Isabella Huffington’s solo show of “Sharpie paintings” opens this Thursday, November 7, at the Ports 1961 pop-up gallery, 3 Ninth Avenue, in Manhattan. The shows closes November 14.
Isabella, tell us a little about the evolution of this work. You were working in collage before this, correct? How did you make the choice to begin to work with Sharpie?
I began working in collage at the beginning of high school. At first it was just an obsessive hobby: I was fixated on collaging my room. And then, after two years, my room was done, and—since I had glued everything to my walls—it couldn’t be undone. At that point, I needed something else to do and, since I was in high school, I had a lot of free time. At first, my plan was to go and collage my family members’ rooms, but no one seemed particularly enthused at that prospect. I was taking a figure drawing class at the time. I really hated figure drawing but I loved creating abstract backgrounds. By the end of the semester, I was spending five minutes on the figure and 45 minutes on the background. I would create these intricate pointillist backgrounds and these truly horrible lopsided figures. My teacher was not impressed. Needless to say, that’s when I realized I loved abstract art. I wish I had a more romantic story for why I started using Sharpies. The truth is they were just lying around and so I picked them up. But I always loved how bright and intense and artificial the colors were. I finished my first Sharpie painting at the end of 10th grade and then my life essentially became Sharpie: A Love Story.
How long does it take you to make a piece? What are your working habits?
It depends on the piece. The longest a piece has taken me is three months, which was way too long. By the end I felt cross-eyed and the idea of ever doing another dot again was repellent. And the shortest is about two weeks. Since I’m still in college, I work whenever I can, usually in blocks between classes. Now that I’m a senior I have a bit more time so I work about four hours a day. I’m very Type A, though, and a compulsive planner, so I think when I graduate I will show up at the studio at nine and leave at six — very unbohemian.
Is there any artwork that you feel you are particularly responding to in these pieces?
I’m really inspired by Yayoi Kusama. I’m just obsessed with her. I think everything she does is fantastic. I’m like one of those people who is always showing you pictures of their cats even though they know you don’t like cats, except I show pictures of Kusama’s work. I love Islamic textiles and prints. I think the patterns are just beautiful. I’m also a major gum chewer and I recently noticed how wonderful the Orbit packages are, so I’ve been using them a lot in my art. But I think that is just to validate my chewing two packs of gum a day. If I was a smoker I would probably tell you the cigarette packages were really beautiful to validate my smoking.
What is your next project?
You known when you walk down the street and people are trying to hand you fliers (for Subway or Radio Shack) and you never want to take them and then feel terribly rude afterwards? Well I want to take everything people hand me and then cut them out into birds and make a collage out of it. I think it’s incredibly dehumanizing for people when no one acknowledges or will make eye contact with them. So instead of ignoring them I want to just say thank you, take the paper, and make it into something.
Extra credit fashion question: what are you wearing to your opening?
Haha something by Ports! But I’m a terribly boring dresser, so we’ll see.