Last month a little corner of San Diego turned into a time capsule of sorts: under artist Christina Conway’s artistic direction, a host of artists reinterpreted a piece of childhood art in their present day style and exhibited them at the Subtext Gallery. Needless to say, the odd 20-year interval made for some pretty dramatic changes in style. We chat to Christina about the birth of the project, her love of curation and our obsession with holding onto the innocence of childhood.
Main image: 'Wanderer' by Audrey Kawasaki; 12'' x 12'', oil & graphite on wood
Kawasaki's original drawing
First off, can you tell our readers a bit about your path into gallery curation?
My early background is Art Education: I taught aesthetics, criticism, production and history to 5 - 13 year-olds for three years. Organizing creative and fun projects was a necessity to keep students excited and motivated to work. I carried this over into my design projects (I am currently a full-time freelance graphic designer/illustrator) and curatorial exhibitions. A few years ago I was part of a local group of female artists called "GrrrlPower" where I curated my first art show for the public.
After that, I ended up working with Subtext Gallery, on a complete whim, to realize a personal show which ended up being the first custom show I put together. Initially, I was to work with the gallery owners to help decide on the artists but when I came to them with several pages of reference work and artists I was interested in, they let me take over.
4,015 by Soey Milk; 18'' x 24'', oil on wood, with original drawing
What initially inspired the Homeroom exhibition?
The gallery owners of Subtext, Dylan Jones and Don Hollis, asked me to curate a show of my choosing about a year before the opening would occur. I brainstormed on ideas that would be fun for both the artists and the viewers. Having been an art teacher, I already had a soft spot for the freedom found in children’s art. I was curious what my favourite artists were creating in their youth. It was a subject that I felt everyone could relate to since we were all "artists" once upon a time.
Once you'd settled on the concept, how'd you contact the artists you wanted to feature? Is there a San Diego-specific scene you tapped into or did the internet also come into play?
Since I keep a vast collection of favourite artists that I have worked with or would one day like to work with, contacts I've made in-person and online, it's fairly easy to start inviting artists. For this show I specifically contacted both local and worldwide artists who had a current style that was highly detailed and skilled, allowing the contrast between youth and adult art to be more striking.
Water's Edge by Chris Ryniak; with original drawing
Which piece stood out for you, in terms of the way the artist's style had changed and/or their interpretation of their original idea?
All the pieces were so incredible it's hard to pick just one work to discuss. But I did find a couple particularly interesting: Naoshi's drawing from when she was six and published in her local paper was fun to compare to her current work (featued on page 18 here). At just six years old she seemed to already establish her love for food and cute characters, a theme she has throughout her current work.
Sweet Tooth by Jeni Yang; 22" x 22", acrylic on wood with original drawing above
I was also amazed at Jeni Yang's piece (above) when she was seven. It's not often you find a child, without prompting, fill an entire page with characters and colours, incorporating such a strong theme. Working on a 12" x 20" page, she portrayed the goings-on inside a mouth, with cavities being fought and creatures interacting with one another. She showed me her other childhood pieces and they were all amazingly full page illustrations with interesting activities and characters interplaying.
What do you think motivates us to hold on to art work from our childhoods?
The lack of self-consciousness and sheer creativity that comes into play with children's work is uplifting and inspiring to adults. Holding on to this proof of innocence is a bit like saving youth in a tactile format. Parents are proud of their child's work and display them proudly, just as adult artists want their work to be valued.
All Aboard! by Allison Sommers; 7'' x 5'', gouache on illustration board with original
What projects have you got in the works for next year, whether curation or illustration for branding and products?
Currently, I don't have a curating project on the horizon, though these things tend to come up unexpectedly. I've been working on a kokeshi book of all the custom pieces that were created for the first two shows and I'd love to follow that up with a third show. There's been talk of trying one in Australia and that would be wonderful! As far as my design and illustration work, I have several new stationery products that will be on the market soon and I continue to explore new avenues for sharing art and talent.
Keep up with Christina's latest news on her personal art blog and see her design work here. If you want to know more about Subtext Gallery, check our their site.