Best of Q+Art: Our Favorite Artist Interviews From 2023 cover

Best of Q+Art: Our Favorite Artist Interviews From 2023

Our conversations with contemporary artists explore the ideas, concepts, and philosophies that inspire them to create. The Q+Art interviews, developed in 2019 as a pillar of our editorial programming, also open a window into the everyday lives of artists who create complex work that challenges the status quo. Like Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire or Interview Magazine’s Q & Andy, our interview series reveals the true nature of its subjects through poignant, unexpected, or downright silly questions.

With 2024 approaching, we’ve compiled our favorite artist interviews from 2023 for your reading pleasure. Below, you’ll meet wickedly funny art director Carl Medley, creative partners Celeste O’Conner and Mecca McDonald of Pedestal, and electronics artist Chris Combs, who has some interesting thoughts about the state of technology today. If you’re an artist or creative type and would like to take our Q+Art questionnaire, please email the editor here. Otherwise, happy reading!

Carl Medley

Carl Medley’s work responds to the absurdity of life.

Carl Medley will eat your pizza if you don’t want it. That’s the first thing you’ll learn about the Virginia-based art director after stumbling across his inspired website. The second thing you’re likely to notice is Carl’s wicked sense of humor, which is splashed across pins, prints, and paintings in his trademark slacker-speak.

“Truth makes me laugh,” says Carl, whose work responds to the absurdity of life with an almost deadpan glee. “I don’t believe in beating someone over the head with a joke or message or concept. I find it can reach more people when it’s relatable, but people can still find their own inspiration or connection to it.” Painted with acrylic in a graphic style, Carl’s work is blunt but ambiguous, heroic yet hilariously deflated. Works like “Whatever” and “Yeah, No” emphasize the incongruity between expectations and reality with mismatched imagery and messaging. “People say and do a lot of weird things,” says Carl, who uses idioms and other common sayings to fuel his work. “Presenting them back to someone dressed up in a different way can make for fun visuals.”

Read our interview with Carl Medley here.


Mecca McDonald (left) and Celeste O’Connor of Pedestal

“We’re creating the future,” say creative partners Celeste O’Connor and Mecca McDonald. “Get ahead or stay behind.”

It’s sound advice from two artists whose joint work could be described as visionary. Co-founders of Brooklyn-based production company Pedestal, Mecca and Celeste specialize in immersive visual storytelling that shines a light on joyful Black experiences. “We, as Black girls, have important stories to tell,” they say in a statement for their upcoming short film, Liminality, a futuristic tale about identity and self-acceptance. “These stories are filled with extremely insightful reflections, thoughts, and beliefs, which can catalyze the healing that our society desperately needs.”

Read our interview with Pedestal here.

Andi Avery

Andi Avery as queer sex worker Charlie in 2017 feature film ‘Leaving Charlie’

Filmmaker Andi Avery wants to confess a terrible secret. “I don’t really like watching movies,” they say when asked to share a favorite. “Living with depression and ADD means that feature-length films are often difficult for me to get through. That said, any film or book that’s a personal story is usually a winner for me.”

Andi’s own story unfolds on screen in the semi-autobiographical short Leaving Charlie (2017), an intimate film that follows queer sex worker Charlie (played by Andi) as she struggles to reassert her boundaries after a client gets too close. “My art really focuses on telling stories about the parts of myself that aren’t understood in society,” Andi tells NOT REAL ART. “Queerness, sex work, chronic illness—it’s all up for grabs. The most important things to me in art-making are truth and radical tenderness.”

Read our interview with Andi Avery here.

Mary Anne Carter

Mary Anne Carter creates immersive installations with candy colors; photo: Amber Fouts

“I’ve never been able to blend in,” says Mary Anne Carter, who bears a conspicuous port-wine stain on her left cheek, a maroon-colored splash that marked her face even as a baby. “[The birthmark] fast-tracked my need for self-acceptance and my embrace of self-expression,” she continues. “I’ve gotten comfortable standing out.”

Even without the birthmark, Mary Anne is hard to miss. Suited in chunky boots, fishnet stockings, rude color combinations, and animal prints of every stripe and feather, the Seattle-based artist softens the line between art and artist, extending her practice into daily life and vice versa. “In art, I’m always about candy-colored pastels and metallics,” says Mary Anne, who uses an assortment of materials—fabric, balloons, furniture, hand-pulled screen prints—to create immersive installations that look good enough to lick, right down to the ooey-gooey center.

Read our interview with Mary Anne Carter here.

Yasmina Safi

‘Untitled’ by Yasmina Safi

Slick latex gloves, lacy negligees in fire-engine red, ivory linens draped carelessly across naked, muscular bodies: touch-me textures and an occasional pop of color burn through the smoldering haze of Yasmina Safi’s bedroom photographs.

Shot primarily on film and Polaroid, her work captures a self-directed romance rarely seen in stories that center on women and their bodies. “As women and as people, we maintain power in the construction of our public selves,” Yasmina says. “Body freedom is being able to express ourselves and our femininity however we see fit. It’s freedom from societal expectations about behavior, from negative associations between how a woman chooses to present herself and who she is.”

Read our interview with Yasmina Safi here.

Chris Combs

‘Pollinator’ by Chris Combs

Peppering his language with caustic one-liners and idealist banter, Chris Combs, an electronics artist, toggles between jaded skeptic and awed optimist when it comes to our increasingly tech-reliant lives.

“It’s important for everyday people to deconstruct who benefits and who really suffers at the hands of new tools,” Chris says. His sculptures—often interactive or time-based, made of wood, metal, and found objects—confront viewers with the collateral damage generated by 2 a.m. taco deliveries and AI-powered surveillance. “Orchestration (Beeswax)” interprets the exploitative gig economy through a symphony of beeswax-dipped LEDs, while “Pollinator” spies on gallery guests, distorting their faces and conversations into warped interpretations of reality. His sculptures draw viewers in with soft, winking lights and eye-popping colors, but Chris often focuses on the unpleasant aspects of technology: round-the-clock surveillance, unscrupulous business practices, and the overall bird-brained idiocy of AI (yes, ChatGPT, we’re looking at you).

Read our interview with Chris Combs here.

Morgan  Laurens 

Morgan Laurens (she/her/hers) is NOT REAL ART’s editor in chief. Morgan is an arts writer from the Midwest who enjoys saying “excuse me” when no actual pardon is needed. She specializes in grant writing and narrative-based storytelling for mission-driven artists and arts organizations. With a background in printmaking, pop culture, and classic literature, Morgan believes a girl’s best friend is the pile of books on her bedside table.