Monday, March 20, 2017

two hundred eighty

That name kept hitting me, "Ronald E. McNair."  That dude was a brilliant person: accomplished saxophonist; black belt in karate; BS in Engineering Physics from Greensboro's A&T; Ph.D in Physics from MIT; and the second African-American in space (he's got a moon crater named after him).  I'm going to McNair Elementary in Greensboro to talk about visual art.  Talk about feeling eclipsed.  

But I get ahead of myself.  The train tracks just before the school ceased the morning rush for a minute.  Several minutes.  Lots of minutes.  Lots of cars.  Each box had graffiti on it.  Big, colorful images.  I think to myself, "this is what I'll tell the students -- you too can grow up to find a creative safe haven on the side of a box car.  Sure, many want to stop you from doing it; sure it's expensive to buy supplies with little chance to get paid; sure many in the public eye do not understand it and dismiss it; sure others paint over your success to claim their spot.  All this is not much different than pursuing a career in the fine art world."  Ah, but that thought flashes by as the train passes. I snap back to witness two trains traveling in opposite directions meet & greet for an air horn moment.  The new perspective is a colorful locomotive high five.  Today will be a good day.

storming a head
The sky was all was stormy that morning.  I roll into the campus to see they have an artist-in-residence on the 14th on the marque.  Oh.  That's me.  I laugh.  Nice touch, McNair Elementary.  Further up the drive students in yellow ponchos serve as valets for students arriving by auto.  It was beautiful.  Young people helping each other.  In the rain.  With smiles.  It never ceases to get me right there.  So much positivity we possess in youth.  Then life can knock it right out of us.  Because, you know, since rain is wet, it is sad.  No -- with these students they were having a ball.  Those lingering smiles do not lie -- they had a job to do.  They had a poncho to wear.  They got to open the doors for their peers.  Hi fives and all.  Smack that down, haters. Rain rocks.

(from left) Harpy, student work, Mr. Mac, and Les III
I meet McNair's art teacher, Ryan McInturff, in the school office.  He's dressed in all black; is perceptive; and has an energetic ease to him.  I bet his students make awesome projects (They do.  See for yourself:   twitter: McNairArt).  He promptly grabs me a cuppa coffee and says the students call him "Mr. Mac."  You got it.  And thank you for the invite to come hang with the art students.  I collect my visitor sticker and enter the frenzy that is an artful school visit.  For forty minutes for four times I will talk to the fourth graders about being a professional visual artist; show them examples of my artwork; and lead an art project.  All in forty minutes.  Yeah.  The questions fielded from the classroom alone can easily hit 20 minutes.  But this is also my fifth year with the almost 40 year old "Artist-In-Schools" project sponsored by the Guilford County School System and GreenHill Museum.  So I got a bit of a routine -- it includes playing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes", and well appointed high fives.   

creating exquisite corpses
What happens next is a blur.  Great questions.  Greater smiles.  These kids are woke.  And they want to know more.  One student in particular is trying to wrap his head around how my finished, framed, and varnished painting starts out as a piece of wood paneling and primer.  And then we talk about the painting.  She's a mythological monster named "Harpy."  She loves her job even though it is evil.  And then we talk about the use of color and line to create visual communication: depicted Greek nose, fangs, bat wing, pretty hair, graceful disposition and all.

I heart this.
We transition from Greek mythical monsters to Exquisite Corpse.  We talk about the history of the drawing game and play it ourselves.  The students get a refresher on how to collaborate since the drawings are traded among them four times during the game.  It is super chaotic and we do not use erasers or pencils for that matter.  Fourth graders generally prefer to draw out their art prior to using the markers -- not with Les III.  We go with first color impressions.  We laugh.  We learn.  We are reminded about the joy lingering in the creative process once again -- and how art is all around us -- math, history, clothing, trains -- you name it.  That second cup of coffee helps too.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

two hundred seventy-nine

Image by Katherine Hagen
The last part of 2016 brought the invitation to participate in the Cherry Bounce Show over at the William King Museum of Art in Abindgon, Virginia.  A comprehensive blog entry on the exhibit and the art is here.  In short it's an exhibition of 55 artists who explored the art of the campaign poster for each U.S. presidential contest.  The exhibition is dense, overwhelming, and delicious.  Many of  the Appalachian region-based artists invited aren't even politically motivated (like myself).  The guest curator, politcal science professor Eric Drummond Smith did one hell of a job compiling info and making it available for the artists (see the above Cherry Bounce website).  The exhibition is on display through the end of January 2017.

Back in the fall of 2016 Callie Hietala, Director of Exhibitions at William King telephoned me to pick my brain a bit about how my Cherry Bounce artwork came to be.  We talked about how I came up with a work of art celebrating the 1808 presidential election that ultimately ended up with James Madison's first term as the POTUS.  And then she put our conversation on the radio.  How cool is that?

Here's the interview via WEHC 90.7's Art Speaks with Callie.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

two hundred seventy-eight

Chad Beroth, one of the exhibition coordinators at Delurk Gallery invited Dane Walters, Lye Lawrence, and me to exhibit in October 2016.  I don't recall Chad's specific words, it was almost a year ago.  Something like Dane paints dark shit and you're one of my all time favs, and Lye is an awesome-up-an'-comer so the three of you would balance out a cool Halloween show.  Honest.  Chad said something like that.  Delurk Gallery operates as an artist collective.  Within the five year old gallery there is an honored tradition of collaboration.  It's a way to stretch out and try new things. Try new patience.  Try not to cry.  

creating the death
So the three of us accepted the invite and got to thinking.  Collaboration.  What we gonna do?  How do we mesh our three styles?  We decided we would fill the Delurk Gallery by working on three collab-o works and then also exhibit selections of our own work individually.

Next thing I knew it was February and we all had made a 3ft x 3ft x 3in panel/canvas each to create on. We decided to meet in Delurk's gallery space, lay down a drop cloth, put the blank panels on easels, and bring our favorite painting weapons.  Boom.  Nine hours later (with a dinner break) we had created three otherworldly works.  From that day on we set to working on our individual bodies of work with the plan to meet up again to finish our gruesome collab-o tasks.

Dane with one of the finished collab-os.
October was fast approaching and so was a theme.  Each of us contributed to the collaborative effort for a deathly good show: Necro Nectar.  And the contributed art works depicted were ripe with putrid zombies, morphing botanical-esque figures, and grubby graphite skeletons.  

An aside -- I was inspired to use old, recycled, stained, and wrinkled drawing paper to coax out illustrations of realistic skeletons.  You know, make it look old and weathered and dark and rich -- with a tinge of jovial.  Despite depictions of death and demise, the skeletons sport Micky Mouse pants -- the ones with the big buttons of the front.  

Lye adding his signature to one of the collab-o works.

But that spirit of collaboration -- that kept rising like the dead.  The day of the opening reception arrived and everyone was pitching in to finish the job.  Dane's Momma brought a table spread of vittles.  Katherine brought home-made spider sugar cookies.  I brought canned fish.  Dane and Lye painted the walls, Chad trained the lights.  Holland placed title labels.  Group effort, y'all -- if you've ever been part of a Delurk event from the inside, this was a primo example.  Delurk members even brought in fresh, haunting work for the "Collective Wall."  The gallery was thick with plump death. 

A can of mackerel makes a cameo.
And death came calling promptly at 7p for the opening reception.  The lights illuminated for curious visitors.  The rendered flesh glistened, the bones rattled, and organic treasures were unearthed.  And the show is ready for you to experience now through October 28 at Delurk Gallery located at 207 W 6th Street in downtown Winston-Salem.