A Greater Boston native, I'm a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, art, and graphic design. I'm co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), art director of Art New England magazine, senior contributor for The Arts Fuse, and am the Boston area dance critic for the international Fjord Review. I recently completed a one-year term as co-chair of the Arlington Cultural Council, and am regularly hired as an arts advocate to speak at events ranging from legislative assemblies at the State House to entrepreneurial panels for students at Mount Holyoke College. This blog serves as a behind-the-scenes peek into the life and journal of an interdisciplinary artist. Learn more at merliguerra.com or luminariumdance.org, and thank you for reading my thoughts on setting the visual and performing arts into motion.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Then and Now: Johnny-Oh! vs Art New England

Every once in a while, we find ourselves staring at a piece of our past, and are instantly compelled to compare it to the world we live in now. An old index card in a drawer reveals "Snowman with fingers: Merli 1990": A humorously hideous scribbling of blue ink against yellowed parchment. Middle school is suddenly reignited by the discovery of a box of prized scrunchies, lip glosses, and nail polishes now separated into swirling colorful rings, like marking the age of an old tree. In some cases, like the latter, the comparison from then to now is a clearly striking one (I no longer wear fake hair while sporting a Princess Lea look, for one); in others, like the sketch, little has changed in 23 years (drawing really isn't my forte, though that doesn't stop me from scribbling on every paper scrap I can find!). Most recently, I was so struck by one "then and now" comparison that I knew it was time to document it. And given another decade of growth, I hope to once again be floored by my own humble progress!

Those closest to me know my story as a graphic designer (my ambitions, my training, my current portfolio) and without divulging too much here, the one aspect I seldom share is my initial inspiration. Being 5 years and 361 days older than my brother had its advantages while growing up, and among them was the opportunity to take our mutual love of the anime series Yugi-Oh! and turn it into a fanciful (yet professional) graphic design endeavor to give my brother the colorful world...of Johnny-Oh!

The 4 final Johnny-Oh! cards ever printed.

Johnny Gobbler was a big hit, and a classic addition
to any Johnny-Oh! deck.

Over the course of 4 years, Johnny-Oh! became a growing enterprise in our childhood home, with each card carefully crafted to fall within the guidelines of its own complex hierarchy of attack points, powers, rankings, and colorful descriptions. Soon each pack began arriving in hand-crafted decorative cases; Johnny's friends started putting in requests to see themselves turned into cards; and eventually the first plastic-wrapped debut edition of Johnny-Oh! Magazine waited by my brother's door.

Johnny-Oh! Magazine. Published by M.V.G. Paints.

I was having a blast. As the creator of Johnny-Oh!, I was Tooth Fairy and budding entrepreneur combined, and teaching myself design tricks all the while. For design geeks at home reading this, I was working with a form of Adobe software so old, the Creative Suites had yet to be invented. A painful process to be sure, but like any artistic tool, I learned ways to bend the rules and accomplish each look I required.

5 of the 7 issues I've designed for
Art New England

Fast-forward over a decade later to my current position as Production Manager (graphic designer) of Art New England magazine in Boston. Each day I travel into the city to work alongside a team of talented ad reps, publishers, writers, and editors, and for some (crazy) reason they continue to entrust me with the design of their nationally-distributed publication. The best part? I'm helping readers across America learn more about my favorite field: The arts!

Then and Now: A spread in Art New England
(above) alongside a spread in Johnny-Oh!

So here I am, 26 and loving both of my jobs: One in the field of dance, the other in the field of design, but both in the field of the arts. In the 4 years I ran Johnny-Oh!, I produced 11 magazines, 100 unique cards, and 1 happy brother. In the year+ I've worked for Art New England, I've just completed my seventh issue, and it is by far the fullest, largest, most impressive issue printed in the company's 35 years on newsstands. I am so fortunate to be a part of this publication, fortunate to have had a younger brother who encouraged me to pursue this line of work, and will surely be fortunate again another decade from now when my next leap forward makes me stop and reflect.

This entry is dedicated to the hilarious, witty, talented, lanky John D. A. Guerra. Never stop creating new worlds!