Editor’s Note: This profile of Aris Moore is part of an ongoing series of interviews with figurative artists across the United States who have appeared on Figure50.com, a web project operated by local artists James Oberschlake and Kim Rae Taylor. Aeqai will be posting select interviews by Oberschlake and Taylor as part of a regular, if occasional, series throughout the year, and is Aeqai’s newest regular feature.
with Kim Rae Taylor
Your portraits have a dynamic, even assertive quality, yet they’re rendered in a soft, almost delicate manner. Is this a deliberate contrast and does it influence the media you typically use?
I came to pencil and colored pencil after many years of trying to paint. Painting felt claustrophobic to me. It felt like an act of covering something up rather than exposing it. Drawing feels just the opposite. Yes, I like the contrast of a soft, tender rendering of something that is not necessarily soft or tender. I like that contrast, not only between the materials and the subject, but also within the subject, a smile that has grown past the point of happy below eyes that are vulnerable and compassionate. The space that is created between opposing qualities seems like a fertile place to run around in.
Your description of drawing a smile “past the point of happy” speaks to the key role of facial expression in your portraits. When choosing your subjects, do you find that you’re drawn to particular facial features or expressions? Do you ever combine features from multiple sources?
My portraits combine features of people that I know and that I find in photographs. I am particularly drawn to mouths. I come from a family that relied mostly on their mouths for expression. Mouths are capable, they have power and they are quick in their ability to change expression and to lie, or cover up/ protect. Eyes seem less capable of putting up a front. Without intention they seem to reveal the true feeling. I am drawn to discrepancies between the two. The power for me, in a drawing or photograph, often lies in the conversation between the mouth and the eyes and the struggle between presentation and reality.
When drawing features of the people you know, do you work from direct observation by having them sit for you, or do you work solely from photographs?
I work primarily from photographs and memory. I reference my parents often and I only have photographs. I have had students and friends pose for certain hand gestures or a smile, but for the most part I work alone and have a collection of photographs that I refer to.
Could you address how some of your personal approaches to observational drawing influence the way you teach observational drawing to your students?
I talk to students about drawing as if they are telling a story. We talk about including details that will make it specific enough to be believable. I also encourage them to feel their drawings as they make them, smudging and losing edges to find them again. I focus on the importance of quiet, clean edges rather than outlines. I encourage them to look and to trust their eyes, to let their eyes and hands have a conversation without letting their brains constantly interrupt. All the while music is playing.
What type of music do you play as your students draw?
I play all kinds of music from Bon Iver, Ray Charles, R &B, Jazz, 80’s hits and occasionally, but rarely (much to their dismay) today’s pop music. I also play the ukulele a little, so sometimes we will have sing alongs. It is so nice to be with middle schoolers enjoying singing and almost forgetting to be self-conscious.
In juggling the demands of family and teaching, how do you stay disciplined as an artist?
It’s hard. I draw all of the time in sketchbooks everywhere, at school, in the car, and at home after everyone is asleep. It is fairly easy for me to find time to do small drawings, but hard to find time for larger work. I struggle to balance these aspects of my life. Being a mother is my primary focus, work is a must, and Art is something I am constantly struggling to make more time for.
As you draw throughout the day, do you have multiple sketchbooks going at once—one at work, one at home, one in the car, etc… or do you carry a single book until it’s filled? Do your surroundings have an influence on how and / or what you draw?
I typically use one sketchbook at a time. I carry it and draw in it until it’s filled or almost filled. I am sure my surroundings do affect what and how I draw. I know that in working in quick moments at school it is more feasible to draw small drawings typically in my sketchbook. I am also more cautious / thoughtful about what I draw, knowing that my students might see. At home, the library, the bookstore, I feel unaware of my surroundings and can escape from the idea that anyone is watching. At the bookstore I tend to look at fashion magazines for noses, poses, hair, etc… and draw from them. I also am guilty of massive amounts of people watching, so when I am out and about, innocent bystanders often end up in my drawings.
While looking at the scope of your work online, I noticed a number of your drawings are presented so it’s clear they’re sketchbook pages. I really enjoy this format and view the sketches as finished pieces just as they are; however, it made me wonder if they’re meant to function as preliminary renderings for larger drawings?
Although they sometimes do end up becoming or inspiring larger drawings, I do think of my sketchbook drawings as works in their own right. I would like to show them in a gallery setting but I haven’t had the opportunity. I have gone through periods when I have tried to “ground” myself from working in sketchbooks in an effort to focus on making larger drawings. It’s difficult though, because it is the space that I am most comfortable. I feel that my sketchbook drawings are the most honest and least self conscious of my works. I am constantly battling with how comfortable and uncomfortable I should make myself. I would like to draw a graphic novel and I have toyed with making books but I’d also wish to make larger works that feel as intimate as my sketchbook drawings.
As a fellow fan of graphic novels, I can definitely visualize your drawings in this format. Do you also write? Are there any specific works that have influenced your interest in graphic novels?
I do write but so far it is fairly separate from my drawings. Only on a few occasions have they intersected. I struggle with words trapping figures in a specific emotion. I like their psychological ambiguity, so I have been working through that. As for graphic novels, I devoured Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. It was the first one I read. I have only recently begun really exploring them, but some of my favorites are Here by Richard McGuire, H Day by Renée French, Marbles by Ellen Forney, Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi, and Everywhere Antennas by Julie Delporte.
Who are some of your favorite artists? Have any in particular influenced the direction of your work?
Laylah Ali is a favorite of mine. She has definitely influenced my work. I was lucky enough to work with her as my mentor during graduate school. I already admired her work and now still, four years later, her words come into my head as I am drawing. Her work has a certainty and confidence that I admire, paired with a restrained sensitivity that I am drawn to. I look to many artists for inspiration: Amy Cutler, Agnes Martin, Lucian Freud, Wangechi Mutu, Joanna Concejo, Edward Gorey, Jockum Nordstrom.
Do you have any new projects or upcoming shows you’d like to mention?
I do not have any particular shows that I am working towards at the moment, so I have time to develop ideas, draw perhaps, begin my graphic novel and focus on projects that I have started but have not been able to give enough time to.
(Aris Moore graduated with her BFA in painting and drawing from Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA in 1998. She has enjoyed teaching visual art at Pentucket Regional Middle School in West Newbury, Massachusetts for the past fifteen years. In 2012, Aris earned her MFA in painting and drawing from the Art Institute of Boston, and has been included in exhibitions throughout the United States and in art fairs throughout Europe. She has been part of several group shows and had her first solo show at the Jack Hanley Gallery in NYC in 2012. She is the mother of ten year old twins and currently lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.) http://peekadoo.blogspot.com