The San Diego Mesa College Museum Studies students stopped by the studio for a vist and seruptitiously recorded me talking about some recent work. Dia Bassett recorded and edited this video. I’m glad I didnt know it was being captured at the time, but I’m happy to have this clip now. Thanks to the San Diego Mesa College Museum Studies program for the visit and for all great work you do supporting artists and arts professionals.
A SHIP IN THE WOODS will be hosting a Silent Auction / Indiegogo Launch Party on Saturday June 27th @ Bread & Salt in San Diego. As you may know, the A SHIP IN THE WOODS gallery is currently seeking a new location to house its innovative contemporary programming. Come show your support for this groundbreaking cultural institution. Get yourself a sculpture or two while you’re there. I donated the above works, Compression and Tension, to the cause.
This photograph is part of an ongoing series of images and sculpture that investigate the notion of desire. Consisting of framed original black and white photographs as well as a series of unglazed white porcelain hands bound by black rope, the work presents a monochrome meditation of desire, complicity, and accountability.
We are ultimately responsible for our thoughts, emotions and actions. Knowing this, it is still near impossible to change or control our deep longings and desires. It is so difficult to master the mind, to resolve the inner conflicts that keep us bound and captive. We are trapped by these inner conflicts. Resisting them only strengthens their hold.
As with all of my work, there are both a personal and political components. The implication of this topic, desire, is broad because so much of how we behave politically is motivated or controlled by how we feel on a deep personal level. Shame about our own fears and desires drives us to deny, suppress, repress. Conflict arises when we deny parts of ourselves, especially the part of us that is complicit with all human perpetuated atrocities. Could it be that our dark secrets denied make us an instrument in a world that is able to ignore slavery and exploitation?
We all hold the rope that keeps other humans in bondage.
This piece is about desire, base, human desire to own, dominate, and control. The human propensity for unspeakable acts of cruelty and depravation is a fascinating topic. How do we make these ideas thoughtful, beautiful, and compelling? How do we make it relevant? This is the job of the artist. Our role is to shine a light on challenging social issues with deft use of arresting imagery. We are drawn in by beauty and provocation. Only then can we ponder the deeper meaning of the work.
(On a technical note) As a figurative artist, I am a student of human anatomy. This rather awkward and painful hanging apparatus was created in Dave Veit’s studio using an aerial yoga swing as structure, as well as the net from my Duende installation. Dave gamely agreed to drill bolt-holes in the beams of his studio ceiling. I took a few aerial yoga classes at Aerial Revolution to prepare for the shoot. Professional photographer Dave Veit did the lighting, photography and postproduction. More work from this series is forthcoming.
At its very best, an art critique is a very high-level and personal conversation with professional(s) who care about your work and development as an artist. As an artist and an educator I have been present at many critiques, both as participant and facilitator. In a traditional art critique the goal is to more deeply understand the artwork in question. This deeper understanding helps art instructors evaluate the artwork, often for a grade. Critiques in art departments are frequently scheduled in advance and serve as a deadline for the completion, or near completion, of an artwork or series. Participants include the artist and the instructor. There may also be other professors, invited guests, and other artists in the class or program. Usually, everyone present at the critique is invited to ask questions and contribute to the conversation.
Ideally the artist presenting work at the critique will come away satisfied that he/she was able to adequately explain the artwork and that it was evaluated fairly. Even if this is true, critique seldom gives an artist the kind of feedback useful in improving and moving forward with a body of work. It is not the goal of academic critique to help an artist to overcome obstacles, find meaning, or to hone ideas for future work. The formal critique process ends when formal schooling ends.
Traditionally a coach helps an individual player and/or a team to succeed at a sport. Coaches work to improve the performance of athletes and push athletes to achieve at high levels. There is more of a focus on developing the athlete and preparing for and maintaining a productive career. Artists could benefit from the sports coaching paradigm. Here’s what I envision a coaching-based critique to do. Since coaching discovers useful and meaningful strategies for improving output, sustaining production, overcoming obstacles, and growing as a human being, and critiques evaluate the work,
I propose combining elements of critique with insightful coaching to better serve the artist. The word critique is useful, and lends an air of academic legitimacy to the conversation so I suggest we continue to use the word critique moving forward.
We could now define critique as a thoughtful analysis of an artwork or series with the goal of improving understanding of the artwork and encouraging artists towards their best, most authentic and mature work. As artistic practice is a continuum, regularly scheduled critique keeps artists going and growing, while providing benchmarks and deadlines along the way.
Every once in a while a friend will give me an object saying “I thought you could use this in your work.” Of course I am grateful for the gift. I am flattered by the thoughtfulness and validated that my friends acknowledge and support my work as an artist. That being said, I am usually completely baffled by the gift-object and my friend’s intention for it. What do they mean “use it in my work?” How? What, I wonder, are they thinking I should do with this thing? What is the image in their minds eye that links this object to me and my work? I will never know. It doesn’t matter, though, I am flattered and challenged and I accept.
Anyway, I love a challenge. The challenge is to take this foreign thing and somehow make it speak in my language. I use the gift-object as a word, expanding my vocabulary while still keeping the same tone and voice. The work must be meaningful, and the finished piece has to communicate something other than the gift-object’s original meaning. Finally, the artwork must communicate a point of view that is cohesive to the central conceptual issues of my ongoing practice.
But making meaning with stuff that already means something requires special skill. Gift-objects, especially vintage ones, must be transmuted very carefully. Found objects carry an aura of history and nostalgia. When used in assemblage, the gift-object could dominate the artwork with the power of its history.
One of the most baffling mysteries about artists is that when we want to do something, when we really want to, it takes so long to get started. We stall, even when we know exactly what we need to do.
We stall even when we have done all our research. We have carved out the time for artmaking and justified it to everyone who might care, including ourselves. We’ve analyzed. We have prioritized. The sink is clean, laundry done. We know that this activity, this step in the process is the thing to do at this moment.
Furthermore, we’re convinced that making art is our soul’s calling, that it is important work.
Why then, do we still stall?
There is that myth that making art is always pleasurable, and although it may be good for your soul, it is really kind of a luxury. Like getting a massage.
This is not an idea I buy into for two reasons. First, making art is not always pleasurable. Like any work, it can be challenging. It can be drudgery. Secondly, art is not a luxury. If art is important to us, if our practice adds meaning to our lives and helps us contribute to the world, it is not a luxury. For me, and perhaps for all of us, this is a necessity. Sometimes doing important work is fun, sometimes it is not.
This is a tricky position to be in. We have to find and justify the time to do an activity that, while critically important to us, might be difficult. Additionally, with art, there’s no guarantee your time spend making it will produce a favorable result. So much of what we do is experimental, problem solving, and speculative. And sometimes the problem doesn’t get solved right away. Sometimes the problem gets worse.
I was asked to participate in a fundraiser for the Sugar Museum, which involved creating new work and donating it for an exhibition and sale. The work was to be enclosed in a jar, and artists were asked to use the idea of a jar as a point of departure for the concept and content of the work. This is how the Sugar Museum describes the exhibition:
“Sugar Museum is pleased to present JARS, an installation of hundreds of jars in the storefront Art Produce Gallery. The jars of art by local artists and jars of food donated by local vendors will be displayed on shelving with “art” and “food art” coexisting. They are both beautiful commodities in this situation. Will the buyer put the art in their cupboard next to the honey or frame the honey on the living room wall? All the work will be for sale throughout the exhibit and will benefit the community educational programs of the Sugar Museum and Art Produce Gallery.”
This sounded interesting so I agreed to participate. As artists, we are asked to donate our work constantly. I know of no other profession where services are expected for free so frequently, but that is a conversation for another day. The Sugar Museum was not asking for a donation, per se, because all of the work exhibited would be for sale with 50% of the proceeds going back to the artist. The 50/50 split is typical of commercial galleries. The Sugar Museum did ask that artists create original work specific to the exhibition, rather than curating a show from an artist’s existing body of work. Most of us find this sort of challenge refreshing and fun, albeit time consuming. It was in this gift of time and effort that we support the Sugar Museum’s fundraising.
The opening for the exhibition was crowded and fun. The artwork exhibited was amusing, varied and good. The usual suspects of the San Diego art and educational community were present in person and represented by the jars. Is this a pretty small town, or does it just feel that way?
In my research I discovered that the Sugar Museum is, more than anything else, an art project. In addition to the stated cause of sweetener awareness, the Sugar Museum appears to be the brainchild and creative product of one artist. For me, asking artists to donate art (or time) in order to raise money for an artist to make art is a bit like the snake eating its own tail. The self-referential nature of the event itself further reiterated this feeling.
I wonder if we could find a way to branch out a little more as a community. We could strive grow our influence and audience, especially with projects like the Sugar Museum, for whom outreach and education is a goal.