Category Archives: Jivotica: Artistic Journey

Indulging My Inner Geek

I hope you will forgive me for getting my geek on as I am about to do. Although I rarely discuss my early influences, I find on this particular occasion, an irresistible force compels me to do so.

In 1977, I saw Star Wars on the big screen and my eyes were immediately adjusted to what storytelling could be. I was eight years old and knew at that moment I would be an artist and a storyteller. Up to that point, my imaginary worlds were mainly inhabited by dinosaurs, army men and matchbox cars – fueled by reruns of Lost in Space, the original Star Trek and Godzilla movies on Saturday afternoons. While these certainly offered fuel enough for my overactive imagination to work with, Star Wars gave me blasters, light sabers, an evil empire with incredibly cool costumes, aliens, dogfighting starships hurdling through a galaxy far, far away and … the force. All these things were revealed through a story that seemed vast, deeply satisfying, strange and yet somehow familiar.

Darth Aric and Princess Cassie

I was obsessed with the universe that Lucas had created and wished I could live there in the way many people now wish to live on Pandora (the world of James Cameron’s Avatar). I collected the action figures and dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween (that’s me, dueling with my friend, Cassie, who obligingly agreed to go as Princess Leia.) Being an industrial designer, my father made the costume with which I won a city wide contest, complete with prize money and a photo op with the mayor that ran in our local newspaper. The lights of the chest plate blinked, the dome of the helmet was sculpted from Bondo with about 20 coats of auto-grade glossy black paint … it was truly awesome.

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Like so many artists of my generation, I credit the experience of seeing Star Wars for the first time with jolting me awake, opening my imagination in the same way a stick of dynamite would open a pop can – mind blown. Since that day, the Star Wars universe has offered me a wellspring of inspiration – but it did more than that. Wishing to understand how Lucas came up with his world and the story that so engaged me, I began looking into the things that inspired him, hoping one day that this would lead me to create a world of my own. I learned that he was drawing on two of his personal interests – history (especially World War II) and the works of Joseph Campbell (professor and author of many books on the comparative study of world religions/mythology including Hero With A Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth). This got me interested in these areas and lead me ultimately to the historical, cultural and myth-based art I create today.

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The prequels came out when I was an adult and like most who grew up with the original trilogy, this return to Star Wars left me disappointed. I hated several of the characters (like Jar Jar), plot points (midi-chlorians) as well as the over-use (and in some cases oddly ineffectual use) of CGI. I also found the humor in these new scripts agonizing. Consequently, I wrote these new films off as “written for children” and wondered if my adult mind was simply immune to the magic of future Star Wars films. This never really rang true however and I hoped one day there might be something new worth celebrating in the Star Wars universe that could make me feel the same exhilaration I had felt as a child.

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So, when I heard that Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, I had intensely mixed emotions. I felt betrayed by Lucas who started out as a rebel director fighting the evil empire that was the American film industry only to forge his own empire – now ultimately to sell that empire to an even larger one. Simply put, he had started out as Luke and was now Darth Vader. Facebook memes showing Leia Organa as “the next Disney princess” made my stomach turn. On the other hand, I felt cautiously optimistic that Disney would find a way back to the original Star Wars universe I loved.

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Successfully avoiding all spoilers (I only allowed myself to watch the official trailers), I walked into the IMax 3D theater with my wife and daughter a few days after Christmas without a clue what to expect.

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So, what is my reaction to seeing The Force Awakens? I want to call director, J.J. Abrams, and the producers at Disney/Lucasfilm and thank them for breathing new life into the muse I have drawn on for as long as I can remember. It is good to see Star Wars alive and well again after its long hibernation and I look forward to many more films exploring the far reaches of that galaxy far, far away.

-Aric Jorn

Aric has been shot!

It’s all over. The camera crew is gone, the shoot has wrapped and a sense of normalcy has returned to my studio. My head has stopped spinning and after a day spent unwinding and picking up some fresh supplies (including a badly needed lamp), I’ve managed to ground myself once more.

But let me back up a bit…

About a month ago, I was contacted by a producer of the 2014 Emmy Award winning PBS show, Detroit Performs, and told they were interested in featuring me on an episode. This was all thanks to someone I had met years ago who turns out to be on the advisory committee for the show (unbeknownst to me). When the themes for the upcoming season were announced, she thought my work would be a good fit and submitted my name.

A few days later, the phone rang and I had a delightful conversation with the show’s producer. We set the date, I sent her the information she needed to prepare for the segment and I waited for July 9th to roll around.

So it came to be that yesterday, I had a production crew shadowing me as I lived out a day as a working artist. In the morning, we were at my home studio talking about my work as a sculptor while I roughed in two new pieces for my Sculpting Myth series.

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In the afternoon, we relocated to The Henry Ford where I demonstrated early American pottery decorating techniques like slip trailing and sgraffito.

It was a surreal experience to spend a day with a camera crew in tow. It was exciting, eye-opening and genuinely fun and I hope for the chance to do it again someday.

The episodes have yet to be placed on the fall schedule but I will post the date as soon as I know it. You will also be able to find it on the Detroit Performs Website (following the air date which will be sometime this fall/winter.)

My deepest thanks to the wonderful people at PBS-Detroit for their kindness, patience and professionalism – particularly to the creative team, Sarah, Matthew, Kim and Tina and to the wonderfully synergistic Colleen who thought of me and was kind enough to make the connection on my behalf. Thanks also to my family who had to put up with my craziness as the shoot date loomed near.

I have been blessed this year and I thank everyone who has helped support me as I make my way down the left-hand path.

~Aric

The Fragmented Journey

This week’s post is for creatives who struggle with multiple muses…

I used to wish I had only one great passion in my life – a single driving ambition. I imagined the heights to which such a focused life would lead and a part of me has always envied those who have this kind of singular devotion and the success that often accompanies it.

Instead, I’ve spent my life juggling many interests. As a result, I’ve often felt over-stretched – that ache of knowing I will never realize my full potential in any one discipline because I allow myself to be pulled in so many directions.

Growing up, the idea of becoming an artistic “jack-of-all-trades” was a fate I viewed with distaste even as I resigned myself to it. Ironically, I landed my first job (Jr. Art Director/producer at J. Walter Thompson) specifically because I was a well-rounded creative with a background in art, music, writing and theater. Over the years I have come to appreciate the value of the fragmented journey. Replete with variety, it offers a wide range of experiences that would otherwise be lost in the periphery.

The hats I currently wear in my professional life include: a sculptor at Jivotica (3 days/week), a pottery artist and historical presenter at The Henry Ford (3 days/week), a theatrical director for two schools (2-3 days/week) and an author penning two original plays each year and working to complete my first novel (1-2 days/week)

Obviously these numbers don’t add up to the traditional 7-day week. Though I’d love to say I have come into possession of Hermione’s time turner, sadly, this is not the case. Some of the work is seasonal and some of it overlaps – forcing me for instance, to be a stage director and pottery artist on the same day fitting in some writing in the evening once my daughter is asleep. At other times, I am forced to sacrifice work on one project to meet the deadline of another and soon find myself scraping the edges of my day-planner for any unclaimed hours … or even minutes. There are times when I get so frustrated at having to leave things 90% complete, I just want to scream.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the excitement and variety of my life and often wonder whether I would get bored if I arose each morning to do the same work as the day before. At the same time, I find myself longing to take each project further than my schedule will allow. Over the last year or two, I’ve hit a point where the latter impulse is winning out and I am working towards simplifying my life so I can reach higher in the areas of greatest interest. Until then, I will continue to find joy in the winding, forking path and realize that I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to walk as an artist-explorer for a time.

So, to all you who are struggling as I have (and do) to make room for several interests rather than choosing between them – take heart. There may come a time when you make the decision to focus on the one or two things that most fulfill you but in the meantime, don’t overlook the excitement and satisfaction to be found in the fragmented journey.

~Aric Jorn

The Dark Side of Art

Autumn is one of my favorite times of year and Halloween, one of my favorite holidays. I attend parties and exhibitions throughout October and at month’s end, I host a party for friends and fellow artists. It is a time for stretching the imagination and trying new techniques without concern for results; a time for throwing off whatever chains I have accumulated over the year and diving into projects for the shear, raw joy of it. I make costumes and props ranging from ghostly monkeys to carved sarcophagus lids. The only requirement I make of myself is that I try something new – a new medium, a new technique – that takes me out of my comfort zone.

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This year, the first event on my docket was Theatre Bizarre at the Masonic Temple in Detroit. It is one of the best parties of its kind. It is true as some say, that the event is extremely crowded and guests are not always certain where to go since performances are happening at a dozen locations simultaneously and there is little to guide attendees to the shows in which they may be most interested.

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Once you are in and have accepted the general chaos however, it is a magical place and if you give up trying to control your course and choose instead to simply wander from experience to experience, you will find yourself in interesting places. Burlesque dancers, fire acts, bands, sideshow performers and rooms better experienced than described (like the ghost train and fistotorium) – all exist to tantalize the senses and celebrate the darker side of our imaginations. And then there are the costumes … as an artist, the endless parade of costumes is alone worth the cost of admission and I often found my fellow guests as entertaining as the acts on the stages. I made myself a “dark circus master” personae for this year’s event and had an absolute blast.

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The second event I attended was Damned VI: An Exhibition of Enlightened Darkness (also in Detroit). It was a small affair and it barely took me an hour to work my way around its main hall and absorb all the art on display. I was  disappointed at its limited scope but there was some very interesting artwork to be seen along with a couple performers that made the night worthwhile. The one stand out for me was Satori Circus, a thoroughly engaging clown/mime whose silent performances captivated the crowd.

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Halloween is among other things about letting your imagination out to play without constraint. To those who have outgrown Halloween or lost their fear of things that go bump in the night, I remind you of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote, “Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.”

All in all a satisfying Halloween season and a much needed unraveling of self-imposed constraints and the ghostly specters of imagined limits.

~Aric Jorn

Inspiration From Without

My annual midsummer hiatus now passed, I have returned to my studio with fresh ideas and renewed ambition. So today I offer my first Artistic Journey post, a category wherein I share my creative life and that of other artists I have met along the way, as well as stories I hope you will find inspirational on your own creative journey.

As the eldest son of two artists who met while attending Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, I am no stranger to art shows. My mother, Helen Liljegren, showed as a fiber artist at a variety of juried art fairs throughout my childhood – Ann Arbor and Birmingham in Michigan; LakeFront in Wisconsin; and Oakbrook in Illinois are the ones that most stick in my memory but there were many others.

When not helping to watch her booth, I was allowed to venture down the rows of bleach white tents, meeting the neighboring artists who would do their best to entertain a young boy who wasn’t very fond of sitting still for any length of time. I loved the whole atmosphere of those shows – the smell of the food (mostly fried), the steady stream of people coming in to admire my mother’s work, and the seemingly endless variety of art I found all around me.

One of the people I was most drawn to was a ceramic artist named Todd Warner, who created comical hand-built animals with buggy eyes, spindly legs and big feet.

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Another favorite stop was the booth of Madeline Kaczmarczyk and Jerry Berta who made whimsical pottery and ceramic car-related sculptures respectively.

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I also remember a metal artist named Dempsey Calhoun – for his artwork, yes, but also for his habit of hunting flies that made the fatal mistake of entering his booth. Like some miniature big game hunter on safari, he would shoot them with giant rubber bands from across his booth to both applause and odd looks from passersby. I’m not sure whether this helped or hurt his sales but it certainly made an impression.

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I remember being very inspired by these early encounters – especially the sculptors. I made a number of clay dinosaurs back then that sadly, like the things they represented, have since been lost to time. My love of three-dimensional art took root during those years and when I sat down to write this post, I was delighted to discover all these artists are still thriving nearly thirty years later.

I share this story because I have come to recognize the importance of recharging my creative batteries by looking outside my own work. I find time spent looking at what others have done – especially (and perhaps ironically) work that is in no way connected to my own – is worth twice the number of hours spent sitting alone attempting to force inspiration out of the void. It is for this reason I devoted an entire weekend to the Ann Arbor Art Fair shortly after my last post in mid-July. A great deal had changed since I was there as a child, and a lot had remained the same.

As a general rule, I deem a show “good” if one out of ten booths earn more than a casual glance and one out of 100 stop me in my tracks and make me want to reach for my wallet. The A2 fair (which actually consists of four shows all connected into one long winding path I would guess to be about two miles in total length) is such a place and I recommend it for its size, variety and quality not to mention its scenic beauty being nestled in and around the beautiful U of M campus.

There are things I found to be lacking or at least underrepresented. There were no fiber artists to speak of – at least not of the decorative, wall-hanging variety like my mother used to make. There were a couple of ceramic artists making hand-built animals and figures (including Alan Paulson who I came to know from my days at the Michigan Renaissance Festival) but there seemed to be room for far more to help break up the monotony of jewelers, potters and painters.

On balance it remains a wonderfully rewarding experience and just what I needed – an artistic environment that recharged my batteries, opening my mind to new techniques and making me hungry for time in my own studio.

~Aric Jorn