Thursday, March 6, 2014

An Interview Introducting the Artist for MONA | ANOM


I am so honored to introduce you to one of my favorite artists and people -- Kristen Monacell.
To give you a little background before you meet her, Kristen is one of those super talented artists that seem to be able to do anything.  She can paint, create amazing outfits, and as you'll see her ability maintains its high standards of quality in her jewelry.

Here's a little secret that she'll probably want to clobber me for telling and that is that she is a little on the shy side so today is extra special because she opens up with us.

One afternoon Kristen and I were sitting in her studio and the idea came to me to interview her.  All we had was my phone as a recorder so I've typed our conversation rather than having you sit through the not-so-great sound quality.
Artist Kristen Monacell
Kristen Monacell

Kristen, thank you for this opportunity to record our conversation and share with my readers.  So let's see, where do we begin - that's a good word - we'll begin at the beginning.  Were you always an artist, drawing, creating, crafting as a child?
I have had an inherent need to create for as long as I can remember. My mother was a large influence as a child.  She would create these amazing life size games for my birthday parties made out of ply wood and paint.  I remember a cow that she made that we had to milk at my 8th birthday party.  It was pretty exceptional.  I have always been captivated by anything fantasy related.  I think of it as a great escape, like I am some character in a beautiful story.

I have always had an obsession with all things mini.  I don’t know what it is.  Maybe I imagine these little fairies or creatures living among us, protecting and watching over us.  I was really into making accessories for my Barbies.  I think I enjoyed art that could be functional.  I was really into trying to make creations that could be sold...I guess I still am (laugh).

Where did you study and what was your preferred medium at the time?
I got my BFA (Bachelor of Fine Art) at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA. It was a life-changing experience. Going to school there felt like a mixture of the culture of the deep south mixed with the enchantment of Harry Potter. The school's bookstore had a winding staircase made completely out of old books. That image is engrained in my mind. It was magical.

I studied Fashion Design. I was more into the costume side of things. I experimented with all kinds of textiles and fiber techniques. I have a love of all types of fiber art, weaving, screen-printing, knitting...I could go on. My senior collection was made up of these huge cocoon-like structures that I knit by hand using these really thick needles. The theme was sort of this protection from the earthly elements. They were styled as these snow nymph type creatures that I imagined living in an arctic tundra somewhere. I didn’t know how to knit at the time and was working at a restaurant where I met a woman who said she would give me a lesson. Next thing you know I’m knitting all day, every day.
Knitwear by MONACELL
Knitwear by MONACELL

That's an incredible story. I don't know if I'd be brave enough to take a newly learned skill and turn it into my senior collection. I'm sure they were gorgeous. How has your work developed over the years? Do you still work within your earlier artistry or have you moved on?
I would say that my basic influences and principles have stayed the same, but my work is always changing and evolving. While I still love to knit; I have expanded my interests into weaving, painting, and jewelry making. I’m always trying to challenge myself with a new project. I get bored easily so I like to have multiple things going on at once, that way I can switch it up. Right now I have a few paintings I am working on (oil paint takes forever to dry, so that is something that I can put down and come back to), and have been making jewelry daily. There are so many sources for inspiration out there so I am constantly getting new ideas.

Have you moved on; if so, why and how did you become interested in what you are doing now? 

I wouldn’t say that I have completely moved on, but jewelry is a newer thing for me. I started creating little things for myself. I would see a necklace or something somewhere that I couldn’t afford, and try to recreate it. That sort of spawned this whole thing into creating items for friends as gifts and then having a desire to work with new tools. There are so many different ways to create jewelry, so I am constantly learning. If I don’t know how to do something I will search the internet. Youtube is an incredible tool.

Who is your favorite artist?

Wow. That is a hard question. I am constantly looking at art. First of all, aside from creating, I am also an art teacher at a public charter school. I teach 6-10th grade, so together my students and I are always looking at art. Of the masters, Georgia O’Keeffe, Egon Schiele, Marc Chagall. Currently, I have been obsessing over the work of Charmaine Olivia. She really captures that fantasy element that I was talking about earlier. I’m really impressed by photo realism, mixed with some sense of surrealism. Kehinde Wiley is another favorite, and North Carolina native and local artist John Hairston Jr. Hairston's paintings have a truly dream-like quality.

If you were to own one specific piece of art, what would it be and why?
Geez! Another great, but difficult question. I would have to think about this for a while. The top of my list would be a Jeff Koons sculpture, one of the metallic balloon animals. They are just so fantastic and make me smile every time I look at them. I would also love to have every Fornasetti plate, the wonderment and mystery they evoke makes me giddy. Finally, a painting from a girl I went to school with, Lisa Hoffner, she does these incredible large scale oil paintings of women in various imaginative settings. I wouldn’t say that I often come across art that I would want in my home. If I do, it has to give me a special feeling. It doesn't necessarily have to be a happy one, but some sort of feeling, whether it be serenity, release, or transporting me to another place, the feeling has to be there.

You mentioned Youtube for inspiration?  Where else do you find inspiration? 
The internet is a wealth of inspiration for me. I am constantly looking at photography, fashion, and food blogs. I draw inspiration from nature and different cultures around the world. I have not traveled very much outside of the country, but have a longing to explore the world. Being able to see beautiful pictures of places around the world helps satisfy this urge. Right now I am really interested in Hindu and Buddhist relics. I love the ornate nature and bright bold colors of a lot of the artifacts I come across, as well as the meaning behind them. I’m a sucker for a meaningful piece or something that comes with a story.

Speaking of stories, what message do you want your art to tell?
Right now, my work is about making people feel special. I view it as the one thing I can do to spread a little happiness in the world. All of my pieces have a meaning, or story behind them and whoever ends up with them will create and add their own story to the piece. It’s about connecting with people and filling the universe with beauty.

What type of work environment do you prefer? Music, candles, solitude, late at night, early in the morning as the sun is rising?
I am definitely more of a morning person. I think I am most productive in the morning when I am fresh and coffee fueled.  Scent is huge for me.  I have always been attached to scents.  You know, when you get a whiff of something and it transports you to a special time, whether it be last week, or ten years ago?  It is a phenomenal experience.  So that being said, candles?  Yes, in every room if I have it my way.  Music is also key. It all depends on the mood I am in.  If I am feeling a lot of energy, Daft Punk, The Black Keys, The Beatles, The Black Crowes.  For a softer mood, I love classical piano, Adele, Bon Iver, Ray LaMontagne, and Wild Belle.

You've talked about your artwork having a story and that each person who wears or owns your art will add their story.  Do you become emotionally attached to your work?
Definitely, I always create things that I would want to buy, so the influence is there.  From the moment I start creating, I have it in my mind that it is a gift for someone special.  Even if they are purchasing it, I want every item I sell to feel like a unique present that will be cherished by someone in the world, so that means a lot of love and care goes into every piece I create.  Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone open something that I have created for them.

What was the first item you ever sold?
Hmm, I think it was this pink and yellow sorbet colored, bohemian looking hat that I knitted by hand.  We were having an art sale where I went to school for my teaching degree at Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine.  This teenage girl and her mom kept walking by to look at my knitted hats and scarves.  Finally the girl came back to try on and I can still remember that pleasure I got when I saw the smile on her face.  It was like the hat was made especially for her.
Knitwear by MONACELL
Knitwear by MONACELL
Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Always a hard question. Hopefully, running my own business full time with a steady client base.  Right now I am just getting started, so it is most important for me to have customer loyalty.  I want people to be more than satisfied with anything that I create for them.  I would like to expand into creating different types of accessories including hats, clutches, and jewelry.  Everything is handmade and one of a kind, so I would like to find more time to create!

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring artists?
It sounds cliche, and everyone always tells you, “Don’t give up,” but seriously, don’t.  Just know that you will have times of doubt, and frustration.  That is normal, and part of the process.  I went through some frustrating times when I was trying to make it in NYC.  Stay true to your design aesthetic and quality, and do something else to pay the bills at first.  If you want it enough, and keep trying, doors will open.

Now for the question that we're all wanting to know -- Can you tell us 10 things about yourself that we might not already know?
Ok here we go..
  1. I hate pickles but am extremely adventurous with food.
  2. I have a deaf, white boxer named Dice, who is my best friend next to my boyfriend. 
  3. I was a waitress at a sushi restaurant called Pisces before I was an art teacher. 
  4. I want more than anything to travel to Japan (for the sushi, Harajuku girls, and hello kitty, to name a few.) 
  5. I made it through a year of living in the arctic tundra of Maine (it was cold, but amazing!  Awesome, down to earth people, art and music scene in portland, and the best sushi restaurant I have ever been to called Miyake. 
  6. Right now I am teaching 8th graders to make steampunk metal bugs. 
  7. My family means the world to me and I am grateful to be close to them since I was away for so long. 
  8. I love holidays and birthdays. 
  9. I enjoy cooking and can make a mean potato latke (baking is still a challenge). 
  10. I love movies.  One of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen is Cloud Atlas, about how we are all connected.  It is deep, but magically moving and really resonated with my outlook on life.

I know we're running short on time but if you'll indulge me with one more question -- Will you stay with jewelry or do you see yourself carrying other items as well? 

I will certainly continue with jewelry but see myself as a maker of all kinds of goods. It really just depends what I am into at that time.  I can bet you that I will most likely always have more than one project going on at a time.  That would usually include a painting or two, and something fibrous such as knitwear or a weaving or sorts in addition to jewelry.

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