Wednesday, September 26, 2018

how does that work?

I get myself into some unusual situations from time to time.  Sometimes this is because I say or do dumb things, but sometimes the universe just hands me something wonderfully ridiculous and walks away giggling.  For example.....

Back in May we had our second annual sand sculpture trip and took a group of students to Litchfield Beach on the SC coast for a week of sand sculpting.  My students did their thing all week in front of the hotel and tons of people admired their work and talked to them about it.  One particular couple talked to several student artists while admiring their sculptures and later in the week that couple got engaged among the sand sculptures.  

Later in the summer the bride-to-be emailed me and told me that since we were a part of the engagement, they wanted us to be a part of the wedding.  She wanted to know if we could come back to the beach to make sand sculptures for the wedding.  The students they met and a couple more of my choosing would be hired for the weekend.  I couldn't type "yes" fast enough.  

Of course something like this is not a vacation and there would be obstacles to deal with too.  There wasn't money for all the students from the trip to go, which meant the ones who didn't get to go might be ticked off.  And since I'd be choosing the graphic design professor for his noted expertise in script lettering for a specific request, that meant one less spot for a student.  Luckily, this is where my cold blooded nature comes in handy.  I looked through the sculptures from the trip and chose what we needed.  It would have been nice to bring everyone, but the real world isn't nice and we had a paying client to please.  Tough choices had to be made.  

It also didn't make it any easier that this is a very busy time in the fall semester.  All the first studio projects are due right about now and while the students are in panic mode, all the professors are asked to be in 14 different meetings at the same time.  And did you hear there was a massive flood in South Carolina?  The hurricane from a week ago flooded the area to our north and all that water is flowing south, shutting down bridges, threatening entire cities and potentially cutting off access to the coast completely.  If we made it down, we might get trapped.  Or we might be stuck in traffic for hours.  Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.  But last Friday we all walked out of the building and threw our gear in the truck and drove to the beach.  Someone in my car may have even told me they wouldn't mind if we got stuck at the beach for a week.

 We met the bride just as it was getting dark on the beach.  The mosquitos literally almost dragged me away a few times.  But after we discussed what she wanted, we just stood there on the beach marveling at the moon reflecting off the water.  The worries were gone.  We got some late dinner at a good burger joint near the hotel and then we did some sketching and planning before getting some sleep.  

 And because we are who we are, several of us set an early alarm to be ready to run a 5K at 6am.  The only problem was that the days are shorter now than they were in May so when we got out to the beach in our running gear, it was pitch black.  After a couple of trips and near falls, the sky brightened just enough to see a few steps in front of us.  When we were finished running the sun was still not up.  
 These are the crazy runners who joined me.

 One of the finer points of the Litchfield Inn is the ocean front breakfast dining area.  I think you'll agree.

 Then it was time to get started working.  First we moved lots of sand.

 Then we hauled lots of water in buckets from the ocean and poured them on the mounds of sand.

 Then we repeated that process over and over until our arms and legs felt like spaghetti noodles.  And then we used those noodles to pack the sand and began sculpting.  And because we all needed to make at least 2 sculptures each, we took a break, ate some lunch, drank a few gallons of water and we did it all again.

 Our president was so excited about our trip, he made sure he sent us off with matching Lander shirts for good photos.  He's a good guy.

 Jump photos are always funny with uncoordinated people like us.  Every chance we got, we took a jump photo.  This was one of the more successful ones.

 This is a view of the beach where we created the wedding venue from way out on the sand bar at low tide.  

 Slagle spent the morning piling up a huge mound of sand for the bride and groom names.  

 I laid out the plan and piled up sand for people before making a seahorse.

 Singletary started working on her starfish collection.

 BHP overestimated his scale again...and made a huge stingray.

 Grace only works giant, so she made a giant dolphin.

 Jarecki was already at work on her second sculpture, an anchor.  We toyed with the idea of wrapping the chain around the groom's leg but eventually we decided that would be in poor taste.  I think they would have laughed though.

 Gazelle made a great nautilus shell before starting on a school of fish.

 Hannah had one sculpture in the bag and was already starting on her second one at this point.

 Bolt worked with BHP to make a big, flowing tail for the stingray.  Her attention to detail had her collecting shells for the tail and then gathering reeds and washed up grasses to create a cool border to mark the edges of the ceremony space.

After Abby finished her first sculpture, she made a series of abstract wave sculptures for us.

 Sabrina just relaxed in the shade drinking all the water.  Kidding.  But it really was hot and we all went through a lot of water on Saturday.  

 I may not get all these correct, but here are some of the finished sculptures from Saturday.  I think these are Jarecki's

 Gazelle's nautilus

 Abby's starfish?  Maybe?

 Hannah's turtle?

 Sabrina's huge octopus volcano.

 Grace's dolphin

 Bolt's conch shell

 Singletary's starfish

 And my altar for the bride and groom.  It's mandatory for me to make a skull in the sand on each trip.  All day everyone kept looking for opportunities for me to hide a skull in some sculpture.  When I was raking out the altar area, the skull just appeared.  Don't worry, I smoothed it back out.

 Slagle's amazing text took all day.  As the afternoon started slipping away, he called me over for backup.  I carefully sculpted waves across the top of the mound of sand while trying my best to not screw up his hard work.

After about 8 hours, we were ready to drop.  We had too much sun, not enough water and not enough food.  The wedding area looked great, but it was time for us to shower and go get some seafood.

 We rolled up on Russell's and it was packed.  No one seemed to care that I would be eaten alive by mosquitos if we ate outside.  Apparently they like sweet people.  This is not exactly what Sabrina said, but her southern expression was not family friendly either.  But the food was great and I got to sit beside Abby.  Abby is a hoot.

I needed ice cream after dinner so we drove over to Painter's and got a couple of temporary tattoos with our ice cream.  Then we drove out to the beach to check on the sculptures.  With the work being on a public beach, we didn't know what would happen overnight.  Anyone could have smashed them all and we would have had nothing the next day.  All was still good so we went back to the hotel for some rest.

Sunday morning we slept in an extra 15 minutes.  It was still dark when we started running but the sun broke the horizon before we got back to the hotel.  The entire run was beautiful.  

 Jump photos...this is why we call her Gazelle.

And the Slagle.  They were jumping over a channel of water.

 And a jump photo with the bride on the morning of the wedding.  She's the one in the center wearing her new Lander shirt.  She insisted on coming out and taking some photos with us before we left.  We all actually made if off the ground for this one.

 We were all happy because there was only minor curious dog damage to a few of the sculptures.  I credit this to my students using proven sand sculpting techniques and making good quality work.  We brushed off some paw prints and filled in some holes and we were ready to rake the whole space and get everything clean for the ceremony.

 We took a few real, serious photos with the bride but Abby doesn't do serious.  No one is sure what she was doing in this pic.  Not even Abby.

 We washed the sand off, packed our bags and made a touristy stop on the way to lunch.

 The only thing better than Russell's at the beach is The Grilled Cheese & Crabcake Company.  I was so excited to get to eat there again.  Grace is pointing to the ad for the Crab Melt over her head.  Happiness abounded.

 We got Singletary a "best boss" mug for helping us out on this trip.  Ages ago I taught Singletary as a freshman at Winthrop.  I taught her again when she was in grad school.  Now she's chair of the art department at Lander.  Life is weird sometimes.

 I love doing things like this with my students but I have to admit that I miss my family terribly when I'm away.  And going to all the places they love makes them hate me just a little bit.  So like a good husband, I ordered to-go meals and took them home to the family.

 We made it across the bridge and headed back toward home.  Our detour took us back through time and through a tiny old town.  I saw this "before I die" board in a storefront and skidded over into a parking space.  Everyone got the chance to write something before we left.

If you drive past a well lit cotton field and don't stop, are you even a group of art majors?  There were photography projects to do and the cameras were ready to go.  When we passed the right field, I was commanded to stop and everyone got out to take photos.  South Carolina is a pretty cool place.

And my students are pretty cool too.  I've come to expect the excellent behavior and diligent work from them.  But each time I travel with them I learn more about them and I have better, deeper conversations with them.  They're all really wonderful people and very talented artists.

Soon we'll be getting ready to sign up for the next sand sculpture trip.  We'll be gathering another group together and spending another week doing some very difficult but very fun work.  Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and get hired to do something crazy again.  I'm considering all offers.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

is that a field trip?

 Our Art Historian at Lander always organizes a museum trip at the start of each semester.  Last Saturday he and I met a group of students at The Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, SC.  It was a fun little day trip with great art and fun people.  Here's how I saw it:

 Museum and gallery visits are always interesting to me because they remind me of the continuing conversations we must have about art.  As an artist and a professor, I'm supposed to have these questions nailed down, but if I'm honest, the questions of "is that art?", "why is that art?" and "is that good art?" are not always so easy to answer.  The image above is a wall hanging work of art (forgive me for not remembering the artist or title) and it was one of the first things I saw in the museum.  It immediately reminded me of these questions.  I like it.  Which is not something I allow my students to say.  But I do.  But is it effective?  I was already smiling before walking into the first exhibit.

 The first exhibit was a Japanese photographer and the entire gallery space was filled with images of the same subject, framed in exactly the same way, at the exact same size.  Each photo was an image of the ocean and the sky.  Different locations and different times of day, but everything else was the same.  The entire gallery.  Each photo was the same photo I take every single time I go to the beach.  I love the ocean, the sky and that horizon line and I can look at it for hours.  There's something meditative and compelling about it that exceeds the limitation of words.  It puts me at ease.  This exhibit did the same thing.  Until I started thinking about it as composition and asking if it was art or if it was good art.  Then I sat down and smiled more.

 The next featured gallery contained several exhibits of the work of Katie Pell.  This was clearly a 1970s themed exhibit and it was designed very well by the museum.  There was even a spot with ogee print wallpaper and ugly chairs to sit and listen to vinyl records in the back.  A nice touch.  This is usually an alcove in the gallery used to encourage visitors to take selfies and post to social media.  I liked this idea even better.

 We entered the exhibit backwards as it was designed but it still worked well.  The first gallery was pages from an artist book that Pell wrote and illustrated about her childhood in the 70s.  I was born in 1972 and I felt an immediate connection with the images of being outside all day and playing in the woods and in a creek.  Some of our students related as well even though their parents would be the same age as the artist.

 Pell demonstrated her range of abilities with drawing, painting and sculpture.  This giant charm bracelet was created using laminated plywood, a process my sculpture students are currently learning.  Perfect timing.

 This was the statement for the body of work pictured below.  I loved the line "the excitement of our pointless and forgettable lives".  

 The distorted faces from yearbook photos really grabbed my attention.  I love to examine faces and bodies and how different they are from one another.  Of course this is frowned upon in public, so being able to sit and really stare was nice.  Each warped face contained within it it's own spectacular beauty.

 The next gallery had large ornate frame drawings that reminded me of old album art.  While the drawings were mostly just around the outside edge of the work, you could sit for hours and continue to find new things.  There was so much personal symbolism and imagery repeated.  

 In a looping video the artist talked about everyone having a story to tell and the importance of how that story is told.  Each person chooses how their story will be told and they edit the details and the narrative based on those choices.  This is an echo of an idea that has been buzzing around in my head for months.  it's so important to listen to someone as they speak.  Not just to what they are saying, but how they are saying it.  The way they tell their story will tell you exactly what is most important to them.  Really listening to people is similar to really looking at them.  Except listening may be more socially acceptable.

 The main exhibit of Pell's work, a collection of manipulated album covers was probably my least favorite part of her exhibit.  In this exhibit she used her own manipulation of existing album art to tell various stories about other people.  Her work was more impactful when it was about her own story. if you're interested in more.

 Then it was upstairs to the permanent collection to finish up.  Everyone had split up and I was alone.  I wasn't super excited to see the upstairs work because I go to the museum at least once a year to see the rotating exhibits and the work upstairs always seems the same.  There are minor changes but I typically move through very quickly with stops to see some of the favorites.

 I love religious work.  Believe whatever you wish, but there's something transcendent about some of the old Christian art.  I've probably mentioned that before but for me there's an easy connection between spirituality and creating art.  Whatever your particular flavor of belief, I think we could come to terms with some sort of agreement on this idea.

 The Botticelli always gets a sit from me.  The symbolism and iconography in Early Christian art is so fun.  When I learned about the symbolism in Freshman year Art History survey, I felt like someone had exposed a book of secrets to me.  All this meaning was there all the time but I never got it.  There's so much more going on that just what is depicted.  It's a secret club just for art kids.  

 As the work got more contemporary, I got more interested.  This creepy "angel" kid was a good one.  The hair looked real and the sculpture had a presence in this space.  It's funny how moving from the older stuff into the newer stuff immediately started raising the question, "what makes this art?".  

 An Eames chair.  It was nice to see a section dedicated to modern design and plastic furniture.  Eames thought good design should be affordable and accessible to everyone.  I like that idea.  It's like public art for the home.

 Same room, a Frank Gehry bend wood chair.  I'm a fan.

 Jean Arp's "Seuil Configuration".  It looks like I made it.  Had to think about this one for a while.  

 Georgia O'Keeffe

 Chuck Close

 Warhol with a wooden hand in front

 The works on paper exhibit had a lot of big names.  This one is Magritte.

 ...and Matisse

 ...and Picasso

 And this is our group with Warhol's "Mao" series. Several of these people are new to me, meaning I haven't had them in class yet but they were all fun.

Outside the museum, Main Street was blocked off for the farmer's market.  Just behind the vendors there were some artists quietly installing crochet art on the utility poles.

 If you've never seen this, it's called "Yarn Bombing" and it happens is a lot of urban areas.

 Maybe crochet isn't the correct term.  Maybe it's knitting?  I don't know.  Either way it's really cool.  I watched a police officer try really hard to watch one of these go up without officially seeing anything happen.  He liked it.

 As far as unauthorized public art goes, this type gets my seal of approval.  It's temporary, beautiful, thought provoking and it doesn't damage or destroy anything.  

 After the art it was taco time.  As art people, we didn't really consider that we were on the edge of "gameday" in a big football town.  The taco place was pretty much on campus and we had to detour around all the stadium traffic and search for parking spaces.  Still, we got our tacos.  

Columbia isn't very far from my house but I'm usually just there when I'm passing through on my way to the coast.  Since I was there and had a belly full of tacos, I decided to stop in town long enough to check on a sculpture I installed a couple of years ago.  "Curtis & Bob" was still looking good.  

Then it was back home to contemplate the trip.  There was some good discussion with a couple of students about what we saw and what made it good.  The museum had a little display asking visitors to categorize works from the collection as "art", "not sure" and "not art".  That was certainly a good starting point.  

I am always interested in observing others.  I enjoy seeing other people interact with art.  There were some people who took minutes to go through the entire museum.  Then there were others who didn't even get to see everything before it was time to leave.  I love to see people sitting down in front of works of art and I like to try to figure out what they are thinking.  Watching the Art Historian look at art was like watching a master at work.  Since I'm an artist, I know that I look at art pretty different than most people.  Almost immediately I judge the quality of the work.  As if I'm seeing if it's even worth my time.  Then I begin to look at the technique.  I want to see how it was done.  I get close and I inspect the edges, the brush strokes and the craftsmanship.  I critique it for composition and concept.  But I also become a regular person at some point and it either fits my personal taste or it doesn't.  This is when I throw all the other stuff out the window and just enjoy the work or hate it.  

Is everything in a museum or gallery art?  Nope.  Is some of it good art and some bad art?  Yep.  Is there a difference between fine art and design?  Yep.  What about between fine art and craft?  Yep.  But the stuff by the big name people, that's definitely good art, right?  Nope.  Ok, but the stuff you like, that's gotta be good art, yes?  Nope.

Go see some art and find out your answers to those questions.  Or buy me a coffee and we'll talk it out.