This week's Dusty Rose: artist Ariana Page Russell
Ariana Page Russell is an artist living in New York City. Ariana has dermatographia, a condition which allows her to painlessly draw patterns on her skin. She photographs the patterns (which fade over about 30 minutes), and uses those images to create tattoos, wallpaper, installations and other artworks. Ariana did a great shoot for us, then talked to Dusty Rose about her work, the wonder of wallpaper, and being modest when your subject is your own skin.
We picked a work of yours called Click 'Flora' to show everyone the kind of art you can create with your skin. Tell us about this piece.
The pattern is from an old sample of wallpaper that I found. I traced the design, and turned it into a stencil. My father is a wallpaper hanger in Portland, Oregon, so over time I’ve become really interested in this form of decoration. He would send me sample books and scraps of old wallpaper from homes he worked in. Some designs go back decades. Wallpaper shares some of the features of skin that interest me. They both display the passage of time: when you strip wallpaper, you see layer after layer marking different time periods. Skin does the same, with wrinkles and freckles. But both provide a space for adornment, too. That idea partly led me to work with tattoos.
In the pictures from our shoot, we can see the large tattoo on your back. Did you get that before you started making work with dermatographia, and what does it mean to you?
It was after. It’s about a year old. I like the simplicity of the design, and I really like circles. Also, the tattoo on the back of my neck covers up a kanji tattoo I got when I was very young.
You say your work investigates how ‘shifting exteriors reveal as they conceal’. It seems like your tattoo is an example of that.
Sort of. Skin protects us and hides our interior from view. But it can also reveal things about you, like when a person blushes or becomes sick. Recently I’ve turned some of the patterns made from my skin into temporary tattoos, which decorates my skin in a different way than drawing on it directly. I scan the cut photographs of my skin adapted from clothing and wallpaper, then turn them into the tattoos. I remove some of them and place them on the wall or window after they’ve made contact with my body. They leave traces of cells and hair, and holding a record of my skin at that moment in time.
Does it feel strange to be so present in your own work, displaying all these images of your exposed skin?
It can be strange. Some people think that because I show photographs of myself, I must be an exhibitionist or something. But I’m actually a very modest person. I don’t like to wear revealing things.
Did you have garment from our shoot that you liked more than the others?
I loved the plaid dress. It was the first thing I tried on and it was great. I love plaid and I love little dresses. It would keep me cool in the heat: this is going to be my first humid New York summer, so I need to buy more summer clothes.
This interview has been edited for length and content. It is not a transcription.