Monday, August 31, 2009

Road Trip: Anchorage

After an absence of over eight years, finally got down to the big city in Alaska, los Anchorage ("Seattle's Northernmost suburb"). A weekend full of good company, good art, good food and great beer. Some of my favorite works are prominently displayed in the public square, such as the above mural by Wyland (400 ' long + 5 stories high on the side of J.C. Penney's), and many other installations scattered throughout the downtown area.

An epicenter of Alaskan culture, the Anchorage Museum just underwent a significant expansion, and unfortunately the ongoing renovations meant exhibits were somewhat curtailed for this trip; spring 2010 is when all the spiffy new spaces will be open. There were a few rooms with selected excerpts from the permanent collections in an exhibit titled "Art of the North": early, classic and contemporary works from the likes of Fred Machetanz, David Mollett, Sydney Laurence etc. Pictured above is a nice contrasting juxtaposition of paintings from Claire Fejes (right - "Woman Washing Dishes, Beaver, Alaska") and Duke Russell (left - "Mall Shoppers").

Also "The Alaska Gallery" was a large exhibit (still undergoing dedicated to an overview of culture and history including artifacts and lavish, detailed dioramas (although all of the human figures were creepy, gray-colored mannequins) depicting Alaskana scenes spanning indigenous people, pre-statehood, geological facts and modern industrial development. Apart from poor, dim lighting, I was disappointed at the over-reliance of 2-d panels; seemed to be an idiot's guide to Alaska which is readily available to anyone in books or documentaries, which, as my girlfriend who works in Public Information for another agency pointed out, is regrettably targeted to the level an average viewer who doesn't read or seek out such information outside of institutional excursions like this. I suppose for tourists this would be a mecca of information, but since we have our own world-class museum in Fairbanks this wasn't as exciting and informative as I'd hoped. Still, it's always well worth a visit if one has never seen it, and the expansion promises to add many more exciting avenues to explore.

An unexpected bonus was meeting Inupiaq artist Ed Mighell while visiting the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

"Local residents and visitors to Alaska are introduced to Native traditions and customs of both the past and present. The Welcome House is a celebration of contemporary Alaska Native cultures while the outdoor facilities and sites allow the exploration of ancient tradition and the presentation of stories from the past. Our Center provides a unique opportunity to experience Alaska's many diverse Native cultures at one location."

I had only previously been here the year it opened, and it has evolved into quite the place for showcasing indigenous cultural appreciation: Ed was one of several artists and craftspeople with tables set up inside the building peddling wares and doing demonstrations. He has lived in Anchorage since 1980 and after getting a degree in printmaking from UAA has set up a studio with his own kiln and presses to produce his pieces. Much of his work uses clay he collects from Cook Inlet, made from the glacier-flour deposited into the mud, and he creates single-fired tiles incorporating iconic imagery and his own contemporary take on traditional designs. Sometimes he uses copper plates or matteboard for his design templates, and he'll hand-color or use collagraphic techniques to finish the pieces. Like the sample pictured here ("New Pictogram"), many of the tiles are narrative in the sense they tell are retelling traditional stories, and he also has a distinct, unique style he termed "X-ray style." We also crossed paths again Saturday where Ed had another table at the "Anchorage Market & Festival," another example of a working artist in the trenches.

Another bonus exhibition was "Comikaze," a "comic-themed and sequential illustration" show put on by the UAA Student Union Gallery in conjunction with the UAA Art Student Association. On display were series of digital prints, sequential photography, a couple each of both inked and painted panels. Also in the gallery were some sample penciled pages from the juror, Alaskan artist Brett Uher, known for drawing the Tokyopop title "Dark Moon Diary". While a small show (17 pieces) it was still notable and as always, worth supporting this medium. The docent remarked that it had been a pretty popular month-long exhibit, and the high-traffic location sure was attractive to random visits from students.

Also at the Artique, Ltd. gallery, I caught a preview of an upcoming exhibit that will be in Fairbanks soon by local painter Steve Gordon. His acrylics are created with a thick impasto technique using acrylics and absolutely amazing, vibrant colors. The Artique incindentally is picking up some of the slack caused by the closure of it's Fairbanks counterpart gallery,
and already represents over 100 artists and has been open since 1971. Good to see they are still soldiering on, and have diversified enough to offer multiple artists at openings and stock a wide range of works for all levels of interests.

Also at the downtown Saturday Market I caught a group of children defacing some of Chad Carpenter's work, which was very sad to see. I yelled at them and they scattered away, and made sure security was made aware of the situation.

But seriously, everyplace always has something to offer, in some little nook or cranny, in the way of the arts. I'll always make a beeline first to the galleries, museums, cafes, bookshops (and breweries) everyplace I wander, to gauge the creative pulse of the community, see whats happening and get some inspiration. Anchorage is a great place to catch some culture and reaffirm my faith in the Alaskan art scene.

No comments:

Post a Comment