All the City's A-Stage
In spite of the recent, great success story that our one-time, cow-town state capital, OKC, has become, the big dome down the 'pike can't touch us when it comes to celebrating, supporting and producing the arts. From world class original music, to ballet, opera, classics and pops, performing and visual modalities, Tulsa is the Arts Capitol of Oklahoma.
With the coming of Autumn, the city's traditional arts season gets into full swing, and UTW wants our readers to dive into the deep end, swim with the current and come out drenched with life-enriching culture.
So here we go, take our hand and jump backstage and into Curtain's Up!
Galleries such as the Living Arts of Tulsa and arts festivals such as Momentum have been actively providing opportunities for the progressive and conceptual minds of Oklahoma artists to showcase their work.
Doing so keeps cities such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City in the mix of locations across the country responding to contemporary artists redefining what art is and its boundaries at this point in history.
The Oklahoma Visual Artist Coalition, or OVAC, is another such organization that is contributing to this effort through a unique exhibition for Oklahoma artists called Art 365.
Since it began in 2008, Art 365 has been successful in bringing national recognition to Oklahoma artists as well as providing the necessary means to keep artists working in Oklahoma.
"We view the exhibition as an investment in research and development for the artists," said Julia Kirt, executive director of OVAC. "Art 365 fulfills specific needs for area artists to receive both funding and feedback, allowing them to explore their vision and improve their work."
This year's Art 365 curator Shannon Fitzgerald chose five artists out of 102 proposals to each receive a $12,000 honorarium toward creating a body of work for the Art 365 exhibition. The selection process involved submitting an initial proposal outlining the body of work each artist intended to create as well as why it was relevant in our current culture.
After reviewing the proposals, Fitzgerald made individual studio visits with the artist whose proposals held the most potential to develop into substantial bodies of work. Following the studio visits, Fitzgerald chose the five most promising artists to participate in this year's Art 365: Grace Grothaus, Geoffrey Hicks, Aaron Hauck, Frank Wick and Liz Rodda.
These artists have one year to prepare an individual body of work for the collective exhibition, which opens March 25, 2011 in Oklahoma City at Untitled Gallery. Each artist will meet several times throughout the course of the year with nationally recognized curator Fitzgerald to provide an insightful dialogue as well as guidance through this experience.
August marks the halfway point for these five artists to complete their individual bodies of work for the exhibition, and all have made significant progress and discoveries about their work thus far.
After selecting the five artists she most wanted to work with for the exhibition, Fitzgerald's responsibilities as curator include meeting intermittently with each artist as a means of discussing their ideas, offering guidance and pushing their visions to their full potential.
As a contemporary art curator and art writer, Fitzgerald is well experienced in instigating this sort of dialogue and has proven to be an extremely valuable asset to the artists and the exhibition.
"Art 365 demonstrates in the most visibly exciting way -- that deserving artists, when provided tangible creative, intellectual, and financial support, excel," Fitzgerald said.
Let's get down to it, though. Art 365 supports Oklahoma artists financially and publicly, so let's meet this year's group.
Covering the Land
Art 365 has taken Tulsa artist Grace Grothaus high into the sky and around the entire state of Oklahoma in preparation for her body of work titled, OK Landscape: From cornfields or oilfields.
Grothaus is preparing 10 back-lit paintings for the exhibition, each an aerial view from various locations across Oklahoma.
"People have an idea of what landscape is, but it doesn't exist anymore," Grothaus said.
In the first stage of her creative process, Grothaus hired a pilot to fly her from Green Country to the Oklahoma panhandle to take aerial photographs depicting the encompassing effect industry has played on the landscape of Oklahoma. Photography is not a medium she works in frequently but was the most successful option for obtaining the kind of imagery she would later incorporate into her paintings. Grothaus primarily works as a landscape painter.
Her images show Oklahoma as a grid of oil refineries occasionally disrupted by the organic contours of rivers, lakes and natural terrain.
Photographing the terrain was merely the first step in creating her work for the exhibition. From there, she enlarges the photos to a size of two-by-four feet and begins the process of building up the image through application of mylar, paint, electronics and natural objects such as leaves and sticks. Her final product walks the line between painting and sculpture as her inventive layering process changes the dimension of her work.
Additional to the numerous mixed media elements she incorporates within her paintings, Grothaus also utilizes light as a key player in her work. Each piece is framed so that it is backlit by a light located inside the frame. For this effect to work Grothaus is careful to keep the layers on the surface translucent. "For me, light and shadow are as important as hue and tint," Grothaus said.
To add another level of complexity to her work, she intends to implement LED lights functioning as motion detectors into each piece. The lights will correspond to the viewer's movement as they move closer to the painting.
She does not want her paintings to be viewed as an attack on the oil industry. Her intent is to simply show viewers what their environment truly looks like, that it is not the same as the one that have pictured in their heads. "I know my work will be successful if people take the paintings home with them, whether or not they bought one," she said.
Getting It Right
Sculptor Frank Wick, originally from Illinois, has been working as an Exhibit Specialist for the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman, Okla. for four years. When he is not repairing interactive exhibits at the museum, Wick is busy implementing his responses to what he experiences in movies, books and his daily life into ironically humorous yet contemplative works of art.
The body of work he is constructing for Art 365, titled, It's All Wrong, But It's Alright, reflects on the notion of impending failure and the roles we take in life versus the roles we imagined for ourselves.
The pieces Wick is creating for Art 365 are composed of a wide array of materials as well as found and hand-crafted objects. The pieces easily function separately of each other but are held together by the theme of anxiously awaiting failure and Wick's biting sense of humor. "I think humor is what keeps us sane and interesting," he said. "There is nothing as complex as a good joke."
For Wick, the initial process of applying for Art 365 was extremely stressful because his girlfriend, Liz Rodda, was applying as well.
Since they both were chosen for the exhibition, Wick has enjoyed the process immensely as well as working with curator Fitzgerald. "We have a nice relationship," Wick said. "I am getting access to someone very experienced and someone with whom I can talk."
Regarding the body of work Wick described in his proposal and the work he is currently creating for the exhibition, he said, "They are worlds apart." The time and resources afforded him by OVAC has allowed Wick the opportunity to expand upon his original proposal and develop his ideas toward a more full potential.
"I think there will be some nice things that happen in the next six months," he said.
Past, Present, Future and I
The body of work in progress by Miami, Okla.-born artist, Aaron Hauck, titled Transmutations of the Stone Age and "I Generation" compares the importance of the Clovis point in the lives of Oklahoma's first inhabitants to the importance of smart phones such as the iPhone in the current "IGeneration."
For each time period, both serve as highly important tools of expressing social identity in their culture. Through his body of work, Hauck intends to create a dialogue regarding the evolution of human culture, the effects of consumerism and their relationship to the environment.
Hauck currently works as an Assistant Professor of Art at East Central University in Ada teaching Sculpture, Design and Graphic Arts. He earned his MFA in sculpture from Montana State University. "The natural environment of Montana made a lasting impression on my artwork," Hauck said.
The majority of Hauck's work is sculpture, though he has experimented with other media such as digital photography, video and public art. What ties his work together is his interest in expressing his distaste for consumerism and the negative ways in which it has affected our culture and environment.
Consequently, the importance of preserving nature against an onslaught of consumerism is a common theme apparent in much of Hauck's work. His interest in the Clovis point as a relevant object to compare against today's technology emerged after teaching a Non-Western art history class that discussed Stone Age objects.
"The Clovis point was very important to the Stone Age man just like smart phones are important to us," Hauck said. "They both serve many of the same purposes: acquiring food, multi-tool, constructing identity that others can discern, etc."
One set of sculptures Hauck is working on creating for the exhibition are large scale hybrids of Clovis points and smart phones. The end-product is replicas of Clovis points found in Oklahoma constructed out of brightly colored plastic similar to that of smart phones. Hauck will create another series of sculptures that vary in subject and material but speak to the same comparison between our past and present culture.
Of his experience working on this exhibition Hauck said, "Art 365 has been a great experience so far, and I expect it to continue to be that way as I work toward the exhibition. I am still working on a daily basis and probably will for the next seven months leading up to the exhibition."
Following The Robot
For Tulsa artist Geoffrey Hicks, the artistic process often works in reverse. As opposed to thinking of an idea and then finding the materials he needs, Hicks collects items that appeal to him and lets them invade his space until he thinks of a way to use them.
Hicks' work ranges in media from photography to sculpture but is held together by its ability to create a physical interaction with the viewer. Most recently, Hicks installed an interactive light sculpture at Living Arts titled, Heartbeat.
The installation consisted of suspended light bulbs hanging from the ceiling that flickered to the rhythm of the heartbeat of a dancer performing below them.
Hicks' most substantial acquisition and muse for Art 365 is a 900-pound mechanical arm, originally used by General Motors in an assembly line to weld car parts together. Hicks purchased the arm in January 2009, and it has since been taking up space in his living room while he awaited an opportunity that would provide the funding to transform it into a work of art.
Since being selected for Art 365, Hicks has brought the arm to life by rewiring it and attaching a digital camera to its end. In the exhibition space, the arm will function as a machine that will be able to focus on gallery visitors and take their picture. The arm's primary purpose is to open a dialogue about the relationship between people and machines and the way in which people have allowed machines to take over many daily tasks. From dispensing money from an ATM to the self-checkout line of a grocery store, machines have taken over many of the roles people used to carry out themselves.
Hicks chose photography as the task to be completed by his machine because it is a medium he has used in much of his previous work.
"Photography as a medium has become diluted," Hicks said. Therefore, he uses it in his work as a way of reinventing how it can be used within art by utilizing it in a way that cannot be easily understood by the public.
Perhaps the most interesting result of Hicks' piece will be revealed at the exhibition in the public's response to his machine. Hicks anticipates people will feel an unexpected level of comfort from the machine because they have become so accustomed to the presence of machines in their lives.
On the other hand, Hicks foresees a certain percentage of visitors feeling uncomfortable with the surveillance capability of the arm.
Hicks' multi-disciplinary work is generally not created to be sold. The funding and time permitted to him by Art 365 has opened doors of possibility toward transforming his ideas into functioning works of art.
Follow the Fortune
Based in Norman as a professor in the University of Oklahoma's School of Art, artist Liz Rodda's multi-disciplinary work is often inspired by ideas.
Rodda, who frequently uses video as her primary medium, said, "It isn't technology that attracts me. I am interested in ideas -- our belief systems and the motivations of people."
Her body of work for Art 365 is titled, Tomorrows, and revolves around two themes: desire and expectation. Her interest in desire stems from the human tendency to romanticize the unknown. The catalyst for Tomorrows was a piece she created, titled "Triple Possibility," which will be displayed as three video recordings simultaneously projected next to each other, each with a different Beijing fortune teller describing their premonitions regarding her future.
The three fortune tellers each give different accounts of what she could expect from her future, which triggered Rodda to begin creating work that revolves around the ideas of "future, actuality and illusion." From there, Rodda created a piece titled, "The Future is Not What I Used to Think," which consists of a flowchart drawn on paper depicting the actions she intends to take as a result of listening to these three premonitions.
The other idea brought to life through her work is that of expectation. In a piece titled, "Curtains," a continuously looping video shows a red theater curtain subtly undulating above the stage. The intent is to prompt the viewer to wonder just what might be going on backstage to cause the curtain's movement; just as they feel anticipation toward a performance that will never be revealed.
With her concepts firmly in place from the time of the proposal, Rodda's work is progressing steadily. "It's likely I'll spend the remainder of my time experimenting with ways to visually present the projects," she said.
Art 365 opens March 25, 2011 at Untitled Gallery in Oklahoma City and will run through May 7. The exhibit will then travel to Living Arts in Tulsa from July 1-22, with a reception on July 8.
More information about Art 365 and its artists is available online at ovac-ok.org.
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