Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Talent to Watch: Artist Saydee Lanes

Trepanier Hall, home of the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) in Downtown Duluth, has become host to a number superb arts, poetry and music events this past few years. In early May they curated an exhibition of emerging artists which provided a glimpse into the work of a number of new faces in the local arts scene. One of these was Saydee Lanes, whom I recently interviewed for The Reader.

EN: How did you take up an interest in drawing?

Saydee Lanes: Well, I've been drawing since I was just a little kid. It began with just coloring in color books, then I became curious as to how the images I was coloring were created. So I started to draw what I had seen, mainly Disney characters. I would try to make my drawing look exactly like the characters. When I was 7 years old, you couldn't tell the difference between what I drew and the original image.

Around this time my father left, and was no longer in my life. As a kid the first I thought of why he did leave was because maybe I wasn't good enough at something. So I drew more and more. My mother had to get two jobs. She was hard working and had to support three kids on her own so she wasn't able to be around much. So I thought if I became an even better artist, she wouldn't have to work so hard. Naturally, I drew more and more. My father was an artist, and the closest thing I had to a dad was my uncle and grandfather. They both loved my drawings and art, so I figured the better I became at drawing the more love I had, and the more deserving I would be of it, and just maybe it would bring my dad back and fix everything.

EN: What kind of training have you had?

SL: I am self taught. When I was younger, just a little kid, my great grandmother would teach me how to draw and color. She would often point out details I would miss. Which helped me greatly, she loved my drawings no matter what I did but I always wanted to impress. She is also an artist, she paints but whatever she would create it was the most lovely. My uncle (the one who was a father to me) is a fine artist, he would critic every drawing I did. He would tell me techniques and how to improve or get to the look I wanted. He often would give me challenges, he would fined complicated photos to draw. Actually my Wrinkle Meat drawing was my biggest challenge he gave me. I was 16 years old and was mastering his techniques and creating my own. So he said if I could draw Wrinkle Meat exactly like the photo, then my skills would be truly impressive. And so I did. I never had any schooling other then the required for art. Everything I know and apply as a technique is either something I created on my own or was picked up from my uncle or watching another artist draw. All of my drawings are done by using a mechanical pencil, kneaded eraser, and blending tools (blending stump, Q-tips, and kleenex).

EN: Who have been your most significant influences?

SL: My uncle is also a cartoonist, so when I was learning realism he would teach me how to draw cartoons and make them graphic on the computer. So when I was 17-years-old a local author was seeking an illustrator in local high schools. My uncle encouraged me to apply for the job. Once I got the job my medium swapped from mechanical pencil to pen and computer. My uncle taught me how to draw a cartoon and color it and make it an illustration in the computer. I illustrated two published children's books by the time I graduated from high school. When I was completed with high school, my dream was to pursue illustrating and begin animation. I applied for a private art college in Minneapolis called MCAD. I was accepted and received a $40,000 scholarship for my portfolio, and $20,000 for my academic achievements. I was never able to attend.

With the way the economy has been I couldn't receive any student loans without having good credit or a co-signer with good credit. I had neither. I enlisted in the army so I could get more help to go to MCAD, but in the end I still did not have enough money. I pretty much gave up the dream of college. I worked very hard so I could go to my dream college and it was hard for me to get back up after being told by the bank it would be at least two or more years before I could go to the college I wanted. Today, I am still mostly self-taught, no college education. If I want to know something I go to the library, ask someone who knows the answer, or research it on the internet. I am illustrating the covers of three novels, and another children's book; the demand for my drawings has increased drastically and I am also a tattoo artist. I also work full time at another job. Everything is going better then I had hoped. One day I will attend college, it is still a dream of mine. But until then I am living, learning and doing the best I can to be the best. I do this because I was once told the outcome of things is based on 10% of what happened and 90% of how you react. I get out of bed every morning and strive for the best because I never allowed the thoughts of failure to occur, and I protect my passions. I always believed the living flames of our passion inside of us, is the birth place of our dreams.

EN: You mentioned your Vietnam vet grandfather as being an inspiration for some of the pieces. Which ones and why?

SL: The drawing of my grandfather in the Vietnam War I drew because I often felt his and the other veterans, and todays soldiers sacrifice is often forgotten. We show our forgetfulness when we quit on ourselves, when we show ungratefulness by littering on the beautiful ground people have worked hard to keep beneath us. When we feel as though we deserve more then what we have truly worked for. I drew my grandfather and the image from the war not only because I love my grandfather and appreciate his sacrifice but because it was the only way I could say how sometimes I feel.

EN: What does "Wrinkle Meat" mean? What's the story behind Three Century Man?

SL: The Wrinkle Meat drawing I did as a challenge to draw exactly what I had seen from my uncle. The story behind the man I drew was a bonus to the challenge. His name is John Smith. Wrinkle Meat was a nick name given to him because of the way he looked. It is said this man lived to be 138 years old. Others say he didn't live to be that old and he only looked to be so old because of a skin condition. I call the drawing the Three Century Man because he was born in the late 1700's and died in the early 1900's. If he did live to be 138 years old he lived through three centuries. Now whether this is true or not, I don't know. But I choose to believe he did live through three centuries. And I don't know every little thing about this man, but in my book, he is impressive and has earned a spot in my portfolio no matter what anybody else says or believes.

EN: One of the pieces featured peacock feathers. Can you explain the backstory on this one?

SL: The drawing with the being wearing the mask with the peacock feathers I call "Being Human." And what it represents is this. All of us belong to one tree of life. And this being wants to be part of it. In my head if a being did want feel as though it is apart of our tree of life it would wear that intricate and colorful mask. Now why this is, well I'll leave that up to my audience to decide....

EN: There was a small piece called Element. What prompted you to do this and what did you mean by saying something about "wearing what's inside"?

SL: The drawing I call Element... What it is, is a being wearing what she feels and is inside. She has a dress made of fire and water, because this is what I imagine to be the most common feeling we have and one of the most powerful of elements. She has a long wooden nose to represent what we, and she herself, often lie about. Most companies and people will claim to care about our environment but prove otherwise. She has a rose on her eye because she often likes to have rose-colored glasses on. Now why she wears a fish tail attached to a cracked porcelain cap is something I desire to leave up to the audience to find that missing puzzle piece. And for people to ask themselves, what would I look like if I wore what I feel and am inside?

The drawing of the being that looks like a crane and human I call "Beautiful Being". She was the first drawing of mine where I drew from my imagination. In high school I had an awesome art teacher who would always push me past what I thought I was capable of. I always drew what I saw exactly, and one day she looked at me and said "instead of drawing exactly what you see, I want you to draw something you never have seen before." So I did just that. And once I was done, I couldn't believe what I had drawn, this being I created was beautiful and breathtaking. Something I never thought I could draw actually. Her anatomy was perfect and if she was real it would work, she could actually be a real being. At this very moment I was hooked on drawing from my imagination, I wanted nothing but to draw my own beings from then on. I used my own physical characteristics for the creation of this being, and it made it even more fun because I can now see what I would look like if I weren't a human being and a different one instead. This drawing expanded my love for art because I realized I could create a world and beings nobody has ever seen before.

* * * *
EdNote: Look for more from Saydee Lanes in the years ahead. She's honed her skills and has plenty to say.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Open your eyes.

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