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July 26th, 2008

((FolkYEAH))'s Stacie Willoughby: The Naturalismo Interview

It’s not too hard to see that Naturalismo and (((folkYEAH!))) have been kissing cousins for quite some time now. Now, to celebrate our partnership on the upcoming Festival in the Forest (as well as a lot more exciting events coming in the near future!), we wanted to highlight the amazing artist behind all of (((folkYEAH!)))’s stunning posters….


Naturalismo: By now, your artwork feels like a friend I’ve known for a long time. In its expression, its vibrancy, and its idiosyncrasy, the images you’ve created “paint a picture” (pun intended and poorly executed) of the artist who created them. Although I and, I’m guessing, many naturalismo readers know your work very well, I don’t think many people know your story. Could you give us some background? What roads did you travel to arrive at the place you’re at today?

Stacie Willoughby: I was born in South Carolina 25 years ago, I moved around a lot as a kid, moved out really young and went to San Diego, and then came to Santa Cruz about seven years ago. I went to school for a minute, to study literature, and then dropped out. My grandpa said it would be perfect for me here and it pretty much is. I found that something really interesting happens when you stick to one place for awhile, it’s probably something along the lines of sticking with one person…you become privy to all these layers of knowledge and intimacy therein. Of course the experience is probably different when you choose the place for yourself rather than growing up with it, but I wouldn’t know. I’ve always been really interested in art, music, books, the natural world, the concepts of consciousness and altered states and the relationship between the halves of the brain, that sort of thing–different specifics of perception that set in place someone’s entire view of the outside world and how they see themselves in it, often without them even realizing. I have a pretty voracious curiosity, which is sort of a self-propelling quality, and I’m constantly learning, but eventually it’s not enough to just read and look at and listen to the works of others…you want to add your voice to the choir. So I do that as best as I can, and since the act of making things can be very solitary, I’ve had to learn how to be alone with myself a lot. That’s probably the trickiest thing, especially since so much of my art gets used for social events and has to do with public experience. When I was younger, I put most of my energy into organizing shows and tours, which was awesome, but drawing is usually a pretty solitary act, so….but it’s easy to do once you start. I mean, the idea is that you enjoy it, right? So if you can just get around to picking up the pencil, you’re pretty much set.

N: What is your process for conceiving the design, layout, and thematic elements of a particular concert poster? What factors most heavily influence your vision for the artwork?

SW: I spend so much of my time sort of stirring images and ideas into my mind from other sources, from artists before me and from looking at old books all day at my job, from the outdoors and from, yknow, Rorschach oil spills on the sidewalk, that the moment a poster commission is proposed I almost immediately have chosen which of my ideas will work based on my personal interpretation of the variables of the show. In some ways though the poster is just an excuse to do whatever drawing I feel like doing at the moment, which is a reflection of whatever state of mind I’m in. It’s also why sometimes the picture will be seemingly really unrelated to the bands, and even the style might seem really unrelated. But I like that about it, I like to make something unexpected (that and I can’t help it–art is pretty much just exorcising-demons-made-fun). In some inexplicable way I find I am usually able to stick to a theme in my mind that’s related to a sometimes very vague feeling more than anything else, and sometimes I hit the nail on the head where it makes sense to other people and sometimes I don’t, but it is always an attempt to explain something I have no words for. A big purpose of any art is communication, so if you have this idea, and you make a visual of that idea, and then someone looking at it can even remotely feel like they understand where you’re coming from, you’ve probably succeeded…although, just making people stop and look is succeeding…I mean, I take my successes wherever I can. I think the whole precedent of different styles of music having these “matching” styles of art is something to think about, because it’s often based on some artist’s original idea of what that music made them feel, or what the sound-favoring musician decided was the visual equivalent to his or her music, and that was largely adopted by everyone, and now you see a poster of a certain kind of band and the picture is going to reflect that. That’s not necessarily a bad thing–the poster is first and foremost an advertising medium, a constantly evolving one I might add, and a visual language is going to be stronger in some ways the more symbolically agreed-upon it is–but it can perpetuate unnecessary divisions and labels. The problem with that, with excessive genre-splitting and set aesthetic boundaries of said genres and negative criticism (as opposed to constructive criticism, or positive feedback) and other tools that make the organization and marketing of art and music easier, is that it is the replacement of actual experience with flat symbolic unreality by someone other than you so that you can sift through the masses of information faster to find the experience you think you most want to have. Unfortunately, this actually hinders a person’s ability to experience any art or music without a lot of bullshit expectations between it and him or her, especially in a public setting, and it makes you less likely to cross paths with experiences that might actually teach you something new. If a piece of art or music leaves you cold, just go find one that doesn’t–no need to dwell on the one you didn’t connect with, or shut yourself off to everything you come across in the future that resembles it, or expect that all art will agree with you as though yours is the only important perspective. So–yeah, I don’t think it’s something to boycott necessarily, but it’s something to keep in mind; if I want to make a good poster, how the music makes me feel is of first importance, far above precedent, even though I may in fact be totally insane and my reaction may be the complete opposite of the general reaction. This attitude can make me very nervous after I’ve finished something though, waiting to see if it’s passable, but that’s the thrill of the job I guess. At this point I’ve developed my own color sense and compositional sense to the point where I just know when something is finished or if it’s still missing something I need to add. Since I work entirely by hand, once I’ve added something, I can’t really change it. I can correct something if I really have to, but I usually just try to make it work somehow. I don’t know…I like to draw, so I do it a lot, and then I get better at it, and then I enjoy it more. If only everything were that way….but it probably is…

N: Are there any poster artists or otherwise that have proven particularly inspiring to you or served greatly as an influence to your own art?

SW: When I first started noticing posters, it was the San Francisco poster artists, and Mucha, Ray Pettibon and Art Chantry, Roger Dean, the graffiti in my neighborhood, and I spent a lot of time staring at record covers…music itself influences my art just as much as other visual art does. I recently went to this Crumb exhibition and when I saw his originals with all their pencil marks and whiteout and eraser marks, it made me instantly really emotional. It really hit out of nowhere. I think it was just that same thing as when you see a painting in person that affects you and you see the brush strokes, and suddenly there is no space at all between the time you’re standing there and the time when the person was laying those brush strokes down, it’s like it’s the same moment because the empathy is so strong, the communication of feeling is so right on. It’s all about not being alone, really; proof that someone else sometime felt what you feel, even strange abstract feelings you can’t put your finger on. It happened to me really significantly for the first time with a Francis Bacon in Chicago; it’s such a surreal experience, and it made me realize all at once that what I do is innately human, and it has been going on for centuries, and it is such a primal form of communication that it actually affects your emotions without you even having to think. (I think it’s interesting that some of the most important epiphanies we have are really obvious ones; it just goes to show how much we think we already know from experience when in fact we only know it from hearsay…and even if we have the experience we have to be reminded all the time what we learned.) But yeah, making art is one way the brain keeps itself balanced, it represents some abstract, holy or mystical or whatever-you-want-to-call-it realm of reality (right side of the brain) that is complementary to the day-to-day logical life of survival (left side). If we’re too far on the right side, we forget to eat and take care of ourselves, but if we’re too far on the left side, we have these anxieties and mental imbalances that are just as impossible to live with, because we lack the release of ritual, of participating in the world without processing it all through our thought processes first. The whole brush-stroke, in-the-moment feeling is what art is supposed to do for a person to bring them back around when their left side has been too dominant, but now thanks to mechanical reproduction, communing with art has become a different kind of experience for most people, but I won’t get into all that…we’re still in the process collectively of trying to reconcile technology’s effects on the purpose of art in our lives, and once we do, I think it will be the introduction of a whole new idea of art that is currently unimaginable. So, I guess I like artists who innately seem to understand all that crap I just said. When I started drawing I didn’t know that much about posters artists, and I still don’t, but I’ve met some people doing some really cool design stuff in the past few years… incidentally most of the artists who particularly have really affected me aren’t poster artists or comic artists, though I feel a strong affinity with those people. If there’s a connection between the artists I like it’s probably imagery rather than style. I tend to like really intense, emotional, fucked up and amusing stuff. If something catches my eye and I feel like I never could have thought of it myself, I’m usually pretty excited about it.

N: Aside from the Folkyeah posterart do you make your own personal Artwork? If so is there anywhere to see it?

SW: Yeah…well, that IS my personal artwork, I don’t really think of it any differently…but as far as noncommissioned pieces, I do paintings when I have time, I have about six or seven unfinished ones sitting around right now, and they vary from being just like my poster art but with paint and without words, to being much more realistic in style…I also do sculpture and comics, and drawings that don’t advertise anything in particular, and weird crafts for friends, and I write a lot. You can’t really see most of that stuff unless you come to my home which is also my studio. I am so busy with commissions most of the time that I don’t put a lot of energy into art shows or reproductions of things for my own resale purposes. I just don’t have time. At some point when I have enough new work that I feel is worth showing, I’ll show it somewhere, as I have done before. That’s the thing about posters: it’s instant gratification for an artist, because you do it, it goes up and gets seen, and then you move on to the next thing, and on and on, and so people see your progress as you make it. It’s kinda cool, only you don’t really get that moment where you’re standing there surrounded by your entire body of work, or whatever, so sometimes it can seem kind of inconsequential. Seeing only a part of any whole can seem that way sometimes.
N: I’m always interested in the parallels between this generation and others-in particular the 1960’s. Allow me to assume for a moment that your artwork is partially inspired by 1960’s poster artwork as well as its music. Why do you think that generation – both its aesthetic and philosophy – has been growing increasingly attractive to young people of today?

SW: First of all, style and history and even a lot of ideas tend to be cyclical, so it’s pretty natural revival I guess. I think the environmental climate (no pun intended) probably has something to do with it also. And in the eternal effort to balance the world and ourselves into the healthiest state possible, I think we are looking around at all the technology and Mad Max shit and thinking, oh yeah–grass! trees! animals! I mean, this is sort of unrelated but I’ve definitely thought about what I would say if I ever could go back in time….”Yeah, we have cell phones and cars and all kinds of crazy shit in the future but I can’t actually tell you how any of it is made or what the concepts behind any of them are because I have no idea and yet somehow I still benefit from and suffer because of them…” And that’s not true for everyone, obviously there are people out there who know how to build a car or are aware of the basic concepts of the technology behind cell phones and all that, but for me personally, for example, the internet is a crazy and fantastic mystery, almost scary, and I use it, but I use it with a kind of wonder and what I consider to be a healthy fear of the consequences. So, maybe it’s just about getting back to a place where we are making out own reality, where we know how to do things, we know how to knit a piece of yarn into a sweater, we know how to chop some wood and make a fire, whatever it is that lets us feel in control of a world we are inheriting at a very dangerous time. It really probably wasn’t that different for the young people in the 60s, I mean as far as they knew, that was the craziest situation that had ever existed because it was the latest situation that had ever existed (that’s one of the best and worst things about young people), and people’s general reactions to change tend to involve very short lights in very long tunnels, so…I don’t know, I guess we can learn good things from history and adapt them just as easily as we can learn bad things from history and avoid them, the good things in particular being open-mindedness and a shrinking of the general ego. One hopes.

Please visit Stacie Willoughby’s MySpace page for more artwork and contact information!


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