Today we’d like to introduce you to Jane Szabo.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
Though I am making my name as a fine art photographer, I originally trained as a painter. When I went to graduate school at Art Center in Pasadena, I started working three dimensionally, creating sculptural objects and installations. In order to cover expenses during grad school, I began working in the film industry, first as a miniature / model maker, then as a scenic painter, and finally climbing the ladder to project and business management. Ultimately, I realized that my creative needs were no longer being met, and I returned to the art world as a fine art photographer.
My photographic work investigates issues of self and identity. Using self-portraiture and still life as a vehicle to share stories from my life, my work merges my love for fabrication and materials, with conceptual photography. I bring many facets of visual art into my photographic projects, incorporating sculptural, performance and installation elements into the work. My background in the film industry, creating prop and miniatures for theme parks, and overseeing set construction for film and television, undoubtedly informs my creative process.
I am incredibly honored to share that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art just acquired my photograph “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice” for their permanent collection.
Please tell us about your art.
As a conceptual artist, my work is first and foremost about ideas, and I share my ideas in the form of visual story telling. Making art is an act of self-expression, and I would argue, a form of self-portraiture. In my work, I am sharing stories from my life, examining self, identity, and my place within family and society. Within my imagery, I weave specific stories or ideas – but I choose to leave this content somewhat mysterious, so the viewer can bring their own memories and views of the world into the work, and create their own meanings.
In the series “Reconstructing Self,” I fabricated dresses made from familiar objects such as coffee filters, dental x-rays, and the pages from my aunt’s 1940s photo album. These dresses were paired with other objects to expand the narrative. Each dress was staged and photographed, and the sculptural element was then destroyed, leaving the photo to tell the entire story. Each image serves as a self-portrait, sharing a small facet of myself.
Each image suggests a persona, and becomes a stand in for myself. The personas represented in these forms illustrate who I am, who I am not, and who I wish to be. I invite the viewer to contemplate the connections, and develop their own mythology.
The balance between the self and the world outside can be a precarious one. We struggle to find a way to individualize ourselves, yet often merely blend in among the masses. Presented as a typology, the photographs of dresses with their accompanying objects encourage the viewer to look closely to analyze the differences and similarities, and perhaps to fit themselves in to one or more of these dresses or “selves.” The empty forms suggest alienation or loneliness, while the materials and objects simultaneously strive for individuality and uniqueness. Though these works are self-portraits, with personal stories and memories embedded through the use of specific materials, the lack of human form makes the dresses universal. With references to paper doll dresses and childhood playtime, one can imagine these personas could be put on and removed at will as the mood, personality and stories change.
My most recent project “Family Matters” incorporates memory, metaphor and allegory to express the challenges, burdens and joys of my role as daughter, and now caretaker, of my elderly parents. My mother and father recently faced a daunting move into assisted living; they are struggling after a series of strokes, memory loss and the decline of their cognitive abilities. This series uses objects gathered from the family home to tell the story of my role within this family.
After moving my 86 year-old father and my 91 year-old mother into an assisted living apartment, I began organizing the contents of their home. When they left, they walked out the front door of their home of 36 years, with barely a glance behind them, leaving unopened mail on the table, and me behind, to sort through the chaos. Over the months, I returned to make the final selection of which treasures I would keep, and to tie up all the loose ends before putting the home on the market.
Family Matters uses objects from their home, and my childhood, staged as still lifes, to illustrate the story of our relationship. Using childhood possessions, and simple items that have been in the family for years, I create tableaus that hint at complicated family dynamics. The presentation of these objects is not merely a catalog of possessions, but a catalog of feelings; of pain and disappointment, hope, loss and burden.
The challenge of assisting parents who live 1000 miles away has changed my life drastically. Working through these feelings in this project has helped me unravel, and resolve, many issues that I was unable to confront about our past. Though seeing my parent’s age and decline is difficult, I feel I have been given a gift to be able to be a significant part of this transition.
Do you have any advice for other artists? Any lessons you wished you learned earlier?
Network, Network. Network!
Get involved in your local non-profit art organizations.
Be generous with your time, and help other artists on this journey. Be willing to learn, to share, and give back to the community. And always, be polite!
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
Brewery Art Walk Open Studio Tour, April 6 & 7, 2018 11am-6pm
“It takes a Village: Family Matters,” Museum of Art & History, Lancaster, CA. On view through April 22. https://www.lancastermoah.org/it-takes-a-village
“Compromised Perception,” Hoyt Gallery, Keith Administration Building, USC School of Medicine, Exhibit runs through April 19
“Contemporary Views II,” Foto Relevance Gallery, Houston, TX. Exhibit runs through April 22 https://www.artsy.net/show/foto-relevance-contemporary-views
Start Up Art Fair, Kipaipai Alumni Group, San Francisco, CA. April 27-29 https://www.startupartfair.com/sf/overview/
- Website: www.janeszabophotography.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/janeszabophoto/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JaneSzaboPhoto
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/janeszabophoto
Artist portrait © Laurie Freitag
All other images © Jane Szabo