Adventure & Whimsy

An Interview with Ari Lang.

I live in a small suburb called Amherst right outside the city of Buffalo, New York. I’ve lived in Buffalo my whole life; I have a lot of family here, and I’ve done two degrees at a University here. Admittedly, I have a hard time describing things I like about this place. Not necessarily as a result of the city itself (it’s pretty cool, objectively). My perception of the city is colored by my resentment towards it as a result of my personal experiences growing up. I sometimes feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

With that being said, Buffalo possesses a sense of familiarity that I find endearing. Whenever I meet somebody new, I get the feeling I’ve already met them— it’s kind of uncanny! I love the bars here. We’re open until 4 a.m (that probably says more about me than the city itself.)  Buffalo has a lot of heart. We have a tight-knit art and music scene. We’ve got a bunch of great art museums, concert venues, and restaurants and there’s a lot of niche appeal. All in all, not too bad once I pull myself out of my jaded head-space!

Life is a bit weird now for a variety of reasons: firstly, there’s a pandemic and time itself seems to have undergone a radical transformation in both stillness and chaos. Aside from that, I just finished up an M.A. in English at the University of Buffalo and I feel strange without relying on school to structure my life. My days consist of listening to podcasts, planning lessons, teaching, drawing, playing video games, and watching movies (though, never in the same order).

I have no real sense of what I can feasibly do with my life. I just turned 26 and I still live at home— and it’s embarrassing!  As it stands, I’m saving money, teaching, and trying to make as much artistic progress as I can in the hopes that I’ll be ready to move for good before I turn 27! I feel very much in limbo, and it’s frustrating.

Although it sounds cliche, I wanted to be an artist when I was little. I have always been very strange, but as a child I was extra strange. I remember distinctly that I once took an empty roll of wrapping paper (the cardboard), drew a face on it, tied a piece of fabric on it, and carried it around as if it were my friend. I am an intense individual— this started early, too. I chronically wrote in journals and wrote bad poetry. I liked to dress in clashing patterns and my mother swears I wouldn’t let her dictate what I wore from a young age. I liked emo music and the first time I wore makeup I put on red and neon pink eyeliner. It was ugly.  

In the third grade, we were assigned a project where we were supposed to embody a famous figure and present their life to the class. I picked Georgia O’Keefe because she was an artist who suffered from migraines— I had just recently started suffering from migraines at the time, and I was attracted to that personal connection. Throughout elementary school and middle school, I carried around a ton of gel pens, I made cards and began teaching myself manga.  

As I ventured into highschool, something about art classes really turned me off— I think it’s because I’ve never been much of a traditional or fine artist and I felt incompetent because I wasn’t able to create realistic art. I turned to writing as my primary outlet after reading The Great Gatsby. I would say that was a huge transformative moment in my life: I was deeply affected by Fitzgerald’s writing and I wanted more than anything to make something beautiful that would leave a resounding impact on somebody. I spent the next six or seven years relentlessly pursuing literature and poetry. I started falling back in love with art again last summer-- and here we are!

I try to embody the sense of adventure and whimsy I had as a child through my art.  I’ve always loved bright colors (re: my hair), and I’ve been into cute and relaxing video games like Pokémon and Animal Crossing for a majority of my life. I like taking mundane items and superimposing a lively personality onto them. Essentially, I’m creating a number of imaginary friends!  

I make art to self-soothe, and I hope that those who view my art get a simple kind of pleasure from looking at it. I’ve struggled with depression since I was about 18, and I often use escapism as a coping mechanism, indulging in fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings or deeply entrenching myself in the narratives of Final Fantasy games. Strangely, I have this divide in my head: writing is where I do my “serious” work, and art is where I go to escape, where I disengage, where I can enter the kind of headspace I used to have as a weird little child. My goal for the future is to try to better merge my serious, analytical side, and my child-like, care-free side. 

I find inspiration in my love of wizards, magic, talking animals, and whimsical creatures. In terms of video games, I can’t emphasize enough how formative Final Fantasy X was to me. It’s fantasy gold and Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack is transcendent. As I mentioned before, I’ve loved Animal Crossing since Wild World came out. Pokémon and Nintendo games have also been hugely influential to me. Video games offered my earliest experiences in escapism, and I am indebted to them for making my life more surreal and bearable.

Some of my favorite artists are the impressionists and the surrealists: I love when artists incorporate an element of fantasy into work and transgress the strictures of reality. I like that the Impressionists weren’t afraid to be a little bit messy and that they horrified the art world and disrupted the status-quo. I think back a lot to Marc Chagall’s whimsical and airy work; Vincent van Gogh was an early favorite, too. In terms of contemporary working illustrators, I've been loving Cheyenne Barton, Molly Fairhurst, David Shrigley, and Charlotte Ager, and Ollie Silvester lately, to name a few. But, I’m still so new to illustrative art and I’ve barely cracked the surface! 

Like many other kids born in the 90’s, Harry Potter books and movies inspired my infatuation with fantasy. Currently, Haruki Murakmi is one of my favorite contemporary writers; I can only aspire to imitate the way he plays with black humor, fantasy, and pop culture. Certainly, reading his work has pushed me to engage more with pop culture and media in the past five years. Some of my more recent illustrative work is inspired by movies I love; two of the pieces I included pay homage to Midsommar and Lord of the Rings.

I’m lucky to be close to quite a few artistic people. My mother was one of my earliest artistic influences. While I was growing up, she worked as a singer and was always supportive of my pursuit of the arts and humanities (and still is). My brother is a singer and he plays the piano; I’ve always envied his intuition, his talent, and the ease with which he learns new skills. My sister loves art, too, and pursued a degree in Art History— I definitely picked up on that in college and pursued a minor in Art History because of her. She has a care-free sense of style that I tried to imitate when I was younger. Looking up to her, her musical and artistic tastes, and the way in which she was so bold and uniquely herself gave me the courage to follow suit.  

One of my best friends, Tim Quinn, also serves as an influence: he’s a gifted hair stylist with a keen sense of color. He dabbles in a lot of trades and crafts that I’m completely unskilled in-- jewelry making, woodworking, gardening, etc. I typically like to ask him for advice on how to make things; he’s my life raft! And a reliable second opinion.

A lot of my creative motivation comes as a result of my stubbornness and impulsiveness. I can be radically passionate for short spurts of time. I’ve always hated being told no; I’ve hated entertaining the idea that I can’t do something, that I can’t make a life writing, or drawing, or whatever else I want to do. Like many other artists, I’m also motivated by a lot of intense self-scrutiny and criticism. I compare myself to previous versions of myself and I compare myself to other writers and artists. Ultimately, my main motivation is a drive towards self-progression and unattainable perfection.  Although I know I will never truly be satisfied with the work I make, the act of trying to make “good” things is probably more important than the end result.

Sometimes, I just resort to drawing things I’ve already drawn before. Sometimes, I take some time away from my work and revisit it on a different day. I often catch myself looking at the portfolios of artists I admire, but that doesn’t always end well! (I get jealous.) Lately, I’ve been taking advantage of the two free months on Skillshare— being in a structured, pseudo-classroom setting with projects and assignments energizes me.  I don’t quite have a method down yet. I just try and persist.

At the end of my days, I’d like to be known for the way I make people feel with the work I create.

My name is Ari Lang. I’m a recent graduate from the English MA program at the University at Buffalo.  I’m a part time teacher, writer, and poet, a full-time doodler, and a self-taught illustrator.

©Alchemy & Elegy