Artist and Alumna Allison Schulnik Talks Hobo Clowns and Grizzly Bear

In an earlier post, 24700 discovered that a CalArts alumna Allison Schulnik (BFA Film/Video 00) created a short film and music video Forest (2009) for the band Grizzly Bear. The video has been garnering a lot of attention at various film festivals. We wanted to find out a little bit more about Shulnik’s work and influences, and she graciously agreed to an e-mail interview.

24700: You studied experimental animation at CalArts. How does that skill set transfer into other media (painting, sculpture) for you?
AS: It’s all really the same to me.  I approach it all the same way.  Animation just takes a lot longer.  It directly influences the painting and sculpture, and vice versa.  It’s like a big incestuous blob of art.

24700: Is there a central theme to your current work?
AS: I seem to be drawn to the forlorn reject.  But I’m also intrigued by the brilliant and foolish genius outcast.  The animal-like human, and human-like animal. I like drama and sap. I like over-indulgence in material, but also abstention.  Control in chaos.  The hand-made.  I like to make something from nothing.

24700: Can you tell us about the genesis of the Hobo and the Clown?
AS: They just started to appear in my drawings. I drew Hobo Clown one day. My studio and living space used to be in the heart of Skid Row (in Los Angeles). I came across a lot of amazing transient people on my everyday walk to my studio. I’m sure that seeped into my sub-conscious. But they also come from myself, people around me. I’m sure there’s a lot of self-portraiture going on. Isn’t that a saying, ‘All art is self-portraiture?’ There’s a vagrant pigeon wrangler on the corner of Alvarado off the 101 freeway that I started drawing as Bird Hobo, he became Long Hair Hobo. I also love the theatrical hobo, the macabre and sad tramp. However, to me they are more from the fantastical, than any reality we know.

24700: How did you hook up with Grizzly Bear for their video? And did your film come first or did they commission you?
AS: I made a clay film Hobo Clown in 2008 (posted above).  I asked them for permission to use their music for it.  They graciously said yes.  One year later they asked me to make a video for their next album.  I was starting a new film, and it was a perfect match for the song they wanted me to use, “Ready, Able.”  Forest was the outcome, and I think of it as a film dedicated to their song.

24700: Is there a particular artist that inspires you or influences your work?
AS: There are so many. I couldn’t possibly name only one.  Philip Guston, Basil Wolverton, Bruce Bickford, Terry Gilliam, James Ensor, Alice Neel, Rembrandt, Frank Frazetta, Jan Svankmajer, Eric Yahnker…

24700: What’s the best (or worst) piece of advice you’ve received about a career in the arts/becoming an artist?
AS: Mike Mitchell (former animation faculty at CalArts) told me once that it could take 30 years to make it as an artist.  I completely understood and accepted that.  That allowed me to not give a shit about anything but making work I wanted to make–to take a real job, and not expect success in galleries.  I never tried to do anything but have integrity in my work.  I was completely prepared to work in animation my whole life to supplement the personal work that I really wanted to make.  And it could be un-influenced.  The worst thing a young artist can do is make work purely for some kind of art market.  Integrity and honesty are key in life, I think.

Worst?  Someone told me once that people loved beige because it was a safe furniture choice.

24700: What was your favorite spot/room at CalArts?
AS: The Butler Building, where I spent all my time.  Especially the shooting space.

24700: Do you have any upcoming shows in the works?
AS: I will be in two shows in New York this June — one at Lehmann Maupin and a three-person show at CANADA, New York.

*She also has a current exhibit–Home for Hobo Too–up at the Tony Wight Gallery in Chicago through May 15.

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