We’re fortunate to have a group of college students volunteering next week to go out and interview willing local artists for our Inspired Interview Series. Email us to schedule yours ASAP at email@example.com. We’ll come to your studio!
Dates available: Tuesday, December 18, through Friday, December 21
Man, is it just us or was 2017 on supersonic speed? As you may or may not know, one of our big goals here at JAM is to be a source of art information for the Sioux Falls community through our website and blog. We have published over 160 posts in the last year on topics ranging from local art events to local artists and art educators, and everything in between.
Didn’t get a chance to read them all? We got you. Here is our top 10 hit list of our most popular posts to help you ring in 2018.
[Psssst. Want a backstage pass to the local art scene? Join our team! We are always looking for dedicated and reliable bloggers and photographers. We have internship opportunities, too. Holler at us!!]
David Wolter is one of the kindest people I have had the pleasure to speak with. From the short gallery talk he gave in the morning through the interview I had with him later that afternoon, his genuine pleasure and passion for storytelling through art was obvious. Throughout the interview, Wolter not only answered all of my questions thoughtfully, he asked some intriguing questions of his own. This Q&A is a little longer, since all his responses were so astute I had trouble condensing the interview. -Rachel
Rachel: Can you tell me a little about yourself as an artist?
David: That’s a very difficult question to answer, I think. I access art through my identity as a craftsman. So, I see myself in the grand tradition of cartoonists and storyboard artists. There’s this great kind of American tradition – of unfortunately all white males – in the 50s wearing a collared shirt and a tie, and an apron and a little visors and sitting at a desk and drawing cartoons. I see myself as an extension of that tradition. The word cartooning for me, as I define it – it’s misleading for a lot of people but whatever – for me it means you write and you draw both. It’s drawing as a form of writing. So, being a story artist in animation is to me a natural extension of that kind of mentality of ‘I do both of these things.’ I’m not just an illustrator, I’m not just a writer. I love both things. One of the few places where those things are combined is what I do, which I love.
What made you start drawing and how have you developed over time?
I think newspaper comics were my first. They were so accessible, there’s the paper, and oh, there’s drawings in the back. From there it was the library, which in my mind is the crowning achievement of Western civilization, the fact that libraries exist. I love them. All of my first exposures to cartoons and comic books were through the local library. You know, the “Garfield” collections, and like “Mad Magazine” when I was way too young to understand it. The planets aligned when I was 12, and someone started a cartooning school in Colorado Springs where I grew up, which is not an artistic place at all. I was able to take classes on comic books and cartooning and it was super formative at that age to see adults be like, “Hey you can do this for a living, why don’t you come learn how.”
How have your desires and goals changed? Or, how have you gotten from where you started to where you are now?
I think that every human being has a responsibility to be the person they’re made to be. Do you know what I mean? Luckily we live in the first world so we have the opportunity to pursue those things. I think it was Plato – don’t quote me, but I guess I’m on the record now – that said “If everybody would do what they loved, there would be no illness in the world.” I’m not that naive but I do think that. How many people do you know who hate what they do and it’s awful to be around them? I have a wife and two kids now, and I want to give them life, and part of that process for me is being as true as I can to the person I want to be. And directing, frankly, doesn’t feel compatible with a life in which I’m there for my family.
I guess my secondary identity – so cartooning is one, but that’s the foundation – the other identity is a storyteller. I just want to tell stories, and I want to make up my own stories, and I want to create characters that people connect with. So, going away to the woods and writing a book is just the cheap version – cheaper version, more affordable version – of having a team of artists creating a movie for years. Not that it’s cheap, but it’s just the more affordable version.
You talked about this a little already. But, do you feel like you have a responsibility as an artist, whatever you might define ‘responsibility’ to mean?
Yes. I think it’s the flipside of the privilege. A lot of people are like “Oh, it’s so cool that you do that,” because it’s kind of a “sexy” job. When I say I work in animation, I draw cartoons, people are like “Oh, I love cartoons!” It’s fun, and it really is fun a lot of times. And a lot of people want to do it, I think. So, if you’re one of the people who is fortunate enough to work in entertainment or work in a creative field, I think you have a responsibility, and this is probably I would imagine true of journalism as well; you have a responsibility to mean it. To bring your best self to the work as much as you can. In a sense, I think in journalism and storytelling, you’re providing a service to an audience right?
Animated films are, in America…I mean animation in America is a genre, and it shouldn’t be. You know what I mean? You expect a certain kind of film when you see an animated film. And really, what our responsibility is, as America sees it, is to provide things that a family can go to together. They won’t be offended, they might laugh a few times, there’s going to be a couple poop jokes maybe, and there’s going to be talking animals, and that’s what animation is. That’s a drop in the bucket of what it could be, obviously. So, the responsibility we have is we want to tell stories that people can connect with. I feel like storytelling is so much more powerful than the genre of animation as America practices it.
This morning you talked a little bit about “Eyrie.” I must have missed the first part of that conversation, so can you tell me about that project?
It’s just a fancy word that means “Eagle’s Nest.” I grew up next to a castle called Glen Eyrie in Colorado, so that’s where I knew that word from. It’s a short film I did. It was my second, my student film at Cal Arts. I went there for two years. What I loved about Cal Arts is every year it was one filmmaker, one film, so every student makes a film every year. So, I made a film my first year. It was okay. And I made “Eyrie” the second year, and that’s how I got the job at Dreamworks. I also got a Student Academy Award for that, and I also got a Horizon Award from Augie. That’s probably why I’m here talking to you today.
The Horizon Award is an Augustana University award given to alumni who are standouts in their field within 15 years of graduation. It aims to recognize those people for their work.
How has Sioux Falls (or South Dakota) influenced your work?
I think the fact that my formative years happened here…and also I lived in the Twin Cities for a few years after graduation…I think grounded me. I saw working artists at Augie, I saw professors, guys like Jerry Punt who were committed to it, and sort of get into it, and it wasn’t “sexy” but you could tell they were passionate and invested and serious and committed. I mean if you live in the Midwest, it’s really cold a lot of the year, so it creates a…not everyone can do it. I don’t know that I could do it anymore. I think that living here in my formative years kind of steeled me in a way, kind of built in my work ethic and emphasized authenticity to a degree, so that when I got to Burbank all the glitzy Hollywood stuff I kind of don’t care about. Maybe that’s cliché, but it’s kind of my best answer.
You’ve done some amazing work on films (Kung Fu Panda 3 for example). What’s it like to work as an animation artist for Dreamworks?
There are days where I pinch myself, like, “This is my life, this is what I do for a living? This is incredible!” and there are days where I want to quit so bad. Sometimes it’s like I don’t feel like doing this today, I don’t feel like doing what my director wants me to do for the next four days. And that’s the job. That’s the give and take of it.
What can you tell me about your “Mascot Zodiac” project?
I’ve always loved comic books, and decided I wanted to make some. “Mascot Zodiac” is a graphic memoir. Which is, as you know, stories from my life told in a comic book form. They’re specifically focused on my obsession with animals and animal mascots. For whatever reason, that’s dented me in my head, and I’m obsessed with it. I figured out I have like 12 really compelling stories to tell about that phenomenon as it impacts my life, beginning when I was like four years old. I have 12 chapters, and chapter 10 or 11 is about being a Viking. I hope I get to that someday. Right now I only have the first four chapters finished.
David lives with his wife Amanda, two-year-old daughter Emmy and 3-month-old son Zeke near Los Angeles, California. His current personal project is about Emmy and trying to understand her despite how different she is to him. David’s first priority is family, and making sure he stays in touch with his children is a major part of that. Follow his work on Mascot Zodiac on his website. You can also find David on Facebook and Twitter.
Talking with David Sieh in his gallery at the 8th and Railroad Center was a great experience. I learned a lot about what it means to be a contemporary naturalist, and how David approaches his work. Though a small space, Se Gallery was a brightly lit workspace with a lot going on. Getting a glimpse into his artistic process and journey as an artist was a treat.
Rachel: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself as an artist and your preferred medium to work with?
David: Sure. I guess, like we were talking about before, I grew up in the Twin Cities area and then moved here. So my art evolved from nature, landscape and wildlife. Then I was exposed to more contemporary, abstract art, then very influenced by the New York school of artists, all the abstract expressionists and then into pop-art. So my art kind of combines all of that.
About me, I grew up in nature, surrounded by nature and I always had a love of art, to use color and design. Stuff with that really developed my interest in art and I schooled in art so I just continued down that path I guess.
David got his Bachelor of Sciences degree with an emphasis in art from the University of Sioux Falls after bouncing to Augustana and Vermillion for a while. He’s been making art for 30 plus years. He’s been in his current gallery space for over 5 years.
You write that exposure to Terry Redlin’s work drove you to a career in art. What about him and his work inspired you to start making art?
When I was in high school, Terry Redlin was living in Hastings, Minnesota. He was one of the first people to inspire me as far as having a career in art. I actually did go over to his house–his home studio–when he was very first promoting his work. He inspired me in that a person could do the art and make a living. I was very much into nature and environmental art at that time, and I still am. Even though my work doesn’t emulate his work or really show any influence of him, his career path influenced me.
You call yourself a contemporary naturalist painter. What does that mean to you personally and how does it affect your work as an artist?
I’m very inspired by nature, that’s where I recharge my batteries. I have to be alone in nature. I try to do a little bit everyday, even if it’s just walking down the sidewalk or just in the backyard; to kind of get in-tune, get in a rhythm with nature, so as a naturalist I learn from nature. Just seeing how complicated things are…color patterns, designs, all that stuff influences my aesthetic. As a contemporary naturalist, I express that in my own painting through my gestures, colors, compositions. So, my work comes off as non-representational a lot of the time, but still influenced by nature.
You started drawing and painting when you were young “as a form of communication.” How does art communicate to you and how do you see yourself communicating through art to others?
On the representation level it’s a relatively cut and dry conversation where people just see me representing nature or an image. Then I can also combine those images with other aspects so it changes the dialogue to where it makes things a little more complicated. People have to think about the relationship of two images side by side, often times in a conservation aspect where it makes you think about the fragile-ness of nature, also the complexities of nature. Then, if you were to look at the abstract art, it doesn’t necessarily have a dialogue about nature. Its dialogue is more of an emotional impact where hopefully people look at it and have an emotional, maybe even a physical reaction to it. You know, that guttural reaction where you really like something or you really don’t, and then you stop and think about why you do or don’t like it.
Do you feel like you have a responsibility through your art to communicate those things or feel as though you have a responsibility as an artist?
I definitely do. I feel that I have the ability, or talent or sometimes I even feel like I’m a medium. I don’t even know exactly where the work comes from or what the work is, I’m just the medium putting the work down. So yes, I feel that I do have a responsibility to create as much art as I physically can just to get those conversations rolling.
As a part of the Sioux Falls art community, what do you think of the art scene?
There’s a real good talent pool here in town, a lot of people interested in it, but as far as a collector base and as far as general public knowledge it’s really minimal. But it seems to grow a bit all the time.
David’s list of in-town favorite shows include the past “Artists Against Hunger” shows and the Washington Pavilion’s Arts Night. He recommends Exposure, Post Pilgrim, Rehfeld’s and Piper. His work can currently be found at Piper and his studio at 8th and Railroad. He has also done murals at the Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum.
How often do you create new work? And how long does a piece usually take you to finish?
As you can see, I’ve got work that’s in different stages of finish. I paint every single day. I’m in the process constantly. I’m never out of the process.
I’m gonna go with the usual 50 years and 10 minutes. It’s years and years of developing your technique and style.
Do you have any future plans for shows or specific pieces of art?
For me the art career and the whole thing is a combination of steady and consistent and patience. I’ve been doing this for 30+ years, so for me it’s the long term game.
David does accept commissions, seeing them as “Totally relevant and necessary, and part of the process.”
One of my favorite aspects about blogging for JAM is having the chance to go out and meet wonderful people. Sometimes they’re mysterious enchantresses or eccentric wizards. Other times, they seem like wildly excited kings and queens. This go around, I was invited into the lair of local Sioux Falls artist, Angie Gillespie. She showed me the wondrous way to create a captivating painting without the use of any paint. I thought she must have used alchemy to bring them to life in such a beautiful and mind-turning way. Having seen her process first hand, I can firmly say that her persistence with experimentation shines like gold through all of her pieces.
Are you from Sioux Falls, South Dakota? How long have you lived here?
Lived in Sioux Falls my whole life except for a short couple years in Minneapolis.
How long have you been working with your art?
I’ve painted my whole life, but started painting with wax two years ago. I actually read up and visually studied it for about six years before actually painting with wax. The timing just wasn’t right.
Where do you create?
My studio is in my basement, in a home my parents built and then sold. It was lived in by two different families, until we bought it a few years back. I work every day in the same room that I once created in as a child. It even has the same wall pencil sharpener.
What do you work with? What exactly is that medium like?
I create my encaustic medium by mixing beeswax with damar crystals which acts as a hardener. (Damar crystals are a resin.) Many of my colors are custom created mixtures using dry pigments to which I add to the clear medium, and each layer of wax must be fused together with the previous layer by heat. I work with blow torches, irons and a heat gun. My palette is a griddle full of tins and soup cans. Wax has characteristics that can’t be changed. Almost as soon as my brush touches the panel, the wax on it has cooled. For this reason, wax doesn’t lay down and blend like acrylics or oils; that comes with using heat to push the colors around and melt. When I’m working on a piece, it’s not just about what’s on the surface, it’s also the colors that were intentionally painted before, only to reemerge when scraped away to reveal new patterns that are hidden beneath.
Do you do commissions?
Of course! I love commissioned projects and working with clients who have a specific size and color palette in mind. It’s always a good feeling to make something that someone is so excited to get and hang in their home. It’s the ultimate compliment that they chose my work for something they see every day. I always feel very appreciative and grateful.
What’s your printing business?
Out of a challenge came a solution. I created APLIS Fine Art Printing as I wanted to create prints of my work that were the same size as my originals. At APLIS Fine Art Printing, I work with artists of every medium who want big beautiful prints the same size as or bigger than their originals without losing any clarity when enlarged. Through my digital capture technique, I create a base file that requires no upsampling, no interpolation of pixels. For example, I can digitally capture a 6×6 and print it out 24×24 and it remains clear without any fuzzy edges. My website lists my paper selection, sizes and prices.
What is one of, or a combination of, most challenging pieces/projects that you’ve worked on?
Pieces that have a lot of carved lines can be tricky. If you only want to melt the very top layer of wax, you have to wait longer between fusing, or else the previous layers will get too hot and shift the piece. That takes a lot of patience and time. An overall challenge I find is to remind myself to move forward and not try to duplicate something I painted. It will drive you nuts! The only way I could possibly duplicate something is to really document every step I took; from the colors I created to what I laid down and in what order. I had to do this for a commission piece where there were two paintings that almost mirrored each other. I took pictures of each step and documented everything. I even had a little old school tape recorder… which would have been cool if I had used it, but I used my phone.
Where can people contact you? What’s the contact line for your printing business?
People can reach me by calling, texting, emailing, pigeon carrier, sky writing…. All my contact info is on my two websites. AngieGillespie.com has images of my work and prints you can order! APLISfineartprinting.com has information on digital capturing services, printing and prices. I always welcome questions about the process, and what APLIS Fine Art Printing can do for them. I love to help artists create multiple streams of income for themselves by selling prints of their work!
Can you use three words to describe your art and yourself?
Perseverance. Fearless. Optimistic.
It’s okay to make your own rules. I try to remember that when it comes to what I want to accomplish as an artist. I’m a huge believer in writing down goals. I have notebooks full ideas and plans, then I break it down and work on what I can accomplish now, months from now and years down the road. Every idea starts somewhere, some with giant leaps, others with baby steps. After taking a few years off and silencing my creative spirit, I found myself standing at the sidelines waiting to jump in; full of ideas and stuffed with inspiration, knowing one day, I’d paint with wax. I didn’t know what I’d create… I just had to let it all out, and remember it was okay to make my own rules.
Meeting Angela was a wonderful experience! I not only enjoyed insight into her work, but made a new friend. I was surprised to discover several pieces of artwork around Sioux Falls, that have left a significant mark on me, are hers. I was delighted to have the chance to chat more in-depth about those subjects with the artist herself.
Before any questions were asked, Angela jumped right into talking about her work.
In 2012, I had a solo exhibition. My work was right outside that really long gallery–that A Gallery–I got to have that gallery during the “Beauty and The Beast show.” I did kind of a reboot of the piece that was on the wall. It was all these little bags of clear perfect water, and they were kind of jewel-like. It was suppose to be like a power plant, that could conduct energy from one end of the wall to the other. The wall was close to 30 feet long. So, I sent all of the energy down to one end and then it gathered with the copper wires connecting all of those. It gathered in a mirror, and I had crocheted some copper wire and put a bunch of stuff around that mirror so that the energy would gather around these little wires and come into that. We set up the lights so that the round mirror would reflect the spot of light down onto the floor. It was hung at a height where most people could see themselves in it, but they could also see other parts of the show around them.
I really liked that idea, but when the opportunity for the “Women at Work” show came up, I’m like ‘you know, I think it should be an installation piece instead of, you know, just an object.’ And so, I put that one up. I put India ink into some of the water bags. So there are some that are clear and beautiful and the light doesn’t really refract, but it’s bent to shine spots on the wall from when the lights hit it. Some of them got a tint, and some of them didn’t. Some of them got a lot of ink so that they were just super black. All of the black is up here on the top of the installation, so some of the lighter stuff is down below, and there’s a spot over here that’s the bright clear water. It’s about water quality and us needing to save that resource and pipelines, and fracking and the fail rate.
You’re probably familiar with the feathers and branches in the Washington Pavilion Visual Arts Center. So, that’s one of mine that’s in a collection now. As part of a collaboration with Post Pilgrim and the Sioux Falls Design Center, Jennifer White and I did a Final Friday with the chalkboards. As far as I know, the chalkboards are still up. That night there were people leaning up against the wall, and as soon as they walked away I would be over there with the chalk fixing it. I guess I’m just a little bit of a freak that way.
A few steps down the street from the Sioux Falls Design Center is the Shriver’s window. You don’t have to go inside the building to see it, it’s just the corner display window at 11th and Phillips. I’ve got that 18 foot raw canvas laying on the floor. I had that thing along with me from when I went on the camping trip that produced the “sold” pictures on the boards. It was a site in the South Jenny Lake in the shadow of the national park. I rolled the canvas out on my camp site, and I brought a little bit of tobacco. I had worked with tobacco before as a staining drying material, so that ended up being the brown color. I made some bison on the canvas. Then I needed charcoal, so I kind of fished some stuff out of my camp fire. Along with that installation, I had made these tripods out of branches. They were meant to hold the canvas up. When I went to install the thing, I had some engineering issues and it didn’t work. Now, they are kind of a backdrop, or forest to that installation. So you walk up to the window, and you look down to see the piece.
I did a Final Friday that was in conjunction with the PechaKucha. You get 20 images and you get 20 seconds per image. You are presenting whatever ideas, artwork, whatever it is that you do and that you’re passionate about. You share that, and then it goes up on a website. I haven’t had the guts to go listen to mine. I was so busy with Jennifer getting the “Love or Money” show together that I didn’t spend a lot of time preparing the PechaKucha. Anyway, it’s out there on the Net for everybody to see!
MAST (Madison Area Stands Together) is a local group that formed after the presidential election last year. There was a lot of concern about the travel bans, and the Visa issues. I work at Dakota State University, and we’ve got a lot of international students and faculty members, too, who are from all over the world, and they’re suddenly not able to move about and come and do their jobs. Everything was all kind of scary. So, we held a candle light vigil for them, just to let them know that we care and are concerned, too. This group developed out of that sense of helplessness. It recently came up that they need to have a logo. So, I don’t know if this [see below] is going to be their final design, but I proposed it and people seem to be fairly excited about it. It was important that there was this sturdy something. I wanted that awareness with the eyes and everything. Then also, the horns are not being used, but they could be, you know. It’s like this defensible possibility. And black and white is pretty powerful.
You just answered several of my questions there before I could even get to them. I like it–this should be a great time! Are you from Madison?
I’m from southwestern Minnesota. I got out of there as quickly as I possibly could. I went to college in central Minnesota, and then I went to the Twin Cities, and kind of bounced all over the place there. I was a little too distracted, so I went back to UMM–University of Minnesota, Morris–to finish college and I floundered around for another number of years, then I went to graduate school in Lincoln, Nebraska. After that I moved to Vancouver, Washington for 7 or 8 years, and then I moved to South Dakota.
So, was your degree centered around your artwork?
Yes, my masters degree is in sculpture. My undergraduate work was a duel emphasis in sculpture and printmaking. I tried to continue with printmaking in graduate school, but it didn’t work out very well. I had a studio that I loved, but it was in this dumpy old building that they were going to tear down. But it was a good quarter mile from the print studios, so that was kind of tough to get stuff back and forth, and I didn’t have any storage space in the print area. I mean, for graduate students, you just kind of carve out your space. You know, it’s all self directed, and I was busy enough with sculpture.
So then, how long have you been in South Dakota?
2009. So, it’s close to eight and a half years. I’ve been at Dakota State University for eight years, and I started out there with one 3-D Design class, but that wasn’t enough to pay my rent. So, I taught ESL for one semester.
Cool! You’ve been here for a while then. You have your artwork and teach, too?
Yes. I am employed full-time as a lecturer of art at Dakota State University in the digital and arts design department. During the summers, I haven’t done it for a couple of years, but this year I’m working as a part-time naturalist at Lake Herman State Park in Walkers Point Recreational Area. It’s kinda cool. I get the opportunity to come into contact with lots of different kinds of people. You know, especially with the DSU stuff with students, and faculty, and community. I always try to get my students to focus on something that’s outside of the classroom. It’s not just about earning a grade; I mean it’s important stuff, this visual communication. We’ve got so much screen time and everything. I make them do everything analog. They have to cut paper, they have to tear things and make collages.
I’m not too great with technology, so that style is perfect for how my mind works.
Well, I kind of call myself a dinosaur. I have sort of actively resisted–I mean I do the things I’m supposed to do for my job. I just think [technology] is another medium you can work in. Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign; these are digital tools you can use, but you still need to have those basic design skills to make something descent. The MAST design that I made is cut paper. I started with drawing it on paper, and then cutting it out with an exact-o knife. Then I printed out the text that I wanted to have on there. I’m perfectly happy with designing the font, or the typeface, I should say. You have to have a sense of composition. You have to be able to make things communicate what they need to communicate. The digital image manipulation is not the end all of design skills. Yeah, I’m a dinosaur.
You’ve already mentioned different inspirations that you have, do you have more that influence you?
I think it’s vitally important that people connect with nature, and that has been so lacking. It’s like there’s this spiritual deficit, I think; maybe even like a sink hole. We get enough racing around, driving around looking at screens, typing things, you know. If you’re taking notes on a computer, you’re not making the same neural connections you would if you are writing with a pencil on paper, or drawing. You know, you have to have this physical connection with the stuff that you’re learning. It’s not as effective to just type things, and look at it on a screen. So, yes, there’s all this technology that we deal with, it is wonderful. There are things that give lots more efficiency, but do we really keep moving at that pace? It’s making everybody sick. Everybody’s not getting enough movement, enough exercise. It drives me crazy, and I’m in the middle of it, too. When I make something, installation work especially, when I make work I’m really careful about the path of the energy, and the path of the people in that energy. I work my ass off when I have the opportunity to put something up. Humility also has a place here. I’m always unsure about it, but I work as good as I can so that I can offer it as a gift to the people that go and see it. When I say I’ve got this show up and I want you to go see it, that’s like me with a little gift with a bow on it offering this experience, because I want to give that. I think it will do something, it will help somebody, or make them feel a certain way, or give them a moment of peace, or something like that. So, that’s my gift. I realize a lot of times when I’m saying, ‘go see the show’, and doing all that self promotion, it’s not self promotion to make a career for me. It’s that there’s a gift that I want to offer that’s not going to get unwrapped if you don’t go and see it.
Yeah, I like that point…where it’s just two-dimensional, and people just looking at something. I think sometimes people need that three-dimensional installation that’s actually intruding into their space. It’s very important, I agree.
So, it’s more experiential than something you would just look at. I think installation, and sculpture–three-dimensional stuff–has an easier inlet. There’s a lot of paintings out there, but there’s probably not a lot of paintings that will really pull you in and offer you the kind of physical, or emotional, experience that an environment can. That said, I’m not trying to make judgments on things that I don’t respond to.
Now, how can people contact you? Do you have a website?
Facebook is just fine. My profile picture is me kissing a fake bison. I do have a blog site. I call it an images only blog site, but I haven’t done a really good job of keeping up with stuff on that. So, most of the stuff is older. That is a place where they could go and see things.
Can you describe your work, art and everything else, along with who you are in three words, or I should say, in three “sections”?
Art, nature, joy. Those are the things that I seek, and seek to share. I want to add something for people who are stopping themselves because “I can’t draw, I can’t do this, or I can’t do that.” It’s really, really, really important for your heart and soul to just make stuff, and experience stuff. You know, get away from your computer for a little while, and connect with people and connect with nature. Really, really, really important. That’ll make us happier, and it’ll make the world a better place…make it easier to live in.
Jerry: Well, I’m practically from here. I’ve been here since the 70’s. Initially, I grew up North, outside of Chamberlain, on Crow Creek reservation there.
And have you lived downtown here or-
Geez. Being the nomad I am, I’ve lived everywhere in this town.
Do you have a recollection of what downtown was like, art scene wise back in the day? Was it existent, nonexistent?
Pretty much nonexistent. I mean, back when I moved here, 41st St. was the end of town. There was nothing on that side of 41st St. I wasn’t really involved that much in the arts when I first moved here. It was mostly trial and survival tactics. Trying to pay bills and everything else, find work, and stay alive. As time went on, I have discovered that it’s come a long way, though, in its own right. Since the 70’s, there is a lot more involvement in art businesses, galleries, constructive people and such than there was back then. A lot of businesses are opening their doors, allowing artwork to come in and be presented.
I feel like if you are an artist and you wanted to go into a business years ago, you were almost kind of looked at like an oddball. It’s kind of like, you want to do what? You wanna put that where?Coffee shops have always been around, but within the last five, ten years with generation X and millennials that are hanging out at coffee shops…that’s how you conduct business, and also sell your business, too.
Exactly. It also gives the proprietor a little bit more of a draw to certain people who want to come and see artwork.
So, tell me, education wise, did you go to school for art, or is it kind of self-taught?
I went to school for art, but basically it still turned out to be self-taught. It always ended up that way. I was always rebellious. I’ve always wanted to do a certain style of art, a certain type of art. My mind was set on that. And when somebody else…an art teacher or somebody…was trying to teach me something else…“Oh, okay, alright.”
So tell me, what drives you to create art? What inspires you?
My culture. Native American. I try to prove myself as…long ago I used to sing and dance as Native American to prove myself, and as I got older and moved into a bigger city where it wasn’t really that much of a genre anymore, I had to turn to something to still maintain that I am Native American. Just seemed like the artwork was, not the easiest, but the best way to do it because it brought forth the subject that I was trying to get across. Doing Native American oriented art, people look at it and say, “Wow, this guy’s Native American.” And when they see me, then it’s a whole different story. “You did this?” Blue eyed and light skin, they don’t think you’re Native. “We thought you’d be brown skin, with long brown hair.”
I can maybe hear it a little bit in the voice, though.
You never get rid of that accent.
How often do you create your art?
Not answering your question, I can say as much as possible. I do try to get stuff out there. Right now, the kind of artist I am, I’m working with storytelling. That storytelling from culture and legends and stories of our people…there’s so much of it, and I try to work with that as much as I can. But I also like to hop on the bandwagon of what’s going on right now.
Exactly, the pipeline. And anything else that goes on. The land grabbing, or accomplishing certain spiritual feelings and ceremonies, and everything else that goes on. Like, Good Earth, Blood Run, that’s kind of going on right now. Hiawatha Indian Insane Asylum; I had to be part of that. That’s one of the big stories. Just things that go on today. I try to push that artwork out there, and get something done to represent that I am knowledgeable of it, and part of it.
Do you find that when you direct attention to events like that, do you feel like it brings more of the public eye to it?
Exactly. It’s me trying to put the word out. Like when they were trying to find funding for Blood Run, and buy the land and stuff, I was putting together pieces of art that people would come to see and talk about that, and I would tell them [about it]. And all of a sudden it came to be, “Get out the checkbook. If you aren’t going to buy my piece, donate to them, the purpose.” And it works! Unbelievably, it works.
So, kind of rolling along with creation stuff, do you have a favorite piece? Like when I take photographs, I think at the time that’s the best work I’ve done, then the next thing I do tends to be a little bit better than that. Do you kind of have a favorite?
Well, as an artist you’re always trying to make that ultimate piece. It’s never there, but you keep trying and trying. Just like a photographer, he’s looking for that ultimate shot. But yeah, I’ve gotten several pieces that I stand back, and I look at, and I hated to let go. But you got to. I wouldn’t be able to actually point my finger and say this one’s my best. In the majority of my personal experience, I’ve got a full amount that I really, really like. Still, at the back of my mind I’m hoping to come out with that one that blows them all away.
You’re always depending on the public, too. This piece I would say, personally, I like this piece so much, and not so many people like it. But this piece over here, I think is really, really blasé, and everybody likes it. So, you would almost have to consider that as your best piece that you’ve done, because it’s the most successful.
It’s an interesting perspective, too, because often what you perceive as your best work (that you put your heart and soul and blood and tears into) is met with very little reception. Then you put something else out, or somebody else comes along, and says that’s the greatest thing ever seen. And it’s kind of like, are we seeing the same thing? Kind of continuing along with favorites there, do you have a favorite art show?
Down the line, I’ve been to very great art shows. The one that I stick with that is dedicated to me, I feel, as much as I am to it is Augustana Artists of the Plains. It’s my go-to place. I’ve won four out of five years Best of Show. That’s just always been a good show for me. It’s gotten a good reputation out in the city. I have a lot of people who just wait to see what I’ve got up next year.
Talk of the town. That’s a good thing, actually.
Yeah, publicity is always a good thing. And followers are great. Just awesome.
I remember I heard a quote years ago that said, “Passion breeds followers.” So, do you have any favorite materials when it comes to creating art that you like to use?
Leather. Leather is my friend. And just old, traditional things that have been with my ancestors, my people, over many centuries. I try not to reproduce them in that direction, but utilize the image of them. I don’t use plastic. I don’t use fake this or imitation that. All my pictures have original things like bones, actual bone beads. Or if I do a tobacco tie, there’s actual tobacco in there, it’s not just a little rock. And I try to be straightforward that everything is real in my artwork. For instance, like this one here, they call the Pipeline the Black Snake. That’s actually a snake in there. That’s not a fake one, that’s an actual snake. It’s just the way that I am, I’m a stickler for that. If it was arrowheads, it wouldn’t be something that was mass-produced in a factory. It would be actual arrowheads that I’ve searched for, or were given by my people to use and things like that. It just seems like it makes the picture more unique in its own way, and original. Like I always say, every picture is one-of-a-kind. I don’t ever reproduce it.
That’s the thing with art, as well, is that it’s too easy to replicate. Everybody wants a copy of something. Like a poster of the Statue of Liberty or something like that, it’s not the original. I’ve never understood, personally, the need for something that’s replicated over and over.
Well, like a dream catcher. Somebody makes 10,000 dream catchers in a year’s time. And they’re all the same dream catcher. You can go from your house down the block… “Oh, I’ve got one of those in my house! I’ve got one of them, too. The person down the block has one, too.”
I try to stipulate to where when you take this home and hang it on your wall, you aren’t going to go across town or across state and see the same thing hanging on someone else’s wall. It’s just one. That’s kind of what I pride myself in.
Do you have an inspirational quote that kind of gives you a little bit of fire to go out and create art? Or is there a mantra that you, perhaps, live by?
I always tell myself, if I can’t sell it, I’ll give it away. There’s many different people who get me flowing; their artwork, and stuff I’ve lived and learned from. There’s a lot of different people who have talked to me about certain things. But a quote…not really. Not really at all.
Maybe, perhaps, a saying that you maybe say yourself or someone has said to you in years past.
I remember I was in a dart tournament a long time ago, and I can reframe this to art as being in a gallery or being in an art show. They interviewed me one time and asked, “Well, what do you think about all this?” And I just said, “Just proud to be here.” Win, lose, draw, whatever. Just proud to be here.
That’s incredible. Kind of going along with that, do you happen to have any advice for people who want to sell their artwork, or haven’t found a way to sell it?
To me, I can look at something that just makes your eyes cross, but it’s still art. No matter what you want to say about it. No matter if you hate it or you like it, or you love it, or you want to burn it, or whatever. It’s still art, because it comes from somebody trying to say something. I just tell people who are doing really great and beautiful art, you’ve got it, it’s there. Go out and flaunt it. And to those who kind of hold back, try to get your confidence up and go out there. You never know until you try.
What do you find is, perhaps, the hardest part of being an artist?
The hardest part? I think the most difficult is having too many ideas. Too many ideas at once. Like right now, as you and me are sitting here, I got 60 pieces in my mind. I have materials and everything to finish them, and I’m just…gah, what do I do first? And finding the time to do it. That’s one thing…you gotta just take a deep breath and settle down, and just start doing them. Slowly, even. A lot of times I get in my mind, I got to get all 60 of these done, and it just bugs me. It’s probably about the biggest brick wall I could run up against; trying to do too much at once. Sometimes some things don’t come out right when you’re trying to do that.
There’s a quote I heard years ago, and it was from the lead singer of Coldplay, Chris Martin. Chris was asked, “So, when you listen to your music do you hear flaws, do you hear things that you could have fixed?” He responds by saying, every time I listen to it there’s things that I hear that I wish that I could have done differently. And he goes, once you hand that album over to be finished, you’re done with it. Because I feel that as an artist, the longer you hold onto something…you go, I’ll tweak this, tweak that, and before you know it a month becomes a year and it’s not put out.
Exactly. You’re delaying yourself. One thing I’ve noticed in the city of Sioux Falls here, it really surprises me that when I go from one show that so many people have commented and seen what I got (and I hadn’t made anything different), and I take it and I place it over in another place in town…you’ve got a whole other mass of people who come in that have never seen it. What I’m trying to say is, to anybody that wants to go out there, never fret that what you have won’t go good over in other places. Everybody just doesn’t come over and see your work in town at one show. It happens everywhere.
So, we talked about the hardest thing about being an artist, but tell me, what’s one thing you love about being an artist?
Sitting back and looking at something you just created. It’s not overwhelming, but it does give a euphoria that you feel. Wow, I got this, I did this. And you put it out there, and people do appreciate it as much as you do. That’s what’s really good about it. It’s what makes you feel happy about it, when you think this is good I’ve made this, I’m happy with it. Then you go out and somebody else sees it, and expresses their feelings to you that they like it, too. It’s really good.
What do you love about Sioux Falls?
Sioux Falls is kind of a diverse town, and it’s getting more and more with every year. Like the arts, there’s a lot of people who like the arts; be it music, be it dance, be it orchestra, be it concerts…sports, that’s another one. So, there is a big draw to many outlets. And I think an artist does have a lot of places to present their art, and people come. Maybe 10 to 15 people…and you think that’s not very many…but you keep it up, and you show your stuff in 30 places and there’s been 15 at each. Add that up, you do the numbers, you got a good crowd going.
Or the word-of-mouth, too. Come check out this exhibit, or this piece.
Oh, yeah. And people respond, too, if you have a card or Facebook. You give it to them and you think, oh well they just took it, to heck with it. Then you see them. They do get on Facebook, and look at your stuff. They respond, which is great.
We talked about what you love about Sioux Falls, is there anything that you would do differently with the art community? Things maybe you would change?
What I would like to see done is…if they could possibly get the grant or the money for it somehow…is to build an enormous art center. And don’t make it way out-of-town; put it somewhere where people can get to it. Once it’s done have people run it to where it is Sioux Falls artists, and just have Sioux Falls artists in it.
For the people, by the people.
Yeah, for the people by the people. If you live five miles outside the city limits, sorry. Sorry, get your own.
And have that. And sell and get a percentage off of it to keep the building running. And put 40 artists in there…40, 50, 60 artists. They don’t have to have their whole collection in there. Three, four pieces a piece. They can switch them out, and everything else. Get the tracks really moving, and then get it really exposed to the public and stuff. I think that it would work for the simple reason that people do love the arts.
I mean, that could also double as a performing center for concerts, plays.
Oh, yeah. If it’s a big enough building. See, what I was trying to get away from is like Pavilion and other places, they have like two or three artists that are there for two, three months. Why not have 80 artists with five pieces a piece in there, and have it go permanently back and forth. Grow, or decrease, multiply.
Like a seasonal thing kind of, too.
Yeah. People can create new work, and bring it in, and have it advertised. A new work is at the Sioux Falls Arts…or what ever you want to call it. Keep it to artists who are active, and are still doing artwork right now as we speak.
Kind of wrapping things up here. Do you have any shows coming up?
I’m kind of booked up at least until August 2017.
That’s kind of the way I feel I have to be, because if people say where’s your gallery…I can’t afford a gallery. I can’t afford a studio. I got to keep my artwork out there. The city of Sioux Falls is my studio. That’s what I figure, anyway, because it’s always out there somewhere.
I like that.
One thing I like to try to do is donate. There certain people who like to call me or contact me and want me to donate. I’m all for it. Behavioral health places, Muscular Dystrophy, Children’s Kidney hospital and stuff. I participate with them. I give as much as I can, because I know if I was in trouble…
Do you have any examples of giving someone something like that that has turned their life around or lifted their spirits?
I haven’t really done much for individual people. But Behavioral Health, when they had their auction out there, it was great. You actually see the people who are, not only out there bidding on your artwork, they are out there talking to doctors, psychiatrists and stuff about betterment. Certain cities need places like that, and they need artists and artwork to be a part of that. Music, whatever you have. It’s been successful as far as I know, because I get my foot in the door. It’s always good to donate a piece of artwork to an association that’s 10,000 employees.
You get good exposure.
You get your name out there.
That’s one of the hard projects that I have not really faced, yet. I would have to say within the four, maybe five state area is as far as I’ve gone. I’ve had tourists come through and say, you need to bring this stuff to the coast, or you got to bring this stuff down south. I had one guy, at a show here in town looking for a long time. He said I’m from Santa Fe, and they don’t have nothing like your stuff down there. “You got a bring your stuff down there, but before you do, add a couple zeroes.” All right, sure, sure.
I made a trip over to New York about two weeks ago to photograph a couple who is going to get married back in South Dakota. And you think…that’s a lot of work. But making that trip…you kind of tell people that I was willing to do this, I’m willing to do it again.
That’s one thing that always scares me half to death is taking out every penny I have, and going to a place like Los Angeles, and not selling a thing. But a lot of people say that’s a chance you have to take.
I mean if you’re kind of self analytical, sometimes doubter, maybe a little OCD kind of like me a little bit…it’s easier said than done.
Oh, yeah, it is. The thing of it is, one of these days I am going to take that chance. I’m going to load up and just head out for a month, and hopefully come back empty.
Talking about artwork, not pockets, right?
[laughter] Yeah. If you plan your trip to where you saved up for it, just call it a vacation. And if you sell anything, that’s just gravy.
Geneva Costa may have been born and raised on a farm in Montana, but we’re just going to go ahead and call her one of Sioux Falls’ own. Having called both the East and West Coast her home, Costa is now living back in Sioux Falls with her husband Brogan [Green Dream Screen Printing] and two cats. Having known Costa for several years, I was delighted for the chance to delve more deeply into her process. Costa uses oil paints to create photorealistic works, and more recently, using that process to distort the reality of her subject matter. Autobiographical in nature, Costa remains inspired through gender, politics and current affairs. Her persistence in achieving her goals has always been a great inspiration, as is her dedication to keeping her concepts challenging and engaging. I wish her immense luck with her goal of spreading her artwork around the nation. See her work at genevacosta.com ~Hannah Continue reading GENEVA COSTA: AN INSPIRING INTERVIEW→
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