Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Artist As Brand: An Interview With Greg Spalenka

I am happy to re-introduce a new friend and fellow thinker from the Southern California area. I mentioned Greg Spalenka, Founder of Artist As Brand,™ in an early post entitled "Branding: A Different View, and am happy to note that I will be participating in his workshop Artist As Brand, in Costa Mesa August 6-8 at Find Art Gallery. Greg is an energetic, knowledgeable and inspiring workshop leader and this three day event might well be a life changer. He describes it as a "transformational, career energizing boot camp." My own contribution will be a short one, but I will be on hand for at least the first two days and available for anyone interested in further acquaintance. Please check out Greg's site, Artist As Brand, I would be particularly delighted if any Persist readers decided to sign up. And until then, please enjoy some of his insight below!
Persist: I know you studied at Art College of Design. Aside from the skills you needed as an artist and designer, what were the most valuable qualities you brought away from that experience?
Greg Spalenka: My mantra growing up has been, "Am I more than I am?" Confronting my fears has been a motivator, hence, I pushed myself to move beyond my abilities. I watched and learned much from my peers. While at Art Center I made friends with fellow student Matt Mahurin. Matt is an individual with lots of talent, tremendous passion and energy. He showed me that the concept behind the art creates a strong foundation but a personal vision manifests by taking risks. All art is study, so don't get too precious with it. One day there was a class assignment I was struggling with. I couldn't pull it together so I asked Matt to come by and take a look. When he arrived he proceeded to take my art outside onto the second story balcony. He looked at the art, then at me and said, "Sometimes, Spalenka, you just have to know when to let a piece go", and proceeded to wing it out into the street. I voiced an expletive and ran down the stairs to watch in disbelief as cars drove over it. I pulled the art from the street. Deep gashes covered part of the surface, and new textures came to light. "Whoa"! It actually improved the piece! That experience taught me that sometimes its a matter of taking a painting to unexpected places to make it work. Allowing the "risk factor" to enter the equation allowed the art to evolve on its own accord. Most of my art now embraces process or "happy accidents".

Persist: You spent a good while in the commercial art world in New York. Can you say a little about your experience of that city? Why did you choose eventually to leave and come back west?
Greg: Soon after graduating from Art Center (BFA Illustration) I moved to New York at the behest of Mahurin. I was terrified of the idea of moving to this city, but it was the center of publishing and if I was to make it as an illustrator this was it. Trudging the portfolio around Manhattan was a full time job. The jobs trickled in, but soon the big publishers were calling. Rolling Stone commissioned a portrait of Elvis Costello, New York Times Magazine put my portrait of a young Hemingway on its cover. I created art for most of the major publishers around the USA. Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, U. S. News & World report, The Atlantic, Business Week, Mother Jones, OMNI, Psychology Today, Ms., Playboy, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, San Francisco Examiner, Wall Street Journal, Harper Collins, Viking Penguin, Random House.

Illustrative journalistic projects of my own making were important too. One of the projects involved 10 days with soon to be boxing champion Mike Tyson. I created life size drawings, paintings and studies of Tyson and the trainers and boxers of Cus Damato's gym, which were published alongside my commentary in the 1989 January issue of "Print" magazine.

Most of the subject matter I illustrated was on the heavy side, Apartheid, Terrorists, War, Government corruption, Injustice, Corporate monsters, Pollution, Murder, Mafia, Child abuse, Psychology, etc. I got a good look at the underbelly of humanity. I realized everyone has an agenda. It was fascinating to see how different publishers would run the same story and skew it so the reader would view it through their lens. I felt that finally I was making an important mark as an artist. I believed that looking at the wounds of the world could bring us closer to healing it.

Living in Manhattan was like living in an illustration, the world crammed into a five mile by fifteen mile island. The juxtaposition of images from day to day was surreal. Walking out the front door of my building was a rush of sound and sight. Beautiful models would walk by, while police peered inside a car at a murder victim slumped at the wheel. Down the street a laughing homeless man snagged purses from a flooded gutter with a fishing pole. I was never at a loss for intense bizarre imagery. Sometimes the street found its way literally into the art. Rusted pieces of metal, grating, weathered plastic, broken glass, indescribable man made things would compliment a little corner of some piece I was working on. The city got into my blood.

After eight years I had enough of the concrete and intensity and returned to CA.

Persist: What interested you initially in helping others find their inspiration and their path to success? What are the rewards of the work you do in this area?
Greg: There has always been a part of me that is committed to empowering truth within people. Teaching chose me. I have been asked to lecture and teach here in the US and abroad for over twenty two years. Seeing creative individuals transcend their fears, and reach their artistic goals brings joy to my heart.

Persist: What led to the choice of the title "Artist as Brand"? Could you say a bit about the site? When did you start it? What has been the response? How much of your time do you devote to it?
Greg: The title Artist As Brand has caused some controversy especially in fine art circles because many people associate the word "brand" with corporations. It seems that the word brand has been branded. However if you look at the essence of the word this is what you find...
–noun and verb
1. kind, grade, or make, as indicated by a stamp, trademark, or the like.
2. a mark made by burning or otherwise, to indicate kind, grade, make, ownership, etc.
3. a kind or variety of something distinguished by some distinctive characteristic.
4. to impress indelibly.
5. a brand name.
A brand is a purpose transformed into a product or service that connects to people, the planet, and beyond. The key word here is purpose, and specifically your purpose. This is where the heart of your essence resides, where your most potent art manifests, and the strength of your perseverance matures. The purpose inside you aligned with your personal vision is the foundation of your creative power. When your heart is joined with your art, a vital one of kind signature is formed. This brand is unique to you and your intimate product.

Artist As Brand was born with the intention of empowering artists to make a living from their heart on their own terms by creating an individual base(s) of devoted buyers (fans and patrons).
The concept of Artist As Brand was first presented at the University of San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador last year. The response was so amazing I felt this new paradigm of art sustainability needed to be shared with the world. This year classes will be held in California, Utah, New York City, Toronto, and possibly Oregon, Korea. I am in negotiations to bring it to Australia, Taiwan, China, Japan, Singapore, England, Holland, Ireland and more.

As with any new business there is lots of promotion and education that must be sent out to potential students. I am finding that most of the participants so far are recent graduates who want to create their own unique art empire, or professionals/professors/artists who have been in the field 5-10 years and want to recharge or re-invent themselves. Please see my RESULTS page on my site for testimonials.

Persist: What would you like my readers to know about the workshops that your offer?
Greg: The Artist As Brand™ workshop champions a new model of artist promotion and sustainability that begins with the heart. Participants focus on niche markets which together over time can produce a unique art empire! This is a three day course for serious individuals who want to fuse their creative and financial destinies.

If you were to advise yourself as you do others, what advice would you be giving to yourself right now?
I know that persisting is a key word to succeeding in any worth while endeavor.
This will resonate with you I am sure!
My mantra is "Am I more than I am?" So onward and upward!
Greg started his award winning career as an artist after graduating from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California in 1982. Moving to New York City he began a twenty six year journey illustrating for America’s most prominent publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers. There is more biographical information on his website Artist As Brand.

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