An Experiment In Interviewing With Val Magarian.

January 28th 2010

An Experiment In Interviewing With Val Magarian.

Fish Bowl

I struggle with the idea of the artist interview.  A bit like small talk at a dinner party, it can seem so forced and unnatural.  The questions themselves are rarely interesting, simply acting as tools to guide the conversation in the direction that best suits the interviewer.

I wondered what would happen if I disrupted this structure, so for my interview with Val Magarian we did a little experiment. I gathered questions from other interviews with artists, from various art resource sites and art journals, and put them on separate pieces of folded up paper.  I put these question in a fish bowl and drew them out at random to form the interview structure.  I’m not sure if I covered everything I wanted I wanted to in this interview, but I definitely covered some territory that I didn’t expect.

(Questions in bold were drawn from the fish bowl)

Val Magarian

Painter – Animator – Teacher – Multi-time Utah State Fair ‘Non Look Alike Twin’ Champion.

Val Magarian at work

IS. What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?

VM:What like me? My advice would be to try your hardest not to glorify anything surrounding the Art World.  Or art making.  I think it can be beautiful and magical and all that but I think that some times when I see a young artist starting out they are glorifying too much things such as selling art for a lot of money or showing at such and such space, or getting the certain residency. That’s just building up an obstacle for making the work that you actually want to make.

IS: So concentrate on the work and be more realistic about your expectations?

VM: Well I think that’s always important but I think I’m really latching on to the word glorify. Just because I think there is such a glamour and mystique, this idea of this brilliant artist or starving artist and so on. And I mean you are part of something magical. Everyone’s intrigued by you because you are an artist. But to hold at bay some of those more dramatic ideas so you can build a real life doing it. And also because a lot of people put limitations on themselves, because there’s such a big deal made about things. If you are naive and don’t know how intimidating these things are to people then chances are you’ll do a lot better because the doors are pretty open. There are definitely people who are in the know but there’s also a lot of it, which is essentially fabricated. It’s kind of like when I was in middle school and I was kind of unaware that everyone was being mean to each other.   And I had a great time but everyone else was miserable because they could see all that.  I mean it’s not like I was oblivious but I didn’t see it too much so it didn’t impact me. So if you don’t pay attention to what is in some ways similar to middle school then you’ll probably do a lot better.

IS: Have you ever feared that people would categorise your work as decorative?

VM: No not really. I’m sure there are some fears I have about my work, and I know that some people fear that. They don’t like it when you call their work beautiful.

IS: Well some people do really see that as an insult, as if because something’s beautiful then that’s all it is. Which I don’t think is necessarily true.

VM: Well I think it’s a valid concern and it makes sense to worry if you are someone that makes a lot of work that is beautiful, to worry, ‘Does it do something new?’ or ‘Does it innovate?’ Not that everything has to innovate. But does it bring the viewer to a new or interesting place rather than a simple momentary satisfaction.  But sometimes a simple momentary satisfaction can be better.

IS: To what extent do you want to break down barriers?

VM: I probably don’t really think about that too much. It’s not a main concern of mine.

IS: How many paintings do you usually work on at the same time?

VM: One or two. Not that many, I’m pretty obsessive.

IS: Do you think that it’s important to have more than one thing going on so that you can step back from one thing you’re working on?

VM: I think it’s a good idea.  I think I have such an obsessive devoted streak that I really essentially would be focused on one piece, but it’s good to have another thing going so that I can have my ideas moving forward on that as well, even if it’s at an earlier stage. I recently started working on animation again and that’s a very different process because there’s so many different tasks in animation that I can obsess over one piece but I can still focus on say, the in-betweens, one day and another bit another day.  I think it’s nice to be able to approach a piece with it being just one, so you can ride out that obsession that carries it through to being finalised, but also have multiple tasks instead of just having a staring contest with it.

IS: Is there anyone else in your family who is an artist?

VM: Yeah there’s plenty.  My Mom, she’s a developmental psychologist, but she illustrated a childrens’ book and is a watercolourist.  My grandmother she’s a watercolourist too. My Aunt, who is blind now, was a photographer and is still a ceramicist. Oh and my brother’s and architect.

IS: What in your mind is the difference between public art and private art? What obligation does the artist have to the public?

VM: I wish that more art in general was private in a sense that (and maybe I’m putting different definitions on it) private art has a sense that it is just for you and maybe doesn’t translate to someone outside of you.  And I think that there’s sometimes too much concern about making things that translate and carry the message and are digestible. I think that some of the most charged things are pretty private.  And I would like to see more work that is coming from a private attachment. And to feel ok that I do not necessarily understand quite what that is, but it’s coming from something maybe more genuine than something that is made in a more public way.

IS: I think you’ll always be dealing with the viewer (and therefore the public) in some way though. When you are making something and putting it out there in a physical form of some sort then it automatically has a viewer (even if you are the only one who sees it, you still become the viewer in a way).  I don’t think it’s possible to make completely ‘private’ art. There’s always some element of the public, whether it’s something you wish to address within it or not.  I don’t think that you have to necessarily have everything translate but it is an element that exists once the work has been made

VM:  I think more so if you are an artist who thinks a lot about public.  Which in general is anyone who is a schooled artist (has gone to art school).  I think someone who is not trained or has not exhibited and is not in an artistic circle still is aware of what it looks like publicly because you’re always thinking and seeing it from an outside lens, but I think to a lesser degree than someone who is in a conversation about artwork a lot.  So probably professionally made artwork (or work by those who consider themselves professionals) is more public to begin with.

IS: And I guess has more responsibility to the public because they are more informed about that relationship.

VM: Well partially responsibility and partially subconsciousness.  I mean it clearly means a lot to you if you are pursuing it professionally and therefore you are more conscious of how it appears publicly. Verses someone who’s made it purely for themselves.  So if I look at something that someone’s made when they are working through something difficult in their lives.  It could be dismissed as private or purely therapeutic, because it’s not connected to someone else.  But when I see those (and I’m thinking of specific circumstances) I am so refreshed to see something that was in a very straightforward way trying to grasp at certain things and really make sense of them. It wasn’t about proving your artistic worth it was about just really trying as a person.

IS: I think that especially as you come from that art school background, and you have that experience, it’s a refreshing change.

What Town were you born in?

VM: I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah.

IS: How far are you involved in the actual production of your work?

VM: Start to Finish.

IS: Why do you make art? What is your purpose?

VM: I feel like I make it because I have to.  It’s not like I have to make a particular piece but I have to be making something. It’s always been that way.  And it is something to get lost in.  I can put a routine on it and say ‘ok in such and such amount of time I’m going to finish this part.’  Those are nice guarantees that I’m going to keep it going at a pace that I want but even with those everyday scheduling that can be built into it, it still is something that doesn’t really obey the rules. And I do wake up and every morning and go to work and I enjoy it but, [making art] is something that’s outside of plugging away.

The Island

IS: Where do you get ideas for your work?

VM: Mostly from the stories that I tell, either that I tell to friends or the stories and narratives that are running through my head. From the places that I’ve grown up or my family. Or some of them are just a weird image that has stayed in my mind, of something I heard about somewhere.  But mostly it’s probably things that are at least 10 years in the past. Well either in the past or far away.

IS: Do you think that that’s what draws you to animation? that narrative, story telling aspect?

VM: Yes, I think it’s that and its ability to quickly change from one thing into another.  And I mean that’s what I’ve been really interested with telling stories, when it’s just a tiny thing that someone stops telling and they veer off and go into another story. You trust that they might go back into it but maybe that one’s gone. I think with animation and I film, with me I draw and that’s what makes sense to me and so animation is my access to film, I’m interested in its ability to tell a story then break it.

IS: Do you like work?

VM: I don’t know… I don’t know what that means.

IS: What is your belief system?

VM: My belief system, it probably sounds very simple but I think I have a lot of faith in things potentially being great and beautiful.  But I also think that nothing makes sense. I think it can be very fun and enjoyable but I don’t think there’s anything linear or logical. Although one has to construct something linear or logical to make sense of things especially when challenging things happen. I think that I see the world through really, really rosy glasses but I also don’t expect it to really have any clear resolution.

IS: Did you have any contacts when you moved to New York?

VM: When I first moved here maybe two or three of my college friends moved here too. When I moved back it was with one of my old roommates from before and some other friends from school. So yeah I had some contacts.

IS: Do you find it difficult meeting people?

VM: Well the first time I moved here it was really a small handful of us from college. None of them were in the arts related field, but I didn’t find it difficult. I think maybe I have the benefit of being a Californian.  I feel like I do well here because I am an intriguing personality to people. If I were in California I would just be another rosy Californian. But here…

IS: You have an angle.

VM: People get taken aback. I mean I have a good strain of uptight New York, high paced and not too patient, but I have a happy go lucky personality. I think I do well because I have the fast paced thing but I startle people and I get the jobs and conversations because they’re not expecting a genuine smile.  And I’m not saying that people here are any less happy but…

IS: There’s a different mentality

VM: Yeah a different initial face that I show, and people are surprised by it.

IS: Do you find your immediate surroundings inspirational?

VM:I find them inspirational in life but not in my work.  For artwork it has to be something that I care hugely about and is very removed and far away.  For example, some of the things that have hugely inspired me have been the landscapes where I grew up in Utah.  I haven’t lived there since I was ten but the way I talk about it, people think I just moved away from there.  Or my twin brother, we haven’t lived together since I was in high school, but there’s something about, I guess, longing for it.  Sometimes I’ve tried to paint from, or animate from, things that I’m still quite close to, even the house I lived in three years ago, but it doesn’t work. It’s not far enough away to make something original out of and remove myself from it.

IS: Do you find the having creative people around helps with your productivity at all?

VM: I don’t think it’s necessary for me. I mean I like it but it doesn’t affect how I work.

Son Moon

IS: Do you consider the gallery the ideal space for your work?

VM: It may be following traditions but there are also reasons why these traditions are formed but I think my animations lend themselves more to experimental spaces and, although I don’t think painting always has to go in a gallery, the paintings I do would be ideally placed is in a gallery that best emulates the museum environment.  That’s just because of their size and lighting demands.

IS: They demand a certain treatment and respect from their space.

VM: Yes their size demands a certain space but also the way they are made, materially, demands another thing, which is utter sensitivity. They’re really pretty frail in terms of what they are put next to.  And that doesn’t make them weak pieces; they’re just really sensitive to their requirements. Not site specific, in fact they are pretty blatantly traditionalist, but they are very site sensitive.

IS: Have you though of exhibiting in Asia?

VM: Yeah, I would enjoy that.

IS: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? … Perhaps exhibiting in Asia?

VM: Sure why not? No I think in ten years I see myself having more of a public practice. Now I’m working at it for myself and but will go forward into a place for other people to see.  So I hope in ten years I’m having more exhibitions and sharing the work with more people but I’m also living a life where I can sustain myself with the work that I’m doing with teaching. I mean I’m not one to cross my fingers and hope ‘I better get this grant, I better get this grant.’ I want to really build a lifestyle so I can move my artwork forward and have it exhibited, but in a very autonomous way am able to care for myself.

IS: What is the contrast between the intent of your work and the perception of your work?

VM: That’s totally important.  The intent of my work is often more charged than the perception. Some of the paintings I’m making are coming form very personal sources. I’m aware that I’m using conventions, because I thing its very fascinating that it’s a real genuine thing that I’m attached to, say the Utah desert, and I’m intrigued that it is very personal but still this very public image. Partially the reason I am so attached to it is because of the western films, and well I know what makes a good story. For example I have a sister, I love my sister, a lot of people are surprised when I say I have a sister because they have heard so much about my twin brother. And it’s very cruel I mean she doesn’t like to hear,  ‘What there’s another one?’ And I love her just as much. But I know that people are intrigued by the twin brother, so he’s just the one that makes it into the stories. That’s not to diminish my relationship with him but it’s enhanced by knowing that he’s something magical to everyone else too. Same with my relationship with the land in Utah, That’s a real thing but also I know it’s a glorified thing for everyone else too. So when I make the paintings sometimes they come from something that is very emotionally complex but to someone else it is a beautiful Hudson River style landscape. Maybe it is expressionistic but they’re seeing it as expressionist painting not as something that is psychologically complex.

IS: And it will depend on their relationship with you as well, and their own relationship to the image.

Were you working while you were studying for your BFA?

VM: Only on weekends.

IS: There was this one interviewer that was really obsessed with peoples working patterns. They were probably a student

VM: Or just trying to work out how to sustain themselves…

IS: …and make a living?

Does being an artist bestow one with a specific authority within our society?

VM: Yeah, or at least it’s thought of that way.  People assume that I am fulfilled with life. People are ashamed to tell me when they are lawyers or accountants. I understand you do sound more boring, well maybe not the lawyers but the accountant, I can see why. I think that people bestow on me that I am fulfilled.  Maybe struggling, but fulfilled on some level. Maybe not wanting to deal with everyday bullshit because you’re in a different magical world.

IS: What do you do when you are not making things?

VM: hmm enjoy things? I’m probably more of a daytime person than a nighttime person. I mean I like to walk around an interesting neighbourhood, go to some interesting museums, go to a park, and enjoy the natural world.  Even in New York, whatever is as natural as you can get.

IS: Ok last question;

For you what form can dialogue now take?  Is there a place for dialogue in your work?

VM: I have trouble answering anything with the word dialogue in it. I think it’s such a catchphrase that you don’t even here the meaning of the question. I mean I think conversation is important but I think dialogue can be thrown into any sentence to make it sound like it’s socially concerned.  But sometimes if you extract it, it’s just like ‘What the hell?’ I would prefer a more genuine back and forth.

IS: So do you think there is a role for conversation within your work?

VM: Yeah, I mean it’s an imagined conversation. I think that I can definitely make work that has a conversation but it seems that I’m making the piece and I dominate that conversation for a bit. It’s unfortunate that the other person’s conversation with it will never come to my eyes.  I think that’s fine in certain ways, and they’ve just inherited this conversation, like a recording from some past maker. But they can’t ever really share back with it.

www.valeriemagarian.com