Friday, October 26, 2012

1st First Friday

"Hatcher Pass" ©2012 Klara Maisch

Getting plugged back into the scene here in the Interior - and speaking of plugging in, what with all the fresh white stuff coating the ground, dropping temperatures and diminishing daylight, it definitely makes for a familiar, if not foreboding feeling. But offsetting the anxiety of an impending winter, we made the rounds earlier in the month to some opening exhibits, always an excellent opportunity to reconnect with the many friend who all made us feel very warm & welcomed. It’s good to be home.

Countering the closures of some significant, established galleries in Fairbanks, art has metastasized throughout the Interior community by a host of local businesses throwing their own little First Fridays in response. As a result of this proliferation of opportunity, there is a bewildering array of choices to make (approximately 17 gigs this months), and we could only make a half-dozen openings within the 5-8pm window.And yeah, I know it's the last Friday of the month as of this posting, but you still have a week to catch what's up on the walls.

By far and away my favorite one - somewhat off the beaten path - was by a notable up & coming talent: Klara Maisch's “en plein air: summer works" debuted in a somewhat surreal scene, the North Star Radiology facilities located in the Surgery Center. Notwithstanding the phenomenally clean surroundings, it was probably a great idea to have a show where A) there is an abundance folks who can presumably afford to buy Fine Art and B) if one becomes overwhelmed by said artwork and suffers a massive heart attack, no worries - you're in the right place. In all seriousness, the comparative sterility of the location provided a stark contrast with the primal nature of the pieces, the content of which reflected and expressed a refreshingly less refined side of health. There were serigraphs and paintings, but for me the centerpiece was a woodcut. Biases aside, I'm a huge fan of simple woodcuts as an appropriate medium much better suited to the depiction of landscapes than the vast majority of pretentious paintings. And as one might assume, the subject matter of a few particular pieces of hers resonated with me personally, especially the one posted above: "Hatcher Pass," which I scored a black & white proof of. The full-color edition (which the cell-phone snapshot fails miserably to do justice to) was already sold out by the time we showed up, but I much prefer the proof version anyways.

Also, Klara is currently kicking some serious artistic arse across the state, having just graduated with a BFA from UAF:
"Using her personal connection with the natural world, Klara creates prints and paintings that address the patterns and processes she sees in the landscapes of Interior Alaska. Klara explains that creating art is her “way of sharing knowledge, inspiration, and appreciation derived from the natural environment.”
She just recently scored a Recognition Award from this year’s All Alaska Juried exhibition in los Anchorage for an etching, serigraph and collage entries, and was one of the artists showcased at the Museum of the North's "Artisan Expo." This is what it's all about: being engaged in the creative community... the baseline definition of a visual artist is simple: being seen, and Klara and her work will hopefully maintain it's trajectory of high profile visibility.

     An apex artist on this continuum of capturing the essence of the outdoors is Bill Brody. I had the great fortune to be the sole student to take lithography course from him during one semester while earning a BFA, and was honored by his being one of the three faculty members in the UAF art department who stood on my thesis committee.

      Back in the days of being thoroughly immersed in long-distance solo trekking, there was one pivotal instance after flying back to civilization after one of several two-week outings taken to the Brooks Range when I entered the lobby area of a local flight service and saw a splendid array of landscapes on display. It was a veritable who's-who from the pantheon of Alaskan painters, but from the critical perspective of someone who had extensive knowledge and intimate experience with the portrayed subject (not to mention fresh from the field), the work of Brody encapsulated what it not only looked like but also, and more importantly, what it felt like to witness wilderness first-hand. The subtle distinction being that he had a habit of going a bit farther than the rest of the pack, as in not just putting boots on the ground but actually getting them dirty. This imparts a subtle characteristic to the works that contrasts with the majority of other artists who rarely leave the parking lot where they set up an easel, or simply just paint from pictures.

      I mention Brody here not just as an aesthetic dovetail to Maisch's work, but to point out a rarely observed side (literally) of artwork that the public never sees. While volunteering for a short stint at the Fairbanks Arts Association and helping to hang the 27th annual 64th Parallel show (incidentally jurored by figurative painter Michael Azgour who also gave an excellent public lecture during his visit), I had the opportunity to study a fundamentally functional, yet hidden aspect of the selected works. Most folks just never realize or appreciate the purely practical part of displaying artwork, that of the frame assembly and hanging hardware that's on the back of every piece. Much of the logistical headaches behind the scenes at any gallery hosting such large exhibits deal with any number of halfassed attempts to circumvent or bend the rules when it comes time to making sure the piece sticks to the wall. Besides insurance issues over damage there's the potential liability of something falling on an unsuspecting gallery-goer's head. This also brings to mind a frequent lesson imparted to students in art classes when it comes to submitting work to shows - the quickest and easiest way to get rejected is to simply fail the very first threshold requirement: that the work be "ready to hang."

      All this to say my personal "best of show" went to a piece by Brody, which on sheer craftsmanship alone was the most solid work in the entire exhibition. Hands-down the sturdiest, well-built construction that virtually everyone else would surely benefit from studying. If only many other artists took point of pride in the
display of their pieces and paid equal attention to their care, to say nothing of basic professionalism. Certainly the unsung efforts of the staff from organizations like the Fairbanks Arts Association labors to correct or highlight these details so as to show each respective piece in its best light before the public.
And sometimes the other side of the canvas reveals more about the artists than what they put on the front.

The flip side of Fine Art.

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