If you had $10,000 and one year, what would you create? This is essentially the idea behind The Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition's new exhibit "Art 365." Six projects by Oklahoma artists were chosen to each receive a $10,000 honorarium and a year of curatorial guidance. The resultant exhibit is the product of their artistic labors.
Portions of "Art 365" will be exhibited simultaneously at The Alexander Hogue Gallery at TU, and at Liggett Studio. Both venues hosts opening receptions May 29, 5-7pm, followed by the premiere of a film documenting the "Art 365" project at Circle Cinema. All events are free and open to the public.
So, what is the significance of "Art 365?" OVAC offered six Oklahoma artists the opportunity to truly hone their unique approaches to art. The result is a body of work that expresses the identities of the artists.
Sarah Atlee of Norman, Betsy Barnum of Edmond, Joseph Daun of OKC, Ashley Griffith of OKC, Liz Roth of Stillwater and Darshan Phillips and Aaron Whisner, fellow Tulsans in the collaborative effort Live4This, were each selected from a statewide call of proposals.
The seven lucky artists also had the opportunity to work individually with a curator to support and guide their efforts. Diane Barber, Co-Executive Director and Visual Arts Curator for DiverseWorks in Houston, is the national curator for the project. This provided the artists with an experienced critical voice.
Lives of the Artists
OVAC sent me a preview of the film documentary that will accompany the opening of "Art 365." Viewing the artworks and their concepts in progress is revealing. Each artist has his or her own unique process and world view. The process of creation, from conception to realized images, is fascinating to watch. With privilege comes great responsibility, and you can see the artists struggle through the early stages of the project.
Because of the dollar amount of the award, the participants were encouraged to create highly ambitious projects. All the artists represented work in a variety of media, including painting, printmaking, mixed media and interactive sculpture.
Ashley Griffith took personal pictures every day for a year. From these images, she arranged a grid-like wall of photographs. Griffith's imagery is composed from the tiniest details of one's life.
I saw images of treadmill running, fast food labels, landscapes and doctor's visits.
"There are interesting ones and boring ones," she elaborated during a studio visit in the film.
What is strong about Griffith's work is the obsessive quality inherent in the work. A multitude of minuscule images require one to step up close in order to see the story. Step back though, and the entire visual weight of the piece is expressed. Massive rectangles resemble giant computer chips, neatly broken up by the lines of a grid. Recognizable forms melt away and one is left with a field of shimmering colors that is a statement in and of itself.
"At first I wanted to document my year by month, but I ended up expressing seasons throughout my body of work," said Griffith.
For those with a discerning eye, the artist has dropped subtle hints throughout her photo-assemblages that are indicative of time.
Joseph Daun is a self proclaimed "half-engineer, half-artist." His large-scale sculptures are functional and interactive, and mostly made of consumer products. His work explores the ideas of drive and ambition.
"Desk Kart" is an office scene dominated by a large, grey metal desk on steroids. Propped up on an incline by rugged wheels, the "Desk Kart" is complete with bright, shiny lights, a globe, computer and other supplies suspended on its surface, and a paper shredder that has gone berserk.
Judging from the mound of artfully placed shreds, I would assume this piece is installed in a fixed position, but I would not be surprised if it makes a mad dash around the gallery on opening night!
Daun's works are also based around an idea of an obsession. His sculptures are meticulously welded together to express his artistic idea. One piece features a wooden desk, upon which Daun has attached a pipe sculpture of a pedal controlled plane, complete with flapping, fabric wings.
Betsy Barnum, painter and printmaker, has created a series of work that documents the growth and changes she experienced throughout her year of work for "Art 365."
"I like the immediacy of painting, and the permanence of etchings," she said in the documentary.
Barnum's style is somewhat whimsical. Themes of surrender, freedom and love are expressed throughout. Her paintings feature rich textures inspired by fabrics, light color schemes composed of sophisticated nuances, and large, dark ravens that soar across the picture plane.
Her figures are done simplistically, resembling sketchy doodles from a journal. "Lonely Sky" depicts the lounging figure of the artist. A guy stands next to her left, and two birds hover around. The overall effect of the paintings is like a paper collage.
Barnum's use of implied texture, personal color schemes and descriptive imagery create a year-long dream world that is a window inside the mind of the artist.
Sarah Atlee would travel around the state of Oklahoma and create characters by joining names of Oklahoma streets and towns. The result of this idea is a host of characters that require a second glance. Her project is called "Normal, Oklahoma" and features portraits of abnormal, fictitious people.
Atlee's figures are interesting because of their faces. Exaggerated facial features create images that linger in your memory. "Mingo" is the smiling face of a woman with imperfect teeth, eyes spread so far apart they are animalistic, and a large, broad nose.
"Munday Tulsa" is a pear-shaped woman with red spectacles, and she holds a loaf of bread. A decorative halo surrounds her head. What is great about Atlee's work is in addition to the stunning imagery, she has created a mythology behind the characters. "Miz Munday" is a baker based out of Edmond. She was almost bought out by corporate invaders, but she decided to keep her local business. Atlee's portraits are not conventionally attractive, but that is the point. They come from a unique world where places and people come together and create new identities.
Liz Roth doesn't consider herself a landscape painter, but upon viewing her project, "America 101," you just might think otherwise. Composed of 100 small oil paintings of typical, but not iconic, images of the 50 states and a billboard sized painting of a water bottle, Roth's painting skills were put to the test for "Art 365."
She considered herself a figurative painter. But painting 100 small oil paintings of landscape imagery forever changed her viewpoint of the subject.
She found she was able to step out of "landscape" mode, and see the scenery for what it really is, being gorgeous colors and patterns. Paintings like "North Dakota," depicting majestic purple mountains, tremor with energy, emanating from the saturated colors and the rhythmic lines of the natural landscape of the earth.
Tulsa artists Darshan Phillips and Aaron Whisner are an amiable pair of buddies who have known each other a long time. The collaborative duo, known as Live4This, wanted to trigger collective memories through elements of childhood. The intention of their project was to tap into those memories of freedom, play and fun that we all had as kids. In the film, Phillips stated their main influences as "G.I. Joe and Barbies."
The result is an installation of monumental canvases that display serious graphics. Against a neutral background, the guys have painted and spray-painted familiar imagery from our collective childhoods. Mickey Mouse with a trademark logo for eyes. A vintage Walkman and trolls. Captain America and hot dogs, all painted in flat, bright, graphic colors.
Live4This' use of color and its humorous approach is fresh and modern. The influence of street art is there, but it has mostly, I think, influenced the process. These guys are obviously up to more than simply tagging.
Prepare for total visual stimulation.
The Alexander Hogue Gallery, 2930 E. 5th Street at the University of Tulsa, and Liggett Studio at 314 S. Kenosha Avenue will each host parts of the exhibit, opening May 29 from 5-7pm. At 7pm, the Circle Cinema, 10 S. Lewis, will premiere a film documenting Art 365. For more information, go to www.Art365.org.
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