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.  

Monday, October 3, 2016

two hundred seventy-seven

Cherry Bounce greets you at the William King Museum of Art
Cherry Bounce is a special beverage -- depending on your point of view and your constitution.  Methinks moonshine is always a special experience.   And cherries whether consumed as juice or fresh fruit brings about a warming smile any day.  Cherry Bounce is the combination of the two.  The first time I even heard of the cherry/alcohol mixture was during an email from a Virginia art venue, The William King Museum of Art.  Very quickly I learned that the red elixir is a beverage favored by those nestled in and around the Appalachian Mountains region.  The drink is pulled out from hiding for special occasions -- like during US presidential election nights that apparently used to last longer than one day.  

Thumbs up from Callie & Les III (image by Katherine)
Back to the email -- Callie Hietala, Director of Exhibitions over at King invited me to make political art.  King Museum and special guest curator, Eric Drummond Smith specifically were searching for non-political based visual artists for an upcoming celebration of the art of Appalachian/American politics.  And the show name: Cherry Bounce.  Okay, I'm interested.  When do we drink?

Eric did a hell of a job masterminding the intricate scope for this exhibition.  He is an artist, political scientist, professor at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, and guest curator of Cherry Bounce: Appalachian Art, American Politics.  He invited 56 Appalachian-based (yes, Asheboro counts) artists to randomly pair up with one of America's presidential election campaigns.  The mission?  Each artist creates an 18 x 24 poster response to their campaign assignment for future display in the upcoming exhibition.  But then it goes a bit further -- a comprehensive website popped up with all the campaigns; a brief explanation of who and what was going on during each campaign; and reference images to help foster inspiration for the artists.  Aaaand Eric also created a list of links to all sorts of articles and essays on political art, campaign posters, presidential campaigns, and anything else remotely related to this project.  Dang.  It proved quite helpful.  Check out the Cherry Bounce website here.
"Vote Reptilian!"
On to the work.  I was tasked with responding to the election of 1808 -- James Madison's first presidential campaign.  Off to the local library for research to get my cogs going.  1808 candidates felt that being elected was a form of service to their country and more of an obligation than something one would campaign about.  The campaign poster hadn't even been invented yet.   There wasn't really campaigning like contemporary society sees.  Also the young US government wasn't a clear two party system -- but there were certainly those trying to advance their agenda.  Fun stuff.  So I call my brother-in-law Dr. David Herr, a Southern U.S. History professor.  He gives me more to chew on -- embargoes, Napoleon, Jeffersonian democracy, a bunch of men in Virginia that are trying to advance a more rural America -- I think.

Much was learned about the political cartoon that is often associated with the 1808 campaign.  It's an etching that includes a snapping turtle.  The political cartoons of yore were heady stuff -- just like visual art.    They would often use symbols to express a prevalent concept and some of the symbols would eventually be synonymous with the event/concept.  The snapping turtle or Chelydra serpentina was used to describe the frustration over the Embargo Act of 1807.  America had to stop all exports to Canada, Britain, and France. Naturally there was political reason to do so and it involved money.  The turtle concept grabbed me (ha) and he was even named O. Grabme which is embargo spelled backwards. The snapping turtle was often seen grabbing the American exporter who was being prevented by the American government from being able to do business.

The idea developed to feature the snapping turtle in a fictitious campaign poster. The concept of using script was pushed too, as often seen in the early political cartoons -- long hand, dense, and often covering much of the political cartoon art.           

The final result is a composite of many thoughts.  This piece features O. Grabme clutching a banner that says "the clear choice in muddy waters".  Above him are three bodies of water with national flags -- France, Britain, and the U.S. with captions about the embargo.  I feel this is a way to effectively demonstrate what was going on in 1808, nods to the art styles back then, and still fits in as a campaign poster.  The title is "Vote Reptilian" and basically represents 'a cluster' that is the political climate at the time.   

Les III and Eric and Eric's mural (image by Katherine)
The opening reception was a hoot -- complete with "Cherry Bounce" beverages and a mural made by Eric featuring all the locations of the participating artists.  It was compelling to learn other non-political artists had similar experiences in their creation process.  Many also enjoyed interesting/obscure facts about their campaign era.  The results of their research are included in their artworks too.  And there was much variety of art -- of course 2-D paintings and drawings but also sculpture, sound art, textiles, dioramas.  I met artists from Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and N.C..  And the King Museum is a beautiful old school on the top of a hill.  The museum personnel provided a warm reception and many pleasant conversations. 

O. Grabme on exhibit
And you know what else?  This laborious exhibition is comprehensive.  It is a sheer joy to participate in an exhibition that has their wheels on the tracks, facing the right direction, and moving forward.  This exhibition features the artists and the heady show concept on a thorough website.  This four month exhibition has multiple auxiliary programs (including a presidential election return party) to foster interest on the topic.  All the artists received postcards for the show to distribute and the museum even had hand-made screen printed shirts available for sale during the opening.  This Cherry Bounce tastes good.  More power to venues like King Museum -- non-profit or commercial that are able to operate on this frequency.  I hear your passionate campaign.  Thank you for the forum to express my creative endeavors and challenge me in a supportive environment to try something different.  I love it when everybody wins.    

Cherry Bounce: Appalachian Art, American Politics is on exhibit September 2, 2016 -- January 15, 2017 in the United Company Contemporary Regional Gallery at William King Museum of Art, 415 Academy Dr NW, Abingdon, VA 24212 .