Why does someone become an artist? It's a big question that can yield seemingly inconsequential answers. Sometimes, it all comes down to a childhood chance encounter — stumbling across a comic strip, accidentally walking into a band's practice session or attending an art exhibition for the first time. We asked artists who have been featured on Platform to tell us about the early art memories that inspired their desire to create and set them on their career paths.
I remember my father teaching me the Robert Rauschenberg ink transfer technique. He sprinkled toluene from a tall, glass Coca-Cola bottle onto torn magazine pages and then burnished them with pencil. I loved the results. Magic. I was probably 10.
My kindergarten teacher chastised me for making a purple turtle.
As a young child, emptying all of the shampoo bottles and soaps at my babysitter's house onto their carpeted stairs. It combined some sense of danger, trespassing of accepted borders, confusion, and freedom.
The Rothko Chapel is probably my first major moment with art. I was completely confounded and perplexed as to what its utility was and how I was supposed to judge its relationship to myself. Prior to that experience, my art intake was mostly pulp, cultural products that were explicit in their purpose and deferred to the masses. I would not say I immediately liked it, but it did seed a lot of questions that would bear fruit as an adult.
An exhibition by Camille Claudell that I saw at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City when I was in elementary school. My mom bought me some Play-Dough, and I kept trying to make something similar to what I had seen.
I was one of the first generations that grew up under the Islamic regime in Iran, so many art resources were removed from the country. The first art that I was impacted by was the drawing series Love is… by the cartoonist Kim Grove, and when I was 9 I was obsessed with collecting Love is... gum wrappers. My favorite thing was to draw a large copy of the gum wrappers on A4 paper with colored pencils and graphite.
I remember seeing a Dalí retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and freaking out because of the scale and magnitude of those surreal depictions. I made a vow after seeing that show as a kid to “do something for art."
I found a picture book of Matisse paintings at a used book sale in my elementary school gym. I think it was The Green Stripe that really got me into painting.
Summer in Chile at 10 years old lying on the rug in the sun, spending hours looking and copying Picabia, Dégas and Cassatt drawings while listening to Shakira’s first album, Pies Descalzos, on my agonizing walkman.
When I learned how to use art as a vehicle to learn. I have dyslexia. With art, I created my own language through colors, symbols and drawings to help me comprehend books, remember math equations and such. It’s an amazing tool for learning.
I was 13 or 14 on my paper route doing my weekly Friday collection. This one cool outlier adobe house on the block was very behind on its payment. They weren’t answering their doors, but I could hear loud music coming from the basement. So, I went around to the back to find this punk rock band practicing in the cellar. I stepped down the storm hatch right into the middle of that session holding my orange envelope screaming, “Hey man, you need to pay your bill!”. ‘Scruffy’ (Stephen Fredette) winked at me and kept thrashing his big hair while wailing on his Les Paul. I sat down on an amp, determined to get paid, and watched them play for a while. There were all kinds of crazy psychedelic spray-painted posters on the wall. They were made using intricate hand-cut stencils for color layers; skulls, flowers, patterns, eyes popping out of black holes vibrating in construction orange and blue paint. He had a couple of bands in Boston, Scruffy the Cat and The Upper Crust, a debutante punk band that brought their own red velvet couch to each show for the “Posh Pit”. We became good friends. He gave me a broken guitar to fix, gave me records and tapes, and showed me how to make stencil art. It changed my life.
I think the first time I thought painting could be as powerful as my other loves (football and boxing) was when I saw a Max Beckmann exhibition.
The first museum I went to was while I was attending Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree and we had an outing to the Palm Springs Art Museum. Upon entry, I was struck by a Duane Hanson piece of a couple seated. The paintings that impacted me were by Roberta Matta and Robert Motherwell. Just the textures and gestures of the paint stirred something inside me. Later, on my first visit to LACMA, I stood in front of a Mary Cassatt painting and balled my eyes out. I might have only cried harder at the recent Kerry James Marshall show.
Growing up, I was drawn to books such as The Boxcar Children and Roxaboxen, in which children were left to their own devices. I would collect branches from the woods and twine from bales of hay to construct forts. I found strength in creation, and today the ideas of agency and engagement are a significant part of my work.
AVERY Z. NELSON
When I was very young – three or four years old – I fell in love with the section of the hardware store where the colorful paint strips lived. I would take a selection of strips home with me and spend hours arranging them into different clusters of colors. The clusters together represented different emotions and relationships in my imagination, which I’d then play out in various psycho-dramas between the personified clusters. A few years later, I was introduced to a set of Tangrams, and I fell in love with the process of building silhouettes of forms through negative space and a simple set of elements. Color, rhythm and construction through deconstruction are all significant elemental tools in my art practice and present in much of the art that I am inspired by today.
RYAN TRAVIS CHRISTIAN
Donald Duck’s Mathemagic Land on VHS, probably '88? I still own it, still watch it.
A frightening Toulouse-Lautrec print that hung in my grandparent’s house. It was very beautiful and very unsettling. I think that shock of experiencing discordant reactions while looking at the same image really stuck with me in a profound way and became something I sought to achieve.
I remember seeing people cut up grip tape on the top of skateboards. That really opened me up and I started doing that as well as making skate zines and making stickers and T-shirts. At the time, I don’t think I really thought of it as “art” but it was what led me down the path to working in art and design for most of my life.