Sunday, July 7, 2013

moody maps of textural disruption

Today I went to the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, one of the biggest art festivals in Colorado, with artists from all over the United States showing their work. Cherry Creek is a nice, fashionable neighborhood just outside of Downtown Denver, and the festival is something of a yearly tradition for families, as well as buyers. The show is a few blocks long, and there are hundreds of artists at the show, so it's not really possible to see everything. I take the approach of walking along the middle of the street, browsing through the booths from a distance, then heading into a booth that I think is interesting.

The first booth I stopped into displayed the works of Brianna Martray, a sculptor who works in Colorado. Her works are made of cast bronze and resin clay. All of her works have an undersea feeling; in fact, what caught my eye was a lovely set of resin clay, mobile-like sculptures of jellyfish. The cast bronze sculptures are generally spindly, with a patina of blue caked all over them. They do have an undersea appearance, but they also look a bit like the dry stalks of dormant vegetation in the fall.

The resin clay works are totally different. They're much thicker, and often the clay is folded or looped, then stacked in piles. These piles can often be quite dense. The centerpiece of the works was a huge stalk, from which emerged a thick, pointy flower. Other than some dangly threads reminiscent of the jellyfish stingers, the flower was unique among the works. It was solid, figurative, rather than being like dangly stalks or stacks of loops and folds.

I then took a look at the work of Marie Gruber. The work was mostly black and white photographs set against metallic plates. Some of the plates were brushed a bit, to give swashes of black shadow against the silvery sheen. This often evoked a sense of the framing of the plates continuing the atmosphere of the subjects photographed. If the scene was of trees, the black brushings seemed like tree bark. If the scene was of desert rock, the black brushings felt like rock striations. If the scene was of a bridge in the fog, the brushings were like shadows in the fog.

Near Marie Gruber's works were the works of another interesting artist. I didn't get his name, unfortunately. But he had works with luminous sikver backgrounds, against which were painted, in some works, orange and blue koi, and in other works, herds of deer. Some of the works were done on circular canvases, others on more standard rectangular canvases. The glittering paintings of the koi were all very beautiful. But for some reason, I really loved the paintings of the deer.

Another kind of interesting body of work was done by a man named Michael Schwegman. Most of Schwegman's works were works of ceramic made to look like metallic machinery, tools, chains, and so forth. It looks just as heavy and sturdy as the real thing. But it's obviously delicate: there were caution signs all over the place.

But what I liked a bit more than these works were the works that had a little something more involved artistically. For instance, one piece looked like a piece of machinery with three tubes sticking out of the top. But toward the base, the glaze becomes thick and red. Then, from within the red glaze, the image of a tan silhouette of a tree emerges. That's very nice.

I spent a bit of time at the booth of Barbara Bouman Jay, a painter who works in California. Her works are kind of minimalist, with one color often dominating an entire field of canvas, spread over with wisps of another color. My favorite work of hers was called "Celebration." It was twelve separate canvases, three rows of four. Some of the canvases were pink; others were black. Across the canvases ran black squiggles of paint. Then, at the edges of the canvas, there were tan blocks that looked like book pages with scientific diagrams on them. These diagrams seemed to be the nexus points for the squiggles running across the canvases.

Another set of works by Bouman Jay that were interesting were called the "Road Map Series." These were generally fields of color painted over maps, with printed letters stuck or painted over the fields of color. Two very big paintings in the series were very interesting. The fields of color were a thick tan, almost like old vellum pages. But they had deep, diagonal slashes running across them.

Bouman Jay said she liked using the maps because the letters and lines on the maps added something very interesting texturally. But she had to be careful not to let the letters and lines guide her literally or figuratively in her painting.

I told Bouman Jay I thought that was interesting, as her "Celebration" painting had those nexus points that almost looked like coordinate fields straight out of a page of a science book. Bouman Jay said that that kind of made sense. She said that her last set of works was called "Throwing Stars," and was based on some images of black holes she'd seen in a science book of her son's. She said, "My son had lost the book, then we paid for it, then we found it again, but we couldn't give it back. So I figured I'd at least make some use out of it. So I took it to my studio with me. I don't know anything about science or stars. But the images really inspired me."

I told Bouman Jay that that side of her work really reminded me of the work of Dorothy Dehner I'd recently seen at the Denver Art Museum. Bouman Jay told me she'd really wanted to go see that exhibit while she was in town, but that she'd missed it to do something else. She then told me about the Rothko chapel in Houston, which sounds like a really incredible place. She also told me about the Cy Twombly Museum, which is either in Fort Worth or Houston. A Cy Twombly museum seems like an awesome concept.

I then took a look at the works of a couple named Signe and Genna Grushovenko. These works have an interesting style I don't think I've ever seen before. The canvas first seems to be painted with swirls, stripes, or splotches of bright color. Then, in front of the color, there are figures painted. But the figures aren't painted whole. Sections of their bodies, often where one might expect to see areas of contrast, maybe shadow, maybe light, there are holes, nothing, negative space, where the bright swirls of color pour through.

This seems to be a variation on the idea of distorted imagery, kind of along the reverse lines of Eduardo Sarabia, whose recent paintings at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver were of clean, sharp, photo-style paintings disrupted by clean, sharp, photo-style images of Liechtenstein-thick daubs and blobs of paint. In Sarabia, the figurative image is disrupted. In the Grushovenkos' work, the figurative image seems to be disrupted. Or maybe the figurative and non-figurative are cooperatively disrupting each other.

Mental masturbation!

The images themselves are lovely: many in a 1950s style, of pretty girls showing off their bikini bottoms, or of guys standing with girls before nice cars. There are also neat images of carnival rides, and one grid of faces, like a page of yearbook photos -- except that the faces are hardly there! It's mostly just the swirls of color.

I listened to Genna tell a prospective buyer that she and Signe kind of tag team their paintings. Signe paints the swirls of color. Then Genna draws a pastel outline of a scene onto the background. She then paints in the various fragments of the scene with oil paints.

Just down the way from the Grushovenkos was a booth of paintings by Michel Delgado, a Senegalese painter who now lives in Key West, Florida. His paintings mix thick layers of paint, often very dark, with scratchy, scrawly figures and nets of spilled or spattered paint. The paintings often have main subjects in the foreground: hyenas or wolves, clown-like devils, human men and women, and skeletons. But the backgrounds show phantoms of scrawly people, demons, buildings, and mathematical figures. A lot of times the scenes are also interrupted by pink and white polka dots, or orange, yellow, and black tongues of flame, like a rain of fire. There are also occasionally patches of other things affixed to the paintings, such as trays of papier-mâché skeletons, or old bottlecaps.

I stopped in the booth of pottery by Michigan artist Brian Beam. Beam's pottery is really interesting. It has a tan-yellow-green and deep green color scheme glazing red clay. But the yellow-green and green run over each other in a really lovely and organic, mottled fashion. And there are little stipples of red running up the sides of some of the vases and pots. There are also some vases that are done in a really unique style, bent in toward their centers and curled around toward their edges, so that, even while their color scheme resembles a plant's stalk, their shape resembles something like a calla lily. There are also some neat plates with bases coated in a cracked, white glaze that looks vaguely like spirals formed by the cracks in mud on a dry river bed.

Brian Beam wasn't there, but a friend of his who had come from Fulton, Michigan, with him was. I asked her hkw Beam had managed to get the red stippling effect in the yellow and green pottery. The woman told me that Beam uses a specific kind of wood ash as a glaze. The wood ash has a tendency to separate away from the clay during firing, like oil separates from water. That creates openings in the glaze, where the clay becomes visible. Hence the effect of the red stippling.

I told the woman that I'd never heard of that before. The woman said that not a lot of people were familiar with that effect. I asked the woman if people were still learning about the effects of certain glazes. She said, "Oh, yeah. A lot of people don't use wood ash glazes, anyway, just because of the fact that they're unpredictable. They're kind of finicky."

I walked a little farther and saw an image on the side of a booth I really liked. It was a pink stove. The pink obviously seemed to be painted onto the image of the stove. But the overall image was under glass, it seemed, like a photograph. The image was done by Dana Shavin, a woman from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Shavin's images seem to combine photos, painting, squares of acetate color, text, and other elements, often in a superimposed and collage-like style. The superimposed style reminds me of some of the works I saw by Sabin Aell at the McNichols Civic Center Building a few months ago.

Some of the works use very artificial settings, like the painted stoves, some pink, some yellow and blue; or old-fashioned, plastic dolls; or old typewriters. But some of the other scenes are more rustic, like scenes of dogs on a lawn or white horses, or houses in a rural area, or an old, decaying swimming pool. I particularly liked the image if the plastic doll, over which are superimposed images of a knife, fork, and spoon. Shavin leeringly told me this image was called "Solid Food." Double entendre, tongue in cheek, you are what you eat.

I told Shavin that her work made me want to go to Tennessee. It seems like there is such an interesting art and music scene. Shavin agreed, and said that Chattanooga was doing a lot to promote the arts, as one way of keeping the young people in town, as well as drawing more young people into the town. Shavin said that, as well as her, three other artist from Chattanooga were present at the festival, including her husband, who, by some strange twist of fate, was set on the opposite side of the festival from Dana!

I pointed out one work I really liked, of a photo of a house splotched over with deep red paint and with deep blue paint in the background. The house is surrounded by tangled canopies of dead trees, making the deep blue of the sky look even deeper. Shavin said this painting was a favorite of hers because she really loved the house. It was in some quiet, rural part of Georgia. Shavin said she wanted to live in the house when she saw it. But the house was way too run-down for anybody to live in.

I kind of tried to express to Shavin what I thought of her style. But I stuttered and fell silent. Shavin told me she saw her style as being moody. She said that if she had one kind of mood in her overall style it was probably pensive. But, she said, some of her work, like the work with the typewriters, was more cerebral.

There was a booth of interesting quilts by Taos artist Terrie Hancock Mangat. A lot of the quilts are done in a strip-like fashion that kind of reminded me, I think, of the work of Lucas Samaras. Some of the quilts then employ flower or tree imagery in their foreground, sometimes with an emphasis on the roots of the vegetation, other times with an emphasis on the flowering of the vegetation, and other times with an emphasis on the rain that falls on the vegetation -- this rain often signified by tiny, shiny, cylindrical beads.

One interesting thing to me was that entangled in the roots of the vegetation are often little, circular patches of imagery. Sometimes the imagery is abstract, sometimes mundane, and sometimes religious. It seemed to me like these patches were like the destiny of the world, lying dormant in the soil, tangled in the roots of the vegetation, which, it seems, carry the destiny of the vegetation.

The religious imagery struck me because there are some other quilts devoted to Buddha and the Virgin Mary. There are also some small quilts with stacks of these little circular patches called "Cairns," named after the stone trail markers one often finds in the woods.

I asked Mangat about the circular patches. She said she thought of them as stones. She said that she had found a lot of her previous work had used sticks and twigs as imagery. She soon realized that this was because, as a Taoseño, she did a lot of hiking and saw a lot of twigs on the trails. Now she was noticing stones, and even cairns, and now those things are becoming a part of her work. Mangat said that the cairn quilts were made especially for the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, since she knew Denverites were avid hikers like she was.

I told Mangat it struck me that the stones in the roots seemed to have a mystical meaning, or an indication of destiny. I said that the cairns, using that imagery, and compounding it with the quilts of the Buddha, seemed to be like a map of the chakras. Mangat liked that idea a lot. She said that, after all, cairns themselves did seem to be mystical things. She asked me if I couldn't feel that as I saw them while out hiking. I agreed that I could.

Another booth I liked was by Virginian artist Benjamin Frey. He also paints over pages of text, what he calles "found pages," I believe. He paints backgrounds of blue and tan, usually to denote land or sea and sky. Then, I think, in charcoal, he sketches out little vignettes. The vignettes are often carnivalesque. Locomotives, elephants, jugglers, acrobats, unicyclists, carousels, and twirling swing rides. The texts are often about geometry or physics or engineering, and they kind of match the motion or the overall subject of the vignette in the foreground.

Another artist that uses pages of texts is Denver artist Stacey Schultz. She uses the maps motif, like Barbara Bouman Jay. But her maps are almost gelled over with this sweet-sour-looking glass in vivid blues, oranges, and yellows. The glass has concentric circle designs spotting it. Usually in the centers of these concentric designs are clear circles giving a plain view of the maps beneath.

I was interested to listen to a conversation Schultz was having with an engineer about the similarities between art and engineering. The more I learn about engineering, the more I think of it as a very creative pursuit. I think it's kind of sad, though. People hear about engineering in school, and they just think it's something really boring. But you can be really creative as an engineer. I think if more American kids got a better picture of what being an engineer was all about, they'd want to be engineers. And America is going to need a lot of engineers if we are going to bring industry back to America and forward into a twenty-first century of environmental ethics.

There were a few other interesting booths I visited. And I still wanted to talk about all the great outfits I saw all the people wearing! But, like I always seem to do, I've gobbled up all my time already.