Monday, January 21, 2013

gallery talk from 1/17/2013

If you were not able to attend the reception, this is what I think I said during the gallery talk:

This exhibit is titled “The One About Pop” and you may have figured out that it’s a show about my dad.

My dad was an awesome guy and he passed away last spring.  There were lots of cool things about him but one of the coolest things was that he had a superpower.  He had the power to make people laugh.  Now, it may not seem like a superpower to make people laugh, but he had the distinct ability to make people laugh even when they did not want to laugh.  That’s pretty tough to do.  In the moments when sadness, grief or stress exerted their evil powers over people, my dad would fly in and crack a joke, say something inappropriate or tell a funny story.  It seemed to be his way of reminding people that we should not take life so seriously.  Or maybe it was his way of showing us beauty when we were not looking for it. 

We may not be looking for beauty at a funeral, for example.  We may be all ready to grieve and be sad as we were at my dad’s funeral.  But the hundreds of people who came out to his graveside service all came to us one by one and told us funny stories about things my dad did, things he said or crazy situations he got himself into.  Instead of sadness, we found laughter in the beauty of the happiness he brought to everyone around him.  It was a memorial that suited him. 

My dad’s love of laughter and storytelling are elements I hope come through my artwork.  The drawings and sculptures in this exhibit very often deal with serious or even sinister subject matter, but each one has a cartoonish look and a shiny surface to indicate that it’s not all bad news.  The bright colors and goofy imagery play the role of my dad as they try to bring a smile to the viewer.  The storytelling through imagery may not be as straightforward as my dad’s stories were, but the narratives are present in each work.  In each piece I’ve arranged for the presence of a setting, a character or two and a few props.  Even though the dots are not all connected for you, they are present and they wait on you to complete the picture. 

My dad is responsible for us being at this exhibit in at least a couple of other ways.  He was the welding instructor at Swofford Vocational Center for most of my childhood.  When I was seven years old he taught me to weld.  This likely sounds preposterous to you but there was a perfectly logical and rational reason for it.  My brothers were both older than me and both knew how to make themselves scarce when my dad looked like he needed help in the welding shop he had at our house.  Not finding them, he stood before me and asked me if I wanted to learn how to weld.  I suppose that I was too small to hold the heavy pieces of steel, so by default he needed me to weld them while he held them. 

This affected me in two ways.  First, I learned at seven that I loved making things - real, three-dimensional things out of steel.  I still remember what I made that day and how proud I was of it.  That love of making things carried over into drawing and eventually sculpture.  Second, by learning to weld at 7 and spending the next 33 years learning from my dad's wisdom, I now have 34 years of experience in a sculptural material that not many 41 year olds have.  Everything I know about steel and welding I learned from my dad.  I was still learning from him in the months before he passed away. 

Still, I did not set out to create a body of work about my dad.  As much as he meant to me, I figured that would have been a disaster.  I wrote something a couple of months after his death where I compared dealing with the death of a loved one with eating an elephant.  I asked, how do you deal with such a significant change in your life?  The answer was, the same way you eat an elephant.  One bite at a time.  So during the summer months when I worked on the drawings and sculptures in this exhibit, I was digesting this change one bite at a time.  Each work then, has some sort of relationship to my dad.  Some were born out of funny stories he used to tell us when we were kids.  Some use imagery that relate specifically to him.  Some deal with things he taught me about work ethic and attitude.  There is a piece of him in each and every work chosen for this show.

As an abstract artist, it is not my intention to create work that shouts at you and tells you exactly what to think.  I have no interest in making work that says to you “Hey, this is what I am” or “this is what I mean”.  Instead, I choose to make work that hints, nudges and suggests certain ideas or concepts to the viewer.  It is then up to the viewer to fill in the blanks based on their own personal histories and narratives.  This approach is more like a visual conversation between the viewer and the work of art.  The art may suggest a thought by way of an image or a color.  The viewer may respond by thinking that there’s something familiar about that image.  Then the work of art may reveal another image or a contrasting idea.  The viewer then must figure out what relationship the two ideas have and what it means.

Contrary to what I thought when I was a kid, there is much work and effort that goes into this process of abstraction.  There are hours spent working to evolve a recognizable image in my sketchbook.  Then other images may be joined together to generate new ideas.  With so much time and effort devoted to creating such an experience for the viewer, I hope you will understand my refusal to simply tell you what a sculpture means.  I love for people to ask and I want to you have those questions, but please do not be offended when I answer your questions with more questions.  I prefer to know what the viewer gets from the experience.  This work is not just about me and my stories, it’s about all of us and our shared experiences as humans. 

1 comment:

BJM said...

Doug -
Love this post. I can "hear" you talking about your Dad and I want to point out that in addition to teaching you welding and many life lessons, I believe your Dad gifted you with the art of teaching. Mike and I always enjoyed and left thinking when you were teaching us in Sunday School, and your gift of teaching comes through in your writing as well as for your students.

Your art is thought-provoking and entertaining, and an honor to your Dad.