Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thank you and other potent pairs

After at least a decade of concerts, last night was the final performance.  The second to last sack lunch after 15 years of this early morning ritual has been completed with the perfect positioning of the cold pack. Tomorrow will not be the last “be careful and stay out of trouble” yelled out the garage door as I think that one lives on forever and ever no matter how old your kids are.

My comments today are on the power of the two words which lead off my title. Whether written or spoken, nothing can change someone else’s moment like these 8 letters. A little kid runs ahead to open the door…say “thank you” and watch him beam (after waiting patiently for him to figure out which one is unlocked).  The words come in many ways besides the obvious as well. One can say thank you to the person who hands you a stack of photos of your child, taken by a professional over the course of a year, who refuses payment because he is trying to say “thank you” to you.

We can say “thank you” to the father who compliments our son for his gentlemanly behavior after escorting his young daughter to a dance. In reality, the “thank you” was meant for us for how he was raised. How does one respond to that? Okay, with a little pride and a little tear and a whole lot of gratitude that the Lord was on duty when needed.

We can mouth “thank you” upon receipt of the traditional red rose to momma ceremony, but in actuality, we are the ones thanking the kids on stage for hours and hours and years and years of musical enjoyment (even while wondering if somebody was shingling a roof with reeds somewhere along the line….). This list could go on and on and on and on……………………………………

My dear friend Jules related the power of these two words during a brief encounter months ago. We have gone our separate ways over the years after an early friendship formed by long afternoons of “one armed baby volleyball”.  No, we did not toss a one armed baby. We would each have a baby on our hip thereby leaving only one arm free and we would see how many times we could keep a ball in the air between the two of us before it hits the ground. Our goal was 100 times, which we only got once, but it sure passed a lot of hours. Neither baby got damaged or dented either. Anyway…..she is now a hot shot VP with a major entertainment resort company and credits those two magic words with most if not all of their corporate success. Why? Because the rule is that after every meeting, significant phone call, donation, meeting (and again, meeting), the company person hand writes and snail mails a thank you note! Even if only a brief line or two, the old-fashioned pen in hand process is used. Her repeat business is close to 100%, just like customer satisfaction and all those other business model statistics with the reason cited as being those hand written notes.  Thanks for the lesson Jules, I have tried to pass it along to everyone I can.

Thanks to the Jackson Symphony Band that can give our local orchestra a run for its money any day. This group did earn top state honors and looks far more professional in its appearance on stage than our local professionals ever do. Matching black gowns on the ladies adds so much more class than the assortment of cheap ensembles I see once a month. I’ve wanted to say that for a long time and maybe someday somebody will say “thank you” to me for saying it out loud and putting it in print.

Thank you to my children’s friends for being good kids with nice parents who give a damn. Thank you to all those guardian angels that stepped in when judgment was wavering and crossroads encountered. Sorry but there is no time off for you as both boys will soon be merging onto the expressway of life. First it was country roads with lots of ups and downs, then some turn lanes got tossed in, four lane roads with cross traffic that does not stop did pose a few challenges, but entrance ramps and exit lanes loom ahead. (Just don’t attempt them in Canada, those roadway engineers were nuts!)

I won’t bore you any longer with my list of those who deserve a thank you. I am sure throughout your day that you too will encounter numerous people who could use a couple of encouraging words. Anybody that wants to open a door for me, have at it. My boys both know that if they are with me, I will come to a dead stop at any door and wait for them to hold it open. My habit struck a chord of fear in son number two on our band trip to New Orleans.  Since I was in charge and walked ahead of 181 people to be sure we got to places on time, he was waiting to see what would happen when I came to a door and a dead stop while 181 bodies kept on going, not knowing that I excepted it to be opened for me. Somehow, he always appeared up in front just in time.

Thank you….for whatever you do today that touches the life of somebody else.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Andy Warhol in Pittsburgh

Every now and then, the trivia comes up that I once worked in the same square footage as the infamous Andy Warhol. For some reason, the next question seems to be did I ever pass him the hallways or work on a display together. Either I need a better wrinkle cream or the person in question needs to brush up on their art history.  No and no, he was long gone from the warehouse before I struck my first mannequin.  Actually I was more likely to trip over a prop from the horror movie filmed in the same location on a year or so before I stepped foot in the display shop. But proof that both did truly take place was found this past weekend on a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.

Pittsburgh is now a wonderful city to visit having gone through a renaissance these past 25 years. Well, wonderful if two of the main bridges across the Monongahela River aren’t shut down…or if the huge “bike the ‘burg” event is not going on (don’t ever count how many people should not be wearing biker shorts)…or if you think that the lines in the road are supposed to mean something and that red lights and green lights aren’t just for Christmas decorations….but besides all of that, the city holds many places to re-explore.  They city even has street signs now. Used to be that if you did not know where you were or where you were going, you did not belong there. 

25 years is a long time on the calendar but a heartbeat if raising kids so it is no surprise that trees got a whole lot taller while no one was looking. The third floor biology classroom can no longer see in our apartment window thanks to Mother Nature.  The bus stop is not so far away anymore but at the other end, an insurance company occupies my old store.  Yes, the one where Andy ( I can use his first name because we are like almost buddies having used the same elevator and all….) once wore a bow tie to work.

I knew about as much about Andy Warhol the artist as any other art major that passed basic art history or contemporary art class. His works are iconic and his image/reputation is one formed by the media and the historians, much like any celebrity, who has one persona we see and one that resides away from the public eye.  Celebrities are people too, and that is what makes this museum so interesting for those who think they know Warhol. Yes, it has some of his works on display, but even more so, it has his life laid out in a matter of fact way. However, this is also not a museum in which to take the grandkids for a day as I witnessed this past weekend. Try explaining to a 6 year old why a girl looks like a boy or a boy looks like a girl, why the boy lady doesn’t just eat the banana, and why the grandpa man is dancing in a belly dancer costume and wearing makeup like mommy.  Good thing there is a stuffed dog and a stuffed lion, an old photo booth, and a hands-on “art room” to keep the kiddies away from such things.

I knew that Andy Warhola was born in Pittsburgh, but how he got to New York and became Andy Warhol, survived a shooting, developed “photoshop” before it existed, manipulated his own image and was essentially a hoarder, never figured into my art education. Of course I was not much of a fan of his work to begin with, like so many of us, it consisted of soup cans and brillo boxes, silk screened Liz Taylors and Mohammad Ali. I did not equate the label “artist” with his name and having now experienced the full realm of his career, I still don’t. He was a gifted “designer” and a marketing genius; he was a writer, an illustrator, a publisher, a promoter, a friend, a pied piper and a devoted son.  Yes, he made art so that makes him an artist, but that label short changes his contribution to the development of pop art in America.  He was a Peter Max before there was one and an avid student of new technology which today seems so old fashioned and outdated if not downright ancient. Makes one wonder what he would do with a computer had there been one. 

While his art is dissected to an extent, it is his personal world that is much more fascinating. Did you know he had a nose job? I didn’t.  Did you know he collected taxidermy? I didn’t. Did you know he was deeply religious? I didn’t. What I would liked to have seen was his early sketchbooks, life drawing samples (mentioned but not on display) and more developmental stages of his iconic works, but alas, the general public is more interested in who he knew (lots of celebrity pictures) and his lifestyle (no closet doors here), what he wore and how he died. I guess being located only yards from two major sports stadiums, a casino and a science center does not pack the deck with art enthusiasts. On a good note, the museum has its own dedicated and guarded parking lot to keep out the fans trying to park for the Pirates.  This city is smart; both its major teams use the same colors so it is easy to spot a violator.

If you go there from here, definitely take the back road route if not in a hurry. Keep in mind that some bureaucrat decided to rename the exit numbers and highways which do not match current navigational systems so the former exit 1 is now exit 64. (6 +4 +10 and 0 is “nothing” so that means it is a 1 so now it can be justified as 64!...seems logical to me) If Warhol is not your thing, there is a lot of Carnegie, Heinz, Phipps and Frick to go around…..or should I say to go up and down.  We used to joke that “level lot” was a big selling point in the real estate ads…my calf muscles remember why we found that funny, now they just ache. I guess I need both wrinkle cream AND muscle cream!

Friday, May 13, 2011

R. M. Huggett's humor on exhibit!

“Playing with very small ideas…” has led to some major incarnations. It is rare that I come across someone as snarky as moi, but low and behold, we have a contender! The Johnson Center on the campus of Malone College has several gallery spaces (currently showing two additional shows just as wonderful as the one I am going to review here) with one being a bit harder to find than the two I am used to visiting. Upstairs and to the right down the hallway of classrooms, one will find 53 paintings which are just downright funny. R.M Huggett is new (at least to me) on the local art scene and I predict will be a frequent and consistent exhibitor locally and eventually beyond.

His work may not appeal to some and will be easily dismissed by others, but don’t be fooled by what appears to be simple.  A good actor makes the craft seem natural. A good dancer makes their movement seem effortless.  A good artist displays both qualities in their work, both natural and effortless. Behind the final product however often lies many hours of labor, experimentation and conceptualization.  Huggett’s smooth surfaced canvases are actually layer upon layer of a carefully applied blend of acrylic silk screen ink and white gesso, a combination which produces a semi transparent paint requiring 7 or more layers in order to achieve a flat print-like surface. So too are his images far deeper than what a quick glance will reveal. The following anecdote will illustrate my point.

My son and I were enjoying the show, dodging kids at a day camp and avoiding the cleaning crew. Two of the custodians stopped in front of the piece “The Rising Cost of Civilization” which seems to depict the hieroglyphic wall of some Egyptian tomb. Man number one says “I guess you have to know Sanskrit to understand this one.”  Man number two, “yeah, not really funny, I don’t get it.”  They sweep on down the hall, literally, as my son and I did the eye roll thing. First of all, hieroglyphics and Sanskrit are two different cultures and languages, and also, embedded in the “hieroglyphs” are a barber pole, a parking meter or birdhouse, a smilie face, and other such imagery made to look like symbols. Do you get the connection between the title and the imagery? If so, then you understand my work as well which is why I like his work immensely. It makes people think, if they care to do so, and gives them an intellectual reward for making the connections. If not, then one just gets a good giggle and moves on.

What are also deceptively simple are his colors. Looking down the hall, a typical viewer will see solid, flat shades of green, pink, blue, yellow, white and black for example, but take some time to compare one painting to another and the subtle changes between them begin to stand out. I stopped counting at 15 different tonalities which surprised even me. Then I went back and studied his bones, meaning the compositions, the use of positive and negative spaces, the edges of his complex black outlines, scale of elements and so forth, and one will discover once again what looks easy is really quite sophisticated.

Okay, so much for the serious analysis stuff. Let’s get into the humor mobile. First clue that Mr. H is a snarky one lies in his exhibition text. The show opened on May 10th (and nobody told me?) and closes “whenever I’m asked to take everything home.”   Good answer.  The posted statement explains “that some images are created specifically to support an idea that I have for a title that makes me laugh.” Halleluiah brother! Finally somebody that does not take his artistic purpose so seriously that it gets bogged down in labored messages that overshadow craftsmanship. High five RMH.

On the subject of titles, everyone knows by now that I detest the concept of something being “untitled” for a variety of reasons. Hold the nasty email comments, I won’t respond anyway.  I have no problem with a title being long, but I do with show entries where one is given about ¾ of an inch to write it. Some of us are a bit wordy, get over it. For your reading pleasure, I have included some of my favorite titles from his exhibition and a brief explanation of the art to which it belongs, think of it as dyslexic descriptions.

“High ceilings, watertight foundation and a massive master bedroom are included for just under $300,000” – Toad on a lily pad which sells for $250.

“Self forgery of another painting that is remarkably similar to this painting” – guy painting

“Inside the fitting room at Waldo’s Sock Monkey Emporium Discounted Fireworks warehouse”’ – one
confused creature (the image, not the artist….)

“Oh Tammy! I just love what you’ve done to your new trailer” – light bulbs

“Which came first depends upon how you hang the paintings” – a chicken and an egg

And so it goes. Be sure to add your name to his raffle jar for one of two images he is …ummm…raffling off. Also, free prints (yes, you read that right) are available one to a customer while supplies last, on a pedestal near his guestbook (which I forgot to sign so this blog will have to do). Do sign his guestbook if you go because we artists like to know that somebody actually looked at our stuff, just don’t take the pen.

The building is open 9 – 5 Monday through Friday during the summer and the work will be up until it is not up anymore. Be sure to also see the show “Landscape Revisited” by Scott Zaher in the Fountain Gallery (I like his stuff a lot too and he has piece in the NC May Show.) and also the two person show “Visual Correspondence” by Rebecca Cross and Claire Murray Adams in the McFadden gallery hallway which is also in need of spending some time to really appreciate their intricate creations. I shall be back.

**Image used is totally done so without the artist’s permission. No title included so I made one up….”Using his right arm as a roasting stick was a smoking hot idea!”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Blind Date (round two) at Anderson Creative Gallery

If one thinks they can breeze through the current exhibit at Anderson Creative Gallery, then one, think again and two, consider bringing along your own chair. Back by popular demand, this highly successful collaboration between visual artists and writers has once again redefined the genre (if there is one…) of pairing creative people together to reach a common goal.  That goal would be to answer the following questions, “Can I bring your images to life with my words and can you make my words lift off the page with your imagery?”   For the most part, everybody got an A+ on their assignment. A few B’s here and there and even one C but those grades are from the biased opinion of a visual artist (who in full disclosure once again, is part of the show.)

As curator Craig Joseph will testify to, I did spend over an hour carefully noting the nuances of each pairing unless the text was really, really long (and there are a couple of entries that qualify for chapter status).  For the most part, the show is not a date spent hand in hand walking through the park. The majority of the pairings are darker with an emphasis on death, issues of self awareness and confrontation, and the problems surrounding communities of various sorts. Toss in a bit of religion and one will think we are quite angst ridden, however one must understand that creative people tend to use their gifts for expressive and therapeutic purposes and therefore are quite well adjusted, thank you very much. Thankfully Monty provided some comic relief during my visit with a little relieving of his own. Daddy’s response is destined for a painting. True to the nature of the show, reactions can be unexpected, so while reading, writing and connecting, I discovered quite a few gems worth noting, 6 pages to be exact, and something from every date. Because I was recently (and good-naturedly) chastised for writing far too much per paragraph, I shall merely make a cliff note version of the highlights.

Rose Hayne (art) and Ann Barber (text) – Look very carefully at Rose’s oil pastel collage as the elements are more than color and shape, they are also text the could follow Ann’s writing stanza by stanza. At first glance during the preview opening, I did dismiss it as just a landscape, for which I apologize and reiterate that one needs to spend the time really “looking”, not just “seeing” to fully appreciate  what each person had done to answer the opening question. 

Cassidhe Hart (text) and R.M. Huggett (art) – symbolic of some couples, one talks on and on and the other stands by in simplistic silence and they get along great. I adore his two paintings in this show as his humor is quick and direct (and he uses really long titles like me.)

Judi Krew (art) and Van Misheff (text) – His rhythmic writing style captured my message exactly. Very few have ever understood the watercolor in this show and he reached right inside and grabbed the essence of my imagery. 

Nancy Matin (art) and Van Misheff (text) – A second A+ entry and worth a bit longer of an examination. Nancy’s entry is from her new work in fibers. One needs to read the text, “House Warming” and then view the piece, repeating the process as nouns and adjectives connect. His steps are her layering of fabrics. His blues are her colors, his breeze is her slightly askew alignment, his old is her frayed edges and so forth.  

A similar approach is taken with David Dettmann’s text and Don Parsisson’s sculpture. There are correlations between Heaven and hell, black and white, positive and negative space, emerging and descending form and so forth, again, one would benefit from a repetition of reading and viewing. 

Sometimes the pairings are more than just what is produced, but also how they have been displayed. Claire M. Adam’s sculpture / collage/ creation is contained within a jar that is made even smaller by the 40” or so of text cascading down next to it. The “message in a bottle” concept to one who has died is quite powerful. Don’t walk by it without looking inside. Does our long life really get compressed into a few memories over the passage of time?

Other pairings that have similar media and message connections (as opposed to just imagery) are Lindsay Bonilla and Kyle Begue {I apologize for any misspellings of names, but I was still laughing about the impromptu performance art to focus on my handwriting….} with a missive on bad hair days. The “empty nest” is handled by Anne Wedlar and Judi Christy and the judgment of our souls versus who we “are” (do not judge a book by its cover as the saying goes) is tackled by Erin Sweeny and Jessica Bennett.  My notes about each pairing in the exhibit are much longer than what you are reading here. I had quite a mentally stimulating time putting all the puzzle pieces together one by one.  Some connections are subtle such as how Paul Digby’s grammatical breaks that are echoed in the broken teeth and negative spaces of R.M. Huggetts characters. 

My point is that you cannot just see how words are illustrated with art or how art inspires words. You have to look a bit deeper at presentation, materials, scale, and how the text is displayed with the works as far as scale as well. I regret that I cannot go on and on about some of the pairings (cant’ get too wordy) because I want to mention a couple of things before my space runs out.

I did enjoy seeing work by some artists I did not recognize, Matthew Litteken and Ines Kramer, who each had two works very similar in style (not to each other but as their own technique) that I suspect represented their overall body of work and of which I would like to see more. Submissions came from a national call although viewers will find many familiar artists and writers. On that note, I would have liked to have seen the city or state (our country) of origin for each pairing. Also, the original Blind Date show had an explanation posted as to what the premise was for this exhibition. Locals understand thanks to media coverage but our occasional tourist might benefit from some background info. Not being critical, just taking the viewpoint of someone who is not in the art biz (channeling my 75 year old Dad perhaps?) who might wander in and say “what the hell is that?” 

I would hope this exhibition becomes an annual event, or every two years perhaps as the popularity of Anderson Creative Gallery continues to increase and inspire with unusual offerings in the definition of what constitutes an “art show”. I am honored to have been given a date this year and found it a challenging experience to take someone else’s thoughts (Lilly) and be true to both their intent and my own style. 

Any thoughts to having a “speed dating” event where each random paring gets 30 minutes to connect?