Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mixed Messages

So much importance in the media and gallery settings is placed upon what an artist says about the meaning of their own creations and/or how the anointed writer understands and contextualizes the art -- intelligible mainly to the equally anointed reader. Is this is visual art for the viewer to experience according to his or her own context, or is there only one way to “see” the art?

In June, it will be 3 years since the studio I share with life and work partner Mark Wiener moved to Chelsea, and with that tenure (and alas the life of the 551 Arts “Castle”) slated to end later this year, I am trying to make the most of the here and now, especially my time with the 1 – 100 people who flow in and out of our open door daily. From them, I have learned more about my art, and why I make it, than I have learned about any other artist in decades of reading wall text and criticism.

The predominate subject of my line-based works on paper is definitely a conversation starter, visitors to my studio find themselves face-to-face with pears – walls of pears, tables of pears, books of pears, as well as a few models arranged under a light. The mixed messages here are pear as figure, pear as model, pear as food. 

Most often people ask why, and if I knew the whole answer myself I would probably not still be doing it (All the more reason my attempt to state “why” for an audience would be clear as mud) so everyone who asks teaches me more. I do know that I  “saw something” in some local Greenmarket Potomac Pears (grown by Samascott Orchards BTW), and photography did not capture my vision, so I started to draw, capturing something, but what that is exactly is and perhaps should be out of my verbal range. If it were expressible in words alone I would not have been exploring it visually since the 2006 harvest (“How long” is the usual follow-up question).

Do I eat the pears? Sometimes, but since gallerist Matther Foster asked my how I could eat the fruit after drawing it like that, much less. Up to that point I had not given it  a thought. Do I draw apples? Rarely, the smooth surface tends to make them look alike. Peaches work. In the 2010 growing season, when local peaches were plentiful , I acquired them by the bagful from the farmers and filled several “Peachbooks” with portraits, small groupings, and even piles of peaches. When summer 2011 began I realized I was totally  “peached out.” But anything, especially from the farm, that catches my eye can wind up on a page or two.

The fact that people have life experience with pears is a bridge between art and life supporting a flow of ideas between the two… All pears are sexy and look like nudes, pears grew in their back yard, the last pear they ate was red…  Recipes abound  -- as I write this I just received a canning recipe for spiced pears -- oh dear, if my models had ears I would have to cover them! Only once did someone try pick up one of my models for a snack. (I gave them a substitute pear but I think they were still put out!) The logic inside my studio is just different from how the world sees pears,  but most people seem to get it. Another artist once caught Mark hungrily (fresh food is tough to find west of 10th Avenue) washing a pear in the slop sink and would not allow him to eat it until Mark explained that he had called me for permission.

Still, even I find it a little weird when I catch myself chatting with the pears as I pose them, let alone looking and saying, “Look at you!” or “Aren’t you cute?” I hope the sentiment comes through my art, and when a collector started saying similar things when leafing through a book, it made me very, very happy. Another collector looking at peaches told me who he related to each piece in terms of how he saw the subjects as characters relating to one another. Two special moments that would never have happened if I had been explaining my content.

Hopefully my flexibility encourages suggestions too – visitors have recommended that I explore sculpture, fashion, accessories, tiles etc. One such prompt led to exploration of printmaking and an ongoing series of unique block prints. If you have every been to the studio and recommended that I  try something out, know that your idea was taken to heart and has influenced the work you see today.

Please join us Thursday, July 26th for one of the last chances to visit the pears as well as all the artists in our storied studio building,  551 West 21st Street, nicknamed  “Cold Castle,” which will be departing this timeline forever come autumn.  Chelsea Art Walk, 5 - 8 PM