Friday, March 25, 2011

Face it....

It has only been about 18 months since I began drawing the human face (realistically anyway…) and what a joy it has been to explore the relationship between God’s work and technology.  Okay, the ability to figure out technology is also God’s work, usually followed by the “D” word for those of us who grew up on electric typewriters and darkroom development, but it still amazes me when I figure it out.

Recently I completed part one of my grant for Arts in Stark by drawing children at the Illuminarts festival. I had a blog written about that event, but my editor won’t allow me to post it because Snarky is not Snippy or Snide so I passed on posting the post. Children are the hardest of images to draw. They have no wrinkles, no tonal discolorations, and little wisdom in the eyes plus they don’t sit still very well. Some adults can’t sit still either but I can still chastise them without fear of tears. I use events such as this to keep my hand to eye coordination skills sharp and for basic drawing practice. Last year’s Illuminarts lead to my having the confidence to attempt the larger portraits that became the series of Fascinating Faces from Interesting Places.

Some of the Fascinating Faces are now at the local Arts in Stark offices and one is on exhibit behind them in the Art Museum for a group show. I know this, but did not expect to find a few of them looking back at me from the internet.  An event at A in S posted on FB shows the employees standing in front of my work. Nothing unusual about that, but the fun part is looking at the expressions in my drawings as they relate to the activity at hand. On the Museum website regarding the group show, one of my faces is used to promote the show. I hear that a couple of pieces in the Cleveland show are viewer favorites too. All well and good right?; locally, yes. As far as competition goes, I have discovered a dilemma. It seems that to have a piece published one must have written permission of the person depicted in the work for the use of their image. At least that is the issue I faced this week in exploring the possibility of getting some of the Faces into print in a book about drawing.

Catch-22….. the faces are captured without people knowing that their picture is being taken as such images make for the best expressions.  There is no way I could walk up to a stranger with a release form and say “Hey, I just got a great shot of you looking like an uber dork! Would you sign this paper giving me permission to share it with the world?”  Call me cynical, but I don’t think the reply would be pleasant. Heck, I even get flipped off just standing on a corner with my camera by my waist pretending to adjust the settings. 

But back to technology and children, or children’s faces, which need a boost with some Dr. Adobe now and then. The original works are nice in my opinion, capturing features and expressions to the extent that a bored or sullen kid staring into space is capable of mustering up some spirit, but as far as being “artistic”, they lack the elements of art which make images visually exciting. No roadmap of wrinkles to follow, no twisted teeth or broken noses, no uneven eyebrows or thinning hairlines, no oversized ears or saggy jowls…the things I find fascinating to find in a face, the combinations of  which make us each uniquely human. When someone is expressive, there is life inside their eyes. When sitting for a portrait, often the eyes go blank. Holding a smile is nearly impossible so when drawing from life, most people look robotic. Therefore, this year’s Illuminarts portraits got doses of Dr. Adobe’s magical potions as I learned how to use the program on my computer. Yes, your kid may be cute, but he is a whole lot more interesting with a bit of magic from the drop down menu. 

Because of my continuing cold and the call of duty to head to Florida with the Scouts, I have and will miss many of the local shows on view. Anderson Creative still has “When We Were Young” for a few more days, and then opens “The Beautiful Corpse” next week. Kristine Wyler is on view (well, her work is on view) at the Fountain Gallery at Malone, “Celebration of Art” is at the Massillon Museum, Diane Belfiglio is still at the Butler (her work is there, she’s not….), 2nd April is opening a spectacular special exhibit of works by the late great David Grant Roth, and the Canton Artist League is on view at the Art Museum.  Get out there and enjoy some art!!

See the rest of the portfolio of Illuminarts Faces 2011 (that are completed as of now...) on my Facebook Page.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fuzzy Math

Remember that phrase from some long ago presidential debate? I am sure it had something to do with the economy and taxes but my use of it refers to how my brain is currently processing numbers. Actually, just about everything in my brain for the past week has been (and continues to be) fuzzy thanks to a congestion convention currently residing with the confines of my cranium. If humans could hack a hairball, I’d be an Olympic contender for sure! Hence the reason no show reviews or other relevant art related postings have appeared here for quite some time. I promise to get back on board in April!  

One art and math related issue did find itself surfacing into a coherent thought however as I ran errands on autopilot. The concept of how some juried show submissions are priced has always perplexed me so this post will try and make sense (ha!) of that idea. A common price point would be the 3 entries for $30 application, meaning an artist can submit up to three pieces of work to the jury for a flat fee of $30. For an open show which has no theme or overlying concept behind it, just an annual showcase style show, this makes sense.  Few artists work within the concepts of a limited theme so they may have many pieces of wide appeal as far as topics but all are representative of their personal style. The juror may select one, two or all three because the pieces are good enough to make the cut of available space and number allotted. Most artists would be fine with paying the flat fee and filling the three entry slots on the application with a selection of quality pieces representing their body of work. The fuzzy part happens when such a fee applies to a show with a very narrow point of view or purpose. When a specific theme is at hand, would it not make more sense to price each entry at a flat $10 fee per submission and make the maximum number of entries allowed be three?

The reason being, the quantity and quality of entries is likely to rise exponentially.  How so? Well, artists may have in their inventory only one piece which dovetails with the theme, or the time and interest to create only one piece for such a show but ends up not entering at all because the thought of paying $30 for one piece is not really fair. So what happens? One quality piece is not submitted because the artist does not want to pay for 2 empty slots on the form. The artists who have many pieces or even just enough to fill the three piece limit stand a far better chance of having their work in the final selection accepted category but the overall quality of work is not be as great as it could be because not as many pieces were sent to the juror. At least that is what I think I figured out somewhere along the way today. If each piece were counted as one price per entry, then many more pieces may be part of the selection process and the overall quality of the show would likely increase because the pool of potential entries from which to jury is much greater. Artists may create a specific piece for the theme show that is spectacular but also toss in a couple of clunkers just to justify the three for $30 plan. The judge then has to waste time viewing pieces that even the artist would probably admit are not the greatest. The artist also runs the risk of the judge liking a clunker piece and including it in the show even though the artist would rather not have had the piece seen in public.

Some shows which have similar fee structures will have an addendum entry price plan so artists can add more works to the jury pool at a one for one fee, usually seen as each extra work submitted costing $5 per piece up to a total of 5 or 10 more works. Talk about stuffing the ballot box! Poor artist A sends in his 3 pieces while artist B may have sent in 13 for the juror to choose from. It does not seem fair. However, if A can only afford one at $10 then B should have to pay for his 13 at $10 each too. Somehow that math makes just a bit more sense to me as far as putting the power of work quality back into the hands of the artist. If I know that each one is costing me the same amount of money, I will pick only my best, not waste money on filler pieces. Getting selected into such a show then seems more meaningful in that the competition was stiffer and the artists selected are showing their best works.

Some will argue that the juried show that requires entry fees is only a vanity exhibit. In some cases, that is probably true. But over the past 15 or so years, more and more upper end venues are requiring fees to cover the loss from dwindling sales, donations, grants and other sources of revenue. Some locations are even requiring a fee for a jury review when submitting a portfolio for exhibition consideration. In times past, those types of submissions were free. Museums and galleries are feeling the pinch so they are asking for a contribution to look at your work.  I am not a math wiz, but I am a lover of logic. So…logically, would it not benefit artists to be able to send one piece each to three different locations and in front of three different jurors if they cost a one for one fee, as opposed to three pieces to one location for only one juror costing the same amount of money? When no option exists to send only 1 or 2 pieces, then the artist is the loser right? (And you thought story problems ended in the 5th grade!). If “exposure” is the big la-de-da word of the art world, then why are venues working against us in pursuing that goal? 

Believe it or not, all this made sense somewhere between the tissue box and the air soap bottle perched precariously on my lap in rainy day traffic. I just hope I did not put the mail into the ATM machine and the checks into the mailbox.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Street Art vs Death Driver

Yes, my new nickname is “Death Driver” to match my son’s nickname of “Death March”. His refers to his preferred style of backpacking which means no stopping for water, snacks, bathroom breaks or pictures. Mine is now earned for having been to 4 states and 4 grad schools in a total of 37 hours.  With so much time behind the wheel, the “art” which one finds along the road kept me quite entertained.

I learned about “street art” from Mark Soppeland. Years ago we were driving to Cleveland to see a show and happened upon one of those wide load trucks carrying a large wrapped item that resembled a gazebo. His resulting commentary (and lesson) was hilariously funny. It is very true that what was on that flatbed truck could have been a Christo sculpture or some very small item with adequacy issues. Nonetheless, I learned to appreciate the mental stimulus of playing guess what’s behind tarp number one. Personally if some of those loads were turned 90 degrees on the truck, they would not be so wide.

As part of our American roadway system, one will find all kinds of art incorporated into the construction. Just outside of Dayton, the bridge abutments have carvings of the Blue Angels fighter jets in some type of formation. Just what I don’t know as the speed limit is 65 (translation….70) so the view is fleeting to say the least.  Someplace along our route, the roads would split and divide rising in spiraling bridges that criss-crossed each other like ribbons.  The lower edges were painted shades of blue which probably disappeared in summer time, but with grey skies and rain, the blue was rather vibrant. Thank goodness my “naggie” was on duty so I could look at the view and listen to her directions.

Small town country roads are full of statues (giant cow on a post), billboards and “fences”, the latter of which was made from a hundred or so old bicycles painted red white and blue. Memorials abound as well and I often thought of making a picture book of the thousands I have probably encountered over years of driving back roads. A morbid bestseller at best I suppose.

When driving on main highways (Indiana and Michigan have a 70mph speed limit!! Translation…..76) it is fellow drivers that keep me entertained. Truckers are great, people in little foreign cars are aggressive and kids in clunkers are oblivious. Minivaners like myself tend to allow the latter two some leeway and watch each other’s back (or would that be bumper) because chances are there are kids in the car. I find out all kinds of things about people from their stickers and decorations which help decide if you are passing material or wide berth warranted.  Probably the most fun is trying to decide what people were thinking….which translates to nothing most of the time. Case in point….

The road is under construction and therefore divided into to two lanes. Both go the same place, but there is a big wide median of grass, gravel, floodwaters and hence…MUD between the two lanes. So…if you see a car which tried to cross this median with its nose buried up to the wheel well in mud and the back end up in the air….what makes you think that you have the magic flying car? So…if you are driving along and see 2 cars in the median, one buried to the wheel well and the other turned on its side in obvious panic that it made the wrong decision and turning back did not work out…what makes you think you have the flying car? Having now passed three partially submerged vehicles, most people would put 2 and 2 together and wait for the next exit to find a way to the one they missed because car number one shut down the exit side forcing all the traffic into one lane which has no exits. But I guess if you are driving a moving truck and don’t know any other way to get to your exit, the magic flying fairies are on your side so there is no way a heavy truck will sink. No way….right?……..wrong,  he did not realize that fairies don’t work in the rain. Vehicle number 4 is a moving truck cab now in the mud and sinking like quicksand. Americans being as skeptical as we are (or just plain stupid slow learners) evidently decided that the 5th, 6th and even a 7th vehicle would surely make it because stuff like that only happens to other people. Just two cops and one tow truck were working the whole 7 mile scene probably figuring if you are that dumb then you can just sit there on your trunk in the pouring rain and wait.  At least these folks provided some entertainment for those of us racing snails on the roadway.

Dorothy was right however, there is no place like home!

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Artist Project

While in Toronto these past several days, I visited an art exhibition called The Artist Project at the Queen Elizabeth Building at what would be their high end IX center complex. Major media coverage promoted it as “200 artists, 4 days, 1 venue” of “carefully juried contemporary artists”. But it was much more than that and quite impressive! Unlike the Art Basel events in Miami and other locations across the US, this show is for independent artists, not those affiliated with galleries or agents.  198 of them were Canadians and 2 from the US. Because Toronto is far more “international” than we are, the artists were not just “Canadian”, but Chinese, Russian, Italian, Japanese and a fruit salad of other  nationalities.

This concept is coming to the US in New York City in a couple of weeks for the first time ever. The same basic sponsorship will be in place. No white tents and homemade display racks allowed. The set up is very high end, with solid white walls provided for each artist, abundant lighting, carpeting in the NY venue (not Toronto) and only one little display table to hold cards is allowed. The look is very clean and very contemporary. The works were quite large for the commercial buyer or wealthy collector and almost each artist had a handful of smaller affordable works for the average investor just getting started. Red dots were all over the place and empty nails as well.

There was an untapped emerging artist competition for those in grad school or 3 years out, a 3-D lounge sponsored by Sony to showcase video artists and photographers, a theme competition sponsored by Absolute Citron Vodka featuring lemons, and a center alley (wait…centre alley in Canadian) of large scale sculptures, conceptual art and installations.  Art Walks with docents, Art Chats with guest speakers and even some onsite Art Stylists** were part of the program. (I want to be an Art Stylist when I grow up!). Of course a bar, some food and a ticketed admission were part of the package. All the artists were on site, well dressed and engaging the crowd. The art work was in most cases spectacular, in some cases redundant with other exhibitors, and every now and then, ….odd, but none the less entertaining and visually fascinating.  Okay, this is exactly what the famous Art Basels are like here and around the world except for the representation part. The Miami and New York locations do have tents for those who want to buy a spot in the show to ummm….show their work.

This all sounds great doesn’t it? I was psyched all the way home, including the 3.5 hours spent in traffic due to a jackknifed tractor trailer blocking all lanes for hours and hours. Still pretty excited about the possibilities while finally inching up an exit ramp to gain access to a utility road parallel to the highway for another 10 miles of crawling cars. Not nearly so enthused when looking back and realizing that only three cars behind us, the highway was reopened and zooming by while we sat at a red light on our one and only way to the access road. I felt much better once passing through our Border Patrol station and not having to watch the little numbers below the big numbers on the speedometer. We can go 90 in Canada? Really!!  Oh…..that is kmph not mph. Rats.
But back to the Artist Project, now that I have internet access again, I checked out the too good to be true details of such an exhibition both Canadian and American. For some reason, with exchange rates factored in, the US booth space (once you are juried in) is double the Canadian price. Standard show process applies in that one submits the usual materials, statements, non-refundable fee and so forth. Several contracts are included regarding exhibitions within 30 days before and after the event, allowable materials, PR issues and fine print that a corner, extra wall or extra lights will cost additional fees. So how much would it cost in New York? The minimum 5’ deep by 15’ long space which is the smallest one you can get is $3825.00 and the largest at 10’ deep by 20’ long is $10,000.00 but they will sell you additional footage if desired. Add on your travel costs, rooms for the three nights, meals and incidentals and that is one whopping chunk of change to show some work. Granted, it is one of the few and probably best ways to make it “in the big time” world of the art market. Reading the exhibitor’s bios and records for the Canadians, these artists put the capitol “P” in professional. With some pieces selling in the upper price ranges, no wonder they can afford such exhibition fees.  I still wonder how much those Art Stylists got paid.

Would I love to be a part of something like that? Absolutely. Could I sit inside for four days on a little director’s chair and make small talk to people all day long? Absolutely not.  Did I see work on par with what is found here in NE Ohio and by some local Cantonians as well? Absolutely. Did I see anything at all that looked even remotely like the style of work I produce? Absolutely not.  I guess this is one of those “when life gives you lemons” moments… only the choice is lemonade or lemon vodka.  I am perfectly happy leading a lemonade lifestyle as age and experience and opportunities have proven that a lemon vodka life is both expensive and short-lived.

**Definition of an Art Stylist according to the program: “The Art Stylist will help you overcome any apprehension you may have when buying your first piece of artwork. Learn the basics of art buying with an introduction to various mediums, genres and trends that will assist you in finding the right piece for your home and lifestyle. They will offer tips and insights that will make any first-time buyer feel at ease.”
(Snarky’s first piece of advice would be….don’t bounce the check or have your credit card rejected.)