Drastic Shifts in Your Art

Periodically, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.

Whether prompted by external or internal forces, artists often make major adjustments to their art and process. We asked artists in different disciplines, Have you ever taken your work in a drastically new direction?

View a gallery of some of the diverse work of the responding artists.

Corey Corcoran, mixed media artist and illustrator
My work has shifted several times over in recent years: from mixed media drawings and sculptures to engravings using real tree fungus to digital drawings and animations. Part of this is just the natural process of responding to new ideas and images in daily life, but the most dramatic shifts are usually the result of a new studio space or taking on a project that’s outside my comfort zone in terms of scale or format. I used to regard these shifts as problematic or as a setback to the overall trajectory of the work, but now I really look forward to the change in perspective, even if the jump looks drastic to an outsider. Taking on ambitious projects or being confronted with a very different working environment can be an effective way for me to reassess process, learn new techniques, or move concepts from off the back burner. Over time, it’s exciting to see patterns emerge across media or from seemingly disparate bodies of work.

Simeon Berry, poet
I have this affinity for formalists who explode in the middle of their careers and write wildly dark and playful things like Galway Kinnell‘s The Book of Nightmares or Donald Hall‘s The Museum of Clear Ideas. Not surprising that I sort of did the same.

When I started out in poetry, I wrote nothing but chiseled little portraits for about 10 years, stuff that was like hypercubes: precise and mathematically suggestive. Then I grew impatient with the size of that psychic aperture, and felt driven to make the lyric as objectionable and sprawling as I could. This became my first book, Ampersand Revisited, where I sent the line all the way across the page and overshared in every place I felt lyric poems typically withheld.

For my second, I wanted a text that would be unassuming and casual. I’d heard about how Eddie Van Halen decided to play with his back to the audience after other guitarists began stealing his technique. I hungered for something that would be the opposite of that defensiveness, that would be as close to my speaking voice as possible. I aimed for the radical silences of poetry, but relied on fictional, rather than imagistic, devices to advance the plot. This turned into Monograph.

Zehra Khan, visual artist
I love exploring different mediums, which often means I am in unfamiliar territory. I try to make art that is guided by intuition, and that will hopefully surprise me. I try not to judge or worry about whether the piece fits into the work I have created previously. Some of my most fruitful work was started on a whim.

Part of what drives me in art is problem solving within the confines of each project. Figuring out how to glue together a paper mask, or make it using the least amount of paper. Switching direction in medium or content is something I do to keep me on my toes.

Allison Cekala, interdisciplinary artist
This past year I learned a new medium: film. I had been working on a project about Boston’s road salt, which began as a formal series of salt pile photographs, but quickly expanded to documenting the movement of the road salt from its source in South America. I felt the conceptual shift required a change in medium to more accurately represent the movement and time inherent in the process – and also convey the narrative that I wanted to tell.

Learning the skills necessary to capture, then edit, moving images and sound was not, however, an easy task. But the benefits have been tremendous. I began hearing subtle timbre and noticing particular nuances in movement that I had previously overlooked. The new sensitivities carried over in both my life and my work, heightening my ability to perceive and observe. I am currently continuing to make films, but anticipate taking more leaps – both conceptually and materially in the future as my ideas evolve to demand different kinds of representations.


Simeon Berry lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. He has been an Associate Editor for Ploughshares and received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Individual Artist Grant. His first book, Ampersand Revisited (Fence Books), won the 2013 National Poetry Series, and his second book, Monograph (University of Georgia Press), won the 2014 National Poetry Series. Upcoming readings include the KGB Bar in New York (10/19) and the Belt It Out Reading Series in Cambridge, MA (10/23).

Allison Cekala is an interdisciplinary artist primarily working in film/video and photography. She will be exhibiting a group of photographs, Salt, at the Mayor’s Gallery at Boston City Hall this January 4–29. She was a recent artist-in-residence at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire and is currently working on a series of short films.

Corey Corcoran is a mixed media artist and illustrator. His digital art is part of the 15th round of Art on the Marquee works projected onto the Boston Convention Center Authority’s 80-foot-tall multi-screen LED marquee, opening October 14. He also has work in the 24th Drawing Show Feelers at the Boston Center for the Arts Mills Gallery, October 9-December 20, opening reception Friday, October 9, 6-8 PM.

Zehra Khan is a visual artist working in sculpture, drawing, mask and costume making, performance, and film. Her upcoming shows include Animal/Animist at Room 83 Spring Gallery, in Watertown, MA, Nov 5 – Dec 20, and in the group show Lost Cat at Cape Cod Museum of Art, in Dennis, MA, Nov 24-Jan 17.

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