Meet the Artists: Ari & Jen

by Ari Takata-Vasquez



Normally, Jen and Ari interview the featured artists, but in this new twist (yes! we're really into the name) Jen and Ari interviewed one another! In this show, we're pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone and exploring what it looks like for us to peel back the layers in our art and to step into our identities as artists. 

You can also listen to the podcast version of this interview here 



Hi, I'm Jen. And I'm Ari. And we're both the founders, owners, and artists behind Viscera.
And this month, we're actually leaning into the title of artists. And we're putting our own works in the shop. So this is a little bit of information on our backgrounds, what inspires us, what sort of art we're working on! So keep listening.

Jen: Hi. How are you?

A: Good, good.

J: We're here today to talk about some art that we made.

A: Yeah, we're actually artists. People don't always know that.

J: Yeah.

A: So I guess where we should start is the 'Tell me about yourself question'. What's your story?

J: Well, I can answer that in so many ways like most people, but my art story, I guess you know, as every person starts when they're a tiny child. They do whatever they do when they are children. I also went to school for art and double majored in math and art in college.

A: Which is wild to me by the way that you do both!

J: Yeah, I've got a weird mix of right brain / left brain tendencies. And I haven't done an art show since college. This is actually my first time showing any art publicly in a really long time. I won't tell you how many years. But that I guess is maybe the most significant part of the story for this show & me. So how about you?  What's your story? What's your art story?

A: Well, my art story is fighting the title of being an artist for many, many years. Because my backgrounds in architecture and design has always been much more of my identity, although I've been making art, you know, obviously, since I was little. In high school I did a lot of ceramics, I did printmaking. And then through college, I kind of kept up my own personal practice, but it tended to be more on the design side. But once I finished undergrad I went to grad school, and I had a visual studies class with Anthony Dubowski at Berkeley, and that class kind of broke my brain a little bit, I think particularly because I was already in planning school. It's just so...boring's, not the right word, but just very structured. I mean, there is creativity, but it's not as free. So when I took that visual studies class, it was very emotional. And you know, he was really pushing us to produce work that wasn't just pretty or well designed, but actually a little bit more authentic. So he'd give us a word and a prompt to go with it. It wasn't quite poetry, but it was close enough to be a little bit of a challenge. And the first couple classes, I hated that process because, I just want to make pretty things. I don't want to feel my feelings. Then there was one day, at some point during school, and I broke my finger while I was walking my dogs -- like literally just a freak accident. I'm right-handed, and I broke one of my fingers on my right hand. I was in two studios at the time and doing art class, and I was just really pissed off. So the art that I made was very angry. And that was the first time that he actually gave me some positive response to my work. And so my art story is sort of funny in that I've always been making art, but it's only more recently that I've been doing art that's a little more honest, and not just about making something nice.

J: And so that's why you feel like you can now claim the artist title. Artist as a title is funny in our society, right? Like, I sort of stand from the viewpoint that everyone is an artist. It's just about connecting to that part of yourself. And, you know, I guess putting it on the outside at some point, but maybe not.

A: The funny thing is up until that point, I had actually done group art shows. Like, I didn't know why it was a big deal. But when you start to make art that is a little bit more vulnerable, that's when it gets hard to put out there. 

J: Well tell me about the pieces you made for the show. We're calling the show twist. Because Ari and I are doing it together and there are all sorts of other ways we could talk about that word, but what was your inspiration? What were you thinking of when you made your pieces?

A: I mean, I was thinking a lot strangely enough about like process. Usually with my art I try to be less process focus than I would with my design work. I was also really inspired by the current artists that we have up, Sabine, because their show is called depth and it has I mean, without being precisely the same. I think it had a lot of the same elements where you kind of want to peel back these layers of how they are put together, you know? The alcohol inks and the way that it morphs with the heat gun. So I think I was actually pretty inspired by Sabine's work. But also, you know, I wanted to dissect a little bit more of the typical style of work that I do. So usually I do sort of like abstract, slightly watery looking, kind of ephemeral stuff, or I do sculptural clay pieces on wooden  canvases and so this time I wanted to dissect it into multiple layers to show a little bit more of the process that goes into it so it's not just finished so it's like the twist of what if you were able to take up one of my pieces and slice it. What was your inspiration?

J: Well, I have kind of been drawing a little bit from I don't know, I've had this inspiration that's been nagging me a little the last year to mostly just try... I've been doing a lot of printmaking and painting and I wanted to bring things into three dimensions. And so that idea was a really big inspiration and playing with that idea. I've even been playing with some apps where you put on the Google Glass or not Google Glass, the Google Cardboard.

A: Right, right.

J: And so I've just been thinking about, how do I make something that's not just two dimensional, but also like we talked about this being experiential. And then I also definitely was influenced by the space, a lot of my other pieces are much more colorful and bold. And the space here is much more muted and a lot more neutral. So I've snuck some color into my pieces, but it's definitely a lot more neutral and it's ending up being a lot more white. I think these pieces are a lot about negative space actually as well.

A: Which is sort of funny in that's the twist, although you're going into the third dimension and yet there's somehow more space.

J: Mmm Hmm. So we talked a little bit already about process but is there anything else to add about your process and the materials used in these pieces?

A: Yeah, I mean, I think the material, the materiality in this show is funny because I feel like I'm finally moving into embracing being an artist and yet I'm using materials that are much more familiar to me from architecture school, like I'm using some Dular and I'm using some transparencies and that's material I haven't used artistically probably since undergrad. So that's sort of funny that I'm using materials that are much more like my rational side, but the work that's being done is much more artistic and free and emotive. What about you?

J: Yeah, I definitely have used some of the same processes that I've been exploring the last couple of years, like with the printmaking and layering prints, and I do a lot of handmade prints. But also I am using transparencies as well. So I think I got that idea from you. I'm also using clay. And then an interesting thing happened when I started framing where the frames and the mats also became sort of an element of the finished pieces.

A: Yeah. When I actually come to think of it, a little bit of my process was inspired by us doing some sort of small art studies together, you were doing sort of the stamping thing with the two papers. And that's actually like the process that I'm using, between all the different layers of Dular. It's been a nice collaboration. 

J: Yeah, definitely.

A: So, big question. When did you know you wanted to be an artist? What are your early creative memories? Young Jen, when did she know?

J: I was thinking about this question and the word artist has a lot of weight and so in that way like who cares. But I was thinking actually about being a little kid and being outside and finding dirt and leaves and twigs and making little things and just being in that space of making whatever. And even when I think back, we talked a little bit about space and taking up space and then being inspired by this space. And one thing I did a lot when I was a kid was make little rooms or houses. In the woods we would use sticks to make an outline, like arches or crawl under a tree and then you make a little outline for your furniture or stuff in miniature. So I guess that I was just thinking about that in the context of this show. Especially because I was influenced a lot by the space in making these pieces.

A: It's funny how that's one of your early ideas or inspirations. It all circles back. 

J: Yeah, a lot of my memories are also spatial. I don't remember what happened, but I will remember where I was and what it looked like and what it felt like to be there. How about you? When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

A: I still don't know if I want to be an artist! I'll say I've always been like an artistic kid you know from when I was really little I'd always (kind of similar similarly to you) be like finding little things around the house and trying to transform them into other things-- I'd always be drawing or just like making stuff. I grew up an only child so I'm pretty easily entertained by myself and a few art supplies but I think a lot of the time I pushed away from the title of artist. I wanted to translate that artistic nature into something else that I thought you know, was like more sustainable or like more design-y. This is like a really funny early memory but I took the plastic shopping bags, and I was like, Oh my God, I've got it! And I cut the bottom off of one of them and then I kept the bottom and top off the other and they made like a little shirt and skirt out of basically garbage. And I was so proud of myself. And I'm thinking that's when I started to experiment more with materials and found objects, but I think I've always been pushing it into, you know, not wanting to just let it be art for itself, but transform into something else. Or, you know, I'd always be drawing houses when I was little. So I don't know. I mean, I grew up around the Japanese side of my family. So it was always like, art is not a career. It's something that you can use in architecture or use in doing something else. And my mom actually, even when she started college, she went for art, and then ended up transferring into being a nursing major. So I feel like that was always sort of been imbued in my family values that like, you can't just be an artist. And so I think right now, I'm still trying to figure out how I just go with it.

J: Totally. That's exactly why I double majored in math and art. How are you going to get a job? The story that, you know, our society tells us about that.

A: Oh, for sure. When I think there's also like, a certain amount of stigma around, you know, are you a full-time artist? 

J: Almost no one is like actually doing it full time, maybe people would be like, Oh, yeah, I am also an artist.

A: It's funny, because actors, you know, it's like a well-known thing that it's like, "yeah, I'm an actor, but I also, you know, do a bunch of other service jobs that like, let me save my mental space." But I think for artists, a lot of times there's a double standard. They're like, well, if you're not doing it full time, you must not mean it.

J: Right, like a visual artist. Yeah.

A: So speaking of spaces, where are you from? Where are the places that you've lived? Or what places have you visited that inspire you in your art?

J: I'm originally from Pennsylvania. Kind of middle of nowhere, rural Pennsylvania. I also went to school near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And then I worked there for a little bit after college and then I lived in London. And then I basically moved here with a little stint in between back in Pennsylvania, and I've been here in Oakland / San Francisco for nine years. I've been here for a while.

A: Those are all drastic changes. 

J: Yea, it's funny-- The biggest cultural change was actually moving to California. It's really different than many places in the world. We could have like a whole conversation about that. But generally, I'm super inspired by travel. I love to travel and I find it to be a really good way to get input, but also process, because you when you're traveling, you're not necessarily feeling like you have to like make things or put things out so in that way it is good downtime. How about you?

A: Well, I'm from Hawaii. I grew up there and then moved to San Francisco when I was 17, and I've been in the bay ever since. This year is going to be 11 years. So this is my home now. I don't know, I feel like I used to be very inspired by the Bay Area and maybe it's, you know, just this recent wave of lots of artists actually leaving the area that I'm not feeling quite as inspired. So travel has been more and more important to me to maintaining my art. Even actually, going back home now I think is more inspiring to me because I have a little bit of distance. I don't go back so often. But you know, I just came back from Barcelona and that was actually a really nice break in a much more relaxed society. You're not having to produce so much, and the irony in it is I made more art. Like I produced more. I think anytime we get to the water, yeah, that's pretty inspiring. Like, even if it's just, you know, an hour north.

A: So another question, analog or digital?

J: When I think about this question, I'm always like, I'm analog, because I think it's more romantic or something. But then when I think about it, if I had to live without my phone or my laptop, it would be really hard. So I don't know exactly how to answer that.

A: But that's why it's a good question, I think. You can answer it whatever way you want. Yeah, and a sort of funny thing is now the rain started so you very much are getting the analog in the physicalness of the space in the background, although we're recording on a digital microphone.

J: How about you, analog or digital?

A: I think I really badly want to be digital. But I can't. Like the last, you know, seven years have been me attempting to be a more digital person. And there's just something that doesn't click for me like just processing doesn't work for me as well without handwriting. I write every single day. And if there are days that I don't I feel sort of off. But I would really love the efficiency of having everything digital, especially when I know there are things that are a little bit older, and I get more precious about them. You know, those things get destroyed, they're gone forever. My apartment flooded a few years ago, and that was like very real for me that like, "oh, wow, like literally all of these journals that I've kept for the last 10 years totally could just be gone in a second." I think that sort of pushed me to want to be more digital, but ultimately, I can only process things analog.

J: That makes sense. Well, do you have any creative or artistic role models?

A: I mean, I think I've generally like anyone who can sort of bounce between mediums or between industries. So, someone which I know is like super overplayed probably at this point, but it isn't her fault is Yayoi Kusama. Just like, you know, she's created works that are super physical and architectural in the way that you experience it. But then she also has all of this, very interesting graphics and photography. You know, a lot of her work has actually been translated into print and purchasable products. So I'm really interested in people who can jump. What about you?

J: The first person I usually think about is Marina Abramovic. And it's a similar thing in a way because she totally bounces around, although it's been mostly performance art. But, you know, in some ways her works are so simple. But gets at the heart of something or just where something starts or changes or she has a precision to her work. Yeah. And she's really ruthless. You know, like just bringing things back to the bare minimum or pushing you to discomfort. And I really admire that. I think that's the part that, you know, you talk about, like being pushed to make art from your feelings, not just what feels pretty Yeah. She's kind of a master at that. I think.

A: So, yeah. And it's funny because you're Scorpio side, you know?

J: Yeah, totally. I like to dredge things up, for sure.

A: Well, this has been fun to talk a little bit more about our art. I mean, we're also sort of transcending medium here, because we know you don't hear us talk on any of our channels.  So hopefully, someone else will like to listen to this. Yeah, if you like it, let us know on one of our digital channels and otherwise, come to see our show.