Art of the State Artist Interview: Meghan Baum

Here Is Where It Happened © Meghan Baum oil on panel
Here Is Where It Happened ©2015 Meghan Baum oil on panel

Walking through this year’s Art of the State, I was struck by Meghan’s painting. I kept looking at and picturing it in my living room. When I looked her up online I was surprised to see that she just graduated art school this Spring! You can find her piece, Here is Where It Happened, at Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2015 at the State Museum of PA or visit the Meghan Baum website to see more of her work.

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

My favorite teacher in high school inspired me to go to art school. Her name is Mrs. Linn and she was considered to be a very tough teacher with a challenging class. But only because she didn’t consider art class to be an easy A, like many of the students thought it would be. She encouraged me more than any other teacher I have ever had and taught me to think about art in a different way. My senior year of high school she gave us an assignment where we had to make an oil painting outside of class. She gave us very little instruction on how to use oil paint. She wanted to see what we could do. What we could figure out on our own. My senior year of high school was when I started to become interested in oil paint.

The coil pot Meghan made with her teacher in high school
The coil pot Meghan made with her teacher in high school

But it was also when I started to really think about things differently, and to reconsider the potential of any project. I remember making a coil pot in her class and struggling with it. The day before the project was due I stayed after school to work on it and the pot collapsed in my hands. She could tell I was frustrated and she came over and said, “Do you trust me?” After I said yes, she pulled my coil pot apart until it was nothing but pieces on a table. She said, “It doesn’t say anywhere on the rubric that it has to look like this. You don’t have to see the coils. It doesn’t have to be this shape. The only requirement is height.” And together we took the pieces and made an entirely different coil pot. I still have the coil pot in my house, and it is one of the most sentimental pieces of art that I own. I didn’t get started using oil paint until my junior year of college, but I feel like I wouldn’t have even gone to school for art if it weren’t for Mrs. Linn.

The Ocean Inside ©2015 Meghan Baum Oil on panel, 2 ft x 4 ft
The Ocean Inside ©2015 Meghan Baum Oil on panel, 2′ x 4′

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

Recently I’ve been inspired by music. I moved home after graduating from college, and its felt strange not being surrounded by other visual artists. So I like to listen to music that inspires me to paint- music that puts me in the same frame of mind as if I were still painting for six hours a day at school. I’ve been listening to a lot of music by Courtney Barnett. She has a way of storytelling within her songs that is an art form in itself. I think that her music is incredibly genuine and by listening to it while I’m working I feel I’m staying genuine also.

3. Who are your favorite artists in your field?

I’m very attracted to the work made by Claire Desjardins. I love her use of color; it’s playfully bright and unexpected. I admire her use of transparency next to thick mark making; it is something that I have started to do within my own work.

M + MA ©2015 Meghan Baum oil on canvas, 3'x4'
M + MA ©2015 Meghan Baum oil on canvas, 3’x4′

4. What is your favorite customer quote or story?

During a critique in college, a Professor had told me that one of my paintings looked like “something Monet and Marie Antoinette would make if they got together and made a painting.” I thought this was a hilarious idea to think about but it also made sense. I named the painting M + MA because I thought it suited.

Art of the State Artist Interview: Ira Upin

Ira Upin caught in the act of painting
Ira Upin caught in the act of painting

The next interview from an Art of the State artist is with Ira Upin. It was hard to ignore Ira’s piece at the exhibition. Not only is it right next to mine, it’s huge, colorful, and dominates the room. It totally makes me think of a reggae album cover and I love the graphicness of it. It’s in your face whether you want it there or not. Really great! You can find more work on Ira Upin’s website and of course, see his painting, Police State, at the Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2015 exhibition at the State Museum of PA.

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

I started painting with oil paints as a kid, through high school, undergrad and graduate schools. It was still the traditional medium to use starting for me in the 1950’s and the more I used it the better I became at it. In the 60’s  I added acrylics to my repertoire but mostly for flat color or patterns. In the 80’s I used tar as a medium that presented itself during my years as a contractor. But in the end I find oil paint to be the most voluptuous product because of it’s creamy, workable, texture, it’s range of colors and it’s physical capacity for transparency or opacity.

Police State ©2012 Ira Upin oil on panel 72”x 72”
Police State ©2012 Ira Upin oil on panel 72”x 72”

2. What has been inspiring/influencing your work lately?
I have always been a narrative artist with occasional forays into abstraction. This statement encapsulates most of what I do: The two constants in my work have been the narrative and the intensity of the visual. I want the viewer to be intoxicated and perplexed by how I make my paintings and intrigued by the stories I am trying to tell. I’m interested in human dynamics whether they be social, political, or emotional.

With this statement in mind my inspiration is consistently a random series of reactions to things that occur around me personally or things that happen in the world at large. Then I try to create the aura of a story, a psychological or emotional realm of thought or feeling. I don’t think there is any past or present to what inspires or influences me. For better or worse it has been pretty much coming from the same place my whole life.

3. Who are your favorite artists in your field?

In no particular order – Chuck Close, Francisco Goya, Anselm Kiefer, Gilbert & George, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Goldsworthy, Lucas Samaras, Kenny Scharf, Gregory Gillespie, Phillip Harris, David Wojnarowicz, Neil Jenney, Martin Puryear, Antony Gormley, William Wiley, Tony Berlant, David Bates, Jim Nutt.

Helpless in the Ways of the World ©2009 Ira Upin 36”x 36” Oil on Panel
Helpless in the Ways of the World ©2009 Ira Upin 36”x 36” Oil on Panel

4. What is your favorite customer quote or story?

I guess the best story would have to be when my father who was an electrical contractor in Chicago was doing a job for an attorney named Jerome Torshen who was legal council to Chicago’s 1st Mayor Richard Daley. Seeing that Mr Torshen collected art my father mentioned that his son was an artist and would he be interested in seeing my work. He said sure, I sent him slides and he bought one of my paintings. When I brought the piece to his home he and his wife wanted to see how it looked hung over the mantel. So he just reached up and removed the Picasso drawing that was hanging there and replaced it with my painting. I was in my 20’s at the time and I was overwhelmed. It struck me on 2 levels of awareness and emotion. On the one hand my ego soared with the gesture that exchanged my work for a Picasso. But on the other hand I couldn’t shake the sense of it all being a commodity to the buyer and all parts were interchangeable. In any event it was a heady experience for a kid.

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

We have too many great pieces of art to choose a favorite. We own work by friends like Frank Hyder, Susan Fenton, Anda Dubinskis, Larry Spaid, Mike Ehlbeck, Doug Herren, Lynne Clibanoff, and on and on.

Another studio shot of Ira Upin
Another studio shot of Ira Upin

Art of the State Artist Interview: Drew Zimmerman

The Ruth Kligman Story ©2014 Drew Zimmerman newsprint, newspaper, acrylic, mixed media 24 x 30″

I first met Drew on Facebook the year when we were both in Art of the State. His piece had won second prize that year in the craft category and there was an interesting debate about whether his work is art or craft. I’m sure as an artist whose medium is paper mâché this is a common situation. I’ll let you be the judge (or you could just say it’s both!) as he’s my first featured artist interview for this year’s Art of the State interview series. Aside from his two(!) pieces in this year’s exhibition, you can see more of his art on Drew Zimmerman‘s website.

How did you get started in your craft? (using your media)
I started making puppets and masks to use in theatrical occasions when I got hooked on paper mache.

What has been inspiring/influencing your work lately?
I am inspired by the way we live in a world of abstractions, negotiating pure ideas and money, and are out-of-touch with the real planet.

Atlas ©2010 Drew Zimmerman mixed media 5 X 4′

Who are your favorite artists in your field?
I love Alexander Calder who worked in similar ways to myself. He could basically draw with #16 wire. An absolute master.

What is your favorite customer quote or story?
When I was supervising an opening at Muse Gallery in Phila., Olde City, some folks came in with color swatches, looking for a couch painting. It was hilarious.

What is your favorite piece of art or fine craft that you own?
I love my own “Houdini” and the labyrinth I made that hangs in my wife’s yarn shop. See my site drewzimmerman.com for pictures and biographical statements.

Penelope ©2014 Drew Zimmerman mixed media 49 X 42″
Extra bonus points because he also is a Temple alumnus.