Hello readers. My name is Clara Robertson, and I’d like to take a minute to tell you about me.
I’m a mother to a beautiful little girl, a writer, a singer and a traveler. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my life, it is simply that life will surprise you. It may be with people or places or random experiences, but rest assured that you have no idea what’s coming next. That is what I intend to highlight in this blog. The surprising ways that people find inspiration, the stories behind what they do and the beautiful things they feel and create.
In joining the “AltArts” team, I’d like to give you a glimpse into the past, a not-yet-seen piece of art, a deeply moving song — at least it is to the musician — and take you into some of the more overlooked subcultures of our fair world. Here, I will give you new things to think about, challenge what you know about art and artists in all walks of life, and I will do it while sharing my personal opinions and experiences. I look forward to introducing you to talented people from all over the region, updating you on events and, of course, giving you my spin on it.
So, intrigued reader. Come here to be the first to experience that local writer’s story, or hear the girl next door let go in song. Find out what motivates them, ways that you can get involved in the arts yourself, and maybe even find out something you didn’t know. I look forward to sharing with you all and meeting you, discovering your stories and all the ways that you and the person next to you will surprise and inspire me.
No one knows for sure what the ancient artists were thinking when they created the famous paintings in Chauvet Cave, in what is now Southern France, but, it isn’t a huge stretch of the imagination to assume that amidst the images of ancient horses and bison, there is a story.
Regardless of whether the events depicted are recreations of actual events or images of an imagined narrative made real upon the walls of a cave, they are beautiful examples of storytelling through art. These ancient precursors to the world’s first comic books may look primitive to our modern eyes, but it is from these humble beginnings which our graphic narratives have grown.
Rochelle is a Quincy native who got her art start at the age of twelve playing the game Dungeons and Dragons with her friends. As the narratives and histories of the game’s characters grew in her imagination, she put her pencil to the page and gave life to her imagined personas.
Total nerd-dom aside (I’ve got the cred to say that sort of thing) RPGs are naturally fertile grounds for developing a sense of character development and detail of personality. Rochelle has taken full advantage of that in developing her craft. Being self taught, she draws inspiration from a variety of contemporary sources, but cites Michelangelo’s masterful grasp of the human form as a major influence when fleshing out her characters. Unfortunately, in my recent interview with Rochelle, I forgot to ask her where she looks for inspiration when drawing prehistoric bison. Regardless, you can read about her other influences and her approach to her work in the following interview:
BEGLEY: So we’ve known each other for a little while, and I’ve been privy to your work for some time, but I’m not really all that familiar with your background. Can you fill me in? Where you’re from, how you got started drawing and painting etc?
SPRAGUE: Thank you so much! Well I was born and raised here in good old Quincy. I always drew as a child. But I guess I loved it more than most. I loved drawing pictures for my mother and family. I mostly drew animals until… I believe when I was around the age of 11 or 12 is when I really knew that I didn’t just draw, I was making artwork. I’ve never really been taught how to draw nor did I really know what I was doing but I just had an image in my head and it was like I was tracing it on paper.
BEGLEY: Perhaps it’s nothing more than an impression on my part, but based upon the work I’ve seen, I sense that each of the characters has a full story before I ever lay eyes on them. Can you describe your approach to their individual personalities?
SPRAGUE: Every character I have created does in fact have a whole life of their own. A whole universe in which exist. It all starts as soon as the pencil hits the paper. I draw the structure, how I want the body to look, then I head for the face. Starting with the eyes. Usually depending how I’m feeling I want those eyes to portray a strong emotion or a lack of. I think, “What have those eyes seen?” then I go on from there and the result: A strong character with a life. A purpose. Even if that purpose is just to look sad or pretty.
BEGLEY: I’ve noticed, specifically with the pieces I’ve chosen here, that you capture the subtleties of gender forms very well in many of the pieces I’ve seen. Your men look masculine, and your female forms capture the subtleties of femininity very well. Can you discuss how that skill has developed, or how you use gender traits in your work?
SPRAGUE: The first rule about drawing people, even if you are going for a style that is surreal or a very cartoon look, you must draw from real life. As a woman, drawing women comes natural, I believe. I was very much into Japanese anime for a long time, so there was a time my men did not look like men, they looked like very effeminate boys. Almost girls with short hair. I started to draw the people I knew, doing portraits helped me see the big differences between the genders. I studied my all-time favorite artist art work, Michelangelo. He loved the human body, specially the men. I was so inspired by how strong and smooth the human body could look. How it moves and bends. I was bent on making my art reflect that in some way….to stray away from anime and too much of a cartoon look.
BEGLEY: Much of your work features some of the most basic of human emotions. In fact, often it seems that what the character is “feeling” is the focus of your work, rather than what the character is “doing.” Could you discuss the emotion in your work in more detail?
SPRAGUE: There are emotions I wish to convey in my artwork. I try very hard to do that.You should watch me draw some time. While I’m drawing, I try to act out the emotions myself. Like the picture you chose of the girl with the gas-mask. She’s in fear, scared for her life, but determined to protect herself and fight! When I think of her situation, my heart starts to race and my breathing gets quick like I’m charging head first in the fire! Even if I’m just sitting on my couch quietly with the a/c on. My imagination just takes me there, like I’m a photographer trying to catch the action.
BEGLEY: Have you ever developed any of these characters into a graphic novel or larger work?
SPRAGUE: Yes actually. I’m actually writing a graphic novel of one of the pictures you have chosen. Called G.H.A.S. I’m writing a script for an animated movie that is a prequel to the G.H.A.S comic that I hope to have done in 10 years. Ha-ha. But I’m always working on something. Every morning I wake up bombarded with ideas and stories one after another. Like this morning I woke up with one idea, one character and I’m already in the process of drawing him and his life story that I think I’ll be doing very soon.
I would like to have my own label production company so I can round up small town artists like myself and help them get their names out there. Artists that have passion and inspiration to make it big but need a little help and guidance. You wouldn’t believe how much you really need art and artists in your life.
You can view more of Rochelle Sprague’s art by finding her on Facebook, or through her page: http://foxxyro.deviantart.com/
Rex was that OTHER guy at the party with a DSLR. Canon. Respect.
While I rocked the bandoleer style, Rex was a neck slinger. Obviously, Rex was a man of action.
Several bouts with momentary flash blindness later, Rex and I shouted shop over what I believe was the soundtrack to Dangerous Minds stuck on repeat. As I write this, I suddenly regret not parlaying that happenstance musical accompaniment into an ironic foreshadowing of our involvement in some clandestine conspiracy for world domination.
Eh, you can’t win them all I guess.
The obligatory facebook request came sometime later, and it wasn’t until then that a window was opened through which I could view Rex’s work. Immediately it was obvious that mood is the name of his game. Through creative lighting, unexpected color combinations and an obvious comfort with experimentation, Rex combines physical and digital mediums to exude expression of his sometimes brooding, always thoughtful themes.
Recently, Rex was kind enough to share some of his favorite pieces with me and answer some of my questions about his work:
Clinton: Rex, thanks so much for answering a few of my questions. I’ve seen bits and pieces of your work over the past few months, but was excited to have the opportunity to look at more of your work and in greater detail. Before we really dig in, can you tell me a little bit about your background both in general and in the art world? Where are you from? How did you get started?
Rex: I’m originally from Iowa, where I lived for about 23 years. Recently, I moved to Quincy and have just started delving into the art scene here. I started out doing a lot of design work for local bands, and designing websites. About two years ago, I got tired of the medium of Photoshop, and was becoming increasingly less happy with the way my style was going, so I decided to take a stab at painting. With very little knowledge of how to paint in any traditional styling, I thought the best thing to try on was a printed out photograph. When I tried to print out the shot, my printer was out of ink, giving it almost a plain outline and some very bland colors to start with. I figured instead of throwing it out, I’d roll with it, and experiment a bit.
Clinton: I notice a couple of things right off the bat when looking at your portfolios. The first one is that without exception, you include the human form in each of your pieces. Can you tell me about this? Is it deliberate in a cerebral sense? Or is it just what you’re drawn to?
Rex: I’ve always been very drawn to the female form, as I think many artists are. I’ve always had a obsession with the shape of the female face and trying to obtain as much chaos and confusion as possible while still holding true to the shape and lines. The mouth in particular is always at the forefront of what I do.
Clinton: Are the models you work with people that you know personally and have insight to their personalities? Or are they just hired forms for your composition? I ask because I was immediately taken with the way that personalities are conveyed through your work, and wondered how the relationship between the conveyed personality and the actual personalities of the subject was intertwined, if at all.
Rex: Some are, and some are not. I’ve had the great pleasure of working with various photographers (Lou Noble, Derek Wood, Noah Kalina) since I’ve started making my paintings and, more recently, my vessels project. It’s been a a great experience going through a photographer’s body of work and finding a shot that just screams a specific personality or emotion, while still staying relevant to the shape and concept of what I’m trying to convey. Recently, I’ve done photo-shoots with the pure intention of turning them into pieces and have had a few people offer to do the same.
Clinton: The second thing I notice is your extraordinary use of color but often in unexpected ways. For instance, bright and expressive shapes while leaving flesh tones muted or completely white or very dark is kind of a signature style of yours. Can you discuss this approach?
Rex: The colors have always meant a lot to me, my intention with them, especially in my vessels pieces, has been to represent to the best of my ability the soul leaving a body, like a great light, escaping through the eyes, mouth, nose, fingertips. Some leaving in more dramatic motions, some smoothly flowing through the body.
Clinton: You are an artist who uses physical mediums as well as digital for your creations. In fact, there are some deliberate parallels with some of your physical pieces and your digital compositions. I’m curious about the process of deciding which idea gets expressed in physical mediums vs. those you choose for digital composition. Is it theme specific? Piece specific? Convenience?
Rex: Sometimes it’s convenience, but typically I try to use the best medium I can to get across the image I would like to portray. In some situations with photography I have been trying to achieve the closest physical version of my paintings as I can. Sometimes I start thinking of shots that are impossible, and those will typically turn into the Photoshop work. I love the challenge of attempting to turn something so flat and color oriented into something real.
Clinton: As a followup to that, do you feel any difference about the work as you’re doing it digitally vs. physically? Do you miss the tactile experiences of working with physical mediums?
Rex: In everything I do, there is a physical element like a hand-painted background or texture, but I always do find there to be a major difference in the feeling, I find the Photoshop stuff to be far less of a experience as doing it on real paper, or with a live model, but am typically able to accomplish more and be happier with my results doing it digitally, and able to distribute it in more ways, and to more people.
Clinton: Even though you work in several areas, can you discuss your approach to the digital compositions? Where do your source photos come from? What program(s) are you working with most often?
Rex: I will typically find a photographer (or in some cases, they’ll find me), and I ask permission to use their work, then I will find a photo I love and start thinking of what colors and textures I’d like it to have. Then, I will hand-paint something to use as a base for the shot. I will bring both files into Photoshop and manipulate them via layers or cutting until I am happy with the result.
Clinton: There is an obvious parallel between the physical piece “Roma” and your digital piece “The Reeling.” Are these meant to be pieces in a series? More subtly, there is a recurring theme of obscuring the eyes of your subjects in several pieces. I wonder if you could discuss that a bit?
Rex: They both came out of wanting to show someone at their darkest. Literally crying out every bit of spirit left in them. I’ve always liked to think of the girls in my shots as living breathing characters and to represent their emotion at the time as physically as I could manage. Obscuring the figures eyes is something I didn’t do intentionally for the longest time. When I first started, I wanted to give myself a challenge. So, typically I would just rip a big hole into the picture, or blot out a huge area with paint, typically around the eyes, and then try my hardest to make it work. As I’ve continued doing it, I’ve sort of fell into it as a theme, and try and find interesting ways to paint a picture without using the models eyes to fall back on.
Clinton: Images IMG_1125 and IMG_9836 are both photos that appear to be taken with some fluorescent paint and special lighting… although they “look” like digital compositions. Can you explain the process of setting up these shots and how you accomplished the fluorescent effects?
Rex: Both of these are using the same paint I typically use on my paintings to keep a theme of bright colors alive. The image from “Sick” was shot in a pitch black room, with the black-light as the only bit of light on the shot. The painting was done afterwards, and I watched the model appear in the camera before my eyes. The image from “Wolves” was shot with a very long extension cord, and a black light meant to use only to add a bit of surrealism. It was shot with natural lighting as the sun was going down.
Clinton: “Roma” and IMG_3552 appear in a portfolio album called “Garbage Paintings.” I see that one incorporates duct tape quite a bit. What is going on with these particular pieces? What is the story behind them?
Rex: The “Garbage” paintings started as a test to make things difficult for myself. By allowing myself very few things to use, like what was available in the room at the time, it added a lot to the experimentation and forced me to think in more creative ways. The deconstruction and reconstruction of images has pretty much influenced every medium I attempt since I started my “Garbage” series.
Clinton: Each of your portfolio albums has an interesting and thought provoking name. One of my personal favorites was “Wolves.” IMG_9836 is a part of this album. There are very specific archetypal images that are evoked with the subject of wolves, and I was impressed by how many of these pieces here echoed the feeling yet not the form of those mental associations. Can you tell me a bit about the title and it’s relationship to the pieces? Specifically, how IMG_9836 fits that scheme?
Rex: “Wolves” was definitely shot with a bit of a Native American theme in mind, I wanted the shoot to start out as a more tame photo-shoot with a surreal almost cult like vibe to it. As the sun went down, I wanted to make the character more and more wild and unkempt. Titles have always been very important to me, a lot of them are the first thing that comes to mind when I’m working on something, something natural that fits the feeling of the piece.
Clinton: Have you, or will you have any public showings for your work locally?
Rex: I absolutely hope to. I would love to show what I do to Quincy and meet more like-minded people who are doing the same sort of thing.
Clinton: Is there anything you wish to add or wish that I’d asked you?
Rex: I would like to add that I really don’t know if I’d still be doing what I do if it weren’t for the people that have supported me. I want to thank them, and all the people who have let me use their beautiful photos! Thanks so much!
As the last bit of warmth flees from the remaining Kodachrome corpses after being axed nearly a year ago by the Kodak company, a whole breed of photographers and artists are gaining more recognition and notoriety than ever before.
Relying on pixels and sensors rather than emulsion and fixers, digital artists are the (relatively) new kids on the block. Although the first true digital camera was created in 1975, with it’s predecessors in the works since the ‘60s, they didn’t become commercially viable until flannel was back in style. But two decades is plenty of a head start for the ultra-creative to put new technology through it’s paces.
The development of the digital camera over the past twenty years has run in lockstep with the advancements of graphics editing programs like Adobe’s Photoshop. By combining these two pixel wrangling technologies in the hands of an artist, anything becomes possible. By working directly with photographs and cutting edge digital enhancement and creation techniques, the mouse and cursor become extensions of the mind just like the brush and the pen always have.
With the marriage of these technologies, the camera is a portion of the overall process; increasingly, the line between digital photographer and digital artist is often blurred. But what is crystal clear, is that the proliferation of digital art has been happening for far longer than most realize, and that artists like Quincy native Marc Hollembeak are helping to push the envelope of expression with this medium.
I had the privilege of interviewing Marc via the web this week about his process, his motivations, and about some specific pieces that he has created:
Clinton: Marc, I really appreciate you sending me a few pieces of your work to discuss. I’ve been familiar with your work for a while now, but before we get into discussing the form, what can you share about your tools and technical approach to your art for those who may not be familiar with this particular style?
Marc: Photoshop type software is my mainstay along with a good digital camera, I actually call it my easel. I consider myself somewhat technically handicapped so I have always been a trial and error person. I must say about Photoshop, it is not at all easy to master if even possible so over the years I’ve been able to build a technique of my own. These two tools allow me to create what my mind sees.
Clinton: Given that your technique is an unusual approach to traditional fine art methods, and also a different approach to photography, what sort of experience have you had with how people view and interpret your work? Do you get more questions about the techniques, or about the content of the pieces?
Marc: It’s mixed, those interested in photography in general seem to want to know the hows and whys while the art lovers are more interested in the mindset that accompany each piece. I would say I have been pleasantly surprised at the general acceptance of the type of work I do.
Clinton: I’ve not seen any work of yours that was not in this vein, do you also work with other techniques and mediums? What drew you to this particular mode of expression to be your primary focus?
Marc: This is the only medium I currently work with. For many years I have been on a sharing site called flickr and this is where I learned that one must strive to stand out in there work and be unique so I eventually developed a technique that did that and became recognized among my peers. It wasn’t really a conscience development but it seems that no matter what subject I chose, those that know of my work recognize it. I do love black and white photography in the traditional form and hope to do a series of B/W in the near future, probably focusing on people and architecture.
Clinton: In your piece, “Happy Days” I was struck immediately by the incredible texture of the car, and how well it lent to holding the reflections to give a sense of place against an otherwise featureless background. Revealing as much as you’re comfortable with about your process, how
deliberate was the presence of the reflections in this piece? What was your motivation to take this approach rather than a more direct and obvious placement of the scene?
Marc: Shadows and Highlights always seem to jump out at me. This was shot at the local Tin Dusters a year or so back. When I walked up to this car the angle was perfect in my mind and the reflections were there. Sometimes it works out this way but I have no problem adding what I feel necessary in order to get the piece to speak out. The hand for instance is from a mannequin from a different place and time but this is what I saw reaching for the coke and also the reason for the selective color. The red, to my thinking, was the only color necessary to enhance the piece.
Clinton: Continuing with “Happy Days,” the hand is the only human component in the three pieces we’re discussing. Do you typically prefer to work on pieces without a human component? Are there certain challenges or drawbacks to working with people given the type of work you’re doing?
Marc: I do go out of the way to keep the human component out of my work with the exception of the shadow. Not sure if there would be any drawbacks per se except it seems to date the work or maybe better, restrict how far I can go with any alterations.
Clinton: Moving on to,”Where In The World ii.” it’s a very surreal composition. I’m reminded of the work of Scott Mutter and his “Surrational Images.” Do you feel any connection to his particular brand of photo-montage? How do you believe your work is distinct?
Marc: I have to be honest, I had to google Scott Mutter and I definitely feel a connection now. I personally believe, although I love black and white, the colors and HDR gives the viewer something more specific to work with and perhaps intensifies the mood a bit.
Clinton: In the image ”Where In The World ii” Quincyans will recognize the features here. To my eyes, it would appear that massive flood-waters have overtaken the bluffs and moved into the downtown. Yet in contrast, the moon and stars are obviously exaggerated and not as familiar as the other elements. Is there a specific narrative that you’re wanting to convey with a familiar setting? Or is it more open to interpretation as a juxtaposition of time and space? Or have I missed the mark altogether?
Marc: You didn’t miss the mark, in fact you are right on in all aspects. The familiarity wasn’t really a consideration so much in this particular piece although it often is, the architecture was just right. I call this type of surrealism, the dark side. I wanted to create something on a apocalyptic order and have had this old bank building in mind for some time but just as importantly I tried to create something that a viewer could get lost in and come to there own conclusions as to what led to this result, man verses the universe or nature or just man verses man and to what extent.
Clinton: Sticking with this piece (”Where In The World ii”) for another question. In your initial email to me, you expressed that the image took 30 years to create. Can you elaborate on that?
Marc: Sorry, I meant to say 30 hours. I guess I wanted to express the fact that a piece like this is not an overnight creation for me. As far as I know, there are no software applications where one can just give a click here or there and come up with these results.
Clinton: In the piece “Window Shopping,” we’re looking at an HDR image of the Busy Bee Mercantile building. Can you give us an idea of what HDR is and what appeals to you about it’s use in general, but also in this particular piece?
Marc: HDR stands for high dynamic range. “This wider dynamic range allows HDR images to more accurately represent the wide range of intensity levels found in real scenes, ranging from direct sunlight to faint starlight.” This was the definition from Wikipedia and pretty well explains it all. This is also why it appeals to me. In short it recreates more accurately all the little details that are left out from anything that can be reproduced on film or digitally.
Clinton: The textures and tones “Window Shopping,” are really extraordinary. This is one of my favorite buildings in town specifically for the signage and the ghost signs on the side of the building. Everything is really distinct and detailed here. I think it’s interesting how texture is a big component of each of these three pieces. Can you discuss your approach to textures with this image? How did texture factor in to your choice to use HDR?
Marc: This old building is my favorite as well and has so many little nuances that to do it justice I felt that over exaggeration of detail was necessary. HDR is a set of three to five shots in exactly the same position where only the aperture changes to give the middle shot the neutral and one or two shots overexposed and the same underexposed getting all the information so it can be sorted out in the HDR software. These are the results.
Clinton: Continuing with the texture vein, it appears to me that you sometimes use texture to enhance realism, but in other areas to be expressive. How does that process work for you? How do you decide which way to go?
Marc: I really don’t have the vocabulary to fully explain it, it’s just one of those things that I feel. I’m not trying to sound otherworldly but I just see these things in the lens, this is why I had to become proficient with the software.
Clinton: In general, when working on some of your more complex multi-composite images, do you go on field-trips with a specific idea in mind of what you want to create, and then collect images of each necessary component? Or do you create a library of images through your travels from which to pull when you’re creating and work with your existing “palette” so to speak?
Marc: I have created an extensive library that lets me go to build a piece but usually its just the opposite when I go on the field trip I already have the idea of what I want to create and try to find what I need to fill it.
Clinton: Most of your pieces seem to have a local focus. Are you from the tri-state area originally? What appeals to you about the area as a source of inspiration?
Marc: I was born in Quincy and lived here until the age of 20 moving to central Illinois for the next 20 years then to Arizona. I have been back about three years now. I love and have always loved the architecture in Quincy. It is very unique and photogenic as well. Yes, I draw nearly all my inspiration locally.
Clinton: Do you ever do commissioned work? Or do you strictly create what inspires you?
Marc: I do and have been very lucky to have been able to do whatever inspires me with the particular projects so far.
Clinton: In light of the many recent high profile Photoshop “scandals” with undisclosed enhancements to National Geographic and Outside magazine covers (and perhaps more predictably Men’s Health), can you discuss your thoughts on the role of artists in this landscape of altered images? Do you feel that fine art is distinct from commercial art in terms of disclosure of image creation / alteration? Is the issue (if there is one at all) largely one of context?
Marc: I do feel if an artist delves into photo manipulation that it should be so obvious or else disclose it as digital art or something to separate it from traditional photography. I personally think someone trying to pass something off as, as shot is wrong, but that’s just me. I feel that it is handicapping the digital artist. Not a sore subject but one I could rave about.
Clinton: In a similar vein — in the past, I’ve been exposed to opinions about digital art that run the spectrum from the same awe and respect that are bestowed upon traditional forms like painting and sculpture, to others that dismiss digital art as just clicking away on a mouse or that the computer is doing all the work. I think that there is an increasing amount of respect for digital artists and the skill it takes to do what they do. Can you share some of your experiences with this? What do you see as the future for digital composition?
Marc: Early on, it seemed that it wouldn’t get the respect I thought it should, but as digital art has gotten more exposure, people seem genuinely accepting it as an art form. The thing I think is important to remember is that one has to have the original idea/vision in the first place and being able to transfer that onto canvas, print, sculptor or whatever medium is secondary but it takes both to make everything come together. A photographer, as you know, has to have a keen eye for composition and a working understanding of what will and will not work after if becomes print. It isn’t just snapping a picture, there is so much more involved.
Clinton: Where can your art be viewed? Any gallery openings coming up?
Marc: I always have some pieces hanging at The Granite Bank Gallery and am having a show in January 2011. I don’t have the exact date but I will get that to you as soon as I get it.
Clinton: Anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked you?
Marc: I really think you have covered it very well . I would like to thank you for this opportunity and as always, I hope those who view my work, enjoy it as much as I did creating it.
To view More of Marc’s work, you can visit his blog and gallery at: www.march51.com, or email him directly at: email@example.com.
Expectations can be regrettable. We’ve all had that burner in the tenth that left us wanting. Though, sometimes if we’re lucky, expectations are the pins we rack for that surprise splasher from a hard Brooklyn.
Such was the story of my recent visit to the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis’ Covenant Blu neighborhood for the exhibition of Stylus by Ann Hamilton.
Having visited the Pulitzer before, I was already familiar with the tone set by the space. Designed by famed Japanese Modernist architect Tadao Ando, and permanent home to controversial artist Richard Serra’s imposing torqued spiral piece Joe, The Pulitzer generates a unique sense of awe. To experience the Pulitzer is what I imagine it would be like to stand in the shadow of a beautiful giant. Because of my familiarity with the Pulitzer from a previous visit, I was curious about how the tech-laden, sonic-centric Stylus would harmonize with the spareness and austere nature of the space.
Prior to my visit, I set to work investigating the production of the exhibition. Because of my experience in audio engineering, and general curiosity in electron bending apparati, I reveled in the behind-the-scenes footage of how Stylus came together. From sound designer Shahrokh Yadegari’s wielding of “Lila” to create the sounds that would fill the halls of The Pulitzer, to artist Ann Hamilton’s placement of literally one-thousand unique paper hands (with which you are encouraged to become physically acquainted … formalities of shaking optional), it really seemed that I was in for a rich and perhaps cluttered experience at the exhibition.
Enter the purpose of my metaphors on expectations (with or without irrelevant bowling jargon.)
While the presentation exuded an aural and conceptual richness, the exhibition was quite sparse visually. This proved to be a welcome shattering of those ill formed expectations. The cluttered tangles of cables, screens and microphones I’d imagined were non-existent. Instead, tidy and strategically placed projectors silently panned the walls from atop several scaffolds. As though married, the carefully crafted and haunting images danced with the main gallery walls to Yadegari’s manipulations of opera singer Elizabeth Zharoff’s sublime pitches. Near the entrance, a sometimes awkward, often serendipitous interaction played out between a Hamilton created wall projection and an ever changing soundtrack of vinyl sound effect records and read along stories as selected by obliging patrons. Many of the pieces in Stylus invite interaction from the viewer in this way. From the invitation to get “on” with a thousand paper hands (enjoy the pun), to the opportunity to pull a backwards Billy Joel on a voice activated player piano, Hamilton’s delivery of the Stylus concept is incredibly effective, if not subtle. Perhaps my favorite and most thought provoking portion of the exhibit came from a brilliantly simple execution of this idea of creation through mediation.
On the mezzanine of The Pulitzer you will find a steel table over which two highly sensitive microphones are suspended. The surface of the table is covered with hundreds of seeds from the S. palmeri shrub, more commonly known as the Mexican Jumping Bean. Inside each of these beans is the larvae of the tiny Jumping Bean Moth. As you unknowingly interact with the room through your body heat, humidity, vocal sounds and manipulation of light and shadow onto the table, the tiny larvae respond by shaking and vibrating their makeshift bassinets to maneuver toward the more conditionally favorable sections of the table. The shifting and vibrating beans create a gentle whir and rattle throughout the room that is not unlike the sound of rain, or a slight wind through fall branches. The effect is utterly mesmerizing. Direct physical contact with the table and beans is not allowed, further solidifying the concept of mediated interaction between all elements present. This particular piece impressed me as fantastically executed and unabashedly fun.
Stylus will run through January, but will be in a constant state of flux with new pieces and hands on experiences popping up as others are retired. The gallery is free to the public and open Wednesdays noon to 5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and they don’t roll on Shabbos. As a counterpoint to The Pulitzer’s unique natural lighting, special viewings of Stylus will be extended to evening showings between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m. every Thursday. There has also been discussion about incorporating live musical performances from area musicians in the space during these special hours.
While the extra hours and long run of the exhibition provide ample opportunity for a visit to be made, even those who never step foot in the gallery are able to participate in the project. Anyone willing to participate may call a number published on The Pulitzer Foundation’s website and leave a message on a special answering machine. At seemingly random times, the various messages will be broadcast via bullhorn loudspeaker from the top of The Pulitzer for the entire neighborhood to hear. Through this, the whole world ostensibly has the opportunity to contribute and participate in Stylus. As a caller, you can read a poem, tell a story, scream your name at the top of your lungs or even brag about your bowling handicap. However you decide to participate, you can certainly expect that the experience will be a unique opportunity to directly interact with a thoughtful exhibition by an exceptional artist.
“Alternative to what?” a friend asked incredulously, when I shared the news about my new alternative arts blogging gig. Resisting the urge to wax snobbish and weave a tapestry of nonsense for him, I instead gave pause and considered his point.
In a nutshell, alternative art is an alternative to a putting art in a box, or perhaps more appropriately, a frame. Performance, found art, high concepts, soundscapes, installations, film, independent theater, design, community projects and any number of other possible avenues of expression could be covered here.
Artists are constantly pushing the envelope of expression and technique. They blur the lines between inspiration and entertainment and enrich our communities in the process. Through this forum, I hope to bring some attention to their creativity and craft.
While certainly not the only angler with its line in the water, an organization that has taken the alt-art bait hook, line-and-sinker is the Quincy Not So Fine Arts Society (NSFAS). Spearheaded by four Quincyans, the hodgepodge organization is “Dedicated to Illuminating the unheard/unseen music, theater, film, art, cooking and writing of Quincy and bringing it to the masses,” according to its Facebook page.
Having promoted such events as an “iron belly” competition, a traveling farce based upon the Lincoln Douglas debates and numerous other concerts and art exhibitions, the NSFAS has certainly made strides in helping to haul ashore the myriad of talent lurking in the waters of Quincy’s underground art scene.
While speaking with Alex Sanders, one of the group’s organizers, it was made clear that the laissez-faire approach to selecting the artists and styles of expression they choose to support has been an important key to their success thus far. “It’s really just about creating a venue for people to express themselves and get their creativity out there,” Sanders said.
The primary vehicle for delivering their guerrilla arts message has been the Internet, so check out their Facebook page and get your face to the next event.