Behind the Lens: Philip Porcella

-Hollie McLaughlin

Credit: Philip Porcella

Philip is a storyteller. Like a writer who brings their narratives to life with a pen and paper, Porcella tell stories with his lens by capturing moments in time and feeding the hungry eyes of viewers. Behind the lens, Porcella’s own personal narrative is as astonishing and alluring as his photography.

Growing up in Boston, Porcella aspired to be a playwright or a formula one driver. After realizing he “couldn’t be a writer”, he looked towards photography during a trip to Hawaii. “As a young boy I received the gift of a camera. From that moment on, my passion became capturing moments.” The father of a childhood friend was headed to Hawaii to look for locations for the Sheraton Hotel. The family invited Porcella to join them in Hawaii for a month. Before embarking on his adventure, his parents gave him a Kodak Dual Flex camera. He began to “chronicle my youth” and developed his eye as a photographer. “I always saw a photograph wherever I looked.”

Mickey Rooney. Credit: Philip Porcella

Working with Unicef

Aftering working on his craft during his studies at Art Center of Design Los Angeles, Porcella headed to New York City. It was there he began to work with Unicef. While working on a project with Unicef, Porcella photographed Mickey Rooney,Audrey Hepburn, Muhammad Ali and Frank Sinatra. Porcella’s stories from the shoots are as mesmerizing as the portraits produced by the shoots.

Mickey Rooney walked into the studio with wrinkled clothes, placed them on the floor, looked at Porcella and asked “Okay, what am I here for?” Porcella convinced Rooney to jump in the air during the shoot. “I’ll do this once...Okay once more”, he responded to Porcella’s request.

Audrey Hepburn. Credit: Philip Porcella 

It was nearly midnight while Porcella waited for Audrey Hepburn to arrive to their photoshoot at New York’s Pierre Hotel. “Audrey was on her way back from Africa. She fell asleep on my shoulder between shots. She didn’t want makeup. She wasn’t caught up in having her hair done and didn’t worry about the clothes.”

Porcella’s shoot with Muhammad Ali showed his softer side. Ali signed a pair of boxing gloves for Porcella’s daughter. “I mean here he is, a heavyweight champion, and guess what he writes along with his autograph? He wrote ‘Love is the net where hearts are caught like fish’ ”.

Frank Sinatra. Credit: Philip Porcella

Taking Chances

As a photographer, Porcella has strong instinct and his attitude stands as an example for aspiring photographers. While taking portraits of even the most notable celebrities, he says “I didn’t care who they were. I just kept my eyes on their eyes. Eyes are the window to the soul. By making a better connection with my subject, I usually got a better, more candid pose.” He would often bring up the topic of family with his subject to prolong photoshoots. He did this when he was granted only ten minutes to photograph Frank Sinatra. “The funny thing is sometimes it's all about the camera. Using a bigger camera tends to catch people’s attention more. It’s as if they suddenly take you more seriously.”

"Vienna". Credit: Philip Porcella.

His intuition has lead him to produce pieces of work that would otherwise not exist if he hadn’t spoken up. His photograph “Vienna” was created after the shoot wrapped. It began to rain as the shoot finished. Porcella asked the model to turn around and walk away from the camera. The photo captured in this moment is one of his most well known pieces of work.

“Love taking chances” Porcella tells me when asked for advice for aspiring photographers. “If you’re willing to take chances, it always ends up being a good thing. As my friend, (photographer) Sarah Moons says ‘Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t forget you only see my successes’ ”.

To see more of Philip Porcella's work, you can visit his website here>>

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Artist Matt Muirhead,Adopted Son of Baltimore

-Michelle Argento

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While wandering through the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, I was struck by an installation featuring vibrant, intriguingly psychedelic colors. They screamed as I passed by, daring me to examine their bold movement and exciting schemes.

Matt Muirhead, the creator of the trippy works, is as bold as his art. Quirky, yet full of whimsical wisdom, his art is a reflection of a life full of color, energy, and passion. Since arriving on this side of the Atlantic from England, he has found a niche in Baltimore’s art scene. This mixed media painting, instrument building, screen printing, Facebook updating artist, brings more than just paint to his work.

A Self-Taught World Traveler

Muirhead’s earliest exposure to the kind of art that inspires him came from British television. “I was struck by Tony Hart’s Take Hart, which inspired children to create or see art in the world around them,” he explained. One particular episode made a lasting impact. “The main artist collected and piled trash throughout an episode,” he recalled. “At the end, the artist flipped a light switch, and the art had transformed from a pile of rubbish to a beautiful scape.”

This excitement for art stayed with him as he and his family moved Stateside when he was a preteen. An introvert by nature, art became a means for Matt to communicate with and approach the world. His cartoon flipbooks of zany decapitations and car crashes won his classmates over. He later put his creativity to work with a series of movie posters based on non-existent movies.

As he grew older, he realized that his interest in art was more than a passing fad. However, as a college student at the University of Toledo, Muirhead struggled to find a place among the stratified subcultures of the university art world. Whereas his interests lay in the journey of creation, avoiding the mundane or traditional genres, and highlighting his own mistakes, Muirhead’s coursework consisted of instruction-based lessons that taught him nothing more than how to get from point A to point B. After about a year of uninspiring and frustrating instruction, he abandoned the rigid formal education of the university art world to create his own niche.

After making the determination to strike out on his own, Muirhead relocated to Chicago. However, while he was ready to take on the world, the world wasn’t quite ready for him. Though his artwork had started to sell (he fondly recalled his first sale in 1994), he soon became disenchanted by a scene that seemed more about who artists knew than what they could accomplish. In one instance, Muirhead painstakingly crafted a portfolio to bring to a gallery owner shortly before traveling out of town. After he explained the situation to the owner, the owner disinterestedly tossed his portfolio onto a large pile of other works, never giving Muirhead a proper response.

Undeterred, Muirhead decided to focus on the other exciting aspects of his career. He sought out non-conventional spaces like shoe stores, coffee shops, and restaurants to display, and hopefully sell, some of his works. He also met a woman for whom he fell hard. When she announced to him that she was moving to Japan, he decided to follow.

The Artist Abroad

Muirhead speaks fondly of the leadup to Japan. “I was in love and inspired,” he said, “but I had to raise money fast.” He began selling his works at a more rapid pace, often taking less than he felt the pieces were worth to ensure he’d make a sale. He even went a more unconventional route to get extra work: he forged a diploma in order to get himself an interview.

When he finally made it to Japan, he had no plan and little knowledge of the language or culture. However, after a short period of searching, he began teaching art on tour boats. This interaction helped him meet a number of interesting people, inspiring him in both his art and his life.

The eclectic population of Japan also fed his inspiration. “I met a man named Bun,” he recalled, “who was a self-taught instrument builder. Bun was in a band that used all ethnic instruments and improvised more exotic soundscapes.” Muirhead got to know Bun a little during his time in Japan and admired his work. Before Muirhead left Japan, Bun gifted him one of his homemade kalimbas.

Adopted Son of Baltimore

When he returned to the United States, he found himself in Baltimore in what he calls “misfit” paradise. Baltimore offered a unique blend of the places he traveled. Unlike the “big pond” of Chicago, Muirhead found he was able to stand out in a place like Baltimore. The location on the East Coast also allowed him to gain greater exposure to artists and buyers along the Atlantic seaboard.

Muirhead brought to Baltimore his admiration for instrument makers by founding a band, Immortal Jellyfish with Justin and Becka Miller. Taking his newfound love of instrument making, he proposed a band in which everyone had handcrafted instrument of former junk. Inspired by his friend Bun and working with instrument maker Lee Connah, the first instrument he made was a tambora. It took him around 40 hours to make the instrument. But from the experience, his instrument making (and now painting) has taken off and is now a pivotal part of his art collections.

Now residing in the liberal, art-centered neighborhood of Hampden, Muirhead adds his love for the city to his artwork. Whether it be by featuring a bit of the cityscape in his designs or by him showcasing at some of the many artistic festivals and museums.

Muirhead gives this sage advice to newer artists looking to join him- live off as little as possible to do it full time. Muirhead describes the power of letting art become a real gig with such passion and enthusiasm that it is hard to dispute this style of living. It has certainly allowed him to travel, explore, and have fun with his work.

To follow Matt and his work, visit his website and Instagram account. His website showcases even more of his work.

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Nora Renick Rinehart: Standing on the Horizon of a Revival

-Michelle Argento

American folk & craft and mixed media arts have recently seen a massive revival amongst a new generation. Throughout the country, millennial artists have begun to put their stamp on media such as woodworking, quilt making, glass art, and utility art. For emerging artist and teacher Nora Renick Rinehart, the budding reemergence of fabric-based mixed media art has opened up doors while also letting her repent for an early childhood faux pas. 

A Crafty Start

Collaboration with *Liz Anna Kozik

Renick Rinehart remembers her childhood in Massachusetts as “whimsically crafty.” Her family would allow her to explore her wildest whims—even if it was out of reach of her skillsets. When asked about her earliest memory of impactful art, she describes how, at three years old, she enlisted her mother to assist her in making shoes:

She got out her sewing machine and some pattern paper and went about trying to build a three dimensional, shoe-like form. I being three and therefore not the smartest person on the planet, traced my foot on to cardboard, had it cut out for me, and then duct taped the cardboard soles to a pair of socks. I wore those shoes around for weeks.

Renick Rinehart’s mother enjoyed arts and crafts, and she encouraged her daughter’s artistic dreams through a nearby arts center. However, what really set her on an artistic path was an incident over the holidays. “I hurt my mother’s feelings by insulting her homemade Christmas present,” Rinehart laments. The event “scarred” her, she continues, setting her off on a quest to both perfect and defend objects made by hand.

By fifteen, Renick Rinehart had gone through nearly every fabric at both the nearby arts and crafts stores. She had her pick of “an extensive selection of arts classes” in high school, where she developed a strong interest in photography. By the time she was starting college at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, she had a plan to combine her passion, photography, with something more practical: arts education.

Finding Fibers

 Collaboration with *Liz Anna Kozik

Collaboration with *Liz Anna Kozik

Today, Renick Rinehart primarily makes a living as a teacher; she also has been producing some photography projects of late. While this is exactly what she began college by studying, however, neither course gave her what she felt she needed. She was particularly interested in feminist and female-centric views on history and society. “I wanted to learn social history [and] women’s history,” she explains, adding that her ideal department would have “a supportive female environment” and focus on a technical education.

She was surprised to find everything she could have wanted in a place she didn’t even know existed. “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Fibers program until I discovered the one at MICA,” she says. “It was my saving grace.” Renick Rinehart graduated from MICA in 2007 with a BFA in Fibers.

Following graduation, Renick Rinehart moved to Philadelphia, which she calls a “great (i.e. ‘cheap’) city for a recent grad to start an art career.” Though the city boasts a population of more than 1.5 million, she explains that its tight-knit communities and neighborhood-oriented feel offered her the perfect opportunity to find a niche in order to show her early works. She also learned the benefits of freelancing, picking up some stitching work for the well-known Fabric Workshop and Museum. In 2010, she left Philadelphia for her current space in Chicago, where she maintains her own studio and teaches at the Lillstreet Art Center.

Renick Rinehart’s productions blend an ever-changing sense of style and brilliant eye for color-texture combinations with a sense of humor that she calls one of the best ways for an artist to endear herself to an audience. “A little bit of humor,” she muses, “goes a long way to… making [an audience] question itself in relation to a piece or an idea…. It can be such a powerful tool.”

To supplement her living as an artist, Renick Rinehart teaches and hosts seminars at Lillstreet Art Center in Logan Square. Through these courses, she hopes to imbue students with “the confidence to continue working on their own, the inspiration for new projects, and enthusiasm for the processes.” She says she’d eventually like to teach at the college level.

Renick Rinehart has also taken advantage of the easy-to-use boutique sales on Etsy to craft on-demand. Though her sales have been “reliably unreliable” since she first opened her shop in 2006, she is happy to use the pre-existing structure to conduct online business rather than having to set up her own shop or go through the expense of selling through consignment. She continues:

I like the flexibility that Etsy provides. I can make what I want, when I want, and however many I want—which is perfect, since sometimes I don’t want to make anything to sell. I prefer to take commissions and work hand-in-hand with customers to create whatever it is they need or want.

While she doesn’t foresee her situation changing in the immediate future, Renick Rinehart says she’s keeping her possibilities open. “Some days,” she says, “I see myself doing this forever: making stuff, teaching textiles, talking about art… And then other days, I just want to pack it all up and open a tailoring shop instead.” 

Always the Artist

Still, in her heart, it is very obvious Renick Rinehart will always be an artist. Whether it is in the textiles of her professional medium or the photography that has long been a passion, Renick Rinehart describes her art as lovingly as a mother might describe her children. “My work tends to be disparate in concepts and aesthetics,” she explains. “It approaches an experience and tries to suss out its universalities.”

Her most recent work, Blue is the Sky, is some of the most immediate of her career. The photographic series was created over ten months as a daily installment of commercial paint colors close to each day’s sky color. Through an emphasis on emotion over analysis, Renick Rinehart explores the differences between perception and reality via a truly universal, yet personal, subject.

Though she has been working in photography of late, Renick Rinehart still holds fibers dear. “Textiles have a ubiquitous presence in our lives,” she says lovingly. “We wear them; we dress our houses with them; their production propels our global economies.” She believes her audiences bring with them personal experience that adds to their understanding of a textile work. All of these, she says, have led to a resurgence of textile work, particularly handmade folk designs. “It might sound cheesy,” she concludes, “but I think fiber is the material of the moment.” That’s certainly a great thing for someone who has been designing artistic wares since she was three. Her designs may have grown more intricate and advanced, but the same do-it-yourself spirit remains.

Collaboration with *Liz Anna Kozik

To see Nora’s work in person, you can check out her exhibits at Bedford Galleries in Walnut Creek, CA (through May 25th); and shows in Chicago at the Lillstreet Art Center’s Gallery Annex (through April 13th), Beauty and Brawn Gallery and Think Space (April 12th-May 31st), and Chicago Artist Coalition (May 31st-June 16th).

You can follow Nora Renick Rinehart on her Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You can also check out her website >>here. To see more of Liz Anna's work, first her website >>here

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Growing Up Monstrochika: One on One with Chicago Street Artist and Illustrator Naomi Martinez

-Michelle Argento

A femme feline whisks by on a skateboard. Monsters gather below. A shy fox-girl gazes wistfully off in the distance. This vibrant, colorful urban take on Maurice Sendak comes courtesy of Naomi Martinez, better known as Monstrochika. Martinez’s images invoke a mix of girl power femininity with the giddy excitement of Saturday morning cartoons.

Like many modern urban scale artists, Martinez’s palate is stark: neon greens, deep purples, dark blues. It is the perfect color scheme to complement her trademark characters. Whereas many use street art to provoke socially or politically, Martinez aims instead to portray a raw, childlike joy through her work. This evokes a whole new level of honesty, one that is all-embracing rather than alienating or shocking.

Martinez grew up in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. There, she gained high exposure to the vivid colors and raw energy of classic ‘80s and ‘90s street art in the area. However, she notes that it tended to fade into the background with other graffiti.

It wasn’t until she was a teenager that it all came together. “Something just clicked,” she said. “I realized that someone actually took the time to claim the space and create the original art.” She began to notice that many of the original artists possessed great skill and technique to paint so precisely. Inspired, she began first by integrating some of the styles she admired, and, as her talent developed, adding her own flair.

Martinez’s next hurdle was a lack of contacts in the trade. “There were not many local female artists to look up to or aspire to be,” she explained. One reason for this, she said, was that the scene is dominated by a machismo culture in which a female is more likely to be flirted with than to be given paint or space. But Martinez refused to back down. “I wanted to be more than just a name on the wall drawn by my boyfriend,” she admitted. “I wanted to put my own name up there.”

Still determined to pursue art in her life, Martinez worked on her craft and was eventually accepted into Columbia College, an influential art school that has produced many rising classical and modern artists. Martinez, unfortunately, was not one of those artists. She had trouble focusing her talents and struggled to find her place among the students. Finally determining that the art program wasn’t giving her what she needed, she left her traditional art school and went back to her roots in mural and street arts.

Making a Space for Urban, Female Artists 

During her exploration of her artistic roots, Martinez came across Synergy, a female collective of artists and dancers based on the south side of Chicago. The group welcomed her, particularly for her love of illustration, watercolors, and drawings, helping prepare her for a life as an independent artist. As she learned from Synergy and worked on her talent, she also began a series of collaborations on walls in cities throughout the United States, further enriching her art.

Martinez and her Venice Beach mural.

Most recently, she painted along Venice Beach’s famous walls. She was inspired by the open community that promoted art and encouraged talented individuals to beautify the local space. Like many street artists in Chicago, she hopes that this openness for art may make its way back to her home city. 

“Chicago itself is always growing and changing,” Martinez said, noting that street art that was once seen as a nuisance has become valued and protected. As more famous muralists show their work around the city, she believes that more opportunity for off-the-grid artists like herself will allow her community to gain traction. She especially sees this as an opening for Chicago females who would like to be a part of a male-dominated community. 

A Big and Bright Future

Today, when she is not traveling or working on her solo shows, Martinez brings her talents to others in her community. Working with Elavarte Studio in the Pilsen neighborhood, Martinez teaches fabric art, including dollmaking, to a community where art is less readily available. 

As a teacher, she hopes that her young students walk away from her courses with something she never got to experience at a young age: self-confidence. The ability to create and experience originality inspires her to be a student herself as she looks to expand her crafts in to sculpting. 

When asked if she had any advice for new or emerging street artists or muralists, Martinez goes back to the idea of mentors. She urges artists to find their place in the artistic community by networking, joining groups, and getting to know artists in similar genres. Sharing space and leads on walls has opened up many opportunities for her to collaborate and expand her talents. 

Being humble and gracious towards other artists and patient with herself and her talents has gotten Naomi Martinez to where she wants to be artistically today. From her early starts as a wanting to write her own name on the walls to today’s artist who has shown nationally, Martinez strives to continue bringing happiness and energy to her community.

How to Connect with Monstrochika: 

Martinez’s work can be found on Instagram and her website


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