This week, the Ann Arbor Art Fairs will descend upon the city like a giant rabbit descending on Burton Tower. At least, that’s the image that featured artist Mark Traughber created for the official poster of the 51st annual Ann Arbor Street Art Fair.
Traughber’s design for the poster combines the artist’s two favorite techniques – drawing and mixed media. And the lovable stuffed bunny hovering over the carillon has personal significance for Traughber.
“The image of the rabbit … is an image I’ve used frequently in my artwork,” Traughber said in an interview with the Daily. “The actual rabbit is a doll I’ve had since I was a little kid, so he kind of pops up in a lot of my work. I was looking for something that was representative of my work and my style.”
Traughber originally hails from Kentucky, where he grew up on a farm. After studying art and sociology at Western Kentucky University and East Carolina University, the artist moved to Pittsburgh, his home base for the past five years.
Much of Traughber’s work consists of drawings, a medium which he refers to as his “first love.” The artist said that although he enjoys experimenting with new techniques, he has always returned to his drawings, many of which can be viewed on his website. One set of charcoal drawings depicts stark, long-limbed figures in the style of Egon Schiele and Lucian Freud, two artists that Traughber points to as his inspirations.
Traughber also employs his drawing technique in a somewhat more playful manner in a series of charcoal and watercolor sketches of a sock monkey. The series began as a drawing exercise in which Traughber would throw the monkey on the floor and draw it in whatever position it landed.
In addition to drawing, Traughber also favors mixed media, a broad term for art that uses more than one medium in the same piece. For Traughber, this includes combinations of spray paint, collage and transfers that meld various other techniques.
Traughber’s mixed media works range from slightly enigmatic to downright humorous. For example, in “August 26, 2008,” an apron-wearing woman is surrounded by a swirl of white paint that has completely enveloped her head. In another mixed media work, titled “May 24, 2008,” a faceless doctor holds up a bowl of what looks like afterbirth. Next to the doctor is a caption that reads, “EAT IT LIKE CANDY!”
Although Traughber’s artwork can be thought-provoking, he asserts that he has no agenda or hidden meaning in mind during his creative process.
“When I’m starting out (a) work, I don’t really know what it’s going to become or what it’s going to end up being or saying,” he said. “It’s kind of a discovery process for me, which is a huge part of the enjoyment.
“But there’s never any kind of message that I’m trying to convey. At times I’ve thought about that, and the work always ends up terrible … I’ve found that it’s better to approach (an art piece) with an open mind and let it become what it becomes.”
However, Traughber said that there are certain themes he has repeatedly explored in recent works.
“I’m very interested in the idea of personal identity,” he said, “finding what is truly ourselves, and what makes us happy, and what’s good and natural to us versus what we’re fed about what we should be.”
Traughber has expressed this idea in works related to spam and junk e-mail as well as advertising. Living in Andy Warhol’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Traughber admits that that artist’s work has had its effect on his Pop Art-style pieces. For example, in Traughber’s Warhol-esque work “Most Reliable Start,” a lawnmower advertisement is repeated 36 times.
This will be Traughber’s fourth year in the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original, and he has high praise for this fair – the first of Ann Arbor’s four Art Fairs.
“I do several art fairs in a year and the ‘Ann Arbor Street Fair, The Original’ section is as high quality of work as I find at any other art fair,” he said. “When you get a really good crowd there, it’s nice to interact with people who are looking at your artwork.”