Friday, March 29, 2013

Contemporary Florence: an interview with Naomi Muirhead

As an artist and designer one of the most important influences for me are other artists and designers. I believe that having a community of like-minded people who share the same ideas and passions is essential to creativity. Art in its many forms is a language and I am continually fascinated by the message that other artists aim to communicate though their work
The ideas of the Renaissance masters was not to continue repeating the same ideas and methods but rather to continue pushing forward and create the new and unexpected and to challenge the perception of what art is while paying tribute to those that came before them. Contemporary art aims to push the boundaries of these accepted ideas and move away from the past to create the present. With this in mind, I will be conducting a series of interviews here on my blog to highlight the artists, designers and creative minds of present day Florence

In conjunction with our facebook group Creative People in Florence, I will be conducting these interviews with our group members. In the coming months I hope to be able to interview each member who is currently living in Florence as a way of highlighting their wide range of talents. The questions will be exactly the same for each artist/designer and creative person, what is fascinating are the similarities as well as the differences in the answers.

This week I have the multi- talented artist and jewelry designer Naomi Muirhead. I had the pleasure of participating in a show last fall with Naomi and not only does she create beautiful work but she is also a delightful person. I hope you enjoy her work. You can find more information and as well as more of her work here and be sure to follow her on her facebook page for all the latest updates. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I grew up outside of a little town on a street named after my family, but only one hour away from Chicago. I had the best of both worlds: country and city life. Art and travel have been regular elements in my life from early on and have kept me curious. Coming to Italy and living abroad since the year 2000 has allowed me to combine the two passions. And now I have the privilege of having two cultures at hand.

I have degrees in fine arts and interior architecture/design, and later became interested jewelry design. I am lucky to do work that I love and have carved out my own niche in Florence as an Artist, Jewelry Instructor, Gallery Director, Graphic Designer, and Art Librarian.

Why did you choose Florence or did Florence choose you?
I would have to say Florence chose me. I took my first vacation to Italy 2 years before I arrived for a study abroad program in 2000. I initially wanted to choose Rome, a bigger city, since I was coming from a more metropolitan lifestyle. But some of the accredited courses in needed to take for my interior architecture degree I found at a program in Florence called SACI. I grew up in rural Illinois, outside of Chicago, where I also lived and then migrated to Seattle and San Francisco. But now I find the smaller size of Florence just big enough. I know people about town and I can get around on a bicycle.

What is your favorite thing/place/sight in the city or all of the above?
My favorite place would probably be the top of the Duomo, climbing up to Brunelleschi’s magical cupola. After so many centuries, it remains an architectural marvel accompanied with a great story!

Was there a defining moment when you knew that you wanted to be an artist? If so when and what was it?
I don’t think there ever was a definite moment…it just sort of happened naturally. I remember as a kid, I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer and travel the world. I was influence by some creative people in my family: my mother, aunt, and grandmother. I made art from early on and continued in high school and university. I first concentrated on painting with a multi-disciplinary foundation in drawing, printmaking, photography, and graphic design. Then I went on to study interior architecture and design before becoming curious about jewelry and metals over 13 years ago. Now my passion is jewelry, but I still do collage, photography, and furniture rehab decoration.

What or who is your greatest inspiration and why?
Inevitably, I think what inspires most people, even if only on a subliminal level, are past experiences and where one comes from, what one has to say about a connection or response to the past and how it affects one’s present. As mentioned above, my most immediate creative inspirations were some family members. I come from a family of teachers who always encourage being studious. Studying art and other cultural history plus traveling opens your eyes to what is out there and what others are doing. For me, it was first fine arts, then design, and now craft. The creative people that inspire me most are the ones that are successful using an interdisciplinary approach in all of these genres.

What is the best thing about being an artist/creative person? What is the most difficult part?

The best thing is that I am constantly inspired and full of ideas. Creative people generally notice more details in life and are really tuned in to their environment. I get gratification out of making things with my hands and being clever with materials. I also enjoy getting compliments from people, even complete strangers and people that have found my work on the internet.

One of the most difficult parts is the feeling of not having enough time or space to realize creative ideas. Another difficulty is parting with your work when someone else desires it. Yet another frustration is the need to collect things and objects that might inspire me or become part of an art project. I have to keep my collections of stuff under control and somewhat in order. The silly thing is that I am constantly picking things up off the street and scouring junk shops. This can lead to personal connections with things and objects that can lead to a cluttered house!

What message do you hope to convey with your art/creative process?
In both my 2D work and my jewelry, I have a tendency to re-purpose old materials and things that generally have little value to most people, but that I find curious or interesting in form, design, or purpose. In a way I am preserve tiny snippets of the past, holding on to intimate moments on a small scale, making precious pieces out of non-precious materials. This seems to be the opposite approach to today’s mass culture.

What is art/design to you? How would you define art?
Art and design is a way of life for me. Aesthetics in general seep into everything. Either you are paying attention to them or you aren’t, but most people have an opinion about what they see, use, or experience. The definition of art is different for different people, of course. When looking at art and design, it is “art” to me if it moves me or attracts me in some way visually, and appears to be valid in a conceptual and/or technical way.

Do you listen to music when you work? If so who or what?
I've always been big into music, more than television. I was a radio DJ in college. I go through different phases of musical styles. Now that music and radio is digital, I can listen to anything from anywhere in the world. Lately, I listen to tango music, R&B, or alternative radio. If there is only commercial radio available, I prefer silence.

If you could go back in time 10 years knowing everything that you know now what would you change and why? Or what would you tell yourself?
I can’t really think of anything I would change. I have no regrets of the past 10 years. I know what I probably should have done, but I prefer what I wanted to do. Things need to happen naturally – you can’t really plan your life too much or predict its path – there are too many unknown denominators.

How have your two cultures affected your work?
Being influenced by 2 cultures has absolutely affected my work. The subject matter, materials, and scale changed once I came to Italy. I arrived with the idea of pursuing my interior architecture goals, but I went back toward fine arts and crafts. But being an expat also affects the work. Now that I have been away for over 13 years, I am beginning to grasp back at my childhood and memories of growing up in my culture. The further away I am in time and location, the more I feel the need to preserve these memories.

Who is your favorite artist/designer/writer/performer?
I usually get a mental block when asked about favorites, favorite anything…restaurant, even color! There are so many, and they change constantly. It all depends on what I am interested in the moment, what draws my attention. And with the vast potential of internet resources, I am constantly finding new favorites.

What is your favorite movie?
Again, it’s so hard to commit to a favorite because my impressions change constantly. I tend to like films that are dramatic, clever, and mentally challenging, although I need a good simple comedy once in a while too! A beautiful film I saw last year was Pina, by Wim Wenders. The imagery and music was amazing.

What is your favorite book?
I have to admit I read much less now than previously, mostly due to my internet use and computer work/research. Some books I really enjoyed over the past few years were: The Accordion Crimes, Middlesex, and The Kite Runner.

Describe yourself in five words.
Dedicated, nostalgic, multi-tasker, curious, night-owl

When you’re not being creative what do you do?
Life is full of those daily necessary tasks, work, etc. that can get in the way of being creative. When I have free time, I like to go to flea markets, see films, visit exhibitions, cook (and eat!), and tango.

If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?
I have chosen to live in Italy, a place that so many people around the world have at the top of their holiday list. I’ve been lucky to travel a bit internationally and have already gone to many places that I wanted to see, which tend to be major cities. One location I have yet to discover is Buenos Aires, now my top choice. And, I have never been on an exotic tropical beach vacation. Now I feel like I might need one!

Is there anything else that you want people to know about you?
To see my work, visit

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