Art of the State Artist Interview: Mimi Shapiro

I’ve known Mimi Shapiro both on and offline for a while now and we’ve run into each other at different art events time and again. At the opening for this exhibition we were both looking for our pieces but hadn’t found them yet. So it was funny when I eventually got to where Tether was located and saw her piece, Red Staircase, right next to it! Along with seeing this piece at Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2014 at the State Museum in Harrisburg through September 14th, you can see more of her work at the collage show Improvisation at Isadore Gallery in Lancaster, PA through the month of August and online at her website Mimi Artz.
Red Staircase ©2012 Mimi Shapiro, 17" x12" Mixed Media Collage on Paper
Red Staircase ©2012 Mimi Shapiro, 17″ x12″ Mixed Media Collage on Paper

1. How did you get started in your craft? (using your media)

Ever since I was a small child I loved to collage – its one of the most interesting things to find images and place them in new and unexpected ways. I have a memory of getting a roll of tape one day and taped down so many pieces onto some different papers, that I used up the whole roll – and wanted more ! but my mother said no ! I am a graphic designer by training, the page, the edge the border is all connected to what is inside. I love to take photographs and work with color and composition. With all the tools available today, the whole world is a collage. Walking around and collecting bits and pieces of paper, or pieces of metal, my brain seems to assemble them – into something new.

2. What has been inspiring/influencing your work lately?

The artist is a dreamer consenting to dream an actual world. – George Santayana
I love quotes and keep a journal and a notebook with quotes and things that intrigue me. There are so many things that influence my work – I love creating altered books, paint, collage and drawing, mixing it up adding cold wax and then over painting it – or as I like to say, very mixed media. Sometimes going for a walk – inspiration seems to fall from the sky, straight from the universe then, I am onto something new. I pick up things in the street, collect odd papers and ask friends that travel to bring me back newspapers from wherever. There is so much material in the world, a collage artist has an unlimited palette. The piece in the Art of the State  exhibition is art and watercolor and wax.

Page from her Mexico Journal when she spent a month there last year. ©2013 Mimi Shapiro, Mixed Media
Page from her Mexico Journal when she spent a month there last year. ©2013 Mimi Shapiro, Mixed Media

A few of my very favorite artists have also been inspiring me. Hannah Hoch, was a German Dada artist who used magazine photos to create new photomontages. They are so interesting, even today. She believed in artistic freedom and questioned conventional concepts of relationships, beauty and the making of art. Kurt Schwitters, is another artist whose work I love, collected scraps and objects from the street to make his art. His work was like a metaphor for the time of the war. He worked in so many media, his whole life was like a collage. The English artist Richard Hamilton, the image of living rooms and body builders stays in my mind – for things that do not go together but somehow crazily do. He is the British father of Pop Art. He loved to investigate and deconstruct and reinvent things. I am inspired by so many of the artists that came before me. Dieter Roth, a Swiss artist is known for his artist books, he paints and draws with an amazing energy. Nancy Spero, was an activist and feminist and artist who thought artists had to be involved in changing society. Women had the ability to make it better. Artists are visionaries with the ability to understand that change can and will happen. Social commentary through art might make someone actuarially think about change. The modern intelligence seems to have a soul phobia and when you open up to all the amazing possibilities the world has, realizing our interconnectedness of all of it – as William Blake said – the Divine Imagination – that is what all of us have and its really important to use that – in art and in everyday life. I am an artist that writes, so its impossible for me to do just one thing, art and writing are connected in my process. I actually find that teaching helps to inspire new ideas, as the artist is always looking for ways to connect with the student. Each person responds differently – and that teaching helps to keep it all new. John Cage, described music as “purposeless play” and the same could be said of art. It’s all an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring orders out of chaos, but simply a way of waking up to the life we are living. Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys…Helen Frankenthaler, everyone who has come before, Lee Krasner, who cut apart her drawings to create collages…Hans Hoffman, spacial relationships and color. In thinking about this, its absolutely everyone who has come before me in time, I can learn from and admire. Andy Warhol…and the list begins again…Richard Diebenkorn, back to abstract expressionism art making teaches me to pay attention and to see how it affects me personally.

3. Who are your favorite artists in your field?

Scibblemania ©2012 Mimi Shapiro, Mixed Media
Scibblemania ©2011 Mimi Shapiro, Mixed Media – This was in Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2012

Here are some of my favorite artists – all of them are artists but not just collage artists. Dale Copeland a collage and assemblage artist, a good friend from New Zealand – her work is always fresh and new. Tim Hawkesworth is an Irish painter, I took a workshop with him a few years ago – he believes that it’s all about drawing and making marks. Each artist has your individual mark and this is really accessible to each artist in a totally different way, its all about how you see and how you draw. One of my favorite teachers, Dick Wray, a Texas artist, died a few years ago. He was instrumental in teaching me that everything is abstract expressionism – done your way. I think I do respond to the abstract and the expressionism. Not an easy lesson for a young artist to learn. Each one has to find their own footing.For me it’s all about color and design, and working will take me where I need to go. Art is all process, give and take, choose and discard, find something else – keep looking, pay attention to the surface. Janet Jones, creates small works and books, her work is like miniatures, with so much going on on the page. As an artist, I resonate to what others do, subconsciously I guess, I day dream in fragments of images. Other artists whose work I really like – Carol Galligan, a Lancaster artist that paints and then rips up her paintings to create them anew. Sas Colby, is a book artist, from San Francisco, who uses everything in the world as inspiration. I have taken a few workshops with her – and love both her work, and style of teaching – she loosens up everyone in the class

4. What is your favorite customer quote or story?

Not sure I have one favorite story – it’s when I have been teaching on cruise ships. I was the artist in residence, on the World Cruise in 2002, aboard Silversea, Silver Cloud. I set up an art class after lunch, the days/daze we were at sea. Guests could wander in and paint or draw to fill up time. The ship is a 24-hour day and so there are many different things to do. I always did a demonstration, and had a plan, but the thing I loved the most – was when someone said – “I used to be good at art – but I have not done it in a while”…and then they were off and creating. Some of the guests came every single day! and I made many good friends. This is a short list of the places that we cruised from Fort Lauderdale through the Caribbean Islands, Tortola – BVI, Bequia -The Grenadines, Barbados, along the coast of South America, up the Amazon, down to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Recife, Brazil, across to Ascension Island so remote, and St Helena (where Napoleon was in exile) in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. and then of to Africa, Walvis Bay – Naibia, and to Cape Town, South Africa, a most amazing modern city. Durban, Richard’s Bay, Reunion Island, Port Louis – Mauritius, cruising the Madagascar Coast – long before the movie. Zanzibar -Tanzania, Mombasa – Kenya, Dar es Salaam, the Red Sea and the Somalia Coast. Safaga – Egypt, the Suez Canal, Antalya, Piraeus (Athens) the Acropolis dedicated to the goddess Athena, a most beautiful Temple. Kusadasi-Turkey and Istanbul, one of the most fascinating cities ever. It is where Byzantium and Rome come together, art and culture and design – and the Grand Bazaar market, absolutely everything I love. Rhodes, Nafplion, Olympia – Greece. Sorrento, Portoferraio -Italy. The world is big and beautiful – and so amazing. And I am one very fortunate woman.

Some of Mimi's favorite art ©2014 Mimi Shapiro
Some of Mimi’s favorite art ©2014 Mimi Shapiro

Over and over, cruising on different ships, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and the new Queen Mary, the guests really like to come and explore their creativity. This gives them a new freedom, a sense of possibilities – and for this, I think its the most amazing job in the world, to see people open themselves up to submerged talents. In our society, unless you think of yourself as an artist, people stop painting when they are adults. In 2011, I was on Seabourn Sojourn World Cruise. I was aboard the ship from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand. The guests that took part in my art classes, where we created travel journals, with art and mixing their writing and with found objects from the many different destinations in the Pacific. Names of places, I knew but that I never thought I would get to see Tahiti, Bora Bora, Raratonga. Nuka Hiva, Moorea – art has opened up so much of the world to me. Its really impossible to select a favorite. Guess that every place is my favorite when I am there – or thinking about there. I know that the memories I have stay with me and more than likely influence my art making.

5. What is your favorite piece of art or fine craft that you own?

It is very hard to choose just one thing from our travels. The spiky ceramic plant is from Antigua, Guatemala, created by a professor of art; the terra cotta sculpture of a small dog is from Mexico City, the Museo National de Antropologia. In Mesoamerica cultures these dogs were thought to accompany the deceased on their long journey to the afterlife, the spirit of the sculpted dog would act as both a guide and a guard. He is full of attitude and spunk, playful and ready for action. Both of these sit on an antique table with a drawing by Jeff Gibe in the background, he is a Lancaster artist…it’s impossible to list all my favorite artists all at the same time.