Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Lowdown, Beyond Black Friday...

Temperatures are in the 70's and the sunshine is warm on my skin. Nope, I'm not in western PA but spending Thanksgiving with my family down here in the lovely Florida panhandle. I have successfully escaped a week off from work in the dreary gray of Pittsburgh at this time of year to be eating and drinking my way up and down the sugary white beaches on 30A. Its great to get away and after a few days of being "out of the fray" of my life I'm able to gain a little clarity and reflect objectively on things ... so here I am pecking away at 7:00 am.

Yesterday I spent the madness of Black Friday free from pepper spraying freaks who were dying to get a highly discounted electronic device. Instead of braving the wall to wall crowds at the big box stores we quickly breezed through a couple of outlets, just buying some Christmas presents and a few winter items for my daughter that we had scouted out a couple days before. I started my day with Black Friday Record Store Day...8 am at my favorite locally owned and operated independent record store in all of the panhandle...maybe all of Florida, Central Square Records in Seaside(click for a previous post about this place). No pushing and shoving, no pepper spray. I had a free cup of coffee and browsed until I settled on the new Black Keys single...on vinyl, with a reverse groove so that it plays from the inside stuff. Then I had to fuel up for the day with some very fine Crab Cake Eggs Benedict and way more coffee...afterward, I was sufficiently ready to meet what the day had in store. The livin' is much easier down here...a bit more expensive, but definitely easier.

As I was cruising around yesterday, I visited shops and galleries in between stops at the bars and restaurants. I made note of what I saw of interest as far as art went and what I was amazed at that passed for Art. I do believe they could use a whole lot more ceramics down this way. Now, wood fired ceramics...I do not think so but low/mid fired ceramics with brighter colors, decals, and bling...oh yes, it would fly. I guess that's what we do as artists a lot of times...imagine how and where our work can fit into the scheme of things...I certainly do this quite a bit, I just figured others must too. When thinking about this, it brought me back to my show I opened a couple weeks back in Kipp Gallery...The Lowdown:Tales from the Margin.

Like I said, as artists we often imagine our work in new spaces and admittedly I'm pretty selfish in my reasons for visiting spaces or new places as I am often thinking about how I can get my work into them. Not only am I thinking about getting my work out there, but simultaneously thinking about making new work or in the case of being a gallery director...putting together a show that I love or one that I know will look great in the gallery both cases, "The Lowdown" fits this bill. Working with Jill Foote Hutton to put "The Lowdown" together was a very pleasurable collaboration and seeing the actual work in my gallery space is very exciting. Also knowing that this exhibition will have another showing at Red Lodge Clay Center in February is really cool too. All the pieces surpassed the build up of their images and when they all came together in the space, they created a more harmonious visual than I had expected. I did hear that comment from several colleagues...remarking on the overall look of the show. The show has been well attended since the opening and we even hosted a nice size group of 36 on a Saturday. We have reached more of the community outside the university with this show than with previous exhibitions...I think this is due to it being "ceramics". Clay seems to have a broader appeal and we see a bit of a different crowd. What has been consistent from both the community viewers as well as the university viewers is their surprise in the works. Its a little different from expectations...vivid color, complex surfaces and comic-book coolness. Another colleague of mine marveled at the pieces and quipped, "its like painting"...and to myself I thought, "yeah, but better".

That's what the gallery is about This show in particular is about teaching... teaching what can be done at lower temps...with just an electric kiln. Its about communicating personal narratives in such ways that the viewer responds and make their own associations creating bridges for their own experiences within the works. These pieces do just that and its a great opportunity for teachers/professors to use the show as a research topic. I mean...even from the title..."Tales from the Margin"...what do we mean by "margin" in this context? The works can be viewed both as technically masterful and also as objects that are about far more than just their formal qualities. As somebody who is keenly aware of the number of visitors and perhaps where they are being directed from, I wonder if this opportunity is actually being taken advantage of by my colleagues. I also wonder if it is enough to simply have a student turn in a sheet of paper signed by the gallery monitor saying they were there...after having breezed through the exhibition while texting friends and without even picking up as much as a postcard. The shows ARE a little more thought provoking than glancing at seashell inspired artworks intended for second and third vacation homes, but I guess you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him think...without the correct app. I have very limited direct contact with the students so from my position I question, wonder and often worry if there has been much of a dialogue going on about the title, or the fact that all the work was electric kiln fired, or about who these seven exemplary clay artists are. People love the show...what's there not to love...but I'm interested in this exhibition sparking further discussion. This is an ongoing fight and its not specific to this exhibition, I would imagine its an ongoing issue for many gallery directors...but for me, I'm just more attached to this show than I have been to most others. Like any teacher, the exhibitions in the galleries are my assignments...they are meant to provoke, excite, stimulate and challenge...but in my position, I'm only the middleman.

So maybe the clarity and objective reflection brought on by the warm Gulf breezes is good... in short bursts. Its also helped me think about making new work in the new space of my soon to be basement studio now in Beaver Falls. My wheel has moved from Little Mahoning Creek Pottery for the first time in 5 years and I will be purchasing a new electric kiln. Like my temporary weather switch up, I will be switching up flipping back to some more sculptural pieces and also new mid range functional ware...more to come on this idea later. Its time to shower, toss on shorts, t-shirt and sandals and bar hop to a couple good places to watch a little football, listen to local music and consume a few beers. I will soon be returning to the winter but with sand in my shoes, feeling a little refreshed and full of fresh seafood... see ya back in the blah.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Lowdown:Tales from the Margin...

"The Lowdown: Tales from the Margin"...that's the title of the new exhibition that I am opening in Kipp Gallery here at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I am really excited about this particular exhibition because I curated it with the Gallery Coordinator from Red Lodge Clay Center in Montana. My collaborator's name is Jill Foote-Hutton and she and I have been working on this show since the early Spring...the link on her name will take you to her blog where she writes about various ceramic art related issues and also the going-ons out there in Red Lodge. The show will open next week and Jill is flying in from Montana to give a little talk prior to our public reception on Thursday November 5:00 pm...just in case your in the area and want to stop by!

Jill(who was a pleasure to work with) and I tossed names back and forth for a while until we settled on the current group. We felt that these seven artists best represented our concept for the exhibition. All seven work with the idea of a narrative, however loose or abstract, and these seven also consistently generate objects that toy with definitions and tease visual, historical and/or technical boundaries. Our other parameter for the exhibition was that all involved had to produce work in a mid-to low temperature range as well. I specifically wanted this aspect to be in the forefront to act as a symbol of individual studio sustainability..."have electric kiln, can make work".

Visually the works are vibrant and highly varied...from Melissa Mytty's delicate pinched porcelain cup and saucer explorations all the way to Max Lehman's two and and a half foot high grinning skeletons. Like I said, the exhibition is varied yes, but it is also an interesting and connected grouping. I believe its the hyper-attention to detail of the surfaces that unite this group... all belonging in the "fetish finish" category. The highly patterned and brightly glazed exteriors of Alex Kraft's abstract forms seem to fit right in with Jason Bige Burnett's graphic design inspired bowls and platters. This exhibition is at once rich, decadent and a little dark but remains open and accessible to a wide range of viewer. The Low Down: Tales from the Margin is a celebration of the creative exploitation possible with electric coils and eutectic compositions.
So dear homefry friends, enjoy a sneak peek at some of the work in the exhibition right here on the ol' blog... and if you are anywhere near the IUP campus, please stop by and check out the show. The exhibition runs from 11/8 - hours are noon to 4pm Tuesday through Friday. Jill Foote Hutton will give a short talk prior to the public reception on Thursday, November 10 and Max Lehman will be in from New Mexico to speak to our ceramic and sculpture classes. The exhibition will then be packed and shipped up to the Red Lodge Clay Center to be shown from February 3 - 24. You can search out Kipp Gallery on facebook to see images from the opening and more pics of the work... also, the link at the very top will take you to my calendar of exhibitions for Fall and Spring and there are links to each of the exhibiting clay artists' websites...Jason Bige Burnett, Carole Epp, Julie Guyot, Alex Kraft, Max Lehman, Melissa Mytty, and Nick Ramey.

Details of work by Max Lehman, Nick Ramey, Jason Bige Burnett, Julie Guyot and Carole Epp...