Digital Designers

Creatives of NY // Entry #005 // Nicasia Solano-Reed // Painter, Multimedia Artist, and Designer

On June 12th, 2018, I met up with Nicasia in Alphabet City. A near and dear friend of mine, we had both loved Alphabet City during our first year at Joffrey, visiting the community gardens in summer 2013 to find an escape from the gray concrete of the city's sidewalks and to discover an oasis of greenery grown by residents of the neighborhood. As living legacies of the squatter movement in Lower East Side of the 1980's, these vibrant gardens set the stage perfectly for Nicasia's portrait session. 

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Nicasia: As an artist or as a person?

Allison: Both is fine... how you started out.

Nicasia: I was born in Detroit, and I grew up in a town called Ypsilanti, which is currently being called "the Brooklyn of Michigan". I grew up studying piano and opera and ballet, and I moved to New York when I was 16 to study ballet full-time. I did ballet here for a couple of years, and then I danced in Texas for a little bit, and then I moved back to NYC and I stopped dancing. Now I work at a yoga studio and I do graphic design and visual art. In my spare time I hang out with my cat that I rescued and I enjoy dog-watching. 

Allison: What is your preferred medium as an artist? 

Nicasia: That's a difficult question because I feel like I've dabbled in every single medium that a person could possibly just experiment in, so... I've been in bands. I've been a dancer. I've taken classes in painting, and I've done pottery, but what I really love is multimedia visual art, so I'll create something maybe on Illustrator or Photoshop or InDesign, and then I'll print it out and maybe I'll paint on it and re-scan it, or I'll create something that is maybe just with paint or just with pencil, and then I'll upload it and change the colors and change the contrast or layer it with something else that I've already done, so that is definitely my favorite medium. I'm really into digital stuff right now. 

Allison: What made you decide to pursue art?

Nicasia: I never thought there was another option for me. When I started dancing, I just knew that I was going to be a dancer, ever since I was five, and it just never occurred to me that there was something else that I could do with my life. My hero as a kid was Frida Kahlo, just because she was so strange and I was so strange, and I was just obsessed with the idea that a person could just paint and be themselves for a living. In high school, I started to do some graphic design classes and interior design classes, and I realized that I really really really loved visual art. I knew that if I was going to stop dancing, I was going to keep art incorporated in some way or another, because that's the only way I feel really fulfilled as a person. 

Allison: What fascinates and inspires you to create? 

Nicasia: I'm always pushed by wanting to do more, like I've always had this hunger to evolve my art and not be stagnant, so that kind of inspires me to create and see what else is out there and also see what else I can do and to see which mediums I can further my knowledge of and my skills within. I used to be really inspired by New York - it was like my baby. It was all my inspiration, but since I've lived here for six years I sometimes feel like it's inhibiting because it's so chaotic and it's so loud. It can just be a lot. I'm also really inspired by the people around me, so I've done a lot of art of my partner and his house; I draw inspiration from a lot of places - I'm trying to think of pieces I've done lately and what they look like. It really just depends - it's not anything in particular.

Allison: Who are your favorite artists and how have they impacted your work? 

Nicasia: So, Frida Kahlo, number one. Number two, Yoko Ono, just because the mediums she has spanned across are just unbelievable and she's just so weird and so herself and she's done so much politically, and she's just this fixture of art and of New York, and I think the world would be so empty without her. I'm also a huge fan of Matisse just because the way he uses colors is otherworldly and the way he puts together compositions is unbelievable. I'm also really into Laura Owens right now, and I saw her exhibition at the Whitney and was just so blown away by the magnitude of everything she was doing, and how colorful it was and how, I don't want to say "whimsical" because it makes it seem shallow, but it was just so beautiful and fun to look at. She also does a lot of multimedia stuff. 

Allison: What role do you think art should play in society? 

Nicasia: I feel like more than ever, art is not valued enough because it's being taken out of schools and it's not being funded by the government. There's just a lot of difficult things about it. Since we live in such a corporate society, it's difficult to find a place for art when it doesn't make any money. What I have been trying to do with graphic design recently is offer it as a volunteer basis thing just so you can raise awareness over issues through art. I guess in society it's such a therapeutic thing, and it should be accessible to all kids and adults; that's how I coped with being depressed and having a lot of mental health problems as a kid, through art, because it was such a solitary and cathartic thing that was just so personal. I was lucky I had the resources to do that. We live in such a frustrating climate - I think that it is a source of joy and of creation. I think it should be more accessible to everybody, especially outside of cities like New York and Chicago.

Allison: What is your relationship between ideas of self and your art?

Nicasia: I recently had to do a project for school that was kind of a Chuck Close interpretation of my face, and I generally don't like to include myself in my art at all, but it was this really wonderful experience to have to literally analyze every single corner of my face to go in this grid-like design - it was so cool to be able to break down myself into that many different increments and 137 different shades of skin. It made me view using myself in my art in a totally different way - it doesn't have to be narcissistic - it's just more about exploration. I've never been one to put too much of myself into my art, because I worry if my emotions don't come through properly, it just looks kind of sad and pathetic, so I'm more aesthetically-oriented than emotionally-oriented, and I think a lot of my stuff can be cold... maybe not necessarily cold, but it's not super personal. I kind of keep my shit on its own side."

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an artist in New York City? 

Nicasia: I guess my favorite thing, especially as a student, is that I get into MoMA for free - I get into the Whitney for free. I live down the street from the Met and the Guggenheim, and if I have wanted to see something, I can just walk down the street and go see it, and just the amount of art that is so accessible is just crazy, and it doesn't exist anywhere else. A lot of the professors and the people I know are also artists, and because they live in New York they have gotten to do all this really amazing stuff and just sort of having those connections so easily accessible is really cool, and I know that I wouldn't be able to experience that if I was still living in Michigan (or in Austin even). All of my friends here are artists - some are dancers and musicians and comic book artists, and it's just so cool to be able to feed off of that energy in a community that fosters it so fully. I don't love New York right now. What I don't love about being an artist here is that it seems so unattainable a lot of times. I stopped dancing because I wasn't making any money, and the good news about visual art is that it's not as time-consuming as dance, and I don't have to focus on that for my source of income. It's good and it's bad; ideally it would be my source of income, but it's fine that it's not. Also the city's wearing on me because it's so chaotic that it can be hard to sit down and be quiet and focus on what you really wanna make because there's 8,000 other things that you should be doing or you have to do at any given moment, and I feel like that chaos kind of inhibits me from creating as much as I would like. Also I'm poor. 

Allison: What advice would you give for somebody hoping to move to New York City to pursue art?

Nicasia: I would advise that people come here with very very thick skin, and to just enjoy the honeymoon period of it, because that's so important - the first three years that I lived here I loved it, and it really helped me be the best person that I could be. Keep your head on straight about it, because it's not like some magical place where all your dreams are gonna come true, but it's a solid place to find yourself and find you footing. I guess just enjoy the time while you really really love it. That'll hold you over when you really don't love it. 

Allison: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

Nicasia: Actually as an artist it's been interesting to transition from being a dancer into something that's a little bit more unknown. While it's been really scary to go back to school for something that I've not been really familiar with because I haven't been in school for a long time, being brave enough to take that leap into something else has been one of the most gratifying experiences in my life. Just being able to re-group and just take that risk to find a new identity as an artist has been the coolest thing. People shouldn't be afraid to do that, and if people want to recreate themselves they should absolutely do that: there's no sense in doing something just because that's what you know. 

You can visit Nicasia's website here.

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on Polaroid 600 film

Nicasia on Polaroid 600 film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on FP-100C Silk

Nicasia on FP-100C Silk

Nicasia on FP-100C Silk

Nicasia on FP-100C Silk

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Creatives of NY // Entry #002 // Cecily Lo: Designer and Filmmaker

Cecily and I go way back; in the summer of 2011 we attended Joffrey Ballet School's Jazz and Contemporary Summer Intensive together. After we both graduated college, we both found ourselves living in NYC. Myself, as a photographer, and Cecily as a designer and filmmaker, but both of us remained intertwined in the world of dance, exploring choreography and meeting in the fall to have a discussion about the choreographic process. When deciding where to photograph Cecily for this project, we both knew the location shouldn't be picturesque - Cecily's work is raw and human, and I felt these images should be focused more heavily on expression rather than scenery. I decided we should shoot at night in the Lower East Side. I had never shot on film before at nighttime, but I think the images we captured turned out quite great. Check the photographs along with Cecily's interview below. 

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Cecily: I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and went to Tufts University in Boston for college. I studied computer science. In high school I really thought I wanted to study engineering, so I applied to the engineering school at Tufts. Halfway through college I said, "Wait a second. I don't actually really want to do engineering." I just sort of felt a little bit pressured into that. So I stuck with my major and I self-studied a lot. Tufts has a partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, so I took a lot of design classes there. Now I live in New York - I've been living here for about a year, and I'm a freelance video artist and digital designer just trying to find my way in this big world. 

Allison: So how did you get into videography, filmmaking, and design?

Cecily: I came from a pre-professional dance background in grade school in high school, mostly in modern, ballet, and jazz. In college I was in an extracurricular dance company called Sarabande Dance Ensemble where I started choreographing and I became really into that and very serious about it within my school company context. From there I started filming myself dancing and would create little montages or short films, pair it with music, and sort of create a video piece out of it. That developed into a more artistic approach my senior year. I knew some people who curated independent art shows in the Boston area, and I started creating video art, movement-based pieces for that. The exhibition's called Polykhroma, and so through that I really found a voice with video art and dance film and performance art. Through a lot of self-studying, through freelance work, and through internships I honed my skills in video production. 

Allison: What other artists, either from your medium or other mediums, inspire you? 

Cecily: So I've always really been inspired by net art. Some specifics, Molly Soda, Petra Collins, Signe Pierce recently... in terms of aesthetic, I follow a lot of CGI artists and 3-D artists with holographic aesthetics. Signe Pierce is one of them, Jess Audrey Lynn, Nicole Ruggiero... a lot of Instagram names. They do more 3-D modeling, which I've always been interested in. It's kind of a very steep learning curve, but their general aesthetic I really like. 

Allison: What are some of the inspirations and influences behind your work?

Cecily: I think coming from a choreography background, and that a lot of my early work was self-portraiture and filming myself, a lot of my work is inspired by my body and my personal depictions of my body and how the outside world perceives my body versus how I perceive my own body. I think body image and bodily autonomy and how that intersects with social constraints or expectations has been kind of a fundamental underlying tone of my work. I'm just going to be open about it - I've struggled with eating disorders and body image issues in the past especially with my dance background. It sort of was a way for me to take that anxiety and that internal struggle and deal with it and also create something out of it. I feel better about myself now, but whether that's causation or correlation, I don't know. 

Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?

Cecily: One of the first professors I had through the Museum of Fine Arts, her name is Sophie Hodara... she was one of the first people who really convinced me to pursue something artistic and creative, and she gave me this confidence and reassurance that maybe this isn't just a dumb hobby or something I do on the side. There may be a future in this. She helped me with my first portfolio - this was when I was taking beginning graphic design. I think before then, it was my high school dance company director. Her name is Helen Hayes, and honestly, in elementary and middle school I wasn't dancing seriously. It was a recreational, few times a week thing, and then I on a whim choreographed for a youth choreography showcase that she was one of the judges for. She actually reached out to me after and asked me if I would audition for her youth company, and she ended up being one of my greatest mentors in high school and really helped me develop this creative voice originally through choreography, which then blossomed into something else. She was really the first person who told me, "Hey, you actually are pretty good at this." 

Allison: Use three words to describe your style of art.

Cecily: Glitchy... Dreamlike... Shiny. 

Allison: What's the most rewarding part of your medium?

Cecily: I think it's a way that really connects a lot of different aesthetics and aspects and things that I like. What I mean by that is that I've always loved music... I'm not a musician by any means, but I'm also a dancer, I'm also a choreographer. I am very moving-image based, and I do love film, movies, TV, and entertainment in general. I feel like it's a very natural and interesting way to put music and movement and images together. 

Allison: What is your relationship between ideas of self and your art? 

Cecily: I think that a lot of my art is autobiographical. Most of the themes come from personal struggles or personal stories that I've experienced. I think it's hard to create art that doesn't come from something somewhat personal, and I strongly believe that if you haven't really experienced it, unless you do tons and tons of research, it's really hard to accurately portray a message about what you are trying to say. I think it comes from a somewhat... "fraudulent" isn't the right word, but it's difficult. For me, it's always easiest to go back to what I know personally. That being said, I have a ton of respect for directors and artists who do communicate other peoples' stories in a respectful and accurate way. I think that's really hard, and it's something that I'm not necessarily that good at, which is why I try to stick to the personal. 

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an artist in New York City? 

Cecily: My favorite thing is the creative freedom - I was working at a digital ad agency a little bit ago, and while I loved working there and while I loved working on the creative production team, at the end of the day they weren't my ideas - I was selling a message. I was selling someone else's message, and to have complete liberty over your own message I think is the most rewarding part. The worst part is when no one ever wants to pay you. I don't know - that's kind of a cop-out answer, but it does suck. I think this isn't really New York-based, but it's kind of a personal thing. I hope my parents never read this interview... they support me and they're proud of me and want to see me succeed, but I think fundamentally they don't really understand what I do. I wish that they did. I can't ask them to, but it's a little bit of a "Dang, maybe if I were just a software engineer who worked for Google" they would get it more. I remember showing them a piece that I made with one of my friends: he directed it and I danced in it, and I helped edit it. It was about mental illness and sort of suicide, or this internal self versus your external self within the lens of mental illness. I remember showing it to my parents and they thought it was supposed to be funny, and I was like, "That's not quite right," and they obviously didn't mean to hurt me or hurt my feelings, but I was like, "Oh... that's a bad take." I can't really blame them; I don't think they grew up in an artistically-enriching lifestyle like I have, but that was hard for sure. 

Allison: Where do you see yourself heading with your art? What direction are you hoping to go in? 

Cecily: I'm in the process of applying for grad school. I'm looking at commercial film and production-based programs, like directing and such. I feel like I'd like to get the more commercial side under my belt, and I feel like that would really help diversify my strengths and hone my narrative voice. Past that, I don't know. I can see myself working on and directing music videos, which is something I've begun to delve into. In a way that feels very comfortable and at-home for me based on music, dance, entertainment, video... all that. 

Allison: How does your dance background influence your work with film?

Cecily: I think that whenever I listen to music I pretty much always imagine movement going along with it, or I move along to it - it's ingrained in me. I think it's easier for me to see a dynamic arc or how music ebbs and flows in a movement-based or image-based way, just from dancing and choreographing. I think in a way, producing a short film that's set to music, which is often what I do, is the video equivalent of choreographing a piece, and I tend to view my approach in the same way. 

You can follow Cecily on Instagram here. 

You can view Cecily's website here.

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on Polaroid 600 film

Cecily Lo on Polaroid 600 film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm

Cecily Lo on 35mm

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film