NOT TOO HIGH, NOT TOO LOW

Zine and comic book artists leap off the page for an exhibition at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center.

Curator Amy Lokoff worked with zine and comic artists for the exhibition not too high, not too low, opening this Friday at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center. She’s originally from Philadelphia, studied study studio art at American University, then found her scene and made DC home. We spoke with her about what went into this project — the inspiration behind the exhibition, the resources at Pyramid, and how hard it can be to do the damn thing and call yourself an artist.

We love to get people out of the house, so let’s talk about the exhibition space. What’s important for folks to know about the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center? Why should they be excited to get themselves to Hyattsville and check it out?

Part of the reason this show makes so much sense in this space is because I would talk to people about it, and so often, both artists and non-artists had never heard of it. If you’re an artist, your practice is going to blow up if you have access to resources — if you’re thinking, “I want to expand my practice and I want to do something with screenprinting” — they’ve got you! “Oh, I’m thinking about doing this piece where I make my own paper” — they’ve got you!

People can feel like they’re just floating around with no clear direction about how to make their work. Where are the studio spaces? Where do you buy the right supplies? Where get your work printed? If I know something you don’t know, I’m gonna tell you. That’s the point of all of this.

Rather than ask zinesters and cartoonists to produce their usual work for a fine arts/gallery setting, you’ve asked them to explore new mediums entirely. What’s the thinking behind this challenge?

My reasoning is twofold. One is for the artists to see themselves as more than just their genre. I think it’s easy for people to silo themselves, but artists are artists are artists. I wanted the people who make zines or their own comics to try and get out of that print-form bubble. Because every time you add a new element to your art, it’s going to grow it — it’s going to foster new ideas.

Eric Gordon’s record sleeve storytelling for “Reggie: The Lovable Record Slob”
Every time you add a new element to your art, it’s going to grow it — it’s going to foster new ideas.

The second part of is to expose DC’s art scene to artists who are under-recognized, to merge the two groups — the zines/comics world and DC’s art world, which is a little bigger and kind of separate. We’re all working towards the same goal, why aren’t we all collaborating?

How did you find your artists?

About a year ago I met Andrew Cohen, the editor of Magic Bullet, a comics newspaper in DC (which, if you don’t know about it…know about it). Andrew directed me to Eric Gordon, who directed me to Toni Lane, who he works with at Art Enables. I straight up found Jess Agüero on Instagram through her comic for DJ Kryptk. I also did a scouting trip to Fantom Comics to their local zine section and cold-emailed a handful of people — Anna Sellheim was right on top of it, totally game. And I met Lenora Yerkes at Small Press Expo. We started talking about feminism and I just thought, “She’s badass, I want to be around her more.”

Is this the first exhibit you’re curating by yourself? How did you decide this was role for you?

I had a couple of titles at Anacostia Arts Center because I worked there for 4 years, from 2013 to 2017, and towards the end I was involved in a much more hands-on way in helping the artists execute their shows. Some artists would be really self-sufficient, some needed help figuring out what to include in their installations. I found myself stepping in and offering a lot of advice and suggestions to artists — and feeling really good in that role. My favorite part of art was always the talking-about-it part rather than the making-it part. I wish I’d been okay with that sooner. My whole career would’ve been easier.

What advice do you have for folks trying to make art? Is curating your creative outlet now?

I’m trying to get more comfortable calling myself an artist, even if I don’t feel like one, and I don’t necessarily make tangible work. I’m trying to own my eye for things, and my abilities, which is hard. For a while, I felt like there was something wrong with me or that I wasn’t working hard enough, that I needed to sit down and force myself to make work — that that’s how you make art. But I still felt like my creative self was coming out in other places and other ways. If you’re a creative person — and I genuinely believe that everyone is — you’re going to be creative in all aspects of your life.

“Smoke” by Anna Sellheim
If you’re a creative person — and I genuinely believe that everyone is — you’re going to be creative in all aspects of your life.

How you curate your Instagram, or the jewelry you decide to put on, or an email you send. I had a really low period a couple years ago, post-breakup and during a move, and I suddenly found myself listening to a lot more music again, and reading a lot more, and I realize all those things — even if it’s just consuming art — is still part of my creative practice. It doesn't matter if you’re actively using that information right now, you’ve taken it in and later, when you need it, it will come back up. It all still counts. If you can, separate yourself from the idea that there has to be some sort of outcome — there has to be a famous musician at the end of practicing, or a painting — and just play.

Up next: Amy will be working at the new Shop Made in DC location in Dupont, collaborating with Lindsey Vance and Chris Bantum on an art therapy project called Artistic Alchemy, and brainstorming with musician, educator, and yoga instructor Cliff Cartel and other artists on an untitled music “anti-festival” coming to us in spring 2019.

The exhibition zine, including work by all the artists and Amy Lokoff with logo by Eric Gordon.