Amy Duengfelder, Cat McCarthy, and and Christopher Shipman at the 2015 Buffalo Infringement Festiva art wall. Photo by Heather Gring. 
Amy Duengfelder, Cat McCarthy, and and Christopher Shipman at the 2015 Buffalo Infringement Festiva art wall. Photo by Heather Gring. 

Girl in the Buff: The Power of Artistic Collaboration

by / Apr. 27, 2016 3am EST

As an artist I take inspiration from the world and people around me. There is no greater high than collaborating with another person. A symbiotic new unit is born from the combination of two souls married in creativity. 

Getting out of your comfort zone and habit makes a huge difference. I tend to create in my cave. Constructive criticism and an open conversation about art establishes a whole new take on creation. That’s the part of art school that I feared then but miss now: the critique. It was nerve-wracking to bare my soul for it to be potentially torn down and ripped apart by your peers. Defending my work was the best part: Seeing someone else’s perspective is vital to growth.

You can’t grade art; it is subjective. Art is the true expression of someone’s essence. Just because I don’t get off on a piece does not mean it isn’t worthwhile or beautiful. At  school, group projects always pissed me off; there is a dynamic when you are assigned partners: the person who works really hard with a total there-for-the-ride slacker teammate. Those projects taught me about how people work. Nobody is going to carry you in real life. We are there to encourage each other to greater heights of artistic achievement, not be energy vampires. 

Buffalo is a prime place to network with other artists. We create because we must, we share a collective longing for something greater, to make this place better and more fruitful for future visionaries. I love the Sugar City/ Dreamland Artist lottery. (They also do a band lottery.) Being matched up randomly is a great challenge. I was paired with photographer Pierce McCleary. I had seen his work around Buffalo for years and we run in the same small circles. Due to my awkward social skills and circumstances, we had never even spoken. I was thrilled to be paired with him; it sparked an intimate series about pubic hair. He took beautiful photos and I interpreted them with ink drawings. We are now friends for life. Our work together is a record of creative conversation, a tangible piece of our own history. 

Connecting with the community through murals and kids art is my favorite part of life. You can’t spell community without unity: We are better together. The Buffalo Infringement Festival taught me to work with a large group to make an 11-day festival happen. Knowing that everybody’s part is important and necessary, not taking people for granted, giving credit for hard work, and helping even when you feel exhausted. It is awesome when someone comes up and says, “Wow, I haven’t picked up a paint brush in 40 years,” as they stand in front of something that they freshly created. 

The world we live in is cutting out the art program in schools. I remember being in Catholic school and my teacher only had a mobile art cart for our class; it was not enough. My mother found the Locust Street Neighborhood Free Art Classes and transformed my life. I learned to see things differently there, to look at the space between objects. 

I need to write in coffee shops and public spaces more often. There is nothing like the sounds and smells of people living their lives. Creating in unusual spaces is bliss, taking the time to chill out in the midst of chaos. People open you up to ideas that you would have previously thought were stupid or not thought of at all. It often happens that what I like in my art and what others like are totally different. Many times I will disregard something only for it to be the one thing sold in a show, proving that intuition isn’t everything. 

Art is seduction. Feeding off others’ energy and creating newness out of togetherness. Draw on the same drawing with someone, simultaneously finishing each other’s lines and thoughts. Making spastic beauty out of a white sheet of paper. Doing art with someone is more intimate than having sex; it’s soul-connecting, it’s life affirming and revitalizing. The Andy Warhol and Jean Michele Basquiat famous collaboration was one that always made me think. Critics judged them for using each other. Warhol picked up a brush and made marks on the canvas, they finished each other’s thoughts, combining pop culture advertising and raw, twisted street art. 

Being near others makes ideas organically, like a constant state of being high. Fueling creative exploration with new advice makes fresh energy. Take your ideas, experiences, and life knowledge and mesh it with another. Bend and change your ideas; do something you have never done before. Sharing the credit and fame for the success of the collaboration, and not caring where the original idea came from. All people have egos and want to be known for their ideas. You have to give that up when working with a group. Sometimes I think of things that are incredible, but I know it was not meant for me to do. I shouldn’t be sad that I can’t do it, just happy that someone else can make the idea a reality. I am an idea man, there is no way I can do all of them, hoarding them so none can come to fruition is wrong, it is my duty to share them with others and maybe help them with their own artistic journey.

Life is learning. Humans are better together, working as a collective we will change the world. Participate in the revolution by celebrating togetherness and rejecting selfishness. Make art and scatter love side by side. The spotlight is big enough for all of us to bask in its glory.