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5 questions for: A mixed-media artist

Mixed-media artist Elizabeth Arzani, 23, thinks outside the canvas. From painting to collage to fusing found objects, Arzani creates portraits of people's everyday oddities. A man's bushy mustache inspired her piece, "Freaks and Creeps." Arzani finds new inspiration on the bus and beyond. Joanne Spataro

When did you get into art? I've been working on art pretty much since I was young. I got into painting when I started going to Braitman's Studio in middle school. Before that, I was just into drawing and I did a lot of collage. But that's where I started to get more into painting.

Your art depicts interesting characters. Where do they come from? I think it has a lot to do with just being drawn to different people that stand out from the crowd. I commute to school, and on my way I see a lot of interesting people at the bus stop or walking along the side of the road. I'm like, "Oh man, that person looks amazing right there in that moment." I would want to take a picture and create my own story, little narratives in my head that I make up about what these people are doing or what their lives have been like.

What are some of your greatest inspirations? I've collected a lot of stuff over the years and my great-grandmother traveled around the world, so she collected everything. I think part of it could be genetic.

What did you do in London? I did an art history field study in London this past summer for 10 days. A lot of what I saw in London had to do with surface treatments and using different materials in assemblage and collage. There was one exhibit at the Tate Modern that I really responded to and did a lot of work based on that experience. It was called, "Materials and Gestures."

Sometimes I didn't even use paint. I used a lot of found objects and assemblage. I would take plates and saucers and silverware and break them and reassemble them back together to make this broken stacked place setting.

What do you want people to take away from your work? A lot of times the meaning that the artist had for the piece of work isn't always how another viewer will take it. I like to play with the narrative. Sometimes they're mysterious and open-ended. I want people to be able to make up their own stories or fill in the blanks.

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