Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Post Human Biomes by Jonah Jacobs at Journey Art Gallery

Recycled, repurposed and remarkable.

Wow!!   Okay good, I can quit now.   Well, not really. There is much more to say about the current show at Journey Gallery because one cannot really appreciate these pieces in a photograph or by text. I will do my best to explain why you need to come by and see this show which is now even better as the artist has agreed to a second month of exhibition time!

Jonah Jacobs is a Cleveland artist, graduate of Antioch College, U S air force vet (82nd airborne) and can claim Denmark as his place of birth.  Google his name and dozens of pictures will turn up, all intriguing but none that will do as much justice as seeing the pieces in person. Don’t let the large wall or floor sculptures think you can’t own an original, the gallery is bursting with affordable pieces that can be mixed and matched to create a one of a kind display in your own space. One is good, but a couple of units together bring out the best of each one. The wooden support boxes for some of the works are all handmade as well so keep that in mind.

The official posted statement gives better insight behind the purpose of these works, but a couple of phrases summed up the concept to me….”unlock the mysteries of natural structures…and (explore) how complexity is created out of simple shapes and unconventional materials.”   Unconventional perhaps, unexpected absolutely. Fortunately the materials for each piece are written on the back along with a date and signature so you know each work is original and personal.

What will strike you first are the 7 large wall pieces that play with color field concepts in dimensional form. Squares, half domes and an elongated format are so overwhelming rich in surface and color that one just wants to touch them…they look soft and fuzzy, but are actually stiff and solid. How fibers, shreds, mop tails, and cotton swabs can look like overgrown lichen on an alien plant is truly amazing to see….(don’t ask how I know they don’t feel like they look….)

One large free standing piece occupies the center of the gallery, a mushroom top shaped object, 3 feet across and about 18” deep, entitled Accretion 1, which is made of what appears to be deeply dyed wooden spikes. They are not wood. Look closely and the source will be easily detected. As I was working my around these forms, a creepy feeling arose…what if they moved? These creations could easily be props in a syfy movie, creatures that undulate and “breath” when the protagonist is not looking.

Another large work on the wall, entitled Peridium 1, resembles the suction cups on an octopus tentacle but without the appendage, just an oversized tumor of things that could start opening and closing at any moment making that squishy slurping noise sound techs are so fond of. But if one wishes to avoid the ick approach and view them as plush shag carpets, then feel free to get lost in the depth of surface and tone. Are we to see oversize microscopic slide views of unknown living forms, or dried flower arrangements from the 25th century? Who knows, the possibilities for your imagination and interpretation are endless.

The artist is making a return to Canton for this upcoming First Friday so stop in to meet him. If you want the best selection of his smaller works, come by well before that however as a few are already gone and more will be sure to find new homes.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Should the “Opening” just be Closed and put out of business?

Mariachi Band playing my Laredo, Texas opening 2007
Openings, as far as the arts are concerned, have been an industry tradition for probably a century or more. However, it may be time to put this one out to pasture. I invite your comments, input and discussion about this topic as it affects all of us artists and gallery owners and even the public at large. Patrons is a more appropriate word to end that sentence, but not an applicable one as I don’t believe “patrons of the arts” exist anymore in the spirit for which the term was coined.

For those who are unfamiliar with the definition of an “art opening”, the term refers to an event (usually a couple of hours on a weekend night) when an artist’s (or artists’) work is able to be viewed by the public for the first time, debuting to a new audience, showcasing a new body of work, or presenting a thematic group show.  Often nibble snacks are served (at the expense of the artist or venue owner), music may be provided (ditto the payment) and if possible, wine (ditto again). Now unless a museum or some such equivalent caliber venue is involved, rarely is a fee required. Openings are free and the goodies provided, free as well to the attendees. The artist(s) are usually present and sometimes even asked to speak a few words to those gathered, about what is on display.

As have many of my fellow artists, I have had my share of this time honored tradition…and this specific blog will focus only on the solo (or perhaps dual) show opening experience. Group shows have built in audiences to attend the openings because want to see what others have entered, who gets awards and do the old “see and be seen on scene, booze and smooze” circuit. Solo shows are a whole different ball game.

A solo show represents months (and sometimes years) of effort on the part of the artist. To get a show on the walls, requires lots of paperwork, often transportation (perhaps requiring hotels, trailers, meals and so forth) that entail a financial commitment. In actuality it is far more complex than I have room to explain here. On the part of the venue or gallery owner, the previous show is removed, walls patched and repainted, new work inventoried, hung up, labeled, lights adjusted, music perhaps lined up, food and drink purchased and set out, PR sent out including pictures and details, websites, newsletters and newspapers, and sometimes even postcards printed and mailed. For which the venue will get paid back only if a piece of work sells and the 35 – 40% commission can be taken. So….what does that require after all the work on the part of the artist and the venues?  In blunt honesty….people to get off their butts, often drive to the location, come in the door, look at the work, speak to the person who made it, and if possible, purchase something….but many of us would be happy to just get the first 4 off this list.

Let’s start with “get off your ____ butt”. Guilty as charged, so I am a kettle, I too have found myself too lazy to put on clean clothes and make my way to another city (even 20 minutes, let alone an hour or more)  to view work that I really, really want to see, but just can’t muster the…..what?  Most recent openings of which I have heard or seen, comprise the artist, their immediate family and a small sampling of friends….but rarely do others show up, at least not on purpose. Sometimes those passing by to dinner will drop in to warm up or see food and happen to stop in. What makes us all so busy? Life. I get it. Kids have required activities and need driven, the yard requires care, other plans have already been made…whatever the excuse, if it in fact exists, we are just not going anymore. Heck, I can view the work online, I may know the artist and don’t need to see the work again, I can see the show while going to something in or near the venue on another day….seen, heard and been guilty of all these myself. As the artist however….openings are “our party”, our chance to shine, often our underlying need to be validated. All too often however, we end up hurt, embarrassed, disappointed, and downright discouraged. We send emails, postcards and personal invitations and still, nobody comes, thinking maybe others will go and we won’t notice. But we do, and are often too gracious to say thing to you later….we just suck it up and hope for the best next time.

The gallery owner, or venue person in charge often ends up feeling the same way...embarrassed that the loyal following did not turn out, disappointed that all the time and effort and investment has gone to waste, and discouraged, wondering whether it is worth it to even have such a designated time set aside to debut someone. Cost of investment has to equal the cost of return at some point or the plug has to be pulled. Who loses in the long run is a matter of perspective.

Some of this shift in interest is a sign of the times, “art” is everyplace now, in the restaurants, coffee houses, bars, hotels, airports, internet, because we are trying to get it in front of your face anyway we can, because you are not coming to us. Therefore are people visually overloaded and don’t need to go see one more collection of work? The economy can’t be denied as a factor too. Gas is expensive, expendable income is practically nonexistent, and space is limited and must be used wisely. Mindsets have changed too, younger people do not want “stuff”, and to many, art on the walls or pedestals is just “stuff”. Small copies can be made off of internet pictures, small prints are less space than original works, and face it, images are cheap cheap cheap at the local craft store. The value of original art as an investment does not register with many people. And so too, commitment is a thing of the past, even for weddings for gosh sake, let alone an opening…”of course I am coming! (Unless something else comes up that could be more fun and I will just go to it instead.)

So….is it time to stop the practice of “openings” and just put up new work and hope it gets noticed? Personally, I hate my own openings, I’d rather not have them. I feel stupid sitting around hoping the people will talk to me or not shy away in “fear” that I have approached them to converse about what is on the walls. Ohio is not NY, or any other metropolitan city with money to burn on this social scene staple. I have no answers…do any of you? How are your “openings…are strangers showing up to see your efforts? Do you cover your expenses to hold these things? Do openings meet your expectations or are you going through the motions? Maybe as a community we can come up with some solutions to either maintain this tradition or be willing to declare them a thing of the past and focus on new ways to promote ourselves and the work of others who share our passion.

 I will start off the discussion with an idea….what if all the openings were held on ONE day from late morning until into early evening (11 to 7), the SAME day and time for all locations, like a big art walk open house type of thing? NOT a First Friday vibe, not an Akron Art walk vibe, just art galleries, studios and the like. No bars, no restaurants, no street vendors or face painters, no outdoor music folks, no “extra fun” activities, just a focus on the visual arts. I remember doing the Farm Tour with my kids. We had a map and drove from place to place, to see only farms….one focus, one purpose, one day, one intent….one common goal. Could you see people driving to Minerva, Alliance, Canton, Massillon and wherever else with their map and their locations planned out?

Okay, now it is your turn…..

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A loom with a view that changed our behavior…

March First Friday was cold and blustery and poorly attended (who can blame people with the long winter we have had…) but one would never know it by the eager participants in our Community Project. The question of the month was also popular with 70 responses. I think I need to make a bigger board as some folks did not participate due to lack of space (not everyone likes to draw in the margins.)

Let’s loom first… to answer the most popular question, how did I come up with this idea….beats me. Like most ideas of mine, something strikes me as fun or intriguing and then concepts just grow like cerebral crabgrass. Self-imposed parameters of cheap, easy, fast and educational (and cheap) guide the process. So 40 feet of PVC pipe and 500 feet of parachute cord became a loom. Goodwill sheets and dust ruffles plus a few donated fabrics became bins of torn strips. Yeah, what could go wrong?

I underestimated the change in our educational curriculum…I guess the old paper place-mat project of cutting one piece of paper into squiggly strips and another sliced all most to the edges so they could be woven together is just not part of our learning process anymore. It was amazing how many visitors had never done the “over under over” process, especially when having to be opposite the row before theirs. A few mishaps and false starts were quickly remedied and it was off the races. People worked from both ends, some quite particular about which fabric they chose so as to keep colors separated. Some couples worked together while others raced against each other. A few brave souls even climbed under the whole thing to have access to the middle if both sides were occupied. While having fun, they also learned and remembered, sharing stories of the old pot holders we used to make on our metal frame (I still have mine with a potholder still on the pegs). A professional weaver stopped by and did three perfect rows, enjoying the freedom to use crummy materials. The most surprising question to me was whether I pulled out the long ropes after it was all done…but such curiosity is part of the educational intent for these monthly activities. Gotta love it when the light-bulb goes off!

With only about two feet left to go, the loom is curving inwards like a giant hourglass from the pressure of strips being pulled and tightened over and over. Just about every person asked “what are you going to do with it?”…I don’t know really, other than put it on exhibit in July when all the Community Projects will come back out of hiding. I guess I am more process oriented than product oriented. 

Join us next month for the Great Square Inches of Art Mystery Picture and take the Art History Mystery Quiz to see how much you know!  Okay, on to the question of the month….

Name an object, invention or thing which you feel has altered or changed our human behavior in some way.  Now notice that I tried to keep this in the realm of physical objects one could touch…not esoteric ones so I could use that angle later…but again I underestimated the thought process of others so our views on what comprises an “object, invention or thing” are quite different. 

Food related: GMO’s – McDonald's – Taco Bell – fast food

Social, Process or Beliefs: Jesus – love – social norms – police – laws – imagination (2) – friendly people – music – laughter – repetition (2) – people – education – schoolwork – birthdays – assembly line – plastic surgery – mathematics – internet (2) – YouTube – discovery of the existence of God using the Higgs Bosin Particle – history channel – the Bible

Actual things: cell phone (2) – computers – traffic lights – seat belts – printing press – toothbrush – hat – chalkboards – contact lenses – clocks – cars – clothespins and safety pins – light bulbs – indoor plumbing – video games – d—che bags – spandex – braces – medicines – wine press – buttons – pens (2) – tunnels – baseball bat – plane – birth control – wheel – GPS – jewelry – money (2) – make up – dishwasher – maxi pads – guns – keyboard – fire - electricity

Every month our demographic is a bit different. Remember that all the questions and answers are printed out, laminated and posted on my studio door for your reading pleasure.  

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Artist Guilt

Three Kings

I have touched on this a few times before, but yet again last night the same topic came up with even more artist friends. Why do we feel guilty for wanting to do something different than our “signature” works? For those who don’t understand the term of “signature work”, that is the style and/or imagery for which people know us. When our name is mentioned, someone can immediately call to mind something we have created. It is an instant connection of indentation and classification. She paints _____ or he makes __________.  This circumstance is not limited to us visual folks, but musicians, actors and writers all get typecast if you will. When a singer does a cross over album, they get skeptical reviews. When a romantic comedy lead decides to do some serious drama work, the critics do their thing even before seeing a film…such is it with the visual arts category.

We have this sense that we “owe” our followers to produce a certain style of work. These followers are a dedicated and loyal group of people, but they rarely actually purchase anything. We find ourselves making work that sits around, piling up, sapping our energy just to be pulled out of storage and put on display for the entertainment of the occasional viewer. Empty walls? We got art… but then it comes back again. We get discouraged. Yes, I keep using “we” because there are so many of us in the same boat that it might as well be a cruise liner…but non-artists don’t know that dirty little secret…just how much work we have stored away. Now there are those who sell stuff like hotcakes for sure….many smaller and low priced pieces, an excellent marketing plan, produced quickly, put up for sale via the social media circuit and gone.

Where one of the problems lies for us “guilty” artists is with our generational art education, brought up before technology, taught by artists who were even more old school, who came from the NY or nothing era. We learned to build a body of work, to establish a visual identity that was unique and strong, to not deviate from a style because when one went to market themselves in the “real” art world of NY, LA and other gallery strongholds, any show of “too much variety” was a sign of weakness, of unprofessionalism. Remember, this is all before computers. We had a slide sheet and a big old black portfolio. Phone calls were made (from the ones with curly cords before answering machines) and slides mailed out…only 20. That was your calling card. Those 20 images were who you were an artist. So we painted and sculptured and created the same thing over and over. We were told that we needed an inventory. We worked on pieces for weeks or months at a time, because quality was important. Quick meant cheap.

Then the world changed.

Quick was good. Images could be sent in seconds, by the multiples. Copies and prints could take seconds not weeks or a month. The availability of “art” to whomever wanted it in whatever form or definition was a click away including payment and shipment and even customized. Now what? Here we are with our bodies of work, well crafted, time consuming pieces of high quality handmade sweat and tears talent and nobody wants it. BUT, they want to see it. So here we are at mid to late career stages questioning ourselves. And we are willing to say that we have had enough.

Typecast be damned! We have earned our right to have some fun, to cut loose, to toss out the watercolors in favor of a fat sharpie on some big paper. We want to forgo the weeks of agonizing over one piece and challenge ourselves to create in 30 minutes (okay, maybe a few days…we aren’t THAT daring yet). We want to toss out the flowers and the faces and the vases for say… a duck. Yeah, that is one pretty fowl with some shimmering feathers….screw you people, I am going to paint me a f---ing duck!  And what happens? We feel guilty, we feel bad when someone says…oh but I like your _____________ pictures. To which we silently say, did you ever buy one of them? So we paint something new and different, almost feeling as if we need to hide in the garage for fear of being caught reading porn. We pull each other aside and ask if the other feels bad about doing something different, seeking support from fellow deserters. Do we need to start a refugee camp for artists who no longer feel loyal to their own work?

This is a hard feeling to put into words. I love what I do, I love what I did. I love what my fellow artists do and their signature works, but I get it that sometimes we have to move on to keep the creative juices fresh. Yes, some of our inner muses may just have an expiration date that we need to look at.  When we feel the need, have the urge or just must for whatever reason, move on with our own visions and dreams, please don’t make us feel bad for not fulfilling your impression of us. We don’t want to intentionally let you down, we don’t want to lose your support (but secretly fear we will for stepping outside our self-imposed box), we don’t mean to appear ungrateful or any other type of emotion. We just want to move on with something new, and fresh and motivating and challenging and liberating and fun and hope that you will follow along with us. We are catching up and catching on slowly but surely with the “new” art world and what is available to us…and it is exciting and scary and motivating and intimidating all at the same time. So fellow artists, we need to know it is okay to “say no to drudgery”, to free ourselves from the self-imposed bindings of style and imagery, to boldly go where….yeah whatever. Stop feeling guilty for being true to your own voice. Tell those nay-sayers to buy their favorites now because sometimes there is no going back. Damn those who want to torpedo our new endeavors, full steam ahead mates!!