Dark and Grimy

by HRM on May 8, 2011

Interview with New York illustrator Chelsey Pettyjohn

I first met Chelsey when we were waitressing together in the Lower East Side. With her signature bright lipstick and wild sense of humor, she stood out in the fancy restaurant where we worked. One of the first pieces she showed me was an early drawing she made while still a photo major. In the piece, a man is lying with his head thrown back while a black, hairy rat crouches on his shoulder. The vulnerability of the man’s exposed neck and the sinister possibilities of what the rat might do combine revulsion and hilarity, a theme that is prevalent in her work. We sat down for the interview over Skype, and she waved her computer around to find the best internet connection in her Brooklyn apartment, finally placing it on a little ledge in her wall.

Chelsey Pettyjohn

Elise, Chelsey Pettyjohn

Interview by Rachel TonThat

HRM: What got you interested in illustration?

CP: Well, I started off as a photo major and did that for a year. It was great, but I wanted to do more. I felt sort of restricted with the medium, and I couldn’t see myself sitting in a Studio & Light class for another year.

At that time, I discovered this artist named Justin Lee Williams and was really into his work. I had never thought about illustration, period, up until that point, but his work inspired me to try drawing. I knew I was bad, but I also knew I was so bad I was kind of good. And the rest, as they say, is history.

HRM: Has photography influenced your illustrations?

CP: Definitely. I see things with a photographic eye, and I draw from my own photos a lot. I’m experimenting lately with collages, drawing portraits on top of photo backgrounds. I like the result, but I’m still experimenting to see what works.

Chelsey Pettyjohn

Bridge Collage, Chelsey Pettyjohn

HRM: What are some of your other artistic influences?

CP: Lina Scheynius, the photographer, influences me in a huge way. I draw from her photos constantly, and I think she’s amazing. I look at a lot more photographers than I do illustrators. And I’m also influenced by film – kind of darker stuff like Harmony Korine’s work and “This Is England”. I just love dirty, grimy stuff. It’s more fun to draw.

Chelsey Pettyjohn

Nicolas, Chelsey Pettyjohn

HRM: Have your visits to Paris had any influence on your work? And what do you think of the New York-Paris connection prevalent in film, art, and literature?

CP: Certainly. I first got into photography when I was seventeen and in Paris for the first time. A girl let me borrow her film camera when we went to Versailles and I fell in love with it. So, one thing led to the other in the years following. I was in Paris earlier this year and shot a lot of backgrounds that I’m planning to use in some collage-type stuff soon.

In terms of that connection, New York and Paris are my two favorite cities on earth. I think they definitely bounce artistic ideas and influences off of each other. How many New York filmmakers were influenced by Jean-Luc Godard? Well… I don’t know. But probably a million. He’s amazing! It’s all a constant circle of influence, past and present.

Chelsey Pettyjohn

Leaves, Chelsey Pettyjohn

Chelsey Pettyjohn is an illustrator, photographer, and writer living and working in New York City. She is currently studying Illustration and Writing at the New School. Her work can be seen at www.hideousthings.com

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