Interview: Artist Alexandra Gjurasic

Editor John Barrios, Interview, April 30th, 2013

Ideas come to me so quickly that it's like spinning plates.

artist alexandra gjurasic
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Nailed Interview with artist Alexandra Gjurasic, conducted via email by John Barrios

NAILED: First off, let me thank you for being open to an interview. I am very emotionally moved by your Japanese Dolls. Let’s start off with influences. I read somewhere that your parents are both artists. How did growing up in their home affect you as an artist, if at all? After your parents, what artists or work were early influences?

ALEXANDRA GJURASIC: Growing up my home life super chaotic. There were five children in the home. Art supplies were given to me specifically without limits. No one instructed me how to use them. I was left alone to my own devices. Art was infinite. Since making art kept me occupied I could really ask for whatever art supplies caught my fancy. Also, I had extremely bad asthma as a child. The rain in the NW made chest infections a regular occurrence in the fall and winter months. Since I was laid up in bed at home a lot, and not allowed to go to recess at school, drawing was my escape.

There are three women in particular that have highly influenced me as an artist.

First and foremost artist Molly Norris. Molly was the first person to ever display my art. She curated art at a few cafes in Seattle. By displaying my work she encouraged me, at the age of 15, to take my art seriously. Molly didn’t just recognize me as an artist, she held a mirror up to me so I could recognize being an artist within myself. I am forever indebted to her.

Next is artist Sherry Markovitz. I had always seen Sherry’s work in the homes of family friends and in galleries as a teenager. Later in my high school years it turned out she was the neighbor of a high school chum. We would traipse into Sherry’s home studio anytime…it was an other-worldly experience at a deeply influential time for me as a young woman. Once I asked Sherry if she just had a drawer of glass doll eyeballs she gleaned from antique baby heads. Turned out she does.

Lastly is curator Maria Kwong of the Japanese American National Museum. Maria also has a museum of her own conception she founded called LATDA, the Los Angeles Toy Doll and Amusement Museum. Maria is like a mythological deity that literally can move mountains.  Maria found my work online and invited me to display my Kokeshi paintings in the exhibit Kokeshi: Folk Art To Art Toy. I had never exhibited on that large of a scale before. Her invitation was a true honor, it felt more like attending a debutante ball into adulthood.

NAILED: You spent some time in Mexico with Zapatistas? How does your involvement with social issues come into your art? Do you consider some of your art social commentary, and if so, how?

AG: In 2001 I traveled in Mexico on the Zapatista caravan. The trip culminated at the Zocolo of Mexico City in a protest of more than 100,000 people. While in Mexico I was also witness to Emiliano Zapata’s grandchildren meeting Subcommander Marcos! This was an amazing historic moment to be privy to.

Though this trip profoundly affected myself, and therefore my art in many ways, I have always been political. My father is a lobbyist, and European, so political discussions were always encouraged. Having attended Catholic school there was always emphasis on serving the marginalized people in society. I went to a very social justice oriented high school, so going to Mexico with the Zapatistas was just an extension of that passion for social justice that had been fostered throughout my life till that point.

The body of work, Zapatismo, which was directly inspired by my time in Mexico is defiantly social commentary about justice issues. My current work as I’ve matured feels much more like a commentary of the female experience. I see a connection between my Kokeshi doll paintings and flower field paintings, being a women, feminist and even an awkward teenage Riot Grrrl in the Northwest.  And yes, the florals in my new work ARE vaginas.

art by alexandra gjurasic

NAILED: The experience for me, looking at this body of work, gives me an emotional sense of a Matriarchal society, a deep sense of warmth and strength, solitude and community. Can you expand on how the dolls speak to your feminism, the connection you mention between the Kokeshi dolls and your field paintings?

AG: The most evident connection between my Kokeshi doll paintings and my flower fields is the element of repetition. In different ways for both bodies of work. My Kokeshi are many of the same small subjects coming together to create a synergy that they wouldn’t have as individuals. They have been described by others as a “visual haiku” or and “army.” My flower fields are a case of repetition of color and pattern creating a vast plane. The end result, same as with my Kokeshi, is to achieve a vibration harmony.

All and all, the two sculptures that I created took over a year and a half. I’d say, if I ever had an obsessive compulsive inkling, it would be satiated in the creation of my art. The creation of multiples and the employing of many to make one is reflective of birth, life and death cycle of existence. I’m trapped!  When I was a child I wanted to be a fashion designer. I’d fill a small notebook of white paper in a matter of hours with a drawing of a dress on each page. I have stacks and stacks of these sketches. How I work now as an adult hasn’t deviated much from that approach.

NAILED: I feel a strong emotional connection with my community, when experiencing your Kokeshi, a feeling of individualism becoming the masses, of which community is built from. I am fascinated by your patience within your process. Can you tell me more about where your process is at now? What a normal, productive day at the studio is like? Do you work on several projects at once?

AG: When I am working on large Kokeshi doll painting I break my process down into steps, all the heads and bodies, all the white on faces, all the inky black hair, a round of color, eyes and eyebrows, more color, cheeks, then lastly red lips. I’ve been told there is a childhood story about a doll maker and the last thing he does when finishing a doll is the lips. I like the thought I’m in the same legacy with other makers of dolls.

Usually I am work on a series of pieces at the same time. Ideas come to me so quickly that it’s like spinning plates. I work on multiple paintings so I can be as productive as possible with my precious time. It must be said that I’m trying to cut down on this way of working. I’m really trying to concentrate on one piece at a time and not split my attention so much. I think a more intense focus makes for strong work for my process at this point.

The older I get the more patience and faith I have in the creative process. Now, as opposed to 5 or 6 years ago, I’m more apt to wait on a next step till my intuition tells me what to do next.

alexandra gjurasicNAILED: What is your intuition telling you to do next? You seem to have a more organic evolution of your work.

AG: I’m definitely enamored with florals at the moment. I’ll probably be on that kick for a while. Besides, who doesn’t fucking love flowers?  Also I am enjoying making art objects with tiny shells, found items such as bone and fake flowers slathered in beeswax. Of course Kokeshi dolls are always making cameos in my art.

NAILED: When was the last time you nailed it?

AG: The last time I nailed it was yesterday. I got back working was in my studio after some travel. I was really chomping at the bit to express all that I had just experienced….and boy did I! I must have busted out 50 large gestural paintings on paper! It was nuts. I had no expectation about what I was doing I just flowed. It was a really lovely time.

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artist alexandra gjurasicAlexandra Gjurasic, born 1977 in Seattle WA is a self-realized artist. She won the title of Little Miss Washington in 1984. In Orlando, FL she placed 3rd in the national pageant because the judge said she “didn’t look American enough.” She was the first recipient of the John Caughlan Youth activist award receiving her own day from the mayor of Seattle in 2001. Gjurasic is also a psychic and publishes her predictions on her Twitter account @gjurasicpark. With a background in Arts Management. She is co-founder and is Creative Director of Pyragraph.com, an online publication for artists and other career mined creatives. Gjurasic’s visual pursuits can be viewed online here.

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John Barrios

John Barrios is a poet and musician. He has been part of the band Curious Hands for eight years. He graduated from Buffalo State College and chased his dreams in the Bay Area for a decade before landing on his literary feet in Portland, OR. Barrios was part of the original team at NAILED, and was a Contributing Editor until May 2014.