In the Studio #30

Last week was the end my residency at the Vermont Studio Center and it was a busy one with three projects completed and two studio visits from visiting artists. It’s sad to have wrapped things up. I feel ill prepared to face my life back in Pennsylvania again. I’m heading into a troubling season with my work situation and my housing looking uncertain. But before I face all that  I wanted to take a moment to give my assessment of the Studio Center, my time with the two visiting artist visits I met and an update on the work that I started at VSC. Here I am feverishly working on a triptych:

First my assessment of the Vermont Studio Center. Well first off it’s well named. This place is squarely focused on artists producing work in studio. This comes perhaps at the expense of structured social engagement with other residents. The facilities are large well lite and ventilated. There were large workshops set aside for printmaking, photography, sculpture and woodworking with all except printmaking made available for everyone. I was bugged by the fact that I had to steal press-time in the printmaking studio because it seemed to me like there was plenty of room for everyone to use those presses. Anyway for the most part studios were located near living quarters – though in my case I had a bit of a hike to my apartment.

Meals were served three times a day whether you wanted it or not. The food was good maybe a bit too much on the crunchy side for me.  There was a nice communal space next to a library with cable TV, board games, a free color copier and an kitchenette. The staff and other residents were diverse which made for a rich social experience (though as I said before it was one you had to largely make yourself). All in all it was not a bad experience though, as with most thing, there was some room for improvement.

On that note as mentioned before there was a lack of directed social events, a noticeable but not too fatal situation at VSC that I’ve been told is intentional. There are also some staff friendliness issues particularly with the long-term resident artists. (I was told that they get exhausted from meeting new people every month, but as someone who works in retail — and who can never use that excuse for poor or not effusively pleasant customer service — I found the excuse pathetic).  Wifi was also an issue. It was only available in the studios and in the lodge but not in the living quarters which made it difficult to take work home. Finally, there could have been more time with the visiting artist. Since there were so many resident artists their not everyone got a chance to meet up with the visiting artists who came to VSC to give critiques. These issues are somewhat minor and if addressed I think the studio center would be a perfect first residency for artists and a place I can recommend to my friends.

As for those visiting artists, I had two back to back meetings last Monday morning and they were both very illuminating though for different reasons. I met with Sarah McEneaney and Miguel Luciano and was nervous for both visits. I met with Sarah McEneaney first. I prepared by going down a list of questions in the hopes that I would get the most out of our time. I asked her about the space in my painting “The Hotness in Concert”. I was concerned about the tightness in the piece. She seemed to not mind the close quarters and liked the use of colors and repeated circle motifs throughout the work. I also asked her about other artist opportunities and she was kind enough to provide both suggestions of other artists to look at but also her contact info so I can use her as a recommender, which is like career advancement gold.

Miguel Luciano’s visit came right after Sarah’s and I was a bit flummoxed and less prepared for it. Miguel seemed interested chiefly in my large city of the dead drawing. The comment he mentioned over and over again was that it reminded him of obsessive doodling done in between the margins of school notebooks, which I appreciated because that’s exactly the feeling I was going for. He seemed puzzled, maybe a little baffled, by how planned my drawings and paintings are. I think he believes I could achieve similar results without all the studies and under-paintings. I’m not sure I agree with that but I will certainly try to stop sooner in a future work to see if I like the look of unfinished work. Both visits left me with lots of steam in my engines which is a good thing since I think it will be needed to get me through the long summer, when things tend to slow down for me creatively.

For this residency I finished two large wall drawings, a piece I called “de Mortius Mephistopolis (City of the Dead)” and a temporary wall drawing I call “Conspiracy of the Gods” named after a Trans Am track I like and wrote about in a previous post. Here are the images:

De Mortius Mephistopolis

Conspiracy of the Gods

I also finished my painting ” The Hotness in Concert No.1″ and a print that I’m calling “Johnson Family Values” named after the friends I made at the residency. Here are the images of those pieces:

The Hotness  in Concert No. 1

Johnson Family Values, woodblock print

In addition to these four finished worked I also finished two preparatory drawings for future Hotness in Concert paintings and finished 85% of a triptych I’m calling “Matthew Likes Darkies Best”. This was the work that I was perhaps the most afraid of tackling since it started out as a piece of racist sheet music found in the belongings of a friend Matthew Stitzer, who passed away in January. Matthew was white and that’s only relevant because he always said he was racist against white people. I thought that was a funny way of saying ‘I’m down with the swirl’. Anyway in my meeting with Miguel he advised me to tread carefully with race-based art and to act responsibly. He gave also gave me a couple names of artists who have dealt with race in smart and thoughtful ways, I’ll be exploring his and all my VSC artist suggestions in a future post. And so I tackled this triptych slowly, figuring out its pattern and general theme. I decided to play cat and mouse with the racist text sometimes hiding it behind other crudely drawn imagery, other times altering it to show more acceptable language and sometimes just burning the sheet music as an act of self-effacement. By the end I think it will turn into a kind of self-portrait similar to the “Wanted”  pieces I did some 15 years ago.

My experience in Johnson, Vermont was amazing. I met friends I will carry forward my entire life. I think the residency was very expensive but I will make it worth my efforts in the end even though right now it feels like a foolish investment. For all future residencies I go on I will make sure they are fully paid.

Okay I think I will leave you this post with a jazz selection from John Coltrane that I grooved to while busting dishes for my work study at VSC. It’s called Mr. Syms. Here’s a YouTube video of the piece. Until next time…

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