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Gavin's Underground

Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2011-07-08 -
The human body is a beautiful thing, or at least that's the frequent phrase you'll hear in artistic still-form classes when they bring in a nude body to draw from. Fratboy mentality and sexual innuendo aside, art classes based around drawing a full figured body (more commonly the female form) have been a staple of colleges and independent courses for decades. However, many find them constricting and lacking of originality, which brings is to the latest class started in town.
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Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School was started by an art school dropout at a dive in Brooklyn, New York and quickly grew to prominence around the globe as an alternative underground art movement. Since it's original incarnation, the “school” has formed branches in over 100 cities around the world (most located in the United States), giving artists a chance to draw models of a very different nature. We got a chance to chat with the founder of the Salt Lake City branch, Maggie Zuko, about her artistic career and starting up the monthly sketch night, plus some of her thoughts on local art.

Maggie Zuko
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Gavin: Hey Maggie, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Maggie: I am a just-turned-26 Midwestern girl who likes to draw on shoes and do crosswords before bed. I am a vegetarian and a moderate political junkie. I bar tend and cocktail at A Bar Named Sue and do design and illustration work on the side. I am into bicycles (especially the kind with spokey dokes), "Trailer Park Boys" (the television show), Adbusters (the publication), popsicles (especially on days like today) and abandoned buildings (mostly exploring them with my boyfriend). I love Polaroids, and Spaghetti-O's, and funny pictures of cats.
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Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some early inspirations for you?

Maggie: My mother says I always had crayons and markers in my hands as a child. She says that when I was young she would try to have my sister and I help her with cooking and baking, and to teach us, but I was always far more content in the corner with my box of crayons and a stack of paper, in my own little world. I don't think it was ever anything I had a choice in, it's just the way that I am.

Gavin: You received a BA in English and a second one in Art from the University of Minnesota. What made you choose Minnesota, and what was their program like for you?

Maggie: Mostly the U of M was close to home. I looked at a bunch of schools in the Midwest in places like St. Louis and Chicago and Madison, but ultimately it just turned out that the University of Minnesota was the best option. I wanted so badly to "go away" to college, and was initially fairly disappointed about the way everything was turning out, but soon enough I loved it. I don't regret it for a second. I really thrived in the giant lecture classes and massive campus (fourth largest school in the U.S), and with such a giant school even the art department has pretty decent funding! The size of the school also makes it possible to offer a wide variety of classes, which I definitely took advantage of. I was going to add a Philosophy degree to my Art and English degrees, but then I would have three unmarketable degrees rather than just two! (Kidding, kind of.) The Art and English programs at the U were fantastic, I learned so much and had so many opportunities to grow and learn and improve. It is the kind of thing that is very much "you get out of it what you put in." No one is going to be there to coddle you and chauffeur you to class and make sure you are current on the gen-ed requirements. While I was there I focused on "fine art": film photography, painting with oils and acrylics, some sculpture. And, of course, I got the opportunity to explore the full arc of artistic techniques and mediums, as well as color theory and art history, from film to feminist art to dadaism. I also studied Renaissance Art in Florence, Italy for a semester, which was an absolutely incredible experience... where better to be immersed in the work of the great masters?
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Gavin: For years you worked as a freelance artist and designer, doing work like calligraphy and mural designs. How was it for you working as an artist while achieving your degree?

Maggie: For me art is just something that I do; regardless of the other things I have going on in my life I will always be painting and taking pictures and doing a million creative projects. When people ask me what I want to do with my life, what I really want to do, my response is this: "I would love to simply do the art that I want to do, create the pieces that I feel like creating at that moment in time, and then sell that work for a bunch of money." But, as that is generally unrealistic, I am happy to continue to paint in my (somewhat rare) free time, and fund my artistic endeavors through alternative means. When I graduated from the U, I got a job at Trader Joe's, which is a nationwide grocery/liquor store chain that models itself as a "neighborhood store" that has high quality goods while keeping low prices. The amazing thing about the company is that each and every location employs local artists to create all of the in-store promo material (huge painted endcaps, all signage and decor) and to mural all of the walls and hand-write every single shelf tag. Every store (and there are hundreds) is absolutely unique and is bursting with creativity. So that's what I did for two and a half years, I got paid (and received full benefits!) to paint and draw and be creative. I always think that I should've lived in the 1920's, when all of the signs and advertisements were drawn and painted by hand. But since things are far different these days, I have been using my creative juices towards graphic design, which isn't something I did at all in college.
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Maggie: At this point in my life I am, yet again, working in a bar, and doing all my other artistic stuff on the side. But my "stuff on the side" is far more commercially viable these days; I am ad design and doing illustration work for SLUG, which certainly keeps me busy, and by creating contacts and honing my design skills I am "investing in my future". Which isn't to say that I am disillusioned with the way things are shaping up in my life. Yes, I have two degrees and am still doing what I did all through college (working in the service industry), but I love my job at A Bar Named Sue, and the money is great, I've made life-long friends and met some incredible individuals, and it gives me the freedom to take on things like Dr. Sketchy's and SLUG Magazine and poster design and the million other things I get to do. I actually just designed a billboard for the bar, something that's a first for me, and am currently completing a mural there that I am really happy with. I am not the kind of person that can separate art, and creating art, from other aspects of my life. Whatever else I am doing, I am always collecting ideas and seeing interesting color combinations and tucking away phrases and moments in the back of my mind that will inform my work sometime down the road. And if sometime down that road my experiences help me create a million dollar collection, that's cool with me. And if not, I'll be working at a design firm or doing freelance work... or, perhaps you'll find me bartending at the local VFW and doodling on bev naps.

Gavin: You work stretches across the board from paintings to photography to jewelry. What influenced you to take on so many different genres rather than master a single form?

Maggie: Sometimes I wish that I was solely into one kind of art form, that I could focus all my energy on one thing and be fulfilled by the slow perfecting of that process. But I am absolutely the opposite of that. I am constantly getting an overwhelming amount of new ideas; I always have a bunch of paintings stacked up in various stages of doneness, and there is constantly a plethora of crafty projects in piles around my basement. I just don't have a filter that allows me to stick to a specific pathway, and I am very jealous of those who do.
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Gavin: What exactly brought you out to Utah after getting your degrees? And what was it like for you getting involved with our local art scene and doing exhibitions?

Maggie: I moved to Salt Lake in September mainly to be with my boyfriend, Dan, who is currently in the final stage of completing his Bachelor's Degree at the University of Utah. We had been doing the long distance thing for a while, and I was really ready for a change of scenery, so I packed up my car and stuffed my unhappy cat in a box and drove out here. I think it's important and beneficial to live in different places, especially when you're young, and my experience in Utah has been definitely positive. I recently heard that Salt Lake is sometimes called "Small Lake City", which has certainly fit my perception so far. I think that the smallness of it has allowed me opportunities that I wouldn't have had in Minneapolis, like getting to work for SLUG. I like that the art community is so close-knit, and the support for local art and goods is awesome.
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Gavin: How did the idea to start up Dr. Sketchy's Art School in Utah come about?

Maggie: Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School is an event that takes place all over the world, in something like 130 cities, including places like Wellington, New Zealand and Paris and Seoul and Belfast and Saskatoon, Canada. There is a Twin Cities "branch" that I attended when I lived in Minneapolis, and when I moved out here I realized that there is nothing like Sketchy's in Salt Lake and it could be really neat to have it here. My top three reasons for starting the SLC branch: I wanted to make friends, I couldn't find anything that goes down on Monday nights (besides football on t.v. which holds no interest for me), and there was a social/artistic niche that was just waiting to be filled. Sketchy's is kind of like a franchise, I think, in a way: there is a general central element (the founding branch in Brooklyn) and some basic guidelines to running it, but after that it's totally up to the individual how they want their city's branch to be. My vision for the SLC Sketchy's was, and is, a Monday night event, more than a meet-up, not quite a party, something that's unique and funky and fresh every time. I want people to be able to come down, have some drinks, create some cool art, hone their drawing skills (if that's what they're into), win sweet stuff, and interact with other rad folks. But I also don't want it to be just for "arteests", anyone can and should come and do some drawing, regardless of their confidence or skill level. And if you don't want to draw, that's totally cool, come ogle some hot models and see what people are creating. I think it's the best when the events are a little raucous and uncouth, when people are bouncing ideas off of one another and rocking out to the music.
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Gavin: With all the locations around the city, how did you arrive on Bar Deluxe as the place to hold it?

Maggie: When I moved here, and applied to start the SLC Sketchy's branch, and they said "go for it", I had no clue where to hold it because I had never been to any of the bars in the city. I knew I wanted it to be at a bar, and my boyfriend suggested I contact Bar Deluxe because he had seen some shows there and he thought it was pretty rad. I emailed Kaci Tokumoto, one of the bar's owners, we met up a few days later and that was that! It was ridiculously easy. She loved the idea, as did her partner Jake Glauser, and they were super supportive and on board, and we've been holding it there the last Monday of every month ever since. It really could not be a more perfect spot.

Gavin: When searching around for subjects to design, what made you decide on burlesque dancers?

Maggie: Burlesque dancers as models are merely a jumping off point; the events are sometimes labeled "burlesque life drawing", but really the themes are far more varied and often obscure. I think that the theory is to give artists something interesting/beautiful/macabre to draw, something that they'd never get at a typical stuffy life drawing class. The first event I did was burlesque themed because it seemed to be the most inviting and easiest. Since then I've done a 50's picnicky theme, a earthy antlered goddess theme, May was Tranny themed with Princess Kennedy and her cohorts, and the most recent one was 80's "white trash" themed, and featured local rockstars Allison Martin and Dago Marino from My Dead Ego and The Last Look. I really want to get a huge array of models with different body types and varying cultural elements. I have a million ideas for wild themes. I want to do an "Adult Disney" event with naughty, scantily-clad characters and suggestive, dark poses. I want to do a retro, 1950's spaceman/robot type event with tinfoil and silver body paint and plastics and stuff. I want to do an "SLC Punk" theme with Heroin Bob and Stevo and Trish. Other cities have done Sandman and Tank Girl, circuses and weddings, derby girls and S & M. The list is endless, really.
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Gavin: The evening is free to attend, but you do charge a small door fee for artists. Why charge the artists, and aside the obvious, what are they able to do that regular patrons cannot?

Maggie: Actually, the way I'm doing it now is it's $2 to attend and $8 to draw. The money goes mostly to pay the models for their time, but I have other expenses like flyer and poster printing and buying any sort of decor or costuming. Mostly are prizes are donations from our super sweet sponsors: SLUG Magazine, The Hive Gallery, Blue Plate Diner, Baby Tattoo Books, What Katie Did Lingerie and Blue Boutique. But depending on the month I will go and purchase one or two more so there's a variety and enough prizes to have four or five drawing contests. Really my goal is to break even, and lately I've been coming fairly close...

Gavin: Tell us about the event coming up this month, and how people looking to draw can participate.

Maggie: The July event will feature belly dancers in the traditional bling bling silky get-ups. All you have to do to participate is come down to Bar Deluxe on July 25th around 8:30PM with some dollars and art supplies. I also bring a whole bunch of drawing materials that people can borrow. To get all the details for this event and the upcoming ones, check out the Sketchy's SLC blog or find us on Facebook.
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Gavin: For those who may be interested, how can they join in as one of the models being drawn?

Maggie: If you're interested in modeling, I'm interested in having you model! My contact information is listed at both of the aforementioned sites, just shoot me an email and we'll work something (awesome) out!

Gavin: Moving onto local matters, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Maggie: I was definitely impressed by the art scene when moving out here. One of the first shops I visited in Salt Lake was Blonde Grizzly and the first thing I saw as I walked in the door was work by one of my favorite artists, Alex Pardee. I was actually a little taken aback. I moved out here trying to keep an open mind, but there are obvious stereotypes that I just couldn't shake (the rampant conservatism and religiosity, etc). And those stereotypes absolutely exist, and have become part of our national mentality for a reason, but there is far more to the city than that. The oppressive red government creates an opportunity for us artistic types to have our own little pocket of the community, I think, and those that are not the "stereotypical Utahns" are able to flourish in a way that's not necessarily possible in cities like Minneapolis and LA and Chicago and New York. I have honestly had nothing but a positive experience so far in relation to the local art scene. I think there is a lot of support, and plenty of space and opportunity to exhibit, which is something I would love to do this year at some point. Also, I think that one of the ways that someone can judge a city's "artiness" is by assessing its quality of "urban art": stickers, graffiti, stencils, etc. One of the coolest murals I've ever seen is on the side of FICE, and there is a plethora of other amazing work in Salt Lake. On a side note, I caught a show at Bar Deluxe a couple weeks ago where local act Muscle Hawk was headlining and, wow, I've got to say it definitely blew my mind. I haven't danced my ass off like that since moving out here. They changed my view of Salt Lake, that's for sure. I thought this place was cool and everything, but after that I would have to say it's pretty fucking awesome. On a second side note, one of the reasons I knew that I could move to Salt Lake and be happy is because my boyfriend used to send and bring me issues of The Leviathan local zine, which is probably the greatest thing ever to come out of Utah.
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Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Maggie: I think it is what it is. Or, it only can be what people are willing to allow it be, which is to say, local people supporting local artists with their dollars, and local businesses supporting artists with the exposure they need. In my opinion, Salt Lake's doing pretty well on that front.

Gavin: What can we expect from you and Dr. Sketchy's over the rest of the year?

Maggie: Dr. Sketchy's will continue to grow, with new and exciting themes and contests and prizes. Eventually I would love to do a Sketchy's inspired gallery show, with the help of The Hive Gallery, in which anyone could submit pieces from or inspired by an event. I want to see the Mondays attract more people, and a greater variety (although so far we've had a pretty interesting array of folks!) of artists, as well as those that just want to stop by and check it out.
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Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Maggie: Come to Sketchy's on July 25th at Bar Deluxe! Also, stop by The Hive Gallery in Trolley Square, they have some incredible stuff going on in there.


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