Neebinnaukzhik Southall is a bit of a legendary figure in the Corvallis arts scene, having co-founded the Midnight Muse art quarterly and collaborated with enough local artists and models to fill a very colorful swimming pool. Although she primarily considers herself a photographer and graphic designer, during our interviews I learned that there’s really no way to pin any one label to her as an artist.
“When it comes down to it, it’s all a part of living creatively. All the things I do are because I need to be creative. Different creative things fulfill different needs, though, and it’s probably why I’m kind of all over the map,” says Neebin.
All over the map, indeed. While becoming acquainted with her work I was all but leveled by the sheer variation of it all. Watercolor comics, textile sculpture, wood, metal, plaster, light, and more. I was particularly taken with her body paint and photography collaborations, which effectively use both mediums together to create something I hadn’t quite seen before. Sure, she’s not the first one to shoot people in body paint, but the hard, technical surface of Neebin’s work is really the last thing one thinks about when viewing it. No seriously, go look at it. Now: www.neebin.com.
There’s one piece in particular of a woman standing in tall grass with her exposed back covered in red stripes. The seven-year-old inside immediately thought “tiger,” which, simple as it may be, turned out to be a pretty accurate reaction. What she’s done with this series of photos is nothing short of completely transforming the subject into something else. The contextual elements are perfect. The photographic quality is absent of the heavy load of editing and “vintage-ization” that far too many photographers are hinging their work on nowadays. Because of this, the work seems distinctly more human, more about people. It’s gutsy, but by way of being free, rather than edgy—and it’s this element in everything she does that is so intriguing.
The only frustrating thing about profiling this prolific woman is the lack of space to fully detail her talents and personality. I think the single most important thing I realized about her art is the absolute, hardcore lack of pretense. While sitting down with her, she pointed out a piece that she loved—of all things, it was folded paper flowers placed in a bush. It was simple and beautiful, and absolutely would not be taken seriously by the kind of people that can’t value something without being able to completely categorize it.
Underneath the influence of other artists and technical capability, an artist is always a human being. I’m a firm believer in the importance of remembering that, and Neebin is an absolutely fantastic model for it.
by Johnny Beaver