As part of Greater And Grander’s ongoing focus of great artistry in the 21st century, we are highlighting several artists who are making a splash on the art scene. Jane Szabo is a Los Angeles based fine art photographer with an MFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. Her work investigates issues of self and identity. Using self-portraiture and still life as a vehicle to share stories from her life, her work merges her love for fabrication and materials, with conceptual photography. Szabo brings many facets of visual art into her photographic projects, incorporating sculptural, performance and installation elements into her work. Her imagery is often infused with humor and wonder, ingredients that draw the viewer in, inviting them to linger and to have a dialogue with the work, and themselves. Her background in the film industry, creating prop and miniatures for theme parks, and overseeing set construction for film and television, undoubtedly informs her creative process.
Szabo’s work is in the permanent collection of the Los Angeles Museum of Art (LACMA), the Museum of Art & History (MOAH) and her photography has been exhibited widely, including solo shows at the Museum of Art & History in Lancaster, CA, Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, Yuma Fine Art Center in Arizona, and Los Angeles Center for Digital Art. Her work has been included in exhibitions at Oceanside Museum of Art, the Griffin Museum of Photography, The Colorado Center for Photographic Arts, San Diego Art Institute, Los Angeles Center for Photography, Tilt Gallery in Arizona, Houston Center for Photography in Texas, Gallery 825 in Los Angeles, the Kaohsiung International Photographer Exhibition in Taiwan and fotofever in Paris, France.
Her photographs have been featured in many publications and blogs including: The Huffington Post, Lenscratch, Silvershotz, Mono Chroma, Bokeh Bokeh, L’Oeil de la Photographie, F-Stop Magazine, Foto Relevance, Fraction, Your Daily Photo, A Photo Editor, Don’t Take Pictures, Art & Cake, Diversions.
Why did you get into the arts?
From a pretty young age, I knew that I didn’t want a corporate office type job. Deciding to become an artist was a choice to not be chained to a nine to five job wearing business attire.
I was in high school when I decided that the arts made sense for me.
Why did you choose to go to art school?
I got an MFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I picked Art Center because it seemed to be the most structured and demanding program, and I knew I needed to be challenged, and that the formal structure would force me to stay focus and succeed.
I am so happy I got the education I did, when I did. Graduate art school does not teach you how to make art, but teaches you critical thinking. It teaches you how to think about why you are making the work you make, which is exactly what I needed. The critical thinking skills I learned at Art Center have helped me become the artist I am today.
What advice would you give to a prospective student who is applying to art school?
Be willing to learn and think in new ways. Be ready for a lot of hard work. It’s an incredible time to explore and find new ways of working – but don’t become a copycat and mimic the work of your instructors.
My biggest mistake was not networking enough. Take advantage of your peer group and stay connected with them after school. I also think art school is the perfect place to experiment. Don’t come into school with a perceived way of working and a rigid mind set. Be open to change!
What difficulties did you encounter?
I was really young when I went to grad school. That was good for me as I had the energy to do school, and the day job. But, I really didn’t have the depth of knowledge about the art world and contemporary art that is gained through experience. This artistic immaturity made it more difficult for me to comfortably enter the gallery scene after grad school.
What did you do after art school? Did you have trouble finding work when you first got out?
I actually started working in a job in the film industry the second semester of grad school… and kept working through the entire degree program – it enabled me to pay my rent, insurance and food, which was a huge help. Working during grad school may be too much for some, but it actually helped keep me sane.
What was the first large artistic project you worked on that you were proud of?
One of the first big projects I worked on, shortly after graduate school, was building and painting props for Euro Disney (now called Disneyland Paris). Though this was not my personal fine art, it was a period of intense creativity and learning, as I made things by hand: molding making and sculpting, making objects out of brass using old school sheet metal techniques, and scenic painting detailed props for close up viewing. I am still very proud of this work today.
When I first got out of grad school, the main goal was to earn a living. I was making my personal art at the time as well, but paying the bills meant that my creativity focused on my day job as a prop maker and scenic painter. This work was extremely satisfying, challenging, and fulfilling.
When did you decide to stop working for free?
Fortunately, other than one short internship with a graphic designer during college (a great way to learn I did NOT want to be a graphic designer!) and a short film I helped a grad school instructor with, I have never had to work for free.
I do not believe in working for free, or on spec. My time is valuable. That said, I do volunteer my time to assist workshops and events for my favorite non-profit organizations.
What are you currently working on, and how did you arrive here?
I am developing a new project, involving custom constructions that I photograph in various interior and exterior environments during my frequent travels. Over the last few years, I have been dealing with elderly parents out of state. We just moved them for a third time in two years. After selling their home, and the constant struggle to find the right assisted living place to keep them comfortable and safe, I am thinking a lot about place, and where we find ourselves. This new work seeks to address this sense of loss, and the search to find oneself.
What’s the biggest thing you depend on, in your studio?
I recently moved to a larger studio, and just having space to breathe is so essential! When I was in a smaller space, I spent too much time moving things around so I would have space to work. Now I can walk in to a clear space, with tables etc. up and ready to go. Of course, my large format printer is critical to my process. In addition to building all my props, making my photographs, I do all my own printing. Having the artistic control over the finished product is essential to me, as well as the ability to generate prints as soon as I need them.
Did you ever pay for a program that promised big results to help further your career, but it never delivered?
There are so many “opportunities” that offer big results, for up-front fees – and you really do need to be careful. But that said, sometimes it is essential to invest in your career. I have participated in many workshops and portfolio reviews, and yes, they do come at a cost. Have they all had immediate rewards? Definitely not – but, most of them have indeed been incredibly worthwhile, and have really helped my career development. Building relationships in the art world takes time. I have had opportunities arise many years after an initial contact at a paid event. I have no regrets about the opportunities I have pursued.
I try to do advance research and learn about the event or venue before jumping on board. This helps me avoid wasting time with questionable opportunities.
If an event isn’t as successful as you had hoped, maybe due to low turnout or no sales, you do the right thing and thank the host for including you. Be polite. This event may have been a dud, but the person who invited you may have a much better opportunity down the road. No need to have a temper tantrum and burn bridges. Behave professionally and treat everyone with respect.
Did you ever embarrass yourself in a job interview?
Haven’t we all felt that we wish we had performed better, responded more appropriately to a question, etc.? Now my motto is to just be myself. If they don’t like me the way I am, then we are not a good fit.
What’s been the highest point of your career so far?
Without a doubt, having a work purchased by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) last year for their permanent collection was the high point!
What kind of networking works best for you?
I don’t think clubs are really where it is at for career development – but I have certainly have had amazing opportunities and sales come through networking and even social media. Advancing your art career is all about building relationships!
I would first start networking by getting involved in your local non-profit arts organizations. Volunteer your time to help out at their events and you will start meeting other artists and people involved in the art world.
If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?
I am not sure I would change a thing! Even though I have some regret that I had to take a long chunk of time off of making art to make a living, I know that time was spent learning practical construction, business management and interpersonal skills that are invaluable to my career as an independent artist today.
What motto do you try to live your life by?
Just be nice! Be a nice person, help others, share your knowledge, and build community. This way of living gives back in so many ways!
Where’s your favorite place in Los Angeles?
The foothills! Escaping from the city is the only way I can stay here. Though I have a studio space at the Brewery in downtown LA – I find I am making much of my work in my home, nestled in the foothills. I have set up an art table in front of my big living room window where I can watch the birds and other wildlife scamper around in front of me. Being amidst nature is important to my happiness.
What are your future goals?
Now, I have been able to reduce my hours at the day job, and focus almost exclusively on my career as an artist, I am dedicated to pushing my work and my career forward. The primary goal is to make fresh and compelling work. I strive to get this work out into the world, on a national and an international level.
Jane Szabo is represented by:
Foto Relevance Gallery, Houston, TX. https://www.artsy.net/foto-relevance/artist/jane-szabo
Susan Spiritus Gallery, Irvine, CA http://susanspiritusgallery.com/artist/jane-szabo/
United Photographic Artists Gallery, Tampa, FL. http://upagallery.com/artist-jane-szabo/