Christina Mrozik is an artist. Her art is primarily about the inter-connectivity of all things, and story, and balance. Mrozik views the art making process as one of portraiture, in which analyzing the drawing helps make sense of peoples’ histories and abilities.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/ stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up along a river in Grand Rapids Michigan, tucked behind a small patch of woods and field. The older I get the more I see the influences of growing up in the midwest—a hard-working earthy sort, who are loyal to their friends and beliefs. When I was young I didn’t have many friends, I was shy and anxious, but I found much solace in the creatures that in inhabited the loosestrife and Queen Anne’s lace along the river—great blue herons, snappers, crawdads, catfish, and lightning bugs. I was mesmerized by
the path of the grasshopper and follow his steady leap for hours at a time. Our house was often emotionally fraught and I spent much of my time delving into the intricate beauty of the outdoors, dissecting flowers and unweaving abandoned nests. I wanted to know how everything was made and learn the wisdom of the nonverbal world.
I think my relationship with symbology and imagery started there and evolved through the long and curious silences of my youth.
My mother always loved to paint and draw (she still does) and was ever encouraging to my own world-building and visual expression. I think drawing was the way I learned to make sense of my complexities of being alive—the ‘yes, and’ of things; that they can be both difficult and beautiful. Most things exist outside of a clear morality and have their own specific systems of being.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
It’s okay to finish something and not like it, your taste doesn’t deem if it’s good or not. Art is first and foremost a practice, the very definition of practice being to carry out a skill habitually. The goal then cannot have a perfect outcome, but rather is to learn more about yourself and how you see, interpret and then translate the world. What you make in theory then will always be a reflection of you, changing as you change. If every piece is good it’s probably not very honest and maybe even lacks self permission to
experiment and stretch one’s version of self. Play. Don’t worry so much about the piece proving itself but rather about creating an interesting and honest practice.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I think social media has created a false sense that creativity should be production-centered. There is this visual perpetuation that we should draw every day, document our process, share it with a large group of strangers, and grow a following—and that this cycle is what deems worth. There is this “do it all” bootstrap mentality where one person needs to perform the job of the creator, designer, packager, shipper, email support and promoter, while still living a balanced life and documenting every second of it in order to create enough capital to survive. This is a recipe for burnout, mimicry, and repetitive creation. Art needs time to sit, to stew, to enter into the worlds of the mind. It needs solitude and rest and places to wander and get weird. The social media system is robotic and comparative in its nature and doesn’t offer the strange slowness required for self-reflection. If our creation’s worth is deemed by the number of likes it has I worry we will only make what others approve of vs stretching the bounds of possibility and exploring the unusual nooks of self and humanity.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you
learned from it?
My life in some ways feels like it has had quite regular bouts of darkness, so in some ways, I feel like I’m still coming out of them and regularly re-learning from their effect. So much of life is a reflection and reliving memory.
Between the ages of 22 and 25, I had a tremendously traumatic, unnameable disease in which over the progression of years I got sicker and sicker. I was losing weight by the day I couldn’t keep food down, I was regularly blacking out in public and having such severe nightmares I developed insomnia and sleep paralysis, haunted by hallucinations. My bones ached with such severity I could hardly make it up the stairs. I was also invisible via cultural ableism and dealt with daily emotional accusations from strangers at the grocery store on my weight and attractiveness. It was disorienting in every way imaginable. It took years of diet restructuring and sugar withdrawal to come back into physical health, the emotional ramifications and rewiring my nervous system took even longer.
I remember coming across an interview where Kevin Kling, comedian, and writer talked about his disability through the book Dante. He talked about how in Dante the underworld was not hell but Dis, “the world of shadow and reflection.” And how disability is not in-ability but “able through that shadow and reflection.”
I think this helped me name and understand many ways I move now. There is always afoot in this other world and it has created a new way in which to see with more roundness and dimension. So much of life and lightness is learning to better understand and accept our darkness, to empathize with our limitations. I think it made me softer, more open to liminal spaces. I think it opened a path to break down the simplified social binaries that were wounding me and those around me.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I’m not really sure, it would be hard to parse any part of success down to one thing. I do think I share the deeper more uncomfortable parts of myself with as much honesty as feels safe and I try to make it as specific to me as possible.
John Steinbeck once said “Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.”
I think on this a lot, that people connect more with something specific and honest. That all we can do is name what is true for us and be careful not to take on others’ stories as our own. It may be the only way to real connection—I don’t know if I do it well, but I try to put that into the work and I think it helps it keep its specific voice. That might contribute to success, I’m not sure.
What is your morning routine?
My mornings are of the meandering sort. Every morning at about 9:30/10 am I wake to a hungry black fur monster or a cute Gemini demanding snug. I typically go for a short walk to the local coffee shop and spend some time chatting with the neighbors. If I have any writing to do, mornings are best because my mind is sharper and less inhibited by the tasks of the day. I hopefully remember to eat at some point but this is something I need to get better at (I hate grocery stores so this can sometimes be a task). I’m much more of a night owl and tend to spend my creative energy later in the afternoon and evening.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Therapy. I can’t recommend it enough. Buckle up. Get honest. Dig. Rest. Repeat.
Also, more recently, I started taking Sundays off for only myself to rest. I make myself good food, I read books, I journal, I do some sort of hard emotional homework, I lay in bed. I make permission for my feelings, for my need to not do. Sometimes I laugh with friends and sometimes I let myself turn off my phone and disappear. It is key for me to have one day a week where nothing is required of me and the day remains unstructured and un-owed. I understand this to be a privilege but I try and see it as a radical gift I currently have the resources to give to myself. I try hard to love myself how I might love others.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
First I would say, I am the king of inefficiency. I am much more the meandering sort who wanders in and out of projects, having ten or so happening at once and never being sure which will be the one I work on today. I spend hours every day just looking at what I’ll be doing and spend a good time each week grieving my lack of productivity and comparing myself to the output of more focused individuals. That being said, wandering can be its own tool of creation. Taking the time to sit and dilly in gentle musings,
ask small ideas what they want to become, and build a friendship over a slow conversation. Many of my projects come to life in an organic way where I continue to show up and see who’s interested and available for getting made.
That being said, it is good to have a backup for when things are due. So here are a few tips for the tinkerer
on a deadline:
- Make a list of all the parts that need to be finished and how long you estimate them to take.
- Find a tv show/podcast/book on tape the same length as each part.
- Give yourself a two-hour break for every four hours of production—translating thought into dimension is
the exhaustive brain works and you’ll be more efficient if you add in movement and thorough breaks.
- Work on the part you are sure of and give yourself more time to chew on the parts you’re not sure about,
intuitive problem solving is valid.
- Make sure you’re eating enough, it’s easy to forget when you’re in a rush.
- This is all an act of a play, so if it didn’t come out perfect that’s okay. Perfection will rob the work of its
joy. The joy is more important and will come through.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
For me, it feels whichever book I’m currently reading is the most influential and relevant, my mind finds great comfort and widened creativity in being transported to worlds outside my construction. I am a slow reader working through maybe three or four books a year but they give me an essential place to step out of my own limited focus and empathize with the imagined. I’m currently working through a rather tattered copy of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and find its tender and thoughtful metaphors surrounding humanity and nature soul-essential.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
When I struggle with giving myself grace, I often come back to the phrase, “Did you do the best you could with the information you had at the time?” In any event of my life—when I make a mistake or sometimes simply change my mind, I seem to learn more than I am able to accomplish. This phrase helps me step outside of my often inherent guilt and makes room for me to become a more evolved version of myself with compassion and imperfection.