An interview with international artist Gabriel Bishop, originally published on August 3, 2010 for Winking At A Girl In The Dark.
TSI: Where did you grow up?
GB: I guess I grew up all over the place. My mom and I recently sat in Karlsplatz, Vienna and counted all of the places we lived before I graduated from high school. There were a lot. And that hasn’t changed – since high school I hardly hold still in one place for very long.
One place definitely stands out most, though, from my childhood memories. It’s this little town called New Glarus in southern Wisconsin. Before we moved there, I would spend a couple of months every summer with my cousin swimming at the pool they had there. That’s also the town where I graduated from high school, so as far as the notion of home goes, that is the closest thing I have to a childhood home.
CM: I once heard you telling a story about how you used to sketch on the collection envelopes at church as a kid. Is that true?
GB: Oh my, yes, all manner of things, mostly dragons, though. I have always loved dragons. I have what some might call an overactive imagination. I was always making up stories and drawing things from my imagination.
I had some great compatriots growing up. We still call our group the “Sandbox League,” as we spent a ton of time in the sandbox. Come to think of it, my sandboxes were very rarely “boxes,” they were more often entire hills of sand, with such vast and shifting environs that we sometimes found it necessary to mix Elmers glue with our sand to make the castles stronger. You ever see kids pour water into a sand moat only to have it immediately disappear? Well, we never had that problem. We lined our moats with plastic for maximum water retention.
CM: So, I guess it’s safe to say that art was your thing from a really early age?
GB: Yes, mostly just making stuff though. Whether “art” or robust castles in the sandbox or tree forts or good ol’ fashioned make-believe. I think I have always looked at the world in an artistic manner.
When I was in “Chicken Little School” (this is what my grandpa called my preschool), my dad explained to me that the branches of a tree extend up and not down and that got me drawing this one tree over and over again. It was my tree. That image really stands out in my mind.
CM: Did your faith or spirituality ever play a part in your desire or ability to create in those early years, or were you simply more inspired by the tangible world around you?
GB: Well, I would say I was happiest when my drawings made other people happy. So, yeah, even though I never would have attributed a spiritual impetus to my artwork, there it is, glaringly obvious now that you ask the question. My spirituality has always been so intuitive that I really haven’t given it too much thought. That is not to say I do not put energy into my spiritual life. I have developed a few theories on how things work; I try not to construct beliefs. I think beliefs can be too hard to change; instead I like to create “theories.” These “theories” certainly play into how I create.
CM: As an adult you call yourself an intermedia artist. Can you explain that categorization?
GB: Intermedia art is the art that fits between mediums. There was a Fluxus artist, Dick Higgins, who used it to explain the blurring of genres common in the 60’s. Some things that were once intermedia art have since become recognized genres in and of themselves (e.g. concrete poetry or dance theatre).
Higgins imagined other areas that had yet to be discovered and that the computer would serve to bridge the gap. Well, I am doing just that, exploring new areas between and within established mediums, often with the aid of my computer.
There are other parallel movements in the same vein. So Higgins was not the only one in this movement, I just like his explanation. It seems to fit what I do.
CM: What draws you to video painting as an art form?
GB: I love the idea of a painting that moves. You see it in fantasy and sci-fi, whether by magic or technology, and there are some paintings that trick the eye into seeing movement when you look at them, but I want to see REAL paintings that ACTUALLY move.
I think subtlety is key, otherwise you just have some Sony flat-screen video which is not a painting at all… just a video taking the place of a painting. Of course, these are all just theories. I should know more after my next project.
CM: I know and work with lots of artists who claim that their very best work is born out of hours upon hours locked inside their studios with nothing surrounding them but their tools and their thoughts. You seem to place more of an emphasis on collaborative art. Can you talk about that a little bit?
GB: I have always thought that when two people get together what they come away with is always something more than the sum of their contributions. But it can be difficult, sure. I recognize that. Locking yourself away eliminates distractions, but art should be a creative endeavor, right? Many of history’s best creations have been accidents, interruptions, aberrations and collaborations. The POST-IT! I have a post-it widget on my computer.
You lock three artists in three separate rooms and in the end you will get three separate bodies of work, informed by each artist individually, maybe a painting, a sculpture, and a video. You might get some really good stuff, but all I can think of is this: what if you put those three artists in the SAME room. This was what my undergraduate program was like. My peers were musicians, dancers, actors, painters, sculptors, computer geeks, and so on.
Anyway, what do you get when you open that door? Maybe some dead artists, now that I think about it. I don’t know! But the idea of it all is so enticing I that I can’t resist it.
CM: Can you identify, then, with the artist who feels that their art is a solitary journey?
GB: Sure, you need to define who you are before you can collaborate. And if they don’t want to collaborate… hmmm, well maybe their way is productive on many levels, but I would still urge them to try collaboration.
CM: I know you have a couple of projects in the works right now and I’d like to discuss two of them. First off, tell me about “Why We Smile.” How did you come up with the idea?
GB: Well, I met this dentist. She mentioned outreach in Africa. I contacted the CEO at this non-profit called, “A Hand In Health” to get more information on their upcoming outreach opportunities. I found out there was room for a dentist and a new-media artist. So I asked my dentist friend if she still wanted to go. She said, “Yes.”
Instantly, this project was in my head. I thought about the child that couldn’t smile because it hurt too much. I thought, “What if you could take away that pain? What would that smile look like?”
Then I thought, “Oh man, I can record that. I can show people that.” And I could just imagine, once I showed them that, how moving that would be.
If I could “arrange” this record I could inspire more people to help than I could ever hope to help by myself. This is the idea behind “Why We Smile.”
CM: I have heard you speak before about the importance of community and how you believe support from the community can help an idea give back ten-fold. Does that come into play with “Why We Smile?”
GB: Absolutely. What if one day someone helps you, when you really need it, because they saw this project? This project proves this can happen simply because it exists, simply because people are willing to support grassroots art-making. I chose to seek funding from the community for exactly this reason, to prove that people care. From what I am witnessing, people care a lot!
We are starting a chain reaction of support. Help-yielding-creation that inspires more people to reach out, and help, or create, and so it goes.
This project will generate momentum, providing a model for others to follow, and this is essential if we are to push beyond the many problems and troubles in this world.
Funding for “Why We Smile” comes primarily from my community through this great website called kickstarter.com. They have a really unique method of fundraising. You should definitely check it out.
CM: What is your goal with the project? Where do you see it going and how does it get there?
GB: Kind of like a stone thrown into a pond, if I can borrow that cliché. The ripples extend out and affect everything well after the initial splash. I hope everyone throws a rock! There are some folks who have already thrown theirs, some pretty big ones at that! If everyone “throws in,” this project becomes much bigger. Instead of ripples we can make waves. The more I can spend on production the more sensational this work will be, the more people will come to see it. The more people that see it, the more people will be inspired to help others… you get the idea.
CM: If people who are reading this want to become involved, want to donate to the project, where can they go to get more information?
GB: As I mentioned, “Why We Smile” is up on kickstarter.com and just finished as a successful project. That means it is funded and then some. 110% of the money needed was raised. The backing period is over, so you won’t be able to donate via Kickstarter. However, I will still be accepting contributions, inspirations and critiques throughout the production process. If anyone wishes to contribute in ANY way please contact me directly, or through my website, or via the project page on Facebook.
I sincerely hope people do support this endeavor. This is what it is all about, after all.
CM: What is the most effective way for people to help support “Why We Smile” right now?
GB: Continued funding means more freedom for me in the production studio. Other support such as feedback and critique and comments really help as well. Really this is a community-based project. Everyone can be involved.
CM: In the midst of all of this, you also illustrated the new book by Eliza Locke, which is set to hit stores in early September. Congratulations! What first drew you to the project?
GB: Thanks! I am super stoked about it. I bought her book Kissing in Iceland and when I read the poems I instantly wanted to draw alongside them. When we spoke, I told Eliza, “I want to draw with your words.” She responded, “I have a story.”And she did.
CM: What was the experience like?
GB: Perfect. A great example of what comes from collaboration. She hit me with a story. I painted some pictures. She said, “The pictures are really great, but I’m not happy with certain elements. I need to ‘fix’ the story.” It’s funny because I thought there could be no better story. I loved what she had written, but I was wrong. Whatever she did inspired me to more drawings and the project simply exceeded all my expectations. I look forward to future projects with Ms. Eliza. It was a really fantastic process.
CM: Can you tell us a bit about the story or is that off limits?
GB: Not sure if anything is “off limits,” but I want to keep some mystery. I will tell you this, though, it is a story you are going to want to read to your kids and that your kids are going to want to read after you have read it to them. Why? Because it will make you feel all warm and good inside. As for my part, I will let my paintings do any further “talking.”
CM I know that you are leaving pretty soon for Africa. How do you hope that this experience will change you, both personally and professionally?
GB: I am open to any possibility, really. I always seek to grow and to learn, wherever I go. While Africa represents a number of “firsts” for me, I think that it doesn’t matter so much WHERE we go, but more that we DO go.
CM: We always ask our guests this next question because we think it’s a really important one: What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career as an artist like yourself?
GB: DO. Though I think that right now it’s a difficult time for artists. I think now more than ever the world needs artists. People tend to give artists a hard time, like our jobs are not important, or that we would be better off doing something “useful.” It really throws me. I have been living in Europe for a while now and what are their biggest treasures? What do people value the most? ART! It was important then and is still important hundreds and even thousands of years later. Why would it not be just as important to create in today’s society? The problem is the value of art is hard to quantify. We use the term “priceless” even, but you can’t put that down and expect your account to balance or the IRS to accept it as a line entry on your taxes. And so art seems to be expendable when accessing budgets. When I was in school at the University of Madison we saw this trend coming, yet all of us were willing to fight for the art we believed in.
It took me a while to decide that art was to be my career. I “took some time off” just to live and adventure. Now I am realizing that as an artist I can begin to share my adventure with others and as I said when I was little, I was always happiest when I was sharing. The same holds true today.
CM: What’s the big, one-day-when-I-grow-up dream?
GB: When I grow up? That would mean I have to grow up… Not sure, really. I plan on growing older, but I have no plans to grow up.
As for dreams, I hope one day that I can show others how to really SEE the world for the amazing and beautiful place that I know it is. Sometimes things get in the way and distract us. But when we truly SEE, not just with our eyes, but also with our hearts and souls… Yes, well, together we shall see.
For more information about Gabriel and his work, please visit his website at www.gabrielbishop.org.
You can also follow Gabriel on Twitter at gabriel_bishop or on Facebook.