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Artists share their tales of the trade

Staff Writer

Published: Friday, September 20, 2013

Updated: Friday, September 20, 2013 01:09

Brave New Art World


Artists Sharon Butler and Shigeyuki Kihara offered advice to art students, helping them understand the steps necessary for a successful art career in the modern world and the importance of creating communities, during the Gene and Georgia Mittleman Lecture and School of Fine Arts Convocation, held at the von der Mehden Recital Hall on Thursday night.

Before the lecture began, Art and Art History Associate Professor Anna D’Alleva welcomed the students that comprised the audience and invited Rising Artists for Creative Expression onto the stage. Consisting of Antonio Elijah, Julianne Norton, and David Pereira, R.A.C.E. is a project that aims to gather 6-12 art students to work individually and as a team on grants and group projects, eventually displaying artwork in an exhibition by the end of the year. They invite any art student interested in joining their efforts. After them was another group of artists under the name “We Art! Together.” This group encouraged students to share their work with the UConn community and with each other through social media like Twitter and Facebook.

These presentations were a perfect example of the lesson both Butler and Kihara stressed: to create communities and make them flourish.

“Remember: Be generous. Work together to create a sustainable creative community,” Butler said.

Primarily a painter and art blogger, Butler shared the fact that she’s been painting for almost 25 years and told the audience about her experiences since the beginnings of her career. Graduating from Massachusetts College of Art, she moved to New York City and lived as a poor artist. Working at a magazine for, what she described as “10 days a week and barely making ends meet,” she finally got gallery representation and began selling her paintings for profit. She described her start in blogging in 1996 and how it allowed her to have her own voice, find what she wanted to say, and allowed her to help the artistic community. She also explained how the most revolutionary development for artists is the web. By being able to post, review and discuss artwork internationally, the community flourishes. Using examples of work projected on a screen behind her, she demonstrated how artists who leave the confines of their studios and join communities tend to do better; that it’s about artists supporting artists.

Kihara is a native of Samoa (where she grew up after the age of 6), and an interdisciplinary artist curator whose work has been presented in a number of international art festivals. When Kihara took the stage, she spoke words in Samoan, thanked the “Creator that brought us here together,” and thanked the indigenous people of the land that the assembly was currently on. She began by sharing some information about herself, including her ethnic background, having a Japanese father and a Samoan mother. She started her career in fashion design and graduated with an advanced diploma. Soon after, she became interested in the Japanese deconstruction movement and was ready to show the world what she was made of. Though her artwork was deemed too avant-garde, she pursued design by making costumes for theater and dance companies. Working seven years and witnessing the process of art displays from beginning to end, she began asking herself important questions.

“How do I become part of a community? How do I become part of a network? What am I good at,” Kihara asked to the audience, stressing how important it is for artists to ask these questions too. “Who are the like-minded people? Who are the artists who believe in what I believe in?”

Soon, Kihara was exposed to photography which she took up as a medium. She also took up designing shirts with street art and reconstructing logos. She got her first big break when Gianni Versace, who was looking for artists that would comment on the fashion industry with irony, spotted her shirt on the curator of the National Museum of New Zealand and bought all of her shirts. Despite hitting copyright controversies, her fame grew with her exhibit “Fa’a fafine; In the Manner of a Woman,” which made its way to the Metropolitan.

“I’m interested to see how the Pacific and the rest of the world can meet halfway in a very respectful dialogue,” Kihara said.

The end of the convocation was dedicated to a question and answer session.


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