Why do you use maps?
Most will say, “Obviously, to save yourself from getting lost.” Being innovative, some may even add, “To satisfy my Geographical interests” or “To recycle them like newspapers!”
But Emaho Magazine, while digging for those exotic human beings who we call Artists, came across one called Nikki Rosato – American painter, illustrator, sketcher,photographer and installation artist. Hand Cut Road Maps are her latest creative haunts, and utilizing this rare medium, she offers the globalized world a fresh take on human relationships. She strips her human portraits of flesh and bones, so any hint of image-building clothing is not even on the cards.
The MFA student from Tufts University confronts you with herbeautifully unnerving series called Connections, portraits that enable you to ponder yet more deeply about relationships in today’s distanced setting – where lovers, families and friends are not always in close proximity, literally and figuratively; where comfort and love travel across countries, and where people struggle to maintain their aboriginal identities.
In conversation with Sapna Mathur, Nikki Rosato shares her remarkable story,
When did you learn that you wanted to be an artist? Have you been painting/illustrating/drawing etc. even as a child, or did it all develop as your entered college?
I always loved drawing and painting growing up, but I didn’t become serious about art until I went to college. Even though I took a few art classes in high school, I went into college as an “Undecided” major. I decided to enroll in a drawing class my first semester, and it was there that my love affair with art began—I felt that I had truly found my passion. I graduated with a double major in Studio art and Art History in 2008 from the University of Pittsburgh. The program there was interdisciplinary so I learned skills across all mediums. I also learned that there is so much more to art than making it, and I found Art History to be a fascinating field. It is important, as an artist, to be knowledgeable about those who came before you and continue to keep up with the contemporary theory of those who are making work in today’s world as well.
Which was the first art form you began your exploration with, since you work with so many mediums?
In college, I really had to learn technique from scratch, so I took a lot of basic drawing and painting classes. I fell in love with painting—I adoredthe messy, tactile quality of it, the smell, etc. I thought I was going to be a painter, but as I grew as an artist, I discovered I liked working with a concept more than with a specific medium. Working this way allows me to switch back and forth and choose which medium would work best for each project idea. I hardly paint anymore, but who knows when a new idea may pop into my head that will require me to pick up a brush!
How did you think of working with maps?
Prior to creating the Cut Map work, I was making a series of paintings and prints in which I was redrawing every line on the surface of my body. While working on this project, I stumbled across a box of old vintage road maps in a used bookstore, and I noticed an immediate connection between the lines of the roads and the lines on the human body. It was as if the maps themselves were skins, and I was interested in dissecting them for their lines, just as I was interested in breaking down the surface of my body for it’s own lines. Adding the element of the actual road map to my work also captured in new ways the concepts of place, identity, narrative, memory—all things I was currently exploring in my early work.
What was your idea behind Two Bostons? Why that title?
Two Bostons was an experiment with the road map material. It was one of those pieces that I really wanted to make and had a clear mental picture of, but in reality, had no idea how to construct it. I was creating many two-dimensional map pieces, and I wanted to attempt to sculpt with that material something three-dimensional. Through much trial and error,Two Bostons was my first successful cut map sculpture! It is a portrait of myself that I made out of two full cut road maps of Boston (which is where the title comes from). I was about to move to the city of Boston, MA to start a new chapter in my life, so I wanted to create my own likeness out of that location.
Your Hand Cut Road Map portraits showcase beautifully a vast variety of human relationships. What is your philosophy about them?
People have strong connections to certain places in the world—places that have helped shaped our individual identities. As we form relationship with place, we also form relationships with others who shape and change our lives. Many of the connected figural cut map pieces have either met at the location they are depicted as, or vacationed there, etc. But sometimes the connected figures represent the journey two people have taken from different places to come together or grow apart. Here is a section from my artist statement:
The figures in the Connections series find themselves bound by the roads that both separate them as well as lead them to one another. People are often separated by distance, and these connected lines represent the roads that are either explored to bring these figures together or left untraveled, further symbolizing not only their physical distance but also psychological and emotional space.
What do you intend to achieve, be it to convey a personal message, your philosophy, any change that you would like to bring about, through these captivating portraits?
I think that the Cut Map work is laden with my own philosophies and personal baggage, but my biggest hope is that the viewer feels a personal association to the work, and that it reminds them of their own journey. I’ve had people tell me that the work in the Connections series reminds them of long distance relationships they have endured—I really enjoy hearing those responses, where the viewer feels that connection and really understands the work in his or her own way.
Is Tom from Jamaica, NY, a real person?
Yes—this portrait is actually of my dad. He was born and raised in Jamaica, NY!
“Tom, Jamica – NY”
Tell us about your curatorial experience.
Throughout my artistic career, I’ve had the opportunity to work at multiple art museums. I discovered that most of my co-workers were artists, like myself, who chose to work in an art museum as their day job, and work on their own artwork during evenings and weekends. I had the idea to put together an exhibition showcasing the work of artists who spend their day jobs organizing, constructing, curating, teaching, installing, etc., the work of others. The shows acted as a behind-the-scenes look at the talent that lies beyond the gallery walls in the museum. A friend and I organized the show and were invited to be guest curators at a large contemporary gallery in Pittsburgh, PA. The exhibition, Behind Our Scenes, featured pieces of 34 artists who worked in art museums and galleries in the city of Pittsburgh, PA.
For you, what has been the greatest lesson while exploring your artistic potential and being a part of this field?
I think one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned while working in this field is to truly believe in myself, my work, and my decision to be an artist. It is not an easy, straightforward career choice, and there are many people out there who will not take you seriously and will say things like: “Good luck with that!” when you tell them you are an artist. But as one, I think you need a strong sense of community—surround yourself with other artists and people who support you. As much as studio time is important, take time to invest in the professional aspect of being an artist as well. Have a website, business cards, apply to shows, grants, etc. Keep your resume active! And when in doubt, make art, even if it’s awful. I’ve had some tough times along the way, but I’ve made the commitment to myself to never stop chasing my dream.
According to you, what role does art play in today’s society? And why do you think it’s important?
Art is such an important part of society. It offers originality, promotes creativity, it’s an escape and gives visualization to contemporary issues. It can be controversial and test society’s standards, norms, and limits. It can push society forward and confront and challenge us when we are having a hard time making that leap. I’ve seen art that makes my heart beat fast; I’ve been inside installations that I will never forget. For me, art is a reminder that we are alive, we have something to say, we can look at the world in a new way and we can share that vision with others.
Artwork by – Nikki Rosato
Interviewed by – Sapna Mathur