YOUTH IN FOCUS BLOG
March 15, 2021
Meet Teaching Artist, Isabel Dietz Hartmann
“...your teens are a special time where you...see yourself as a member of world at large. Having access to the arts helped provide a loose map to this process.”
As part of our GiveBigWa campaign, we are presenting an interview series with a few of the Teaching Artists working in our program. As an arts organization we not only have a responsibility to provide quality arts access to teens, but also to support the talented artists in our community. You can elevate the arts and the mission of Youth in Focus in the annual GiveBigWa fundraiser. Your donation is doubled up to $6500 thanks to an anonymous contribution.
Meet the Artist: Isabel Dietz-Hartmann
Isabel joined Youth in Focus in 2017 as a Teaching Artist and describes herself as a photographer who has expanded into digital drawings and collages. Her work focuses on her relationships with others and how those interactions aid in the exploration of her own identity and archetypal mythology.
Proceed with caution, as some of Isabel’s work can deal with mature themes.
What was your first memorable experience with either an art class, practice or teacher?
For most of my childhood I identified primarily as a “sports” person even though I was always doing some sort of creative project (I loved to cook, had my own jewelry design company, was always making custom name tags for friends...it was all over the place). It wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school that I took my first photography class until I really got interested in the arts. I went to a very intense academically focused school and struggled with my self confidence in academics. The arts were a place that came to me really easily and I excelled in. I remember for our first photography assignment we went to a local garden to take photos and everyone in the class photographed sunflowers. I was off photographing a broken chair against a concrete wall...I loved feeling unique! Haha. My photography teacher in high school was always incredibly supportive of me and really helped me gain confidence in my work. I believed that this support also helped me gain more confidence in myself in general. I remember we also had to do a research project on a photographer and I was assigned Diane Arbus. I remember being utterly captivated by those photos and deeply inspired by her life and work. It’s funny because I still think she remains one of my biggest influences today!
What kind of role did art play in your teens?
As I mentioned in the above question I think the arts were a place where I was able to gain confidence and start to explore my individuality, values and interests. I think your teens are a special time where you are taking those first steps to individuate outside of your family and see yourself as a member of world at large. Having access to the arts helped provide a loose map to this process, if that makes sense.
How old were you when you got serious about art?
There few years after high school were a really difficult time for me because I felt a lot of pressure to follow the high school to liberal arts school path which is expected in both my family and school culture. I also was very caught up in the idea that I needed to pursue a degree in something more practical that would get me a secure job after graduating. I went to a traditional college and didn’t feel like I was ready or really that it was what I wanted to be doing. My saving grace was that I was lucky enough to have 24 hour access to a darkroom in my dorm building. I was pretty shy and would use the darkroom to hide from participating in the intense partying that surrounded me and make work. I left this school after two years and studied at an art school abroad and finally started to become more and more okay about pursuing an art degree, which I eventually did. I think this was a big turning point for me in terms of taking my art practice and identity as an artist more seriously
What’s your most important artist tool?
My brain! And a $20 stylus.
I’ve known you as a photographer for the last few years but recently I’ve seen some totally new work. Can you tell me more about your illustrations and the space that they occupy in your practice?
A lot of coinciding events made my drawings come to life. First off, my roommate at the time had an iPad and the first one I made was during the Snowpocalpyse a few years ago gave me some free time to try out digital drawing. I had just gone through a pretty intense breakup, and was reading a lot of books about Jungian psychology as a way to process. This got me really curious about the idea of collective archetypes and I used the drawings as a way of exploring and placing myself within them. More specifically, I think that these drawings allowed me to explore the darker, forbidden, evil, and most importantly angry parts of myself in a safe way. I think part of this has to do with being a woman, but anger has always been a very uncomfortable emotion for me to express and I think creating these drawings provided a space for me to unravel and express the complexities of my experience with it. Ironically, I think making these drawings has made it easier to express anger in a healthier way in my real life. Sometimes it feels like the line between my digital avatar and myself has become blurrier and blurrier as I continue to make them! I also love dark humor and was happy to have found a creative outlet where I could express this as I feel it is an important part of my personality. A lot of my photographic work is very serious.
Tell me about Elvis.
Oh boy, what not about Elvis! I have to be honest I cannot pin the exact moment or why I started using him in my drawings. I think my idea with Elvis is that he is a stand in character for the people I have been in romantic relationships with, and he also serves as a metaphor for the difficulties I find in connecting. Elvis’ life was ruled by the contrast and tension between artifice and authenticity. He is so obviously plastic that he almost becomes the opposite. He also represents a certain male ideal and often suffered a great amount of disillusionment throughout his life being typecast into roles that didn’t necessarily fit him. Despite this, he devoted his life to performance. Eventually, as he aged, his ability to perform this “ideal” began to crumble and his sadness and depression was revealed to both the world and himself.
I think that Elvis represents the potential in myself to fall into dynamics with a strong element of illusion or performance. My relationship to Elvis in my drawings is my simultaneous desire to uphold this illusion and also to crack through the artifice to reveal a more vulnerable center. My mom also noticed recently that her and my dad’s wedding song was the Elvis song “can’t help falling in love with you” and wondered if this ongoing dynamic I have with Elvis in my drawings is an attempt to move past some of the negative internalizations about partnering I learned through my parents’ relationship. Thanks mom!
Bikini Baristas are something I really only learned about when I moved to Seattle. Can you tell us a little about your series God Bless Bikini Baristas?
I first started this project when I moved from New York to Seattle in 2017 a friend and I were driving around and started to notice the bikini barista drive thrus around us. A few days later, I was curious and started to research them online and found a recent article about a lawsuit filed against the bikini barista stands attempting to enforce a dress code. The article stated that the dress code was the reason or one of the reasons for violent crime in the area. I was both taken a back and fascinated by this dated idea that the root of the issue was attributed to what the women were wearing. I was curious what the baristas thought of this so I started driving around to stands and talking to the baristas about their jobs. Many of them were kind enough to let me photograph them and spoke candidly with me of their opinions of their work. Upon speaking to them I learned that in actuality a lot of the violence was directed toward them personally. This project made me think more deeply about women’s rights in the workplace and the role sexuality plays in the American economy.
Is there anything you’re working on right now that you’d like to show us?
I’m currently working on a comic book about a girl who falls in love with Elvis only to find that it is an alien dressed in an Elvis costume. Lots of baby Yodas, star wars references, deep space, and transpersonal psychology. Still sorting out what this all means! haha!