Fine Artist, Home Studio, San Francisco
What age did you start to feel like you were an artist?
I have always felt like an artist. Ever since I was a kid I identified as an artist. I went to a small high school, and I was one of the few 'art' kids huddled in the dark corners of teenage society. After graduating from college I spent some time working as a geologist (I was a double major in art and geology), but I left after a few years to try to get back into art. I ended up working as a designer for a long time, and it wasn't until I was in my 30s that I decided to go back to school to get my MFA, setting me solidly back on track towards being an artist. Now I spend full time on my practice, working with galleries doing shows and art fairs, but whenever someone asks me what I do, it feels so ridiculous saying I'm an artist — It's such a vague title.
How did you make the hop from designer to fine artist?
It was like pulling off a Band-Aid. I had been designing magazines for about eight years, I had a good job at a fine company, and I could have stayed, and been successful, and well cared for there. But I got bored and restless with what I was doing, so I just quit. I did a little bit of traveling, and I went back to school. Sometimes I miss that stability, but now in my career every day is different, and I have challenging and interesting things to plan for. And I could never imagine giving this up.
Your art is really unique, how would you describe it?
I would describe it as obsessive. I really identify with other obsessive artists. It takes me such a long time to finish each piece that at some point it goes from being a drawing project to an act of endurance. I've been gradually making my drawings larger, investing more time in fewer pieces. It's normal now to spend 1-2 months on each piece.
The project I've been working on over the last few years involves depicting a picture of a picture, many of which are nature scenes. I let you know that I am not sitting outside with my easel directly observing the world by showing the edges and mangled surface of the reference. It's a way that I can describe my distance from nature, while also demonstrating my love for it.
What inspires you?
This is such a big question. It takes a few different kinds of inspiration to keep an art practice going. I love working for myself. It's comes with its own sort of stress, but I feel that with every new piece I am building something that can't be lost. And I love honing my skills. While working on one drawing I have the distinct feeling that I am practicing for the next. Once I finish something, I can see what I need to do to make the next one better. But more than that, in order to complete all the work involved in these larger pieces, I have a genuine desire to see what is going to happen — I want to see what these things are going to look like.
What are your favorite tools?
I use only a few materials in my work. Prismacolor 935 black pencils, Prismacolor kneaded rubber erasers, Sakura electric eraser, and Fabriano Artistico 300lb bright white paper. I like depending on just a few things, because it makes doing the work so much easier. I used to be an oil painter — which I loved, and will always love — but the materials were such a mess to deal with, and I hated breathing in all those chemicals. About six years ago I was asked, out of the blue, to do a drawing for a show. I hadn't drawn in years, but the directness and control of putting pencil to paper was such a relief that I stopped painting, and have been drawing ever since. I keep thinking that one day I'll get my brushes out again, but it hasn't happened yet.
You work from home, Is it easy to separate home from work?
It's very challenging. It's one of the things I struggle with the most. I used to work out of a studio that I shared with other artists, and I loved being there. It was so easy to focus, since there were nothing but my tools, and no internet access in the building. But since my daughter was born I've been working from home as a financial and logistical necessity. I have no problem going into my studio, and shutting the door – completely ignoring whatever chaos is on the other side. But having my computer and email right next to me is a constant drain on my focus. There are a million things I am working on at any given time, and it's so easy to get distracted from my drawing because I have bills to pay, applications to send out, emails to write... I find that I do my most focused work in the middle of the night when there is no one to correspond with, and I rarely hear the ding of my email.
Can you tell us the story about the drawing you did of you and your husband?
When my husband and I were first dating we came up with this idea that we could create a record of time by taking a picture of ourselves kissing on every occasion we met. We started doing this in the first couple months of being together, and took a lot of pictures in the first 2 years. Now that we're married, it's harder to remember to take them, but we still do occasionally. The thought was that over the course of a lifetime the backgrounds would change, and we would change, but the pose would stay the same. We've taken hundreds of these kissing pictures, which include all the places we've traveled to together, the birth of our daughter, and our wedding, and I think it will be an incredible thing to look at in 40 years and beyond.
I decided to draw the photos when I was pregnant. It was for a show that I had in New York which was going to include two different bodies of work, and I was using is as a bridge between them. I had a series of movie poster drawings, one of which showed Cary Grant and Kim Novak kissing in exactly the same pose, and a series of drawings of personal documents. It was a way to relate the two different sets, but also I know I was really just incredibly emotional, and totally in love. It's one my favorite pieces of all time.
Which artist's life are you most jealous of?
Louise Bourgeois. She lived a long life, had an incredible career, and was finished her last piece just a week before she died at 98. She was a mother, an activist, and she gave back to the arts community. You can't do much more than that.
Describe SF in 3 words
This is home.
What do you think makes San Francisco special in comparison to other cities?
It's hard for me to know, because I moved to San Francisco the week after graduating from college, about 19 years ago, and have been here ever since. I have been a visitor of many other cities, but this is the only one I've lived in. Still, what I am so grateful for is that San Francisco is a place you can reinvent yourself in time and time again. I've lived through many phases, and I have always been able to find what I needed here. San Francisco is large enough to be able to do anything, but it's also small enough that you run into friends in unexpected places. My neighborhood Bernal Heights feels like a small town, but when we go up and over the top of the hill with the city stretched out in all directions, my daughter will say surprised, 'Is that the city we live in?”
What is your favorite place to eat in San Francisco?
Right now I love going to the Liberty Cafe on Cortland Street. It's lovely, and feels special, but is relaxed enough that I can go for brunch with my 2-year-old, and not worry about making a scene. And I am obsessed with their fish tacos. It's a perfect neighborhood restaurant, and they do every meal well. Just thinking about the banana cream pie sends me half insane...
Thank you so very much Christina for your time, and for showing me your work that I'm really fond of! All the info, work and next events directly on her website: http://christinaempedocles.com
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