Mele Martinez: Flamenco Performer, Choreographer & Author

(The following interview with Mele Martinez was conducted by Art Motif Magazine’s editor and originally published in Panorama Sonoran Desert Art & Literary Journal. | Header Photo by Kristen Watts)

Grounded deeply in her Tucson, AZ origins, featured dancer, choreographer and award-winning writer Melani “Mele” Martinez embodies the essence of creative expression. Courageous in her cultural self-exploration, Mele shares with us her boldness, strength and universal femininity in motion through her art.

What works, events, or moments in your life have influenced your writing/art?
Sandra Cisneros profoundly influenced me. I must have been a teenager when I read House onMangoStreet. I don’t remember how I got the book. I don’t know why it was suddenly there in my hands, but I read it over and over. It felt like it was the first book that I had ever really read. It was certainly the first time that I realized
books could be written about people like me. My eyes were opened and I’ve wanted to write ever since.

For flamenco, the most impactful event of my life was attending Festival Flamenco Internacional for the first time when I was 15 years old. I saw on stage what I had never seen before,and I was completely captivated. I have attended every festival since then. This annual event continues to inspire and shape the artist I want
to become.

How do your background, cultural roots and sense of identity manifest themselves in your writing/art?
I struggle with understanding my roots and my identity. It is one of the things that I write about the most. I grew up in Tucson, so I feel like I can call myself a Tucsonense, but sometimes I feel like an alien in my own town. I grew up in a Mexican-American family, but
my experience of what it means to be “Mexican-American” doesn’t seem to match others who call themselves the same.T here have been times when I feel a tug of war in my own heart–one side is trying to distance itself from everything and everyone and the other side longs for community, for familiarity and for home. For most of my life, I’ve tried to either shed my culture/identity or figure out how to define it. Sometimes I’m convinced that it is the most important thing and other times I find it irrelevant. Though this can become exhausting, I try to remember that my cultural roots and my background are simply gifts. Even the hardships are gifts. And I find peace when I allow God to define my identity instead of always trying to control it.

Do you have a preferred genre/medium? If so, why?
In writing, my preferred genre is nonfiction. I’ve always loved stories but for some reason I gravitate towards the stories that we call “true”. I love taking what is real and shaping it, structuring it. Though reality is very messy, there is a sense of logic, pattern and reason I find in it. That is a constant inspiration for me. In dance, my preferred genre is flamenco. I started dancing different styles when I was just three. I loved dance from that young age but when I first encountered flamenco, that love turned into a calling. For me, flamenco has the most expressive potential. It isn’t just a genre of dance but a world of art unto itself.

What inspires you (e.g. places, scents, sounds)?
This might sound strange but food inspires me to write. I don’t mean that I have to eat before I get a few words out, though sometimes that can be good. What I mean is that when I start thinking about the way food is a daily ritual, the way it is fundamental to life, the way it is unique and mixed for every culture, family, person—these things inspire me to explore it in words. I’m writing a memoir about my family’s tamale factory, so this idea is extremely important to me. Food is the object of the first sin recorded in the Bible, it is a metaphor for union with God, it is the object of addiction, symbolism and probably the majority of the issues I face on a daily basis. The topic of food never gets old for me. My father used to say that having a food business is secure because people never stop needing food. Ironically, I still believe that. In flamenco, music is my inspiration. I’m the kind of mover that relies heavily on what I hear, rather than a creator of images and sounds. I’m a responder. I always do my best to reflect music and my favorite dancers do the same. My euphoria in flamenco happens when I feel like I am physically INSIDE of the music.

Different people perceive and respond differently to literature and artwork. Do you recall any memorable responses by others to your writing/art?
With Luz, my project to honor mothers in the arts, I get to practice both flamenco and writing. For me, this project has had the most memorable responses from audiences. Mothers, in particular, have talked to me about how much they appreciate someone shedding light on their struggles and on their creative process. Even though I’ve experienced a lot of fear throughout the work of Luz, I’m glad that the artists I’ve worked with have been moved. It is exceptionally satisfying to see artists you admire be so supportive and emotionally connected.

Your favorite painters and composers?
My favorite painter/writer is Makoto Fujimura. Fujimura is a Japanese contemporary artist who uses stone-ground minerals such as gold, platinum and azurite and traditional Nihonga technique to create works that reveal his bi-cultural education in the arts and express his Christian faith. His grasp on the intersection of faith and art is a model I hope to emulate.

Your favorite food or drink?
My family’s home cooked food is generally my favorite! But the best food I’ve ever had was in Mexico City. For three days while I was there, every single meal felt like enlightenment. I try to remind myself that it is just food, not love. But sometimes those lines get crossed.

To learn more about Mele Martinez, click on the following links:

Day Schildkret: Morning Altars Earth Artist

The connection between life and art is something that has long been contemplated and studied. We know that art imitates life just as often as life itself mimics art. In fact, the relationship between the two is so deeply interwoven that even those inherent parts of life with which most people struggle – change, loss, impermanence, death – become not only important but extraordinarily beautiful and necessary moving pieces in the artistic whole of our lives.

In this issue of Art Motif Magazine, we are excited to feature Day Schildkret. Day is known internationally for Morning Altars and has inspired tens of thousands of people of all ages from all over the world to forage, build and be awed with Earth Art. Day is igniting an international movement by sharing the art, teachings and spirit of Morning Altars as a tangible creative and spiritual practice that renews and redeems our relationship to nature, creativity and impermanence.

Below, Day shares a few of his stunning altars and describes his artistic practice and his devotion to the pursuit of impermanent beauty and how that can become nourishment for life to continue. Day is also thrilled to share that Morning Altars is being published as a book coming out in the Fall of 2018. Please join the book mailing list at morningaltars.com.

Mystery’s Mistress (Photo credit: Day Schildkret)

What is essential to your work as an artist? The supplies I use for Morning Altars are all growing in my neighborhood. They are the autumn leaves falling from the tree in the most spectacular splash of orange, red, green and browns. They are the turkey feathers left from the migrating birds who sleep in the trees down by the creek. They are the layers upon layers of twisted bark that peel off the redwood tree. But what is essential to my work as an artist is the fact that my art is impermanent and is not meant to last. Every single Morning Altar I have ever created has been destroyed. The sun dries it up. The wind blows it around. The animals eat it. The core purpose of this creative practice is to relate to change everyday and to know that because my art is made of the earth, it lives and dies.

What works, events, or moments in your life have influenced your art? It was a significant break up with my previous boyfriend that got me building Morning Altars everyday as a practice. I was so immersed in my grief that I truly had no capacity to do anything except walk my dog at first light. We would go on a walk into the hills of Wildcat Canyon and one morning, as the fog was rolling through the hills we came across a eucalyptus tree with a cluster of amber colored mushrooms that exploded at its base. For some reason, I decided to sit down and stare at the mushrooms which were glistening in the fog. They looked like they were painted with water color. Without thinking, I began rearranging the mushrooms and some of the eucalyptus caps and bark that had fallen from the tree and after an hour passed, there was a beautiful Morning Altar under the tree. It was the first time since the break up that I didn’t feel so burdened with grief. Almost like the beauty-making metabolized the grief. The power of that has helped me see Morning Altars as a resource to help me and others through uncertain times.

A Newborn Morning (Photo credit: Day Schildkret)

How do your background, cultural roots, and/or sense of identity manifest in your art? My ancestral roots are Jewish. I was a religious Jew for my entire adolescence. I was even the Executive Director of a Jewish school for teenagers for almost a decade. Judaism has always been at the core of my life and culture. While I was living in Israel in 1999, I was very close to a bus bombing that could have taken my life. In the same year while living in Jerusalem, I came out of the closet and took a big step away from my religious orthodoxy. But my spirituality got even stronger. With the success of Morning Altars, I’ve continued to ask myself how does Judaism manifest in my art and the more research and learning I do into my people’s history, the clearer it becomes: While modern Jews like to consider themselves a people of the book, our ways of prayer and devotion are older than literacy. Shrine-making on mountains, rivers, trees were how the people pre-Bible would communicate with their deities and make offerings to the land. When I make a Morning Altar, I definitely feel a very, very old connection to an ancient lineage. I don’t know how it survived this long but I see my art and expression as a way of carrying this ancient form of prayer, connection and devotion forward in a modern time.

How has your artistic practice changed over time? It’s funny. When I look through my early altars, it seems like I am looking at prehistoric art. There are a lot of sticks, stones and bones. My earlier work is messier, less exact but there’s definitely a voice and soul that wants to be expressed. Over time, I have really allowed my perfectionist to find his stride and it is evident in my art. It’s remarkable that I have found a way to take nature – which is rarely symmetrical – and make it look geometric and refined. This has been a practice of cultivating patience because just when I think I’m done and I’ve gotten it exactly where I want it, the wind blows it all away. The impermanence is also the most important companion for my perfectionist because without limitations, it would never be complete. My artistic practice continues to change over time because I’m always exercising my relationship between what I want and what nature wants.

Desert Sunrise (Photo credit: Day Schildkret)

Are there any themes you gravitate towards more in your works? I tend to lean toward symmetry. I like the way it feels on my soul and in my nervous system. It just lets me relax and open up to what is being expressed. There’s less trying to figure something out intellectually and more permission for the beauty to come into the body. Plus, symmetry in nature is just such a rare and wonderful thing.

Do you have a preferred genre/style/medium? My preferred genre is the ephemeral. Anything from nature that is born and dies. I like creating at that edge.

What inspires you? I am inspired by bare earth which is my blank canvas. Depending on where I am (the grey clay of California versus the red sands of Southern Utah) and the season of the year gives me a completely different base to work on. I tend to never work on grass!

Northstar (Photo credit Day: Schildkret)

What is your creative process? What does a typical day of creative expression look like for you? Wake at dawn when everything is still so quiet. Take my basket and go off into the neighborhood for a forage and wander. Everything is dictated by the treasures I find. After about an hour or so, I come back to a spot I love by the creek and I sit with it for some time. I let myself listen to the place. The place speaks very differently at different times of the day and different times of the year. I let myself get a little closer to witnessing where I am. Then I take a brush and sweep the canvas so that it becomes bare earth. Then I create. And when I am complete, I photograph it and walk away and let it change and go back to the earth. I then edit the photograph and post it on my social media. I love inspiring other people all over the world to build their own. People send me Morning Altars from all over the world: Australia, Peru, Iran, England…it is incredible!

Different people perceive and respond differently to art. Do you recall any memorable response by others to your works? While there’s an infinite number of responses to draw from, the one that is coming to mind right now occurred last year when I was building a large scale Morning Altar at a conference. It was a 20′ circular altar and a little girl about 3 years old left her mother’s hand and came up to the altar and watched. She then went on to mimic what I was doing and built a little version of the large altar I was building. It literally looked like a planet and a moon. The mother said this was the first piece of art she ever made by herself. It was moving to remember how easy and accessible building earth art is.

Temple’s Tile (Photo credit: Day Schildkret)T

What piece of advice would you give other aspiring artists? Art must be in service to the time and place we live in otherwise it’s just more entertainment. In the face of so much destruction, we artists must keep creating the world alive again and again. It is a burdensome privilege to carry this responsibility of creating art, but one that is desperately needed in these dark times. Be courageous and do not fear. Create every day. Create remembering how needed you are.

Your favorite writers and/or poets? Each year I memorize new poetry. Last year I focused on Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. The year before was David White’s profound words. This year I am going to learn some Langston Hughes.

Your favorite painters? He’s an earth painter: Andy Goldsworthy. And Monet.

Your favorite composers? Bach, Debussy, Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Gershwin, Elliot Moss, Sufjan Stevens and all the old traditional Georgian music.

Lady Nouveau (Photo credit: Day Schildkret)

Your favorite heroes/heroines in real life? I’m amazed by wildlife and that wild deer or plantain or skunks or mugwort or coyote are still living free in the middle of an unending human assault on the wild.

Your favorite heroes/heroines in fiction? I’m a big fantasy nerd. So, Frodo.

Your favorite motto? “I’m listening.”

Your idea of happiness? Watching the miracle of life creating itself – in whatever form.

Morning Altars Stratton Aerial (Photo credit: Unknown)
Photo credit: Day Schildkret

To learn more about Day and see more of his exquisite altars, click on the following links:

Michael Cooper: Musical Theatre Songwriter

In this feature article, Art Motif Magazine is honored to showcase Nogales, AZ native and musical theatre writer and producer Michael Cooper.

With songs featured both on and Off-Broadway, Michael Cooper is a Jonathan Larson Award winning, Outer Critics Circle/MAC Award nominated songwriter based in New York City.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College in Massachusetts and a Master of Fine Arts from the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing program at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. In this interview, Michael candidly shares with us some of the high and low notes that have underscored his lyrical and breathtaking artistic journey, from masterfully executing original student musical productions in the James K. Clark Performing Arts Auditorium at Nogales High School, all the way to hearing his work fill that magical space inside the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Broadway.

Second To Nun is an inspiring story of inclusion, love and living life without walls. It is based on the heroic, adventurous life of fearless pioneer and Canada’s first female saint Marguerite Bourgeoys. Through soaring song and monologue, this one woman musical recounts Marguerite’s death-defying journey to bring liberated women to the New World and help build the city of Montreal. The show, starring Molly Pope, has inspired audiences for six weeks this summer (July through August 2017) with opening night coinciding with Canada’s 150th Anniversary. Second To Nun received rave reviews and played to standing ovations during its premiere at The Zeiders Amercian Dream Theater in Virgina Beach.
What is essential to your work as an artist? I definitely need a piano, my computer, my iPhone and a quiet place to create. When I was younger, my equipment and supplies included an electronic keyboard, a pencil and paper but now I’ve really embraced technology in my creative process. I use my iPhone to capture and record musical motifs and sample snippets of melodies and lyrics. I’m constantly updating my “Notes” and texting or e-mailing them off to my collaborators. And I absolutely need the quiet space to tune in and channel the work. Lin-Manuel Miranda once shared this famous Leonard Cohen saying with my class, “Being a songwriter is like being a nun: You’re married to a mystery.”  That “mystery” is essential to the process.

What works, events or moments in your life have influenced your art? I think major turning points in my life have always been the deepest, richest well from which I draw my inspiration – transitioning from childhood to adulthood, the beginning and ending of romantic relationships, those melancholy shadows around the edges of my experiences – that’s where I tend to mine the most theatrical material. I find that I’m also inspired by historical characters and distant places and cultures. I like to escape into somebody else’s imagination for a while.  I distinctly remember seeing the Broadway musical Cats as a child and being so dazzled by the synergy of sound, light and movement. I guess, in some weird way, I’m always trying to recreate that euphoric feeling of being a wide-eyed kid watching Cats. But making art definitely becomes more challenging as you learn more about yourself, the world and your own limitations. You begin to question the “art” you are making and how it rubs up against commerce and criticism and competition. For many years, I really struggled to find my own artistic voice until I realized that I just had to get out of my own way and commit. Every project is a new blank slate. It never gets any easier.

JE SUIS CANADIENNE from SECOND TO NUN (Music by Michael Cooper, LYRICS BY ANTON DUDLEY)

How do your background, cultural roots, and/or sense of identity manifest in your art? I’ve always felt like an outsider. Growing up in Southern Arizona on the border with Mexico, I was a minority within a minority. I never really identified with one particular culture or another – I had a foot planted firmly in two very different worlds. After leaving Nogales, I went from being a big artistic fish in a small artistic pond to a tiny artistic fish in the biggest artistic pond on earth: New York City. In NYC, everyone hails from somewhere else and has a story to tell. I had to forge my own community of misfits and weirdoes, poets and songwriters – artists who wanted to create the same kind of unique, musical theatre work that I was doing. I only return to Nogales every couple of years, usually for sad occasions like funerals, but it always feels like coming home for me. And I try to infuse that feeling of home – so distinct and specific and unusual – into everything I create. I can’t help but manifest a cross-cultural sensibility into every project I collaborate on, which is why I love working with many different types of writers. There are so many stories to explore.

How has your artistic practice changed over time? I’ve always been a slow and steady writer – working for years on a specific project and pouring my heart and soul into it. I think over time I’ve gotten better at multitasking and throwing a lot more spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.

BY THE RIVERS EDGE  from LOVE, ALWAYS (Music by Michael Cooper)

Are there any themes you gravitate towards more in your works? For some reason I am especially drawn to themes of adventure and journeying. Almost all of my work involves some kind of a major quest or cross-cultural (or spiritual) transformation. Even if it’s a very intimate story, the stakes have to be incredibly high.

Do you have a preferred genre/style/medium? Theater and film have always been my preferred mediums. I love the risks you can take in musical theater – that moment when characters have to break into song, the kind of montages and dramatic sequences you can create in a musical that just cannot exist in any other art form. Film is wonderful, too, because you can truly capture a moment and then exploit it indefinitely across many different platforms. Theater is so ephemeral, it evaporates as soon as it happens, living on only in the memories of those who were actually present to see it. There’s something beautiful and frustrating about it. Maybe that’s what keeps me coming back.

SOMEWHERE from LOVE, ALWAYS (Music by Michael Cooper)

What is your creative process? What does a typical day of creative expression look like for you? I spend a lot of time procrastinating and weeping (I’m only sorta kidding). I’ll end up doing five loads of laundry, cleaning the house, walking the dogs and then updating my Facebook status a few times – there’s a lot of “avoiding” – before I finally settle in and do the actual work. Once I’m in the groove of it, however, I become possessed. The hours fly by. This creative energy tends to come in fits and starts so there will be long spells of intense writing and then days where I’m totally burned out and not able to write anything at all. Of course, a deadline (or a commission!) always helps because I know I simply have to deliver. On my best days, I get up early, make coffee and I’m disciplined enough to sit and work for a few hours. On my worst days, I’ll end up with a sparkling clean house, folded clean clothes, and a blank screen in front of me with only that damned cursor blinking, blinking, blinking and accusing: “You didn’t write a single song today!”

Different people perceive and respond differently to art. Do you recall any memorable responses by others to your works? I remember working on a musical in high school about the conquest of Mexico. I was incredibly proud of how dark and serious the production felt. An audience member and her husband came up to me after the show to congratulate me and the husband said, “It was so cute. Really charming!” Well, fuck. I’ll never forget that because it was exactly the opposite of what I hoped the audience’s experience of my music would be. Years later, after one of the performances of my newest musical Second To Nun (based on the life of French Canadian Saint and pioneer woman Marguerite Bourgeoys), I received a letter from an audience member, a nun from the congregation that Marguerite herself founded, that said, “Thank you for making the hidden known.” I truly felt, in that moment, that my collaborator and I had achieved what we set out to do:  to shine a light on a lost history, to tell the story of a remarkable woman; to make her heart be known, and make it beat again, in music and lyrics.

NYTB: PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST from TIMELINES (Music by Michael Cooper)

What piece of advice would you give other aspiring artists? “All you need is one person to tell you you can do something – if they’re qualified. One talented, credited person to tell you, ‘You’re right, you can do this, do it.’ Because there are a thousand people who tell you you can’t. You’ve got to disregard that thousand.”  ~ Hal Prince, Broadway Legend

Your favorite writers and/or poets? Gustave Flaubert, Michael Cunningham, Colson Whitehead, Stephen King, Tennessee Williams, Pearl S. Buck.

Your favorite painters? Caravaggio, Picasso, Manet, Caillebotte, Seurat.

Your favorite composers? Ryan Tedder, Arvo Part, Max Martin, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Rodney Jerkins, Stephen Schwartz, Sia.

SUNFISH Sizzle Reel [Produced and Co-Written (book & lyrics) by Michael Cooper]

Your favorite heroes/heroines in real life? My grandmother, my mother and my father – three of the most generous, supportive and heroic people I’ve ever met.  I’m also truly inspired by the life and teachings of Marguerite Bourgeoys, the subject of my newest musical. She overcame incredible obstacles to forge a life in the new world, to liberate women and live a life without any walls around her heart. As an artist, this resonates for me.

Your favorite heroes/heroines in fiction? Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary and Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls (true, this one is a memoir and not fiction, but I’m still including it here).

Your favorite motto? “Get out of your own way.”

Your idea of happiness? Sipping a cucumber martini, surrounded by my best friends, my family and my dogs (chihuahuas and dalmatians) on a beach in Maui. Also, revisiting a show I’ve written, but a little later on in its run – once the piece has lived and breathed on its own and without my direct involvement for a while. Happiness is sneaking in, unannounced, and bearing witness to those new colors the actors have discovered since we last rehearsed together, their ownership of the art.  I love experiencing the audience experiencing it for the very first time.

To learn more about Michael’s work, click on the following links:

 

Shows (Twitter Handles)

Gabby Garcia: Makeup Artist, Cosplayer, Illustrator & Photographer

Art Motif Magazine is proud to feature Tucson, AZ artist Gabby Garcia in its inaugural web publication.

At 19 years of age, Gabby has been honing  her creative skills almost her entire life. She is a  freelance makeup artist currently studying cosmetology at Aveda Institute in Tucson, as well as a talented cosplayer, illustrator, photographer and self-proclaimed film geek. As busy as life can be for the multi-talented (and quite comedic) young artist, Gabby graciously took the time this week to share some of her art and discuss her creative process with us.

What is essential to your work as an artist? Having music blaring in the background is essential to my work flow. The genres vary depending on what I’m working on. The music helps to place me in a state of deep concentration and it sparks my imagination.

Jared Leto by Gabby Garcia | Ink on multimedia paper | July 2017

Do you have a preferred genre/style/medium? As far as my illustrations go, I prefer black and white, minimalistic line art portraiture. That style came naturally to me and I enjoy dabbling with simplicity to give myself some balance.

What inspires you? My work is heavily inspired by film, television, and music.

What is your creative process? What does a typical day of creative expression look like for you? I have the same creative process today that I had when I was a kid. When I was watching a movie back then, I’d become instantly intrigued by the characters and run to my room to dress up as them. Over the years, I’ve just improved the outcome.

What piece of advice would you give other aspiring artists? Keep practicing. You won’t learn anything overnight. Find your own style and don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t come to you right away. It took about seven years for my style to find my address.

Who are your favorite painters? Kevin Llewellyn and Kelly Eden. They both focus on hyper-realism and I totally dig that style. Kelly Eden also inspired me to go from box-dyed, jet black hair to cotton candy pink hair. Don’t try that at home.

Jack Sparrow: I’ve cosplayed Captain Jack three times over the past couple of years and I keep improving each time. I did this look as an homage to the premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Let’s have a moment of silence for the extensions that were sacrificed during the making of that ‘stache.

Who is your favorite hero/heroine in real life? Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal and author of Girl Boss. She’s a successful, self-made, business woman that kicks ass. I really admire her story. Sophia is a huge inspiration to me because I’m going into an industry where I’m going be my own boss throughout my career. She was able to keep herself motivated even though life tossed some crap at her.

Lily Munster: I’ve always been a huge fan of The Munsters (sorry, Addams Family). Lily is one of my favorite glamour ghouls, so I chose to cosplay her for my 2016 Halloween makeup series.

Who is your favorite hero/heroine in fiction? Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service. She moved far from home at the tender age of 13 to a city she barely knew (solely because she could see the ocean) on nothing but a broomstick and found success by rooming with two complete strangers who coincidentally helped her find her passion in life. If she can do that, then I’ll do just fine when I move out to Los Angeles. Maybe I will also be able to find a place that doesn’t charge extra for a cat.

What is your favorite motto? “Make something beautiful before you are dead.” ~ A sticker I was handed at the All Souls Procession

Walker: I had to learn how to apply foam latex appliances during a class that I took at Cinema Makeup School in Los Angeles a few years back. This is the outcome of my zombie prosthetics on my buddy Liz.
Untitled: I did this look for a makeup challenge by What It Takes. Our goal throughout this challenge was to practice on a style of our choice. I adore Avant-garde looks and enjoy doing them. This is what I came up with.
Zella Day by Gabby Garcia | Ink on multimedia paper | July 2017

To see more of Gabby’s work, click on the following links: