posted on: Tuesday, February 04, 2014
Todd Scalise is a Erie native and an Erie artist. After living, studying and working around the US and Europe, he’s back in his hometown innovating new applications for art and design with his business Higherglyphics
. Higherglyphics are unique Visual Public Relations opportunities that “combine art and manufacturing with project management, installation, and merchandising.” You can see his work in the Perry 200 campaign, the Erie Art Museum, on the HANDS building on 7th and State Street, and at the Erie Skate Park. Read on to learn more about the 2013 Bruce Morton Wright Artist of the Year
Photos courtesy of Todd Scalise
1.) What made you want to become an artist?
I have always been an artist. It’s one of those things I didn’t really get to decide; I have had an instinct to create ever since I could hold something in my hand. Drawing was my first art form and my refuge throughout my childhood. My older sister Nancy was really good at drawing so I began by drawing what she drew. Through out school I was encouraged to draw more so I got that spark for art as a kid and it propelled me into my career choices.
2.) What inspires you?
Anything can trigger inspiration; the more random, the better. A part of my creative practice is trying to see the connections between seemingly unrelated source materials. A gum wrapper or a piece of junk mail might have something in it that interests me so I end up drawing those things. Another strategy is that sometimes I wait for things to find me. Meaning, I’ll take a walk down the street, go by the Dollar Store and see some funky sneakers with a really crazy color palette and decide that’s what I’m going to use for my next painting. Art making takes a lot of daydreaming. You have to be loose and open and be around people that allow you to operate like that.
3.) Can you describe your work?
Currently, my art is about personal expression and the various ways to apply that expression. Because my focus is to explore different ways of utilizing art, my art takes on various forms ranging from exhibition art to merchandise design and community art projects. I’m a visual artist with drawing and painting as the basis for what I do. This translates into almost anything you can create. I make art commercially but I’m not a commercial artist. When I create for a client, I call it Visual Public Relations. When an organization needs exposure, I accomplish that with a great piece of art that reflects their brand. In turn, that generates a lot of attention and earned media for the organization.
4.) What are some of your upcoming projects?
I am currently working on the art direction for the next Best Summer Night concert series, which featured Crosby, Stills and Nash two years ago. This spring I will be creating a large-scale mural for the downtown YMCA and finishing the Erie Skate Park mural project. Also, I am excited about launching my online business, Mosaix, which is a retail web site that enables anyone to create their own wallpaper and other vinyl products with their art.
5.) What prepared you most for your success?
The combination of my parent’s influence, seeking people that I would like to be more like, and 10 years moving around a lot had something to do with where I am today. My parents are the classic American self-starters who did well by forming their own business. I think it takes a lot of creativity to do that no matter what profession you are in. I have been fortunate to go to good schools and be around great artists. For whatever reason, every community I go to, I run into the top people. But the essential element is that I have never stopped making art since I was a child so I have a huge body of work to always pull from.
6.) What are your goals as an artist?
Artists in the 20th century artists primarily focused on their individual voice but I want to create beyond the expression of just one individual. It is time for an evolutionary shift towards the collective so naturally finding new applications for art will be something quintessentially 21st century. This will entice people to become more creative and stimulate higher-level thinking, which results in better problem solving.
7.) How did you establish yourself as an artist in Erie?
When I returned to Erie in 2010, my first to Visual Public Relations opportunity was for the Annex Stairwell Project at the Erie Art Museum. This project is a 1,200 sq. ft. mural and merchandising project licensed and designed exclusively for the Erie Art Museum. The stairwell is the main point of entry at the museum for anyone taking classes, faculty, staff, and donors. It was an eyesore before I was invited in 2010 by the museum’s director, John Vanco, to “do something” to the stairwell. I spent 18 months working on the project as I developed my business model for Higherglyphics. It was a great primer for learning how to raise capital for large-scale community art projects and how to merchandise my art. Merchandising is important because I want everyone to be able to afford my art. The benefit to my clients is the merchandise provides a residual stream of revenue for their organizations. I am a premier member of the StartUp Incubator
, so with the help of Donna Douglass I received help and encouragement while developing my launch project at the Erie Art Museum.
8.) What are some of the challenges you feel creative people in Erie face?
There are not enough outlets and opportunities for the large creative population here in Erie. Also, I think we still need more precedent for the utilization of creative capital here in our community. However, it is up to the artists to do what they are good at and create the opportunities, not only for themselves but for our community, otherwise we tend to gravitate towards the same solutions for old problems. For me, I knew I could make art. I worked hard to have that part of the equation figured out. But having the art is not the hard part; that’s the fun and easy part. The hard part is creating an opportunity with the art that benefits others. Like any other profession, artists in Erie need a resource for professional development. This way the community will be better able to fully exploit this powerful human resource.
9.) What is your vision for the arts in Erie?
It’s about combining community art with manufacturing for public spaces, simple as that. Erie has the potential to be an arts destination similar to Chautauqua but the potential is greater for regional and national impact. Our community is set up for manufacturing so instead of lamenting about ‘how things used to be’, we should be developing ways to merge our creative resources with our manufacturing capability. The residual effect would be something for the community to rally behind, much like the Perry 200 Commemoration.
10.) If it’s dawn, and martial law will be instated in 24 hours, how would you spend your day?
A perfect application for Visual Public Relations! I would prepare for the inevitable, bunker myself and make sure I had everything I need. After, I would create a poetic expression addressed to the proper authorities: a manifesto on a prominent wall explaining the temporary nature of the situation. Hopefully, there would be enough people to counteract and naturally balance things. It would be important to sight specific instances in history of similar coups that have failed. I would express this in a beautiful, but aggressive, written wall piece. Luckily, those types of hypothetical situations are not the only opportunities for an artist with something to say.
You can see community art projects by Todd Scalise at www.higherglyphics.com