Ginger Slonaker is a Bay Area-based artist and art teacher. She will be hosting a behind-the-scenes studio tour, as well as some digital workshops through the Siy Gallery—stay tuned for more information!
I sat down with Ginger for a virtual lunchtime interview about her work and artistic process. To learn more about July’s Artist of the Month, and view more of her wonderful whimsical pieces, please visit http://www.gingerslonaker.com/.
Q: What themes do you address in your work? Are there any motifs/symbols that you like to use repeatedly?
A: So a theme I like to talk about is injustice, but it’s kind of like personal injustice, words that are not spoken, things that you cannot say, how you feel inside when you’re not able to communicate or address the person or thoughts behind something.
I definitely have a lot of symbols that have cropped up, not preconceived, but later reviewed and mean something to me. One of them is puppets, marionettes, so the strings, but also more importantly the arms that bend and are attached, to kind of mean helping other people against your will or being the body to do something when your brain is not connected to that. Another one would be, I often have one sock on, or one glove on, or that kind of thing, again, meaning that you’re not really into it but you’ll slip on one, or you were doing it and one fell off and you didn’t even notice, so your whole heart is not into it.
A key often shows up in my work, and a lot of it centers around the throat, and having the key to talk, the words to use to make yourself understood and clear. And then there’s often different forms of measurement, like a graph or a ruler on the side, that kind of thing, to measure how you’re doing, if you’re up to par. A crown comes up a lot, and I think that has to do with royalty and what’s expected of you, and being of a certain class, and that bullshit. So definitely what’s behind the eyes. I have thyroid issues, so that’s another reason why the neck is often highlighted, because of autoimmune things having to do with that. The butterfly is part of the thyroid thing so butterflies flit in and out of my work.
Q: Can you describe the relationship between your work and mental health, whether it be your own mental health, that of viewers and consumers of your work, general concepts, etc.?
A: In my work there are always people or faces, and I think mental health really centers upon the character, or the person in my work. So what’s going on, what’s breaking down, or what’s being misunderstood within the person within my work. I think everybody has mental health issues. On a daily basis I notice and I see how different people operate and what that leads to, or how that defines them. I definitely feel that my work draws someone in through the eyes into that character’s mental health, with what’s going on in them right then.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration from?
A: Noticing people and their inability to say what’s on their mind, I guess, and say what they really want, or need, and being kind of trapped in their perception about what’s going on in their world.
Being a female but also being the youngest of my generation, so not having a voice that way. I grew up in Virginia, with strong ideas about what should be done and shouldn’t be done. I was out of place from the beginning.
Q: Can you describe your artistic process?
A: I have a pre-computers and then into-computers background in graphic design and advertising, so I had to think about things beforehand and sell the idea. Then, when I started to get more into fine art, I really enjoyed not thinking about it beforehand. So my art is really a mental dump, and the art process is really a mental dump. There’s usually art-making play at the beginning, and then lots of standing back and deciding what that looks like and then things being built and growing out of those original marks that I had no plan for at all.
And then what’s really interesting is afterwards standing back, and always what has come out is something that was on my mind, or something that I saw or thought but I never could have done it the other way around. I don’t say, I’ll draw a portrait of a girl looking at her necklace, or whatever; it's just what shows up. And the art that I like the most is when weird things show up in the background, or little things, because those are other things that don’t necessarily go together but are on my mind as well.
Q: What is your most notable piece? As in, your favorite, or one with an interesting story behind it, or a piece that especially frustrated you, etc.
A Very Merry Un-Birthday to You
A: A Very Merry Un-Birthday to You was done on two pieces of paper. I was working on the floor, standing up and I was like, oh I need another piece, so I added it together. It's funny because I have a friend who’s always mad that it's on two pieces put together, and I'm like no, because I like how that process stayed in there, I wasn't trying to hide something to make it glossier.
This is an older piece (and has been sold). It’s about how when my daughter was little, having snacks at everything was driving me crazy. Again, this is afterwards that I sat back and thought, oh my god, that’s what it is. I was in a show called Tea, and this is what came out of it. I thought about how tea in Europe is at 4 o'clock and everybody sits down and it’s kind of a special event, and it’s every day. And then I thought about how it was driving me crazy that everywhere we went, my daughter got a snack. It could be in one day she goes to soccer and piano and she had preschool and she had all these things lined up throughout the day and at every one she got a snack, and it was never a healthy snack, it was always a treat. So it turned out that this whole show that I did, each piece had some connection with Alice in Wonderland, so this is kind of an Alice in Wonderland thing, where you sit down and you have a birthday every day and have a birthday treat at everything.
It’s also about how we in the United States have so much sugar. So that’s why in the tea there's saccharin and there’s sugar cubes and then there’s an ocean relating to Europe over there but there’s all these teacups floating. Treating our kids this way is like a house of cards, it’s going to fall and we’re going to have obesity. There was a phrase “eat like a bird, constantly,” so that’s the waiter giving her little things to eat all along. Time was running out because she was going to be very unhealthy. There’s the Pillsbury Doughboy. So it was a dump of “stop without my permission;” sounds like I was a helicopter mom which I was not, but it meant stop giving my child sugar to placate her all the time.
Q: What do you hope that your work conveys?
A: That body language is a real thing. Body language matters. There’s much more going on inside a person than you know. I did a show once called Partial View and that was kind of a similar thing: no one can ever know what’s going on in somebody else’s head, what history, what baggage they bring to the table.
Author: Amanda Braitman