Collaborative Calm Behind the Carnival
View Cheryl Gross and Marta Wapiennik’s work in Vol. IV #7
Artistic collaborations can often be tenuous arrangements, especially when the traditional expectation or practice of the artist is to create alone. However, as Cheryl Gross and Marta Wapiennek, the artists behind Freak Show have shown, collaboration can spark artistic growth and works of vision and depth.
Gross, an artist and professor from Brooklyn, NY, and Wapiennik, an artist who recently graduated from the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts, Cracow, Poland, found each other via the internet. A combination of each artist’s medium, illustration and photography, the resulting book, Freak Show, takes its name from the sideshows that were common practice at circus performances in Gross’ childhood.
Later, the memory of these performances provided a visual language for exploring social decay. Gross recalls, “The first time I attended the circus, I ventured into the sideshow tent. There was a deformed clown doing somersaults in front of this pretty little girl. She was laughing. I, in turn, did not find this funny but sad on many levels.”
In Freak Show, Gross’ carnivalesque and often humorous illustrations appear as graffiti or surreal spirits rising out of Wapiennik’s photographs—familiar images of urban blight: crumbling walls, sidewalks, and littered shores. This tension between the layers of Gross and Wapiennik’s lends to a visually stimulating work:
It was Gross who initially contacted Wapiennik, after admiring some of her photographs on about.me. Wapiennik sent her a photograph and within the same day, Gross had already created the first layered image of Freak Show. Gross says, “I think if one wants to collaborate and be successful, it needs to be easy.”
Despite the distance between them, both Gross and Wapiennik immediately fell into a rhythm. Wapiennik provided texture—background images from her hometown and trips abroad. Gross superimposed illustrations from her previous books and installations The Z Factor and Greetings from Karpland on top. Wapiennik’s photographs, Gross believes, enhance her work by giving it a sense of time and emphasizing their mutual focus on the beauty and verve of a disappearing society.
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