I met Liz Emirzian on the train. I had decided to go last minute to New York and we were both in a rush looking for the hidden train platform (Note: VIA Rail needs visible signage, seriously ). Later, we watched rural NY state fly by in the café car, and I learned she was an illustrator and a very talented one.
Liz’s art is wry, moody and gothic, in a similar sensibility as Edward Gorey. It feels at once removed, distant, yet, intimate, almost like looking at someone’s faded picturesque memory. Children wear wolf and swan headpieces against patterned wallpaper. In her world women wear ornamental shrouds and lone figures play violin in the mottled inked sea. Masked heads eat jewelled insects, butterflies and wormed apples in a faery tale display. Other pieces explore mental illness through architecture and natural structures; human limbs weave in and out of windows and heads are melded into landscapes.
Her work can be seen in books, magazines, and she regularly exhibits in New York and Toronto at galleries including The Ossington, The Greenpoint and The Living Gallery. Grab a copy of LYCAON: The Story of the First Werewolf, an illustrated children’s novel that’s currently sold at MOMA!
JT: Tell me about your work….it’s ethereal, dark but there’s also a childlike innocence to it.
EZ: I think I allow myself to be very free when it comes to creating my artwork, finding that pure enjoyment in exploring and creating has always been a part of my life. I don’t disregard ideas that seem too absurd or intense. I find the humor in absurdity and a beauty in strangeness. I tend to create ambiguous scenes and situations, and I like for the viewer to create their own story. I don’t mind making people feel uncomfortable, or question what they are seeing, it’s a part of the discovery.
JT: So, you’re in NYC, what’s the neighbourhood like?
EZ: The neighbourhood i’m in is great, Bushwick has a lot to offer artists. I love working in and going into Manhattan but Brooklyn feels more like the place you can live like a normal human being. Looking for places in this city is insane, but it is a part of the experience.
JT: What’s a day like for you?
EZ: I will often be working on several commissions at once, communicating with my clients, spending many hours drawing and painting or planning. I am currently busy promoting a book I recently illustrated called Lycaon: Story of the First Werewolf, written by Brendan Schweda. It’s currently on sale at the MoMA Book and Design Store, as well as two stores in Brooklyn and on Amazon.
JT: Train vs bus vs plane? Where do you meet the best characters?
EZ: Well, have to say train since we met on one! But really, I have met some seriously terrifying characters on buses in my life (Greyhound, I’m looking at you).
JT: Tell me about your casts and jewellery boxes.
EZ: My experimentation with life casts and sculpting was very freeing, and an exciting leap from the 2D to 3D world. I enjoy creating environments that people can get lost in, and again, to create their own stories.
The jewellery boxes were inspired by books, treasures, secrets, and past lives. I have always been a fan of various boxes and trinkets. I love collecting random objects, which is how the whole collection started to begin with.
JT: What was like illustrating for LYCAON: The Story of the First Werewolf? What was the creative process like?
EZ: The creative process began by reading the story, getting a good feel for the characters in my mind, what they would look like, and how they should be represented.
The creative process for this book went a little crazy. There are actually two sets of illustrations for the book, I started out with one style and ended up doing something completely different in the end. I ended up re-doing six of the illustrations (including the cover) in less than a month, and we put it all together into book form just in time. This is a great example of my mania, my constant experimentation, and my ability to create large bodies of work in a short period of time (thanks art school!).
(Below is one of the old illustrations not used in the book, of Artemis as the bear)
Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St John’s wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming-baths, tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris – all that succession and repetition of massed humanity … Those vile bodies …