Featured Artist I Amber Vaughn
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By GreenHill
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Who are you and what do you do, why art?

Amber: “My name is Amber Vaughn. I am a 2nd year Scene Design Graduate Student at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). Originally from Jackson, GA, I received my B.A. in Theatre from Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, GA (2012). Between undergrad and graduate school, I worked as a Costuming Hostess at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios.

On paper, I am not an automotive person – nor am I claiming to be. Although I know some of the lingo, I cannot rebuild your engine or replace your transmission. I did grow up around cars and mechanics. My parents’ backyard is a sanctuary of vehicles that have been a part of milestones in my family’s life. Each one has their own story. My dad is a self-employed mechanic and most (if not all) of his friends are mechanics. One of my earliest memories is going to the drag races, where my dad was crew chief for one of his racing friends.As a child, I played with hot wheels and a bat mobile. When I was 6 years old, I wanted a go-cart, like most kids did. But dad said he could buy an old junk car cheaper than he could a go-cart. So, he bought me a car.He would take me to the pasture for driving lessons. Because I was too short to reach the peddles, I used a baton to press the gas and brake.However, that ended the day I pulled the emergency break, jumped out of the car (with the seat belt still on) and let the car plummet into the valley.After that, dad resorted to buying a V.W. Camper Van to use as a play house. It was, of course, stationary.

Motorcycles on the other hand, remind me of my grandfather. He built his motorcycle from the ground up. I remember as a child seeing all the parts laid out, him cleaning them and prepping them for assembly. Since building and restoring the bike, he rides across country every year.He wants to ride his bike to every state (minus Hawaii, for obvious reasons). The past couple of years he has attempted to go to Alaska, but hasn’t yet reached that frontier. Thinking about my grandfather, I feel as if motorcycles embody an “American Dream”. My grandfather, a Vietnam Veteran, has spent his life caring for people. From dropping out of school to take care of the family, fighting in the war for his country, to helping me go to school. He has always done for others. But when he rides, it is the one thing he does for himself. That is his time to leave the world around him and to just live in the moment. The freedom that a bike gives to its rider – that is what we are trying to embody at M.A.D.” 

How did you  get on board the M.A.D. Project?

Amber: “Well, it all started with Shakespeare at the beginning of 2016. I was working on an in-class design of “Romeo and Juliet” when I went to visit my family, who I hadn’t seen in awhile. I had been struggling to figure out a concept and trying to determine who the Montagues and Capulets were with whatever world I would be creating. Then, while sitting on the couch with my dad, watching another car-customization-street racing show and hearing James Brown’s “This is a Man’s World” – it hit me. “Romeo and Juliet” is a man’s world. The show would take place in a car garage. The Capulets and Montagues would be rival street racers. The Montagues would be American Muscle Cars and the Capulets Imported. After explaining the concept to the class, describing what the scenery would look like, and finding they didn’t know what a creeper was – John Coyne knew I was a right fit for M.A.D. I had never realized how important automotives were to me until I was away from my family. It’s one of those things, you don’t realize you miss until it’s gone. Since, working on “Romeo and Juliet”, I have started looking at custom designs for cars and bikes. Therefore, when given the opportunity to work on M.A.D, I was ecstatic.”

What would you like to highlight about your work that will be shown at GreenHill, a little about the research, the process and how it was developed?

Amber: “I have always, secretly, envied the people who can look at a car or bike and tell you off hand the make, model and year. Therefore, doing the research on the bikes was crucial to this project and very fulfilling to me. When I do research, I not only use the internet, but also physical books/documents and conversation. I rather enjoy calling up an expert, in this case the owner, and finding out more information about a bike. This was very helpful in the case of the Marsh Bike. When guests see the Marsh Bike, they are going to think it is an outcast to the rest of the collection. However, it is very important in the History of American Motorcycle. Marsh was the first commercial motorcycle manufacturer in the United States. Although it no longer exists, Marsh paved the way for its successors.

Knowing that each bike played a significant role in the History of American Motorcycles, we have strategically placed them in a visual flow of history. Another example is the Honda Dream, which was marketed towards a new demographic of riders who wore Khakis and boat shoes rather than leather chaps and boots. This bike paved the way for the crotch rocket and sport bikes we see on the road today. Therefore, we have placed it as a segway to the modern sport bikes. Other iconic bikes that will be on display include Evel Knievel’s 1970 Harley Davidson Jump Bike, The Captain America Bike from the film “Easy Rider” (1969), Ray Price’s Funny Bike and Nitro Bike (that is 17’ long).

What is integral to your work as an artist?

Amber: Support.My mom always pushed us to be our own person and to like whatever it was we liked. Without the support from my upbringing, I wouldn’t be her today. My family and friends are always supportive and willing to talk out an idea with me, even though they are not in this business. My research is another crucial part to my success. Because of my love of writing and learning – research is something that I just purely enjoy doing and it happens to be beneficial to designing. I can get lost in research. Which leads me to organization. I have organized the M.A.D. research multiple times. I like to have things organized so it is user friendly.

How has your practice change over time?

Amber: “For me, my career goals have changed. I began undergrad wanting to be an actor, then switched to a director and got a job as a costumer. During my time at Disney, I was exposed to all the changes and expansions the company was doing and I wanted to be a part of the design process for these new areas. That lead me to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA).

At UNCSA, we mainly focus on traditional theatre. However, there is a shift happening, where the faculty are opening doors to non-traditional theatre opportunities. M.A.D. is a part of that shift. Last year, we brought on a new Dean to the School of Design and Production, who is really pushing the faculty and students to explore other design opportunities outside of a theatre. For example, we recently had an alumni speak to the Scene Design Students about life after UNCSA. Currently a freelancer, and just finished designing a Christmas Tree Farm, she was a window display designer for Aeropostale. The faculty is doing an amazing job at allowing us to explore other opportunities. They are aware that the industry is constantly changing and not everyone is interest in theatre. I feel very lucky to have such supportive faculty, who are willing to explore other forms of entertainment with you.”

What art do you most identify with?

Amber: “As silly as it sounds, children’s literature. The illustrations of a children’s book are so enchanting. They can either be lighthearted or dark. I always want to know how the author/illustrator developed the images.”

What works do you most enjoying doing?

Amber: “I enjoy working on things that parents and kids can do together, that are also educational. Working at the Children’s Museum, Disney, and volunteering with 4-H, I have seen how entertainment can also be educational. Even as an adult, I enjoy (children’s) entertainment that is educational. Activities for both parent and child that are fun and educational are the best forms of entertainment out there.”

What’s your favorite form of art?

Amber: “ My favorite form of art is film/television. Because of how easily it is accessible. Growing up on a farm, in the middle of nowhere, with no cable and pre-internet, we watched tv on an antenna that would sometimes get channels or we would watch movies. On Friday nights,we would go into town and stock up on movies for the weekend at the town movie rental store. If I wasn’t watching movies at my house, I was next door at my grandmother’s, going through her film collection. Usually, I ended up watching the same films on repeat. It got to the point where my mom had to tell her to hide both “Babes in Toyland” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. The film that brought us together was “The Wizard of Oz”. She would call the path between our houses “the yellow brick road”. And would often say we were going to build it one day, as she pointed to a pile of bricks she was collecting by the house. She passed away before it was completed.

After she passed, we moved. I spent more time with my other grandmother. Where my deceased grandmother introduced me to fairy tales that were human, this grandmother introduced me to fairy tales that contained mythical creatures. She had books on fairies, goblins, unicorns and etc. We would spend days walking around the property, collecting arrowheads and quartz crystals. She would talk to me about Grimm Fairy Tales and fairy tales she had heard from other cultures. One of the films we connected on was “Jim Henson’s Labyrinth”. Which we still talk about, and recently visited the Atlanta Puppetry of Arts’ “Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Journey in Goblin City”. Film is able to connect to audiences that wouldn’t have the opportunity to see a live production. Growing up, we didn’t have opportunities to see live theatre,  so I found joy in film. I am that person who wants to be fully immersed in the movie while I am watching it. Therefore, interactive environments (themed entertainment) is what I am very much interested in doing.

What is your dream project?

Amber: My ‘dream project’ would be to design “Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame” Musical. However, my dream job is to work as an imagineer at Walt Disney. I want to design interactive environments that take people to new places. Taking a beloved film and creating an area dedicated to it that allows guests to become a part of the story is what I want to do. Something that has stuck with me is from an imagineer, who was at Magic Kingdom on 9/11. He was there before the park opened and he walked to the corner of Main St. USA and sat, looking across the empty park. He was thinking about the day ahead. The people who would be coming into the park to escape the harsh reality outside the gates. The families who lost a loved one and brought their child to the park so that their child didn’t have to feel the pain. He said that no matter what was going on outside the gates that it was our job to make sure the families had a good time and got what they needed from this magical place.

Happiness. No matter what I do, I want to bring happiness to people. I know what it is like to need to escape from reality and needing the weight to be lifted off my shoulders – if even for a little while. I know the magic that the Magic Kingdom possess and how it can literally turn your frown upside down.

‘I’d say that I think the most revolutionary act that you can commit in our society today is to be happy.’ -Hunter “Patch” Adams”

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?

Amber: The ‘Romeo and Juliet’ project has opened my eyes. I want to, eventually, add car customization to my portfolio/resume. Being around cars feels right. Whether the customization be for film, theme park or private owner – it is something I can see in my future.”

Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.

Amber: No one. As cliché as it sounds, I don’t want to be anyone but me. I am Amber Vaughn, small town girl from Jackson, GA and I want to make people happy.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Amber: I don’t think this is advice, but it is something that has always stuck with me. My Dad and his Dad, on separate occasions, have held their hands out to me, showing all the scars, calluses, wounds, and permanent filth on them. They would say, “I do this so you don’t have to.” Meaning, I have worked hard and done all this so  that you won’t have to know what it is like to have this pain and physical damage that comes with the job. I did this so that you would have a better life. Knowing that they have spent their life working for me to have a good one – I can’t help but want to make them proud and do good things.”