Cornerstone’s Artist of the Month for January 2020
Local artist, Michele Lee Kozimor, has been honing her acrylic and mixed media techniques for the past several years. Michele is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Elizabethtown College. Originally from New Jersey, she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from The Pennsylvania State University after receiving her B.A. from Elizabethtown College. Michele’s familiarity with the sociology of art, allows her to use performance art in her teaching at the collegiate level. She is the 2019 recipient of the Kreider Prize for Teaching Excellence at Elizabethtown College. During the Kreider Prize lecture, she used performance art to illustrate the art of teaching. The resulting acrylic and pyrite painting, The Art of Teaching, hangs in Alpha Hall on the Elizabethtown College campus. Michele’s academic work also focuses on the study of organizational behavior. She frequently conducts team-building workshops using performance art which results in the creation of an acrylic painting that the organization can proudly display. Michele receives artistic inspiration for her simple, flowing, and organic pieces from her volunteer work at the newly inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Site Fallingwater. Her artistic work is strongly influenced by her training in Reiki and personal interest in crystals. As a practicing Reiki Master/Teacher, many of her paintings depict the fluidity of Reiki energy and the colors of the 7 primary chakras. Each of her paintings are Reiki energy infused. Through her paintings we experience the peace of living a life undivided. Michele accepts commissions for paintings customized to meet specific client preferences.
Tell us briefly about your background & how you got started in your medium.
My art background is a tale of cooperative networks beginning early in my life. As sociologist Howard S. Becker states in his now classic work, Art Worlds (1982), “Think of all the activities that must be carried out for any work of art to appear as it finally does.” By the age of 5, I was immersed in the art world. My parents, George and Nancy Kozimor, continually provided me with unique opportunities to view the work of classic and contemporary artists in museums, galleries, and shows.
One pivotal experience occurred in 1980. My father drove into NYC as we often did to dine at Panchitos, a favorite Mexican Restaurant in Greenwich Village. On this trip, my father had a surprise. He heard about a limited showing of the exhibit Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was going to expose his daughter to art that was changing the world. Upon entry to the museum after waiting in a significant line, we were told we would not be able to see the exhibit that day. My father’s gift of persuasion enabled me to view a special collection of the works of Pablo Picasso. I remember standing in awe at the pieces before me. That single exhibit had an immediate and lasting impact on me for it sparked both a love of art and a keen interest in how artists shape the social world.
A short time later, at the age of 9, I won a juried art contest in the state of New Jersey with a cubist inspired painting celebrating New Jersey Art Week. Despite continued exposure to the art world including personal interactions with known artists like Thomas Kinkade and Ingrid Muan, my life took a more academic path in sociology which put my own artistic work on hold. My inspiration to create was reignited after viewing the performance art (acrylic on canvas) of Jonas Gerard in Asheville, North Carolina. Prior to visiting the studios of Gerard, I hadn’t considered painting since I graduated high school. Instead, I focused on the art of teaching and exposing my daughter to the art world like my father did for me. In October 2019, I chose to unite my two passions by giving the Kreider Prize for Teaching Excellence lecture at Elizabethtown College which unconventionally included performance art involving the audience in the creation of an acrylic painting which now hangs in Alpha Hall on the campus. This is my first public show of my art. I am grateful to Nicole Miller and the owners of Cornerstone Coffeehouse for allowing me to display my art in one of my favorite places to gather with friends in central Pennsylvania.
How does your medium inform your viewpoint? Or what do you like most about your medium?
My medium is acrylic on canvas, but most pieces also contain pyrite dust. I have included pyrite dust in my painting for numerous reasons connected to my view of life. First, I incorporate pyrite as a natural element inspired by my volunteer work at the recently inscribed World Heritage Site Fallingwater. Fallingwater is the iconic Kaufmann home designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright over the Bear Run waterfall in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Second, I have had a profound interest and exposure to gemstones similar to my background in art. I spent many fun days with my parents digging in “carnelian creek” for golden quartz and the prized carnelian in the Watchung mountains of New Jersey. I knew that crystals had an effect on me, but more recently, my work with Kate Pruiett and Angie Yingst, has taught me how crystal energy can influence our mood and vibration by having them in our environment. While on a vacation in the mountains of Colorado with my parents one summer, I panned for gold and found pyrite. While our guide told me it was worthless, I loved the sparkle and joy simply looking at this stone gave me. Today, as Reiki Master/Teacher, I use pyrite in my art to evoke feelings of protection and shielding from negative energy. Pyrite is also known for its shine (or fire) and ability to spark creativity.
Who or what have been your artistic inspirations?
Although I have already touched upon this briefly in my answers to the other questions, I have been inspired by the work of many classic and modern artists, but none more profoundly than Ingrid Muan. Ingrid Muan was an artist, scholar, professor, and my mentor (until her untimely death in 2005). She co-founded Reyum, the Institute of Art and Culture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. As a visiting assistant professor for a course in art history at Elizabethtown College, she reinforced the cultural value of my early exposure the art world. Our interaction outside of the classroom, in her off-campus studio located in a large garage, fondly reminds me of the 2003 American drama Mona Lisa Smile. There, covered in paint, we discussed the social structure of the art world and how art could be used to control or liberate the human spirit. We also discussed the connection between art and teaching, a theme I am just returning to over 20 years later. Using the classification of sociologist Howard S. Becker, Ingrid was a maverick. Despite the start of the career as a conventional novice, by the time I met her she challenged conventions of the art and academic worlds. Today, her reclaimed oil on wood-block rendering of my own eyes commissioned by my father, reminds me to live in my authentic self and that art has the power to offer social commentary.
Do You Have a Favorite Piece in Your Portfolio?
Right now, I do not own my favorite piece, The Art of Teaching, as it is the Kreider Prize performance art piece which currently hangs on the wall of Alpha Hall at Elizabethtown College. This is my favorite piece because it symbolizes the undivided self. The piece depicts my life journey and was created during my recognition for excellence in teaching. It reflects relationship-centered learning including the influence of my parents, mentors, students, friends, and colleagues. I am positive that Ingrid Muan would smile at the thought of a piece of my art hanging in the main administrative building. A second piece, Living Simply, is also a favorite and was similarly created with contributions from members of my 2019 first-year seminar class. This piece will be on display at Cornerstone Coffeehouse during my show
What would be your advice to artists just starting out in your medium?
Remember that art happens through cooperative interactions – show gratitude for the contributions of others, harness your many life experiences, learn from other artists, challenge convention, and above all let your intuition be your guide.