100 Creatives 2012: John Sparagana

Art by John Sparagana
Art by John Sparagana

John Sparagana does not create art with a specific audience in mind. Ten years ago, he started taking media images that seemed simply informational and transformed them into mysterious works that he hopes people will spend time with. It was a post-9/11 impulse, and Sparagana introduced a series of cast-shadow images from magazine covers. By revealing a little strip of an image, he would convert the ordinary into something more "paranoid, melancholic and neurotic." In other words, Sparagana takes everyday found objects, much like Duchamp and his urinal, and changes them into something that triggers an emotional response.

Sparagana is also the professor of Visual and Dramatic Arts at Rice University, and has taught there for the past 20 years. He instructs students in all different studio disciplines, having them focus on projects that are self-generated. Instead of giving students a set of problems, he brings in visiting artists and forms a critique-based class to help prepare for year-end final exhibitions.

What he does: Sparagana takes popular media images, specifically from magazines, and breaks them down into large collage constructions that produce a certain sequence.

"I like magazines because they're physical. A magazine page is a tangible, physical thing. It's a magazine page, but it's also a photograph. I take popular media images, the images that we all share as a culture and that constantly come at us. These images from the media are meant to act on us in certain ways and are meant to be understood in certain ways, and so I interact with them in a way so that the source is still recognizable. You still know that it's an image from the media, but it's shifted its terms so that it's no longer informational, but instead more poetic and critical. They're meant to be beautiful, and to have some richness and complexity."

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Sparagana also aims to slow down the experience of viewing art.

"I want to offer the option of a contemplative or analytical experience of material that we all share, and in that way potentially shift consciousness while making cool images."

If not this, what? When Sparagana isn't teaching or making art, he is a "casual but serious Tibetan Buddhist practitioner."

"One alternative that would be interesting to me would be to go deeply into a monastic life. If art wasn't compelling to me, it might be that I would go into that more deeply and see where that would lead. In college I was part of an Indian meditation practice. It's this thing that's always been of interest. When I was young it was hard to negotiate that with being an artist in the world, but it's not such a dilemma at this point and I see how both things can exist."

If not here, where? Even though Sparagana believes that Houston has a great art scene, he could see himself in Berlin, Germany.

"It's a good scene. Partly because the city was kind of bombed out. And it's the government center, not the industrial center, so there is a lot of support for cultural activity. Space is cheap, and because there is so much support for the arts, it's been a gathering place for international artists. There is a big group of young people and young artists, as well as the cafe culture. It also has a good climate and good tempo for art."

What's next? Sparagana has just finished up a public art piece commissioned by Rice University that is on display at the BioScience Research Collaborative, and he says that things are just continuing on for his media images series.

"I just did something on a scale I've never done before. It's 10x17 feet. Other things I do are more intimate, subtle and delicate, but new avenues and ideas keep opening up about scale and context."

More Creatives for 2012 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).

Damon Smith, musician and visual artist Geoff Winningham, photographer Johnathon Michael Espinoza, visual artist Jaemi Blair Loeb, conductor Katya Horner, photographer Johnathan Felton, artist Nicoletta Maranos, cosplayer Carol Simmons, hair stylist Joseph "JoeP" Palmore, actor, poet Greg Carter, director Kenn McLaughlin, theater director Justin Whitney, musician Antone Pham, tattoo artist Susie Silbert, crafts Lauralee Capelo, hair designer Marisol Monasterio, flamenco dancer Carmina Bell, promoter and DJ ReShonda Tate Billingsley, writer Kiki Lucas, choreographer and director J.J. Johnston, theater director Mary Margaret Hansen, artist Richard Tallent, photographer Viswa Subbaraman, opera director Emily Sloan, sculptor and performance artist Sonja Roesch, gallery owner Enrique Carreón-Robledo, conductor Sandy Ewen, musician Camella Clements, puppeteer Wade Wilson, gallery owner Magid Salmi, photographer Carl Williams, playwright


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