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Volume 2 | Issue 3 | March 2008 | 

Riva Sweetrocket
Negar Shirazi


Riva Sweetrocket is a contemporary artist living in The United States of America. She was born in Eugene, Oregon and has been creating art since age 3. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, but is primarily self taught as an artist. Her current work consists of large-scale chalk pastel drawings on paper. She has shown her work at various galleries in Boulder and Denver, Colorado, and is rapidly expanding her audience to include venues on a national scale. This is her first interview outside the United States. Sweetrocket lives and works as a full-time artist in Lafayette, Colorado. An extensive collection of her recent work can be viewed online at: www.sweetrocket.com.

1. 1-Could you please introduce your work to our readers?
My work consists primarily of large-scale chalk pastel drawings on paper. My subject matter ranges from real to surreal in nature and most recently includes a mixture of organic and inorganic elements.

2. Could you please describe the technique that you use?
Chalk pastel does not require a brush. I draw with my fingers or often my whole hand, blending the pastel to create the effect I’m looking for. I always wear gloves and a mask when I’m working, as pastel dust can be toxic. I mount my paper directly on the wall and I’m standing when I draw. My drawings are so large that to cover the whole space really involves a lot of physical movement so I end up getting my whole body into it. It’s a workout!

3. How has your mother, Marilyn Krysl, inspired you as an artist?
Very positively. Watching her succeed as a writer while I was growing up was a huge inspiration. An inspiration as well as something to live up to. Even today when I hear her read I’m in awe. Her writing teaches us dignity, courage, strength. I want my art to do the same thing. I think it’s more difficult to accomplish this with a static image, but I’m working on it.

4. How spontaneous are you when you draw?
Probably less spontaneous than most artists. I always start out with a plan for a drawing. I sketch it out and know where I want it to go. The spontaneity I think comes in the process of trying to achieve my desired result. Other forces take over along the way and I discover I’m not as in control as I’d like to be. The fact that one ultimately can’t control a drawing is both great and horrible.

5. How much time do you usually spend on a drawing?
Usually a couple of weeks depending on subject and size. Sometimes things will go really well and I’ll finish a drawing in a week, or if I encounter problems it can take 3 weeks or even longer.

6. What do you try to convey to your public? Do you often try to pass a message?
Rather than conveying a message I’m more concerned with conveying a feeling. I’d rather have a viewer feel something than think something. That said, my drawings are open to interpretation. I want the viewer to decide what a piece means to them.

7. Do your drawings carry political or symbolic messages?
Yes and no. I know what a drawing means to me, but I rely on the viewer to make up his or her own story about the piece. To one person a drawing might be political, to another emotional or psychological. What’s important to me is that they get from the drawing something that’s meaningful to them.

8. Would you say your work carries a mystical message?
Yes, for me it undoubtedly does. I hope viewers will find the spiritual component in my drawings regardless of their personal interpretation. I want them to look at a piece and be uplifted, to remember they are more than their body, their house, their country; to go beyond all that to where we are something more. The infinite is always accessible but we forget that so easily these days. My hope is that my work will be a vehicle that reconnects people with the infinite.

9. How have your studies in the field of Psychology influenced your work?
More in an emotional than an intellectual way. Studying psychology made me more aware of our humanness and taught me that there’s really no such thing as crazy, it’s more just our perspective. I hope this shows up in my work on some level. I want my art to be validating to the viewer. I want them to feel their uniqueness and value.

10. Is there a reason why you opted for Art as opposed to Literature?
Not a conscious one. I don’t think we make these decisions. I was always making visual art from the time I was very small. That was my gift and what interested me. I love literature, but it’s never been my calling. I’ve only written two poems in my life.

11. a. Who are your favourite artists? Which one of them has inspired you?
Some of my favourites are James Rosenquist, Keith Haring, and Frida Kahlo, but each for different reasons. Rosenquist’s loud colours, striking imagery and the sheer size of his work have always caught my attention. Haring was simply a fascinating person, and I like the universal way in which his art communicates. The geometric and symbolic qualities of his work appeal to my designer side. Kahlo’s ability to convey pain and emotion in a very visceral, personal way really makes sense to me.

11. b. Who is your favourite American artist of all time?
Georgia O’Keeffe. I’m drawn in by her simple, elegant flowers painted close up. I like the way she uses colour and shape, almost abstracting an image as she zooms in. Her paintings have a wonderful grounding and calming effect.

12. Have writers, musicians, or anyone in the field of psychology inspired you?
No specific musician has inspired me more than others, but music has a huge effect on me. If I wasn’t called to art I might have been a musician. I’m particularly inspired by opera. It speaks to my artistic concerns: drama, emotion and feeling. I always listen to music when I draw and some of my best ideas happen when I’m listening to music.

13. What colours do you use more often in your work? Is there a special reason why you use some colours or motifs more often than others?
I use a lot of red in my drawings. I can’t seem to get enough of it. Red is such an emotional color–it’s arresting. And it’s a symbol for so many different things: passion, anger, blood, pain, power… I use it because it’s so intense.

14. Describe one of your own favourite paintings. Could you tell us why it happens to be one of your favourites?
Artichoke II is one of my favourite pieces and it was a turning point for me. In this drawing I tried to present both the physical and the spiritual aspects of the plant. To me it’s a portrait the way someone might do a portrait of a spiritual figure. It’s important that we maintain reverence for the things around us, but so easy to forget this in our commercial society. There’s an entire universe inside a fruit. I think the drawing was successful, and it opened the door to my Forbidden Fruit Series which followed shortly thereafter.

15. Could you also talk to us about your work in Graphic design?
I started my graphic design business in 1997. Design is exciting and the computer is an amazing tool. Almost anything is possible digitally these days and that’s invigorating. Ultimately I want to stop designing so I can draw full time, but I’ll miss the design when I stop doing it professionally.

16. Do you think that the events of September 11 have created a new artistic movement in the art world?
Yes. I’ve seen lots of art come out of that event. To me it’s another reminder to me of how short life is and how important it is to make the best of what little time we have. I think many artists responded to the pain and shock of 9/11. I responded more to the philosophical implications. The more we deny that we are all one, the more pain we discover ourselves in.

17. What role does art play in the commercial world that we live in?
A large one. Art is the little voice that will never go away. It’s an important way of communicating and can often be more powerful than the written word. It needs to be there to remind us of things we might otherwise forget. It’s an important regulator.

18. Do you think that a piece of art can be over analysed at times?
Certainly. Human nature is to explain things, but the beauty of art is that you can make up your own story about the meaning of a piece, however over the top it might be. This is ok because your story may not be true for everyone, but it’s true for you.

19. Imagine you were given the possibility to draw on a wall in your neighbourhood. What would you draw on it?

Probably I would draw something similar to the things I draw normally. I find it difficult taking requests and opinions into consideration when I’m working. Even though such a piece would be more public than most of my art, I would have to approach it in the same way I approach any less public drawing.

20. What are you currently working on?
I’m still exploring the idea of barbed wire as metaphor and the interaction between the organic and inorganic worlds. I’ll probably keep exploring this subject until there’s nothing more for me to say about it.

21. What question would you ask Riva Sweetrocket?
Did you always know you would be an artist ?

Yes. When I was in grade school I told everyone I was going to be an artist when I grew up. But then in high school my father discouraged me. He thought I should pursue a career in a more lucrative field, such as information technology. I think he was worried I wouldn’t survive as an artist. I half believed him and went into psychology thinking it would be a safer career than art, but now here I am! There’s really no point in not doing what you love. When you start doing it, things fall right into place and suddenly you’re successful. I should never have waivered.

View the Paintings of Riva Sweetrocket

Negar Shirazi :
-Born in Tehran just before the revolution.has lived in Tehran and London.
-went to the International School of Geneva and later on to University of Lausanne.
-She majored in English Sociolinguistics. Also studied literature and journalism (Theory of Communication studies).
-Classes and seminars followed related to language teaching, second language learning, language and society, etc…
-Mémoire topic dealt with the use of language in the media (An analysis of news interviews)









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