Best of CH 2019: Interviews + Studio Visits

Reflecting on the group of multi-talented, multi-disciplinary, inspirational creatives we spoke with this year

Year in and year out, we desire conversations with creative people and the opportunity to glean some understanding of their motivations and processes. Be they artists and designers or innovators and inventors, those driving us toward the future and beyond have valuable insights to share—and we at CH delight in conveying them to our readers. This year, we have spoken with inspirational individuals who work in diverse industries, but all of them strive to create something momentous, memorable and perhaps a little bit magical. From digital artists to women in sex tech, sculptors and archaeologists, it’s a kaleidoscopic group of creators—and we look forward to even more diversity next year.

The Overlooked Art of Norman Lewis as Explained by Tarin M Fuller, Director of His Estate

Born in Harlem, in 1909, Norman Lewis led a life laden with art and activism. Unlike many of his peers, he chose to separate the two—even though they influenced one another. As an African-American artist (especially one active from 1930 until his death in 1979) it was expected that his art would document the plight and putrid treatment of black Americans—and that it make a direct statement in opposition. Compared to contemporaries like Charles Alston, Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff (with whom he co-founded the influential artist collective the Spiral, dedicated to the advancement of how black artists could address racial inequality through their work in the 1960s), Lewis’ art steered clear of overt statements and specific political messages, and his activism lived behind the scenes…

Studio Visit: Ceramicist Yuko Nishikawa

Inside Japan-born Yuko Nishikawa‘s industrial Brooklyn studio, which she’s aptly named “Forest,” there are hundreds of ceramic pieces in varying stages. Some, which are nearly complete, rest on a long wooden table made from scrap materials from other studios within the building. Others, which are set to be fired, painted, tossed or archived, sit on shelves and hang…

Behind Niyya’s Design-Minded Prayer Mats with Founder Myhra Mirza

For Brooklyn-based designer Myhra Mirza, prayer mats (used predominantly within the Muslim faith) existed on two ends of the spectrum: they were either traditional and detailed or intentionally plain. She wondered if there could be a middle ground. With her brand Niyya, Mirza produces pieces in America from 100% woven cotton. They can be used for prayer, but also act as a piece of homeware, a personal accessory or travel item. We spoke with the designer about finding the middle ground between tradition, religion and style, and how good design could even help remove some of the misconceptions surrounding Islam…

Interview: Artist Ugo Rondinone

From the towering, colorful “Seven Magic Mountains” outside of Las Vegas to the sleeping clowns that took over an entire floor of Miami’s Bass Museum during a multi-institution retrospective, the work of Ugo Rondinone acts as a synapse between childlike wonder and the contemporary art world. Therein, the Gladstone Gallery-represented artist enacts duality: shifting his vision from large-scale to miniature, temporary to immovable, and unharnessed to in-check. Swiss-born (through based in NYC and the North Fork), Rondinone employs drawing, painting and sculpture. His expressive works, regardless of medium, tantalize—and they have for decades…

Interview: Iconic Documentary Photographer Martha Cooper

Premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Sydney-based Selina Miles‘ documentary MARTHA: A Picture Story is a thoughtful, smart and tender portrait of a woman whose influence reaches across the world. Best known for the “graffiti bible” Subway Art and Hip Hop Files, documentary photographer Cooper captured now-iconic images from NYC during the birth of the aforementioned cultures—and, unlike others, was invited in to learn about and photograph the people and scenes. But her work stretches far beyond New York…

 

Studio Visit: Austin Lee

Walking into Austin Lee’s Long Island City studio makes you feel as if you could do just about anything without reprimand. The floor is covered in paint, even though he says he repainted it just two weeks ago. Art and supplies are found everywhere: stacked against the walls, placed prominently on the shelves, and strewn on the floors. The concrete slab used as a pedestal for sculptures, or as a placeholder for one of his tools, gives the whole place a strong industrial feeling. “Art is the only thing I was good at,” says Lee…

Talking Tech, Gender, Pleasure and Politics With Lora DiCarlo’s Founder

This year’s CES was the stage for a debacle that launched important conversations about gender bias, inclusivity and women’s pleasure within the tech industry. At the center: Lora DiCarlo, a sex-tech company founded by Lora Haddock, whose women-centric Osé pleasure toy was awarded a Robotics Innovation Award. Subsequently, the award was rescinded and Lora DiCarlo wasn’t allowed to showcase the product at CES—nor exhibit at the event at all. First, CES organizers and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) deemed Osé disqualified and considered it obscene. Meanwhile, several sex-tech companies were showcasing realistic dolls, VR porn and more, all centered on cisgender, heterosexual male pleasure. Then the story changed one more…

Archaeology, Camels and Cars: From The Dead Sea to Petra

It’s early morning in Jordan’s Wadi Rum and we’re loading our gear into the fleet of Infiniti QX80s, backed by only the sounds coming from doors opening and closing shut, and feet shuffling silently in the red sand. Despite the bright LED lights of our fleet SUVs, an observatory’s worth of glowing stars remain visible above, shining down in the pre-dawn desert. As I sit behind the wheel, archaeologist Sarah Parcak hops into the passenger’s seat. “I’m prefacing our conversation by warning you everything I say is pre-coffee,” she says. But it’s soon clear that Parcak’s pre-coffee cognitive state is already far ahead of the majority of us…

 

Studio Visit: Digital Artist and Painter Emma Stern

Perhaps surprising for those who have seen artist Emma Stern‘s work online, paint is omnipresent in her Brooklyn studio. It’s on canvases, the worn-in wooden floor, tools and at the feet of furniture. Perhaps less surprising, there are also two computers in the space. A laptop sits open with a digital version of one of her characters blown up in an editing application, while a desktop computer sits at its own station—a red Solo cup full of brushes teeters next to the display.

Interview: Postalco Co-Founder, Mike Abelson

Since their conception in 2000, Postalco has moved from Brooklyn to Tokyo, collaborated with dozens of brands and built out their collection to include everything from wallets and pens to outerwear and furniture. Founders Mike and Yuri Abelson have applied their clean aesthetic style–influenced by the Japanese attention to detail—to a number of mediums and projects. They have even produced a book—Swimming in Puddles: Questioning and Making at Postalco—on the discoveries, products and questions they’ve encountered along the way. We met with Mike to discuss Japan, collaborations, the book and more…

Hero image by David Graver