This week I had the opportunity to interview Santa Fe artist and dancer Christina Dallorso, whose quirky illustration work offers up a dirty cocktail of oddballs and outcasts. I get to grips with her skewed reality, the relationship between art and dance, and the future of illustration.
First off, please tell us a little about your origins as an artist. Your website mentions your childhood growing up in New York; could you perhaps elaborate a bit on that, and tell us what happened next?
I came from a large(ish) Italian family. We lived in the projects on the lower east side of New York, or LES as they call it these days. Under those conditions, privacy was at a premium. Drawing became a refuge. I loved coloring books and drawing comic’s strips. I drew Tarzan and Jane strips. Jane in peril and Tarzan saving her just in the nick of time. A rescue complex, no doubt.
In 4th grade, our class room teacher was handing out our previous week’s art project. She held mine up, and whether she meant it or not, she said “Oh this must be the art teachers drawing.” That moment never left me in that I took it to heart and saw it as a green light to go forward. I think there is either a creative encouragement when you are young or a creative wound.
My next best experience was my high school art teach, Miss Patton. I often say that she believed in me more than I believed in myself.
I have had so many wonderful art teachers over the years, too numerous to mention. I am grateful to each and every one. I would say art saved me.
When did you find your current style, and what influences have informed it? Who are your artistic influences, either stylistically or in terms of philosophy or character?
Oh, big question. I have always been fascinated with line. To be able to explain it is almost impossible. Why do you like what you like? Why are we attracted to what we, or who we are attracted to? Okay, this might sound odd. R. Crumb and Walt Kuhn are just two. Art history was my go to subject so I fell in love with many artists and art forms.
My style? I just kept drawing. I am a maniac doodler. I cannot talk on the phone or make a to-do-list without drawing something. I never felt the impulse to make things look like what they look like. Take a picture or buy a postcard.
Your work seems to focus mainly on often quite strange-seeming people. Where do the stories come from which inspire these pieces; are any based in reality?
Is my work based in reality? Reality? Can you repeat the question? Only kidding.
One of my fascinations is the way people behave and what they present to the world as who they are. I like to dig through the surface and show what is just behind the public stance. So, I think, I exaggerate that stance in my images. I think I depict the veil as thin. I am a visual addict. I have been absorbing images for decades. One of the other solaces as a young person was to lose myself in magazines.
There also seems to be a heavy theme of nostalgia in your work, with many pieces evoking a sort of skewed or carnival version of the 1920s. Is this something which interests you particularly, and if so, why?
There is something satisfying about embellishment, details, ornamentation that takes me on a journey when drawing. There are many times I do not know where I am going and the pen leads. Kind of like life, may I say? There are times I do not know where I am going but I am still moving.
So images, such as burlesque, costumes, jewelry, tiaras, just love tiaras.
As a dancer as well as a traditional artist, to what extent do you feel the one influences the other, either way? Do you prefer one to the other, and if so, why?
I often say that the discipline of dance mirrors the discipline of art. Both ask for a strong foundation to be able to create. Choreography and drawing are much alike to me. I show up to the floor or paper and start. I am not one who does a great deal of preparation when it is my own creation in either discipline. If I do prepare it often includes the music which moves me to create a particular step or sequence. And with art, I have thousands of tear sheets, and when starting a drawing I sit for as long as it takes going through image after image until I am inspired to put something to paper. That is my preparation.
However, when I am doing a commission or illustration there is the necessary prep to complete the project. These are two different worlds and they exercise different parts of my creative brain.
I love both art and dance equally and I am so grateful that I have both. Can you have two loves? Yes?
After seeing a list of artist’s studios online, and seeing little connection between the state of the workspace and the finished art, I’ve been curious to know how other artists choose to surround themselves when they work. Can you tell us a little about your workspace, where, when, and how you work best? What’s your usual working process, from conception to finished piece?
I am currently blessed to have my own art studio. When doing the original drawings I have surrounding me my pens, papers and whatever else I need. I like to have everything I need at arm’s length.
Like I mentioned before, I go through tear sheets or photographs until I “get it”. Then I just start.
Okay, here is a funny thing. I am often asked how I start my drawings. If I am doing a figurative drawing, I start with the nose. Don’t ask because I could not possibly answer.
You’ve recently begun exploring the possibilities of digital art. What made you want to get into that aspect of art, and how do you find the differences between working traditionally and working digitally? Do you feel as if your future may lie more in that direction? How about the future of art more generally?
Oh, I am falling in love again. I take my mostly black and white original images, scan them, and then color them digitally. It is like revisiting my love for coloring books. All those squiggly lines scream for a color. There is something so satisfying. When finished they are completely different images.
I feel my next step is more illustration work. I love both the creative journey that is my personal work and the creative structure of a commission or an illustration assignment.
The future of art? I worked as an art educator in a Museum for almost 13 years and during that time the world changed dramatically. In the years I was at the Museum, 9/11, the 2008 Recession and the burgeoning of the digital world took place. All three have had a direct effect on the art world.
I could go on, but I won’t.
Finally, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given regarding the artistic life, and what piece of advice would you pass on to new artists?
Just do it! Stay humble and stay in a beginner’s mind. Be flexible. Have a plan B, just in case.
I hope my work comes across with a bit of an ironic smile. I do not take myself too seriously.
Be grateful that you are gifted with the desire to create and work that brain. I am and I do.