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Art Tue Aug 11 2009
"Like an Asteroid," by Sharon Parmet, is the second in a series of five works to be featured during Chicago Week, a collaboration between Gapers Block and the Rockford-based arts purveyor Wall Blank. Each image will be available for one week as a limited edition print through Wall Blank. 10% of the proceeds of all sales will benefit the Chicago Artists' Coalition. Check back every day this week for a new piece by and interview with a Chicago artist.
"Like an Asteroid," ink on paper, 2009
"This piece was inspired by a recent New York Times article discussing the likelihood of sending a manned shuttle to the Moon. Not very likely! I thought it strange that NASA may be asked to shift its focus to something else, like an asteroid."
Interview with the Artist
Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your artistic background?
I grew up on Long Island and took some weekend painting classes for a few years as a teen. But I soon discovered that I really preferred the esthetic of pen on paper -- maybe too much Shel Silverstein as a kid. I majored in Bio and English in college, and went on to get a master's degree in science journalism. I've worked in science PR for a long time and have been exposed to lots of scientific literature. I'd occasionally do a freelance science piece for a magazine, but then you have deadlines and editors reminding you that your writing actually sucks. So I started doing my own drawings with some text, and it seemed to be a low-pressure way for me to do science writing. I always really enjoyed biology textbook illustrations. I have lived in Chicago for ten years and am into bird watching.
How did you start working in illustration, and how has your relationship with it evolved over time?
In high-school, I hung with a pretty arty crowd and started drawing morose pen-and-ink pieces. Then, I kind of stopped doing it, and have since picked it up and put it down several times during hard times in life. Now I do it because as I've gone public with shows and my website, people seem to like it, and that is motivating. As a rather quiet, introverted person, I've found it's a good way for me to get people to crack up and laugh without having attention focused on me in person. Doing a drawing makes me feel like I am getting in touch with the essence of my talents and individuality. Like if I lived in an ancient society, my job would be to explain newly-discovered scientific ideas and facts to the masses. Maybe the king would keep me around as his personal explainer, or maybe I would be killed for being a heretic.
How does being in Chicago influence your artistic practice?
I don't really know. Sometimes riding my bike on the lakefront trail to and from work is a prime time for thinking about what pieces I might work on next. The lakefront trail is probably critically important to lots of peoples' creative process.
Given your work draws from everything from daily life to historical figures, what makes a topic stand out?
I am attracted to weird facts about how things work. I also like expressing weird feelings I have in a funny way. Sometimes I do a piece in a straight-up effort to be funny.
Often, through reading and web surfing and talking to various people, an interesting fact comes up that strikes me as really cool, so I do a drawing about it. The literature pieces are based on quotes that are particularly striking to me.
What can we expect to see in the coming months?
I am currently working on a masterpiece about the Leach's Storm Petrel, a pelagic bird (like a dense seagull) whose cells actually never show molecular signs of aging, but instead show signs of getting younger over time -- effectively rendering the bird technically immortal. I'm also revisiting and expanding on my nasty text message series. I may start depicting longer, nastier e-mails.
About the Artist
Sharon Parmet was born in 1974 and grew up on Long Island. She attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where she majored in English and biology, and went on to earn her master's degree in scientific journalism from Boston University. She explores scientific and personal ideas and concepts through her art and takes inspiration from the New York Times science section and other science news sources. She also draws from literature and her own life experiences. You can view more of her art on her website.