11/21/08

Sarajo interviewed in blu Magazine

Sarajo says,

“A few months ago, I was contacted by Nico Amortegui, the founder of blu magazine which originates in Charlotte, NC. It’s an art/fashion/style magazine. Nico sent me a list of interesting questions which I then had to answer! Yesterday I received the printed issue with my interview. Nice!”

Thanks,
Sarajo
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Here’s the text of the article:

Where are you from?

Oakland, California.

Does your name mean anything you would like to tell us about?

My parents named me after my father’s mother, Sarah, who died before I was born. This is a Jewish custom. But my parents didn’t stop there. I don’t know where the “jo” came from, but thankfully they added it, as I don’t think Sarah would have cut it for me. I guess my name is unique enough that it has been mispronounced and misspelled my entire life. Additionally, I get mail addressed to “Mr. Sarajo Frieden” (even though I’m a female). Growing up in California, teachers always pronounced the “j” like the silent “h” in Spanish. I was teased about this constantly. Fortunately, I love my name and however I ended up with it, I think it suits me perfectly. My last name, “Frieden”, means “peace” in German, which is kind of fabulous. First, I’d like to thank you very much for your interest in my work and your questions, which I have tried to answer despite wanting to change my responses every day.

When did you start painting (drawing, creating, etc)? How did your talent come about (evolve or develop) for you?

I’ve always drawn. When I was little, I drew about things that happened around me, about my family and the stories I was telling myself.

On your website, it says your work was exhibited in North Carolina – what galleries / which cities?

I was part of the book “Dialogue: The Fine Art of Conversation” put together by Mark Murphy that features found written notes and their relationship to painted, visual narrative. An exhibition of the artwork from the book traveled to a number of places, of which North Carolina was one.

You speak of your diverse and multi-cultural surroundings in Los Angeles, tell us how this has benefited your artwork. What is your favorite part of this aspect?

The United Nations reported recently that by the end of 2008, half of the world’s 6.7 billion people will live in urban areas. In Los Angeles, there are some 53 different languages spoken in the public schools! In my neighborhood, signs appear in Korean, Thai, Armenian and Spanish as well as English. It isn’t possible to grasp Los Angeles easily, if at all. That’s strangely comforting to me. It’s a place that is tangibly in flux. Living here reinforces the sense of possibility that comes about when traveling. Perhaps it’s about keeping a sense of space, openness and tolerance. I like this quote from Eve Ensler: “We’re all displaced people. We’re all refugees. We all come from somewhere and we are all hopefully moving all the time to a new place”.

Explain the medium of your work.

I work primarily with paper–painting, cutting, collaging, sewing. Lately I’ve been doing these little shaped paper things. Sometimes I collaborate with Marci Boudreau, combining my drawings and Marci’s amazing embroidery (I do embroidery too). For my illustration work, it’s a combination of digital and analog, scanning drawings, or sometimes working solely within the digital world. I often brainstorm ideas for paintings by digitally cutting and pasting from scans. I find this to be helpful when trying to visualize entirely different ways of doing something.

The colors in your work are amazing and evoke a sense of peace; what brings you to your color choices?

Thank you! Color speaks when words fail. I think I made that up– I hope I did. At it’s most basic, color is energy. I think it’s the part of what I do that is the most closely related to music. I doubt that I’ve answered your question.

The color and characters of your illustrations seem at animate play in a child’s mind – are children an intended part of your audience?

I think children are a great audience, though I don’t think too much about who or even if I have an audience! Someone once said the grown-up world is divided between adults who are still in touch with their child-like selves and those who aren’t. I hope that isn’t true. I’d like to think that some of the grown-ups need to join a laughing club, like the ones they have in India. I need this club too.

The titles of your pieces are just as creative and often as thought provoking as the pieces themselves. Do you name them before or after you start the piece?

Thanks! It works both ways. Usually I’m working on a number of pieces at once and I will scribble down ideas or thoughts as I’m working. Ideas that percolate from music, books, random thoughts, or conversations, that later turn up as an idea, a title, or the name of a show.

Natural elements including progression and growth seem to be running themes, along with the representation of jewels/ gems. What does all of this represent?

That’s a very good question– I’m not sure I have an answer. I am more interested in what happens at a subconscious level then in what I think I know or see. By the very process of working, I try to illuminate what is residing just below the surface of things. Minerals and gems and the whole physical world that we are seeing is not a stagnant thing, it isn’t even what we think it is. And everything can be broken down further and further into impossibly small bits, so I guess it’s that underlying structure which is very alive that I’m thinking about. Things grow then decay, and decay makes it possible for something else to grow.

Who are some of your favorite artists whose work you admire?

I admire and pull from different kinds of art and artists, from the world of dance, or film, even puppets. A short list: Paul Klee, Beatriz Milhazes, Jacques Tati, William Kentridge, Pina Bausch, John Cage, Federico Fellini, William Traylor, Hungarian folk art (my grandparents were from Hungary), Persian miniatures, Japanese Ukiyo-e, Shaker Trance Drawing, Dr. Suess.

What artists are playing on your iPod when you’re creating pieces?

Music inspires me with its ability to convey abstraction and emotion at the same time. I listen to a lot of things: Tinariwen from Mali, Jazz, ragas, Lisandro Aristimuño, Tropicalia, Afro pop, podcasts of various kcrw dj’s, david byrne internet radio. Lately, I’ve been drawn to Chris Watson’s sound recordings: bird calls, ancient glaciers, and running rivers. Listening late at night in the urban setting of my studio heightens not only the stark beauty of these sounds, but also the awareness of their increasing vulnerability in the face of human activities.

What do you find to be extraordinary from you daily surroundings?

I think if you pay attention to what’s around you, it’s hard not to see something interesting. It might be a strange flower growing in the garden or an outfit on a dog. Sometimes when walking in the park at dusk, I’ll see an owl high up in a tree, silhouetted against the sky. Of course, I’ve seen owls before, but who does not love to watch an owl, and wait until it gives off its owlish call?

Whether in your personal pieces or those that have been commissioned, your style is very distinctive. What can you tell us about this?

That’s interesting. Sometimes I think it’s very difficult to see one’s own work. It takes a long time, often a few years after I’ve done something, to decide whether I like it or not. But regardless of judging it, I try to see it as part of a whole. As for style, it comes into play in my illustration work because often someone is asking me to do something similar to another job and they send jpegs of things they like. For my personal work, I try to work away from sameness. I think that’s what taking a risk is all about, not being comfortable, working on the edge of discomfort. Maybe you’re hitting something or maybe you’re vastly not, but what really matters is the leap. I see the practice as working on the ability to take the leap.

When did you start painting (drawing, creating, etc)? How did your talent come about (evolve or develop) for you?

I’ve always drawn. When I was little, I drew about things that happened around me, about my family and the stories I was telling myself.

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