#LOCALartIS Memphis George


What have you been working on recently?

I was recently awarded a two-year Teaching Artist residency by the Benedum Foundation through the Rural Arts Collaborative. I’ll be working with a group of 7th and 8th graders in the Washington School District. Together, we’ll create a large, wall-mounted, lighted sculpture using excavated glass from the original Cameron Coca Cola bottling plant. The piece will be installed at the site of the old bottling plant which is now The Center on Strawberry, a multi-functional community center. Two other large, lighted glass sculptures will be created and installed; one at Citizens Library in Washington and the other at Washington High School.

On the art-to-wear front, I’m working on expanding my watercolor painting series “The Part is the Whole.”  I create a detailed and colorful imaginary landscape in indelible ink and watercolor and then deconstruct the painting by cutting it into pieces. I use these parts of the original painting to create one-of-a-kind jewelry. The artwork is also printed onto luxury scarves, kimonos, skirts, bags and hats, available at memphisgeorge.etsy.com. I’m expanding this concept of creating my own textiles from my painting work to launch a new Memphis George wearable art, couture fashion line. Pieces will be sewn from my own artwork textile designs and embrace the avant-garde sensibilities that have fueled the Memphis George Jewelry brand since its inception in 1998.






Why do you do what you do?

Madeline Gradle wearing “Crick” Ace Hotel CMOA event Photo credit Celeste Van Kirk

I’m an insatiable creator. Even when I think I don’t have any more to give, any fresh perspective, any more energy to put toward bringing my unique ideas to fruition, I somehow still do it. As an artist, I’m a lifer. No matter what endeavors I take on I’m a creative problem solver. My mind just works this way. I used to think that everyone had a vivid visual memory and the ability to model and construct 3D objects and how they work mechanically in their mind. It’s something that my brain does automatically so I’ve become friends with this ability and just go with the flow! I also experience a deep harmony that wants to be expressed between my hands and the materials that I work with. Art and expression are an undervalued necessity integral to the human experience and can be used for broad-based learning and as a healing modality.

What’s your background?

I would have to say my background is multi-disciplinary. I started out as a young teen theater junkie working as an apprentice and prop master at Little Lake Theater in Canonsburg, The Pittsburgh Playhouse, and Olin Fine Arts in Washington. I did some theater my first year at the College of Wooster and when I lived in Los Angeles I was a member of West Coast Ensemble for a while and earned my way into AFTRA (now SAG-AFTRA) by doing extra work through Central Casting and bit parts in film and TV. I wrote and staged an avant-garde play, “Town,” at the Beechwood Theater in L.A. Theater is my first love and what I wish I could be doing more of.

I took core art classes for a year at Minneapolis College of Art and then moved to California and entered the San Francisco State University Film Core program. I also worked in avant-garde film at the San Francisco Cinematheque first as a volunteer, then as a film and video technician and as Program Coordinator. I moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry and after many jobs as a production assistant, assistant coordinator, camera loader, second assistant camera person, a production assistant in prop departments, art directing, etc, I eventually started working for Flower Art. They do flowers specifically for the film and TV industry and I worked with production designers and set decorators creating on-camera arrangements daily for soaps like The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless as well as for sitcoms and many feature films. Floral work honed my use of color and spatial relationships and was the beginning of my visual language that would eventually translate into my art-to-wear jewelry.

I also worked as a stylist in a digital studio shooting every item of clothing created by the Guess line for nearly two years. This is where I met a stylist who would introduce me to the Los Angeles jewelry district. I began buying gemstones and silver and creating jewelry for my family, which quickly turned into creating lines of my own jewelry designs that I handmade and sold to boutiques and galleries throughout Los Angeles. I was able to create on a daily basis. My business eventually included wholesaling, gallery consignments at places like The Gallery of Functional Art in Santa Monica, Julie Artisan on Madison Avenue in New York and other galleries throughout the United States. I’ve had my jewelry worn to the Oscars twice, owned and operated my own fine and functional art gallery in Los Angeles, Memphis George Fine Art-to-Wear Jewelry and Gallery. I have participated in numerous art shows, art festivals, including The Three Rivers Arts Festival from 2001-2015 and have had my work worn and collected by celebrities and featured in films. I’m also an avid painter and recently had a retrospective of my artwork that spanned the last 25 years at Space @ 1010 at the Allegheny Inn on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

Are you self-taught or have you had training?

I would say both. I find it easy to teach myself because I have a deep curiosity and will to create. But every college class, professor, job, coworker, workshop teacher, art friend and companion and experience has added to my artistic acumen.

How has your practice changed over time?

I’ve steadily added new skills and techniques, so everything I do is building on my previous knowledge. From my beginnings making jewelry with hand tools and beads I’ve trained as a metalsmith with artist Dickens Bishop, who also taught me how to do lost-wax casting, and from there I’ve explored resins, textiles, soft sculpture painting and finishing techniques, laser-cutting, and so much more. I’ve consistently invested in new tools over the years and own sewing machines, a serger, have a full metalsmithing studio, a beading studio and a private showroom in my studio where once a year I invite members of my email list in to see everything I’ve been working on, be it jewelry, paintings, sculpture, bags and clothing for purchase. 

Is there anything that you are working on that you would consider outside your comfort zone?

Everything I work on is outside of my comfort zone! Lol! I do a tremendous amount of research both online and with various materials and techniques and constantly am exploring new possibilities and modes of creating. Each project is an adventure and learning experience that builds upon the last and grows into something completely new that I was never sure I could pull off in the first place! And yet patience, planning, curiosity and a consistent grind haven’t failed me yet, though I welcome failure as the curveball that can lead to the home run if I let it!

Tori Mistick wearing “Embryo” KDKA Technovation Event Sept 2017 photo Credit Craig Thompson
Tori Mistick wearing “Moon Lorn” Ace Hotel CMOA event photo Credit John Colombo
Memphis George with models CMOA event photo Credit Celeste Van Kirk