’m photographing events regularly on the weekends, and I’m starting to work with a photography agency. I hope to have my official photography website in the works later this month too, and then I can sell prints of some of my personal photographs. I don’t count on any of this happening over-night though; it’s going to take some time.
DIM: What advice can you give to new, budding artists and creatives?
MW: Think of the art world like Survivor, as ridiculous as that sounds. If you’re amazing right out of the gate, great, but most of us aren’t. Most of us are OK just starting out. What makes a great artist, or even a famous one, is the fact that they held on longer than most of their peers. And there were plenty of times where they hated the sacrifice they were making, but they did it because they knew they wanted something more from their life.
That said, don’t work all of the time. Find a hobby that makes you happy, get a pet, eat some good food, and keep good company. Enjoy life every now and then. We all admire self-destructive artists to an extent, but you only have one life, and you have to treat it well. So, be happy with it, and you’ll produce more meaningful work (and you’ll outlast the others because happiness has its health benefits).
DIM: Where can people find your work?
MW: Keep an eye on my website at: http://www.MeganWolfeArt.com Or my Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/MeganWolfeArt I keep both of those up-to-date with my upcoming shows, and in-progress artwork, so that’s the best place to see what’s new and exciting!