Monday, March 23, 2009

“Well Hung”

"If art was defined simply by the ability to draw, then my inkjet printer would be a greater artist than Michelangelo." - Curtis Verdun

Scrambled around town yesterday trying to cobble together two submissions for an upcoming invitational at the Museum of the North: put into action the white-trash theory of exhibitionism. I always push my students to enter their works from our class into the semesterly show, and the usual prerequisites are that the works have to have been created within the last year, not displayed in the gallery before, and be “ready to hang.” So mindful of the budgetary constraints most college students have (not much different than my own), I try to make it as painless and easy as possible to prepare their pieces for submission.

“Ready to hang” is the key phrase here; it could be dental floss & duct-tape, long is it holds up, does the job and looks decent, who really cares (or really knows if it’s hidden from view). I am adamantly against teaching beginning students how to matte and frame their pieces; it’s at best an exercise in futility, as its perhaps one of the most frustrating undertakings associated with art. I agree that if one wants to seriously pursue art then you definitely need to acquire this skill; but if the reality is that 90% of this particular class at this level is not going to, then I’d rather have 'em pursue other options that aren’t anywhere near as much of a pain in the ass (ostensibly I'm trying to get them into art not turn them off of it). Last major show I did, I did all the framing myself; about $12000 in supplies and several days of screwing things up on a steep learning curve resulted in a fairly decent looking exhibit. On such a scale it becomes a personal investment of time & money anyways, but for a one-time student show, or gifts for friends & family, I say there’s a better way, much saner and cheaper. One of the many insidious, built-in rackets with the whole artsy-fartsy deal is how damn much everything costs, and it gets to be a frustrating, even prohibitive entry-level barrier to many an aspiring talent.

Best method is of course to just hire a professional to do it, but this too is costly and also takes time, which, kinda like the situation I found myself in yesterday, isn’t an option when you try to throw stuff together at the last minute (and not have it look like it was). Most shops need a couple weeks lead-time to order the materials and fit it into their schedule. I will utilize the services of the Artworks; a local gallery/frameshop just down the hill from the university – they have trained professionals that always make far better calls on ideas for quality presentations than I could ever come up with, I have them do the few random pieces over the year I need for specific shows. The additional cost is then effectively passed on to the purchaser and accounts for the inflated price you often see at most galleries (also the 40-60% cut they themselves take).
It’s always vastly cheaper to order the supplies on-line yourself, but again, living in Alaska will cost you in the end almost just as much, particularly if faster shipping is needed. So the only other option is to assemble the elements and DIY from what resources are available in town. I recommend just taking the piece in question (or ideally, a laser-print of it instead) physically over to either Michael’s or even Fred Meyer’s and see what el-cheapo frames they have in stock right there. Scanning your images and resizing the prints to industry standards (such as 8.5x11/8x10/11x14/11/17”) is super convenient, and one can either slip it unmated ala poster style or splurge on precut mattes. Simple is best; just black frames, white mattes (nothing to detract from or compete with the image), anywhere from $10 - $25. This is a low-stress, economical route that gets you an adequate presentation, heady to hang. It works especially well with illustrations, and makes for dandy gifts after the show comes down as well.For these two pieces I first bought the frame kits, pre-cut mattes, pre-cut glass, foam-core backing and wire (about $70 total), and took all this stuff along with a USB jump-drive (sometimes I just burn a session onto a CD or email it directly instead) containing Photoshop PDF files of the art to the local independently owned copy shop for quick & dirty digital prints.

If I’da had more time, another option is Giclée prints (archival inks on archival paper), which there are a couple places around town that do – or if I ever resurrect my Epson printer, one can do at home. This is another pricing factor to consider which would add to the total ticket, but for now, just for display the Xerox’ll do fine. Actually over the past ten years it is really incredible what they can achieve now with those digital printers; the colors are awesome, and if getting your work out, it can’t be beat for mass production (short of offset lithography), Allowing for a few days in case the equipment needs to be fixed is crucial, as many a time I’ve been on deadline and the machine’s are down. The costs run about a buck-fifty for a tabloid color print on cardstock – and the ink is of a nature that it achieves virtually the same result as a glossy paper.
Anyways, a few minor tweaks were needed to reduce the image area to fit, then trim & assemble = one hour. Bonus in that in a clean environment like that I don’t have to deal with the inevitable issue of dog/cat/Jamie hairs mysteriously appearing after I’ve finished, like I always discover after working in my cabin.Back in February the museum’s Exhibition and Design Director sent me an email query looking to se if I maybe had something relating to the special exhibit’s theme;
“RENEW: Fairbanks Cityscapes (April ) The exhibit is about the changing urban and green landscape of Fairbanks. With the changing needs of people, technology, the environment, global warming, we have had to recycle, reuse, and renew the built environment around us.”
As it just so happens, I had a panel dealing with just that topic (wouldn’t ya know). Plus I sent a half-dozen other preview thumbnail JPGs, some of which are from a current series I’m working on titled “Urban Animals,” which I actually thought was, of all the submissions, most directly related to the subject, but was a bit too obtuse and perhaps even post-apocalyptic in retrospect (not much in the way of humans left with my vision). I include here one sample scan – there’s about a dozen total in the pipe; based on a series of reference photos took one dreary afternoon walking around downtown Fairbanks and documenting the soul-crushing architectural coma of a community. The timing of the shoot was perfect as the streets were almost deserted, and that helped solidify my concept for the series. Several works have already been on display the past year; it’s amusing to see some folks tie themselves into knots trying to “get it’” as there deviate from my normal cartoons, yeah, rather subtle. I rarely use any photo-reference like this, along with being an obvious exercise in linear perspective it’s also a refresher in value, as each panel takes about twelve hours to shade in with graphite (after scanning in the original pen & ink drawing). That’s after I do a value study on the computer too, shown here in the “Loading Zone.”But, besides all that, really what’s cool is that for the first time I’ll be showing in a rather exclusive setting; the Museum of the North is pretty much the top-tier as far as exhibition gigs go in Fairbanks, and it’s a spiffy, ironic feather in my cap given how much I pooh-pooh the “scene” - the barbarians have definitely breached the gates. I take all my classes up there on regular field trips for two days every semester though; far as I know I’m one of the few teachers in the department that utilizes it as a place to not only look at the stuff on the wall, but also as a resource to literally draw from, with tons of material everywhere just begging to be taken advantage of.

Tons of prepping for tomorrow’s big day in class; lots of stuff too haul in for a show & tell, demo materials, samples, portfolios etc. Fortunately this is the first time I’ve ever taught where I actually have use of an office as a staging area; one of the reasons I get miffed over slackers is they have no freakin’ idea of the logistics behind teaching “off the cuff” as it were, and how much goes into setting up classes. The simple nicety of a shared office has been a luxury this semester, now all we need is an expresso machine and a couch!

But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: "It's clever, but is it Art?" - Rudyard Kipling

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