Ginger Balizer is a New York-based artist who makes dreamy concoctions of art. She works in various genres, but I think her dream-like vision http://gingerlyart.com/home.html is clearly evident is everything she does. Where does this come from? I asked her and here’s our cool chat.
“… I think the creative process works best when we are free to break rules and follow our inner voice. I have heard from several artists that sometimes breaking the rules is important ...”
MICHAEL: Hi Ginger, Your work is very intriguing. I've looked at everything that you've posted on your website and here's what comes to mind - "organic" and "magical" with nature as the dominant theme. I don't know. Am I imagining this?
GINGER: Michael, your comment makes me smile. I love hearing the way people view my art and am always happy to hear the words used to describe whatever they see. Everything I do is from my imagination and some of it comes from way back in my childhood when I would draw little creatures in fantasy lands. I have been very influenced by fairy tales and some of the wonderful children’s book illustrators who create magical places that draw us into other worlds. Many people have said that my work resonates with Chagall and I definitely see that connection, although I don’t recall him being one of my influences. I never look at anything when I paint, so, although nature based, whatever you see is drawn from an amalgam of all the places I’ve seen in my mind’s eye. Recently, a trip to India was a great source of inspiration and thus began a journey into Indian mythology and gods and goddesses began showing up in my work. Welcome to my world.
MICHAEL: You say that some of your work is linked to your childhood. Do you feel like a child while you're painting? I mean, what does the creation process feel like?
GINGER: Yes, Michael. In some ways, I return to a place of non-judgment and inner peace when I create. This is when I attempt to let go of all other pressures and outside forces that are sometimes imposed on us when we become older and subjected to the rules and parameters of academics. I think the creative process works best when we are free to break rules and follow our inner voice. I have heard from several artists that sometimes breaking the rules is important. As a former teacher, I have seen how young children fear failure, while test taking and grades get in the way of true learning. If I can return to a time when I can truly free myself up and enjoy the spontaneity of playing with color, line, texture and my imagination is allowed to run wild then I am in a childlike state. This is not to say that there aren’t times when I must look upon my work with my own adult perceptions, making certain decisions about whether something works or doesn’t. I do have some questions about who I am actually painting for. When I paint and create for myself without any desire to please anyone else, the process is working. If I am dancing to Indian music then I am in the zone.
When I use ribbons and weave them into chicken wire for my Les Femmes dresses, I am going back to a girlhood memory. The use of sequins, glitter and other somewhat taboo materials often embellish my work. This all comes from spending Saturdays in the New York City Garment District where I often was allowed to go while my mother worked in a medical center in the neighborhood. I was probably eight years old when I began going into the trim stores on 37th Street and 6th Avenue. My childhood notebooks were always filled with little drawings in the margins. Sometimes these emerge in my work now. I don’t think that doodling is a negative. Many artists started off like this. I think one of my favorite artists is Jean Michel Basquiat. Picasso said it took a lifetime to paint like a child, but he had an academic background. He was always exploring new ways. Another inspiration!
MICHAEL: I see all of your descriptions right there in your work. It sort of has a pleasant busyness and engagement to it. And the colors really make it take off. What does color mean to your process?
GINGER: Thank you, Michael. Color infuses my work and my world. I feel strongly attracted to color and when I paint, I tend to layer the colors and watch them take off. Generally, I will mix the colors on the canvas and see the relationships each color makes as it develops its own life. I was once asked by a painting teacher to try a few paintings without color, just using black and white. I found it very challenging at first, but ultimately I saw the beauty in the grays and the contrasts and depth that I saw were quite dramatic and interesting. I wasn’t able to maintain that fascination, however.
Color, for me, is almost like a drug. I am very appreciative of those who use black and white so well within their work. Similar to my love for black and white photos and black and white films, there is a strength and depth to them. Sometimes color can be overwhelming and detract from the meaning. In my case, I see color as an element that brings a source of light and without it the work will lose its soul. I don’t like to think too much about it. It’s what I love. It’s a metaphor for life. I think my use of color has developed much more in the past few years. I get great pleasure out of seeing the different tones and values playing off each other. I have been told that it is a gift I have. The interesting thing is that I really do love working in pen and ink. These pieces are generally very small sketches and they are whimsical and filled with pattern. Once I start using color, whether in my chicken wire dresses or mixed media pieces, I become focused on their energy. As a matter of fact, I recall that as a child, one of my favorite things to get was a brand new box of Crayola crayons. Now it is the paints.
MICHAEL: What's it like for you when people are looking at and responding to your work?
GINGER: I am mostly thrilled to see people looking at my work. Any response at all is better than none. The worst thing for an artist of any kind is to be dismissed or ignored. When I am engaged in dialogue about my work I feel validated. My work has become a conduit for communication. Once, at a solo exhibition of my work, a woman confided that she had just come from a grievance support group and she found my work uplifting. Creating art is often a solitary experience, so exhibiting is a way of opening up what has been stored inside and going public. The other interesting aspect of hearing responses is the stories people create about what they see. I love the interpretations.
MICHAEL: What if you don't relate at all to some people's interpretations of your work? Shouldn't your work fit some uniform art history narrative?
GINGER: There have been times when people have referred to my work as decorative, which I found demeaning for the reason that I thought they didn’t take my work seriously. I don’t like it when we break art down into categories of serious art, fine art, decorative, etc. It seems that we distinguish work that is political, social commentary, illustrative, but when talking about art history narratives are we talking about genres or periods?
My initial influences were Matisse, Van Gogh, Seurat, Klee, Miro, Picasso, and Kandinsky. They all figure into my journey in some way. I was never a figurative painter nor a landscape painter. I have trouble with perspective and have never mastered anatomy. I don’t follow or ascribe to a particular art history narrative, although there may be a composite of many.
Somehow, I have managed to create an identity or a voice. I like that because it means my work resonates with the following: whimsical, dreamscapes, fantasy, folklore, tapestry, women’s art, fiber art, feminine, narrative, childlike. I am okay with all of the above.
My work is not childish or cute, but does allow for some element of the fanciful. Recently, a local gallery sold two of my paintings to a client who was looking for work with color and done by a woman. They thought my paintings had some qualities that resonated with Frida Kahlo. I’m not sure what those similarities were other than some vibrancy and color because I see her work as having a very dark side. My work is generally evocative, bringing out qualities of joy and girlhood dreams. Once asked if men also liked my work because it seemed to have a predominantly feminine spirit, I was surprised that this was a factor, even though I use fabric and sparkly objects. Some men do like my work. I hope they can get beyond what may be gender specific materials.
MICHAEL: And so, how do you deal with varying interpretations of your work?
GINGER: I try to stay focused on my own visions. If I am true to that, then I have succeeded in creating something distinct and people will recognize that. I have always been a bit offbeat, a bit eccentric or independent. I would like to achieve that in my work, which would lend itself towards independent thinking. I also realize that we are all cast from the same basic mold which would be the emotional and human component. I want to reach that with my work. I want to touch some aspect of humanity in the viewer. If I reach that goal and others are struck by something that rings true then it doesn’t matter if it is my interpretation or their own unique interpretation. My purpose in creating is twofold; connecting with others through connecting with myself. I welcome all interpretations, but may not always identify with them. I am trying to not take myself that seriously, but would rather not be “cute.”
MICHAEL: We're now living in a digitally-obsessed world that’s moving faster not slower. Most people are not stopping to even look at art, let alone buy it. What do you think about this?
GINGER: It’s sad but true. I am trying to let go of what it should be or what I would like it to be. Frankly, I think that painting is almost obsolete and digital work is where it’s at. If you don’t have a special niche, it’s hard to get noticed. I keep seeing the ones who are overnight successes and bringing in millions at some of these auctions. I see the new art world as being taken over by collectors who really don’t care about the beauty of the work. There are so many voids to fill.
I am an older emerging artist who never studied art as an undergraduate and never even saw myself as a visual artist. As an Interior Design student at the New York Institute of Technology, I was required to take a year of core art courses and saw the incredible competition with a very young group of talented artists. Many of the graffiti artists built a huge fan base and that is also what it’s about. One time when I brought my paintings into a gallery, the owner asked me how large my contact list was. I thought this was superficial, but she explained to me that she was in business and times were hard so she had no time to waste. There is a side to art that is all about speed and money. It’s all about the technology and its new wave edge. I created an installation out in Riverhead last summer and tried to loop a recording with a story I had written. I found it a huge challenge to understand the simple technology, but struggled until I had achieved what I felt would work. I basically had to settle.
MICHAEL: I’m sorry you feel you had to settle. We’re all still learning technology.
GINGER: There are times I get so discouraged with it all, but refuse to give up. I do what I love and continue to grow as an artist. I would love to become more adept at technology, not because I have to in order to keep up, but because I feel it’s necessary to stay attuned to what it has to offer me as an artist. There are people who look at art with genuine awe. They do understand what it brings to our society. It’s empowering and energizing. Many people are too busy being consumed by their devices, so those artists who utilize the devices and the new modes of communication will likely be the ones to stay in the game.
Some art techniques will fade in the way that newsprint has faded. It’s a generational thing. I will continue to love the colors, the fabrics, the textures, and the human element of art. I love seeing the hand of the artist in a painting. I see brushstrokes that Van Gogh made and I feel closer to the artist. When the world disowns art, we are all a little sadder. The world is a little darker. I have been very fortunate to have discovered something that I love doing so late in life. I will have to remind myself not to pay too much attention to the art world if I want to continue doing what I love. And that has nothing to do with the digitally-obsessed or the fast paced world.
MICHAEL: Finally Ginger, what's the point of art? Art isn't ending homelessness or curing cancer. Most people aren't buying art. I mean, what's the point?
GINGER: Without looking up what the great classical philosophers said about art, I guess I am left on my own. As an artist who is creating art and selling my art, but not enough to earn a living, I believe that art does grace the world with questions and a heightened sense of awareness. Is art indispensable? Do we need it? Do we crave it? I think art serves a purpose. If it were only to give us a sense of euphoria that would be a simple litmus test. But so much of art resonates dissonance, fear, anger, grief, despair, and depravity. What does it bring to the human condition? Indeed, what is the point?
After 9/11, many artists, along with actors, comedians, dancers, musicians, etc., all asked that question. What was the point, especially after such hopelessness? Yet, all of these artists persevered beyond their own self- doubt to enrich the world. Maybe it’s not about who buys art and why it’s so low on the spectrum of what we value. More people would rather buy a new iPhone than a painting, even if the price were the same. And they would never question the price tag on the phone, but they would quibble about the price of the artwork. Most people have not a clue as to what each artist puts into the creation of a piece of art. “How long did it take you to make that?” is a frequent question, as if that’s meaningful. Everything is mathematically quantified. There is no formula for art. It comes from a place deep within the human psyche.
It may not cure cancer, but it can raise one’s hopes by illuminating our sensibilities. We have to stretch our minds and raise our consciousness in order to truly find the importance of art in our lives. I have seen art in so many cultures where poverty and hunger are rampant yet the art elevates us by reaching into our hearts and minds. Two years ago, while traveling in India, I went to the Cochin Biennale. Several installations took my breath away with their socio-political statements about the importance of food and the devastation of hunger. Artists throughout the world are enriching us with their insights. Art is food for the soul. Thank you, Michael.
MICHAEL: Yes it is and so are you Ginger. Thanks for the chat.
Check out Ginger Balizer and her work at http://gingerlyart.com/home.html.