Consider these monumental life shifting moments. Finding that perfect pair of jeans, ones that hug and hang in all the right places. Hearing a song for the first time and knowing instantly that this is the best song you’ve ever heard. Reading a story and identifying with every word of it. Meeting someone and falling in love. The feeling you get from all these moments is exactly how I felt when I first saw the work of Stacey Rozich.
Some people buy wine based on the description of the flavor, some buy for price, I buy for the labels. I feel similarly about album art.
This past February I got my first glimpse at the artwork for the Curious Mystery’s new album We Creeling. A mystical looking beast with a big bushy head of hair and long horns protruding out from the sides, a red toothy face nestled in the middle of that fur, and brightly colored clothing with angular designs. The beast had a pair of gentle black hands with red fingertips, coddling a little red rose. The image did everything that great album artwork should make you want to do, listen to the music.
For me the image did so much more, it made me think about this beast, his flower, and the story behind him. I listened to the music and spent hours inventing stories surrounding his adventures. It was some time later that I discovered the website of the artist. It was like finding a gold coin on the beach, cherishing it, and then months later finding a treasure chest full of gold coins.
Staceyrozich.com is a menagerie of mythical and folkloric creatures, people and animals locked into scenes of violence, love, betrayal, comfort, longing, and humor. Each piece felt familiar and at the same time was completely unique. In my conversation with Stacey, one comment stood out as a perfect encapsulation of what I was seeing in her work. “I definitely mishmash everything together, because that’s how I’m creating my own narrative, my own cultural voice.” As a white kid from Seattle without any particular cultural ties, this is exactly what I have been doing with my own mythological writing for years.
As we become more homogenized so do our cultures. At its heart Stacey’s work is a contemporary cultural narrative, from the tall tales of your grandfathers fishing expedition, to universal creation myths from around the world, and the beasts that haunt the darkest holes everywhere, these stories are becoming part of a singular narrative. It’s Stacey’s work that represents that narrative perfectly.
What surprised me the most about this body of work is that it is still quite young. She told me that she was just twenty when she began working in the style that you see here. Since then she’s created worlds of exceptional characters on paper and wood. Along with her father (amazing chalkboard artist John Rozich) she created large wood cutouts of her characters. Working with her very good friend (Maddie Romansic) they created an eerily lifelike soft sculpture which I just realized is for sale… ( christmas surprise?) Then, as of yesterday you can get a sneak peek of Stacey’s work in motion for the Fleet Foxes latest video. It’s twenty six seconds of basically the best thing ever.
The night before I sat down with Stacey to pick her genius artistic brain, I had a dream. I was wrapped in a white and blood red blanket surrounded by golden savanna grasses tall enough that from my keens I could see nothing but their stalks. I could feel the tremors of heavy foot steps, labored nasal breathing, and heart thudding sobbing all around me. I rose to my feet and peered over the tips of the blades and there were a four furry monsters tromping through the golden grass. One was crying tearfully, one was laughing hysterically, another so angry smoke billowed from his nostrils, and the last grinning from… horn to horn. I couldn’t move I was so frightened, they circled around me seemingly unaware of my presence yet their circle continued to constrict around me until the crying beast caught my eye and I woke up.
This is what went though my mind as I prepared to meet Stacey Rozich and try to understand where these beautiful scenes came from. I need only to say that she was an absolute joy to talk with. My animals took to her immediately including my dog Olive who is generally weary of new people entering her house. What follows here is a heavily edited version of our interview, to hear the unedited hour long podcast, go to itunes starting next week.
Start by describing your process from the beginning to the end of a single piece.
I do a lot of research, that’s the strong foundation for most of my work. I go to a lot of blogs, specifically BibliOdyssey, I don’t know where this curator finds these things but it ranges from old maps to pieces of illuminated manuscripts and just really beautiful work from all over the world from the past two millennia.
I do a lot of sketching, I’ll be out at drinks and I’ll have a napkin and I just see a composition in my head and know that I need to write it down because I will forget it if I don’t put it on paper. So I do have a collection of old scraps and notebooks filled with drawings that I want to get back to. It’s a combination of blending all this research and all these drawings into something which if I can piece together, get it on a piece of watercolor paper and start putting color to it, then from there I can start laying in a lot of textures and patterns. Then before you know it I have a piece.
When you are researching are you looking for just images or are you looking for ideas?
I keep a folder on my desktop where I save images I see all over the internet. I can be on a whole trip where I’m looking for moorish patterns, or coptic christian artwork, or tiling. And before you know it you’re going down a rabbit hole and finding a whole new world of different ideas you weren’t even expecting.
It’s hard to ask someone to describe their work without just looking at it, but can you try and describe it anyway?
That’s a tough one, but I’d say my illustration work is based heavily on cultural folktales. It can range from wild beasts to spiritual beings. There’s always a strong base of color and texture and a lot of patterning. That’s something I’ve found is a real common thread in a lot of cultures, is a lot of beautiful textiles that utilize different symbols that I try and bring into my work. I think it gives it an extra level of depth.
You have a lot of intricate and detailed patterns in your work, does this come from images in the research you talked about?
A lot of it comes from research. There can be a specific garment from a Norwegian vest or something that I see that has a lot of really beautiful stitching of flowers and stuff like that. Then there are just simple patterns I always use, the zigzags and the stripes, because that’s an easy one to offset really complicated patterns I spend a lot of time on.
When did you find the style that you’re working with now?
I think I was about twenty years old. I had just moved back to Seattle, I was going to school in San Francisco and studying illustration. So I had that basis of knowing that I could use specific mediums, but I didn’t necessarily have a certain voice with my work other than a lot of my narrative stuff was usually humorous. It was only until I found this book on Yugoslav traditions and costumes. That first year I got it, it was integral to my work, because I would see beautiful costumes mixed with really amazing folkloric masks from different ceremonies and fairs. I’d never seen anything like this before. So that got the ball rolling for me, kind of imagining it through my own lens.
Do you find Seattle to be an inspirational place?
I grew up here and I have a big support system here with my family who I’m very close with, but I really don’t know many artists here. I know there is a good art scene here I’m just not really a part of it because I don’t consider myself a fine artist, even though others may beg to differ. I feel like kind of a solitary worker.
A lot of my good friends who are artists live all over the country and I make sure to keep in contact with them, I’m really good at keeping tabs on certain artists who inspire me, but in Seattle, that’s been my constant battle. I’ve been thinking about how I want to move, how I really want that new challenge of being in a place and being uncomfortable and finding out what my style is. Does that even make sense for me? I’m so lucky to live in a place where I am comfortable and it’s easy to live here, it’s beautiful, and I love it. There is a really good history here. I feel like I can’t give a definitive answer on that because I love it, but I’m not one hundred percent fulfilled.
Your main inspiration has been Eastern European folklore and that’s because you have roots within that culture.
Yes, my Dad is Croatian by way of Detroit. All my great grandparents on my fathers side are from Croatia, one of them is actually from Mostar Bosnia. They all came to the States in the teens and twenties, and they were all coal miners in the Midwest. But they really did keep their culture alive by marrying other Croatians and having more kids that were Croatian.
Having that cultural identity to me was really fascinating. I didn’t really have it a lot growing up until my dad started talking to me about it and his childhood, being raised by his grandmother. I don’t think it was really that different for him because that’s just what he grew up with, but for me I was just so enthralled to hear these stories and hear about what she cooked and what she would say.
Your work represents a lot of different cultures, are you always keeping a constant lookout for different designs and ideas?
Yes, that’s how I keep things fresh, it started off with Yugoslav, mainly Croatian. That was a jumping off point for me to realize that so many different cultures have different costumes and traditions in terms of their textiles and weavings and tapestries and I just was really excited. I’d never really researched this before but the more I started digging the more I started finding different cultures from Russia and Bulgaria. Then going as far as West African countries, have an incredible array of costumes that are scary, and weird, and hilarious, and amazing, all these knit full length onesies. They have beautiful zigzags and patterns. I just try and think about what part that would play in their culture.
Are you consciously trying to stay within one cultural concept, or do you borrow from everywhere and throw it on the paper?
That’s what I do. I don’t think I ever created anything that’s one specific group. I definitely mishmash everything together because that’s how I’m creating my own narrative, my own cultural voice. It can look like it belongs but when you actually get down to the nitty gritty of everything I can point out to you, “no that’s Hopi Indian, that’s something I got from Romania.” I just kind of piece them together, sew them up and hopefully it looks cohesive.
Does each picture have a story?
Yeah, some of them are shorter stories than others. Some are long in depth tales of struggle, evil versus good, man versus animal, some have a lot of humor in them. Those are a lot more simple, I like those a lot.
Do the stories and the paintings ever clash?
Sometimes they don’t work. I’ll have a great idea and I’ll try and put it down and it just looks bad. I’ll think “no no, this is not how it’s supposed to come out,” then I’ll just scrap it.
Can you tell me about the humor in your work?
Sometimes it can’t always fit together for me and that was the way of alleviating the drama. Sometimes I don’t want to put too much emphasis on violence, especially between a man and an animal.
Is there a particular culture or series of folktales that you’ve been looking at recently?
I haven’t been looking at a lot of stories, but I have been looking at a lot of South Western, Pueblo and Hopi.
You were first brought to my attention with the artwork for the cover of the Curious Mystery’s We Creeling album. How did you get connected with them and k-records?
That’s a really funny connection, and also shows the power of the internet (she used a cheesy announcer voice for that phrase). It was my first quarter at Seattle Central and I was in an illustrator class and one of the assignments was to create a gig poster for whatever you want. And so the night before we started this project I was at a show at the Josephine, a really cool small community space totally hidden in Ballard. I went out with some friends to see LAKE and Karl Blau, I couldn’t stay out late because of school, so I really only specifically caught the first act which was this really wonderfully talented musician named Shana Cleveland. I was totally taken by her style… so beautiful, it was like Cat Power but more soulful, a little darker and I just really loved her stuff. So the next day I get the assignment and start working on it. At the time I really liked the poster because I’d never really incorporated my style into a poster. I put it on my blog which I’d just started and I was so proud of myself.
Then two weeks later I get this email from Shana Cleveland saying “Hey, I played that show, what do you think about doing album artwork?” We got together and she told me everything she liked and wanted for the piece. It took me a while because I’d never really down a whole album before, because I thought it would be super easy I was like “no, I’ll do the whole thing.” Which was a stupid bonehead move on my part because I didn’t know what I was doing. Luckily everyone at K [records] is so nice and so patient and the record came out great. It always makes me happy when I see it at record stores.
Did you hear the music before hand?
She [Shana Cleveland] played the cd for me and I thought, “wow, this is pretty great.” Because it’s like, psychedelic, folky, garage rock and Shana has this amazing voice and Nick Gonzalez has the sitar, it’s just so good. A lot of my work did seem like a good fit. We just worked together on sketches and what she thought, we actually became good friends over it. I would come over to her house and just sit at her kitchen table and just draw and paint. It was a collaborative thing for her because she’s also artistic. She would give me input and we’d listen to more of the new mixes of the cd, it was one of the more involved processes for working on an album. But it has been one of the more rewarding ones.
Have you thought about how you could mix mediums with your art?
I just saw a rough cut of an animation that I did with my work. It’s supposed to come out hopefully within the next month. It’s a music video and it’s pretty cool. These were all stop motion hinged puppets that I made of my work and I was amazing to see my work move like that. The song is great and they work so well together. I think that was a new highlight of my life, seeing the next level of my work. **
The purpose of interviewing the people I do here at secretly-important, is that that’s exactly what these people are. But my hope is to help drop the secretly and make them just important. I don’t pretend to believe that I have anything to with that transition, Stacey is already an incredible artist, dare I say my favorite and in introducing her to you, imagine that we’ve just met at a party and I’m telling you all my favorite things.
As I mentioned before, this is a heavily edited version of our conversation, next week we will be releasing the full audio interview here as well as on itunes. You can here more discussions of her work as well as her time at California College of the Arts and Seattle Central, hear what it was like for her to quit her day job, and hear about some delicious sounding food cooked by her Croatian grandmother.
Stacey told me at one point in the interview, she has a hard time representing herself and convincing people that they should buy her work and hang it in her house. Well, I’ll step in and help her out, because I can’t think of anyone who shouldn’t have a piece by Stacey hanging in their home. If it inspires you only half as much as it’s inspired me then it’s worth every penny.
If you happen to be in Seattle between October 28th and November 21st. You can see her work displayed along side the show the Mormon Bird Play at WET.