Yesterday night I attended an art opening at the Bethlehem House Gallery for their “Summer Show” and to mark their two year anniversary. It was a very nice show with works from a couple friends of mine; Darrell George, whose has a studio down the hall from me at the Banana Factory, Ward Van Haute, who manages the gallery, and Rigo Peralta, whose is also showing with me at Gallery 514 for the Printmakers Society of the Lehigh Valley show “Lasting Impressions”. I don’t attend many openings for which I am not a part, I’m embarrassed to say. This is mostly due to my lack of transportation and work schedule; but for the part that’s due to my laziness I wanted last night to be an opportunity to correct past poor habits. Aside from seeing some very good work – I of course loved Darrell’s work but also liked several pieces by Easton based artist Marta Whistler – I also had a very good conversation with Edigio Galgano. Edigio and I were in the “Winter Show” at the House Gallery and we spent a good portion of the evening talking about the corporatization of the arts in Allentown. That is to say, the attempt by civic and corporate leaders in Allentown to impose an arts agenda on the town without the consultation advice or assistance of local artists. Edigio told me a story of how he recently attended a meeting that he was not ever meant to know about where he learned of how a consultant firm proposed to bring arts solutions to the city that had worked elsewhere in gentrifying the town. The whole thing reminded me of a recent episode of South Park where the town decided to gentrify the poor section of town in order to bring in a Whole Foods and change the towns reputation. Allentown, desperate as it is for a face-lift, is basically doing a South Park “SoDoSoPa”. See what I mean here:
While these efforts may in the end be noble the lack of impute from local artist seemed alarming to me and got me to thinking about how diffuse individual voices are when faced against a well organized power structure. Talking with Edigio reminded me again of the importance of championing artists who are trying to live expressive lives and supporting authentic creative communities. Here are a couple pieces of Edigio’s from when he showed at the Bethlehem House Gallery this last winter, Here’s “Get Up” and “Unity”:
On that note I’d like to turn now to my final three artists who were recommended to me at the Vermont Studio Center; David Hammons, Giovanni Piranesi, and Lynda Barry. I wish I’d gotten to these artists sooner than late July because now it seems like that residency was a million years ago but I’m glad I’m finally finishing it up now. So David Hammons….
The first time that I ever heard of David Hammons was when one of the gallerists at Triple Candie – a contemporary art gallery formally in Harlem – Peter Nesbett put on an unauthorized retrospective of the artist work that the artist was not happy about. I lived around the corner on 148th street and Amsterdam at the time and I thought any exposure was good exposure so it didn’t seem to be an issue to me. Knowing now how jealously Hammons guards his reputation and exposure I see what Peter did was a great violation. Anyway, Hammons work to me seemed then to me to be hurried and casual. I now see his pieces as courageous with a healthy dose of irony and re-appropriation. Works like “Orange is the New Black” and “Basketball Chandelier” both contain the sort of smart whimsy and strangely harmonious craftsmanship that captures my imagination.
Hammons recently exhibited at the Mnuchin Gallery in New York and for his requisite review from the Times, Holland Cotter opened his piece with a quote from the artist. Hammons says to the art historian Kellie Jones, “I can’t stand art actually. I’ve never, ever liked art.”, to which Jones asks “Then why do you make it?”. Hammons offers “Because art is about symbols and outrageously magical things happen when you mess around with a symbol.” Symbolism is the reason I think I was lead to this artist.
Later in the article Cotter observes:
However you read Mr. Hammons’s recent art, and many ways are possible, one central fact holds true: He is messing with — expanding, exploding — ideas of what art means, and especially what “black art” means, making it broad enough to be borderless, useless as a descriptive label by a controlling and abidingly racist market culture. The soundtrack for his survey speaks to this. Years ago it might have been jazz; this time he has filled Mnuchin’s imperious quarters with classical Japanese court music, further shaking up fixed notions of Otherness.
Here are those two pieces of Hammons I liked from his March show at Mnuchin Gallery “Orange is the New Black” and “Basketball Chandelier” respectively.
While at my residency my friend Anthony Falcetta turned me onto the late 17th century Italian artist Giovanni Piranesi. Piranesi was known mostly as a printmaker most famous for his series “The Prisons“. Piranesi life seems to me very much that of a hard working man steadily climbing the career ladders of the day to achieve a position of prominence in his creative community. The son of a stonemason introduced to Latin and the ancient Roman world by his brother at a young age…, an apprentice to famed printmaker Giuseppe Vasi …,and great admirer and friend of Tiepolo. Piranesi would help to redefine etchings of cityscapes and ancient architecture eventually receiving the patronage of popes and cardinals alike.
Anthony pointed me in the direction of Piranesi due to his “The Prisons” series of etchings. These prints, 16 in total, depict vast subterranean halls filled with all manner of machine; pullies ladders ropes, all perilously connected to rope-bridges stairways and arched corridors. The works feel like creepy MC Escher drawings without a sense of humor. In fact they suggest passageways or portals into some dark necropolis. I think since I was working on a City of the Dead, Anthony thought these works were fitting source material for it and future works. Here’s several prints from “Carceri d’invenzione” or “The Imaginary Prison.”
Rachelle Hill was one of the amazing artists that I met in Vermont. She was a printmaker who shared the studio next to mine and who came to the residency in the middle of the program. I was told that residents who arrive in the middle of the month often felt not included in the group, so when Rachelle arrived I took it upon myself to make her my buddy. Rachelle is awesome and complex and a hard hard worker, which I respect. She produced ethereal and somewhat architectural prints that reminded me of urban planning along with a good deal of autobiographical pieces. Anyway she introduced me to my final artist I’d like to speak briefly on, Lynda Barry.
Barry is a comic artist best known for such works as “The Good Times are Killing Me”, “One! Hundred! Demons!” and the work for which I was introduced to her with “Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor”. Rachelle had a copy of this book amongst her things in her studio during the last few nights of the residency where I discovered and fell in love with it. This book is the best primer for how to stay creative while maintaining good drawing discipline and inspiration that I have ever seen. When I get another opportunity to teach at the college level this book will be required reading for my course!
The British paper The Globe and Mail said of Barry and the book comic-book Syllabus:
In recent years, Lynda Barry – half cartoonist, half guru, and entirely irrepressible – has created her own genre, handcrafting inspirational guidebooks about how and why to be creative… Scrawled out and doodled all over the page, collaged together with snippets of schoolwork, snatches of poetry, and drawings of weird-looking monsters, Barry’s notes [in Syllabus] double as dispatches from a fertile unconscious, and testify once more to the unfathomable depths of human invention.
Here are some images from the book:
Laid out like a typical college syllabus – Barry teaches at the University of Wisconsin, Madison – Syllabus charts a typical drawing course using humor, practicality and motivational observations making it a must read for students new to art. I particularly liked her sections on inspiration.
There’s much more to Lynda Barry, as there is with all the artists I briefly looked at over the last few weeks, and I’m sure to reference them in the future.
One of my house mates Karen, has a granddaughter Avi whose about 5 or 6 years old. Avi is active – bouncing off the walls and engaging with everyone and everything around her. She’s truly sprite-like. She was staying with her grandma last week and decided to have a little “creative-time” painting. I was in my head space and not paying close attention to her while she was creating but I’ve been really looking at the pieces she made and I’m enchanted. Here are a couple of Avi’s pieces:
For my musical selection this post, and for purely sentimental reasons related to heart ache, I’ve selected the old but newly recorded Radiohead song “True Love Waits”; here’s a live version of it. Hopefully we’ll all get that one person we want and deserve.
Okay next I’ll show you what’s up in the studio. Until then be well.