Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jenny Campbell

Jenny Campbell is hard at work creating a suite of costumes for the Mermaid Parade, an annual event in Coney Island, NY. She has a lot of time on her hands these days to make the costumes exactly how she wants them.

After spending twenty years as a photo archivist and digital imaging technician at the Walters Art Gallery, Campbell was laid off in February. To hear her talk about it, it sounds less like a job loss and more like a death in the family.

"It really broke my heart because I thought I knew the collection better than anyone. It was my baby. I can't say "collection" anymore without tearing up, and I often have dreams of walking through the galleries," she says. The loss has effected her so profoundly, she doesn't think she can ever go back to the museum.

To make matters worse, Campbell had bought a house three weeks before she was laid off. The house sits in Hamilton on a quiet block off Moravia Road. Her living room is cluttered, though remarkably put together considering she's only lived there a few months. It's clear that Campbell wasted no time making the house her own. Now she sits here and wonders if she'll be able to keep it.

"I see it as the cosmic energy saying 'nope, you're not supposed to have this kind of life'," she laughs. "If at middle age, you're buying your first house, maybe it was never meant to be".

And so now Campbell is considering the 'artist lifestyle'. She's an inventive costume maker, and has created a line of painted-screen dresses, a variation on the classic Baltimore art-form (see image below). She just got back from a trip to New Orleans where she hopes to find a market for her work. In the mean time, she's trying to keep her spirits up in the face of difficult times.

"I make it a specific point to jump out of bed every day, make the bed, and open the blinds immediately," she says. "I know I'll land on my feet, I just don't know where".

See more of Jenny's work here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2006171&id=1526732235&l=059b519193

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Victor Pytko

In the heart of the Pioneer Building on East Grand Boulevard in downtown Detroit, Victor Pytko browses through the stacks and stacks of paintings that fill his studio. No surface, vertical or horizontal, is left uncovered, and the place is filled to the brim. A space heater in the middle of the room hums away on an uphill battle against the drafty building, an old paper factory converted into artist studios.

Pytko describes himself as "self-unemployed". After 15 years working for PR agencies, Pytko struck out on his own in 2001, essentially becoming a freelance PR man.

"I slowly over the years built up a sufficient number of clients to make a decent living out of it, until recently when the market went bad. A lot of projects dried up," he explains.

Having been self-employed, he wasn't eligible for unemployment benefits. But rather than dwell on his bad luck, Pytko has turned his painting hobby into a full time job. He now spends 30-40 hours a week painting, applying for grants, and promoting his work to museums and galleries.

In addition, he's attempting to take advantage of Michigan's growing film industry.

"There are a number of opportunities right now in Michigan working in the film industry. Using what I know about photography, and having done some PR work that involved video and web , I'm trying to bring it all under one umbrella now, calling it my 'creative side', and looking at any way to leverage it," he says. In the past several months, Pytko has also been an extra in a number of movies.

Not only has this change renewed a creative passion in his life, but Pytko claims it serves a much needed therapeutic quality.

"You start biting your nails when you don't get a check for a while," he says. "I'm pretty much using the escape mechanisms that painting offers to avoid thinking about it too much. Instead of worrying about it and getting depressed, I come down here and paint knowing that most artists are broke anyway," he says with a grin.