The Art Ready visit to the Prospect Heights, Brooklyn studio of painter George Boorujy provided another example of an artist who draws inspiration and experience from “non art” fields. George’s work stems from an interest in science, specifically “how humans impact animals and the environment.” He initially studied marine biology in college before switching to fine art, and has worked as an illustrator for zoos and birdwatching magazines. George was also employed as a potter on the west coast, before receiving his MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 2002.
George’s understanding of the natural world, anatomy, and sculpture, hewed from these combined experiences, informs his hyper-detailed, realistic renderings of animals, plants, and vast natural environments, mostly executed in simple pen and ink on a grand scale. At the time of our visit, all of George’s actual artwork was at the Art Basil Miami show, but he compensated for this by hanging digital prints of this missing work around the room: the ones that sparked particular curiosity portrayed a wild bear with a missing arm, a beached whale tagged with urban-style graffiti, a “man-made”-looking glacier, and an Abraham Lincoln bust with exposed chest hair (“I wanted to portray him like an animal,” George explained). Students picked up on the subtle environmental commentary in these works, making associations with consumer practices like hunting endangered species for fur.
We were also able to get a thorough overview of George’s work process through the big pencil and ink drawings-in-progress that covered almost an entire wall; multiple animal reference pictures printed from Google Images (George also recommends the NYC Public Library’s Image Library at 5th Ave. and 40th street as a source for older or more obscure material); small clay sculptures of animals; and tables with paintbrushes tubes of gouache. After studying multiple photographic images of a subject for one of his drawings, George creates a clay sculpture of that subject, and uses the sculpture to figure out the exact position and lighting of the subject. He then digitally photographs the sculpture and uses the computer to work out composition for the final drawing.
George also demonstrated how he uses a long rod with a pencil attached at the end to make his huge drawings, so that he can stand far enough back from the wall to see the drawing as a whole while he is working. He moves closer to add in the detail. The work is labor-intensive; sometimes he will be halfway through a detailed drawing, realize something about it isn’t quite right, and start over.
Unlike video and photo artists who usually must rely on securing grants to purchase expensive equipment, George can create his artwork without spending a lot. “This drawing will probably cost about 80 cents to make,” George said, as he gestured toward a work in progress. However, despite their low fabrication cost, George’s works can still sell for thousands of dollars at a gallery, partly because of the amount of time he puts into them; he also echoed Jessica Ann Peavy’s statements from the prior week that an artwork’s value is determined largely by the galleries and dealers selling it. “People are much more likely to buy artwork through a gallery than an individual artist. Think about it: are you more likely to buy jewelry from a jewelry store, or from some guy on the street?”
To support himself as an artist, George does take on other paid work, such as carpentry. While being an artist and having a social life at the same time can be challenging, George says, “you make it work, just like any other job.”
George first started mentoring for Art Ready in 2009-2010, when he was also a Studio Artist in residence at Smack Mellon. With past mentees, he has given technical drawing exercises, and feels he is the best type of mentor for “students who like drawing or sculpture, and have a project in mind that they want to work on.” He also enjoys taking mentees to museums and galleries to see other artwork.
George advised the whole group, “You have to keep in shape with drawing–just like athletes.” In an interview on his website, George also discusses the importance of staying “in shape” as an excellent craftsperson in addition to creating artwork that makes people “look at the world around them and see the things they overlooked before.” He states, “I think people usually have respect for craft, and perhaps because I draw recognizable things in a way that hopefully demonstrates a high level of craft it can draw people in.”
See more of George’s work and read the full interview at www.georgeboorujy.com