Backlog: Interview with Joseph Nivens

A few months ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Joseph Nivens, we spoke about animation, his pup and cartoons.06

Joseph Nivens is known for his creative characters. He is currently based in Los Angeles and holds a BFA in Experimental Animations. From his puppets to his illustrations Joseph has a very unique approach.

What different mediums do you/ have you used? What’s your favorite and how does this change the art itself?

I love experimenting with new materials. My current body of work is actually a combination of wire, paper mache, resin, faux fur, copper, clay – stoneware and porcelain, and many other materials. My favorite is probably either an oil based clay like chavant or else if I’m working small then I love to sculpt with Sculpey. I try very hard not to let the medium limit the artwork that I am making. If the material can’t do what I want, then I use something else.

How do you think you developed this style? What are your influences?

Well, I have always loved animation. I was obsessed with all the early Nickelodeon shows growing up – Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Rugrats, Doug, Hey Arnold, Wild Thornberrys, etc… So I think that had a huge influence on my visual aesthetic. Then when I was 16 I discovered Chris Sickel’s puppet work. That’s when I began making stop motion films.01

Where are you from and how does the environment affect your life and art?

I am from a small town in Central Illinois. It is called Tuscola and it has about 5,000 people total. Luckily though, my parents are both artists and art teachers and we got to travel a lot. So I was exposed to a lot more than just Central Illinois.
What was your time at CalArts like? Do you think it shaped you in a big way?
Before CalArts, I studied Visual Arts at Interlochen Center for the Arts for my final year of high school. Interlochen had a huge impact on me. It was the first time I was ever around people like myself. Then I later went to CalArts for Experimental Animation. The two places were actually very similar. Both incredibly fast paced and creative environments. I think Interlochen really did a lot to shape me as an artist and then CalArts continued to help me grow and build my creativite and technical ability.16

Who’re some of your favorite artists/people?

Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Allison Schulnik, The Haas Brothers, Yayoi Kusama, Takuro Kuwata, Chris Sickels, Peggy Noland, John Cameron Mitchell, Rupaul and so many more. I hope I spelled all of those correctly! haha.

Your dog Hedwig is very cute! What made you decide to get a little Aussie?

My boyfriend and I got Hedwig together. We had wanted one for a while and finally after a bunch of research we tracked one down. He jumped at me and started gnawing at my finger and I couldn’t stand the thought of putting him back down. So a week later, when the puppy was old enough we took him home and named him Hedwig after Hedwig and the Angry Inch. He has been the inspiration for several of my characters.

Joseph’s work can be found at or on Instagram @Joenivens

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