It's a daunting task to start a map-less career in this modern world, with its perpetual insanity. It's easy to feel entirely adrift. Each year, City Newspaper highlights four Rochester artists who are beginning to come into their own, and are plotting their own course. The following four emerging artists — Brittany Williams, Kim "YEWS" Brozic, Rork Maiellano, and Davya Brody — exhibit a refreshing openness to possibility; they are taking one promising day at a time. Their paths are non-linear, but these young artists are more concerned with flexing creativity than with having all of the answers right now — and they are unafraid of self-initiated reinvention when things get stale. Read on to learn more about the creative self-discovery of these four burgeoning artists.
Brittany Williams has developed a seriously masterful skill of creating photorealistic portraits — many of which are in tribute to her favorite musicians — with colored pencils. For example, the fact that her moody depiction of Jimi Hendrix is a drawing and not a photo is given away mostly by the contrast between the way she drew his features and her inclusion of a vibrant, almost cartoon-like, psychedelic scarf.
Williams, who is 24 years old, has been drawing since she was 10, but the idea of being an artist didn't click into place until much later. Drawing "was one of those things I liked to do when none of my friends were outside," Williams, a Rochester native, says. "I would draw characters from my favorite cartoons or books."
As it is with so many young creatives, the idea of making a living with art just didn't seem feasible to Williams. "I was really into sports, particularly basketball," she says. Through high school, earning a basketball scholarship was her main priority, but she also took AP art courses.
"I've always been comfortable doing realistic drawings," Williams says. But recently, she grew bored with this style and wanted to challenge herself to work in a looser fashion.
"One of my favorite artists, James Blagden, does these linear illustrations and I just got inspired to try it," Williams says. "The hardest thing for me was trying not to be too detailed, and just go with the flow."
Even with a severely pared down style, Williams excels at capturing the likenesses of icons. Her upcoming show, "Hair Don't Lie," (which opens November 7 at Studio 215 ROC in the Hungerford Building) features her fresh new linear portraits, and was inspired by a conversation she had with a male friend. "We were talking about how men care about their hair just as much as women. They're just very low-key about it," she says. "Plus, I've been wanting to do a show that was basketball-themed. So it clicked in my head: why not do an art show based off of NBA players' hair?"
Williams strives to balance her love of creating art with her love of the game. She recently became an assistant women's basketball coach for Roberts Wesleyan College, and says that her future goals include creating a mural and doing a series of illustrations for Sports Illustrated or ESPN. "Other than that, I just want to be the best artist I can be and make the work that makes me happy," she says.
You can follow Brittany Williams on Facebook at Facebook.com/brittanywilliamsart.
"There's something about letters that I never knew I would love so much," says 27-year-old Kim Brozic, who writes graffiti under the name YEWS. "Maybe it's because your options really are just endless. I love bright colors...the formations...you can do whatever you want with them. I get bored with everything else."
Brozic has a fine arts background and obtained early graphic design jobs. "I was always good at it, but not passionate. So I gave up for a while," she says. Her creative return came unexpectedly a few years later, when she began hanging out with graffiti writer Cruk of FUA Krew, who noticed Brozic could draw, and encouraged her to learn how to use spray cans.
Brozic says she fell in love with this "secret world" of graffiti: "Someone can show you the ropes, but you can't go to school for it." She quickly filled up several black books, experimenting with hand styles, and began hitting the subway and the streets. Around the same time, her father was diagnosed with lung cancer. "Out of that really dark time, even after he passed away, I was able to create the most beautiful things," she says.
"I'm inspired by an ever changing group of artists — but have always looked up to German artist MadC, and people based in Los Angeles, like The Seventh Letter crew," Brozic says. She says her style has "sort of developed into this drippy, organic thing," and that she loves to make swoopy, flowing work, rather than working with sharp, hard edges.
She's conscious of the fact that graffiti is still largely a guy's game, but growing up with a strong mother and older brothers has helped Brozic develop a sense of daring. "I knew I could be just as good as the boys," she says. "The only difference is when I pee, I sit down."
Brozic has been involved in the local graffiti scene for about two years now, is a member of the local HFK crew, and has painted in two of the annual FUA Krew BBOY BBQ's. One particularly gratifying moment, Brozic says, was when FUA Krew member Range bought a Marilyn Monroe poster that Brozic had altered to look more like a glamorous Tank Girl.
Despite the sometimes illegal nature of her craft, she says her family has always been supportive and enthusiastic about what she does. "They see that I have a light in my eyes about it," she says.
Brozic says she doesn't think in specific terms about the future. "I'm hoping to just really improve my style, paint in more productions, and be able to just walk up to a wall and know exactly what I'm going to do." She knows this will follow from repetition, and gaining more confidence in her abilities. "You just gotta keep going," she says. "The moment that you care enough about the amount of sleep you had, when you last ate...you're not going to succeed. What you're trying to be successful in has to be number one on your list."
Though 28-year-old Rork Maiellano has identified as an illustrator for years now, he's experiencing a shift in his approach and medium. With mostly colored pencils, Maiellano has created a portfolio of lush and lovely illustrations based on known and obscure fairy tales and myths, tinged heavily with the darker sides of the stories. He says he's still trying to figure out what his art trajectory is, but has an organic approach to it all. "It's difficult to talk about anything in definite terms," he says.
Art was always something I knew I was going to do, in a way," he says. Maiellano grew up in Pavilion, New York, and received early support from parents regarding his creative impulse. He began drawing at age three, had an art tutor, and his parents took him to live nude figure drawing classes when he was in high school. Maiellano graduated from SUNY Purchase in 2008.
While in college, Maiellano became interested in psychology, emotional health, and ideas about empathy, and what it is to connect with other people. "Before, my illustrations were very much about telling other peoples' stories — fairy tales, folk tales...depicting beautiful women," Maiellano says. "That's what inspired me, more than the subject as a work of art, I was drawing people that I wanted to be. I was drawing these women that I felt were kind of like who I was inside, or how I saw myself, or who I looked up to in terms of standards or ideals of beauty. But that stopped speaking to me right around the time I got into college and was exposed to different, challenging ideas."
Maiellano says that for a while, his art kind of fell to the side because it felt as though he was repeating the same thing over and over, that he wasn't really challenging himself.
After graduating, Maiellano felt anxious and disconnected from others, and began researching personality disorders, such as narcissism and sociopathy. "There was just this whole realm of being a human that I hadn't known about before," he says. "And it became very interesting to me — mostly out of terror — that I was exhibiting some of these qualities, and very afraid of what that implied."
So he sought to learn more about empathy and connection. Reading work in this field helped Maiellano clarify experiences of disconnection he'd had. In particular, the work of qualitative researcher Brené Brown — who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame — resonated with him. "She has learned a lot about how chronic, unhealthy shame enters into every aspect of your being and informs every aspect of our lives."
While researching personality disorders that people tend to vilify, he says, "I started wondering how many of those qualifications for those disorders live inside of all of us." Maiellano recognizes the importance of finding common ground in these things, "because they are very scary, and it's very lonely to have those realizations about oneself, and to feel kind of like a monster." Self-criticism is necessary for growth, but so is being gentle with oneself and one another.
In July, Maiellano tested his new ideas out at The Yards artist residency. He wanted to explore conversation as an art medium. "I was trying to do something that was completely not based in drawing," he says. With the premise that a conversation could be treated as, and considered, a work of art, he hoped to ground himself in connection and explore the process of relating. His process involved recording conversations he had with friends and strangers at the Public Market.
The practice of creating a comfortable space for one another can be as messy and confusing as any other process of creation — before clarity strikes. Striving toward the sweet spot in the conversation was the goal, Maiellano says, and it isn't always easy to locate with total strangers. "My favorite is when we both begin to open up about our mutual vulnerabilities, because that can become a connecting instrument, and then the conversation becomes something incredible," he says. "You get to understand a person on a more equal, human level, even if you never see them again."
"I like going into those dark emotional places — the places where you find your own emotional limitations and places where you can grow," he says. "Exploring those places has made me way more excited about having a human experience."
Maiellano has been incorporating writing and meeting new people into his craft, but says he's not ready to give up on drawing altogether. New ideas for drawings emerge all the time. "I think it's moving in a direction that is less about looking pretty and a little bit more about trying to convey a message of some sort. And I think right now I'm trying to figure out how to merge these two areas of interest together. I'm happy teetering on the edge of beauty and darkness."
Woodworker and metalsmith Davya Brody was raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, and moved to Rochester in 1995. When young Brody began carving into the kitchen table as a child, her artist father responded by making her a small set of carving tools and bringing home a bag of soap bars. Though she would later embrace carving as her medium, like many artists, she took an indirect, sweeping path to eventually come full circle.
First, Brody developed a love of metalsmithing and earned an MFA in the medium. In college, she says, she shifted from a figurative focus in her work to "a more abstracted version of the human form as a way of revealing or concealing things." Brody began making masks — not functional masks, but metaphoric objects.
After school, Brody took a job in graphic design at Xerox, which proved to be less creative than she had hoped. "It wasn't up my alley," she says. Brody knew a shift from pursuing art as her primary career was imminent.
"I did a lot of soul-searching about what it was I wanted to do, and came up with a career path that has been very rewarding to me," she says. Brody went back to school to become a nurse practitioner, which is what she does for a living now.
About three years ago, Brody was hired for her current job at Anthony L. Jordan Health Center, decided to leave the Ph.D. program she was enrolled in, and re-dedicated some time for making art. She says, instead of being locked into research, she wanted to have a more direct impact with medicine. "I think research is vital, but that process can become very heady and dissociated from the people you are trying to help," she says.
In the past year, Brody began leading the Anthony L. Jordan OB/GYN department CenteringPregnancy initiative, which is participating in a county-wide move toward a new model of prenatal care that takes place in a group setting.
When Brody refocused on making art, she found she had fallen out of love with using metal, and turned back to carving. About this time, she met the artists involved with The Yards, which she describes as having been an encouraging community for her. Co-founder Sarah Rutherford told Brody that they had a wood shop which had been used for constructing pieces of their installations, but that they'd like it to be used regularly by sculptors as well. Brody says she has loved participating in the programs and installations The Yards team presents.
Last summer, she participated in The Yards' inaugural artist residency, at which she worked on her emotionally expressive wooden masks. This summer, Brody became one of two artists who moved into newly constructed studios at The Yards (the other is occupied by Marisa Krol).
Recently, Brody began making boxes of teak and mahogany with detailed faces carved onto the surfaces, and is interested in learning classical carpentry skills so that she can add craftsmanship-quality details (like hidden hinges) to the work. She has also begun to make and sell unique jewelry, featuring small bits of branches combined with copper tubing, which look like little industrial relics reclaimed by undeniable nature.
Brody says she often sees vague forms and features in pieces of wood and works to bring them out. She sources her materials from walks in the woods, or Pittsford Lumber, if she is looking for something specific.
For now, Brody is focusing on coming out as an artist and on exploring her blossoming career in medicine. She is interested in pursuing a midwifery degree, but wants to be sure that her two worlds integrate naturally in her life. She's been an important behind-the-scenes support during community events, including the Wall Therapy street art festival and related events. "I feel very invested in Rochester," she says. "I want to continue to make time to explore these precious things."