Friday, September 26, 2014

A New Project

What, another post already?!

I am gaining some momentum starting a new project called, "Black Sheep."

Below are some shots of what I worked on today to kick off the project. I asked myself to draw a line outside with any materials available and this is what I came up with. The line went into the street and cars drove by and ruined it. But that's okay. It's kinda the point.

I promise this project isn't an Andy Goldsworthy rip off. These are just some experiments for now.

Have a great weekend.

looking towards the street

looking back up towards the house. You can see the different colors of the leaves

And out into the street

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to be an artist

My friend suggested I start this post with: “Tell me how this is accomplished.”

I’m actually curious. It has been three months since I started my work as a full time artist. When people ask what I do, I say I’m an artist. That is my job. (It still feels weird to say and the responses so far have been mixed.) And while I’m a big fan of ‘fake it till I make it,’ I realized, while drawing the other week, that I might not know what I am doing. For one, if being an artist is my job, why don’t I make any money?

I still very much want to be an artist, the question is: am I doing it correctly? I ask in spite of the fact that I have been making art for some time, with two art degrees no less! I realize my ambivalence is in lieu of the fact that I’ve represented countless artists as a curator, art dealer/seller, and gallery director. How is it that I haven’t a clue if I’m doing this job correctly?

Well, I think the artist interviews I’ve been conducting on the blog are a selfish attempt to investigate that question for myself. I’m looking for inspiration. I need ideas. Not creative ideas. I know how to make art. I learned how to make art in school but I don’t think I learned how to be an artist. I’m not trying to play a game of semantics trickery. There is some mysterious part of this job that I am certain I am missing-besides money of course. Or maybe that is it.

So far, I’ve heard some tried and true ideas on how to be an artist: Submit your work. Get into shows. Expect rejection. Make more work. Repeat. I googled the title of this blog post and found that if the aforementioned actions are not enough, you can pay to learn how to be an artist. I’ll pass. Most of the posts I find on the internet regarding this topic tell me the pitfalls to avoid. From what I can gather, being an artist is a combination of specific behaviors, credentials, (some sort of audience) recognition, and the artist’s own determination.

I’ve learned a good deal from my friends, which reinforces the idea that being an artist means being part of an artistic community. For instance, I’m applying to residencies and a friend told me to stress in the application that I’m looking to produce more work right now, not expose it. Yes. Of course some residencies are geared more towards production rather than exposure. I honestly never thought about it in those terms though or that I even needed to say it.

I’ve also learned from the artists I’ve interviewed on this blog about the importance of demanding time for my work, and, if needed, setting up a schedule. I’ve heard the value of setting up hard, concrete numerical goals for ones creative practice. But I haven’t given myself hard numbers to follow so far, I guess because I thought creativity is fluid and, dare I say, intuitive. But it doesn’t work that way. Artist’s say, “I’ll make 2 pieces a month,” “I’ll do one 30 minute performance a month,” etc.

If anyone wants to leave a comment about what they do to be an artist, please do so! In the mean time, I’ll be working on my calendar.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Interview with artist Jessica Borusky

Jessica Borusky in Kansas City, MO

Jessica Borusky says it was studying a Diego Velazquez painting in an art history class that sparked her interest in performativity in the visual arts. Velazquez often inserted his visage into compositions with royalty as he ascended to the role of portrait painter for King Philip IV’s royal court in the mid 1600s.

Diego Velazquez, Luncheon, 1617

You get the sense that Velazquez knew he really didn’t belong- not properly or traditionally-in any royal setting, an idea that seems to inspire Borusky’s performative approach today. She’s a failed cowgirl, a failed corporate drone. Most people are failures at this or at least they fail at finding happiness through the typical personifications of the American Dream. But Jessica tries on these personas anyway, just to see what it’s like. As a result, her work can be very humorous. The humor pivots into an analysis of historical traumas that mark and mar our national identity. 

To get the idea behind Borusky’s engaging and no doubt entertaining confluence of the funny and traumatic, just check out one of my favorite performances she’s done in Kansas City: Armor, Gilt, and Integration. Here Jessica, looking like a hot mess, uses language and actions that place her somewhere between Martha Stewart land and that of an undertaker. And, of course, there’s barbecue sauce. 

I had the pleasure of visiting the artist on a recent trip to Kansas City where Borusky is currently an artist-in-residence in the Charlotte Street Foundation’s residency program, a curator for the Art in the Loop’s public arts program, and an art faculty member at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

When I first contacted her for the interview, Jessica said she was curating some art during the lunch hour and that I should meet her at Oppenstein Park downtown. I assumed she meant curating a series of objects, and that she needed/wanted privacy. When I arrived at Oppenstein Park, rather than a curator standing amongst a bunch of paintings I found a man reading letters aloud to an audience of knitters.

Below is a portion of José Faus’s performance that day. Sitting next to him is Emily Evans Sloan. Both Faus and Sloan are local KC artists. To give you some background, the letters Faus is reading describe a time when Fidel Castro meets a young Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in a New York City bar before she marries the future president. Their meeting (Castro calls her an angel) inspires him to start the revolution in Cuba. All this is explicated in recordings and letters between the historical figures.

From what I could gather by peoples white-collar “drag,” we were in the midst of the downtown financial sector. Men in ties and the typical suits scurried along. Security guards looked on at the performance with amusement. It is with great certainty that I can say, as a tourist, I would have never enjoyed this part of Kansas City had it not been for the performance taking place in front of me.

After thanking the artists for their performance, Jessica showed me her studio and the other studios at the residency. I clumsily videotaped the artist as I asked a series of questions about her creative work at Charlotte Street. Borusky is quick to acknowledge that it is her voice and body that entices others-her chosen medium to make art. So it makes some sense that I would, however shabbily, do a video interview. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway. Hope you enjoy. And thank you Jessica Borusky!

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Wealthy's Good Sense: A Review

I went to Kansas City this week and spent some time checking out the art scene. It is a great city to visit and I was very excited to see exhibitions and meet artists during the short time I was there.

I decided to go to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, on the same block as the Nelson Atkins Museum and the Kansas City Art Institute (yes, you will see art school hipsters up close in their natural habitat!). The shows I saw at Kemper featured works from their permanent collection. 

I think that these kinds of shows are a 'make it or break it' moment for museums and their audiences. Museums almost always have a sole mission of developing and preserving a permanent collection. (Although I really relish the non-collecting museums.)

The question is what kind of a collection should an institution work towards? A collection reflects the interests and personalities of your curators, donors, artists, and region. And good shows can be built from seemingly sub par collections, even if the museum doesn’t have a Mona Lisa. So I went in with genuine curiosity and an open mind.

I’ll start with the positives of my review and try to stay there. First, I was impressed that a lot of the artists represented in the shows either lived in Kansas City or were from the region. The exhibitions did not attempt to produce a 'global' perspective, which is a very common approach for many contemporary institutions.

A few works in the first gallery’s exhibition, Conversations—Marking 20 Years, pleasantly surprised me. Side note: thank god I didn’t read the show description beforehand, which says something to the extent of sparking dialogue and conversations and such. Yes we got that from the title.

The curator(s) showed some restraint. Of course, you want to show your blockbuster pieces, the crowd pleasers, and there was only one Andy Warhol and one Georgia O’Keefe on display and both were fine. I’m glad they didn’t dwell too much on those. Actually, I’m really starting to appreciate O’Keefe’s brushwork as I find some similarities between her pieces and my rope drawings. But I digress.

In the same space there was a brilliant Wayne Thiebaud. The piece had such vivid and diverse colors. I was glad to see that piece in person, as I would have never had the same experience with a reproduction. I certainly would have missed all the underlying paint layers and sneaks and peaks of brilliant oranges.

By far my favorite in the show was David Bates’ The Storm 2006-2007, a triptych of three very large canvases packed with faces, faces of those affected most by the negligence of the federal and state governments after Hurricane Katrina. That showed some guts, I felt, for the museum to make a purchase of a political work, especially of that scale.
David Bate's "The Storm"

This show definitely espoused the idea that bigger is better. I tend to wonder when scale is so important and when it is just a trend, a thing a contemporary artist does to be taken seriously. Considering the minutiae of many craft-based art making techniques, I also tend to find the “bigger is better” ethos very masculine, egotistical, and misplaced rather than ambitious.
Installation shot

But, sometimes, larger helps rather than hurts. An example of this was a photograph by Richard Mosse, Men of Good Fortune. In that case, it was like the viewer was standing on the bluff looking down into a pastoral scene. The size of the work helped that feeling. But any pastoral quality was interrupted by the hot pink color seemingly painted onto the grass where we would typically find green. The color reversal left me uneasy, like I was really looking at a radiated, nuclear dump despite the bucolic scene. It was a piece I would certainly want to stay with for a while and talk about, the only piece by my estimation that inspired, god help me, a “conversation.”
Richard Mosse, "Men of Good Fortune." (This piece was not hung crooked, it's my photo of it that's off.)

One highlight in the Make Your Mark show was June Ahren’s Used and Worn, a soap and rock piece that revealed how water and contact with other elements like wind, earth, and even contact with our hands, can alter a surface. It reminded me a video by Nicole Geary where she rubs a rock on her face in the shower instead of a bar of soap.
Ahren's "Used and Worn" close up

My last nod, in the Depth and Meaning show (again with the titles!), goes to a drawing by Elizabeth Layton, I Am Loved. First off, this drawing is awesome and to find out she was a late bloomer so to speak, starting her art career later in life, is even more endearing. I love the contour lines and the button placed on the center of the older bride’s chest. It has a sense of humor in an otherwise too serious setting.
Elizabeth Layton's "I Am Loved"

Now onto the questions/criticisms: Why are on earth are you still collecting sooooooo many paintings by soooooo many men? By my count there were two videos in the entire place. And only a few not-that-great photographs, besides the Men of Good Fortune piece. New media and performance art is seriously lacking and there’s a wealth of affordable pieces to purchase, so what is this contemporary art collecting strategy about anyway? I walked away asking that question.

I always think giving viewers an entry via a topic or exhibition theme can help them explore your collection and make it memorable. Other than a few sub categories peppered throughout the shows, it seemed like aimless displays punctuated by a few interesting works.

Isn’t it fair to ask more of an institution, especially one that claims to be contemporary, to create shows that go beyond “it’s in our collection?” Especially if part of being a contemporary institution is that you are working with living artists? We know what “collections based” shows mean. The institution is saying, “these are the pieces our good donors had the good sense to purchase and give to us as the art market eventually attested these artworks superior monetary value.”

Instead of “Conversations” I would rather retitle the show, “Our Wealthy Donor’s Good Sense.” And then the exhibition might be onto something, creating a specific conversation besides the vague and all-inclusive “conversations,” as if museums were ever that universally accessible.

Maybe the students at the Kansas City Art Institute should get in there and build shows. I’m sure they do to some extent. But I do not know for sure. At the Kemper there is potential, but only if we leave explorations of contemporary art in the hands of those willing to engage in critical ideas about it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Good Man

I decided to write the weekend post about a recent trip I took for a photo shoot.

I drove to McLeansboro Illinois to find and photograph a site of a tragic accident.

I really do not like to drive around in the country and photograph, particularly by myself. I feel incredibly uncomfortable doing this. There are a few reasons for this. I had been warned several times when I went to school in southern Illinois to watch out for gun-wielding folks who love their property, privacy, and do not appreciate creative types roaming around on their property to make art. Fair enough.

You never know who or what you may encounter on a photo shoot like this and you cannot assume everyone is on the same page about a photographer’s legal rights. Certainly photographing in the middle of nowhere is not as dangerous as photographing in a war zone, but you really never know what can happen. (I am hearing one of my professors in graduate school chiding me by saying, “you and your middle-class assumptions about rural people.”) But now, I’ve lived in the southern Illinois and Indiana region long enough to know you can never be too cautious.

In this case, I was fortunate enough to find a cemetery. I was not sure if I was in the exact location of the accident but this was plenty good for me. I figured no one would find it suspicious if a woman wandered around a cemetery. I could hear a dog barking in the distance but I was not confronted by anyone. Victory.

I tried to find any reason I could to avoid this photo shoot. I looked at the notes I jotted down after reading the news headline to see why the story inspired me in the first place. After looking at my notes again, I realized the news headline resembled the short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite authors. “Good Man” is a much more sinister tale but there were similarities. O’Connor knew how to turn the knife in a story, her characters always getting their just deserts. I don’t think she had pity for any of her characters, which, frankly, I find really refreshing AND disturbing.

At that point, I knew I had to go to the location to photograph. And, I realized I had a language to use to talk about my project, “Without Man.” I guess what I mean by that is I know what compels me to read O’Connor’s work, its style, and I want to pursue the photographic equivalent of that style. Naturally, I’ll be looking at William Eggleston and Clarence John Laughlin for inspiration. I’m still not sure exactly where the project will go from here on out, but I feel this is a break through. I am glad I pushed through the discomfort to get to this point.