Sunday, January 25, 2009

Twice a Day

Gee, I'm having to post for the second time today, as I forgot to put up two other things:
First, I promised to show you the big hanging Disarmed piece, which is now finished. (You know, you can click on these images and get a larger view.)

And also I wanted to put up the piece I finished for Landfill Art. Ken Marquis asked me if I would art up a hubcap and it sounded like a neat idea, so I have. It's called Auto Industry Humpty Dumpty.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
And all the king's horses
And all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Art in a New Era

I started this blog after Barack Hussein Obama’s election because I wanted to see how my artmaking might change when we finally got rid of George W. Bush. Now, after months of anticipation, we’ve finally arrived at my first post after the inauguration. I thought I should do a little reflection about whether there actually has been a difference.

I spent quite a bit of time in the last few weeks setting up an exhibit on the second floor at SPA called Publish That Poem, exhibiting published collections of poetry. This effort culminated in a poetry reading by 13 of those poets on Friday, January 23 in Cora Brooks’ studio. It was great, with a wonderful diversity of poems, each a gem – some funny, some heavy, some in Japanese! And it was so good to have the Visual Arts community in the same room with the Written Word community – making our own little effort to avoid insularity and create connections. I’ve been thinking about how the Obamas will (as was true in the Kennedy White House) be inviting poets, philosophers, musicians, writers and other artists to join the public life of the nation and the First Family. Obama said in his inaugural address that we need to return to the values of “tolerance and curiosity” and included “unbelievers” in the list of American religions we need to respect. Wow.

I actually spent three consecutive days in my studio this week, continuing to work on the Disarmed (or is it Disarmament?) pieces. It has come to me that the absence of arms means powerlessness. But can’t giving up power be a good, healthy thing? I am thinking of Israel pounding Gaza, of altogether-too-many examples of a display (and employment) of American power and arms. I am thinking of how animals turn over and show their defenseless bellies when they wish to surrender in a fight. And then the fight is over. Although it appears it’s not that easy in human affairs.

It also became clear to me that these figures I’ve been making have gender. They are female! I have made so many clearly male figures (I’ve been called The Penis Lady by some wags because of the frequent appearance of that organ in my work), it's a bit of a surprise to find myself making female figures. And powerless, armless females at that. But I think there are other kinds of power than the power of arms. Several posts ago there was a figure with milk squirting from her breasts: the power to feed and nurture. This week, it was birth: the power to create something new. I feel a bit embarrassed that these stereotypical female virtues/functions are making their appearance, but...

A few words about meaning in art. A friend wrote to me a while back saying “Why are you always trying to make meaning out of your art? Isn’t it enough for it just to be art?” Well, when I am making work, it is not a didactic exercise. Some other time I'll talk about what that process involves, but right now I'll say that I don’t try to make a point, preach, or politicize. But after the work is made, I look at it as an observer (just as others must) and think about what might be going on with it. Often what I find (as above) surprises me. I believe that good art is not illustration, not propaganda. Five people can look at the same painting, installation, or sculpture and have five different thoughts, feelings, conclusions, or insights. Diane Swan read a poem on Friday night about a painting called Fox Hunt by Winslow Homer . Her poem asked if she was the only one who thought the painting was not about the fox being hunted, but about the fox as a hunter, out in the snow, going about its natural business. When I look at art, it is not just about form, color, and composition for me. I guess I am practicing the curiosity that Obama just advocated – wondering whether Thing A might connect with Thing B. Making those connections enriches the experience for me.

And finally, I made something last week that seems to me like just plain fun. And cute. Though if I worked at it I could probably draw some important moral tale from it. But I don’t want to. The tail is made of sheepskin I got at the Re-Store, which has re-located in BARRE!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Quickie

I finished the Poem piece today; I’m calling it Heaven’s Chop-Shop. (The full text is in the post from Sunday, December 21, 2008 called Busy, Busy, Busy.) It was quite a thing doing all that lettering (and screwing it up and having to sand it off and do it again...), and also getting additional (more or less matching) lumber after the footage I scavenged from the dumpster behind Aaron’s ran out.

I took four days off last week (Tuesday - Friday) for a road trip with my son to Washington DC. He had work to do at the NCAA Convention / Trade Show, and I stayed with friends in Takoma Park. On Wednesday I went to museums on the Mall. Ohmigod, the Hirshhorn was amazing. It was like being in a cathedral, with one masterwork after another from the permanent collection. Very sculpture-rich. I (and everybody else moving through the “Strange Bodies” show) was blown away by Ron Mueck’s larger-than-life sculpture of a man in the corner – a truly magical, strange, and compelling giant. We humans are inexorably drawn to other humans, and this big, fat, naked guy with an enigmatic expression (Slightly paranoid? Ready to lash out? About to speak in tongues?) mesmerized me. Plus Magdalena Abakanowicz, Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Dubuffet, and Giacometti! A great feast.

I also spent time at the Freer, saw a national show of juried work by artists with disabilities, and went to the Fritz Scholder Indian, Not Indian exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian. His paintings didn’t do much for me, but the bronze sculptures, both large and small, were powerful.

I've been wanting to see the American Visionary Art Museum for many years, and on Thursday I took the train to Baltimore and made my wish come true. There was great stuff: a cityscape made with slide-rules, three Judith Scott pieces, some Terry Turrell (though not his best, I thought). The facade of the building, a tree out front, and a bus by the entrance are covered in mirrors. But I was disappointed at how clean all the work was and the emphasis on insider-outsiders, so to speak. Names, secure reputations. Sigh. I guess it’s the same the whole world over...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Mixed Bag

Yesterday was the opening for John Hanna’s memorial retrospective at SPA. Sue Higby knocked herself out to put it together in a few days time, miraculously getting a show of over 100 exhibitors (SPA’s annual Members Show) out the door, patching and painting the walls, and arranging publicity in every paper in central Vermont. There were almost 250 people at the reception, with projected images of John’s life as a sculptor put together by Marge Powers (who also provided some awesome chicken liver pate!). It is at times like this that I appreciate that SPA is located in Barre, with its rich history of serious artists and artisans. The building was alive with people from all over the world who came to Barre to carve stone. Real people who work with their hands and hearts. It was an experience both rich and humbling.

I’ve been talking with Marc Awodey about starting an online website or blog about art in Vermont, focusing particularly on reviews, exhibits, and miscellaneous art stuff (like maybe a classified section for selling materials and services). We think there’s not enough coverage of visual arts events and talk about issues and ideas for visual artists. I had the interesting experience of looking for online images of the work of a very prolific and well-known Vermont artist who doesn’t have a website and there was practically nothing out there. We could have links to the blogs and websites that do exist for Vermont artists and also to galleries and other exhibition venues.

As I write this, I realize the big question of how to pay for it has not been addressed. I already do maintenance for two websites (in addition to my own and this blog) without compensation. I am doing a lot of grant-and-proposal writing for a several projects that I will share with you at some point. Just yesterday I got a part-time job possibility assisting an elderly woman that may help. I also got a rejection from the Roswell A-I-R program yesterday. Somehow it will all shake down.

Oh, almost forgot! I had reason to take some photos of art in my house the other day and thought I’d share them here, as a funny follow-up to the post about Mark Waskow’s collection. I have said that there are two kinds of artists – those who have only their own art on their walls and those who also have other artists represented. I am one of the latter. Books and art are everywhere. Perhaps there is even a bit of too-muchness...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mark S. Waskow, Collector

In this blog I talk a lot about what I’m making in the studio, and a bit about the galleries and other exhibit spaces that show (and sometimes sell) my work. This time I want to talk about the end-user in this equation – the person who actually trades money for art!

Mark S. Waskow is an art collector on a grand scale. He has bought more than 25 works (both large and small) from me directly and from galleries where my work has been exhibited. He has a HUGE collection that is housed at two residences as well as at four spaces that are exclusively devoted to storing and displaying the collection, which is known (at all its various locations) as the Waskowmium. As you might expect, Mark is a person with a prodigious amount of energy, enthusiasm, and intelligence. He recently moved some of his collection to a new location in Burlington when development pressure drove the rent in two of his spaces too high. He has been working for about two months to relocate and organize the new quarters. I spent one day a few weeks ago helping out, and more recently went back to see the space as it gets closer to completion.

The part of the collection that has settled in the new space is comprised of artist books, works on paper, 3-dimensional work (primarily, but not exclusively, by Vermont artists), material related to the Vermont arts scene, and other art memorabilia. It is a gas and a delight to stroll past the many vitrines and cases, and to check out the work mounted chock-a-block (though purposefully) on the walls. Mark has stories about every single piece.

In addition to art, Mark collects all kinds of paper having to do with art and artists in Vermont – catalogs, invitation postcards, posters, and artist portfolios. He has between 1,000 and 1,200 artist books, almost 3,000 zines, and at least 5,000 art books. This is a tremendous resource for the arts and a wonderful archive that will preserve the memory of Vermont artists and art events in history. He is trying to raise the funds to construct a massive wall of bookshelves to hold some of this printed material, an undertaking that will cost about $10,000. He would be grateful for any donations to help fund this effort. Checks can be sent to the Main Street Museum which is operating as the Waskowmium’s fiscal agent while Mark works on getting his non-profit status, with a notation that it’s for the Waskowmium.

The bookcase above holds notebooks filled with biographical material, press clippings, invoices, resumes, bios, statements, and other relevant information about the artists in his collection. The pile on the top left of the case is a complete archive of clippings of Seven Days art reviews since Waskow began his collection.

Here's where my hefty section starts. It's been a while since I used that logo...

Here you can see some of my work displayed at the Waskowmium -- a steel and red fabric sculpture, a little paper-mache figure trailing the alphabet in its wake, and several altered books on the far wall. I am grateful for Mark Waskow's excitement, sensitivity, and knowledge about the visual arts. I am thankful that Mark has traded his money for my art, but even more than that, his collection honors me and preserves my legacy. And the fact that he cherishes each of these objects and devotes himself to their care makes me, anyway, feel like a bit of a big shot.