Thursday, April 2, 2009

Field Trippin' - Safari II


“Of course I will look at anything, but I have not got the time or the patience to keep on looking at art that I know could be better. I don't want art that needs fixing, I want art that sends me back to the studio to fix my own.” - Darby Bannard

Our last day at the UAF Museum of the North; basically a repeat of Tuesday's class, but focusing more on the upstairs collection in the Rose Berry gallery. Gave a short walk-through/guided tour to point out a few highlights and notable favorites; along with being a world-class resource with a pretty spiffy roster of talent on display, this is also a veritable who's who of local talent. Many of the works were created by former and current faculty from the university art department along with folks from across the state, spanning from contemporary pieces to examples of cultural and historical works (including the famous Sydney Laurence that I'm pictured tagging above).

And as with the last session, we met in the museum classroom for an hour of review and warm-ups, this time with a Snowy Owl for our patient model. Coincidentally I had also hauled in some work-in-progress to show & tell; preliminary work, mostly reference sketches for a kids book and a longer graphic novel that I've been chipping away at in the background for a few years now. One actually features a Snowy Owl as one of the characters, which was a great opportunity to demonstrate the process of observation and adaptation from a model; not just feathers, but white ones, a nice challenge to try and render using pen & ink!


One of the things that I truly love about the classes at this point in the semester is taking a group of trained eyes and skilled hands and unleashing them on a big room overflowing with possibilities. That's an all-encompassing view of the world; cultivating curiosity and wonder, a philosophical perspective on life and defining characteristic I've observed in virtually all of the productive artists I've met. The old, lameass "I don't know what to draw" excuse falls pretty flat and even "I don't know how to draw it" doesn't fly either; by now it's a matter of applying the techniques and simply exploring creative potential of any given situation or subject. I see myself as a general practitioner called in to to diagnose and hopefully cure what ails them; the symptoms are common enough, and ideally from here on out they'll possess enough knowledge and experience to, uh, self-medicate. Even at the most basic level, wandering around looking at things and sketching them is cathartic, therapeutic, and more often than not, serves to get the juices flowing, kickstarts a chain reaction that'll lead to an unfolding evolution of more and more ideas. At the other end of the inspirational spectrum, I'm "trained" (habituated) to just simply stare at a blank sheet of paper while sitting by myself in a room somewhere and mentally uncork, disengage, and follow those brain-crumbs through the forest. So there's a whole range of potential in between those two external + internal jumping-off points, and also adding in other people can exponentially increase the possibilities.



Here's a couple from last semester's class: one, an example of the Sharpie + ballpoint pen reference sketch done of a wolverine mount, and also the "remix" done at home incorporating a sampled background, font and another drawn element.

Plus here's both the catalyst and the resulting doodle for a prehistoric beast rumored to have inhabited the arctic, the "woolly walrus." Like I've said, people wonder where I get my ideas - the hardest thing for me is picking between them, all it takes is keeping one's eyes open and sketchbook handy.



It's like I was thinking earlier today while commuting back and forth between the cabin and town; how often do you really pay attention anymore to the same old shit you drive past all day, every day during the course of an average season? Do we even bother to look anymore? Is there in that familiar view, a rote route, something different or maybe is there a new way of seeing it differently? With so many irons in the fire and multiple paths of interpretation and representation it often seems to me everyday, boring life gives us enough raw material to work with, everything all around us is bizarre enough as it is that one doesn't really need to make anything up at all, just take notes.

Also dropped by another cultural hub of artistic effort in downtown Fairbanks; the Well Street Art Company. This place is owned by local artist David Mollett, with two galleries; upper and lower spaces devoted to exhibition of works, plus individual artist studios (such as Carol Wilbur, Craig Cheledinas, Robby Mohatt, Tina Shih and Scott Hansen). Folks were busy setting up for the First Friday opening - not a promising sign to see empty walls at 4pm the night before a show, speaks volumes as to the professionalism of the artist, not to mention a little common-sense courtesy towards the gallery owner who also doesn't need any more stress. I'm gonna try and hit several shows this First Friday and post about each gallery at length later on, as sort of an overview of our local art scene. One of the personal habits I try and keep up on is to just drop by random studios during the month and catch up with peers in the creative community, as trying to do that while making the First Friday rounds doesn't do justice. The chance to see work-in-progress is always very cool, maybe even score some art too, I'm always grateful for the opportunity to look and learn. The nitty-gritty/behind-the-scenes action is where it's at for me, the work on the wall after all's been said & done is only the remains of what I'm after for most inspiration and insight.

Speaking of which, lastly I attended a guest-artist presentation from Cordova printmaker Denis Keogh who is giving some workshops over the weekend in the art department. He does monotypes, which is a single print pulled from a plate with no editions (multiples), so each one is a one-of-a-kind original. His technique is to lay down a base of black etching ink and through primarily using his fingers and hands (sometimes other implements like rags, brushes and solvents) remove the ink subtractively. This creates some very deep, rich values which enhance his often atmospheric, moody and mysterious compositions, and the medium works well in tangent with his choice of subjects. Another attribute of his prints was the application of watercolor after the initial print had dried - which I'm thinking in purist printmaker terms would make these "mixed media" works, but hey, whatever. Keogh also said one of his main concerns is with "rendering form" and "rendering space," and interestingly he doesn't pre-plan any of his images beforehand. His subject matter seemed to focus on elemental, physical aspects of landscapes, evoking a strong sense of movement (for example in his depictions of water) and sense of place. Some of his other works explored figurative and abstracted architectural elements with geometric shapes. The best part was seeing up close & personal the actual artworks displayed throughout the department hallways, even in the smaller (10x12") pieces there is some impressive, intimate and intriguing details revealed upon examination. Unfortunately the actual talk wasn't nearly as informative or captivating, since he seemed frustratingly at a loss to explain any meaning or even the titles for many of his pieces, which, seeing as how they were already on-site, it perhaps would have been more interesting to see and hear about influences, personal history and providing more detailed descriptions of process. I suspect this was a case where one would benefit most from one-on-one interaction in a workshop environment, as many artists tend to operate better on a personal level with instruction. Not everyone can be as equally an entertaining and engrossing presence as their work - god knows how many people expect me to be a funny guy in person, which invariably disappoints after seeing the glum bastard at work. Audiences will often be just as critical of a presentation at that level (ie in an academic setting) as the art itself, something I've personally had troubles trying to reconcile; the dual role of being an effective and engaging speaker on top of teaching all rolled up into one, not to mention demonstrating one's drawing ability, this is a lot to encapsulate live.

“I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.” - Claes Oldenburg

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