I’m going to use my imagination here, and see myself not as a solitary creative, who has made regular contributions and volunteered for causes I care deeply about, but in the larger position of power that this question assumes. Climate change and the immediate future of our planet’s limited resources is the single most important issue we face. Access to clean water is a fundamental human right and restoring and preserving our water supply is a cause we should all join to support. It would be wonderful to see America’s collective creative brainpower come together to create slogans, artwork and creative practices in water conservation that we could all share and celebrate working on together. I would happily lend my time and energy to create a visual campaign to help promote this idea.
I had the distinct pleasure to interview Chicago artist Mary Livoni.
Thank you so much for joining us. What is the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?
I am a multimedia artist who lives and works in Chicago. My love for literature and poetry was always a driving inspirational force behind my drawings, paintings and collages. A few years ago, I decided to make that inspiration much more explicit. I reached out to some of the authors and poets I admire. Suddenly, everything changed in my artistic practice; and I found myself shooting mostly photographs, creating and learning how to edit my experimental videos and writing grants to make short film projects. It’s been a powerful dynamic shift and I am very excited to see where it will lead.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
1. A work of art once blew right out of my hands as I came around the corner of my old studio on Dominick and Webster Streets. My studio was right near the Chicago river (and three of my favorite bascule bridges, which have all been in many of my drawings and paintings).
It landed about 20 feet in front of me for just a second, and then another gust of wind swept it off again. It all happened in a few seconds. I like to imagine it might have sailed down the river.
2. I arrived at an appointment to meet an art collector I’d hoped to impress; and just as I crossed the threshold of the lobby the heel broke off one of my shoes. With my determination still intact, and my heel in my pocket, I hid my uneven hobble and boarded the elevator. The elevator opened onto a pristine reception area.
I walked toward the reception desk. When I reached the desk, one of my eyeglass lenses popped out of (my beloved, but very worn out) frames. Every cell in my body wanted to flee the building at that moment. Of course, I didn’t flee. (This experience is straight out of “my 5 things I wish someone had told me” section below.) Instead, I had my very first meeting with someone who went on to support my work. Only later, when I retold this story to a dear friend, did I realize all of this had been hilarious.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m so proud of my current show with sculptor Gary Justis at the newly reopened Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design. My photography and video broadsides are on display through August 25th. Grateful to the Head Curator/Director Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, and his international team for making this show possible.
My most ambitious current project is a short film inspired by the Stuart Dybek story The Apprentice. Every single one of my five tips below have been in play as I have worked through my conception and adaptation of this wonderful original story.
I’m very grateful to Stuart Dybek for his encouragement and support, and to the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs for a grant to partially fund this project.
I have just joined the Board at the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. I am honored to lend my visual skills to promote this wonderful institution and its programs.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I was lucky enough to glimpse a bit of the NYC art world in the 1980’s.
I fell in love with lower Manhattan, which was still a bit ramshackle and abandoned in places. As an artist, I have never forgotten the glamour of those supercharged SoHo and East Village openings, nightclubs and parties.
I’m certain the scale of events and parties that occur around the globe to celebrate the most famous in the art world are infinitely grander now.
As I remember this time period, it seems wild that it was all so accessible.
Much later, in Chicago, a large coffee table sized book was dropped in my lap by a good friend, who told me “you are going to love this artist”.
The book was filled with beautiful paintings and drawings of Chicago street scenes, hotel room residents, musicians, nightclubs, package liquor store patrons, bus passengers, and thrift shop windows, and this artist was a master of the Chicago color palette — the full range of grays from warm to cool. The text was in French, but the subjects were all unmistakably Chicago.
I never forgot the name of the artist — Robert Guinan.
Very surprising that I had never heard of him, and later to learn that this artist was almost completely unknown in the city that had been his inspiration for decades.
I happened to meet him completely by accident; and we formed a friendship that meant the world to me. My show with him a few years later was one of the high points of my creative career.
Robert Guinan passed away in 2016. Please visit here to see more of his work.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
I visit the Poetry Foundation website at all hours of the day and night. Rather than searching for poets I am already familiar with, I use the search feature to enter whatever I am currently thinking about, and let the results lead me from there. A perfect example; one night, I entered the word “cement” and was led to the top result “Cement Backyard” by Lynn Sharon Schwartz. Read this powerful poem here.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m in the same league with the millions of wonderful people who donate time and energy to good causes with whatever resources they can spare, and who collectively raise awareness and money to cover the financial gaps that exist for treatment within our healthcare system and our educational system, one of the many who regularly makes small contributions to combat racial inequality, to promote social justice and to protect a woman’s right to choose. Without a doubt, the influence of powerful people to raise awareness for a good cause makes an enormous difference. But I find it profoundly moving when we Americans collectively show our strength in numbers and come together to help each other or raise awareness.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Hypercritical thinking isn’t productive.
Learn how to play the long game as a creative; and build supportive relationships with as many people as you can, in all mediums. Learn how to shut the door quietly and firmly on those who don’t truly support you.
2. Develop a gut instinct and listen to it intently.
I had unwittingly set limits (I will only make paintings and drawings as an Artist) on what my creative practice could be. My inner voice raised the question “Why” right in the middle of a public forum, just after someone asked me a painting question. When I allowed that previously held definition to expand, a whole new world opened for me. It was entirely a win/win to learn that my vision and ideas would translate and deepen within the core of my new work in a new medium.
3. Learn how to work through failure and when to give up on a bad idea.
When you step out of your comfort zone as an artist it can be scary. Just keep moving forward, instead of letting your fears inhibit your growth.
I have devoted energy and time to bad creative ideas, with the misguided notion that more time, energy and materials would be a magical fix.
Both of these rely on my #2 entry, the all important nurturing of intuition.
4. Flexibility and perseverance are the core of a strong creative practice.
At various times I have taken stock of whatever I had the most of and used it in a new way with abandon. What do you have in abundance, and what are you able to do with it?
5.Make the most of what is all around you; draw inspiration from your immediate surroundings and work from the heart.
This can’t be said often enough, even though I am the nine billionth artist to mention it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’m going to use my imagination here, and see myself not as a solitary creative, who has made regular contributions and volunteered for causes I care deeply about, but in the larger position of power that this question assumes.
Climate change and the immediate future of our planet’s limited resources is the single most important issue we face. Access to clean water is a fundamental human right and restoring and preserving our water supply is a cause we should all join to support. It would be wonderful to see America’s collective creative brainpower come together to create slogans, artwork and creative practices in water conservation that we could all share and celebrate working on together. I would happily lend my time and energy to create a visual campaign to help promote this idea.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
Marilynne Robinson is an author I admire with all my heart and would be deeply honored to meet. While I revere all her work, it’s her first novel Housekeeping that captured a part of my creative energy from the first reading. Every time I reread this novel my experience deepens. That is truly the gift of a great work of art.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!