Featured Artist Interview – Michele Guieu

Michele GuieuMichele Guieu
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Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter, etc.
My art practice focuses on the importance of water, and the consequences of human activity on our watershed and the ocean. I create large, site-specific, temporary installations, sometimes participatory, made of recycled, recyclable, or collected materials. The installations can also include: murals, light (LED or black light), objects, videos, drawings, photos.

I am an independent art educator, teaching in schools, professional development workshops, and workshops for students in public places. My personal work is intimately linked to the work I am doing as an art educator. For example, after I created the Plankton installation at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, groups of young students recreated a smaller version of the installation in their classrooms.

Plankton Our Invisible Foundation

Plankton Our Invisible Foundation Plankton: Our Invisible Foundation
Santa Cruz Museum of Art And History, Santa Cruz, CA – 2015
An immersive participatory installation about enlarged plankton species.
Black paper, reflective stickers, and black light.

 

Right now, my work centers around the importance of the invisible world of plankton, and I create enlarged interpretations of plankton species.  I start my work by sketching plankton species from documentation. Then, I scan my drawings and work the files in Photoshop and Illustrator. Finally, I use a laser cutting machine to explore the possibilities of engraving and cutting the shapes into different materials: recycled papers, cardboard, and wood.

Plankton Explorations

Plankton ExplorationsPlankton Explorations
Tech Shop San Jose, San Jose, CA, Dec. 2016 – March 2017
Without plankton the ocean could not survive. Beyond the mesmerizing beauty of plankton lays the necessity to care for it through reducing our carbon footprint
in order to slow down the warming of the ocean.
Recycled cardboard, mat board and paper, salvaged wood.

 

What are your biggest challenges in creating art?
Balancing my family life and my art career:
That demands a great amount of organization, energy and perseverance and the challenges are many, including not being able to attend conferences or participate in residencies or exhibitions out of the region where I live, constantly switching hats and being frequently interrupted during the creative process.

Spending time and energy to market my work.
I find it difficult to be an artist and at the same time act as my own agent in the complex world of art institutions and organizations. How do I balance the time between making art and taking care of the business of it? Switching from one activity to the other is not easy.  To complicate the situation further, my art practice changed from painting on canvas to making temporary installations, so the “sellable” aspect of my work almost disappeared.

Moving frequently.
I have moved five times in 15 years, from Paris to Santa Fe, Austin, Charlottesville, San Diego, and finally Sunnyvale seven years ago. Each time I have had to recreate yet another professional network. I hope that the Bay Area will be my home for a long time!

What is a day of working like in your studio/creative space?  Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
When I lived in Paris before 2000, I was in my studio nearly every day, working on personal art projects or on graphic design projects for clients. Today “the studio” actually means many places. I am a nomad in my creative habits. I have different places in which I like to work, depending on what I am working on. I also like to be in places where I see other people working on their projects.

Having been an independent graphic designer for many years, organizing my time is generally not an issue. I usually do not drift out of focus during the day.  Project deadlines help me to stay organized with my time.

I start the day in my kitchen. Around 7:30, the kids are in school, and the house is quiet. I can look at the back yard, the activity of the birds, squirrels and occasional cats, the changing sky. It is a good time to sketch ideas and draw.

Before Tech Shop abruptly closed in November last year, I was going to the San Jose or Redwood city locations four days per week, if I was not teaching. I headed to Tech Shop around 9:30. I worked there for a few hours, usually on a laser cutting machine. I found a lot of the materials I use in my work in the scrap bins, where Tech Shop members discarded materials they were not planning to use. While the machine was cutting/engraving, I was working on different files on my laptop. I sometimes used the table saw and the band saw in the woodshop. I often shared ideas and techniques with other Tech Shop members or a DC (Dream Consultant at Tech Shop).

Now I find myself going much more often to the Maker Space at RAFT in San Jose, where there is a Universal laser machine. I hope they will add more machines soon, so that it becomes possible to share ideas, processes with other makers, teachers, artists.

I try to be on time at school at 2:15 to pick up my kids. Then I work at home. It is a good time to do some prepping for STEAM/art integrated projects for school. I can do that in my garage where I have all the materials I need. The garage is also the place where I can create larger pieces, like the installation of trash collected along the San Francisco Bay, Coastal Cleanup, which is displayed at the Santa Clara Valley Water District headquarters in San Jose.

After dinner, I usually watch the science news on my laptop to get some inspiration from the work of scientists, new discoveries, photos and videos. I bookmark some pages and download images. It is also a good quiet time for writing emails.

Coastal CleanupCoastal Cleanup
Sunnyvale Public Library, Sunnyvale, CA, March – June 2016.
Don Edwards San Francisco Wildlife Refuge, San Jose, July 2016 –  April 2017.
Santa Clara Valley Water District headquarter, San Jose,  CA, April 2012 – present.
An installation made of trash collected along the San Francisco Bay that travels through different public spaces in our region.

 

When you are in need of inspiration are there particular things you read, listen to, look at or do to help find that idea or fuel your work?
Being an environmental artist, the list of subjects I can work on is, unfortunately, very long. I concentrate my work on the watershed and the consequences of human activity on the ocean, and I have work to do for many many years to come.

Each week, I take some time to enjoy nature in the region where I live. Watching the large variety of birds while walking along the San Francisco Bay, for example, is quite a replenishing sight. These peaceful and beautiful moments are precious for inspiration. Sometimes, I spend a few hours in the morning picking up some trash on a beach near Pacifica or Santa Cruz. I eventually use the trash for a workshop or a piece. Although the task is somewhat sobering, walking along the Pacific Ocean is always energizing and helps to put things in perspective.

I always take a lot of photos when I am outdoors. I use them later on in my work.

On Twitter, I follow marine scientists, makers, STEAM art educators, arts and design institutions. I read articles about scientific discoveries concerning the ocean, or people working on solutions for the climate change challenges we face.

And I always find a wonderful inspiration working with young students.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
When I was 28, I was offered the position of Creative Director of Landor (Paris office), the global leader in brand consulting and design. I had a team of 20 graphic designers. It was an amazing experience that I never regretted, but creating beautiful packaging’s and corporate branding was not fulfilling my desire to do something good for the community. After two years, I decided to resign. I became an independent graphic designer, and worked on personal art projects.

What advice would you give others just beginning their creative careers?
It is difficult to give advice to people starting their creative careers now, as the world is changing at a very fast pace, with the internet creating entirely new dynamics in every aspect of our lives.

I am glad I live in Silicon Valley.  It has widened my view on the variety of practices that exist, and I am eager to discover more. Artists and designers are going to be key to driving innovation, transforming the economy of the 21st century, and finding solutions to the global challenges we are facing.

I would recommend studying visual arts and design and be ready to cross-pollinate and collaborate with people from different disciplines. I am happy to use my graphic design skills in my art practice. I think we are going to see more and more artists and designers working in collaboration with scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and physicists.

Sip. Do Not Gulp.Sip. Do Not Gulp.
De Saisset Museum of Art and History, Santa Clara, CA.
A participatory installation that examines the interconnectedness of food and water throughout Santa Clara Valley’s long history.
Video, a rug made of acorn picked in the region, temporary mural, table and a pitcher of water, blue paper plates for visitors to write and/or draw their thoughts about water.

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