Shari Weschler Rubeck (also known as, “Sumo Bunni”) is a talented artist who lives with her family in Rhode Island. She and her husband Christian started their own art website called, “Art In Mind” http://www.artinmind.org/ which is a fantastic showcase of their artistic talents. I wanted to find out what inspired such a cool enterprise and chatted with Shari…
“The viewer's perspective is a gift … If I give it all away, I believe I have removed the viewer's ability to connect with the work on a more personal level or to make discoveries I may have missed ...”
MICHAEL: Hello Shari, Your work is very intriguing, but first, you identify yourself as "Sumo Bunni." Why? What's it all about?
SHARI: Sumo Bunni formulated one day while sitting with our son Desi, at the dining room table drawing when he was in kindergarten. He was struggling with what we thought was Tourette's Syndrome, but later discovered more likely to be OCD. He had many tics that made life challenging for him and drawing was a way for him to quiet the frequent disturbances.
He drew every day religiously and wanted me, my husband and whoever else could draw, to work alongside of him. He also constantly requested that we illustrate his choice of topic while he observed, so he could learn. We were drawing silly pictures, sharing a page and creating stories to accompany them. The Bunni had just begun infiltrating my own imagery as an artist and I drew a rabbit. Our son explained that this character was going to wrestle and eat pizza all day. So I saw him as a strong, but rotund creature and drew what became known as, “Sumo Bunni.” It stuck and we pretended to be Sumo wrestling rabbits with ‘special voices.’
MICHAEL: Very cool.
SHARI: I thought Sumo Bunni would make a good character to represent an anti-bullying mission. And kids loved him. I had him printed on t-shirts and decals and took him into some art classes I was teaching at the time; using him as an opener to discuss any issues kids might be experiencing regarding bullying. But busy life got busier and the mission fizzled.
In any case, my husband and I choose to share a Facebook account and page and Sumo became our face. Some have referred to me as Bunni Girl, or just Sumo, which frankly, I think is fun. I have noticed that some galleries are requesting to represent me as Sumo Bunni in exhibitions. Not sure I am ready to let go of my name ‘name’ just yet. However, we are adding, “aka Sumo Bunni,” which for now, works for me. And who knows, maybe, I will just be Sumo in the near future.
MICHAEL: Wow. Great story. Okay, now on to your website which is called, "Art In Mind." The name is simple enough, but why did you choose it? Was it more about creating an online gallery with your husband Christian?
SHARI: In 1992, I acquired my first HP, complete with software that I had no knowledge of using such as Photoshop, Pagemaker, Illustrator and a state-of-the-art slide scanner. Remember those days of slides?
SHARI: Most especially, the internet was a fairly new entity. My father said, “If you want to do something that will make you marketable in the future, become a website designer.”
At this point, the goal was to form a company and create an online portfolio. Using another Adobe program, I built our site from scratch - even began teaching myself some coding. The name “Art In Mind” formulated as I considered my style, technique and mission as an artist. Mine is work that gives viewers plenty to consider and feel. The title sounded catchy, it started with an ‘A’ and I set out for a .com domain. Unfortunately, it had already been secured with the boring intent to re-sell. I considered purchasing, but decided .org would be sufficient. I added my husband's work to the site and we became “Art In Mind Studios.”
MICHAEL: Your work is so painterly and fun. I love the ethereal and somewhat "in progress" nature of it and how you take traditional subjects and add whimsy which makes them more accessible. What kinds of reaction do you get to your work?
SHARI: Thank you Michael. I usually find that people take to and become very engaged with my imagery. I have had familiars and strangers tell me that they would be interested in living in my head for even just an hour or a day. There is so much going on in there at all times - maybe overwhelming to step into the vortex. Which made me ponder: What if we could, even for a moment, step into another person's mind and feel everything they feel and know everything they know? Imagine what that would do for humanity?
MICHAEL: Total game changer.
SHARI: I am an intuitive person and intrigued with the psyche. The message or story behind each piece is - depending upon the particular series - calculated or discovered. I do enjoy trusting and allowing ‘things’ to just happen. Even works that are pre-planned can surprise me later.
The viewer's perspective is a gift. However, I must confess, my least favorite question as an artist is “What were you thinking?” I think so many things. Each piece is a pushing forth of many aspects of me and my observations and personal life experiences. It is often difficult to wrap it up with a bow on top with one tidy thought. I can say things like, “New Beginnings” is about the way we are communicating and mis-communicating as humans. But this does not cover everything that rests within each image of that particular series. If I give it all away, I believe I have removed the viewer's ability to connect with the work on a more personal level or to make discoveries I may have missed.
MICHAEL: You know Shari, I've interviewed more than 300 artists and not one of them has said that they necessarily want people to see their work the same way they see it. For years, I've felt that this is one of the keys to unlocking the fear that people have about contemporary art or art in general, really. Art historians and curators are very important, but at the end of the day, don't people have to get in there and do some of their own thinking about what they're seeing?
SHARI: People most definitely must get in and make their own observations. And they do. But some stop short when faced with contemporary or conceptual work. Even with explanation, I do not believe the viewer can see the art exactly the same way as the artist. But, it is ok not to always understand too. It is ok to see a work of art, not connect, bond or completely ‘get it’ and then walk away with some blank spots or mystery lingering.
MICHAEL: Yes indeed. When did you first become aware of yourself as an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?
SHARI: My first artistic experience was drawing or rather redecorating/vandalizing the interior of my parents’ new station wagon with a box of crayons. I was maybe five.
I began as a dancer, but was forced to take time off around the age of 10 for about a year due to a knee condition with a long name. In that space, I discovered art on a deeper level. My mother was a dancer and godmother a ballerina (who danced with Balanchine) so movement was a prominent art form. My aunt is an artist, but did not reach out to me with her own. My father was always very creative and we would build foam, core structures together. I loved and still do love architecture. It was one thing I thought I might want to study in college, until I learned how much math it would require.
In any event, I was fortunate to be signed up for private art lessons with some amazing mentors and continued into advanced placement high school classes. I was passionate about observational rendering most particularly. I returned to dance, but art stuck and I ended up attending MICA in Baltimore MD, where I happily never had to solve another three-page math problem ever again. I am so grateful that our children are creative and growing up in a creative environment with not one, but two very different studios.
MICHAEL: Are you concerned about having “creative” kids in this hard-driving, digital world where everyone seems to be obsessed with business startups, healthcare and computer code writing? Art careers are tougher than ever. No?
SHARI: Not at all. We encourage our children to find and use their voices, but keep them aware of the financial needs and realities of being a human being. We joke and tell them they will need to make a lot of money to support us when we are old and we have already ‘placed our high performance car orders.’
Business start ups require creativity and outside-the-box thinking. Although school continues to channel children across the nation, we give ours ample opportunity and exposure to arts, science, etc., allowing them to grow as individuals in a technological environment. Our kids are incredibly comfortable with computers, portable devices, gaming platforms - though we limit game types and duration. They are also very happy to leave the digital behind and play sports, read, pretend, gallery hop, draw, take workshops, sew, invent, ride bikes...
Personally, I love technology and find myself wishing at times that I had gone into computer science - would have been easier. A career as an artist can be a tough road and depends on what your goals are. Luckily, we can market ourselves much easier, but catch twenty two, more artists are marketing themselves.
Recently on Facebook, I was discussing an article that spoke about how women (this applies to both genders, I believe) expect perfection from themselves; the amount we are juggling and that we must try to be accepting of not being perfect. But in that same article, the writer tells us to go out and be great. And really, what do we leave behind? Everything today seems to sit at the top of the priority list.
MICHAEL: I hear ya.
SHARI: Digital accessibility bombards us with incredible amounts of information and the ability to connect with the entire world in an instant on social media. We are really the first generation coping with a new level of balance in our lives. Job, career, children, social media, digital phones which pile up thousands of emails and pictures in our storage banks. We are also the first parental generation to handle and guide our children as they navigate this vastness. One day at a time.
MICHAEL: Yes indeed. Given all of that, how do you think the art world is changing for the better and worse? What will it take to get more people interested in contemporary art?
SHARI: Hmm. Loaded question. I think a much larger part of society is tuned into and accepting of contemporary art than ever before thanks to the art fair and social media, which is great! The public is invited to a full day's exhibition and privy to a plethora of artistic expression and galleries galore, all under one or more roof. I truly appreciate the freedom we are allowing ourselves today. Like music, dance, theater, fashion, etc., anything goes and we want to see it all; push the limits of subject, material and technique! Some movements do still manage to perplex me though.
The high end fairs are becoming more and more of a feeding frenzy for the rich and/or famous. Everyone wants in. In a way, this seems to be creating a gap between artist, Artist and ARTIST as well as Collector and Artist. Perhaps this is pushing art into a channel. I do not study it and I'm not in the thick of it, just a sense from reading and watching. This is not to say I would complain if I found myself sitting at the top surrounded by a pack of hungry collectors, but I have to question where this is all heading. How many art fairs or anti-art fairs will there be in five years from now? Will there be any point in owning a gallery? I live and breath art and my mission to secure galleries, gallerists and collectors who are passionate about my work will never cease.
MICHAEL: Where are you guys exactly? Are you influenced by your surroundings?
SHARI: Been living in Rhode Island for about 11 years now. No, I can say with the exception of the huge number of rocks in our earth here, the stone walls and rocky beaches, I work independent of our surroundings. We do not live in the city.
I am of course inspired by the art scene that is growing very rapidly here. After moving from Baltimore, leaving behind 16 years of roots and the Maryland Institute College of Art, it felt a bit barren here. We knew no one when we arrived, had a one-year-old and I was pregnant, so not much in the way of connections to the arts. But then, thanks to one friend, who knew one artist, who was working with one city gallery, a spark ignited and the ball began rolling for us in New England.
MICHAEL: As you know Shari, art is such a challenging field, especially for artists. You never know when or if your work will sell. It's just such a nagging issue. Why do this?
SHARI: It is me. There is no choice.
MICHAEL: Finally Shari, What's the point of art? I mean, why should people even care? Art isn't saving the world.
SHARI: Thank you for this opportunity Michael. Art is a vital part of us and life - there is no avoiding it. We are all expressionists; even nature is artistic. It doesn’t matter if we are ‘Artists’ or not. We all have to get stuff out in one way or many ways. Thousands of years ago in caves, there existed … artists. Of course, they had other reasons for putting their beliefs, hopes and thanks on the walls - but it was still expression. Imagining this place without art is impossible, like pondering nothing, nothingness. Maybe art will save the world. Here's hoping, we need all the help we can get!
MICHAEL: Nicely said. Thanks Shari. Cool chat.
SHARI: Many thanks Michael! Been fun!
Check out the work of Shari Weschler Rubeck and her husband Christian Rubeck at http://www.artinmind.org/.