The playful side of art

Story by Thom Fountain

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“There’s a stereotype for the really depressed, starving artist, but still there’s so much joy,” said junior Michelle Chrzanowski. She knows that art serves many purposes – personal reflection, driving home social issues, examing the human psyche – and that each of these purposes is important. Chrzanowski’s projects are aimed to make people happy and inspire creativity in everyone.

“Sometimes people forget that it’s fun and happy to make things,” Chrzanowski said. “So I think that by me creating things that are happy … people might say, ‘I could do that!'”

Chrzanowski, an illustration major from Tomah, Wis., said she didn’t grow up in a particularly arts-centric family but began drawing at a young age, starting with cartoons and characters from some of her favorite television shows.

“Thanks to ‘Sailor Moon,’ I chose art over being an animal doctor or paranormal FBI agent …, my two previous job choices when I was little,” Chrzanowski said in a follow-up e-mail with The Spectator.

After becoming more involved in illustration throughout middle and high school, Chrzanowski chose UW-Eau Claire to pursue a degree in art education. She said she chose Eau Claire for its small, but tight knit and intelligent faculty, as well as the city’s bike culture and arts community. Another factor that drew her to the Chippewa Valley was that Eau Claire was the only UW System school to offer an illustration emphasis for art majors, which Chrzanowski switched to after her first semester.
The Innovator
Chrzanowski is certainly embedding herself in the arts community that drew her to Eau Claire to begin with. She has collaborated on many projects, including co-founding the blog We Are Friends, designing posters for the literary magazine NOTA and submitting a collaborative video project with senior Kaleb Durocher to the Student Juried Art Show, which was accepted and displayed at the Foster Art Gallery this semester.
Durocher said he likes Chrzanowski’s illustration because she gives the viewers credit and doesn’t need to explain her work.

Most of Chrzanowski’s projects center around inspiring others by showing them the lighthearted side of art. Chrzanowski is president of the Art Students Association and organizes events for the group. ASA recently paired up with Eau Claire art blog We Are Friends to make a large textile snake, which was installed at Infinitea Tea House, 112 W. Grand Ave. She said it’s exciting to see students who have never displayed their work get a chance to do so.

“Again, it’s promoting creativity and feeling really positive about making things,” Chrzanowski said.

We Are Friends was started by Chrzanowski and Durocher earlier this year as an open forum for friends to post their work online. In a previous interview with The Spectator, Chrzanowski said the blog could serve as a way for current students to keep in touch with each other as they graduate and move away. The blog also serves as a way to encourage artists by displaying their work for the world to see.
The Traveler
Chrzanowski has been doing plenty of work outside of the university as well. She uses the photo networking website Flickr to connect with other artists around the U.S. and the world. Since joining Flickr, Chrzanowski has been following certain artists who consistently produce work that catches her eye. Recently, she has been able to do collaborative drawings with Garrett Young of Louisiana and Ines Estrada of Mexico, with each artist starting a sketch and sending it on to the other to finish.
“It’s mostly (helpful in) broadening your creative friends, both locally in Eau Claire in the Art department and on the Internet,” Chrzanowski said.
The Local
Durocher has collaborated with Chrzanowski on a variety of projects, including We Are Friends, posters for the NOTA publication and, most recently, a stop-motion animation. Durocher said he enjoys working with Chrzanowski, especially on the animation project, because she is dedicated to putting in the hours needed to take on larger projects.
“Creatively, she’s not afraid to pursue things,” Durocher said. “She rarely judges anything before working on it.”

Chrzanowski said seeing and working with artists such as Durocher and Young is extremely motivating because of their great output.

“They’re all like your age …,” Chrzanowski said. “They’re just young kids who cannot help but make stuff.”
The Medium
Although Chrzanowski has experience in most classic mediums, she says drawing is still her “bread and butter.”
Most recently, Chrzanowski has begun working on posters for NOTA, ASA and local band Farms. She said the use of type and imagery is interesting to work with.

Chrzanowski takes a unique perspective on posters. Instead of illustrating what the event will entail, she instead tries to capture the fun and enjoyment of being at the event, even if it’s through whimsical characters dancing and playing.

Chrzanowski feels this is a better way to attract attention to the posters and, in turn, to the event being promoted.

Another one of Chrzanowski’s passions is zines. Zines are handmade booklets usually produced in small batches. They are like magazines, but more personal, Chrzanowski said.

“It’s personal for you making it because you put down everything personal,” Chrzanowski said. “But it’s personal for everyone who gets it … because they each have their own copy.”
The Future
There’s no end in sight to Chrzanowski’s creativity and involvement in the local and online arts communities. She’s already looking to projects to start in the future.
Chrzanowski hopes to open her house to student art shows and make it a gathering place for local artists. She already has plans for a collaboration with Farms keyboardist Ben Larson doing a screenprinted book and will continue making posters.

Chrzanowski said there’s space in the house, and these gallery shows in her house would makes sense.

“I just love people and art and just wanting to promote my friends …,” Chrzanowski said. “Why not have people see them?”

Check out Michelle’s work at:
www.flickr.com/photos/gingerpocket
www.wearefriends.us

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