Jess Ferraro is a Boston-Based artist, performer and model who works with other artists to “create something new and different”. She is involved not only in modeling but in circus arts and we are thrilled to share this in-depth interview with her focusing on her current “emotions” series.
How do you visualize how each emotion is represented? Do they have stories that go along with your life?
Visualizing each emotion has been a very interesting journey. I often don’t identify with many emotions, if any at all most days. So I started this project to get a bit of a better grasp on feelings and emotions. I’ve been kind of playing to how many people refer to them and the other stigmas, interpretations and figures of speech that correlate with each feeling and emotion to create some really interesting visuals. For example when shooting love, I had an underlying mood of ‘love is blind” but also other themes like toxic relationships, fake love and similar things like that. When shooting anxiety, I took from some feelings that I tend to run into when my anxiety increases in situations where I feel like my hands are tied and I can’t do anything about the situation at hand. Feeling vaguely helpless, foggy and in a mild panic. It is all a process of interpreting these emotions and feelings in as many perspectives as I can fathom and working with multiple other photographers on this project definitely helps that process.
When you’re working with a photographer on each image how do you explain what you want to accomplish? Do you plan ahead with colors in mind? How much of the photos are edited in post?
I give the photographer’s an outline of the concepts I am trying to portray through the costume and makeup look I’ve created for the shoot. I then give the photographers the creative freedom on how to shoot and edit the shots. Sometimes there will be a few shots I have in mind and we talk about them and see if they will work with the overall vision of that feeling or emotion. I usually show up fully ready to shoot in most cases, unless I need to change or add extra elements once I arrive on set due to transportation.
When you’re photographing this series, are you focusing on feeling the emotion you’re trying to represent?
I often try to embody as much of the emotion as I can when actually shooting, but mostly try and express the underlying themes and create the imagery I want to portray ior the outcome.
What kinds of reactions do your photos get? How do you feel about those reactions
I have received many reactions, mostly positive and encouraging. Which has been wonderful, but I also tend to get a few odd interactions when I create some images that are a bit more out of the box that people often think I operate in. I often read the mixed reactions as a good sign that I’m making people think about my art instead of just putting something out there and having people not be affected by it. I like that this series has the ability to make people feel something.
Do you associate certain emotions with certain colors?
When I first started this project I realized that most of the emotions I had on my list were all on the sadder, bluer side of the spectrum. As it expanded and I work with more people, more emotions have connected to more color schemes and have gone in multiple directions. I also tend to correlate each emotion with specific textures and textiles, but I think that might just be the fashion designer in me peeking its way out.
Describe your style in 3 words.
Extra, unconventional, and unique
What is the weirdest thing you’ve done for a photoshoot?
I don’t often think things I do for shoots are weird, but other people probably would haha. I’ve spun fire in the snow at 1am, modeled with loaves of bread, gotten bottles of champagne poured on me in a bathtub, had my head put in fruit webbing, poured milk all over the sidewalk, balanced on abandon rocking horses in a field, climbed inside of washing machines, swam with pineapples, pretended to eat eyeballs, rode the T covered in blood, had my butt spanked with handfuls of glitter, strolled around a cemetery with no pants on. All things that I don’t find that weird, but other people probably will haha.
What artists inspire you?
I have had the pleasure of surrounding myself with artistic friends that inspire me every day.
How did you get started modeling?
When I was a kid my parents took me to a casting call for child models. I made it through the whole process and had gotten so bored of it by the time it came to the casting, that I asked if we could just go home. In my later years I picked it backup as a hobby and a way to showcase some of my work when I was still actively designing clothing. I have since expanded my modeling and honed my skills to create other things with many artists.
I know you also take part in circus arts. Does that inform your modeling and art? Can you tell us how you got into doing that? It sounds so cool!
I am a performer, so I guess I got more into aerials through wanting to explore more circus arts. I really enjoy it and it definitely brings other weird poses and mannerisms into my arsenal. I often use my character building skills to create acts and other forms of art. It often brings a fun perspective to new art projects.
What inspires you?
I often pull inspiration from many things; nature, my fellow artists, textures, feelings, fabrics, the reflections off glass and iridescent rainbows. Collaborations, working off each others ideas, creating new worlds and alternate dimensions. I also get a lot of inspiration from space and my surroundings. People watching also sparks some great inspiration, as well as roaming through museums and other public spaces.
What are you working on next?
I feel like I’m constantly working on so many things at a time, but I have a few things in the works that I can’t quite divulge just yet. So you will just have to keep an eye out on my socials to see what I’m up to next haha.
Jess can be found on Pengwar.com . Her instagram handles are @supernova_vision and @pengwar and she can be found on Facebook @pengwarart
Seosamh, or Saint Vagrant, is a trans author and illustrator living in Central MA. He works with his partner, Anka on incredible sci-fi comic series SUPERPOSE. SUPERPOSE is an entirely self-published project focusing on quantum physics, glitches, trauma, and identity. Seosamh also does beautiful paintings and we are so grateful that he was willing to share some of his work and to talk with us about his process, thoughts and ideas.
How did you get interested in comics? Is there a specific artist or writer who inspires you?
I grew up reading Tin Tin and the Pokemon Adventure comics, Calvin and Hobbes, Sandman… but it was when I found team anthologies and companies like Oni or Image, producing totally different and very emotional work, that cemented in me that maybe it was actually possible to create this stuff myself, and that approaching it differently from what I’d seen before wasn’t some sort of cardinal sin. I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a turncoat, but I was initially (and still am) inspired by cinematography, and timing, from film. I think I still am in a lot of ways, and I try to translate that inspiration to visual art without making it static. Really, it was manga and webcomics as a memorable and viable medium that changed my life and career path. I wasn’t sure I’d ever do comics. There are a lot of stories that may not have ever existed without the push for this, and I’m really lucky to be in leagues with the creators. I’m still experimenting! I definitely don’t approach every story with the same process or product.
My favourite manga-ka is Hirohiko Araki; I admire his ability to craft a world and keep it going for… 30 years, always introducing something new and always very open about reflecting on his relationship with his work. My favourite webcomic… I have many, but a big one is Brainchild by Suzanne Geary (which even takes place in the Boston area.) Other artists/authors who inspire me are F. Choo, Katie O’Neill, Toril Orlesky, Kam “Mars” Heyward, Taneka Stotts, Michelle Perez, Reimena Yee, Higu Rose, Otava Heikkilä, Rami Lehkonen… many more! I’m non-stop inspired by my partner Anka as well, the way they think and approach stories/characters/the world makes me think and explore in brand new ways.
To me it seems that the people pictured in your paintings are characters in a story, they have so much personality. When you go to create a painting do you create or invent stories around these characters?
Some of them are from stories (Superpose or otherwise) and many of them are me, and many of them are strangers. People I could know, or maybe never could. It’s hard not to imagine lives or circumstances for them, especially when painting traditionally since it’s such a physical and in that way an almost intimate process, if that makes sense. But I try to keep some distance, too, if I don’t know them. I’m happy to hear that a personality shows through! The paintings are definitely to provide a space where the subject is comfortable, even if relative to whatever story might be hinted.
How do you feel your work fits into modern day pop/counter culture?
As far as fitting in goes, I’m not sure how objective I can be– sometimes I think my work is still kind of niche, in that it layers niche on top of niche. But I also know I’m in good company– I’m lucky to be surrounded by friends and people I admire, and our interests/needs may veer slightly from pop culture or even counter-culture as a block. I do know independent and small-press work, and the people represented by/in that work, have found more footing now, so I think I fit into that in terms of who’s telling and reading stories, merging genres and reinventing what can be done with them. People making/seeking out this work isn’t new, but it’s above ground now. There’s also the cycle of resurgence of nostalgic themes and concepts, complete with elaborate neon colour grading, to play off a real or imagined collective memory… that concept alone is really interesting to me (inventing memories) so maybe my work fits into that movement.
In your comic, Superpose, do you work on writing the story as well as drawing it? What kind of input do you and your partner have? How did you initially come up with the concept?
Yes! We write and draw it entirely together. (We live together, which makes it easier.) We came up with it having both just graduated from school, figuring ourselves out, and reevaulating what we find important in storytelling. The break from school meant gathering up everything we put on hold or discovered in that time, which ended up being: our own lives/childhoods (we both spent them on various shores,) those of new friends, and the media we like, have always liked, and finding more of it to feed us.
We watched all of Miami Vice and read all of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, a manga series by Hirohiko Araki, and presented on it at Anime Boston 2016, focusing on its legacy and art history. We realised we were dedicating a lot of time and attention to this thing we ultimately couldn’t do much with, and we’re both driven people with a desire to make earnest and productive narratives. So as soon as I asked my partner if they wanted to create a project/world with me, one we could actually affect and build ourselves, it went pretty fast: the original idea was implanted in December 2015, we made what was supposed to stay a simple zine in February-March 2016, and we launched the comic in May 2016.
I love how the website and all associated media for the comic are hosted on old-school websites, it reminds me of internet in the 90’s! Is there something aesthetically or otherwise that draws you to that period of time?
Thank you!! This is a bit of a spoiler but the comic takes place over… some amount of time, starting off in the early 80s, but not staying there. The website design is meant to reflect this, and has many hidden treasures ;^) So I’m excited to hear it jogs personal memory! My formative internet looked like that, I even built a few geocities sites in middle school. It’s so visceral. I talked about inventing memories or tapping into a collective memory, and that’s really the motivation. There’s a generation who grew up totally separated from the hands-on experience of this, and yet due to resurgences, find themselves being a part of what came before them. The fake-real we build, we want it to be like what you might find on a blank VHS tape at a liquidation sale.
If I can plug, I’m extremely inspired by the work of Olia Lialina, who in addition to being an artist herself (and has been using web-based/hypertext since its inception) maintains the Geocities Archive. In 2018, we went to the ICA for their “Art In The Age Of The Internet” exhibition, which was deeply inspiring and validating in terms of the work we do. Olia’s “My Boyfriend Came Back From The War” was in show, a narrative piece, and an installation, since it’s inside a Netscape browser on– I think– an old Gateway desktop. It has to be shown that way. I mean, it has to. The experience would be so different otherwise, tapping into something completely different.
If I had my way… well. Superpose is actually in part shown through similar means. We make physical items from its time– or somewhere else– and send them off to people. I only found out last year (talking to the partner of a MIT lecturer, the lecturer being Shariann Lewitt who specialises in the subject) that the word for this is “transmedia.” That’s fitting on a few levels.
Do you find elements of the character of Rafael reflect some of your experiences as a trans man? Are any storylines inspired by your own experiences?
Oh, for sure… this work isn’t meant to be autobiographical or even biographical, everything in it is a total amalgam of many many other things, people, experiences, and Rafael isn’t an analogue for myself. I’m not at all qualified to tell too real/biographical a story, for all kinds of reasons. For one, I’m white, so Rafael’s racial/cultural background is something built from the guidance and experiences of other people. In other respects, parts of me do show up, bluntly or vague. Not committing to neatness about some aspects is, I think/hope, also fair representation, with the goal of portraying how hard it is to know what you feel or how to react in the moment.
Rafael is transitioning around people, hasn’t and may never have surgery, he has his documents changed during the story. With his transition being public, people react aggressively, with entitlement, or they pointedly ignore and neglect him. I do really relate to the pressure of needing to be “the best version” of __, in this case a trans person, in order to keep the peace and be safe. But the pressure to keep ones head down and not make a fuss isn’t safe, that’s still a thing being done to you, and for some (like me) passing as cis is impossible. Rafael’s also gay, and for me that’s been invalidated along the lines of “well if you’re a gay trans boy, why can’t you be a straight girl? Why can’t you be a lesbian?” like people beg for this to make sense in the narrow way they understand it, they need it to look like what they want, and will enforce it. A challenging moment is when Rafael hooks up with a guy when he (Rafael) isn’t in the best state, and it’s almost something, but then the guy’s pretty uh… mean. And it’s unfortunate but when I was young, even mixed or negative attention felt like proof of existence when living in a haze. It wasn’t a good thing, but it was a thing, it happened. However, on a positive front, I also relate to finding myself through things unrelated to cis-passing or at all cis-centred standards. “Man” is such a loaded term for some and I have no interest in fulfilling the expectations attached to it. Many of my trans man/masc friends feel the same.
There’s a lot of pressure to write only the most diplomatic narratives about trans people, like it has to be didactic and clean and relatable to a cis audience, or a het audience, a thin audience, a white audience that values and trusts themselves as the default and does no diligence to correct it, unwilling to either relate or respect other lives, and take it personally that a piece doesn’t centre their comfort. My pieces don’t always centre my own comfort! Fiction has been a carefully-considered cushion, or, map-making in real-time to understand experiences and concepts I didn’t previously have perspective for… it’s a place to put things, it’s an ongoing process. It’s not supposed to be a vacation for people who don’t want to do the work.
I want to share these considerations/journeys with people who feel it, and that’s absolutely not everybody. I’m in my stories, but they’re not about me. All of my stories feature trans people no matter what the story itself is about, and SUPERPOSE is still a sci-fi, with increasing unreal elements.
How do you start world building for your comic? There are so many details in the world and characters that add a lot of texture and feeling of “reality” to your story!
Oh man, that’s so awesome to hear! Yeah, it’s like setting up a sandbox to play around in… for SUPERPOSE, the characters came first, but even as we were developing them, Anka and I were both living in a coastal town and working overnights. We wanted to capture that bizarro-world feeling where everyone’s made honest by the witching hour versions of ourselves. I want to create a… fake-real reality, a merging of places that maybe can’t be pinned down to one particular place, but a place you know. You can recognise certain parts of it, like migraine-inducing fluorescent or thirsty crabgrass, grainy Sanyo flip phone photos, squeaky wet flip-flops… it’s all super sensory to me even though it’s flat images, so I want to share that. The more “believable” some of it is, despite its cartooniness, the freakier I hope the unreal parts will be. The people, too, are like this, I hope they feel like people you could know, but maybe never quite did, or you had a really personal moment during a party where you both spilled your guts, had a tender time of it, and never talked again until you hear a weird rumour about them and defend them on principle.
Did formally studying art affect how you work, or how you define yourself as an artist? Did you find that time valuable?
I have mixed feelings about it. I did very well in school, and it allowed me to escape from where I was before. But this also came with constant misgendering and even arguments about my identity, little consideration for mental illness or for people of dissimilar backgrounds/circumstances to the status quo, a lot of administrative gaslighting, loads of debt… so it’s hard. I’m grateful to have had 4+ years to make work, to touch base with and expand on my values, to meet my partner and many of my closest friends. I had to fight to be taken seriously in some respects, which I don’t think is a necessity in academia. Every year, more and more people are being hired for incredible jobs and starting amazing self-driven careers without school, and I think that’s something institutions themselves should also acknowledge as being totally viable.
What kinds of reactions do you think your art gets? How do you feel about that?
All I know is that I get personal responses/messages from other trans people of various backgrounds/experiences, in all stages of transition, whether they’ve come out or not, going out of their way to say touching things about what my art means to them. I had more reach and more opportunities a few years ago when my work had less of a so-called “narrow” focus, but not only do I feel better about it now, I feel better about the way people approach and talk about it. When there are negative or questioning reactions to it, I do whatever I can to understand where someone’s coming from, and figure out what I can improve on, or whether or not it’s a unique personal reaction and not something I alone can fully take on/dismantle. The difference there can be hard to gauge, so at the very least, I aim for compromise.
Uh, SUPERPOSE was recently the subject of a presentation at High/Low, the Film & Media Graduate Student Conference at UC Berkeley. Tony Wei Ling, the presenter, has also written about SUPERPOSE for two other publications (Lady Science and WWAC.) It was also nominated for a PRISM Award for Excellence in LGBTQ Comics. So… I guess as far as reactions go, that’s pretty intense. Sometimes I lose my own place, like, so much of this is about an individual’s relationship to my work, and just making the work doesn’t guarantee me access to that experience. So I’m grateful when I get to hear about these reactions– positive or negative. Someone letting me into their emotional space is a huge act of generosity and I’m moved to respond in kind.
You mentioned your non-comics art has a goal of “Dignifying queer people” Can you explain what you mean by that and give an example of how you’ve achieved that in one of your works?
Maybe that’s the wrong wording, but essentially what I mean is not only make up for time I lost to curating my work to a vague audience, and bring queer and trans people into art/genres/stories where they’ve been frequently excluded. I want to portray various lives and presentations as being valid whether I relate to them or not. A lot of things have felt very off-limits to me for a long time, like being scrutinised for my choices to include queer and trans people in genre fiction, or for my approach to even writing/drawing being trans. My personal work has focused on using traditions of iconography, loosening the more churchy grasp there (the church has no interest in what I do, haha) and instead utilise a more general idea of iconography– to perpetuate the importance of a life, rendered in a way and with imagery meant to inspire. (I completely understand another trans person wanting to hold themselves far away from even the mere themes of any religion which ostracises them, so this work, like everything else, is more an exploration of/for myself and whoever feels similar.)
For a really exaggerated example, I recently I participated in a show by Light Grey Art Lab (in Minneapolis) called “TASTEFUL NUDES”, and created the following gouache painting, titled SACRED HEART. I used motifs from a carpet page in The Book of Kells, sacred heart imagery, sticky rhinestones mimicking Mater Dolorosa, and with a mood to resemble The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. But it’s a self-portrait, the figure is transgender, euphoric in the maybe-painful sense of total unity of mind and body.
What is your goal as an artist?
I want to make very honest, heartfelt work that honours the complexity in trans/queer lives rather than remaining in super-simple territory. Right now, SUPERPOSE is the largest project I have going, but it’s nowhere near the only one I have planned. I want to do a lot more personal exploration too, delving into my history while still using fiction to navigate it. I hope to do more residencies and gallery work and experiment with other, bigger mediums
Seosamh can be found at saint-vagrant.com and on twitter/instagram as @saint_vagrant.
What kinds of reactions do your photos get? How do you feel about those reactions.
A friend who came to my last solo show told me she’d had a dream that mixed several elements from my photographs. Gut reactions like this are my favorite. I want to get in your head. I want to remind you of something you’ve forgotten.
One of the things that sparked my interest in your photography was the emotion portrayed in the models and how much energy and movement they have. How do you work with models to achieve those elements? How do you find models willing to get into that state of mind?
I’ve carved enough of a niche out that models who want to experience their emotions in front of a camera actively seek me out. This rawness and authenticity is achieved through my use of continuous lighting, music and the set design itself. I strive to make an environment so visceral that you want to lose yourself in it.
When you approach someone about modeling for one of your shots, how do you explain what you will be doing?
Do you plan out the entire shot beforehand or do you see what happens in the moment?
I considered myself a documentary photographer for years before I began working in the studio. I took inspiration from Nan Goldin and followed my friend closely in and out of their darkness. I still work this way in the studio. Move through, experience the space and react to it. I’ll capture you.
How did you start out as a photographer? Did you study art formally in any way?
I started out as a child stealing my parents polaroid film. I got my first (terrible) digital camera when I was 13 and I was hooked. In 2013 I began studying at The New England School of Photography where I fell in love with light.
I love the vivid colors in your work, they feel otherworldly, like all of your images are taken in a slightly altered version of reality. Is that a fair statement? Are you conscious of the colors in your work?
That is absolutely a fair statement. I am extremely conscious of the colors in my work, I spend most of my time thinking about color combinations and the emotions they elicit.
Do you edit the images in photoshop once you’ve taken them?
I know you build your own sets for some of the images, how do you conceptualize those sets and props? Where do the ideas come from? How long does it take you to build them?
The ideas stem generally from some place or time that has deeply affected me. I chose props by looking at their emotional symbolism. Sets vary in time but some take upwards of 40 hours, especially if I’m welding or working with lumber.
What project are you currently working on?
My newest project’s working title is “Finding Bright”. I haven’t found the proper words to describe it yet, but I want to build sets that are more daring, complex and seamless while pushing my ideas of my art and working with my models to get even stranger and more raw.
Is there a personal meaning to any or all of your photographs?
All of them, there’s no reason to create without.
What is the greatest achievement you’ve reached so far as an artist? What are you the most proud of, and what are your goals?
Finishing “The Garden”. A year’s worth of shooting edited down into 40 photos that got two solo gallery shows in less than a years time.
My goals are to work bigger and better, every day.
How do you pick out the best image in a set of similar ones? What are the things you are looking for?
I am looking for The Decisive Moment. I need emotion, movement, light and framing to all come together to tell a story that hints at movement before and after the photo. When work is coming from my core like this, my gut lights up when I see the right one– I just know.
What words would you use to describe your work?
Loaded. Visceral. Un-reality.
Jaina can be found on instagram @jainasphotography. For more of her photography, including full series, check out her website jainaciprianophotography.com
Haley Cormier is a Boston-based artist who creates beautiful things from natural elements. Today she talks to us about her process, inspirations and how she got started as a visual artist.
I am amazed by the detail of texture in your work? Did you sew those leaves? Can you explain some of the processes you used to create these pieces?
I did! I had a series of leaves I embroidered into, whether it was imagery or playing around with different materials to see how the leaf reacted to it. When creating these I would sew into the lemon leaves that fell off the trees I keep in my apartment then let them dry naturally.
Where do all of these natural pieces come from? Do you collect flowers as you go through your life?
A lot of different places. Some come from the plants I keep in my apartment (about 25 right now?), others are flowers from the store and the rest are things I see in my travels or everyday life. Stores like Agway and other hardware or greenhouses are a large source of both materials and inspiration for me.
The gallery installation is incredible! What was your thought process going into that? Did you have the whole piece visualized before you started? What was the process of making it like?
I honestly was not sure what the final product would be. I had a vague idea of what I wanted it to look like but really it did not fully come together until I was actually installing it.
The whole body of work started with my interest in bark. I originally tried recreating it with plaster castings and though the object looked interesting it wasn’t quite what I wanted. It was then suggested I just use the bark itself. The bark I decided to use is Pine Bark Nuggets which actually is what my mom uses on her gardens, so it was a material I was very familiar with as I’ve spread many a bags of it when I was younger. Once I had the material the piece came together through experimentation of how I could combine the pieces of bark to each other and what could make sense in some type of suspension. Most of the art I make is very exploratory in this sense. I find materials I like and see what I can do with them, very much trial or error.
What do you try to express in your work?
This is a question I never have a great answer to. I think I am mostly expressing myself and my interests, if it happens to peak someone else’s interest then the expression becomes even richer.
What kinds of reactions do you think your art gets? How do you feel about that?
I would say overall positive reactions to most pieces. Some are always more of a hit than other but it’s part of the learning and artistic process. I am very okay with failure in a piece because there is always something to be learned from it.
Are there any artists who inspire you?
My first art crush at age 13 was John Baldessari (watch this if you do not know about him), his work was the first time I ever saw art that wasn’t an impressionist or renaissance painting. It showed me what art and my art has the potential to be. Since, I have loved artists like Patrick Dougherty and Yayoi Kusama to name some famous ones. I also am constantly inspired by different florists, foodies and pie makers on Instagram.
How did you get started doing this kind of work? What were your initial inspirations?
My mom has had gardens my whole life and I’ve always lent a hand, whether I wanted to or not, in taking care of them. As a kid I was always outside and playing with my imagination, I remember friends and I being entertained for hours coming up with different scenarios and games, using whatever was around us as props. Later, I worked for Hart’s Greenhouse and Field & Vase which really made my interest not only in art but plants as well ~flourish~. I’ve always found support in those places as well as meeting some of the most inspiring women. They showed me so much support be it in friendship or in letting me take home the wilted flowers.
I love your use of natural pieces in all of your art, does your medium change throughout the New England seasons?
I actually haven’t explored much of the seasons, although I could retrospectively pair up different pieces to a different season. I am constantly collecting materials and surrounded by plants that seasons do not necessarily interfere. That said, I am a true New Englander and love all the seasons, I think there is beauty in every day of them.
What is your goal as an artist?
Like most “making it big” doesn’t sound too bad, but my ultimate goal is to continue making art and to find ways to always incorporate it into my life. My goals as a human are to always be surrounded by art, plants and happiness. Art connects people and I want to be a part of that connection.
How can people reach you? Are there any websites or social media links you’d like to share?