Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Exciting News! Pieces going to print....

Look for me in the Fall 2011 edition of  Studio Visit Magazine!  Each volume features approximately 150 artists, who have been selected by professional curators. It is received by two thousand curators and gallerists throughout the country. This edition was juried by Ian Berry, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of the The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. 2 pieces from the “Fascinating Faces” series of soft pastel portraits will be featured. This magazine is a sister publication of the New American Paintings series and features all media both 2-D and 3-D.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When do we go from "me" to "it"?

Driving the highways on rainy days is a great time to contemplate esoteric art related concepts. I was on my way to the Cleveland Institute of Art to view the current round of student shows as they near the end of the term. Having just read our local papers and taken a general online tour of what is out and about around here, the issue on my mind was at what point to “we” as artists shift from “me” to “it” where our work is concerned? 

The work of younger artists and those who are in the earlier stages of their careers tend to do work that is focused upon their feelings, emotions, personal reactions and so forth, essentially about “me”.  Two recent show of college student work, the halls of three institutions of higher learning in three counties and the statements by/of younger artists all had one thing in common…”this is how I feel ” and quite a few references to self.  And that is to be expected. The best source of material for inspiration comes from our own hearts and minds and experiences. It is part of the growth process as one progresses through the stages of their creative career. Eventually work tends to transition from begin less about the emotional attachment and content to one of process and inquiry. Work becomes neutral so to speak, there is less personal attachment. Does work then become more appealing to the masses, to a wider general audience perhaps?

Work that is intensely personal will appeal best to those who know the creator and share a connection (either on a personal or cultural level) because the viewer can”relate”. Work of less inner emotional content is more marketable by business standards. Interesting enough, if one goes through the annals of art history, the most “famous” and recognizable art works are those that are neutral or separated from the creator. The style and imagery may be very personal, but the emotional issues are not there. Think Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, Warhol, Magritte and more. Their imagery is for the most part forward and outward just like the landscapes of the Romantics and the intently religious laden works of the Renaissance which though very emotional, were not necessarily personal points of view as they were relatable to the general human emotion of the overall population.

Artists will always be driven by the need to explain, express and exorcise their inner demons and turmoil, asking questions and becoming immersed in quandary. So at what point does one shift from the inner to the outer? Why would they? Many do, so as to take their work from limited audience appeal to a wider pool of potential buyers expanding their exposure and subsequent opportunities that come with such a shift. Venues of established magnitude and reputation are less likely to feature “me” than they are “it”.  A fine and difficult chalk line defines the difference and there is nothing wrong with never choosing to cross it. I think all visual artists pass through the “me” phase however. For some it lasts a very short time. Perhaps such artists do not have enough angst to share or little desire to let others into their own heads or hearts. Sometimes I wonder if it is a generational thing, much like the intense need to share everything, all the time, no matter how trivial, with others (whom we deem to care) via the various forms of social media. Our ability to instantaneously connect with others does tend to take away much of the joy and connection that used to come from gatherings where friends and families caught up on each others’ lives. The weekly phone call home from college (collect of course) or the long awaited arrival of a handwritten letter perhaps containing a photograph is a thing of the past…but I digress.

My scribbled notes (yes, I write “text” and drive….) are a bit unreadable from this point on and the topic of a future blog as I continue to ponder this idea of “me” and “it”. I believe all artists go through different phases of personal growth and exploration. Whether we choose to leave one aspect behind and move on to another is purely a personal decision. Perhaps the choice is based on what we want to achieve as an artist 10 years from now, 20 years, maybe even 30 if we have that much time left of earth (God willing I can still paint at 80 years old). Does one wish to keep making art for purely personal release or does one wish to make money? Can one do both? Does one wish to establish a professional reputation in the field, ever expanding their exhibition record or is the proverbial big fish in a small pond enough room to swim and still be satisfied? If the shift in focus never does come for an artist, that is okay too. There are plenty of viewers willing to rubber neck a good train wreck.

Yes, I did finally make my way through the halls of the Cleveland Institute (after realizing the city of Cleveland is not filling potholes under 6” deep) and was extremely impressed with the quality of work and the concepts explored.  The difference between a school with an art department and a school devoted entirely to art cannot be overlooked when viewing their respective exhibitions. Interestingly enough, there was no “me” work in this show or even on view in the many hallway display cases. The work was about craftsmanship and concept. My notebook contains names and pieces worth sharing but the shows rotate in and out so quickly up there that the expiration date has come and gone.

A little rhyme rolled through my head as I was walking back to my car….
I can shop an aisle of Harbor Freight,
But from that haul is it “art” I make?
Something to contemplate on the next highway ride.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A message from our younger generation.

The following is a Middle School student’s essay question answer to a classroom assignment asking for their family’s plan to deal with the current economic downturn.  I could not have said it better….thanks, Allie and yes, some of us are listening.

I asked my Mom and Dad how we plan to budget for the coming year in case our taxes go up. My Dad said he would have to pay a lot more money because he works too hard. So first he says we are going to cancel our lawn service and I will cut the grass. He feels sorry for the lawn guy because he has lost a lot of clients lately and his own kids can no longer play on my softball team because of the fees. 

We are also going to no longer go to the movies as a family because we can rent one for a dollar or two and make popcorn at home. Only one theater is left in town anyway because everybody is staying home too. Dad says he feels sorry for the kid who worked the concessions, the ticket taker and the janitor as well as the movie guy in the booth, but we don’t need to spend luxury money when the government will “need it” instead.

Mom says we are not going to go to the symphony anymore or to some of the plays that she liked so much because those are not necessary either. The government needs our money so she feels sorry for the musicians, the stage hands, the actors, the janitors and all the people who used to work at those places but with nobody having extra money for live performances (she says we can download the music and watch the plays on video) such places can close down and stop wasting energy on lights and stuff, a win win for everyone.  I liked the art class I took at our local museum but all the teachers were let go because nobody was signing up for classes. The museum was kinda far away and with gas prices so high, Mom said I can draw at home with some lessons off the internet.  She feels bad about not donating any money to her favorite arts groups this year but she heard that we may not be able to take it from our taxes (I don’t know what that means, but it was a good thing to give to others up until now according to my Dad).

Dad does not stop for coffee on the way to work anymore either. The coffee is free at work but he feels sorry for the kid who lost his job at the coffee place since their profits are down. He used to help coach my team but had to move away when his Mom lost her job at the salon. Seems nobody was spending their extra dollars on getting their hair or nails done so she now sits at home and collects money from the government, which is probably my Dad’s anyway. 

We sold our small fishing boat last week. We used to spend some free weekends as a family out on a lake at the nearby state park, but since so many people were not showing up to use the lake anymore, the place was closed down and chained off. Dad feels sorry for the rangers who worked there, some really nice folks he says, but the cost of gas, bait, snacks, a fishing license and stuff like that were extras we no longer needed because the government will need that money soon enough. 

Mom and her friends used to go shopping and out to lunch once a month but she stays home now and they text or talk on the phone. The good shops are all closed down anyway and she feels sorry for the ladies who worked there for as long as she can remember. The cleaning services, stock people and delivery trucks no longer need to waste precious energy anymore which I guess is a good thing. Their favorite restaurant closed months ago too. She said people were not eating out anymore because that cost extra money which nobody wants to spend because the government is going to need it.

I know all this is hard on my family but I feel it too. Our dog died about a year ago and I have been wanting a new puppy but Dad says that the cost of food and vet bills and all that dog related stuff is just extra money we don’t need to spend. Besides, our favorite vet left town a few months ago after so many people decided not to go to her as often for healthy pet visits. The closest vet is now an hour away and Mom does not want to spend the gas money. Oh well, since I will be cutting grass now, I won’t have to worry about stepping in dog poop.

I don’t know what the government is going to do with all this money we are no longer spending. I thought it was a good thing to spend money because then other people work at the places where we spend it. They get to then make money and go out and spend it too.  Someday I hope to understand it but right now I just see a bunch of older people all trying to be right and nobody caring much about what is really the right thing. At least that is how my Dad tries to explain it. I get to see my Dad more now that my softball team has been disbanded but I miss fishing with him and doing stuff with my mom. We stay at home now, saving money for the government. Sorry this is more than one page which I know is wasteful and I will get points off for not conserving resources, but nobody else seems to be listening anymore.

Allie R-------
Grade 8
---------Middle School

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Goodbye Gordon....

 Lost a good buddy last night, his name was Gordon. He was always sitting there smiling at me no matter what. But like all organic things, rot sets in and it is time to go. Poor Gordon, we will miss him (or it).

Gordon was a gourd (or squash) given to me by my Mother in law last fall. I am not sure why, but we never got around to carving him up for a side dish, so one day I just took a sharpie and drew a happy face on it. Since then, he has inhabited a bowl on the counter, lord of all things that never made it into the junk drawer. Much like the volley ball Wilson from Tom Hank’s movie years  ago, Gordon became a friend to chat with while packing the last few lunches for the last nester. Occasionally he would lean to one side and need his treasures readjusted for proper balance. I supposed I could have cleaned out the bowl but that would have upset the feng shui.

My husband tossed him out last night having discovered the decay slowly creeping up Gordon’s backside. I found him smiling up at me from the trash can this morning (Gordon, not my husband), right before tossing in the dirty cat food plates. The counter seems empty, a bare spot between the banana holder thingy and the basket of cat food cans. The bowl is still full of stuff however so I guess I have to sort it now.

Gordon’s cousin got tossed out a few days ago after the big wind storm. Seems the hollowed out version used as a bird house could not survive an eight foot drop. It still looked okay but any bird attempting to build a nest would discover the missing floor so out it went into the trash.

Speaking of nests, funny how first we get a “nesting instinct” right before going into labor. We clean and gather and sort and “feather our nest” for the new arrival. Then after 20 or so years, it becomes time to “empty nest” or “empty the nest” as the case may be, but unlike birds, we don’t leave it and build a new one.  We start looking around and asking things like…”why are we keeping a rotten squash on the counter with a smiley face drawn on it?” Now when one lives with an artist that would probably be a rhetorical question.  Frankly, I’ve wanted to toss Gordon for a long time after he no longer was casserole material, but somehow that stupid sharpie face bonded with me. Maybe it was fear that if I sacrificed him to the garbage gods, I would find ghost gourds waiting to scare the crap out of me on the stairs and in closets and stuff, just like in the movies. The trash truck has come and gone this morning so Gordon is now going to live in my trash can for a whole week. Creepy.

Good thing it is still two seasons away from the time one can buy those cute little pumpkins because I sharpie those suckers up too.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Exquisite Corpse at Anderson Creative Gallery

If one just reads the title of this exhibit and assumes a literal interpretation, then one will be soundly disappointed. If you are a fan of those children’s books where pages are separated to be flipped back and forth creating new “people”, then Pugsly and Wednesday want autographed copies.  A little creepy and a lot of clever, this modern take on an old Surrealist art form is lying in wait for your examination.

For a gallery now known to focus heavily on the use of the written word as part of its exhibitions, I was surprised to find no text. Rats. With the bodies laid out like a morgue, what fun it would have been to see their “names” perhaps comprised from the artists involved much like the recent show focused on an imaginary explorer. Along with the names, a brief obituary would have been fun too to learn how this creature lived or became who or what it was. A few other people were viewing the show at the same time I was eavesdropping and they expressed the same sentiment. With no need for reading glasses this time, I got to really focus only on the visuals below me.

The posted statement explains how randomly chosen artists, literally names drawn from a hat, were matched up with only the color of their paper template to connect them. Of the 48 artists, 26 were familiar names. How those particular 48 ended in the hat is not explained. Theoretically, they were to not know who shared Dr. Frankenstein’s vision for their final creation but I could not help but notice how some pieces just flowed together ….well…..exquisitely, some not just by media and value, but by content. For example, Wanda Montgomery made a swaschbuckler style body complete with a buckle which then connected to Lynda Tuttle’s disco ball butt in jeans that still had belt loops. Surreal for sure. So too does one find a flow within the delicacy of the Lawson/Nash/Rosenstock figure and a connection of intricacy between the panels of the Benton/Stegner/Jimenez body.

These 16 works can be seen as one overall work of art as well as 48 individual pieces, some in signature styles and some completely unfamiliar. Emily Vigil’s is quite personal to her current life role and Michele Waalkes is an extension of her chosen media.  Some pieces made me want to see more of that artist’s personal body of work such as Stacie Marie Leech and Matthew Doubek. Others required closer study of their drawing skills to see such things as the intricate backwards spiral signature of Jamie Stegner. 

Pieces are prices separately and in a wide range of choices with a combo plate discount should one desire to mix and match their accessories. Smatterings of red dots are already on the walls so visitors are snatching up their favorite artists and laying claim to these body parts. Should one choose to only mentally cut and paste a new creature, standing at the “foot” and between two platforms allows one to visually switch things around. Just now it came to me that what fun it could be to have a game of musical chairs so to speak at the end of the show (without any body (ha ha) being “out” each round) that allowed patrons to reassemble each corpse to see new possibilities. 

All in all, this is a fun and fantastical installation which lends itself to a reappearance perhaps around Halloween 2012 and centered around a costume party opening where different costume parts could be mixed and matched among the attendees. Just one question however…what is up with all the red octopi? There are 3 literal renderings of entwined octopus tentacles and one insinuated by imagery, all done in red. I won’t speculate.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Canton Artists League and the Stark County HS Art Exhibit

My blogging bones are a bit stiff as I get back in to the swing of things once again, but with so many shows now open or opening soon, I won’t lack for material!  This forum began well over a year ago with a post about the Canton Artists League show at Stark State in 2009 to provide a second opinion about area exhibits (and some slice of life commentary as well to mix things up a bit). Artwach was my inspiration so I will borrow from his format of including quotations at the beginning of an essay though mine are not quite so esoteric. (Ha! I finally used that honors English vocabulary word.)

“You’ve come a long way baby!”  - slogan from a cigarette ad in the 1970’s
“History is destined to repeat itself” – no idea
“Everything old is new again.” – song from last century, I think.

Rather than comment on both shows individually, what I have to say dovetails into one posting. The CAL show is an exhibit of my peers, my competition and my friends. The SCHSAE is an exhibit of who I was in that as a former HS teacher, those works represent some of my old lesson plan projects still being used.
I began in the upper galleries of the Canton Museum of Art to see where my work was on display. I missed the opening as I was on a sailboat in the Keys (adding some DNA to the ocean in rhythm with the waves and rocking of the boat…..) so I wanted to check my labels for correct information. 50% correct is passable these days.  My routine to write a review is to make three passes of the show, first to get a feel for the quantity and presentation of the pieces, second to see who is included and what pieces they contributed, and finally to see which pieces make me stop and write something down.  At the risk of getting my house egged, I only wrote down six names and titles plus Tom Lehnert’s name who was one of the jurors because his piece was fresh and new to me. I do have my pet peeves and one of them is that I never enter or exhibit a work of art twice in a local show. I may put it up for sale in my own space, but I won’t allow a repeat of my work to go on view again in the immediate area if at all possible. Okay, so which six made my list? Carolyn Jacobs for “Dreaming in Green”, a photo that is more complicated that just a pretty picture. Gail Wetherall Sack for “Compelling Path” which won 3rd place, a mixed media collage that elevated from the picture plane in ways she has not done before. Teresa Schleappi for “Mountain Vista”, a refreshing take on the common landscape which uses the paint and not the paper to get her message across. Jennifer Collins for “Magpie” which is an exquisite rendering of a Magpie (duh) that is reminiscent of an authentic Audubon. Sarah W Shumaker for “Suspended Squares” which I found tucked into a corner by the windows. She has a natural esthetic for texture which I lack and can therefore appreciate in the work of others. And finally, Tom Migge for “Green Gourd” which won first place and deservedly so as the newspaper picture did not do it justice at all. This plywood sculpture is a labor of love as well as a visual exercise in envisioning the final form on the part of the artist.

Now on to the HS show and then we will return to CAL for some final comments.  

Quite a few names made my book and I will list them all in a moment, but first, a general observation. Please, please, please, can we stop with the digital photographs used to make distorted self portraits? Why? Because they all (for the most part) suffer from the same problems…..lack of depicting the human eye as it really appears with shading and reflection and life. The eyes in these pieces are alien and dead for the most part. Also, there is a lack of shading and modeling of the human form for value and contrast. Many appear flat like computer games and magazine ads which have been airbrushed. Noses are a dead giveaway. It takes contrast to make flesh appear dimensional and human. The digital camera flattens the figure and when combined with the dreaded grid enlargement process of drawing, there is no way a portrait can appear lifelike. This process also does absolutely nothing towards developing the “artist’s eye”, drawing skills or hand to eye coordination. Grids are a crutch, not a tool.

(This is going to be a long post so take a break before I proceed with the list of standout pieces…..)

Lauren Haynum from Minerva HS for “Trebejos”, a collage of a tree that at first appears simple, but layers and layers of subtle color shifts create a luscious surface that will pull you in.

Jennifer Wentling from Fairless HS for “Skeleton”, a mixed media piece that like Lauren’s, shows a depth of field, a depth of knowledge in the use of color, good use of space and good use of the surface. The work is not just “on” the plane, but “of” the plane. These factors are common to all the pieces I will mention here. 
Another teacher pet peeve was that a student needs to use the space and the surface as one unit. Don’t give me a picture on a plane…. I can do that (and do!), so take it further if at all possible.

Hayley Beres from Glen Oak HS and her Adobe Illustrator that created “Vectorize Me”, which has a little Andy Warhol going on. (Damn these kids and their easy understanding of technology!)

Cody Hypes from Marlington HS for his untitled photograph which won third place. He should visit Carolyn Jacob’s studio as they share a common vision. If it had a title, you would get a higher grade in my old vinyl spiral grade book kiddo.

Shoshana Weiner from Jackson High School for her wheel thrown clay pottery quartet entitled “4 Little Drops”.   The use of glaze and texture was quite sophisticated with the warm green used inside rather than outside.

Cassie Guiler from Perry HS for her superior rendering of folds and stripes from what I hope was  observational drawing skills (A+ for you for using your eyes) in a colored pencil piece called “Blanket” that won an Honorable Mention. 

Ethan Scheetz from Hoover HS for his two pieces (as one work) called “Anguish and Peace”  that are a complex and well composed  example of what happens when a student thinks about all aspects of his work. It (they) won an Honorable Mention. 

And finally, Joe Petrarca from McKinley HS for his mixed media sculptural piece entitled “Knowledge Hurts” that incorporates the elements of surface, texture, space and scale to create an intriguing mini environment. The little rubbery creature with his exposed brain is rather exquisite in a creepy sort of way.

So after my several passes through the lower main gallery of the museum, I revisited the upper level exhibition space devoted to CAL.  I only needed to stand at the top of the ramp to know that we (the CAL membership) are a lot older in average age. The differences between “us” and “them” were obvious.  The student work was more vibrant and raw in their use of color. Ours is more subtle and sophisticated. The student work lacks some refinement of imagery as is expected of those who have only a few years of experience versus those with careers spanning 20 or more years. However, it was the context of the work which was most striking and I fear to say leaves us in their youthful dust. Their work was about the here and now, explored their emotions and dealt with current events. It captured their self images in obscure ways and used modern media rather than old things. Our work as a whole covered the traditional spectrum of still life, landscape, animals, flowers and figures whereas the students explored graphic design and ceramics in addition to the aforementioned subjects. I don’t recall any ceramics in the CAL show. I did not see any exploration of contemporary issues….maybe we are just too old and set in our ways of making art. Perhaps we need to reconnect with what is around us in the metaphorical and conceptual sense and less on what is in our visual presence. Of course those kids could learn a thing or two about the skills of observation, the use of contrast and other basic elements of composition, and the essence of what makes a collage a “collage”.  Youth will discover that “fresh” is great fun, but “tradition” sells. 

Pairing these two shows together in overlapping exhibits is both a blessing and a curse for the lack of a better quote.  I just hope some of these talented young people will consider joining us “established” folks (beats saying “old”) in the tradition of community arts organizations. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of “established” people out there who are not members either. Subject of a future posting perhaps?