It’s that time of year again for me, the end of Contemporary Art Month. Like last year, it is an intense period. This year, I had to leave before the month was over. Seven Minutes in Heaven is my biggest curatorial project of the year and then two weeks later I had a solo exhibition of my new body of work, Practice Makes Perfect, at Plazmo contemporary. As if that wasn’t already enough, there are the tons of exhibits open for Contemporary Art Month. Every gallery and most artists try to exhibit, it’s an important month. Of course I had to go to as many as I could fit in. It is about exposing myself to what people are doing and offering my support for their projects. I also made a major change in my life and left Ruiz-Healy Art. Before determining my next direction, I needed some breathing room.
After my exhibit at Plazmo, there were still shows, including the CAM Perennial 2014 Untitled (Public Display) at the Guadelupe Cultural Center. This was a two-person show of Mark Menjivar and Christie Blizzard. I was one of a few selected for a studio tour by visiting curator Leslie Moody Castro in April. While I wasn’t chosen, I always am glad to have a curator look at my personal work. I may not be right for this particular project, but I may be for something in the future. As a curator myself, I know a studio visit can open up working with different people and offer new opportunities. My friend Alex was also invited to participate in a smaller group exhibition in the Perennial where they took their work off of the walls and walked it around the neighborhood, bring art to the people of the West Side of San Antonio. Blizard gave away pieces of her artwork for free, I took home this pixilated photograph. Menjivar “fixed” candles individually for good luck, wealth, and love, adding a piece of art completed by Blizard. I know Menjivar from when I worked at the Southwest School of Art, so I am always excited to see more of his work. It turns out he only fixed 40 candles, so I was lucky to get one.
One piece I was eager to see was The Lovers, 1928. It is romantic and haunting at the same time. Nearby on display was a photo titled Amor, 1928 that was of two people standing together with their heads covered. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find an image of that on the internet. The image of what was real was beautiful.
However, when I was searching images, I came across this other painting by Magritte and a photo credited as being of Magritte that reminded me of the Amor photograph. I’m not entirely sure of the title, it has been coming up just as Lovers, and I can’t find a date to this particular piece. Sometime, I’m sure I can find some kind of raisonne and get the details.
One reason I’m drawn to these particular images is because I have always been impressed when a photograph captures a surreal moment without digital manipulation. My particular fascination in art is with reality. The last couple of years I have been working with found objects because they are what exists, discarded remnants of peoples lives. During this period exhibited here, Magritte plays with reality in many different ways, including a frame within a frame within a frame, what is (or isn’t) an object, or as in the piece Representation, 1937. Another piece I dedicated some time to, this realistically painted female torso in a shaped canvas entranced me.
This exhibition was amazing. I spent a long time going through, slowly digesting the imagery in front of me. When I was done, I walked through again. There was also a smaller exhibit of his later works where Magritte played with reality through visual texture and patterns, but I was not drawn to them, not like his early works. When I was done at the main building, I decided to head to my favorite building, to see Cy Twombly. Spending time surrounded by the work of Twombly is very contemplative for me. I have written about a previous experience I had at the Twombly Gallery.
This time around I was able to get some images from one of my favorite bodies of work by Twombly, a set of five paintings, Untitled (Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair), 1985. This is another body of his work that consists of one title but are made up of several paintings.
In his despair he drew the colours from his own heart
In drawing, and drawing you his pains are delectable his flames are like water
While I didn’t go to the Dan Flavin installation located in another building by the Menil this time, I did go to the James Turrell on the Rice Campus, Twilight Epiphany. Unfortunately, I lost the photos I took during the the light show. But these two photos from before it began show on a low scale the color theory that Turrell applies.
This was another quick, yet inspiring trip to Houston. Art keeps my thoughts processing and clears my head. I am very fortunate that Houston is so close and regularly has fantastic temporary, as well as permanent exhibits that I love to visit. Being able to just take in the beauty of it instead of having to organize or explain it is such a different experience. At the end of it all, I am able to focus and be calm again.
I love street art. Something about the freedom of working without traditional materials in an often unlimited canvas captivates me. Those are some of the ideas that first attracted me to art. I have long followed the career of Banksy, one of the most infamous street artists around. Controversial for his messages, as well as the fact that his art is technically done illegally, his career has spanned across the world on walls, in books, and in film. For the month of October, Banksy took up residency in New York City, a place long known for avant-garde art. While I am fortunate enough to visit NYC fairly often, I was not able to be there when as part of his residency, Banksy was putting out a piece of work a day. However, I do have friends there, just as curiously wondering what he would do there. Since this was such a major event in the art world, I wanted to know more and get a first hand account of what exactly went on there. So I introduce to you my first guest writer, artist Jonathan A. Sims and new resident to Brooklyn, and his thoughts on the phenomenon that is Banksy.
Reflections on “Better Out Than In,” the Banksy NY Residency
Banksy’s New York “residency” started on October 1, 2013, approximately six weeks after I unloaded a Penske truck with my fiancée into our Brooklyn apartment. It was easy to be excited about it.
There is no denying that New York City has an irrepressible reputation for being the epicenter of the arts in the United States. And once you get here, and you start to pay attention, this fact slowly cements itself into the brains of newcomers. It’s the names. The names of the biggest American and international artists. The names of the best-funded galleries. The names of the biggest museums, with the names of some of the most famous masterworks. And it quickly becomes apparent that in New York City, apart from anywhere else in the U.S., all of these names from books and blogs and documentaries are suddenly very, very, accessible.
For the month of October in New York, Banksy was the most accessible of them all. The arts media started to drum up anticipation, and the blogs began to speculate. I didn’t pay too much attention until the first piece dropped. It seemed like the whole city was caught up in the scavenger hunt. Anyone could see images and location clues of the artwork du jour by simply checking Banksy’s Instagram or banksyny.com. The arts blogs ran posts that quickly filled with “updates” before you even reached the lede, crediting the first lucky searcher who found the work, or noting the dramatic crowds, or posting photos of the work after it had been vandalized by others. A friend of mine Instagrammed a photo with the October 1 stencil, but not before the “Graffiti is a Crime” street sign had been swiped, “not five minutes!” before he got there.
There was a local phone number stenciled nearby, and calling it greeted the listener with Muzak and a calming voice (you can still hear this “gallery description” on the website). A clever parody of the audio guides you can hear on rented audio players in museums, the narrator proceeds to mispronounce Banksy’s name and make fun of the typical artist statement verbiage before throwing up his hands and pronouncing “You decide. Really. I have no idea.” The narrator also mentions that the piece has “probably been painted over by now.”
This transience was a major part of the experience with Banksy NY. For anyone else in the world unable to see these works firsthand, the first image taken by Banksy or his assistants is the way they encounter the work– in pristine condition, fully in line with the artist’s intentions. When we finally got a chance to see his October 2 stencil, “This is my New York Accent,” you could see the hands of at least four or five other vandals. Graffiti begets graffiti, and Banksy is a magnet for spray paint, markers, and thieves.
Viewers are so used to seeing artwork as inviolable. Spend enough time in museums, and most of us will at some point be firmly chastised by a docent or guard for getting too close to a piece, or forgetting to turn off a flash, or some other minor gallery crime. These institutions work hard to create an atmosphere where visitors maintain an assiduous self-consciousness. With public art, there is something exciting about having no restrictions with the art. And there is also offensiveness in seeing that same art molested by others.
Banksy was very careful and very smart about where he chose to display his art. Walking past the Bedford stop on the L train in Williamsburg (the epicenter of the tragically hip neighborhood), we stumbled upon is first mobile piece. “A New York delivery truck converted into a mobile garden (includes rainbow, waterfall and butterflies),” was driven and left at local hot spots chosen to reach maximum promotional visibility. It attracted crowds and cellphone lenses. Shortly after we found it, inexplicably, a young man decided to climb into the truck and walk around its cramped interior. Once he got in there, I think he realized that he had no idea why he did it, and soon climbed back out. It was a mindless decision. It is easy to guess that most of the vandalism of the Banksy artwork was driven by the same mindset.
I couldn’t get upset about the destruction of the public work for very long. With few exceptions, these were illegal canvasses to begin with. The choice of Banksy to continue to work as a rebel artist invites that same kind of behavior. But the early culture that emerged around working in stencil and spraypaint demands that authenticity as a street artist be accompanied with risk and disobedience.
Maintaining street rep normally also includes an apparent indifference for the material gain that would accompany being an international art star, a disingenuous myth that continues to celebrate the “starving artist” as the most pure form of the professional. Banksy is now extremely wealthy, but he has carefully choreographed the impression that he is still giving his art away. Perhaps the most notorious and humorous day of “Better Out Than In” was a video of an old man in Central Park selling authentic and signed Banksy canvases for $60 each. The punch line? Only eight paintings sold for a total of $420, though some media outlets inflated the value to $225,000 in total.
Everyone was talking about the payday. How if we had been there, we could have raked it in. Of course, it isn’t funny to remind people that the paintings themselves were pretty boring, and if any name besides Banksy was attached to them, it would be hard to value them at $60 each. In the end, it was, like everything else produced in October by Banksy, a feat of amazing marketing. A clever promotional event, in which every part serves to increase the value of the artistic artifacts.
If there is a single argument that can be made in justifying Banksy as a meaningful contemporary artist, it is in the fact that the market price of his work continues to confront us with the dilemma of defining what is valuable as “art.” Property owners who had never heard of Banksy before were suddenly confronted with a totally new situation. In a closet somewhere nearby, or in the trucks of professional vandalism remediators, sit buckets of thick paint ready to erase graffiti. These buckets get employed hundreds of times a week all over New York City. If you walk up to the wall you own and find a crowd of people ready to attack you for painting on your wall, it can be pretty stunning. If art has enough cultural or material value to challenge the accepted notion that vandalism is inherently wrong, then the word’s definition has to be expanded again for the millionth time.
But in that same fact rests the anger and resentment that I was surprised to find in New York against Banksy. It is no surprise to find that many established members of the arts community judge the work as banal, as they are wont to do, and scoff at its popularity amongst the youth. Rebellion is the leitmotif that constantly follows Banksy. His refusal to come out of the shadows of anonymity and work in a more traditional capacity as an artist rankles more than a few people, an irritation even more grating by his inarguable success. Articles appeared in New York papers telling Banksy that he was unwelcome here— a recurring theme among them centered around the cosmic injustice that Banksy could elicit such a popular response when New York’s own resident graffiti artists, such as 5 POINTZ in Queens, are languishing.
In the last week of October, in the buildup to Halloween, Banksy unveiled an absurd and timely performance piece in the Bowery, which was to remain up from dusk to midnight from Friday to Sunday. A friend of mine texted me on Sunday asking if I had seen it yet, and we were compelled by the deadline to grab a train into Manhattan. There, behind a large fenced area on a concrete slab, a humongous mannequin of Death himself crouched in a remote-control bumper car and zipped back and forth, his battle-worn scythe extended above him in homage to the sparking electrical contact typical to the carnival ride. Musicians took turns playing continental accordion music as interludes between the real show: disco lights flashed and a machine pumped smoke as “Don’t Fear the Reaper” blared into the cool night. The Grim Reaper zipped into overdrive at these moments, and the bobbed to and fro on springed joints in the cramped space and occasionally slammed into a wall with stunning force. The whole thing was utterly ridiculous. View video here
In that ridiculousness is the joy of Banksy. Almost all of his work hinges on humor in some way—be it the general silliness of stuffed animals going to slaughter, or the observational jokes at the expense of capitalism or the political establishment, or the situational comedy of his site-specific gags involving children and beavers. A lot of the jokes are clever, and viewers enjoy his ironic juxtaposition of the beautiful and the decrepit (butlers and geisha girls), or the political and entertainment (Syrian fighters and Dumbo), and this alone probably goes a long way in explaining his popularity. But like anything that relies on joke-telling, some of the jokes aren’t that funny, and work built on facetiousness will always risk being seen as trivial.
But seeing the Grim Reaper riding a bumper car and slam into a wall with a Blue Oyster Cult soundtrack? That just makes me happy.
Jonathan Sims is a painter living in Brooklyn, New York. His work can be seen at www.chromadetic.com.
For the second time this year I head to New Orleans. This time I was on a vacation, I finally took some time where I didn’t have to be anywhere, so I didn’t have an art agenda. However, my one priority was to find Banksy from when he did a “residency” there. I had also been following his month in New York and am interested in the messages that he wants to leave with his graffiti.
It wasn’t hard to find. I just googled Banksy in New Orleans and found out that he was in New Orleans three years after the Hurricane Katrina, in 2008. I easily found Umbrella Girl still existed in Marigny neighborhood. Considered to be one of his most poignant pieces from this series, the umbrella is supposed to protect her but instead is the source. It had plexi glass over it that was broken through, left with a note PLEASE DO NOT COVER written in marker.
It was in an lower class neighborhood, in fact on the corner on an empty building, at a bus stop. This is an important factor for me, it really shows Banksy is trying to bring art to the people, trying to discuss their struggle.
Photos taken of the guy. Apparently he covered up the area to be in private.
I’m lucky she still exists. A total of fourteen pieces were made but only a couple remain today.
Just as recently as July 2013, A Girl Frightened by Rat was covered up by graffiti. The tag obviously intentional, bearing the words “real graffiti”.
Yet someone began documenting the removal of some of the pieces as early as July 2009, about 9 months after they went up. This piece “Bush” was also intentionally covered up. Besides the threat of vandalism by taggers, Banksy had a war with the Gray Ghost. A man committed to the removal of graffiti in New Orleans, his name comes from the uniform gray paint he uses to cover up the walls.
In response, he became a subject of some of Banksy’s work, depicted as removing the color from the landscape.
While my intention in New Orleans wasn’t art related, but as usual, I couldn’t help but find images relating to one of my on going bodies of work. Salvation Everywhere is a project I have been working on for the last year. It is about being bombarded with religion everywhere you turn. Everyone wants to save you. If you perform certain rituals, such as prayer, confession, or attending mass, you will be cleansed. My ideas primarily form around this concept of ritual and repetition that drives people’s behavior. My second multi media series, it will be composed of sculpture, installation, sound, and photography. The images are what I found everywhere in New Orleans. Religion seemed to be embedded everywhere, including in and around the debauchery on Bourbon Street. I have been randomly capturing images of religion that exists everyday, everywhere. It has been a very interesting project to work on, However, to collect the amount of found items and images I would like to present will take quite a while longer. Many of my projects take a year or two to complete. They are normally larger in scale and generally require much contemplation, Working on my art has really taught me the virtue of patience.
New Orleans is a city of mystery and beauty. There is much to explore, from art to the streets. Any visit here has left me with unique experiences. Hopefully next time I visit I can dedicate a little more time to art. Although with all the inspiration I found, I consider this trip to be very successful art wise.
Enjoying seeing Cindy Sherman so much in New York, I was excited to be able to view her Retrospective again because it was coming to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). Of course, I did write about my experience with Sherman at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). It had opened in Dallas in mid March, but I was way too busy to go then. Although, having said that, I did make time to see Cy Twombly and Picasso in Houston in March. Since I had known in advance, I was able to plan a good time to get out of town, get cheap bus tickets on Megabus, and my friend was able to get a free hotel room for a couple of nights. I always want to get out of town to see art. Finally arriving at the exhibit, well, was not quite as exciting. Not because I had already seen it, but the display didn’t seem as dynamic. It was not a very dramatic display, in fact, it was a extremely safe. Walking up, was an open room with a piece taken from different series, then that was mixed within a series of large photographic murals from 2011-2012. This particular series is very different to me because Sherman doesn’t seem to be portraying a “type” here, she seems to be creating these characters out of her imagination. I don’t find these personas particularly relate-able, but they are the most curious. A juggler with short blond hair, wearing a nude body suit under a decorative leotard performing outfit, with knee socks and tennis shoes. This gives Sherman a very boy-like, flat chested appearance. Yet another image is also sporting the nude body suit, but this time a white corset costume made up with layers of fringe, reminding me of feathers, gold gloves going up to her elbows and maybe tap shoes. This is a more feminine depiction than the previous, emphasizing the body, complete with a red bob cut. Eventually, Sherman is “nude” in similar clothing, with breasts and pubic hair. Still a different piece is created from an odd, almost knight/warrior looking outfit, with some type of made up looking crest, then is strangely paired with velour tiger striped pants with footies or socks. This is the most of androgynous of the figures, with curly short hair and oversized baggy clothing. These misfits seem like they don’t belong anywhere, maybe roaming around as a band of gypsies or with a carnival. The background of these images are black and cream imagery of nature, I assume extremely photo-shopped photographs, as some have been altered to have a painterly quality while others remain more photographic looking. The background imagery reminds me of the pattern in toile, or some other traditional image. These pieces also differ from her other series as they are presented as site specific photographic murals that stick directly to the wall. MOMA had them displayed as you walk to the exhibit as well, however, they were eighteen feet tall. At the DMA, it was hard to tell the size, but approximately half that. The scale changes the presentation greatly. These fictitious characters should be much larger than life , their imaginary world should be an environment. Combined with the generic decision to make a compilation of her work in the front room and place them among the murals was not a successful layout. My other concern with the display was that fact that it did not flow. This was mainly due to the each gallery only having one door. You walk in, you walk out, you walk past the same art in the hall again, you go to the next room. I do hate directly comparing to MOMA, but the eleven galleries there led you to the next in a chronological experience through Sherman’s work, creating a continuity in the exhibit. Discussing this after with my friend Jim, he said I am spoiled working with such a great Exhibition Director, Kathy Armstrong, at the Southwest School of Art. It is true, I have learned a lot from her. Paying close attention to the display of the work, I have seen walls built and removed, even creating a room when necessary. I have experience from building a twelve foot wall in my studio, the DMA could have easily made some adjustments, as simple as adding an additional doorway to some of the rooms. Despite how I felt by the display of the work, ultimately, I was still pulled in by Sherman’s pieces. Her work stands on it own, captivating me. Most of the work on display is large scale, contrasting her first landmark series, Untitled Film Stills, 1977-1980, which is a collection of eight by ten inch black and white photos. Immediately, I am drawn to Untitled #153, 1985. Or as I refer to it, Dead. The image is haunting, her lifeless body staring off with empty, open eyes. Of course, this is my narrative. As it stands untitled, there is no indication that this is a dead body. It obviously isn’t, Sherman is alive and well. But these are the implications of a wet body, covered in debris, laying on the muddy ground. This piece in particular makes me want to know more. What happened? Who is she? Is she dead? Traumatized? I want to know how this body ended up laying on the ground in some non-descrip location, very anonymous. Even if this body is not supposed to be dead, this person certainly is not mentally present, looking far off into the distance, trying to think past what is happening now, possibly already empty and emotionally dead. Engaging pieces like this are what is great about Sherman’s work and leaves you with more questions than answers. The description on the wall discusses how Sherman’s construction of the feminine is far from desirable. This is notable in pieces such as Untitled #175, that I simply call Bulimic. One of her many images she refers to as Grotesque, this work is composed mainly of half eaten food and a pile of vomit. The food is strewn around, as if hastily eaten and discarded, in a frenzy, as if on a binge. In this series, Sherman begins to remove herself from the work, leaving only a glimpse or piece of herself, until ultimately removing herself for a period. The only reference to Sherman in this piece is the look of self loathing on her face as it is reflected in a pair of sunglasses, also haphazardly thrown down in the middle of this moment of excess. The piece still refers to feminine issues from a female perspective, even without the female form being the center of this image. The Grotesque Series is unappealing, experimental, and often disgusting. And I am very much drawn to them. A glimpse, to an eye, then just a shadow, until Sherman is completely removed from the image. Reading about this, Sherman felt she may be too dependent on her image and wanted to see if she could create the same type of narrative removing herself. The results are a body of work that discusses what lies beyond the surface in a very physical, almost aggressive manner, creating what I would consider her more shocking work. I have watched many people dismiss this work, barely glancing at it, possibly because it is so raw. In these pieces, there is not the illusion of being fake or uncomfortable, as many of her subjects take on. These take on a seemingly more honest approach as she confronts private, taboo topics. Changing her props to vomit and a shit looking substance covering all but her eye, this series is not for the faint of heart. While Sherman herself becomes absent, the use of her costumes such as wigs take over and the use of body parts from a medical catalog are used very sexual ways. The Centerfold Series is another controversial body of work by Sherman. I did discuss this when I originally saw this exhibition in New York. The work was commissioned, then rejected by Artforum, because it appeared too controversial. The issue surrounding these works stemmed from the emotional states portrayed and were seen as women about to or that have already been victimized. These women are all exposed in many ways. Physically, they are laying down and closely cropped, confined into a tight box of charged mental states. Emotionally, these women are staring off into the distance, not directly acknowledging the camera, as seen in other series such as the Head Shots or Socialites. They are contemplating, daydreaming, or possibly scared. The viewer becomes a voyeur to an intimate, vulnerable moment. I find them haunting and chilling, the emotions feel so real to me. Attracted by their displayed vulnerability as well as the fact that they are oblivious to the camera, the gaze, as they are caught up in their private thoughts with a public display of emotion. Greatly differing from the often straight on look from a naked woman normally in this same position. The format of the two page centerfold spread has long been associated with seduction, and displayed to be viewed by men. While the imagery Sherman provides is a contradiction to that, they are still exposed, but in a much different way than the stereotypical centerfold tart. As a series, this was the one I spent the most time with. Despite the original controversy, Untitled #96, 1981 was sold in 2011 for $3.89 million, breaking records for the sale a single photograph. That image displays a great use of color, with a young girl lost in thought staring off into the distance, holding a newspaper ad.
Sherman’s fashion series are parodies of the superficial world of clothing, name brands, and looks as a job. Untitled #137, 1984 or Fashion Junky, to me touches upon well known drug use in these circles, both as a model to stay thin, but also to have a good time, the night life. This “model” takes this further, looking strung out on heroin in expensive clothing. Another reference I read was she looked like a victim of domestic violence, hair disheveled, with a blank look on her face. Many critiques of Sherman’s work often and quickly discusses how many of the women seem to be victims. Other images in this series are stiff and aggressive, or display very over done women, and include many variations of beauty. As unflattering as these depictions are, quite a few designers and magazines have worked with Sherman, allowing her artistic vision to control the images. So why am I such a huge fan of Cindy Sherman? Yes, it begins with her imagery, but goes much deeper than that. It is impressive that she is the artist, model, stylist, makeup and hair artist, and photographer. I can appreciate the hard work and vision of an auteur. I talked earlier about a particular series of work I found unrelate-able. Discussing this with someone, they laughed, and said they couldn’t relate to any of her characters. I didn’t understand that. We have all seen the femme fatale, the housewife, the model, the socialite, a clown, etc… In fact, that is the relate-able part to me, these figures exist in our lives. Sherman is commenting on the plasticity and how malleable a persona actually is. Often, I believe she is talking about what lies beneath the facade. Most fairy tales are creepy. While I didn’t discuss any imagery from that series (or several others), Sherman is capturing the essence of what is there, not just glossing over what is on the surface, often our only type of experiences and encounters with these women. Ultimately, she is proving a person can be whom ever they choose. None of these personas are her alter ego. They are a compilation of the saturation of media Sherman has been exposed to all her life. In fact, since her work doesn’t refer to anyone specific, they are “representations of representations” (Respini, Eva, Cindy Sherman. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2012)
Time for another opening at the Southwest School of Art (SSA), which means time for another double duty day at the school. Working at two different positions in the school is a little odd but quintessential of my self employment, working about 9 hours divided up through out the day. I begin my day by opening the Gallery Shop on the Ursuline Campus from 10-2. The Gallery Shop will be closing very soon, by then end of the year. This will be my last time working half day due to an Exhibition Opening, and only about four more weeks till the closing date of December 29th. Having a couple of hours off in the day, I run errands, eat, and get ready to return. As Bartender for the openings, I am responsible for setting up the reception area and making sure I have everything I need, and then, of course, the break down of everything after the reception closes. The best part is getting to talk to everyone as they make their way around the exhibit. I discuss a possible curatorial opportunity with Meredith Dean that she recommended me for, as well as talk to several other people I haven’t seen in a while. As I answer the standard questions about what I am currently doing/working on, I realize I really do have a lot going on. My studio being the biggest and most immediate project, Seven Minutes in Heaven 2013 a close second.
Sun She Rise, Sun She Set, and You Ain’t Seen Texas Yet, work by Anita Valencia, is an incredible installation taking up the first, larger gallery space. Using common, discarded materials, she produced an entire environment re-purposing everyday items such as tin cans, bottle caps and wire hangers. Valencia brings these items to life as she turns them into objects in motion – including butterflies, tumbleweed, and a twister – and displays them in a way to welcome the viewer to meander through the new environment. Such an engaging exhibit is taking a serious issue and calling attention in a whimsical and playful manner. Upon further inspection, I notice butterflies bearing logos such as Pepsi or Tecate, discussing consumerism and consumption. The sheer number of butterflies alone represent a frightening number of discarded cans. As an artist myself reusing materials, I am interested in how an artist presents existing objects and whether it references it’s original use. I remember seeing Valencia’s exhibit at Cactus Bra a few years ago, which was much different. Still re-using common objects, those pieces were comprised of bottle caps on canvases. I much prefer this new environment as the language of her materials. Valencia just keeps getting better and better, I think understanding her materials more as she continues to create.
In the adjoining, much darker room is the work of Justin Boyd. Days and Days relates to Valencia by also discussing his surrounding environment, but in a much different way. Exhibiting his work in small, wall mounted boxes, each one contains a collage of found objects, expanding this definition to including sound recorded above and below the water, as well as video. The combined elements were all collected from the San Antonio River, making this piece about a specific environment. These polished boxes present an individual view of a more personal experience, records of his time spent on the river, by where Boyd lives. Having also previously exhibited a sound installation at Cactus Bra, Boyd’s sound piece there was of another environment. Presented much differently, as a large, rough, plywood painting of a broken tree, having to do with mining, I believe, it was quite a while ago. But he did create another sound piece dealing with the San Antonio River for the San Antonio Museum of Art, when they had an exhibit about water a few years ago. That was a large piece to partially walk around. Not presented as intimate collections, as in this current series. Since I work at SSA, I know the pieces are more complicated than the display allows the viewer to see. I will sometimes have the responsibility of turning them on in the morning when I occasionally open up the Gallery. I really enjoy that each box has to be turned on individually, slowing turning the room alive with sound as I make my way to each box.
While this work is very different from mine, I find it inspiring and thoughtful. Both artists are documenting what exists around them, with all the works constructed from objects, sounds, and imagery collected locally in San Antonio. These bodies of work interest me as individual points of views from within the same city. I suppose my work is yet one of many other perspectives, born and raised in San Antonio. My current work begins with the environment I am surrounded and influenced by, my installations discuss memories and experiences that I feel were a part of forming my identity, expanding into what we ultimately choose to let create our identities and influence our everyday lives. Using everyday objects such as bird cages, laptops, and pill bottles, I want to create discussions about the life we live and the life we are creating, directly referencing what takes place daily. I will continue to draw inspiration from what I surround myself with everyday.
This past weekend I headed to Houston to do more studio tours. This is only my 2nd time going to the Artcrawl, but I really enjoyed it last year, so my friend and I decided to head north. There are almost 200 artists participating, but this event is very different from the Austin studio tours. The biggest difference is that the Artcrawl only takes place in one day, where as the Austin tours are over two weekends. Last year I was a little disappointed in having such a short time to explore so many artists and spaces, but this year I was much more prepared. The fact that all of these artists are all in only about nine spaces really helped, other studio tours are much more spread out with less artists in more locations. In Houston, there seems to be a preference for renting studio spaces in large warehouses, or maybe that is just what is primarily available. While it is always great to work around or be associated with other artists, renting a studio with so many other people usually means there is a lot more bad art than good. But I will continue to look for artists that I want to work with, even though most of the time it does mean sifting through a lot of other art I’m not interested in. That’s ok. I try to prepare as much as I can by going through the artist list first. I still need to see what people are working on, what materials are used, topics being discuss, and how the work is presented. I always have a lot to learn from other artists. Meeting with another friend in Houston, the three of us begin the Artcrawl at Mother Dog Studios, a huge warehouse comprised of easily over fifty artists. Immediately walking in, there is a huge wall filled with the work of Kelly Alison. She is an artist I had previously worked with in Unconscious Desires, an exhibit I curated in 2009. Her colorful depictions of birds are engaging. The works exhibited here are all oil on paper, each measuring 28″ x 22″. There is always so much going on in her imagery, it’s hard not to get pulled in. These pieces are part of a series Tweet, 2011, in which Alison completed a piece every day for 365 days. On display she has 24 out of the 365 pieces. Based on current world events, she presents serious topics in her distinct style, discussing everything from the Japanese nuclear meltdown, local homelessness, to the economy. The work was then tweeted, resulting in this body of work being recognized and published in various sources. A couple have already sold today, which is always great during studio tours. However, she is not here. Since I have already gone through the artist list, I know she will be at her studio at Box 13. It is great to be able to view artists’ work through several different series, especially when it continues to evolve into new concepts. Walking into the studio of Katie Wynne, it is filled with assemblage type sculptures. Random items put together, initially, I’m not sure what to make of them. Then I see this beautiful piece of satin on the ground. It is slowly moving, very sensually, into itself. It is so simple, composed of two items, the satin and a motor in the middle creating the movement. She has a fantastic video of Untitled (Satin) on her website. I also find a massager with knitted covers over the moving parts. Again, creating a mesmerizing movement that draws me in. Both of these pieces are composed of a tactile element using a specific type of material and movement. Meeting Wynne, I discover these more sensual pieces are relatively new, compared to her other works. I discuss Seven Minutes in Heaven (SMIH) with her, these two particular pieces would fit well in the rooms of the Fox Motel. She seems interested and I get her business card. I would love to have her in the show. This is the second year in a row I have been to the studio of John Runnels and he is not there. His vulgar work using the word fuck in various media is very amusing. Creating these works with materials such as dictionaries, letterman jacket letters, money, and other assorted items, I like the variation in media used. He has another series of work on display as well, vintage looking nude photos that are displayed in oven doors. I prefer the Fuck Series much more. Literal and in your face, I think that is what I enjoy about these pieces. I would really like to talk to him about SMIH, I knew that as soon as I saw his work last year. Apparently, he is part of the duo that started the Houston Artcrawl. I’m sure he must be very busy. Unfortunately, I can find no business cards either. Well, I know where to find him. Clint Stone is another elusive artist I have yet to meet. His landscapes have this moody atmosphere that attract me, revealing another reality, a more emotive view of what is there. Finding artists that create something deeper than what is on the surface is always the goal. When I am trying to create a show, my focus is to present art that is not homogeneous. Maybe I am specifically taking on this challenge by curating shows that have strong connotations already associated with them. Currently, the group exhibitions I have been trying to put together include landscape, portraiture, and women and fabric. Those are very traditional topics that I hope to change expectations of. Ana Fernandez is another artist I would love to include in the landscape exhibit. I have written about her large scale oil paintings of homes reflecting the culture of San Antonio, when she exhibited in Austin, at Women and Their Work and also when she gave a lecture of her work in San Antonio, at the McNay Art Museum. The photography of Ken Frederick also catches my attention. His portraits of mannequins are done in a way that gives these lifeless bodies a persona. Staring at the pieces, I feel like it is a portrait of an actual person. Unfortunately, it is a little difficult to get a good photo, the frames are highly reflective. But I think even in this photo there is a sense of emotion. I get to speak with the artist for a little bit about this, discussing how much life I get from these images. This definitely works into my theme of untraditional portraiture. Finding artists with a unique perspective on such a traditional style with a rich history is going to take a while, but will be worth the effort. Box 13 is a gallery that also houses studios. I’ve never made it out here before, so I’m glad I was able to check it out. This is where Kelly Alison has her studio. It is great to talk to her. She shows me her current work, says she would love to show in San Antonio and would be happy to work with me again. That is always the highest compliment – when someone will return to work with you. She is an accomplished artist, exhibiting as far as in China and Peru, as well as extensively in Houston, including two permanent public art pieces. Unfortunately, I am not working specifically on anything that her work would fit into, but I am always coming up with new shows, so I make sure I have her updated contact information. Alison was in the first show I ever worked on as curator with out of town artists. It would be great to work with her again. Maybe I can work on getting her a solo show in San Antonio. Another artist I meet at Box 13 is Elaine Bradford. Her studio is brimming with transformed taxidermied animals that vary in size from birds and ducks to sheep. Bradford gives them new perspective, with a crocheted skin around the figures, creating a colorful outer layer. Completely concealing the original figure, the only revealed parts are the eyes of the animal. Bradford even constructs her own species of animals, complete with their own legends. There is a great description of these on her website, from her exhibit The Museum of Unnatural History. This includes a two headed sheep and another species that fuse their tales in a mating ritual when they have found their partner with the same pattern. While presenting those animals in a traditional setting of taxidermy, as you can see in this photo, other animals are exhibited in new and unusual ways, continuing to surprise in the display, as well as what constitutes as an “animal”, as she merges natural elements with the figures. Women and fabric? Maybe another artist that pushes the boundaries and expectations of a traditional medium that I could work with in the future. I have to admit I am pleasantly surprised with the variation of media I found being presented in this Artcrawl. While I found traditional media such as painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography being used, that was the extend of what was predictable. Their concepts pushed the media and what it means. Assemblage and crochet were additional methods I saw used to convey their ideas in interesting and engaging ways. This was a great studio tour. If I can find one artist to work with, I consider that a successful studio tour. But I may have found quite a number of different artists for several different projects. These are the things I get really excited about.
November means it’s time for studio tours! The East Austin Studio Tours takes place this month annually, in fact this is the 11th annual E.A.S.T. I have been going for quite awhile now and have always enjoyed visiting artist’s studios. At the time, I didn’t realize how important these tours would become for me or even that they would become something I would do to work. I just knew I liked it, so I kept doing it. Now, there are several objectives I have when doing studio tours. First, I want to see what is out there – what ideas other artists are working on now, the media, their surfaces. Second, I am curating. This began by keeping track of artists I was interested in working with, yes, just in my head. Then I finally started to see enough artists I liked working on similar ideas. The exhibitions I am currently piecing together include nontraditional contemporary portraiture, nontraditional landscape, and experimental process or media. And, of course, my main and largest project by far, Seven Minutes in Heaven 2013. However, a new priority is really observing these studio spaces for, well, their space. I want to compare how they store their work and supplies, divide their work space, display their art, or find new ways to use the space. Yes, I have always noticed, lusting after these large studios. But now it’s all possible. If I want it, I now have a place to make it happen. A little low on funds, I decided to experiment with how I could make this work. The tours take place over two weekends, with over 200 locations on the map, this included hundreds of artists. I could only attend the first weekend, next weekend is the Houston Artcrawl. I meant to rent a room, but I waited to long and couldn’t afford that. So I booked two roundtrip tickets on Megabus to go both Saturday and Sunday. My total was $12 – for both days. That is less than gas for one trip. That is why I love Megabus. The only drawback is that you can’t bring a bike. Luckily, since all the studios are fairly close in proximity, walking is a great option. Day 1 of the tour is very disorganized for me. I forgot how important it is for me to plan ahead and nothing was really going according to my loose plan anyway. Due to an accident on the freeway, I arrived an hour and a half later than expected. A friend from school and her husband met me and we drove not too far into the East Side of Austin. I had been so busy, I did not print a map, I figured I would just pick one up at one of the locations, I knew the general area. Yes, we got to the general area, no, there were no maps or catalogs available. They were all gone, this is a very popular tour. I was disappointed, the catalogs are actually a beautiful highlight of the tour, the one for the West Austin Studio Tours earlier in the year was very impressive. In fact, I feel the Austin Tours are a great model for artist studio visits, one of the largest and best organized. After what seemed like an eternity, I printed a map at the library and we were on our way. By not going through the list to edit, this caused major mistake #2. With a couple hundred of artists to view, I will probably only be interested in 25 – 35% of the art, and only about 10% will I seriously be interested in working with. While exploring is fun, with so much, there needs to be some organization. So a lot of Day 1 was spent trying to gain my bearings. I saw a lot of art, but not really anything that I would seriously consider. So I began to prepare for Day 2 on the ride home. I began to comb through the artist list. This begins by identifying the locations with the most artists there. If I had a catalog, each artist or location gets a page with an image of their work and their website. But no such luck and the catalog is not listed online yet either. That makes trying to form a strategic plan a little difficult. Day 2 was a million times better! First, I arrived on time. Armed with my map, I jumped in a cab and got dropped off at the furthest point away that I wanted to visit. And just spent the day walking back, hitting as many studios as I could. This included Big Medium, Pump Project Art Complex, and ARTPOST. Those three spaces alone had over fifty artists. A major highlight was finding Industry Print Shop. Immediately, I recognized the style of prints by the artist I saw at the Mexi-Arte Museum Graffiti Exhibit. There his work opened the show, overtaking the entire first wall. He has some work up, as well as some smaller prints on a table for sale. The works are sensual advertisements using sex for promotion. To promote what? These pieces don’t have a product to sell, just imagery and catchy slogans. These prints feel nostalgic, designed like vintage signs, but I begin to realize it’s also in the attitude. The sexy tart can always get what she wants. But how do those attitudes work today? Sex sells more than ever. Are these women being taken advantage of or in control of the situation? How have these attitudes changed in the last 50 years? Can a woman embrace her sexuality? While sex sells, there still remains the stigma of being a whore. Sex will make money but the woman better act like she doesn’t know anything about that. I pick a print to purchase, how can not? I also buy an awesome shirt for a gift. All I had to do was ask for more info. The artist is Antonio Diaz, and he is (one of?) the owner(s) of Industry. I let him know I am a fan of his work. Mentioning seeing their work somewhere else is always a great way to begin a conversation with an artists I want to meet. They are interested when you know their work or have seen their other shows. We go into his office and he shows me some more prints. I discuss Seven Minutes in Heaven 2013, inviting him. He would make a great addition to the show. Interested, he gives me his card, I will definitely be in touch. I have just begun to finally organize things for Seven Minutes in Heaven 2012. Working on the Invisible Gallery website for several months now, I have organized SMIH 2012 page with the artists and press. I would love for this to work out. I love that during his open studio tour, Mark Johnson sits facing the corner of his studio, clacking away on a vintage typewriter, not paying attention to the crests of people in and out. His mixed media works include various typography, referencing the home and domesticity. There is a sense of longing, a void was left from all the chaos. I find his work compelling and would possibly like to work with him in the future, although I have no idea right now where he would fit in. Nothing I am currently working on. But that doesn’t mean something won’t come up. I can’t find any cards and I feel awkward trying to talk to him as he is typing away. But I ask if him for his card, he politely stops, hands me the top piece of paper from a pile, each piece freshly typed as I was there. The little piece of art with his most recent words was his card. Yes, it had his contact information. Back to typing. Discovering the Pump Project Art Complex for the first time was cool. There are a couple of collective studios there, such as MAKEatx and Women Printmakers of Austin. There are also quite a few individual artists studios there, as well. I find the ceramic work of Debra Broz. Her manipulation of decorative kitsch is playful. They are incredibly well crafted. Taking these items from thrift shops, she alters them in an amazing way, where you cannot tell that it was not originally like that. But you know it wasn’t. This is her skill, her trade is a porcelain restorer. A multi talented woman, she is also the director of Pump Project. The photography of Jon Oldag catches my interest. Stitching together photos physically versus digitally doing this in Photoshop is a lost craft he is continuing. This gives the image a soul, some motion, in contrast to the flattened quality a computer can often produce. There is always an attraction to the handmade, something exhibiting the artists’ touch. He is actually selling his work for whatever you would like to offer him. As much as I would love a piece, I have no cash and he is not taking credit cards. And then I found a free catalog at a little gallery. I was so excited! It really is a nice book, a great reference for Austin artists, and advertised as the companion book to the West Austin Studio Tours catalog from earlier in the year, which I have. They were for sale at Big Medium, but free at all the other galleries in limited quantity. As usual, I was on limited on funds. What I do have I will spend on art. It’s really good. This was such a productive day, I am extremely pleased with the amount of work I got done. Finding one artist for SMIH is a huge accomplishment. The Austin Studio Tours always have intriguing art, I always find new artists to work with, get explore new spaces, and return to favorite spots. I think this may have been the very first large studio tour that I ever went on, who knows how long ago. Finding diversity in media is always welcome. I really chose to discuss these artists randomly based on how much I like their work. Afterwards is when I noticed I was discussing screen printing, mixed media, ceramics, and photography. Obviously, I feel it still delivers fresh artwork every year.