Pretty in Plastic Creates One-of-a-Kind Awards for NOT REAL ART Grant Winners
Nearly one year ago, NOT REAL ART announced its 2021 grant winners, six artists who push the boundaries of what’s possible in the art world. To honor the scope and vision of their work, NOT REAL ART reached out to frequent collaborators Pretty in Plastic, a state-of-the-art design and fabrication studio based in Los Angeles. Specializing in custom 3D printing, engineering, and casting and molding, the pros at Pretty in Plastic worked with NOT REAL ART to conceive and develop one-of-a-kind awards for our 2021 grant winners.
“We noticed that the grant winners all had really diverse and unique styles to their work,” says Pretty in Plastic founder Julie B., herself a working artist. “Because of that it made sense for us to make the physical awards as distinctive as the artists themselves […] we tried to craft awards based on the established styles and palettes of the grantee's work.”
Created from clear urethane resin—a versatile plastic that can be tinted, polished, weathered, or cast with other materials—each award originated with a single “master” mold based on the NOT REAL ART logo. “By using such a versatile material, we were able to explore possibilities as diverse and interesting as the artists themselves,” explains Julie B.
“Art and expression are a core part of who we are as a studio,” she continues. “We tried to craft awards based on the established styles and palettes of the grantee's work.” Thoughtfully designed, Pretty in Plastic’s award for fiber artist Carmen Mardonez’s is banded by thread-like patterns, while painter John Chang received a paint-splattered award to match his abstract style.
To Julie B. the creative possibilities presented by artists are endless. “We wish there were more winners,” she says. “We had a lot of other fun ideas we wanted to try out!” Scroll down to learn more about NOT REAL ART’s 2021 grant winners, marvel at their amazing work, and see which designs Pretty in Plastic came up for each of them.
Albert Cleophus Willis
LA-based artist Albert Cleophus Willis was a little surprised when he won the NOT REAL ART grant. “I feel like I've been discriminated against because my art is so traditional,” he tells us. “I'm one of those artists who shies away from interviews. I think people should focus on the art rather than the artist, even though I know this is naive because people really are buying a piece of the artist.” He continues: “I hope that one day, they will look at the art and let the art stand on its own.”
Focusing on craftsmanship and composition, Willis creates work with strong underlying structure. His elegant designs and somber color choices combine to form work both insightful in its vision and masterful in execution. He notes: “In today's world, I define art as something that's unique but not void of craftsmanship,” he says. “When I go to define what I do as an artist, or what my role is right now, I feel like I'm part dinosaur […] I'd like to be able to not push the envelope, but fold it back a little bit. Being a historian of art, there's always been a person like me clinging to the past, but blending with the future.”
Playing off Willis’ solemn color palette, Pretty in Plastic decided to tint his award middle gray, flecked with crystalline patterns. Both traditional and unique, just like Willis’ work.
Learn more about Albert Cleophus Willis’ work by reading our full interview or listening to the podcast here.
Chilean-American artist Carmen Mardonez tells NOT REAL ART that growing up in a big religious family came with certain presumptions. The oldest of nine siblings, Mardonez was expected “to be a good woman who takes care of your husband, your house, and your kids. To be a woman who doesn’t speak too much or is too loud, who knows her place.”
“I didn’t really like that,” she continues. “I was fighting with that idea for a long time. I was refusing to be that kind of woman.”
Now based in Los-Angeles, Mardonez makes colorful textiles from discarded sheets and pillows, a medium that conveys both domesticity and intimacy. “As a woman, my entrails have always been governed by others,” she writes in her artist statement. “Since my childhood, I was taught to sew, knit, and embroider, only to become a caring wife and exemplary mother; no one asked me if that was my plan. After unexpectedly becoming a mother, all the rebellion against the conservative and religious education I received furiously exploded. I refused to become what I was trained for. My artistic work became a way of expressing my resistance.”
To create Mardonez’s award, Pretty in Plastic designed a luminous ultramarine backdrop broken by deep crimson bands, a choice that highlights the artist’s color palette and use of thread.
Learn more about Carmen Mardonez work by reading our full interview or listening to the podcast here.
The shadow of John Chang’s jump from Shanghai to LA hangs over the painter’s newest batch of black and white works. The then 28-year-old describes his initial transition to the US as quite a culture shock.
“I immigrated to Boston to study art in graduate school,” Chang tells NOT REAL ART. “It was a much more complex society than I had imagined […] it was quite a shock and heightened my awareness of self-belonging to both worlds, and neither. I recognized the social construction of cultural codes and their impact on identity.”
To complement Chang’s abstract work, Pretty in Plastic created a monochromatic award splattered with black paint drips. The design also shows the depth of Chang’s work—the artist often layers characters and symbols under layers of translucent paint.
Learn more about John Chang’s work by reading our full interview or listening to the podcast here.
Growing up between Lake Los Angeles and Guanajuato, Mexico, Daniela Garcia was surrounded by immigrant communities from a young age. “[My] father was a refuge for anyone who needed a place to stay as they immigrated from Mexico to California,” she writes in her artist statement. “[My] art practice centers around this experience.”
Using a bright color palette balanced by dusty reds and browns, Garcia shares the intimate moments of everyday immigrant life—an experience wholly different, yet remarkably similar in many ways, to anything permanent US citizens have ever known.
“I strive very hard to create narratives that connect with my family,” Garcia tells NOT REAL ART. “I want them to see themselves […] I want them to identify themselves in the work, because it is ultimately about them.”
Capturing the bright colors and multiethnic stories in her work, Pretty in Plastic designed a white and black award sprinkled with shimmering confetti.
Learn more about Daniela Garcia’s work by reading our full interview or listening to the podcast here.
Combining realism with painterly explosions of color, Jamaican-American artist Nadyia Duff is obsessed with telling stories. “I always want to tell a new story with whoever I decide to put into a portrait,” she tells NOT REAL ART. Using crowdsourced photos from Sktchy, an app that provides license-free portraits for artistic reference, Duff creates visual stories that share small, singular moments.
“I just want to tell these stories of people in these joyous moments in time,” she says. “First, I look for a face. Then I'm kind of like a mad scientist.” True to her word, Duff combines a variety of styles to create each story, moving deftly between graphic linework, sketchy shading, and painterly mark-making. “The story will eventually come to me before I finish the portrait,” she continues.
Pretty in Plastic’s design for Duff looks like lime Jello soaked in a fluorescent acid bath, capturing the artist’s use of luminous colors.
Learn more about Nadyia Duff’s work by reading our full interview or listening to the podcast here.
Natalia Villanueva Linares
Initially, none of the art Natalia Villanueva Linares studied at her French prep school resonated on a very deep level. “Most of them were sculptors or painters,” the Peruvian artist tells NOT REAL ART. “I had this idea of art, that it was […] being like Michelangelo or Picasso.” When Linares learned she could use any medium—including hair, thread, tissue, and confetti—to make art, it was a game changer. “I was about 24 and I knew,” she says. “I’m going to be an artist.”
Now based in Chicago, Linares creates object-based work that explores themes of distance and belonging. “I feel a very emotional connection with certain objects that, to me, are covered with history or something mysterious,” she explains. To Linares, objects become markers of humanity’s past, present, and future. What we leave behind—relics, sad souvenirs, discarded collections—is worth remembering, her work seems to suggest.
To capture Linares’ work, Pretty in Plastic designed an opaque award using flat planes of cool teal and canary yellow.
Learn more about Natalia Villanueva Linares’ work by reading our full interview or listening to the podcast here.
Special thanks to Adam Shefki, Julie Ramirez, Trayce Cummings, Katie Hitch, Kaitlyn O'Shea, Ashley Ailor, and Julie Beezy of Pretty in Plastic for their help with this very special project.