Category Archives: Artist

Art is life for Iran’s Tooba Rezaei

When Tooba Rezaei picks up her pencil, she feels her sense of purpose. For her, art is much more than simply making something pretty. Art is about creating. It is a sense of escapism for both herself and the people that see her work. Every single thing she paints or draws tells a story, whether it is abstract or not. She shares herself with the world with each stroke of her paint brush, and is not afraid by this notion. Originally from Iran, Rezaei captivated her country with her talent, and now, she is taking the world by storm.

As both an artist and an animator, Rezaei’s work is both stylistic and intricate. In animation, she is a leader in the field. Her award-winning contributions to SilverFit, a virtual therapy system to train gross motor skills and ADL tasks during rehabilitation sessions or supervised exercise programs specifically for older people, revolutionized the company. After having the roles of background designer, background painter, character designer and character animator, her style was adopted by the company for all of their future endeavors. She even ventured into filmmaking with her animated short A Sweet Dream, which tells the bitter-sweet allegorical look at the desires of little girl who wants the world to see her talents shine through the difficulties of her life. The film went on to win several awards at many prestigious international film festivals, and Rezaei’s versatility was known to the world.

Despite this success, it was her work as a visual artist that started Rezaei’s career, and where her passion that she has had since her childhood lies. Her creations have seen public praise, and she was even selected to paint a display for Westland City Hall in Holland. The painting, titled Variety and Unity, displays symbols from various countries and cultures incorporated into Rezaei’s own style. It has gone on to receive acclaim not just from the employees of the City Hall, but all those who see it.

“Without art, life would be very hard for me,” said Rezaei.

Rezaei’s artwork has garnered so much attention throughout her career that she has been published in several books. One of these was the book Gods and Goddesses, published by Michael Publishing. The book contains 126 paintings from 23 different mythologies, as selected by the participating artists. Each mythology is arranged with a summary write-up of the culture and followed by the subject write up of the painting, artist’s biography and artist’s discussion of the art; the facing page displays the painting. Each artist had to select a god from ancient mythology to portray in their work. Rezaei’s work, titled Anahita, is in the Gods and Goddesses gatefold of the book.

Rezaei was contacted by the owner of Michael Publishing, Michael C. Phifer, to participate in the book. Very few artists were selected by the publisher. As the artwork started to come in, Phifer immediately recognized Rezaei’s style in her piece. He believes her work greatly improved the quality of his entire book, directly contributing to its commercial success.

Tooba made an incredible painting for the book, and it is easily one of my very top favorites of all them. The color pallet is exquisite; the pose is tantalizing and the image is breathtaking,” said Phifer. “Tooba delivered a knockout piece well ahead of our deadline and it was one of the pieces that helped inspire other artists raise their game. Her piece delivers a very sensual feeling without being blatantly sexy. That is a difficult thing to do and do well. Craftsmanship is an art form in itself that is partly learned and partly instinctive. Tooba is a craftsman.”

Rezaei was also selected to create a piece for the book Inner Vision. The Inner Vision book is made for the Inner Visions show called Contemporary Imaginative Realism at the Abend Gallery in Denver. Rezaei’s painting Anahita shows the ancient Iranian Goddess of water and fertility. It was displayed in both the show and the book, and was a great honor for the artist.

She was also selected to create a piece for The Journal, a collection of masterful international artists from various genres and industries. This book goes beyond a simple art description, as it reveals the creative process and genius of each of the artists themselves. Rezaei was contacted by Jon Schindehette, the owner of ArtOrder to participate. ArtOrder is curator of fine limited edition prints for Beautimarks, educator with Bethany School Applied Arts, and creative director for ThinkGeek Denver and GameStop. Schindehette has more than 30 years of experience in the creative industry and has worked for such companies and brands as: Disney, Fox Entertainment, Warner Brothers, Hasbro, Wizards of the Coast, Harley-Davidson, Microsoft, Kodak, Price Waterhouse, Atari, Activision, Sony Entertainment, Bioware, Bethesda SoftWorks, Crystal Dynamics, and many more. He clearly recognizes an exceptional artist when he sees one, and he saw that in Rezaei.

“I am so honored that my artwork has been published next to all the amazing artists in the industry, such as Ian McCaig, who is an artist, writer and filmmaker. He was involved in the Star Wars franchise and many other iconic film and book projects,” said Rezaei, when speaking of being published in The Journal. “Seeing my work printed next to wonderful artists whose work I admire is a great feeling.”

With the book Spectrum 24, the selection process worked a bit differently for Rezaei than in the past. Previously, she created a specific piece for each book she was published in. However, with Spectrum 24, Rezaei submitted a piece she had previously created from her imagination for her own enjoyment. Only after finishing the piece did she think to submit her work to the book’s contest. Among thousands of entries, her piece was one the few artworks that was selected by the judges.

The book is part of the best-selling Spectrum series, which continued with this twenty-fourth lavishly produced annual. Challenging, controversial, educational, and irreverent, the award-winning Spectrum series reinforces both the importance and prevalence of fantastic art in today’s culture. With exceptional images by extraordinary creators, this elegant full-color collection showcases an international cadre of creators working in every style and medium, both traditional and digital. The best artists from the United States, Europe, China, Australia, South America and beyond were gathered into the only annual devoted exclusively to works of fantasy, horror, science fiction, and the surreal, making Spectrum one of the year’s highly most anticipated books. Rezaei’s artwork Sunset at the Dragon Breeder’s Castle was recognized by the judges as one of the best. These judges included Christian Alzmann, who has worked as an art director on numerous film projects including Star Wars, Star Trek, Pirates of Caribbean, and more.

“It is very important to have your work published as an artist, especially being published alongside among other famous artists. People who already know these artists see their artwork next to mine and they realize that my work is at the level of these other artists. Familiarity and notoriety are very important for an artist. They are a big part of how much work an artist gets and how much recognition they receive,” Rezaei advised.

There is little doubt that Rezaei is one of the world’s most talented contemporary artists right now. Be sure to check out the aforementioned books to get a glimpse into her extraordinary style.

 

Cover Image “Sunset at the Breeder’s Castle” by Tooba Rezaei, featured in Spectrum 24

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Art Director Hanna Petersson creates visual spectacle for Samsung

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Hanna Petersson

When Hanna Petersson sits down at her desk, ready to take on a new art project, she doesn’t simply decide what looks good. As an art director, an appealing design is only a small aspect of what makes her work extraordinary. She has to design everything with her client in mind, thinking of end goals and the brand’s message. It is much more than artistry, it is intelligence and savvy, and Petersson embodies all of those things. She is an extremely in demand art director, working with some of the world’s largest companies, and she has no plans on slowing down.

Throughout her esteemed career, Petersson’s artwork has created dynamic advertisements for large brands, most recently Häagen-Dazs, Canon, Pringles, and T.J. Maxx. Her talent has earned her the reputation as one of Sweden’s best art directors; she is known for her creative imagery, and her artwork captivates. Millions across the globe have seen her work and may not have even known it. This is exemplified when she took on a project for Samsung, one of the largest and most well-known companies in the world. Working with WorkShop in Stockholm, Petersson took on the visual development and concept illustrations for the Samsung retail experience, called Experience Zone, which was a three-month installation at the three largest train stations in Sweden; Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo. She worked on the concept development of these pop ups and also created imagery used in the pop up to drive foot traffic. The Experience Zones attracted more than 200,000 people that came to look at the new Samsung products and interact with them.

“Samsung is one of the leading technology companies in the world, because they are not afraid to test things that have never been done before and they really embrace innovation to bring their brand and products further. They are a joy to work with because they understand that in order to really create the best experiences with their products, they need to trust in the creatives who work on developing campaigns and promotions for them. This makes for a great client-creative relationship, which is a good recipe for success,” said Petersson.

Initially, Samsung was looking for a way to promote their new products for the Christmas season, and wanted to target the three largest cities in Sweden. When reaching out to WorkShop, a Swedish company that specializes in branding and marketing for large companies, WorkShop knew Petersson was the right person for the job. She and her team immediately began coming up with a wide range of ideas that involved different ways of creating activations around the products. During this whole process, Petersson would bring ideas and also add conceptual sketches that she would then show to Samsung. She would describe the ideas and to get approval by the client to continue with a certain direction of the ideas, and then she started producing a physical space that would be inviting to a passerby, causing them to engage with the Samsung products that would be on display.

“When the creative agency I worked at was going to start this project, I was a part of the concepting team who came up with what the project was going to look like and how it would be possible to execute. The work was a lot of fun and I got a chance to experiment with new ideas and to bring innovative solutions to the table. The project was a great opportunity to really see a project from start to finish and I wanted to be a part of that journey and to make sure that I did everything in my power to make the project as great as possible,” Petersson described.

When Samsung approached WorkShop about the project, they knew they wanted the best team possible to help promote their brand. At the time, Petersson had already worked on a number of projects at the agency, constantly impressing those she worked alongside with her talent for concepting and coming up with innovative ideas even under a tight deadline. When building the Samsung team, Workshop knew Petersson could not only bring great suggestions to the project but also that she is a joy to work with. She also had a skill for putting down concepts and ideas on paper as sketches and illustrations showing exactly what she and the other creatives were imagining, so they knew that she would be a very useful asset to have on the team from day one.

In the end, Petersson’s contributions to the Samsung Experience project were essential to its success. She came up with different activations, ideas and designs for the final product. She consistently had innovative ideas and also produced conceptual illustrations for the ideas showing designs and potential activations. These sketches were used to sell the ideas to Samsung and to make them a reality, by being the guidelines for how the pop up location was built and designed. As the project went live, Petersson also helped with creating new events and designs for the pop up locations, which helped to further bring more people into the Samsung space and to increase sales by making more people try out the products and engage with them in a creative and fun way. This drive once again impressed all she worked with.

“Hanna has worked with several of WorkShop’s clients, including Swedish Match, Samsung and Apoteksgruppen. For Samsung, she participated in the creative process of developing a setup for a pop-up concept that was later realized at the central stations in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo,” said Helena Hammar, Head of Projects & Consulting at WorkShop when Petersson was working with the company. “Hanna was a very valued employee and is solution-oriented, tremendously good at sketching, and has an ability to adapt to the missions at the same time as she has a personal creative expression. Her willingness and ability to take responsibility and to constantly evolve makes her very versatile and strong as a creative.”

Beyond colleagues, Samsung was extremely satisfied with Petersson’s work. Not only did she help increase their sales, she helped engage customers and the model was then carried to other countries. Petersson then worked on another project for Samsung, creating illustrations for maps that were used to engage visitors in different stations during the Winter Olympics. Evidently, Petersson is truly an exceptional art director, and she loves every minute of what she does.

“There was so much to enjoy from working with Samsung. Not only did I get to try out new ideas and see them become reality, but I also got a chance to work with some really nice collaborators and to work together to ensure the best possible end product. I very much enjoyed seeing a project through from first day until the end and all the work that went into making it a reality. It was a lot of hard work but it was all worth it and seeing different ideas going from a sketch on a paper to a produced design or activation was incredible. It was really proof of how an innovative idea that I came up with can become reality and actually create value for people and for Samsung,” she concluded.

 

Graphic Designer Suzy van der Velden on becoming industry leader

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Suzy van der Velden

There is a saying in Dutch that goes “Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg” that roughly translates to “Just act normal, then you’re already silly enough.” Suzy van der Velden has always embraced this mentality. Originally from the small town of Limmen in the Netherlands, she had a passion for creating in a place where there was not a lot of arts and culture. Despite this, van der Velden could not hold back her desire to create, and her artistic instincts quickly took hold. From a young age, she would sit behind her desk and draw, and slowly drawing transformed into design.

Now, van der Velden is a leading Dutch graphic designer. She is internationally sought-after working with some of the world’s biggest brands. However, she did not always know graphic design would be where her creative predisposition would lead her. From the time she was a young teenager, van der Velden found herself interested in fashion. However, it was not until her work with the Dutch company Oilily that van der Velden realized she could combine her interests.

“I see myself as a problem solver. More than anything I’m trying to find an aesthetically pleasing solution, through the use of all sorts of media, to solve a problem or need. I have talks with myself whenever I’m working on something on how to achieve the best result. One day nothing might happen and the solution seems far away, and the next day it just pops in my head and I know exactly how to handle something. In my work, I don’t tend to stick to one type of media so I’m constantly learning and thinking of new ways to come to innovative results. Often it feels like my job is all about balance and how to reach that balance. Next to the technical side of things I hope my work as a graphic designer adds that extra joy or connection to a product,” she said.

During her time at Oilily, van der Velden quickly rose up the ladder, impressing both customers and colleagues with her talent. She designed a wide range of artwork for both the Women’s, Kids, and Toddler lines. She worked to bring the themes alive through allovers prints, placement graphics, embroideries, engineered prints and trims. She was also a part of both the ‘Oilily Summer of Love’ and the Fall collections that were shown at the Amsterdam Fashion Week of 2009.

It wasn’t long after this when van der Velden’s reputation became extremely reputable in her home country, and she went to work at sporting wear brand O’Neill. O’Neill is originally Californian surf wear and surfboard brand started in 1952 by Jack O’Neill. The company produces wetsuits, performance water and snow sports inspired apparel for young adults. The products are distributed internationally to 86 countries worldwide.

While with the iconic company, van der Velden managed all the artwork that included swimwear, active wear, lifestyle and snow wear. She was part of a global design team that created art that would be placed on products throughout the entire world. She directed and groomed lower level designers to grow and enhance their skills. She also took on the highly important role of emphasizing the importance of making unique artwork for specific regions around the globe some including Australia, Japan and Germany, helping to increase sales in these countries with her work.

“Suzy was part of the creative team, where she was responsible for all the graphics, allover patterns and presentations for each new seasonal collection for the women’s, swim, apparel and snow line. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with Suzy, and came to know her a as a truly valuable asset to absolutely any team. She is an incredibly hard worker, honest and dependable. Beyond that she is a very inspiring, creative person who always delivers the results. Along with her undeniable talent, Suzy was always an absolute joy to work with. Her knowledge of sportswear and casual wear, and her expertise on creating artworks from scratch, her color use and feel and her skill-set on printing technique were all huge contributions. She is very independent and always had a secret box of unexpected, new and original ideas,” said Mareine van Beek, Senior Designer Swim/Lifestyle Women & Girls at O’Neill.

After years of creating dynamic imagery for O’Neill, van der Velden caught the attention of Lululemon, a Canadian athletic apparel retailer. It is a yoga-inspired athletic apparel company and a designer and retailer of technical athletic apparel. The company makes a number of different types of athletic wear, including performance shirts, shorts, and pants, as well as lifestyle apparel and yoga accessories. It is extremely popular around the world, and working for the company was the highlight of van der Velden’s esteemed career.

After being headhunted for the role, van der Velden moved from the Netherlands to Vancouver to work for the brand, helping them revolutionize their look. With the company’s shift to reach a more youthful and progressive demographic, van der Velden’s versatile skillset came into play. Due to her great artwork and design aesthetic, she works on the global design team as Senior Graphic Designer for both the men’s and women’s divisions. Since her employment, the company has acknowledged the success of her design artwork and has increased her number of designs to grow the overall business. She was also a part of a select design team that traveled to Switzerland to create a small collection in collaboration with Europe’s leading supplier of technical embroideries. On top of this, she was also chosen with an exclusive group to travel to a Lululemon retail store in Toronto to give a detailed product presentation when the first collection with the new aesthetic was launched. The company has grown and advanced in their overall design aesthetic largely due to the success of van der Velden’s artwork and design theory.

Her role with the company is absolutely essential. Not only does she design, she brings on new team members and trains them to follow in her footsteps. For those looking to do so outside of Lululemon, she offers important advice.

“Go for it. It’s hard work, but the joy you get from it pays off. Try and work as free as you can to discover new ways of working. Take a look at other graphic designers if you don’t know where to start and go from there. It’s a very specific job and chances are that if you don’t become the best in your field it might be hard to stay in the game. Therefore, you have to keep practicing and experimenting. See where and how you can push the limits to come to new solutions,” she advised.

And with a career like hers, we can all assume that van der Velden’s guidance will be fruitful.

BEBO’S CIRCUS IS ANIMATOR SOYEON YOO’S MESSAGE OF HOPE

Animator Soyeon Yoo wants to achieve something with her creations. She’s not focused on becoming rich or get millions of “shares” on social media. She wants to create stories that touch those who view them. It’s important to Soyeon that she create empathy between the stars of her animated films and everyday people. By witnessing the struggles and accomplishments of the characters she presents, it’s her hope that she’ll create some tenderness that the public can retain from the experience. Yoo’s film “Bebo’s Circus” is a delight to the eyes and brings tears to them at the same time. While the story is exceptional, it’s far from what she originally had in mind. She explains, “I wanted to make heart-warming and dramatic animated film. Originally, I had the idea of a bunny that has big teeth saving other bunnies when they were in danger but I wanted to make a film more relatable to people.” This is when the idea of an older clown who has fallen on hard times and forgotten about his passion. Soyeon wanted everyone to understand that even the most joyful of us experience trying and depressing moments in our lives. Recalling the struggles of her time in art school and how she had lost the enjoyment and curiosity of creating art, Yoo formulated the idea of a clown who struggled and then reignites his own joy…with help from a friend.

Bebo is an older clown who still performs to audiences. He reminisces about the old days when things were easier for him as an entertainer. The crowds were larger and more accepting. When he makes mistakes on stage these days, some individuals react very rudely and this disheartens Bebo. The sad clown flashes back to one particularly enthusiastic girl who loved Bebo’s act. Inspired, he returns to the stage with new vigor. Upon completion, Bebo hears a lone fan applauding. He strains to see who it is and finds the same little girl, now grown up and still holding a juggling ball from his clown act all those years ago. The woman throws the ball back to Bebo as if metaphorically returning his love of performing and being a clown to him.

The story is touching and endearing but Soyeon needed a look that would enhance the message and tone of her story. The style of the animation she used for this film is 2D traditional animation, which is all done via computer using the tablet called ‘Cintiq’.  Using computer 2D animation software called ‘TV paint’ for the animation required drawing every frame to create each sequence for the film. Soyeon would first draw a test animation to see how many frames would be needed for each sequence and then move on to drawing the entire main key poses. Following this, in-between drawing for the characters were created and then a final clean-up of all the animation. A few sentences are all it takes to describe but many weeks to manifest.

Her malleable skills were also required in regards to art direction because this was Soyeon’s self-produced animation film. One of the main uses of this was in making the “Color Script” for the film. Color script is the early stage of mapping out the color, lighting, and emotion for the story of the film. Choosing different colors according to story arc are essential to delivering the emotional impact, especially in animation. For example, Yoo decided to apply de-saturated green/grayish tones for the first arc when the main character was having a hard time and then later placed warm brown/yellowish tones gradually toward to the end of the story to convey a happy ending.

One of the most pronounced characteristics of her style is Soyeon’s use of music with animation. The two seem intertwined in a dually productive correlation in virtually all of the productions in which she has created and is involved in. It’s obvious that she feels that music and the visual aspect of animation are twins. She describes, “The role of music is one of the most important elements for this film. The music was definitely a huge part of the film that helped to enrich the story. It helps to imprint and translate the mood for the film. Instead of dialogue, the music represents old clown’s emotions. The cornet part sounds like old clown singing. I wanted the music to lead the story like a narrator.” Yoo worked with composer Steven Van Betten to create the sonic landscape that complemented her visuals. Betten declares, “I am honored and proud to have composed the score for Soyeon’s film Bebo’s Circus.  The film takes a simple and universal theme of overcoming challenges and presents it in a compelling, genuine, and heartfelt manner. I was Inspired by her creativity and ability to take artistic challenges and turn them into fuel for pushing through her creative boundaries. The finished product of the film is both strong technically and artistically inspired. I sincerely hope that I have the opportunity to collaborate with Soyeon again in the future.”

“Bebo’s Circus” received great recognition including inclusion as an official selection at the Golden Bridge International Film Festival, the Mindfield Festival (Los Angeles), in addition to receiving the Best Jury Choice Award at the Direct Monthly Online Film Festival and the Best Animation: Diamond Award at the LA Shorts Awards. While these are all appreciated by Yoo, the most important to her is that of the person who first gave her the idea of the clown…her own brother. Soyeon explains, “I’m so happy that many people in the industry enjoyed the film. While that means a great deal to me, I really created it for regular viewers to find inspiration. My brother suggested the idea of a clown. His enjoyment was so important to me because I hope it will prove to him that you can have an idea and literally create something from that idea that other people will be positively affected by and will be inspired by. That’s the real reward and my original intention.”

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Artist HuiMeng Wang shares vulnerability and understanding of the world with worldwide audiences

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Visual artist HuiMeng Wang

Born and raised in Inner Mongolia of China, HuiMeng Wang always had a passion for art. Her mother always had a deep appreciation in literature and the Chinese Opera. Growing up, she read nothing but fictions, and would always fantasize about bringing the narratives to reality, in one way or another. Despite this passion from an early age, Wang did not initially feel she was ready to explore being an artist. That patience is what sets her apart from so many. She studied science and engineering, travelled the world, experienced other cultures and immersed herself in life. It was during her travels that she realized she was ready to be an artist.

“I felt I had enough things to talk about and I felt this strong desire to talk about them. A diverse educational and cultural background has made me immensely conscious about the changes and formation of personal identities, during a socio- geographical, professional and/or cultural transition,” said Wang.

During her travels, Wang conducted a 4000-mile road trip in Tibet, photographing its landscape. She created a collection of the photographs, titled The Isolation Book, and it is one of her most remarkable pieces. On a plateau in the northeastern Himalaya, at an average elevation of 16,000 feet, Tibet enjoys great natural remoteness. Its extraordinary physical isolation is also reinforced by political complexity, Wang says. She drove through out the vastness of Tibet week after week, as an observer, as well as a bearer of the great isolation and loneliness.

“People’s state of mind can heavily change the visual perception of a landscape or cityscape. And in that sense, The Isolation Book is a metaphor of my personal struggles through isolation. When one is in isolation, or sometimes self-seclusion, the eagerness of engaging with the outside world always comes hand in hand with the resistance. Such conflict creates great intangible tension, which overrides the reality sometimes, and urgently needs to be described in a form of emotional resonance,” Wang described.

Wang’s initial interest in the project was to truly understand isolation. From the time she was a child, she always has felt more comfortable by herself than when surrounded by others, so she wanted to understand what it was to be truly alone.

“I wished I could understand the nature of isolation better, how it exerts influence and disguises itself. And that is why I picked up a camera initially,” said Wang.

Wang’s photography is extremely impactful for all those who see it. It is perfectly framed, shot, and edited, and with The Isolation Book, each picture is its own essay, worth far more than the usual “1000 words” mantra.

“HuiMeng is a natural photographer capable of composing visual poetry from any scene. Her intellect is stunning. her insight is incisive and her sensitivity is sublime. she is complex and profoundly complex. She is a dream to work with,” said Lonnie Graham, who has worked alongside Wang on various photography projects. “Her uncanny ability to understand a situation and interpret it makes her outstanding. This is what she does with her image making, so that as an installation artist her concepts become dimensional.”

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HuiMeng Wang in Fire Green as Grass

Many around the world know Wang for her outstanding artistic abilities. They know her celebrated work, and the exceptional understanding she possesses of her craft. She is more than just an artist, she is a creator and a storyteller. Just last year, she dined by herself on a suspended table for one hour. While trying to cut and eat a 16oz steak, she had to carefully maintain the balance of the table, and put out the fire which the flowers constantly caught from the candles. Titled Fire Green as Grass, the piece interprets the mental state of an immigrant, displaced and isolated often, for whom conducting daily activities becomes a struggle in itself.

“The title came from Dylan Thomas’s poem Fern Hill. I lived in a place that’s also called Fern Hill in New Zealand for a while. It was the most surreal and beautiful place, but I was also incredibly alone,” said Wang.

Wang normally acts more as a director in her pieces than performer. However she felt the need to perform herself for this piece to truly convey the message.

“I thought I’d be embarrassed to perform in front of the audience. But when I did, even though there were a lot of people watching and the flowers were constantly on fire, I felt peaceful. I also felt like I was saying the things I wanted to say,” Wang described.

Wang’s vulnerability in Fire Green as Grass captivated audiences and critics alike. A fellow artist and friend, Jeremy Morgan, says that Wang has an ability to do this with every project she takes on, whether it be a video, photograph, or exhibition.

“Our conversations have always been a meaningful, creative journey, metaphysically moving from one space to another. HuiMeng has a luminous mind, and is self- possessed but without arrogance. Her generosity and original spirit permeate all of her interactions with people around her. In her performance and filmic work, she displays a poetic, philosophic and socio-political sensibility that is noteworthy wherein beauty, elegance and poignancy are perfectly balanced with precision, focused with intelligence and humanity. She is in every sense a creative being, an artist who is both unique and a powerful presence,” said Morgan.

With such a commitment to her craft and respect around the world for what she does, it is obvious to all that sees her work as to why Wang is considered one of China’s best recent visual artists. Not many can achieve what she has, and she still has so much left still to show the world. However, she does have advice for those looking to follow in her footsteps.

“It sounds silly, but my advice is make absolutely sure that you really want to be an artist before you commit. You don’t want to be an artist because of flexible schedules or some certain lifestyle or things like that. You want to be an artist because you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else. You want art to be the center of your life,” she said. “Also, some wise man said: make work, faster. That is my second piece of advice. Always make work, don’t pause for too long.”

SONGWRITER DARCY CALLUS PROFESSES THAT LA IS STILL THE MELTING POT OF THE ARTS

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Sometimes the most valuable things are right in front of you and go unnoticed, or at the very least underappreciated. America constantly produces musical artists who are lauded and respected all over the world. Yet these artists often go through many years of struggle as they mature into the icons they aspire to become. The US public doesn’t often stop to consider the fact that this training ground in which we live is a shining star to artists of the world. This has always been obvious to Australian Darcy Callus. This artist has long dreamed of being a part of the musical community which he believes to be the home of the elite, Los Angeles. While there are numerous locations in the world with talented artists, Callus readily admits that the concentration of world class artists per capita in LA is unlike any other place on the planet. As an award-winning jazz pianist turned pop artist (he was one of the finalists on Australia’s X Factor), Darcy has a deep understanding of the difference between being a “one hit wonder” who got lucky and being an artist who cultivates a long career with depth. He is also not afraid to, as he puts it, “Follow his nose where it leads” him. When the opportunity to work with LA based singer/songwriter Rotana Tarabzouni presented itself to him, Darcy was eager to work with such a talented artist and spend some time in the city he considers to be the center of the industry.

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While Darcy has been associated with such music industry luminaries as Dave Stroud (known for his work with Prince, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Kelly Clarkson, and Michael Jackson), multi-platinum producer Bryan Todd, and others; writing with Rotana gave him the opportunity to work with a brand new artist in the States who shares an international view of the US as he does. Tarabzouni grew up in Dhahran, on the Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia. To state that her experience as an artist in her homeland was not encouraged is a drastic understatement. Women are not exactly groomed to seek out fame as a popstar in her homeland. On a family vacation in Boston, she spontaneously went to an audition and received massive encouragement. That was enough to convince Rotana that she needed to pursue her dream in America. Callus received no persecution in his native home of Australia and was even a sensation on Australia’s X Factor. Still, he also understood the potential of the US music community and opportunities which the industry’s infrastructure afforded the talented and hard working. The two met at an artists get together and recognized the musical counterpoint in each other’s talent. Darcy states, “We definitely clicked immediately in terms of wanting to create music that was original and personal, not derivative and following what was popular at the moment. Even more importantly, I understood where she was coming from as a songwriter and what she was trying to express.” Describing the process, he continues, “Rotana is truly gifted when it comes to melodies. She comes up with them quite quickly and they are very strong. All of my training in music allowed me to quickly understand what she was looking for and find the harmony to her melodies on piano. There was a specific color tone that propelled the emotion she wanted to communicate. If you can understand an artist both musically and professionally, you can help them as well as excite them about their own music.”

The US is a country which prides itself on so many aspects that are prominent in the working relationship between Darcy and Rotana. A country which accepts those from other lands, in pursuit of their dreams, with the ability to express themselves freely…it’s as representative of the American Dream as the Westward Expansion. Callus comments, “There’s no doubt that both of us feel fortunate to be here in LA among the greats. You literally can walk into a club, restaurant, coffee shop, whatever, and run into an artist you have listened to your whole life. Of course what we’re really here to do is work. It’s amazing that I can meet an artist like Rotana and immediately begin creating music with an almost unspoken approach. I’m sure that this is all because of the group of artists who are known everywhere in the world…in places like Australia, Saudi Arabia, and almost every other place on the planet. As an artist and musician, you feel like you are in the center of the universe when you are here…and that inspires you even more.”

Success in never guaranteed but is already evident in the work that Callus and Tarabzouni have done. Rotana’s debut single “Daddy” was co-written and arranged by Darcy. The single was playlisted on Apple’s “Hot Pop Tracks” for weeks as well as Spotify’s US VIRAL 50. Some of the music Callus wrote with Rotana was debuted at The 2017 Sundance Film Festival “A Celebration of Music and Film Concert”. At this concert, Rotana shared the stage with Common, Andra Day, Jim James, Hunter Hayes, Peter Dinklage, Ava DuVernay, and more. Early indicators like these give presumptions that the music which Callus and Rotana created together is going to have every bit of the impact that had hoped to achieve. Darcy smiles as he communicates, “I have quite a history of working with extremely talented female vocalists. It’s interesting that in this situation the vocalist is a woman and her femininity is celebrated while she is in control. As a man, I’m in the supportive role (playing piano). They are exhibiting strength as well as a softer side. I love that about music. It allows these situations that you won’t find in all walks of life. Artists are celebrated and encouraged to express what is unique about themselves.”

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When questioned about his experience thus far in LA, Darcy confirms, “I am Australian and I love Australia but I feel that the US audience is much more willing to have an open mind. American audiences want to give you a chance. Many artists have said that you have to become famous and accepted somewhere else and then come back home to be recognized. There’s a little truth in that. If you go anywhere else and say you are an LA musician, you are instantly seen in a different light. People assume that you are great and…to be honest, to be a successful LA artist…you have to be great!”

GREENWOOD ISN’T AFRAID OF THE ANTI-SEQUEL

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There is a quote that is attributed to many fine actors that states, “Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.” It has been repeated by Academy Award winners like Gregory Peck and Jack Lemmon (most consider Edmund Kean to be the originator) and speaks to the fact that making something seem spontaneous and light hearted takes a fair bit more convincing than a dire situation. There’s also a fairly common belief that the film industry takes itself too seriously and rejects mockery. This is a notion to which Canadian writer/producer/actor Troy Greenwood does not subscribe. As a part of the FAFC (Film Actors Fight Club), Greenwood helped create the award winning film Diamond Planet. With a very self-deprecating approach, Diamond Planet poked fun at filmmakers, the film industry, and even film students. In this production, fools abounded while intelligence was scarce. The film was so popular that Troy decided to write/produce and act in the sequel…a sequel which is in fact about a film that is not yet a film. As proof that filmmakers revel in self ridicule, Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon was embraced with greater enthusiasm than the original (winning at the Calgary Film Challenge and going on to screen at the Sun and Sand Film Festival in Mississippi). Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon is a testament to the fact that as long as creative individuals take themselves too seriously, there will be peers among them who remind us all how absurd they seem.

It has increasingly become commonplace for filmmakers to feed upon themselves, recycling films and themes from the past, sometimes even repeating the same current day premise but with different casts. While Diamond Planet shone a light on laughable concepts in modern film, Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon turns its gaze to the film industry’s lack of originality and ingenuity. It seems that the current M.O. is to go for a wide audience that assures box office rather than fosters new ideas and artists; at least for the most part. Greenwood had a clear idea for a sequel which immediately follows the action of the first film. In Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon, Ollie Swagger (the filmmaker from the original Diamond Planet) steals the idea for the “Diamond Planet” that was pitched in the first film. He’s going to try and sell the idea to a studio at the annual pitchtime event. Unfortunately for Ollie, when he was bragging about it the night before the meeting, his nemesis overheard him. The next day when they are seated together, Swagger starts into a pitch about “Diamond Planet”. In the film’s premise, the Diamond Planet will cross between the sun and the earth, magnifying the sun’s rays and burning the earth to a crisp. The government wants to send optometrists into space to change the curvature of the Diamond Planet rendering the rays harmless. However, Swagger’s nemesis jumps in, pitching his movie “Emerald Horizon” about a giant emerald planet and ophthalmologists in space. We, as the actual audience, see cuts back and forth between trailers for these films as they are pitched. Each trailer becomes more and more ridiculous until they’re basically turned into one complete parody of a movie; to which the studio’s representative responds “I like it, but how about a hamster!” The unseen wink with which Greenwood delivers the humor is obvious to all. One need not look too far into recent movie productions to see evidence of this scenario. Cutting to the core of the movie’s lesson, Troy notes, “Anything that tries too hard to purport itself is funny.”

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Due to the nature of “Diamond Planet” (the spoof movie) being a science fiction suspense thriller, the production value and the cast for this sequel necessitated a sizable increase from the original Diamond Planet. Because the original was so successful, it helped to propel much of the original cast and crew into busier careers and thus some key players proved unavailable for this sequel. Luckily the popularity of Diamond Planet attracted the interest and involvement of a large number of respected Canadian actors (both films are Canadian productions). This included noted theater and film actor Stuart Bentley. Greenwood’s prowess at a multitude of production roles, in addition to the script is what enticed Bentley to join the cast of Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon. He comments, “Over the years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with Troy Greenwood on stage and in film. In a production of Inherit the Wind Troy gave a masterfully understated and relatable performance of the accused schoolteacher, Bertram Cates. Troy effortlessly navigated this difficult character, drawing in audiences and critical approval. I had the opportunity to act in Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon which Troy wrote, directed, and starred in. Troy had written a wonderfully funny script, and easily navigated the tricky job of acting and directing in his own production. He took great care of his cast and crew, and kept the production flowing on time, while being careful to ensure that every needed master and coverage shot was captured to realize his artistic vision. Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon was a great success with judges and audiences and continues to be one of my favorite film projects of the past several years.” In addition to Bentley, the considerably larger cast included notables such as Jesse Collin (Fargo), Helen Young, and many others. Troy remarks, “Stuart, Louie, and Helen were all a breeze to work with. Stuart’s presence as the president had a great gravitas to it.  He really milked the moments of humour in the script, nailing the timing of lines to keep the pacing moving as the film progressed. Helen was also wonderful to work with. I had an interesting shot envisioned where the camera rotates around her before landing on the president; she was a trooper repeating the sequence a number of times while we worked out the technical kinks with the camera movement.”

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Another positive aspect of any sequel is that the success of the initial production allows for a higher production value in the second installment. The aforementioned larger cast and a greater array of interesting locations (including the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, and the Springbank Airport Flying Club), were augmented by state of the art VFX. Greenwood relates, “I invested money to buy specific models we needed through a 3D modelling page.  Specifically, I got two distinct space ships for the two different versions of the trailer within the film, and planet models for the solar system, and then a diamond model so that my VFX artist could place them into the editor and articulate them to create the sequences you see in the film.” In fact, Troy concedes that he had to make sure the graphics were not too professional, in order to add to the humor of the trailers and the actual film itself.

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Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon represents a blind spot in the film industry. While a considerable number of studios and filmmakers steer towards repeating proven ideas rather than creating new ones, Troy Greenwood has found a way to turn that concept around and use it against the very premise it represents…and still be wildly entertaining. Greenwood refers to comedy as a unique beast, remarking that you can plan all you want but often what is required is to just sit back and watch. Be careful filmmakers, you are being watched.

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