Haun’s Mill: Away: An Intereview and new entry in the couple-creators series!

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If you haven’t been spying on me lately, you may not be aware how much I’ve been listening to the new Haun’s Mill album.

Every bit as good as their previous album, Away continues their combination of darkness and folk. Think of them as an upbeat Whiskeytown, an apocalyptic Mumford & Sons, a Mormon Johnny and June, an Austin Decemberists, a joke-free Ryan Shupe—or, better yet, just get to know them and think of them as themselves.

We’ve been working on this interview since early September, so some of the phrasing is a bit dated, but I highly encourage you to dig in all the same. To get you started, here’s the new video for their song “Oak Tree” (all about the end of the world, natch):

Theric: Your new album, Away, comes out September 21st. I’ve been listening for about a month now to the early copy you sent me, and I’m very fond of it. I want to start by asking, though, how were your goals for Away different from your goals for your first album?

Nord: Our overarching goal has been the same, namely to make a great album. Some variables changed with this one because we’re in a new environment with new band members, different studio, and we spent more time refining the songs before the recording process. “Away” keeps the direction and attitude of our debut album while hopefully improving on the song quality and performance.

Eliza: I feel ‘Away’ tells more of a collective story – rather than the first album which is more of a collection of songs. As with the first record Nord writes the songs he sings & I write the songs I sing – but with this album we seemed to be in sync with each other more in our storytelling perhaps because most of these songs were written in Austin just after relocating here.

Theric: This leads to a few questions I was intending to ask, so let me just combine them and get them all out now—they’re all related anyway. Continue reading “Haun’s Mill: Away: An Intereview and new entry in the couple-creators series!”

Couple-Creators: Ben and Barbara Abbott

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When Ben and Barbara moved into our ward last year as newlyweds, I knew I wanted to interview them even though they are still at the beginning of their careers and less established than other artists I’ve interviewed for Couple-Creators. I thought a) it would be nice to get a sense of how my questions get answered at the beginning of a marriage rather than a decade (or decades) in and b) it would be nice just to get to know them better.

Th: Let’s start though with Your Story. Because your existence as Mormon Couple-Creators is not only newly coupled, but, in Barbara’s case, newly Mormoned as well. So tell us how Ben & Barbara came to be.

Babs: It’s kind of a long, complicated story that involves my conversion, so ready yourself!   We met during a costume fitting for White Christmas. We were both working at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA Theaterfest).  I was a Costume Design Intern, and Ben was a student in the acting conservatory.  It was my first show at PCPA, so I was taking full advantage of the fittings to scope out what the male actors were like.  When Ben came in I immediately noticed his height (I promise I’m not shallow, I’m just tall and notice a good tall guy…).  He seemed great: friendly, funny, intelligent, and he lived in Argentina for two years!  Cultured to boot!  Oh… he was on his mission … he’s Mormon… bummer.  Nevertheless, he left a strong impression on me.  We got to know one another more during A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He played Lysander and I designed makeup for the show — well, mostly, I designed makeup for the fairies because they were colored from head-to-toe like Hindu gods.  Ben’s makeup was standard highlights and shadows, but he needed a lot of help.

Ben: I would just like to say that you would need a lot of help with your makeup too if the help was so lovely.  Did I just call you “the help?”  You know what I mean. Continue reading “Couple-Creators: Ben and Barbara Abbott”

Couple-Creators: Annie and Kah Leong Poon

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The Poons leaped to the top of my long list of Couple-Creators whom I eventually intend to interview for this series the second I found out Annie was married and to an important photographer. Somehow, the idea that she might be married had never occurred to me (sometimes it seems like all of my favorite artsy Mormon women are single). Then, shortly thereafter, Randy Astle invited me to interview them as part of the special New York edition of Mormon Artist. I said yes. Continue reading “Couple-Creators: Annie and Kah Leong Poon”

Couple-Creators: Casey Jex Smith / Amanda Michelle Smith

Theric: Last Saturday after I saw two of your paintings on a friend’s wall, Casey, I hopped online and spent a while perusing your work online. I was struck by how intentionally religious so much of your work is — specifically in the names of works, bits of temple iconography, images from old Church clip art and 1970s Bookcraft picture books — I’m curious how the greater art world reacts to your defiant Mormonness?
Casey:
Half of the art world is intrigued by the mysterious iconography of small, quirky population residing in Utah. The other half dismisses my work outright. I try to work with people who are the former but have had the displeasure of working with many of the latter. However open-minded the art world pretends to be, they are not as a whole.
Theric: I wasn’t surprised to see that you have a 2003 BFA from BYU. Your style was something I saw a lot in BYU galleries at the time — the seemingly random images bleeding into each over a plain background — I’m glad to finally be able to ask this of someone from your generation of BYU artists: what was so compelling about that mode of composition and how did you distinguish yourself from your peers?
Casey:  When I was at BYU I wasn’t making that kind of art at all. I did two shows that were conceptually based on the question of male violence and where does it come from. A nature/nurture thing and reaction to 911. For those shows I did large reproductions violent boy drawings on canvas, sculptures of melted GI Joes, projections of war video games on the XBOX, and canvases with ironic stills taken from the GI Joe Cartoon. It was very mediocre work. I didn’t start having the overlapping imagery on a white background until my 2nd semester of grad school at the San Francisco Art Institute. I started using drawing as my primary medium again. With that I think comes a natural tendency to draw what is important and leave the background unfinished. In drawing as opposed to painting, it’s more accepted to do that.
But I do remember well the work you are talking about. The printmaking department had a big influence on that kind of work. I remember lots of map fragments, drawn lines, sacred geometry, and almost no color.
Theric: Amanda, I see your work and I think immediately of Henry Darger, only with the addition of ceramic flowers. (I might as well add now that while I like Darger quite a lot, I like your work better. Just don’t tell the people dropping tons of cash on Darger.) Are you intentionally referencing him? And if so, to what end? (And if not, how did you come by your blond girls in not-quite-normalland?)
Amanda:
This is actually a question I’ve been getting for years.  Funny thing is, and maybe this is a little embarassing to admit too, but I didn’t even know who Henry Darger was until I was in graduate school and I got this question for the first time.  At that point I sought out his work, became familiar with it and came to love him.  I’ve even shown at his gallery in NYC, but he’s never been a direct influence on my work.  While Darger has created a fantasy world spirited little girls fighting for their lives, I feel like his narratives are very different from mine, which are mostly stories from my life.  I grew up with three sisters and my mother, my dad not being around very much and not very involved in my upbringing.  I lived in this hyper-feminine household and so these little girls just became my mouthpieces for telling stories.  They’re characters I feel comfortable speaking through.
Theric: One thing I like best about your work is how most pieces flit back and forth between painting and sculpture. Could you comment on what you’re trying to accomplish by melding the second and third dimensions?
Amanda:
I think at first that this was just unintentional.  I started college as a psych major, and then I was a visual technology major, then I was a painting major and ended up being forced to take ceramics as an elective.  I found out then that you could paint on clay and when I discovered that it became only natural to want to take advantage of clays three dimensional nature and get the best of both worlds.  I love reliefs.  I’ve been looking at the work of the della Robbia’s and wanting to get even more 3D lately.
Theric: Since Casey had a book published by the Mormon Artists Group, I assume you’re tapped into some of the Mormon artist communities. What sort of relationship do you have with the community / communities and what value do you find therein?
Casey: Glen has been a huge supporter of my work. He has purchased several pieces, published the drawings I make during church meetings on Sundays, come to my openings in NYC, and put me in his newsletters. He has been a great friend as well and we have had many wonderful conversations about what it means to be Mormon and creating art. This kind of feedback is really important to me because my work most of the time exists outside of Mormon Culture and is purchased and seen by a secular audience. I am fine with that, but half of my original intent is to help push the definitions of what “Mormon Art” is for Mormons. Glen has helped my work circulate within the Mormon art world.
Aside from the Mormon Artists Group, there is a small group of BYU graduates ( Jared Lindsay Clark, Todd Chilton, Sean Morello, Jared Latimer, Adam Bateman, Trent Reynolds, Allan Ludwig, Daniel Everett, Ryan Browning, Susan Krueger-Barber, Chris Lynn, and others) that have stayed in touch and supported each other in navigating the art world. I wish there were more women in that list. My biggest support of course has been my wife Amanda who is dealing with the gallery system too.
Amanda:  I love Glen Nelson who heads up the Mormon Artists Group, but I’ve never worked with him directly, I’ve only met him through Casey.  I have a lot of friends who are Mormon artists though and I’m married to one as well.  I feel like there’s definitely a community there and I feel like it’s incredibly valuable to have a group of people you can bond with over faith, career ambitions and common experiences.  The Mormon art world is so small and comfortable.
Theric: Getting narrower in our definition of community, do you ever create work together?
Amanda: I love to collaborate with Casey.  We’ve been so busy lately in our own careers that we haven’t made a lot of time for collaborations, but we have grand ideas and we’ve done some in the past.  I feel a little insecure working with him just because I think he’s a genius and a brilliant draftsman.  Ceramics is technically very challenging for people who aren’t familiar with the medium so usually our collaborations tend to be drawings.  I always end up feeling like my portion of the work looks clumsy inserted next to his impeccably rendered pen drawings.
Casey: She’s insecure but in all honesty she is a better draftswoman, especially when it comes to the human form. My figures are always awkward and stiff and hers are graceful and full of expression. I love to collaborate with her but it’s hard to just make enough solo work to supply the galleries I work with and her as well. We will collaborate in the future when we hit a slow spot.
Theric: How did you two meet, anyway? Did art play a role in that?
Casey:
Amanda:
Yes, I think art’s played a role in everything we have since the beginning.  I moved to the Bay Area about a year after Casey started grad school at the San Francisco Art Institute.  From the minute I moved out here I started hearing about Casey this and Casey that.  I’d never even met this guy and he had a girlfriend at the time and yet at least four different people tried to set us up.  Long story short, my friend was dating his roommate and she brought me to one of his art shows.  It was kind of like a blind date.  I was so impressed with his work not only because it was technically impressive and beautiful but because it had so much integrity and substance, plus he was cute, so I fell for him.
Theric: Creating as a couple — no matter what it’s like now — is a particularly Mormon pastime in the sense that someday, the goal is, you will be Creators. In that sense, how does your work reflect your faith (and vice versa)?
Amanda:
Well to be honest I’ve never thought of that before.  I mean, I think creating artwork has given Casey and I a special kind of bond that I’m very grateful for.  As far as my work reflecting my faith, most of my artwork doesn’t revolve around Mormon themes, but my values are absolutely imbedded in it.  While the trend in contemporary art seems to be moving more in the direction of the edgy and the abject I find myself going in another direction.  I want my artwork to be rated G and I try to make it “virtuous, lovely and of good report or praiseworthy” although that’s up for debate.
Casey:
Ditto.
Theric: I think it’s safe to say you’re both still at the beginning of your artistic careers. So how do you balance art with concerns like rent and family planning? And how is success changing your approaches to art?
Casey: It’s hard. Part of me does feel like I’m a pathetic musician holding out to be a rockstar. I have a writer friend that ditched his writing career to go back to law school and get a proper job that could support his family. But I just don’t have a fall back. There is no plan B. Luckily we’ve had a bit of success to keep us going and help us feel that we’re  not wasting our time. Having a baby in August might change some things. We’ll see.
Amanda: It is hard to balance our love of art with provident living and family planning.  Both making art and living the gospel are labors of love but if they’re ever at odds we try to make living the gospel priority number one.  If it wasn’t, I think we’d both be unemployed starving artists, making art all day everyday.  It would be our only priority, our religion.  Instead, we go to work, come home and go to work on our art when we’re not too tired.  We’re expecting our first baby in August, so we’ll see how that changes things.  I have a feeling it will slow us down even more.
Theric: What advice do you offer Mormon artist couples like yourselves?
Amanda: I think sometimes the pressures of the art world make it easy to lose sight of what’s important.  There’s not a lot of room for faith in it, so I guess my advice would have to be that you can have both.  Keep your testimony strong and keep working hard on your art.  I also think you have to sacrifice for each other because it’s not an easy career choice financially or emotionally.
Casey:
You can be an artist and good member at the same time. You can tackle difficult questions in your art without turning your back on your faith.
Theric: Any question I should have asked, but didn’t? Any upcoming shows or suchlike that you want to plug before you close? Anything else at all? Favorite sandwich?
Casey:  Favorite sandwich is an italian sub with everything except mayo. I have a show at Galerie Polaris in Paris right now and I’m working on a show at Allegra LaViola Gallery for October that will have a live performance of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure that is based on a drawing of Lehi’s Vision.
Amanda: Favorite sandwich… does a burrito count?  Upcoming shows, I have a group show in NYC at Allegra LaViola Gallery coming up in June.  It’s called “Off the Wall.”  That’s about it right now.

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A couple Saturdays ago, my wife and I were visiting friends who are notable (among other reasons) for buying art. They have a Bryan Mark Taylor for instance and they had two other pieces on the wall near their computer that I found quite striking. They were the work of Casey Jex Smith, whose name I suppose I should have recognized as I had seen it often enough. For instance, he was the driving force behind the now defunct Mormon arts forum Head of Shiz.

Our friends then set me in front of their computer to look at his site, and also that of his wife, Amanda Michelle Smith.

Don't_Look_at_Me Continue reading “Couple-Creators: Casey Jex Smith / Amanda Michelle Smith”

Couple-Creators: Howard and Sandra Tayler

Theric: Thanks so much for participating, both of you. Let me start by congratulating Sandra on her AML Award for online writing. Hilariously enough, on your blog you had said just the week before that you “only learned about it [the AML] a few weeks ago.” How does it feel to go from ignorant to laureled in so short a time?
Sandra:   I think mostly what I feel is conspicuous.  It is rather like walking into a party to realize that everyone happened to look toward the door just as you entered.
Howard:  I’m glad I decided on pants that day.
Theric: What is it that makes your blog so dang good anyway?
Howard:  Sandra’s blog is so dang good because it gives me a new and refreshing perspective on what’s going on in my house. I can’t promise that it’ll do this for anybody else, though.
Sandra: I don’t spend much time thinking about whether the things I write are good or not.  I just write about the things that matter to me.
Theric: Of course, Howard’s been doing the the online comic Schlock Mercenary (also updated daily) for a long, long time now — even got a Hugo nod last year. So combining online art, success and awards is old hat for the Taylers. Plenty people would like to replicate that success. What’s your secret?
Howard:  There is no secret. We can’t teach anybody how to accomplish what we’ve accomplished. But we can explain how to do the things we do. There’s a subtle, critical difference there.
Sandra:  The short version is lots of hard work, and long hours, over a long period of time.
Theric: The two of you work together on Schlock Mercenary — how do you distribute responsibilities?
Howard:  I do the funny parts and the artsy parts, Sandra does everything else.
Sandra:  That about sums it up.  There are some tasks that stick with one person or the other, but a few tasks get batted back and forth like a ping pong ball.
Howard: Oh, and we recently hired out the coloring. Travis Walton now does about half the artsy parts.
Theric: Were you both already creators before meeting each other? Did creation play a role in bringing you together?
Sandra:  Howard’s creativity and energy were a lot of what attracted me to him. I think I was smitten from the moment Howard explained his “lego theory” of creativity, which is the idea that each creative form has a set of bricks and once you learn how to assemble things from bricks, then switching brick sets is just a matter of learning how the new shapes work.  Later he put this theory into action by switching creative tracks from being a musician to being a cartoonist.  The fact that Howard wanted to make a living doing creative work was prominent in our earliest discussions about how to build a life together.  More importantly, Howard supports my creative endeavors as much as I support him.
Theric: How does creating together impact your marriage?
Howard:  Well, we made four children. That’s had an impact. It’s not ex-nihilo creation, but the principle is the same. We made something together, and what me made has changed us for the better. From there the artistic pursuits are just frosting on the cake. Delicious, ex-nihilo frosting. Except when we borrow sugar.
Theric: Taking a step backwards, when you first moved online, you weren’t making money that way. How did you stick through the lean times to current era in which you are presumably better fed?
Howard: You know that part in the Zelda games when Link has to cross a field of water (or sometimes lava) by shooting ice arrows to create solid patches he can walk across? My job was to make ice arrows. Sandra’s job was to shoot them into the right places so that we could get across the dangerous (sometimes flaming) depths before the patch we were on thawed out again.
Sandra: I call the lean years our walk of faith.  We stuck to it because we had a strong sense that it was the right thing for our family to be doing at that time.
Theric: Related question: how have your successes changes you or your relationship?
Sandra: Our lives are constantly shifting and so is our relationship.  I love the way that we have built a strong business partnership as well as a personal one.
Howard:  I look forward to the day when Sandra’s making ice arrows and I can hire somebody to shoot them for me. My hand is getting tired.
Theric: Moving beyond just the two of you, what role does creativity play in family life? (Or, in other words, how do you keep the kids unstrangled when you’re just trying to get some work done?)
Howard:  I do a lot of my work outside the house. Sandra doesn’t have that luxury, though.
Sandra: They’re all in school now.  This gives us 6 hours per day to scramble and get work done.  Summers are a challenge.
Theric: It seems to me that the act of creation is particularly Mormon in the sense that Creators is what we intend to be someday. In that sense, how is your faith reflected in your work?
Howard:  Mormons have a special relationship with the concept of creation, but the reverse is absolutely not the case. And not all Latter-Day Saints want to create art, or books, or blogs, or statuary. I’m creating things because that’s what I enjoy, and after lots of practice that’s kind of what I’m best at. Being Mormon perhaps gives me an excuse to place more spiritual value in what I do than I might otherwise, but that’s the smallest part of what my membership in this Church provides.
How, then, does my faith come across in my work? To be brief, I try to only use my powers for good. And like Sandra, if I’m blogging about something inherently Mormon, I take time to explain my terms.
Theric: What advice do you have for Mormon artist couples like yourselves?
Howard:  What you paint, or write, or sculpt, or perform is ultimately going to fade. Your relationship with each other is an eternal one. Don’t lose sight of that.
Sandra: Develop an ongoing relationship with divine inspiration.  It will never lead you wrong.
Theric: What’s up next for Brother and Sister Tayler?
Sandra: Lots more work.
Howard:  But we’ve got work to do first.

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Theric: Thanks so much for participating, both of you. Let me start by congratulating Sandra on her . Hilariously enough, on your blog you had said just the week before that you “only learned about it [the AML] a few weeks ago.” How does it feel to go from ignorant to laureled in so short a time?

Sandra:   I think mostly what I feel is conspicuous.  It is rather like walking into a party to realize that everyone happened to look toward the door just as you entered.

Howard:  I’m glad I decided on pants that day.   Continue reading “Couple-Creators: Howard and Sandra Tayler”

Couple-Creators: Shannon and Dean Hale

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In commemoration of yesterday’s holiday, I’m finally returning to my Couple-Creators series of interviews, featuring this time Shannon and Dean Hale who recently came out with their second comic book together, Calamity Jack.

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Theric: In the past, in this interview series, both members of the marriage have had clearly defined artistic lives. But I think that few people were aware Dean had a way with words before he was announced as co-author of Rapunzel’s Revenge. So, Shannon, tell us a bit about Dean the writer.

(And then, if alterations are needed, we’d better let Dean make them.) Continue reading “Couple-Creators: Shannon and Dean Hale”

Couple-Creators: Mike and Laura Allred

Sir:
I’m still trying to get an ftp address out of Sunstone (they must have one and someone must know what it is) and as soon as that gets figured out, I’ll let you know what images I need. (Hopefully by then I will have finished my article.)
In the meantime, I thought I should send you the questions about being a couple of Mormon artists, married to each other. Please distinguish between your comments and Laura’s so I can do the same for readers. (Feel free to forward the questions on to her if would be easier for her just to reply separately.) (Or forward her your answers and let her reply to them.) (Or whatever. I’m flexible.)
I’ve included more questions than I expect you to answer. Feel free to pick and choose. And feel free to plug any upcoming projects as well. And I’ll (obviously) need to include some sort of image with this article — probably one off your website’s gallery or a scan from one of the Madman books I own. But if you happen to have a couple-portrait lying around that you made together, that would be ideal methinks.
Q: Were you both creators before meeting each other? Did creation play a role in bringing you together? How does creating together impact your marriage?
We met at BYU-Idaho and were both in the art department. So, we’ve always had that connection.
We were originally worried about getting sick of each other working together full-time, but it’s only brought us closer together.
Q: Since Michael seems to get hit up for more interviews than Laura, the general impression online is that projects you work on together are purely his ideas. How accurate is this?
Very.
I’ll give him input, but he really does do pretty much everything except selecting the colors.
Q: The Golden Plates. Doing that project seems like a financial risk and, sadly, it wasn’t a big hit. How did you discuss this project ahead of time, and was that discussion different than previous deciding-to-do-a-project discussions? What sort of strain did its lackluster sales cause? How likely are you to return to either that project or the Joseph Smith bio?
First off, it actually was a huge hit. But not big enough to sustain us financially given the time needed to do it right. So, we simply have to find time to do it when we can. We’re confident once we manage an efficient schedule that it will pick up steam.
Q: Speaking of, what is the relationship between faith, art and spouse?
It just is. We don’t have the words to express that answer correctly.
Q: Of course, you both work on projects apart from each other as well as working together — why is it important to take those jobs?
It’s always good to stretch on outside projects. Thats’ where we’ll find new inspiration to progress with different techniques and approaches.
Q: Speaking of, artistically, what are the advantages of working on properties owned by other people?
New perspectives.
Q: How is it different, working together as opposed to working with other people?
Together we have a rhythm and a comfort zone that can’t be matched.
Q: I know you’ve worked with Mike’s brother Lee. Have you involved other family members in projects as well? How does that turn out?
Our children have created characters or done small coloring jobs and stuff. It’s just extra fun.
Q: How do you balance family and art? Do you think it is easier or harder to be parents, you both being professional creatives? How do your careers affect your children?
We would just say it allows us to involve our children more in what we do, and they’re all creative too in music and art. And working at home just brings us closer together.
Q: At the beginning of your careers, before you were The Famous Allreds, how did you balance art with more mundane needs like rent?
We just plugged away. It’s not much different now except…
How has success changed your approaches to art?
…we have more confidence and it’s a little easier to get things done.
Q: How has success changed your relationship with each other?
Simply more comfort, less stress.
Q: I hear Laura is, first and foremost, a painter. Which begs the question: in addition to comics, what else are you two up to in terms of Fab Art?
Not much lately. I have my hands full with our regular work and spend as much time with the kids as we can.
Q: Any advice for Mormon artist couples like yourselves?
Just don’t be afraid to spend more time together. We love it!
Don’t forget to plug your upcoming work (including but not limited to continuing Madman, the Neil Gaiman Metamorpho, and whatever zillion other things you’re busy with).

That’s about it right now. Some things in the works, but nothing I can announce.

yet.

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I imagine the first thing that comes to the average mind when one mentions Mike or Laura Allred, together or separately, is Madman, Mike’s mid-Nineties comics creation that has lived long and is one of the most brilliant comics on shelves even today.

In Mormon circles, they are probably better known for The Golden Plates, their Book of Mormon adaptation.

For both these works, the writing and drawing is done by Mike, with colors by Laura. But their careers stretch far beyond these two titles, deep into the world of popular comics. Mike’s retro-pop stylings are in high demand (look for a collaboration with Neil Gaiman, coming soon) and Laura’s zowie colors for numerous popular titles have won her fan awards time and again. Check out these resumes: (Mike), (Laura).

Continue reading “Couple-Creators: Mike and Laura Allred”