Things this month have been absolutely amazing and absolutely busy! I am proud to announce that I am the Grand Prize Winner of the 2014 VSA Young Emerging Artist Program with the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.! This year’s theme was “The Journey,” and prompted artists to submit their work that concerned their own personal journeys living with a disability. With this award, my piece is exhibited in the Smithsonian in Washington, it is also part of a nationally traveling exhibition, and I receive a cash prize of $20,000. I have been invited, along with the other 14 winners, to attend a Congressional Reception in January so I’m already starting to plan my outfit! I am extremely honored to be receiving this award and am so excited to see what this next year holds for me.
My winning papercut sculpture, Never Stopping, deals with my experiences as a heart transplant recipient, specifically the overwhelming feelings related to my physical issues as well as the desire for healing. The entire original sculpture is about 16 ft in height and is made entirely of handcut paper. I also added screenprinted cutouts of hands, legs, oranges, and bananas. These symbolize offerings and milagros, or physical representations of intentions. The idea behind it was for the viewer to become overwhelmed with the structure, in order to mimic my own feelings. For the Kennedy Center, I brought the piece down to a smaller scale, which you can see in the photo.
My transplant is a major part of my life, and I am open to any questions readers might have. I received my heart at the age of 14 months at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. That transplant team became my family, and I am always going back every now and then to visit. They still follow up with me and my procedure results even though I have switched to the cardiology team at UPMC Children’s Hospital. Right now, I still have my original heart making my transplant one of the oldest single organ transplants in the country.
Ok, so for a while I’ve been going pattern crazy with oranges, bananas, palm trees, and other tropical themed guys. I’ve also gone a little nuts making tons of little milagro hands and legs. Besides making them into little sculptures, I wanted to push them out on the world. Most of the images that I print are heavily influenced by Miami and Cuban culture. Living in Pittsburgh, I’m in an environment that is the total opposite of my work. One day when it was snowing I went out and pasted my little oranges onto a fence by my house in Lawrenceville. Everything around me is so gritty, industrial, and absolutely beautiful. I wanted to place my printed guys in the wrong kind of environment, make them seem more out of place. I’ll be going around this week and posting more around town.
Now, I just want to say that these are not permanently installed. I put them up with some tape, take a photo, and then take them down right after. Don’t worry- I’m not tearing up public property with tiny oranges. But, I would love to get these installed anywhere in the city permanently and I’m hoping that’s the next step.
For some time, I’ve had this fascination with oranges. It all started on an airplane. I opened up one of those horrible magazines that are in the seat pocket thanks to extreme boredom. Well, for once my boredom launched me into a new obsession. There was an article on something I had never hear of: orange wrappers. People collect these wrappers, especially the Italian ones. I had no idea why one would wrap an orange but it was the greatest thing I had ever seen. Being from Miami, you see oranges even when you close your eyes. I guess I had become immune to Florida’s constant projection of orange images. But looking at the art deco art that was beautifully designed for a wrapper of all things, a switch must have clicked. I tore out the article and to this day still have it. I keep it in my wallet as inspiration.
So, as time went on I began screenprinting. What did I want to make more than anything else? Oranges. But I wanted to find a way to recreate the old printing methods: that bitmap, dotted, Lichtenstein style of print. What did I do? Oh I had photoshop and I had ways to make it into a neat, organized print by means of machinery. No, I made it by hand. Handpainted each and every dot onto my screen. I’m not writing this to brag, it’s instead to tell you my process. I am an admirer of folk art and the difference that one feels when they do a meticulous task with their own hands. It’s an intimate moment with your image. To place that amount of time and effort into something provides an extra connection with the object. That’s why I do it.
These here are my orange prints and the many ways that I hang them in galleries. I added milagro hands and some feet into my oranges. This piece, as well as most of my graphic work, deals with ideas relating to offerings and ritual.