The difference between hoarders and artists

Artists and hoarders share an important quality: we love stuff. It gives us a deep sense of rightness, of satisfaction to have this scrap or that bit and to know we will always have access to it.

It is very difficult to describe what objects draw us and become necessary. But that gut feeling of connection is a common thread.

The difference, however, between hoarders and artists is that very often, artists will actually utilize the things we drag home. Sometimes they become sculpture, sometimes we wear them, sometimes they become still life objects and sometimes we just slap on a coat of paint and call it a day.

We understand that these things have purpose. They are living in the sense that they will change over time. They are, very often, intended to change over time; to become worn and comfortable.

When you put something in a box or put it away for safekeeping, you deny that “life” by fixing the thing in time and space. So, in a sense, artist are the crazy cat ladies of stuff. We take in all sorts of strays, we feed them, we work with them and we appreciate them for the life they’ve had. We appreciate them for what they are and more importantly, for what they realistically could be; without romance or illusion. Because that is part of our job as artists, to see things as they are.

That said, let me introduce you to my latest rescue. An early 60’s era dresser, all wood. Not an ounce of chipboard.

dresser

Forgive the picture. Our bedroom is dark and the remodeling is ongoing.

I spotted this lovely as I was driving through a neighborhood, trying to avoid backed up traffic from a downtown construction project. It was in the midst of a pile of discarded furniture from a rental move-out. There was also a mattress(urine soaked, as it turned out), a couple of flimsy chipboard end-tables and some well loved plastic kids toys.

I immediately flipped on my turn indicator to signal the Mister, who was behind me, that we needed to pull over. I made a U-turn (illegally) and pulled up beside his truck window.

Windows down we discussed.

Me: “Do you think that dresser is any good?”
Mr.:”What dresser?”
Me: “60’s era, brown, stickers”
Mr.:”Didn’t see it.”
Me:”Let’s go look.”

So he pulled around behind me and we pulled up in front of the house.

The family was still taking items out to their car. So I motioned to an older man among them and asked if we could take the dresser. He nodded, so I started to inspect it. It was passable. But I’d need to take it home and take out all the drawers to see if it was worth refinishing.

We opened the hatch on the wagon, lowered the middle seats and popped it in.

I’d love to tell you that when I picked it up it looked like it looks in the picture. But no.

Mud brown shellac. Decals, stickers, reflectors all over the drawer faces. The drawer pulls were original, but bulky and  wooden. The drawers were all out of wrack with various splits in the sides from roofing nails being used to try and “repair” it.

But beneath all that, the lines were clean. It was well proportioned. The wood was solid and whole. Definitely worth salvaging.

So, I stripped it, glued the splits, repaired the drawers and found a beautiful deep mulberry color to paint it. And while I was buying paint,  I found some elegant matte black pulls with a fine copper edging that played off the mulberry very nicely.

I did have some issues with the paint and varnish. I liked the flatness of the mulberry paint. But it was going to be prone to scratching and streaking. So I decided to use a satin polyurethane varnish…mostly because it was what I had on hand.

I hated the varnish. It was too glossy and since I don’t have a clean room (or a ventilated one for that matter), I was forced to work outside. So the varnish dried too fast and left a textured surface.

My solution? Mix the paint and the polyurethane to keep some of the flat of the paint and some of the protection of the polyurethane with a slower drying time to allow for the  paint to level.

So, yes, I could’ve bought something at Ikea. Something clean and new and frankly, on an artist’s budget, expensive. But this dresser has already had a life, a history. And now, for better or worse, I have become a part of that.

A hoarder only wants to see things as they were. An artist sees things as they were and as they potentially could be. It has always been the play, the tension between reality and potential that excites us.

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Spring at Island Ford Art 2011

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1st collector for Spring at Island Ford Art 2011
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Calico and Dogwood

 

Calico exploring the dogwood tree.

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Ode to the Vernal Equinox

Spring Arrived
on March 20th
at 7 p.m.
in the windbreak
of the Big Value Supermarket.
Downtown, on Main Street.

Crowded into the tiny break
on the cold concrete floor
packed tight around soda machines
and gumball vendors,
were row upon row
of full-bloomed pansies
in flimsy plant trays.
Spring pre-packaged
in disposable, black plastic.

Outside,
fat, wet snow
piled on cars and roads
and numb post-work
shoppers.
It was twilight.
Roads were treacherous.
No one was in the mood
for flowers.

The blooms swayed
gently,
as electric doors
gusted winter with the passing
of each snow-flecked customer
and sat
each looking,
for all the world,
like a young girl stood up
on the evening
of her very first date.

(March 1997)

Visual Arts Reviews for the IC: People Places Power at Van Every/Smith Gallery

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Arts In View: Visual Art Reviews from Island Ford Art

Brad Thomas, curator
Van Every/ Smith Gallery Davidson College
Exhibit through Feb. 25, weekdays 10 a.m.–5 p.m., weekends 12 p.m.–4 p.m

Culturally, one of the more interesting things about photography in our age is how we take it for granted. Anyone with a cell phone can record an image. We’ve grown up with every mundane instance of our lives and every major cultural event defined, captured, and frozen in time. The still image provides clarity in a world in constant motion; revealing the “truth” of experience we miss as events unfold.

Photography also provides the opportunity to witness events and locales we may never be able to visit or experience. Many of the photos in the People Places Power provide the opportunity to appreciate the contrasts, beauty, minutia, and grandeur characterizing 21st century America.

This show of large format color photography at Davidson College re-examines tableaus and environments that we would not give a second glance as we passed in the safety of our vehicular cocoons. Some of the subjects lie sleepily far from the paths we travel while others were once thriving with activity at the center of commerce. These forgotten places, abandoned buildings, and people from the neighborhood have been captured in candid, unguarded moments.

Notable among these are images chronicling the deterioration of the former automobile powerhouse known as Detroit by Andrew Moore. Mr. Moore has undertaken an in depth survey of sites in and around Detroit. The photos in this exhibition focus on the defunct Ford Plant at River Rouge. Few images can convey the decline of US industry as sublimely as these photographs.

Victoria Sambunaris’ western landscapes are arresting from a formal perspective. The lack of strong directed light creates a flattened, compressed space and stacks the layers of the open landscape vertically. This gives the viewer a sense of viewing wall-hung tapestries, rather than a deep, expansive plane or geo-thermal features nestled in a Utah landscape. Ms. Sambunaris’ work along with David Taylor’s harkens back to large format images of exotic places exhibited for paid admission in the late 19th century. These are scenes of the contemporary frontier on a scale with nature.

Alex Prager’s image of a young woman illuminated by an open fire on a parking deck is striking for its juxtaposition of this single figure against an inner city nightscape. Another figurative work, by Richard Rinaldi, offers a nicely tonal black and white portrait of “Craig” a young man, shirtless with tattoos.

There are a couple of definite drawbacks to this show. First and foremost is the lack of gallery space. Any one of these artists could hold their own in a solo show of 30 or more works. Here, we are only offered appetizers; one or two works from each artist. And frankly, this is not quite as satisfying as catching the unique visual rhythms of one particular artist. As a viewer, one misses the subtle narrative that begins to develop in the course of a visual series. Clearly the emphasis is on the landscapes which are dynamic and required the largest spaces within the gallery. The more psychological images of people were relegated to the back room and their impact suffered as a result.

The curator must’ve understood the “sampling” aspect would be problematic, offering a table full of large format photography books featuring each of the show’s artists. Having access to the books provided the opportunity of seeing a broader survey of each artist.

The second problem also lay in the curator’s hands. Sometimes a curator will feel the need to shoehorn the images in order to have them fit into the “theme”. Unfortunately, this was evident in one or two instances; creating somewhat jarring visual and thematic interruptions within an otherwise cohesive exhibition.

As a side note, we would also like to direct you to the exhibition by student studio senior Alanna Ford (Jan. 12-19). Her work is clever, well considered and well crafted. It’s nice to see such mature work coming from someone in the earliest stages of their art-making career.

If you need more information on the artists or the shows at Davidson College, please go to our website, Piedmont Foothill Venues

We’ll see you there!

Projects and more projects.

Artists are often more interested in working than talking about their work. This often applies to home projects too.

Late last autumn, we started a chicken coop. I hadn’t posted the pictures, partly because we are chick-less for another month. We are picking up 10 Gold Comet day old chicks from Shook’s Poultry just across the river.

The Gold Comets are sex linked by color. This means when the chicks hatch you can instantly tell the males from the females. That way you can keep the number of cockerels down.

We figured a nice coop would make us happy and the chickens comfortable.

This slide show runs through our process:

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Coop, posted with vodpod

We buried the wire about a foot in the ground. And we ran wire overhead, so we hope egg-stealers are kept to a minimum.

We have also been working on finishing up a couple of building projects.

We finally got a cover on the well. It will disassemble if we need to pull the well to work on it. And it offers a good storage space for bird seed, tools for the flower beds and other minor gardening stuff. Yeah… it looks like an outhouse. But we prefer to acknowledge it as the Water Shed.


Well House

We plan to put granite around the base and if you look closely you can see the color color sample on the front. I’m looking for a sort of Robin’s Egg Blue.

We’ll get some fancy hardware for the door and eventually a solar panel and battery to run the well for those times when electricity is out.

The light is because it's been so damned cold.

And finally the cabin. Our future storage shed for art, supplies and musical equipment. We’ve got the old roof off and the new plywood and paper down.

Cabin Addition

This weekend we’ll finish the siding, work on the flashing and finishing the roof preparations before we shingle. I’ll be painting the walls with the main color. The accent colors will come later.

There are couple of other things in the works. But we’ll let you know more about those as they progress.

On walking the fine line between revisionist history and cultural sensitivity.

Two stories have come to light this week that examine America’s relationship with art, it’s depiction of slavery and our sociological  and cultural response to those depictions of history.

The first story, out of Georgia, centers on a series of murals painted by George Beattie depicting an idealized version of Georgia’s agricultural development.

The series starts with corn grown by prehistoric Native Americans, and proceeds to a 20th-century veterinary lab. The history in between the ancient and the modern eras includes slavery.

The incoming Republican agriculture commissioner, Gary Black, doesn’t like the work and feels it is no longer appropriate for the modern agricultural systems in Georgia. (Perhaps a golden idol to Monsanto would be more to his liking.)

Mr. Beattie is no longer alive to defend the work, but had obviously dealt with the issues raised prior to this incident.

Beattie’s 1995 defense of his work:

“As a human being, I am vehemently opposed to slavery, as anyone should be, but it was a significant epoch in our history; it would have been inaccurate not to include this period.”

In the second incident Publisher’s Weekly examines a Twain scholar’s efforts to “update”  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for a modern audience.

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of “all modern American literature.” Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation’s most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: “nigger.”

Believe it or not, I find the first incident slightly more defensible than the second for this reason:

Twain was portraying the mores of his time. As a former newspaper man, he understood the importance of capturing the particular realities of a story, even if they were dressed in fiction.

In creating his painting series, Beattie was not portraying the essence of his era. He  chose to create a view of history that removed the suffering of the kidnapped victims of slavery. Neither did he depict the genocide visited upon the Native Americans who were driven off their tribal lands. He chose to create work that pleased his patron; work depicting idyllic moments; free of want or hardship. He edited out the uncomfortable moments in a foreshadowing of what Gary Black is currently attempting to do by removing the work wholesale.

Black claims he is not comfortable with the depictions because they whitewash the realities of Georgia using slaves to build it’s wealth and power. But by the same token, it seems he is attempting to push that uncomfortable skeleton into a literal and metaphoric closet.

In denying our history, we belittle the suffering of those already made small, nameless and faceless. How can we pretend the abuse did not happen? How can we bear to make the abhorrent more palatable by a self-imposed blindness, by euphemism or by proxy? What do these incidents say about our willingness to confront our past so that we remain aware of our potential, as humans, to dehumanize others?

As an artist, this chills me; this marginalization of painful truths for the sake of ease. It does not bode well for our maturity as citizens or as a society.

Visual Arts Reviews for the IC: NCNC at SECCA

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Arts In View: Visual Art Reviews from Island Ford Art

North Carolina New Contemporary at South East Center for Cultural Arts

Just to keep you on your toes, we decided to visit one of the exceptional galleries we neglected to mention in our last column.

The South East Center for Contemporary Art, SECCA was founded in 1956 as a nonprofit art exhibition space. Since 1972 it’s been located at the 32 acre J.R. Hanes estate at 750 Marguerite Drive in Winston-Salem.

If you want to make a day of it, SECCA is next to the Reynolda House of America Art, Reynolda Village, and a few blocks from Wake Forest University. SECCA incorporates the original Hanes English style mansion with 20,000 sq ft of open gallery space, a 300 seat auditorium, and state of the art building systems to provide the region with a first rate exhibition space of national stature.

There is room for a wide variety of sculpture, large scale, and interactive pieces in the larger spaces and standard works in the small intimate space within the original mansion, or on the beautiful grounds.

Since 2007 SECCA has operated under the umbrella of the NC Museum of Art which means the facility can be maintained and best of all, admission is visitor donations.

The Current Exhibition, North Carolina New Contemporary, runs from October 8, 2010 to March 13, 2011

This show is supposed to be “underground” North Carolina artists. There are only a couple of problems with that: a couple of them used to live in NC and the term underground just don’t mean what it used to.

The fact that the work is being exhibited in a gallery with national stature suggests they may have come up from the depths and into the open arms of the establishment.

Let me give you a couple of pointers on visiting shows like this 1) Don’t  read the artist’s or curator statements before you take in the visual. Statements only serve to “tell you what to think about the art.” We want you to have your own reactions. 2) This show has evolved from “street art”, aka graffiti, so it has an interesting mix of “lowbrow” and “highbrow” imagery. Enjoy it as a pop culture “mash-up”. Sorta like those restaurants that server Mexican-Chinese food.

Darren Goins makes art from a wide variety of materials, from the standard, painting and printmaking and combines it with other media like glitter, neon and industrial foam. They are “eye candy” lots of bright colors and frantic visual movement.  They echo, in their color use, to contemporary Japanese prints, but Goins marries those to western abstract art.

If you look carefully at a number of works, you will see shapes and patterns that repeat, suggesting a language of sorts.

Hieronymus Schofferman’s small works are notable for their intimacy. They have the quality of random doodles that lead to intensely worked imagery. Schofferman’s larger work presented here is visually muddy, lacking the striking graphic quality of the smaller pieces.

James Marshall’s large untitled mural is problematic for me, because it’s been “done” by artists like Sol Lewitt and Gerhardt Richter’s hard edged abstractions. This doesn’t mean its “bad”, it simply didn’t work for me.

Brian Mashburn’s work on the other hand, is an interesting mix of flat shapes intermingled with atmospheric landscape. It has the effect of creating a push-pull of illustration and fine art technique. These paintings evoke stage or film sets awaiting action, or the next scene of a continuing story. As a side note, the paintings with figures would be just as effective without the inclusion of people.

I love Taiyo la Paix work. It is comic book fantasy writ large. I may not agree with his stated reasoning for creating the work; but it is beautifully rendered and exquisitely composed.

la Paix combines several art genres with the soft pastel colors associated with Asian design. Illustration and a sometimes unique point of view create a snap shot candidness to the paintings. In his way, if not in subject matter, this work echoes Toulouse Lautrec’s paintings of the late 19th century.

Gabriel Shaffer uses elements of Native American iconography and blends it with a style very specific to the “underground” And therein lies my issue with the work. It may not bother people who aren’t familiar with the style, but mentally I couldn’t move beyond it to see the work clearly.  In other ways, these works echo more mainstream neo expressionist painters like A. R. Penck and Georg Baselitz. The surfaces are thick with layers of color and texture; covered with primal glyphs.

The paintings may not have thrilled me, but I was drawn to the pyramid created from recycled metal, wood and iron.

Sean Pace’s sculpture reconfigures recognizable objects; salvaged pianos, motorcycles, arm chairs into mechanical objects.

One piece, Power Struggle, consists of a series of arms made of welded rusty iron which seemingly crawl across the floor wielding a shotgun and a sword. At the top sits a large Kotte lamp. This spotlight serves as a focused eye, looking through a series of magnifying glasses floating around the “head”. Each lens examines a small plastic zoo animal held delicately at the end of an alligator clip.

Mathew Curran’s mixed media work consists of a series of heads created in spray paint on wood panel. The interesting thing is it has all the qualities of a massive pen and ink drawing or wood block printing. The “marks” made by the spray paint are so linear and precise; you are drawn to both the image and the method.

Mathew teams up with Derek Toomes to collaborate on Deus Ex Machina a billboard sized wall mural utilizing imagery from the film Metropolis.

Overall, the show was nicely cohesive. With a little effort, you get a strong sense the similarities in color, style and presentation echoing back to the artist’s street roots. Go and spend some time with the work, you will find something you like. We promise.

If you want to see more of a particular artist’s work, visit our web site. We will provide links to websites featuring each artist at Piedmont Foothill Venues

We’ll see you there!

A poem in honor of the eclipse

Bodies in Motion

Me and my baby
view the eclipse.

Two luminescent bodies
slip
past and future
intertwined,
along a sweet
bisecting line.

(1995)

Decline by Charles Bukowski

naked along the side of the house,
8 a.m., spreading sesame seed oil
over my body, Jesus, have I come
to this?
I once battled in dark alleys for a
laugh.
now I'm not laughing.
I splash myself with oil and wonder,
how many years do you want?
how many days?
my blood is soiled and a dark
angel sits in my brain.
things are made of something and
go to nothing.
I understand the fall of cities, of
nations.
a small plane passes overhead.
I look upward as if it made sense to
look upward.
it's true, the sky has rotted:
it won't be long for any of
us. 
from The Olympia Review - 1994

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