September 3, 2015
Post by Emily Weber, Database & Membership Manager
In August, Cedar Rapids coffee shop Brewhemia opened an Andy Warhol inspired art show, created by local young artist, Maya Gonlubol. I had the pleasure of meeting Maya at Brewhemia, a New Bohemia Arts District favorite establishment. Maya was born in Cedar Rapids and grew up here. She got her start as an artist at a young age, when she started taking art classes at Cooke Gallery and Workshop, under the direction of local artist and teacher, Mark Cook. The workshop (located on First Avenue in Cedar Rapids) has become her second home and Mr. Cook one of her biggest blessings. “It’s a place I’ve always been able to be comfortable in my own skin,” she says. Maya started out at the Cook Gallery after taking a summer camp there in the fourth grade. The summer camp was focused around Andy Warhol and it got her hooked on that particular artist and his style.
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library is excited to announce, that May 14th-October 2nd 2016 we will host Andy Warhol from the Cochran Collection, which features large-scale prints from two Warhol series. This museum exhibit will be called: “Immortal: Warhol’s Last Works.” The first series, Myths, was created in 1981 and includes Warhol’s take on such famous figures as the Wicked Witch of the West, Superman and Mickey Mouse. The second, Cowboys and Indians, was created in 1986 and pays homage to the likes of John Wayne (a native-born Iowan), Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull. The pieces from both shows are on loan to the NCSML from private collectors Wesley and Missy Cochran and will be displayed May-September 2016.
Excited to see that a young local artist was inspired to create her own work in the style of Warhol, I decided to sit down with Maya to discuss her gallery, her inspiration and Warhol:
What draws you to the style of Andy Warhol? Why do you think this style of work remains relevant today?
“What draws me to Warhol is the simplicity of his work. You look at one of his paintings and there is nothing particularly unrecognizable about it. It’s just there right in front of you and you know it. There’s nothing particularly ‘beautiful’ about the work, but it’s so interesting that you can’t look away from it. People spend a lot of time thinking about Andy’s art and trying to figure him out. But he’s painting what he knows and what his viewer knows, too,” Maya said.
Could you talk about your technique, the materials used when creating “People of Brewhemia” and how you approached these pieces? What was your creative process? What inspired you to paint these individuals?
“My first time having my art on display was this spring in conjunction with the Cook Gallery and Workshop Student Exhibition. I had the frame shop in the back of the studio to display my portraits and that’s where Andrea (co-owner of Brewhemia) first saw my artwork. She asked if I would be interested in displaying my work at the coffee shop and I was inspired.
Brewhemia is such a unique place, all the locals of Cedar Rapids know it, and I have a personal fondness for it as well. I thought a cool concept would be to have all the paintings be of people who also have a connection to Brewhemia so it could keep its local vibe. I came in on a Friday and stayed from 9AM to 6PM when they closed and asked people if they’d be willing to participate and let me take their photo.
Within a span of ten days I finished fourteen new paintings. I would work down in my basement, napping on and off and then wake up and start painting again in a flurry. Once I have a photo of what I want to paint, I use a technique similar to what early pop artists used, it’s a series of projected lines and layers of acrylic paint.”
Could you talk more about how you relate to pop art thematically? What are the stories you’re telling or problems you’re trying to combat?
“I never want to forget a face. I paint portraits because I feel like I can capture a single moment in my paintings. One of my favorite Warhol quotes is, ‘The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.’ Warhol sums it up. There are faces I will never be able to see again in person, and while that’s sad it makes me feel like there is a purpose to what I’m doing—painting portraits.”
Maya is going into her junior year of high school, but it’s still possible for her to look back on early portraits and see how much has changed and evolved. “Even though I’ve always painted portraits, they’ve become more simplified stylistically. I use more simple lines.” The consistent thing is the personal connection made when painting someone. She says, “Even when I’ve painted someone I don’t know, I feel like I have a special connection to them even just for a moment. They’re a piece of art. I want people to look at my art and think ‘there it is, plain and simple,’ I want people to feel like they could know the people in the portrait because they are just like them. When Warhol paints portraits, or takes Polaroid photos, they’re tangible pieces of the past, real people who continue to live on through this art. I think it’s an extraordinary thing.”
Some of the famous figures Warhol painted linger with us forever, and in some cases the portrait he made comes to mind just as vividly as the real person’s face itself. The same is true of Warhol himself, who has become one of the most iconic figures in the 20th century American art world.
Maya agreed, “He lived his version of the American Dream, he came from a life where he had close to nothing, battling mental and physical illness, to becoming iconic.”
The NCSML is thrilled to engage with this aspect of Andy Warhol’s life story. Warhol’s parents, Julia and Ondrej Warhola immigrated from what is now eastern Slovakia to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1920s. Andy grew up during the Great Depression in an industrial city full of other immigrant and first generation families. The NCSML believes that Warhol’s art, like Maya described in her interview, promotes an understanding and connectedness of people who are not unrecognizable to the viewer. This fits right in with the powerful, impactful stories portrayed and remembered every day here at the NCSML. We aspire that every person who views the galleries displayed at the museum, hears the stories of Czech & Slovak history and culture, or comes to see Andy Warhol from the Cochran Collection will have an experience that promotes an understanding of their connection to the world and each other.
We had one final question for Maya. The NCMSL will be featuring prints of figures from popular culture that Warhol considered “Myths & Legends.” Who would you paint given that criteria?
“If I were to paint Myths & Legends, I’m sure the Muppets, Peter Pan and the Grateful Dead dancing bears would appear. Maybe a Veggie Tale character or two would join the party!
The NCSML invites you to participate with this question in anticipation of the exhibit. Discuss! Ask your friends! If you were going to paint your myths, legends, heroes and icons, who would make the list?
We hope you visit in May to see “Immortal: Warhol’s Last Works” on display May 14th-October 2nd. Connect with us online for more information about exhibits and programs or view or Oral History Project on www.NCSML.org. Cedar Rapids locals, go see Maya’s wonderful creations at Brewhemia through early fall or visit her website: http://mayagonlubol.wix.com/mayagonlubol#!gallery/c1ppg!