Sunday, May 30, 2010

Emily Starr at Studio M

I wanted to see this show not just to write about it, but because of my renewed interest in portraiture. Young artists do a lot of self portraits. Ms. Starr points out why in her exhibition statement in which she explains that one’s own self is a cheap and easy source of imagery, ready at any moment, and the one best understood. She graduated from Otterbein College in 2009 with a BA in drawing, photography and art history. With that in mind, I approached this show as a teachable moment for all up and coming artists.

Her opening statement posted on the wall explains the premise for this body of work. She has an interest “in the visual dynamic between the organic form of the figure and the structural lines that both surround and obscure it”. The next paragraph contains the phrase “organic imagery of human form and the abstraction of lines and shapes”. If I were her faculty mentor, I would have suggested that the same info not be repeated so as to cut down the length of the statement, be clear, direct and precise. In this now common world of constant contact via text, tweets, internet and blogging (gulp), people tend to get wordy so this is an understandable consequence. (I get very wordy too so I am also guilty as charged)

Studio M shows are hung by museum staff, not the artist from what I understand, so decisions are made regarding placement that are beyond the control or intent of the artist. My advice would be the same as that given to the Jackson kids in a recent post, edit. Remove those works that are incongruous to the whole show and thereby eliminate the one or two clunkers that can bring down a whole presentation by a notch or two. The person who hangs the show does so with work provided. It is not their job to decide what is hung, but in this show, one can tell that an effort was made to make it work.

There are 23 pieces in the show, a mix of stained canvas, charcoal on masonite, mixed media on masonite, mixed media on matt board, ink and acrylic on paper, and acrylic on canvas. Edit. Only one of the mixed media on matt board is under glass which I found to really elevate the quality of the work just by giving it that extra edge of professional presentation.

The ink and acrylic diptych and triptych pieces are wonderful little images which would make a complete series unto themselves. The technique lends itself to exploration beyond her own image. One can see her photography and drawing skills coming together for a successful resolution. The charcoal on masonite portraits are her strongest works as far as markings, surface and presentation. Now let’s talk about self portraits as imagery, or even portraits in general as I found similar issues with her images as I did with the ones in the Jackson show. The Jackson student’s problems appear to stem from a dependency on the use of digital photos from which to then “copy” the picture. Ms. Starr’s, I suspect, comes from the common mistake of looking directly at one’s own image and not correcting the distortion caused by the artists own perspective. We don’t see the forms so as much as we see the “face” when looking at our own image, and we see it at eye level, hence the neck tends to get shortened in translation. Artists must compensate for this foreshortening caused by our eye level and add some distance to the neck.

The second common error is to forget that the eye is actually an “eye ball”. If one were to remove the eye, it is a spherical shape that is then set back into another round shape, the socket of the skull, forming a dome within a depression. The eye lids (upper AND lower) then sit on top of this dome as an extension of the depression. This whole eye structure forms a rather undulating landscape of skin and reflective tissue. To make the eyes look real and to give them a life and a soul, one must not forget this structure. The upper lid (under normal lighting circumstances, not some weird flashlight under the chin situation) will cast a shadow onto the upper curve of the eye ball where is slides under the skin of the lid. A darkening of tone will set the eye back into the socket. The second necessary element is the “eye light” on the surface of eye, usually located just off center of the pupil, touching the edge of the iris. The eye is covered by a protective and moist lens that reflects light. Just that simple speck of white on a portrait will put the life back into the face.

A third common mistake is to draw the head tilted back just a bit too much. Hence what I call the “pig nose” happens. This is a view of the nostrils seen at an odd and unflattering angle. Nostrils are a problem for many of us anyway and best depicted as a hint of existence and not as fully developed features of the face. Look carefully at the images in a magazine ad that features a face and you will see that the nose is completely airbrushed so as to draw attention to the eyes and lips. Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with an artist studying the structure of the face and working on nuances of the nostril, just that these aren’t the best works to put into a show.

Another observation is that Ms. Starr has a young face and this is certainly not a problem or mistake. Drawing a youthful face is challenging as it has no wrinkles or bags, or folds or creases, or age spots, etc. So there is not as much to draw upon as far as interesting features and facial landmarks are concerned to contribute to the composition. Youthful artists have to find something that uses light patterns and for the young face this usually is that depression above our lip and under our nose which thus gets its own center stage. Since Ms. Starr has some crazy hair which lends itself to interesting mark making, she balances things out nicely enough. But again, I say edit.

I predict that we will be seeing more of her work on the local arts scene. She has several strong initial techniques to pursue as a complete body of work and may do well to leave a few other media behind. Her integration of organic and structural forms is beginning to develop, especially on the masonite and charcoal pieces. I would like to see more of those. The smaller photographic like ink and acrylic pieces should be developed as well. Overall, it was a good job on staging a show and introducing us to her work and vision and I wish her continued success in the realm of portraiture.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sunshine- the cure for NEOSS

Stuck at home again….maybe we should go back to horses, it was so much easier to keep the engine running and the exhaust pipe clear. The good side to being homebound is that I have time to get done those projects that pay the bills and stop with all the “fun” stuff. It is interesting how people don’t often think of being an artist as being a “real job” unless one is teaching or running a retail venue. Studio artists do have “real jobs” though in an unconventional way.

Wish we could pull the old “will arrive sometime between 9am and 1pm” routine only to not show up at all and have to be called. Then we can say, “Sorry, got too busy and got backed up”. Hmmm….I think we still have those things called “phones” which can be taken anyplace so……….”HI Mrs. K, sorry we won’t be there today, you can go get your car now, which you could not do so as to not miss our call which if you do, we won’t reschedule you for another 3 months, sucks to be you!”

But nonetheless, the time spent waiting can be used to work on a project in progress, that is if I can pass by a laundry basket needing sorted….or that drawer I keep promising to organize……

Of course now that the sun is out again, my severe case of NEOSS kicks in and I have to join other NEO’s and perform the daily ritual which is the only known cure. NEOSS for those who live elsewhere other than northern Ohio is North East Ohio Sunshine Syndrome. It is an illness that requires one to drop everything whenever the sun comes out and the temperatures warm up (the latter part is essential because the sun can be out around here, but the temps are in single digits) and go stand outside. The illness is characterized by a fear that if one does not stand outside and absorb the rays, then the sun will get all ticked off and never come back out again. This is not a sunbathing situation however as that is bad, bad, bad! SPF’s of 15 or more are required at all times so as to not discolor. Treatment for NEOSS involves warming the bones and blowing the stink off as my Grandpa used to say. Frankly, I think that was just an excuse to go sneak another cigarette and eat a donut out of Grandmother’s view.

Now as creative people, we find ways to both be outside and still get something done, but that can lead to yet another pile of unfinished project materials. But being creative, we can also command that “nobody touch that! I am making something…” which does not work for anybody else. Non art people have to deal with the “get your &%* out of the – insert location of choice here- “ directive because their stuff takes up space where my stuff can be. Couple the sunshine with being stuck at home (even if I have a car, it is not the “good summer” car which is currently with son number one who hates the sun and will never put the top down thereby making the car feel very sad and useless and wishing it could be back with momma, but then son number one could not work and work means money and money means he can pay his own rent….then maybe momma can someday get another summer car and …..)Where the hell was I? Oh yeah, back to piles of stuff and unfinished projects in progress (“messes” in the vocab of the uninitiated) which is just another symptom of NEOSS. One can follow the path of a NEOSS victim by the piles of projects left in our wake as we migrate around the house to remain in the rays of the medicinal burning ball of gas.

Today, one is again homebound and the sun will be out. Darn it, I have to go seek treatment once more. Should I miss a day of paying my respects to the Goddess of Glowing Gas, then she might get moody and decide to cry. Crying is not good because it makes my grass wet. Cutting wet grass is a pain. One needs to avoid pain at all costs. To avoid such pain, one has to stay indoors and complete a project. But the forecast is not looking good as far as completing any such tasks therefore, if and when the workmen show up, I hope they brought some ropes and carabineers because the piles are getting rather high.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Canton Artists League Summer Show --- The Johnson Center at Malone College

While everybody else is probably out at the National Show at the CMA or the Modernist Show at the MassMu, I decided to continue my quest to bring to your attention those exhibits that may go unnoticed for any number of reasons. The Canton Artists League was formed long before there was an arts district in town, before there were magazines to report on the arts, and before a whole new generation of artists settled here and set up shop. Members have come and gone over the years, membership itself as fluctuated, and the logistical aspects of location, time and purpose have had to adjust with the times, but one thing remains constant, their perseverance and dedication to the making of art and expressing their own ideas.

We run the gamut (yes, I am a charter member) from the derogatory term of “Sunday painter” to those of us blessed to have exhibited coast to coast. Some members work in the arts, some are lifelong donors to the arts, others are dedicated volunteers, some serve on boards, some teach at colleges or in public schools, and others just make art, happy to sit back and let others do the work (okay, guilty as charged). I have heard us called a bunch of old ladies (Fred….sorry about that, and frankly, I may have an AARP card, but I don’t consider myself old….), some have called us just bad artists who can’t paint worth a damn (by whose standards?) and some have called us unfocused and misdirected. Well….this is still America and we all have our opinions. So what do I think? I think we have guts and pride and the wisdom of a bunch of old timers who have done this a long time and realize that it just does not matter what others think. Everybody will get hit by the proverbial bus someday and if our obit says anything about being a lousy painter……as opposed to the good works we have done for our communities, families and children or friends, then as a haunting spirit, I promise you will never find those lost car keys again.

So what is this show all about at the Johnson Center? It is just an exhibit, nothing more, and never intended to be. Would one rather see bare walls or some colorful images? CAL asked its members to drop off a piece to display in an empty corridor for the summer. Sounds like a good idea. We all have a spare work lying around that may not be our best, or one that has never been outside, so why not hang it up for others to see, with no judgment, no “theme”, no opening event, just some work to brighten up an otherwise boring passage. That takes guts my friends. It also takes organization, some effort, some volunteered time, and a willingness to make it happen in the first place. One has to step up to the plate if the game is ever going to get started.

So, here is just a little review of the show because all art, no matter how good or bad or leftover, is just as important as the “officially good” stuff found at other venues. At least I think so. Maybe it is because I have taught art to children, seen them succeed, seen them fail, seen them disappointed, and seen them smile to outshine the sun. What others think of the work is not nearly as important as what one feels about himself when it is hung on a wall as an extension of their own heart and soul.

23 works of art are on exhibit but only 4 are dated(….ummm that needs to be changed, work should always be dated which is a blog topic for later). The works are arranged somewhat by theme or image. I always like to make three passes through a show if possible looking for buried treasures. The standouts are always obvious (hence why they stand out…duh), but it takes a bit of time to appreciate the more subtle contributions. Irene Rodriguez’s fiber piece, “Summer Dynamics” is quite the eye catcher. Kristine Wyler’s “Tea House” and Carole Mendenhall ‘s “Coral Reef” show works with luscious surfaces worth exploring. Kudos to Gail Weatherall-Sack for her “Kudos to Kandinksy”, a mixed media piece that is very graphic and bold, which also anchors the center of the show where people vote for fan favorite. It was nice to see Jim Grand work with his edges in “Purple Mountain Majesty” and allow them to fade rather than continue to the curve of the stretchers, a technique I hope he will explore further. My own work is quite old, over 10 years I think, but chosen specifically for the venue as it is a religious based work .

The day I went to see the display, a large group of people were attending a workshop. I bet most of them (based on the subject of the event) have never been to a gallery by choice. CAL provided a service to our community yet again. Nothing big and bold and “in your face”, nothing requiring a grant or money from others, just a little time and energy and ingenuity to brighten up an otherwise dull expanse of hallway. Quite a few votes were in the box so obviously people are paying attention. Now if you are still reading this, go take a nap, us old folks don’t want to do too much in one day and sap our creative energy! After all…I am writing this on Sunday and still have yet to paint.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jackson High School AP Art Students' Portfolio Show

Today I paid a visit to 2nd April to review the Jackson High School AP art portfolios. 17 senior students are represented in the show, having selected and hung their own work in the space allotted to them. High school is still my favorite grade level to teach. Back in my classroom days (1986 – 1990) I was one of three art teachers at Bay High School. I taught all the Art 1 students, Drawing 1 and 2, and Painting 1 and 2. Art 1 touched on printmaking, sculpture, design, color theory, art history and all the basics of drawing and painting. Foundations and fundamentals of art and art theory remain my core curriculum strength. So with an imaginary grade book in hand (I really miss my grade book), I walked the walls of the gallery for about an hour, finding some treasures, and missing a few of the old staples.

Some of the students included short bios that told about their future plans. Several top art schools will be getting Jackson students come fall, including Cleveland, Savannah, Maryland and Columbus. So as to better understand the context of the work on display, I checked the admission portfolio requirements for each of these schools. All of them have one very specific request in common, which was not evident in the Jackson portfolios. I’ll come back to that issue later. First, I want to point out some truly talented students and their work, treasures you should seek out yourself before the show closes after the upcoming First Friday in June.

If I had to pick a best in show…or maybe give an A+ since I am using my imaginary grade book (the one with the black vinyl cover that I lovingly wrote each student’s name in ultra fine sharpie in alphabetical order…..only to have a new kid come a few days after school started and mess up the whole thing….), I would give such a grade to Andrew S. and his acrylic painting, “Breaking the Habit”. His other standout is “Big Plans” which I hope he has, because I could not find a bio. He needs to go to art school.

A’s also go to Claire W. for her photo, “A Game to Me, A Lifestyle to Others”. Photography is sorely under-represented in this whole show, but very evident as the source material for the majority of the work. Ashley D. gets one for her print of an original watercolor, “They Sit in Their Untouched Glory”. Jackson has a strong program in watercolor painting which is a difficult and frustrating medium for realism at such a young age. The A in collage goes to Jaclyn Wright for “Thinking of You”, a large piece depicting two dogs that is well composed and displays an understanding of design fundamentals.

A second pass of the room found another A+ piece that I missed the first time, primarily due to the overwhelming number of pieces in the space. Maggie D’s mixed media piece, “Closing In” shows a sophistication of message and an understanding of how media can reinforce the content. I suspect it is a piece she worked at over a long period of time, refining the shapes and the layout, discovering new solutions along the way.

A-‘s go to Brock E for his excellent print from a watercolor. There was no tag (hence the -) which is a detail of presentation necessary at all levels. If it was the fault of somebody passing by and the tag blowing off…you get the full A. Another student with some strong pieces is Alexandra L. for her side by side landscapes, but particularly the simple still life of fruit. Sometimes, less is a whole lot more. It is hard to do something simple in a large space and make it feel complete. Using pattern, texture and the negative space to get maximum impact is only learned by experience and practice as well as developing an eye for editing one’s work. In my review notebook I also wrote down B. Locker and Todd V. as having a treasure to seek out.

If I had to offer one word of advice, it would be to edit just a bit. There is a rule to classic elegance in fashion, look in the mirror and then remove one item or accessory. Just one thing less will make the overall presentation stronger. That rule rings true with this display. I kept wanting to take just one piece off the wall from almost every presentation. Each student has their own voice, but each one also had one note off key. But ya know what…. In high school, I did the same thing. I wanted to shout my accomplishments to the world, I had worked hard. So have these students, they have worked hard and if they want to put it all out there, then good for you!! I relished seeing large canvases and aggressive painting. I sorted through the stacks of prints and got up close to see the unconventional surfaces. Even some visitors to the gallery were amazed to realize that the work was done by students. I guess they missed the big sign, right by the door, which said so.

I have to admit to missing some types of work, but I don’t’ know the Jackson curriculum so it could be that metals, enamel and textiles are not part of the program nor are digital photography, life drawing or ceramics. That is where the portfolio requirements check came into play. Every school requested (and some required) observational drawings, done without photographic reference. Maybe next year, their sketchbooks could be displayed as well, perhaps on music stands, so viewers can look through them for the foundation work behind the more refined pieces on view. Every artist no matter how old should have a working sketchbook in progress. (I had a column for sketchbooks in my grade book, the book in which we had to actually write each project grade, attendance, test score… computers back then….)

Congratulations to these seniors and best wishes for their futures in art. This is an exciting time and so many new ideas await you. Take your talent and push yourselves, but don’t forget the core foundations of design, color and composition which will serve you well no matter what career path you choose. Thank you to 2nd April for turning over its gallery walls to the next generation of artists. And one more thing… some of their stuff now. I bet in about 10 years, it could cost you a whole lot more.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Snarky Art…the Studio

Yes, it is true. I will have a space at 2nd April Galerie by the First Friday in July. With the partitioning off of some ground floor studio spaces, the time was right for me to venture forth from the “cave” and actually have to put on make-up and get dressed each day so as to interact with my fellow artists on a more civilized plane. I mean I could just “come as I am” from jammies to studio scrubs, but why scare the living daylights out of my new neighbors too soon?

Actually with any luck, the space will be ready by late June as I can’t be at the “opening” in July due to prior commitments with the Boy Scouts. My intent is to set up the area for painting and display of the funky acrylics for which I have become known if you will. With a solo show of new pieces looming ahead in February, I better get some new pieces done. This space will give me the kick in the behind dedication needed to complete the task at hand as well as provide me better conversation then my cats. Any one of my new neighbors hacks a hairball on my floor however and it is game on!

As all artists will tell you, when working in the presence of others, our work changes, usually for the better because we become more aware of immediate feedback and reaction. Just remember who holds the brush! The new space will probably be called Snarky Art….the Studio, since I already have that name for this site. My own name would work too but it seems that most people can’t spell it right so maybe a change of reference is needed. A guest book will be available at all times too so you can let me know if you stopped by or wish to comment on any of the works in progress or on display. So scoot over kids and make some room in the sandbox, I want to come out and play too!

Pastel Drawing / Sketching Workshop

I will be teaching a pastel drawing and general sketching workshop on Saturday, June 19th at the North Canton Library Classroom. Reservations are being handled by the Canton Artists League so if you are interested, contact them (info below). The time is 9 – 1 and the cost is only $15 (bring your own supplies and a sack lunch). Register: Carol Mendenhall 330-494-9908 or

Folk Friday May 21 and June 18 at 2nd April Galerie

Brennis and Todd have invited me back to sit and draw (willing victims or unsuspecting strangers) while the music plays. 6 – 7:45 pm on the main floor of the gallery….right outside of what will be my new space.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lady Liberty and the Morning Monster

Prayer. It is a simple word that can reap stupendous results. I do it every day and it works, but not in the traditional sense of “Dear Lord” and “Amen”. Those formalities have been replaced with “Good Morning” and “Thanks”. No stained glass windows or hymn books in sight either and definitely not one of those mega McChurches that pass for cathedrals nowadays. My prayer spot is someplace between the door of my garage and the mailbox with a pause near Lady Liberty so I don’t appear to be talking to the shrubbery. Not that I am against talking to one’s plants. I do that too and it seems to work. Of course I talk to cats, paintings, vacuum cleaners, the radio, drawings….whatever happens to be nearby. Good thing that Bluetooth headset was invented so the GP is desensitized to other people talking out loud to nothing and no one in particular. As long as I don’t have a scraggly beard and a paper cup I guess people will not be too concerned. Although if I had a scraggly beard I supposed that would be a reason for concern……anyway…back to the power of prayer.

My “prayer spot” as I call it, is along the way in my daily ritual to retrieve my morning papers. Two of them are in the mailbox thanks to my long time dedicated delivery lady who goes early in the morning to pick up afternoon papers. Perhaps she is as impatient as I am. We used to meet at the box when my kids rode the school bus. Now I just find the droppings (pun intended since we are speaking of the press) waiting for me. Paper number three is a treasure hunt. Sometimes the star pitcher must be delivering it and other times, it probably just fly off the stack in hopes of reaching the curb. Usually it comes wrapped in a plastic bag or two, fortunately orange in color during the winter months even though I still find a couple come spring that I missed along the way. (Sorry for those calls about not getting my paper that day.)

Going to get the papers is better in the cold and dark winter months because a pair of boots and a big black faux fur coat with a hood will sufficiently block anyone’s view of the morning monster. Spring and summer present more of a challenge. One has to time the trot outside so as to avoid the neighbors going to work, joggers, dog walkers, school buses or any construction/lawn services that might go past the house while the morning monster is in full morph mode.

The prayer process begins with a commentary on the daily weather and a request for some particular precipitation event. Next up is a moment to enjoy wildlife such as the cacophony of birds in the spring, animal tracks in the snows of fall and winter (and spring), or the rustling of some large animal in my woods causing one to wish they had made a pit stop before venturing outside. The rest of the walk to the box and back is taken up by asking for various things related to my family. Nothing big, just guidance or support, or opportunities, or intervention, whatever happens to be the need of the moment and then the ritual is completed with a thanks for things related to my own personal circumstances. I direct the comments towards the moon if it happens to be out, the stars if they are still visible on a crisp winter morning, or just to Lady Liberty most of the time. She is my replica of the Statue of Liberty that I brought back from a show in Texas and now functions as both a neighborhood landmark and a gas light. She has been America’s symbol for the dreams of millions of people over the years so I figure my own statue is good substitute for the Lord’s presence.

So why am I talking about this today? Well…..I’ve been working at it pretty hard over the last several months to keep my requests focused and attainable, and by golly, I’ve hit the grand slam. Actually, I did not do anything but swing at the pitches as they came at me but Lord of the Mound was kind enough to toss easy ones. If you don’t care to read a shortened version of a Christmas newsletter, you can stop reading here. But if you don’t mind a mom bragging just a bit, by all means, hang in there for the next few paragraphs. If you are leaving now, then I leave you with the advice to find a place to chat with God everyday (not with a “damn it” after it either, like in traffic). Say thanks every day, not for anything specific, but for just being alive to say it. Okay, bragging rights time….

Son number one will begin his internship on Monday with a Fortune 500 company. First apartment, first time paying rent and some utilities, cleaning his own bathroom, filing out tax forms and all that stuff which comes with growing up, and in this economy, we are blessed that he may have a foot in the door of his future.

Son number two is off on a weekend adventure to rub shoulders with a bunch of influential techo geeks including dinner with the VP of a major mobile communications company. We are blessed that he has a hobby that dovetails with his career choice, he has adult friends that will be good influences on him, and he has learned to be independent, respectful and appreciative of life’s opportunities and is not afraid to make things happen for himself. In exchange for doing his laundry however, mom retains rights to computer help.

My husband is settled into his career but not settled with it. He is still on the forefront of where medicine is going and with an eye out to where he can go with it too. His gravitas and experience are sought after and he is not willing to ride out the rest of his life on a drifting raft. We are blessed that we are both willing to row a boat together with or against the current to get where he wants to go.

As for me….I have been the one on a drifting raft for the past couple of years. Yesterday, I claimed the whole prayer spot ritual for myself. Only a few hours later, the ring buoy was tossed at me so hard it about knocked me out. I grabbed it. For the first time in 28 years, I will have a satellite offsite studio/gallery space in the hub of the sandbox. I attribute all of this to prayer. Each opportunity is exactly what I had been seeking guidance for and each need has been met. That is both scary and reassuring in that we don’t know what life will bring, but we can believe in the fact that something greater than us has a handle on things. Amen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Work of Art: The Next Great Artist

I knew it!! Years ago when I first got hooked on reality shows as a source of inspiration for my work, I would comment weekly that there needed to be one for artists. My 2007 painting, “America’s Next Minimalist Art Star” made fun of just that concept. Well….on June 9th, Bravo TV will launch its version of an artist reality show, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist that is being co-produced by Sarah Jessica Parker and her company “Pretty Matches.”

Google searches will tell you who the judges are and what are the prizes, and who is the host. The host of the show and one of the judges is China Chow, some model, actress, fashionista celebrity socialite. Careful if you Google her at work though, most of initial images show her topless or close to it. Yep, just what the art world needs in regard to quality decision making but perhaps that ties in with life drawing or something. A few quick video clips and one can see that the typical casting decisions came into play as far as the contestants were concerned. I am rooting for Judith however, the oldster of the bunch who started her career in 1965. She can’t win because she won’t appeal to the demographic, but she will be kept around to harass the youngsters for quite a while most likely.

Casting took place in LA, Miami, Chicago and New York during the summer of 2009 with lines of artists and their wares waiting in lawn chairs outside of various venues. One person even flew over from Asia (which makes the whole “America’s Next….” concept invalid as far as I am concerned). The casting agents wanted young or mid-career artists in the areas of painting, sculpture, installation, video, photography and mixed media ending with 14 people chosen to kick off the episodes on June 9th at 10pm on Bravo. Previews are airing now on the Bravo channel.

Following the Bravo format, contestants get some kind of quick challenge to compete for a prize or an advantage and then the longer elimination activity occurs that often has a “last minute twist” thrown in. Now kiddies, after 9 years of reality TV, which you just know these contestants watched growing up, how they can still pretend to be surprise by this is beyond me. I guess that is all part of the script. I have not seen all the contestants yet, nor do I want to before the debut, but the standard formula appears to still be in place. The diverse skin tones and nationalities are represented, the doe-eyed girl every one picks on, the divas (both male and female), the self righteous, the over the top out of the closet and in your face with a chip on their shoulder entrant, and others tossed in to be voted off early usually because they aren’t “marketable” by the producers. Read the fine print on the judging aspects for these shows and it will state that the producers have input as to who stays and who goes.

Prizes for the winner are a gallery show, a cash award, and sponsorship in a national museum show. What? No makeover? The quick video clips showed a lot of smashing of things, throwing veggies onto a canvas, crying contestants, swear words all over the place, and lots of attitude by young people, oh, and quite a few crucifixion images. At least nobody had a huge mini mouse bow in her hair like the recent hair stylist show. Seriously, would you get your hair done by some middle aged babe in a tutu like dress and an oversized bow in her hair? I guess talent comes in all forms and is not ours to be judged. We can leave that up to the experts whose names have probably been released by now, but again, I like to be surprised. The mentor to the contestants will be Simon de Pury, chairman of the auction house Phillips de Pury who has been allowed to do interviews about the show. Which brings to mind the whole of idea of how do we judge art, that continuous Catch 22 of the art business? Are the judges looking for craftsmanship, statement, time constraints, marketability, gullibility, vulnerability…..the criteria used will be quite interesting as will be the Thursday morning quarterbacking (maybe we should say framing as sports and art tend to not be happy roommates) from my blogosphere brethren and the message board mavens.

So fellow local artists, perhaps we should band together for one of those viewing party events where everybody gathers around a TV and does a shot each time somebody drops an F-bomb, or cries, or rolls their eyes….take your pick. I hear such events are pretty popular among the younger crowd. Maybe for us oldsters, we could swipe a brush across a canvas instead or toss a few veggies…no wait, I need those veggies at my age. Never mind, I am sure whoever wins will be America’s best representative of the new generation….although I think most of our viable candidates are back in their studios working day in and day out, not sitting on the street corner painting a nude lady with swirls of blue….I kid you not, one of the aspiring stars was doing just that to get his turn in front of the casting team. Too bad I won’t be near a TV for most of the summer and will have to miss all the drama….ummm…creativity that will happen every Wednesday night!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Clare Murray Adams, OF TIME AND PLACE. Anderson Creative Gallery, 5/7 – 5/29/10

Anderson Gallery is currently showing one of the most intriguing art shows that I have seen in awhile. It is worth several visits over the course of the exhibit because it is nearly impossible…no, it IS impossible …to absorb all of the intricacies of Clare Murray Adam’s fabric collage installation pieces in just one viewing. When I use the words “intriguing art show”, I mean that the exhibit is based on actual, physical, tactile art, not words, and it is a hidden love affair between her land and her surfaces.

To set the stage so one understands what this installation is all about, Clare made one piece each week for one year, about and influenced by, the changing landscape around her home, a 50 acre farm south of town. Now I am no math whiz, but the 52 pieces are really 104 works of art, because they are double sided. The presentation of these works is ingenious as well, thanks to Kevin’s understanding of graphic design and construction as they hang at eye level (relatively speaking) allowing for a flow within the gallery that utilizes all the space without feeling overwhelmed and leads the viewer to the back where images of the farm are projected on the wall. The projector sits on an antique sewing machine cabinet with the original trundle pedal (I learned to sew using a machine attached to one of those….) which is in harmony with the whole concept of the works.

Those of us with a background in the hand crafts of embroidery, needlepoint, and quilting as well as a love of collage and a tendency to hoard every scrap of interesting fabric, paper, or textile, will truly enjoy looking at each and every work. They all contain tiny snippets of material and materials that build upon each other to create the miniature landscapes recording the passage of time. The physical time of year for each work is recorded with a symbolism the artist devised in order to avoid introducing an incongruous element (numbers or letters) and yet remain true to the visual content and technique. Once you figure it out, the system contributes to the experience of each piece after you get over the whole “story problems” mental block we all carry from our tragic years of middle school math.

I was also reminded of the Kimono exhibition in Clare’s use of color and how the winter pieces are more monochromatic. I felt she grew more comfortable with the concept as the works progressed and to her credit, did admit to losing her focus for a bit along the journey. It takes dedication to see a full year’s concept through from start to finish and maintain the same quality of work, I don’t think I could do that, I’d get bored, so her perseverance is to be appreciated. The colors change dramatically as the seasons progress and the pieces contain imagery both associative (pumpkins in the fall) and ethereal (purples in the spring). Every now and then, be sure to look up and out at the overview of the whole installation. I saw things that way which I had overlooked the first time. Also, look at which elements are on both sides and which only occupy one side, which leads to the question, which side do you like better and why? Kevin offers a display method for those who purchase a piece, so that both sides can be seen. That guy knows his details and his market because such an issue could dissuade some buyers who may feel faced with making a choice of front or back.

One aspect I found to be clever, and is probably only a matter of happenstance, is that the works are hung facing east and west which is the orientation of the gallery space. For those of us who spend time in the woods, we know that east and west are the interesting sides of nature whereas north and south tend to be consistent. Rising and falling sunlight affects colors, vegetation density, light and shadow, temperature and just makes for more interesting overall landscapes. Think of great works of landscape art, most of them are oriented to the sun’s movement in one way or another. (Just a little scouting info there people because I happen to enjoy orienteering and using a compass.)

You will find large print (thank you Craig) statements of the walls in areas that correspond to the seasonal changes. I will confess that I did not read each word; I read passages as I prefer to find my own way through the work. What a treasure trove I unearthed including ionic columns (seriously? You have those on the farm?), birdhouses, spider webs, ladybugs, an onion, and my friend Linda pointed out the embroidery hoop shape on one piece. Children will delight in this show although they may have to use a step stool to see every detail. Be sure to make the effort to spend some time in the gallery and look at each of the 52 (104…) pieces. They are also very reasonably priced, after genius here had to ask what the numbers were on the wall for. I am so glad to see work that still relies on the handcrafted needle arts of ancestors and an art form that has unified women over the centuries. Toss in some painted areas and I was a happy camper! This is a “not to be missed “show!

PS - I owe an apology to Casey Vogt....MR.Casey Vogt. Wrong gender assumption on my part in the Fresh show posting. Sorry!!!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fresh Art, Summit Artspace, Akron May 1 – June 5, 2010

This juried show (entitled “Fresh and Witty” last year) is open to artists who live, work or go to school in 3 counties, none of which are my own. Works were to be “new art, new ideas and new media”. Artists included in the show achieved this goal with various degrees of success.

I may have to revisit some of the peeves from my North Canton show post. One of which is showing work that has shown in the same space only a few months before which thereby make it stale, not fresh. I am always amazed that my choices for awards never seem to match those of the judges which just goes to prove that we all have subjective points of view no matter how objective we claim to be. What follows are my top picks and why.

Casey Vogt has a dizzyingly complex optical art painting in the back room. Viewing it almost hurts the eyes and the brain if it were not for the figure that anchors the imagery. One must suffer a bit to really see the underlying message, dead center in the painting and small enough to require reading glasses. It is a pill (not real, reproduced) labeled Wellbutrin XL 150, an antidepressant medication. The image appears to be symmetrical, but careful comparison of the patterns will prove that assumption wrong. It is a piece that leaves you asking “how did she do that?” and then searching for a stray Tylenol in your purse.

April Bachtel’s acrylic and clear resin panel takes you on a visual journey from either outer space or under the sea. Choosing the latter viewpoint for myself, I felt like a small sea creature looking up towards the surface into a patch of sunlight slowly being obscured by oil. The murky, glossy, ambiguous imagery draws one into its many layers.

Jan Nash’s mobile, “Connect the Dots” made from felt and wire sounds rather crafty at first, but it is quite sophisticated and technically well done. It is also just plain fun. Scale does save this work from being too elementary school art project in nature however.

Judy Bennett displays a mixed media wall piece that could be a big mess of “stuff” were it not saved by an underlying structure which relies on the bones of basic composition to have all the various elements make sense and work together in a disjointed harmony. Think of an orchestra tuning up before the concert master plays the A note. You hear a cacophony of sound that is both jumbled and yet connected.

Overall, the paintings are the weakest entries. It is a bit difficult to come up with something fresh and new and different in the realm of painting outside of subject matter I suppose, but no one was really successful other than Ms. Vogt. Ceramics can often suffer from the same fate (the CMA show on ceramics being a major exception). Gary Lichten and Julia Bunn did fairly well with this concept all things considered, but a circle of tiny tea pots….nope, that is not new or fresh or different. Assemblage tends to be a sneaky way to come up with something different, but accumulating a bunch of stuff and joining it all together somehow then adding a title will never work if the bones are missing. While on this topic of what doesn’t really count (or shouldn’t), here are a few more suggestions….

Making something really big does not make it better. Making something really small does not make it better. Cropping another piece so only the good parts show or to make it fit an existing mat and frame does not make it better. Making something intentionally bad, so much so that it looks “good” because it is so bad, does not make it fresh, only….well…bad. I know that “bad art” was a movement at some point, but it did not last for a reason, perhaps because it was just plain poorly done stuff. And I will say it once more, any piece “untitled” should be left out of a show.

I was glad to see the work of an old favorite of mine and probably an early influence of my later work, George Kocar. He is a long time Cleveland institution in the realm of “cartoonish” type work, which mine has been called as well. “Fink Agent 729” by Damon Drummond is a fitting sculpture to put in front of Kocar’s painting “Time Machine”, and well worth a few moments to explore all the parts. As matter of fact, one could plop their kids in front of it and they would be totally entertained while adults explore the rest of the show. Don’t let the little ones see the creepy clown head however or you won’t get a night’s sleep for quite some time. But if you do see the clown, don’t back up and knock over the $13,500 tree sculpture, my son’s car cost less than that! The gold leaves better be 24 karat at that price. Listen artists, if you don’t want to sell something, put NFS, don’t play the pricing game. I asked if it was a typo in the program but nobody could answer at the time.

Overall, it is a fun show to go see and a terrific space for a myriad of art groups. Upstairs is the Akron Society of Artists studio and gallery space, the Artists of Rubber City galleries, several individual artist spaces and one large room still in its original warehouse condition. I guess one could call it the “art and soul” that anchors a vital arts community just to our north.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

68th Annual May Show at the North Canton Little Art Gallery

The last words I wrote in my notes as I walked out of the gallery were “soft and decorative” which sums up this year’s exhibition as far as I am concerned. There are no edgy pieces this year which may be a reflection on the venue or the work of the judges themselves. A Google search of their work (no personal websites that I could find on page one) provides a bit of insight as to what they were looking for in the record number of submissions. With an acceptable submissions age of 16, no surprise that lots of people entered. I do have a problem with this age thing however, as the local schools have their own shows several times a year already so it seems a bit redundant to allow them to enter again. I did feel that a few of the works were by students because the images and presentation were right out of my own past lesson plan books. While mentioning presentation, please wipe off the frames after installation. I also saw an entry, which I liked a lot, which had way too much glue showing all over it. Artists need to take pride and care in their presentations at any level of their career.

Shall we go with peeves or positives first? Oh let’s do peeves, those are more fun. Peeve number one is no media listed on the labels. Yes, they are in the program, but that is too much work for the casual viewer. Several pieces would have benefited greatly by having their media listed. Most viewers into this gallery will take one pass and be done with the show so they need all the info right up front so as not to miss some true gems. For example, Nancy Matin’s watercolor and fabric “Sunglasses” piece, which I missed completely the first time past. I recognized the style and marked it for a second pass, but not until I took the time to “look” as opposed to “see”, did I notice the fabric introduced into it. This is an exciting new element to her work and with so many fabulous fabrics out there, the potential is endless. Isabel Zaldivar could have used a media label too. Her work is so unusual in its technique that casual viewers would appreciate it even more knowing what is used to create the subtle layers.

Peeve number two was the advertising card included in the showcase window next to the glass sink. Excuse me but why does he gets to give a phone number regarding custom work and the rest of us don’t? Most artists will do custom work as well. This is a show, not a sales pitch and I found it tacky.

Peeve number three is the use of electronic projection. Do I have proof? No, but I have suspicion. Using a photo or other means of electronic projection to basically draw the image and fill it in is one step away from color by number. Paint that is applied in only one layer, perfectly flat and with no evidence of thought process and/or decision making is somehow disingenuous to me. That same projection process used by an artist who then adds his or her own technique or color choices is better, but the era of Estes photorealism is past.

Peeve number four is that I have seen it before. Style is one thing, I have mine, Russ has his, Ted has one but the pieces are different each time you see us in a show and one can tell them apart. To do the same thing (or submit the same piece) over and over and over…..yawn.

Ready for some goodies? Check out Michelle Mulligan’s exquisite little pear on the easel in a showcase. Even though it is a painting, putting it behind glass on an easel treats it more like the little gem it is. Goodie number two, depending upon how one feels about this, is that established artists appear to be rubbing off on some unknowns and newcomers. Hopefully these up and coming artists will take what they have seen and learned and adapt it to a more personal style over time. It may not be right to copy someone else too closely, but it means that people are paying more attention to the arts. “Lunch with DeKooning” was clever, but I could have sworn that Matisse showed up too, perhaps uninvited.

Dr. V delivered again with his Domestic Violence piece. He consistently shows a deep sensitivity and connection with his message, something that separates and elevates an artist beyond the level of mere craftsman. Randall Slaughter’s pastel is delightful and appropriately framed. Look for the tiny oriental symbol above Frank Dale’s signature in “Hollyhocks”. Good thing it was not hung salon style like some other pieces or I would have missed this detail.

Just a few final wrap up thoughts…..holy heavy hangers Batman, what is up with these oversized decorative frames? Ginormous dust catchers for sure people! Also, don’t trip over that thing sitting in the middle of the floor. I do believe it is a sculpture that won first place. And finally, as I was riding up to Akron to review a couple more shows (coming later this week); I picked my notebook off the floor and wrote these words…..”We remain a town divided. What should bring us together has only pushed us further apart.”