Over the past week, some of our Evanston Art Center interns interviewed an artist from our Evanston Biennial exhibition that caught their eye. 


Learn more below about: Tamara Fraser, Heather Green, Mary Petrine Livoni, and Rachel Sanfilippo.


Tamara Fraser

Interviewed by Leah Spears

So we all find different art pieces that capture our attention for different reasons. Working with an Arts Center with art everywhere, for those who simply love art, you would think it would be hard to love any specific piece with so much talent on the walls.  However, the best thing about art is it touches people in different ways. I found Tamara Fraser’s Beachgoers painting completely captures my attention every time I go downstairs. The style, the color and most importantly the subject of the painting always draws my eyes over. Every time I see that painting I smile and I think, these boys are about to start some trouble.  So looking at this piece I thought of some questions I would like the answers to in regards to those questions and here they are.


[LS] What inspired you to create this particular painting?

[TF] I've been working on a series of narrative paintings that capture a moment right before potential significant action occurs and Beachgoers is part of that (you can see them on my website). I attempt to evoke a sense of place that feels 'normal' and 'safe,' banal even – here a suburban mid century home in high summer – and add to that an element of suspense, of wrongness, the feeling that something violent or sexual COULD happen, without there being any real evidence that anything untoward WOULD happen. Specifically for this piece, I found several photographs, one from the seventies, some from the 1940s, and was inspired to combine them, modifying them somewhat, into this painting.


[LS] Is there any significance to the masks on the men?

[TF] Yes. This is probably better illustrated in some of the other pieces in this series (Hidden Things, Mid Century Modern, Edge of Town, Snow Angels, Dreams of the Abandoned...) where the figures are facing more towards the viewer. I've been thinking about the faces we present, or try to present, in different facets of our lives – one's public face might be vastly different from a private or intimate one – and what we use these faces to attempt to hide and to reveal. The devil mask is grinning, but is the wearer also filled with evil glee? The princess mask is pretty and demure, what is the wearer attempting to project by wearing it? Figures without Halloween masks also often obscure their faces – they turn away, cover their faces with their hands or makeshift masks made of bags. They are introverted, attempting to hide their thoughts and feelings from the viewer, possibly revealing themselves in the process.

[LS] Why did you choose to have all men in the painting?

[TF] Presenting all the figures as male prevents the viewer from making assumptions based in sexism, our society's sex stereotypes and/or how many female figures are objectified in art. They start on a more level playing field, more egalitarian – no one figure is automatically presumed to be weaker, less powerful, less competent, more sexually available, etc. than any other based on their sex. Rather, power relationships are inferred from the narrative. 


[LS] What story does this painting tell in your opinion?

[TF] My intent is that each viewer see a unique story. What I think might be happening is moot. 


[LS] What is your favorite aspect of the piece?  

[TF] The vivid pop-art colors. The tan lines. The way the index finger of the man in the tiger mask rides higher on his hip than his other fingers.


So there you have it straight from Tamara! I would say that she has accomplished her goals for this piece and I look forward to her solo show on September 30 at the Center on Halsted.



Heather Green

Interviewed by Leah Spears

[LS] The tone of your piece feels very melancholy, was this done on purpose?

[HG] There wasn't any particular emotion I was after, but I did (and always do) have a strong desire to remain true to the raw emotion conveyed by the subject's expression. Whatever that truth may be is fine with me.


[LS] What inspired you to do a black, grey, and white portrait of this young woman Cece McDonald?

[HG] I'm going to reference one of your other questions here by saying that, yes, this piece is a part of the Victims & Villains portfolio, and the choice to go with grey scale was informed by the creative context of the work. What I mean by that is that I had originally tried rendering the subject's mugshots in full color, but I felt that left something to be desired in terms of signaling a conceptual value behind the work to the viewer. I believe that the grey scale indicates that there is more at play in the work than mere representational portraiture.

[LS] What made you want to use oil painting as the media for this piece?

[HG] Oil paint offers a unique spectrum of visceral opacity and transparent permeability. I enjoy working my pieces heavily; it takes a while for me to get to know my subject and to arrive at an authentic representation. Oil is both durable and forgiving enough to accommodate that process.


[LS] Is this piece a part of your “Victims & Villans” portfolio? If so, how does it contribute to the themes of this portfolio?


[HG] Yes. Well, to save myself some time, I'm going to refer you back to my artist's statement that should be posted next to the piece in the gallery. I will say though, without reiterating the details of CeCe's case, that her case illustrates the perfect storm of what can go wrong in our justice system. She's black, she isn't wealthy, and she isn't heteronormative. All of these factors converged to result in a terrible outcome for her. Let's just say things would have played out much differently had she been a white, wealthy, hetero man. (see the case of S.C. Johnson III as a counterpoint if you're curious...)


[LS] What do you hope your audience will gain from observing your piece?


[HG] I hope that they'll consider what is wrong with our justice system and after acknowledging/considering these issues I would hope they would like to see change occur and do whatever they can to facilitate that. Whether that means engaging in further discussions on social media about our system, getting the word out, or even becoming a social activist. (I know that's a tall order, but you asked me what I hoped so...)


[LS] Does a lot of your other artwork reflect a similar tone and/or message? If so then explain how (ex. do you always use oil paints or do you dabble with other media as well?


[HG] Yes and no. I don't always use oil, but I would consider it to be my primary medium of choice.


[LS] If not, then what other themes do you explore in your art?


[HG] I am passionate about social justice issues, but I need to escape the heaviness of the world sometimes. I've recently (in the past year or so) become very interested in The Universe and exploring the infinite. I find it very calming to acknowledge that Earth and humanity aren't the be-all-and-end-all. It makes me feel hopeful to meditate on the vastness of all that is and to consider just how little we really know about anything.


[LS] Has any experience of either yourself or your peers contributed to the somberness emanating from this piece?


[HG] I'm not really sure of how to answer that. Not the somberness per se, but injustice certainly. I have had people close to me who were victimized and very little was done about it. That is a facet of injustice, albeit a very different sort of injustice than CeCe endured.


[LS] Being an aspiring artist, what advice could you give me as I continue to get a higher education in the arts?


[HG] I guess I'll just tell you what I would tell my younger self if I could: 1. Becoming an artist is a life-long thing. It may never be profitable and you have to find a way to make peace with that. 2. Get trained up in creative software so you can make a living doing something you're interested in while you pursue fine art. 3. Take a marketing class---or better yet, minor in business. Before you make an "ick" face, let me just tell you that marketing yourself is very important, and you'll learn next to nothing about it in art school. If you're still in college, take advantage and sign up for business classes. (It's kind of like learning to type: it sucks to learn, but you'll be happy you did!) 4. I'm going to include a link to a page I read myself last night on Huffington Post. It feels kind of like fate that you would ask me this question the same night that I read such insightful advice from these fabulous female artists. In many ways they can say it better than I can (they're much more successful than I am too!). Enjoy, have fun and good luck!


Mary Petrine Livoni

Interviewed by Anna Weeks

[AW] What inspired your series of photographs?

[MPL] I found direct inspiration in the film noir classic 'Out of the Past', the Clash song 'Death is a Star', Stuart Dybek's collection of poetry 'Streets in Their Own Ink' and Li-Young Lee's epic poem 'This is the City in Which I Love You'.

The four photographs included in the Biennial are part of a larger series titled 'Trouble and Desire', my 2015 collaborative exhibition with the photographer Ray Pride.

The full series can be seen here:


[AW] Do you use film or digital to capture your images?

[MPL] All my images are digital; and have been altered, heightened, tweaked and layered. These are very deliberately created faux film noir stills.

For example, through the night shades is a layered collage based on five different original images.


[AW] When did you get into photography?


[MPL] My focus for many years has been drawing and painting, but I've always loved taking photographs. Long ago, as a hopeful film student, my portfolio was all photography.


[AW] What do you want people to take away from your work?

[MPL] My images are glimpses into an unabashedly romantic urban noir-scape.



Rachel Sanfilippo

Interviewed by Katherine Hillesland

[KH] Where do you get your inspiration? What inspired Oasis, your piece featured in the show?

[RS] 'Oasis' is an iteration of an image from my 'Perpetual Mirage' series I began in 2014, investigating synthetic forms of nature, and how that ties into our consumer culture, as well as our society’s obsession with an image of an image. My process has always had an image-based foundation, but the evolution of my explorations has evolved past the boundaries of 2D photography. The core of my work has studied the thin line between simulation and reality, often times exposing where one realm ends and the other begins. This exploration has been rooted in searching for different modes of artificial representations of the natural, and how these can coexist in one space. 
Working in this way has allowed me to search for moments where the illusion fails, emphasizing our desire for the unattainable ideal. 'Oasis' specifically speaks to my fascination with the function of artificiality and how it ties into the construct of escapism. The chosen structure the image is displayed on (an advertising apparatus of the light box) further questions the role of nature, or simulated landscapes ubiquitously used in advertising. I am interested in the way our commercial and technological world alienates us from the natural, but results in the yearning to produce patterns that mirror nature.


[KH] You are a photographer but some of your art is superimposed 3D images on natural backgrounds. How would you categorize this type of art?


[RS] I used to call myself a photographer, but I think my process has developed into an interdisciplinary practice. I am not quite sure what I would categorize my art as- 'Oasis' is definitely a photograph to me, but not necessarily on conventional terms. While 'Oasis' was a combination of digital superimposition and photography that I created, my other piece- 'Overlook (Chicago)'- was made by finding the juxtaposition of natural and synthetic landscapes already existing in the world. In the end they are asking similar questions, but the means used to get there were slightly different. I have begun adding sculptural elements, new media processes, 3D modeling, and installation into my practice. I am most interested in starting with an idea and figuring out what medium conveys that best, rather than restricting myself solely to photography.


[KH] Do you have a favorite subject to photograph? What about a favorite photographer?

[RS] As far as shooting goes, you never really see people in my images. I’m not sure why that has never been a big interest of mine- maybe it is a fear. I love photographing landscapes, interior and exterior spaces of structures, and the decorative elements used in those spaces to inform your experience of them. Naming one favorite photographer is hard. I had the pleasure of working for one of my greatest inspirations, Taryn Simon, who is one of my favorite artists in the world. Her extensive research process and utilization of text/photo/sculpture in the execution of her ideas are mesmerizing. She is brilliant.


[KH] When and how did you get into photography? Has your art changed over time?

[RS] I started getting into photography on a whim during my freshman year of college at Ohio State. I originally went there for the business school, and immediately dropped the program after taking one digital photo class. Growing up, I was a gymnast and never really had time to explore my other interests. Gregory Crewdson was the first photographer I was introduced to in the class, and as cliché as that is, I think he sparked my intrigue with simulation.

I have had a very consistent trajectory of this interest, but my process of investigation has changed as far as research and the mediums I utilize. My work in progress right now has used simulation as a jumping off point to go in a little bit of a new direction. It includes looking at the environment of group fitness, and the false liberation through forms of self-improvement. Finding parallels between the rhetoric of fitness instruction and simulated environments of distraction, I want to deconstruct the illusory techniques used in both modes of performance to attain the desire image or headspace. I am also researching ways to mediate the space between the healthcare realm and visual art through the use of medical models and materials, and the production of conceptual medical devices.


[KH] Is there an overall theme or message that you want people to take away from your art?

[RS] My art has never tried to necessarily have a message; I am more interested in making people consider things differently than they did prior to looking at my work.

Posted By: 
Alyssa Brubaker