I am so pleased to welcome Rachel Bone to the Design*Sponge Guest Blog! I first met Rachel three years ago when I bought a t-shirt from her at a neighborhood festival in Baltimore. Originally a small-town New Englander Rachel is slowly being converted to city life and has found the visual stimulation, inspiration and artists here important to her art. Baltimore is known affectionately as Smalltimore for a reason and Rachel and I have been running in overlapping circles for the past couple of years. Rachel is a true biz lady, running her own business, Red Prairie Press (a reference to leaving office work and the daily grind behind to ride strongly and bravely into a red prairie sunset of freedom and creativity). It was great to have an excuse to ask her more about her work, process and thoughts on Baltimore’s art community. (Thank you so much Rachel!)
First of all, I hear congratulations are in order! For the second year in a row you are a semi-finalist for the prestigious Sondheim award! This is a fairly new and exciting opportunity for artists in Baltimore. Can you explain a little bit about the award and the work that you have done in order to receive this honor?
RB: Thanks! It’s true – I am a semi-finalist!
The competition is Baltimore-based and named after the late Walter & Janet Sondheim, who were both active philanthropists in the city (Walter Sondheim oversaw the desegregation of Baltimore public schools in the 50’s and helped build what is now Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Janet Sondheim was a teacher after years of dancing with the Denishawn Dance Company. Both were avid supporters of the arts, and helped make the city what it is today).
To be considered for the prize ($25,000), artists in the area submit portfolios of their visual/time-based work for review by a panel of judges from outside the city. If you make the second round, you also submit in writing a proposal for what you would do with the money. What’s great is that they have a semi-finalist gallery show at the Maryland Institute College of Art MICA, and a Finalist exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and then the prize is announced and awarded during Artscape . So it creates a lot of opportunity for exposure for Baltimore artists, and I’m more than flattered and excited to even be considered.
How does the art community in Baltimore influence your work?
RB: Simply by existing in the way it does. There are always new things being made and shown all over the city, and there are some great bloggers and art critics writing about it all the time. Baltimore as a city is well aware of the less attractive things it’s known for (think HBO’s The Wire), and I think because of that, everyone here is hyper-positive and supportive of anything good coming out of the city. People tend to embrace anything and everything being made locally and take personal ownership of it. John Water’s is ours. Dan Deacon is ours. Michael Phelps? OURS. The Wire, depressing as it might be… is ours. It’s easy to feel celebrated as part of the arts community, and to feel the support from other artists, who want the arts scene (medium sized, but rapidly expanding) to thrive. On top of the moral support, the level of proficiency is really high. Lately there have been a lot of theatrical/vaudeville type happenings popping up in the city. These are incredibly inspiring to me. If you can think something up, it’s probably doable… and Baltimore will most likely embrace it.
What do you do and/or where do you go when you need inspiration?
RB: I’m big on deadlines, and needing something to push me to make work. I almost always go to the library for inspiration. The central library downtown has a great Visual Arts section and an even greater children’s book section. I visit both frequently, as well as the non-fiction section, but I never really have a system for doing this… Sometimes I just walk up and down the aisles until I find a surprise (for instance, you’d be surprised how many books there are on model airplane care and maintenance, or small rodents of the east coast). I read a lot of folk tales and books about old folklore, watch films (also at the library- you can check out 16mm reels. Phil and I recently pulled out his 16mm projector and watched a print of Jim Henson’s first film Timepiece, which came recommended by the man who runs that department). I’m also inspired by people going about their daily business. Baltimoreans are exceptionally eccentric, and I do a lot of people watching and eavesdropping for inspiration. I’m constantly on the lookout for funny stories & gossip… things that might make a good narrative.
What are some of the themes that you find yourself drawn to in your work?
RB: I really like the idea of open narrative. Remember those choose-your-own-adventure books? I always liked the idea of the audience getting to participate. It helps wash away some of the bitter taste I sometimes get from art being a bit elitist or unapproachable. I NEVER want my artwork to be unapproachable. I try to form situations for the characters in my paintings that appear to be mid-narrative, with enough visual information to have the viewer form some sort of assumption or story in their head, and allow themselves to guess what happens next, or how the situation came to be. I love hearing what people think is happening in my paintings. The characters are generally women, and so I’m often accused of being a feminist artist. I try to stay away from that, because it wasn’t ever my intention, but I guess I do like the idea of taking women (sometimes myself or friends, sometimes specific strangers I’ve seen on the street) who appear bored or adventureless, and putting them in ridiculous situations. The obsession with that started when I still worked a day job in an office, and constantly thought about what a waste it was to sit in a stressful desk job all day and be grumpy about it. There was so much potential for hilarity (think Office Space). I tried to channel that hilarity to fairy-tale status. I’m also a huge fan of making things into something they’re not. Make believe? A girl tackling another girl, with a safety cone on her head becomes a unicorn, if you look at it from the right angle. I just think it’s tragic when people don’t see the humor in chaos.
What are some of the projects you have been working on lately?
RB: My latest paintings (a set of four smaller gouache on wood) are for a group show at Art Star in Philly that opens June 13th. They were inspired by a friend – who told me she refuses to go to the farmer’s market on her bicycle, because there is simply no way she believes in herself to carry a bag of vegetables home without tipping over. I laughed so hard at the way she said it that I was sure it would be a good painting. I coerced another friend into dressing up in a nice dress and allowing me to knock her off my bike a few times for a photo shoot, and went with the idea. I’m also running my one-woman sweatshop/apparel business, Red Prairie Press full time and the summer is when I take to the road and sell at craft fairs all over the country, so I’ve been working on printing and designing for that as well. I’m not sure where it will go, but I’ve also been working on some short stories about experiences in Baltimore in addition to keeping a daily blog for Red Prairie Press.
Anything exciting coming up we should be aware of?
RB: The two art openings this summer:
DRAW 4 opens at Art Star on June 13th, the Sondheim Semi-Finalists Show opens in the Decker and Meyerhoff galleries of the Maryland Institute College of Art the weekend of July 17th.
Phil, my husband, and I have also been helping some friends in Rochester, NY on a film called The Beast Pageant , and I’m working on some album art for a band called The Spinto Band, who I’ve worked with a lot in the past (and who I credit for helping me financially to quit my last job to do Red Prairie Press full time)!