Imagine, If You Will

If you could be present at the moment that art is conceived, what would you see or hear? Artists share stories of how they are moved to create.

December 25, 2005

NO ARTIST, HOWEVER GIFTED, CREATES in a vacuum. Painters, novelists, poets, pianists -- all are jostled by the people they meet, the things they hear, the stuff -- whether grand or small -- of everyday life.

But, on those inevitable days when they're feeling tired or stale, what specifically impels them to give the blank Etch-a-Sketch of their imaginations an encouraging shake?

Where do they get the energy to go out, yet again, and create the world anew each day from scratch?

We asked some of the most vibrant and interesting creators we know what inspires them, and the answers they provided were illuminating.

An actor heard in his own mind the voice of his father, an immigration inspector on the Canadian border of Michigan. A choreographer is an avid clipper of newspaper articles. A designer glimpsed a swarm of fireflies, and instantly envisaged a pendant light. A teacher is renewed daily by the vivid brush strokes and delicate charcoal shadings of her students.

If there's a lesson to be gleaned, perhaps it is this: We can't all be great artists, but we just might be muses, even if often, we're unaware of the roles we're playing.

TEMIKA MOORE

INSTINCTS LEAD THE WAY

Wednesday, July 1, 1998. Temika Moore sat on a MARC train en route to a job she hated. Something inside spoke to her that morning: "Just do it. Walk into the Washington law firm where you work as a paralegal and resign." Moore, 31, can't explain precisely what happened, but she did just that.

"I was living somebody else's plan: my family's," the Waldorf resident says.

She set out to realize her dreams of being a singer. Since then, the jazzy pop-soul vocalist has formed her own label and production company, Moore II Come Entertainment, through which she has released two sterling CDs: 2002's Moment of Truth and the just released Doing Just Fine.

She has performed steadily in the region and abroad, opening for luminaries such as Cassandra Wilson and Roy Ayers. The Philadelphia native has never regretted leaving her well-paid position: She has applied to her own business what she learned in corporate America.

"I invested in myself," she says. "The inspiration just came to me: 'This is what I'm supposed to do.' It's not about the dollar. ... There's nothing worse than a dead spirit."

[RASHOD D. OLLISON]

ZOE CHARLTON

SUBURBIA AND IDENTITY

A first sight of Baltimore struck a spark with Zoe Charlton.

The resulting artwork was a 25- by 30-foot installation, displayed last summer at the Creative Alliance. It depicted a miniature suburban community populated by 150 ceramic garden gnomes painted various shades of brown and laid out amid 30 fluorescent pink, ranch-style houses on a carpet of real grass, which the artist came in and mowed each week.

"Before we moved to Baltimore, we'd looked at Columbia, which is a fairly integrated suburban community," says the 32-year-old artist.

"The piece was a way of talking about things we were thinking about then -- housing integration, blacks in suburbia, lawn jockeys and garden gnomes and all they had meant historically, and finally, Baltimore's own fascination with kitsch."

Charlton's unusual work, which she titled There Goes the Neighborhood!, was a bittersweet nod to her own suburban Florida upbringing. It's a vein she continues to mine in her most recent work, a series of drawings of African-American women wearing Ku Klux Klan robes, currently on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem. That piece, she says, is about "passing," or camouflaging one's identity to win greater freedom or power.

An early fan of author James Baldwin, whose tough-minded critique of American society and supple poetic rhythms encouraged her to speak out forcefully as an artist, she says: "My ideas come from my life, and my work is an extension of how I live."

[GLENN MCNATT]

LANG LANG

MUSIC BEGETS MUSIC

"Music itself inspires me."

Not a surprising response from Lang Lang, the brilliant Chinese pianist who brings an unusually emotive physicality to his playing. It's easy to see the intense pleasure he derives from the act of music-making; it's even easier to hear it.

"Sometimes, it may get a little boring," the 23-year-old says of the busy concert life. But if ever he needs rejuvenation, he finds instant inspiration by returning to favorite passages of keyboard music.

"I love to play the second movement of Brahms' First [Piano Concerto], or the third movement of [Beethoven's] Hammerklavier or the G minor variation in [Bach's] Goldberg Variations. That opens your heart and changes your mood."

Lang Lang, whose 2006 schedule includes tours of China and Japan and appearances with the Vienna Philharmonic at the celebrated Salzburg Festival, gets recharged every time he walks onstage.

"I'm very excited about whatever concert I'm going to play," says the Philadelphia resident. "And I don't get tired. Maybe physically, but spiritually -- never."

[TIM SMITH]

THERESA MCDANIEL

Art refreshes her perspective

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