Exclusive Interview: Molly Costello and the Constellations Mapped Among Us
To those caught up in individuality, the connections between humans seem less obvious. My body ends, then there’s space, then there is you; we are clearly separate.
Well, not exactly. At least not in Molly Costello’s estimation… and we’d be aligned with her on that point.
Her art constantly reminds us of the collective, of the fact that we accomplish things together, and that despite our finite bodies, energy flows through and between all of us, if we let it. After finding Molly’s work and realizing she lived half a block from me, it became clear that her confluence at the intersection of art & service is potent.
Innately organic in hue & style, and using bold rich colors that come together with striking simplicity, Molly’s collages are of the earth. Between the aesthetics themselves and the life she’s creating, community & creativity come together in astonishing proportions and IPMM applauds her. To know there are artists out there who are as dedicated to the whole as the space between their own ears is comforting.
At IPaintMyMind, we believe that art becomes a form of communication when shared. Molly Costello is a maker, a do-er, a bridge, a freakin’ awesome artist, and an asset to the Rogers Park neighborhood on Chicago’s north side.
Join us as we delve into the constellations that connect through an artist whose perspective reminds us that ‘self’ is a relative term.
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Moooolly! We’re doing an interview! How wild is that?!
So you’re currently a Chicagoan, but you’re from Southern California originally…when did you come to the frozen tundra? What brought you here?
Good question! I came here for school. I was honestly planning on staying on the West Coast. While sifting through school options I came to the conclusion that I wanted to go to a Jesuit school and I wanted to be able to study art in a big city. Somehow Loyola came into my radar. It was the only Chicago school I looked at and I guess something clicked. I wound up majoring in Visual Communication with a minor in Peace Studies. Then I fell in love with Rogers Park.
Tell me about the intentional community you live in. It makes all the sense in the world that you’d be a Rogers Park’er!
So yes, I live in this lovely house with seven other people in the heart of RP. Our house name is Koinonia House and we have been around since 2010 with a central mission revolving around social justice, sustainability, education, and being a safe open space for people in the community, especially young people. We all have different jobs and ventures but many of us also work together on a few projects. One of those projects is called LETS GO Chicago which is a youth led non-profit that focuses on social justice and environmental education for young folk in the city. We have spent the past 4 years as an organization running a Children’s Garden, organizing a Yard Sharing Network, and laying the foundations to start a worker owned sustainable landscaping business.
Another project we do together is called Food Not Bombs. We get food donated from Whole Foods every weekend. On Sundays we cook up a hot meal that we pass out on the street and we also pack 50+ grocery bags of produce that we hand out in the afternoon.
That’s so awesome. I didn’t realize how much you guys do. How does your art dovetail with your background in social justice & community organizing, if at all?
This has been an interesting internal tension for me for many years now, this pull between social activism and art making. Art has always acted as more of a solitary reflective act for me. Its a space where I can process emotions, spirituality, trauma, etc. but I have always had this fear, and still do, that I’m just not doing enough for the world in this process. I started really diving into activism a bit in high school and then while at Loyola, and felt much of the creative energy move in that direction. I am so grateful for these decisions and the things I have learned over the past few years because it has greatly shaped where I am now with my creative process, but I was also feeling like I wasn’t honoring a huge part of myself which is this deep desire to create. So I’ve started honoring this aspect of myself a bit more seriously the past few months. Its still scary for me but feels really good.
Photos of Molly by Patrick Engman
As for themes of my work, I guess it might translate differently for each person but I guess I really try to hit at the heart of what activism is for me… which is a deep realization that we are all so much a part of each other, and this rich earth, and the systems we construct around ourselves. I also really try to illustrate concepts of personal power especially for women. There are so many structures around us that really put us down and contribute to this belief that we can’t change things. We need some visuals etc. to help remind us that that is so far from the truth. We are Powerful.
I love how you talk about everything being interconnected. There’s this raw, shamanic, organic feel about your work that makes me feel a little bit like I’m about to ingest some peyote and go for a walk. What words do you use to describe your work? Does it even matter?
Hahaha I’m happy to hear that. Umm.. I guess I started to touch on this in the above question. I guess there are not specific “words” that I focus on. I’m not great with words which is why I make pictures 😉 BUT if you are going to ask I guess I would describe my work a bit like this: feminism, personal power, group power, interconnectedness, honoring natural cycles, holiness, divinity in the mundane, vegetables!, agriculture, transformation, justice, deep love…
You also spent time traveling in the Southwest of the US. How long? Where’d you go and how did those experiences shape your creative output?
Growing up all of my family trips were road trips/camping in national parks. I spend A LOT of time staring out the car window watching the changing southwest landscape roll by, exploring massive trees and red rock canyons. We drove up the coast in California a bit but spend most of the time driving different routs between home and Colorado which is where I have a lot of family. I will always feel connected to that landscape and miss it a lot. Southern California is really quite desert-y as well. Once you get out of the manicured lawns and planned communities (I clearly have great opinions of the place) the hills are covered in prickly pear and sage, eucalyptus and oak. The scent of that terrain always slays me and brings me to a sense of home.
I think I am still learning how these experiences have shaped me. I can say for sure they installed in my a deep appreciation for nature and environmentalism, but I recognize it hit something deeper as well. I don’t know really how to explain it outside of a deep sense of reverence and magic… maybe, humbleness.
(Its funny as I am writing this I am listening to Shawn Colvin. My parents love her music and we always listened to her CDs on our road trips. Its really taking me back!)
Favorite spot out there?
Ohhh! Maybe Zion National Park! Or just my Uncle’s monastery in Colorado. Talk about holiness in the landscape.
As far as your process goes, are you always collecting scraps? How do you divide your time between your social justice work and your art?
Mmm a bit. I collected A LOT of paper when I was younger so I still have quite the stock. I like to make paper as well and want to do more of that.
My time between art and activism really depends on the season. I do a lot of urban agriculture and help run a small greenhouse so in the spring when those seedlings need a lot of attention thats pretty much my life. Right now in the winter time I have a lot more space to be reflecting and creating. I’m grateful for this; working really hard part of the year and then making time for rest as well. Not that art is always that restful.
Do you want to become a full-time artist?
I don’t think I would want that no. I still kinda cringe from the identity of an artist, for reasons I listed above. I’d really love to get to a point where I am able to largely support myself with my work but I don’t think I would ever not want to be a part of movement work and growing food. I learn so much from others and about the human experience through activism and that is so essential to my creative process. I also just need to have my hands in the earth as often as possible.
You sell artwork on Etsy, how has that platform helped you connect with new fans and patrons?
Its been great! I mean its hasn’t changed my life or anything but it helps create that space where my art is accessible to anyone anywhere. I like to keep my prices lower. The sales have really helped me the past few months to not need to take on my typical seasonal job at the local coffee shop. I don’t mind working there but now I have a lot more time to be doing what I love!
We’re really excited to be featuring you in our March 5th show called Paper & Pixels. You make up the paper portion of the equation – have you ever worked in digital collage or other mediums for that matter?
I’m so excited too! Honestly I’ve mostly only ever worked with paper. I discovered cut paper about 10 years ago with a high-school assignment and never stopped working with it. I did study graphic design at Loyola and have taking painting classes etc. but paper is my favorite medium. My mom is an oil painter too so I’ve dabbled in that a bit. She paints landscapes and sometime I do really just want to do that. Its hard to capture the subtlety of a landscape with paper.
What are the best conditions for you to make art in?
Wow. Hmm… I really am so in love with my studio space in my community house right now. Its looks out over Ashland and there is a lot of light. I love the people I live with. They bring me a lot of energy and when I want to be by myself I just close the door.
I really love working at any time of day. I feel really happy at dusk when the colors are just right and there is a play on warm and cool light, when I’m listening to good music and my desk is full of materials. I use two full sized doors as my work surface and they are both always fully covered! #scatterbrained
Name a few artists you’re into so IPMM’ers can check them out.
Rick Alvin Schaier
Allyson and Jeremy Mellberg Taylor
(^^They grow a lot of their own paint materials and are so cool)
Wow I love artists!