Monday, August 27, 2012

Megan Piontkowski: Illustrator and Artist (An Interview)

Wow, the publishing of this interview is waaaaay overdue.  Megan Piontkowski is a very talented artist and illustrator from Brooklyn whom I first discovered on Twitter (@UntamedEyebrows) and actually met in person in Philly at her Liberal Tea Party.  

Ink Puddle:  Megan, before I even ask you to introduce yourself, I want to thank you for the package of goodies you sent me.  I thought I was buying just a copy of your latest book, but instead I got an awesome combo-pack of illustrated items.  And you recently tweeted that the book would be carried by Desert Island book shop in Brooklyn.  Tell me all about Tiny Underdog City: An Uncomprehensive Guide.

Megan Piontkowski: The idea for Tiny Underdog City came to me in graduate school.  I had, and continue to have, ambivalent feelings about being on the outside of the art world looking in.  The project was an exploration using humor and satire of my feelings about marginalization and outsiderness.  The Museum of Undiscovered Artists with its permanent collection "Art You Can't See By Artists You Don't Know" is a good example of this.

This project was a series of watercolors of places in Tiny Underdog City and two large scale maps (Of the City and of Tiny Underdog Land).  A few years later when thinking of a project to work on at an artist's residency I conceived of the guide book to Tiny Underdog City.  The Guide is a mixture of references to earlier art work (like my installation entitled Plants) and allusions to my personal life (ie. Rex Bed and Breakfast, Hannah Miller Library, and "India, An Earthwork"), and just some things I like (bagpipes, Edward Gorey).  I recently heard the author Haruki Murakami paraphrased as saying "You know how you can make your novel better? Put everything you like in it."   I will take "novel" to mean any kind of artwork and blissfully agree.

Ink: I like that idea.  If I did not buy Black Sheep Storm (your previous book), I might not have noticed the ongoing homage to Edward Gorey in your work.  I am a fan myself, and enjoy your references.  How does Gorey influence your work, and maybe what are some other artists you admire?

Megan: I have loved Edward Gorey's work for some time. It's his dry humor and absurdness that I am drawn to. Other illustrators and artists I admire are (in no particular order): Louise Bourgeios, Lee Bontique, Shaun Tan, Maira Kalman, Christoph Niemann, Josheph Cornell and the power couple Matthew Barney and Bjork.
Ink: Awesome.  I just picked up Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia myself.  Getting back to your "outsider" motif, it definitely comes through, and I think it really works, sometimes in hilarious ways.  I am thinking of the fact that Tiny Underdog City is made up entirely of "outer reaches" as well as the Museum you mention. It would be easy for an outsider, who works hard and yet seemingly remains on the outside to come across as being bitter or cynical, but I laughed out loud reading your book.  It has its irony, but it is fun, and whimsical you might say.

Megan: I am glad you enjoy the humor of Tiny Underdog City, that is the tone I am going for with that project.
More multi-media humor from Megan's "Under the Radar Weekly"

Ink: Another thing I noticed in your work was a connection to fabric.  I really loved your use of the book cloth image for the cover of Underdog City, but then I looked at your embroideries and your plants (which are awesome!), and your tent installation.  Tell me about your connection to cloth and fabric and its relationship to "texts."

See more of Megan's plants
Megan: I don't feel that there is necessarily any connection in my work between text and fabric. I thought of the piece Embroidered Outliers after making an embroidered pillow with a bit of funny text from an email a friend sent me. I then wanted to make more embroidered pieces of text on fabric. Having lots of pillows seemed too gimmicky to me, so I decided to embroider the text on pieces of raw cut fabric.

My illustration, my sculptural work and my books bring together everything I always liked making, even things that I didn't always think of as art or as stemming from an art practice. I made my first book (of drawings on note paper) when I was three, and as a kid I always liked to draw and paint as well as make crafty things. And I have liked making one person sized tent-like structures for years. I kept sketchbooks since I was in grammar school through college, and then stopped during graduate school. I realize that I was separating "art" from "craft" and "illustration". I now believe that this separation is arbitrary and unhelpful - it makes one a better artist when one is more open to different ways of creating and combining art, illustration, craft and design.

Ink: I agree.  I think artists' having Twitter accounts side by side with Etsy accounts as well as more traditional portfolio websites shows that you are not alone.  But getting back to this idea about "being an outsider," you and I met via Twitter, and I can't tell you how many very talented people on Twitter just keep plodding away trying to break in to the art world.

For me, there are conflicting feelings, like "wow, this person's art is way better than mine and they are not famous yet?!" but then also there is definitely inspiration like "I am going to step-up my game."  You have taken the steps of graduate school, artist residency, making art on a consistent basis and posting it online, making at least two books. So, what do you consider an intermediate and ultimate goal for youself as an artist? And do you think there is a risk you would lose something by leaving the margin you inhabit now for the center stage?

Megan: As for the possibility of losing my edge after breaking into the art or illustration worlds, there is no immediate prospect of me becoming an "insider" in the near future, so it's not something I am going to worry about.  And as for what being an insider would mean, I suppose gallery representation could make an artist an insider, and having work regularly published in certain publications could make one an illustration insider.  But the further an artist moves along in their career, there are always more and places to be an insider and to be outside of.

As for intermediate goals, I would like to have my sculpture and installation work shown more widely.  I would like to have more illustrations published. (Wouldn't we all?)  So in both cases, the intermediate goal is to expand my audience.

Long term, I would like to teach on the college level and illustrate.  I would like gallery representation only if I have enough clout and autonomy to pretty much do what I want artistically.  And I would want to have an artist's book published by an actual publishing house.

Ink: Well, I will look forward to buying that future book as well.  And thank you again for the interview.  We might just have to do this again, because I have plenty more questions and things to discuss!

Want to learn more about Megan Piontkowski and her art? Be sure to follow all the links below.

Her Website:
More Website:
On Twitter:
On Etsy:

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