Friday, April 14, 2017

Inter-inspiration at 516 ARTS

By Shelle Vanetten de Sanchez, Ph.D

On a Saturday evening in March 2017, 516 ARTS brought together a fascinating, inter-everything (interdisciplinary, intergenerational, international) panel of women to talk about art, identity, politics, feminism, and self-expression moderated by Megan Kamerick. Margaret Randall (renowned poet and photographer), Doris Difaranecio (self-described “dike Colombian, New Yorker, performance artist), Erin Galvez (young, soft-spoken visual artist), Dagmara Zabska (energetic, outspoken Polish theatre artist/director), and Kelsey Paschich (poised, elegant dancer) sat together in a gallery full of audience members.

The discussion was wide-ranging and full of beautiful nuggets of inspiration and insight. Perhaps, the only threads tying these women together (beyond gender) were creative passion and artistic achievement. There was talk of feminism, women’s issues, and women’s work – ideas that fuel each of these artists at various levels and in shifting forms. Mostly, there was talk of art, creativity, and self-expression.

Each spoke beautifully about art and artmaking and this ultimately connected every loose strand of the discussion. Kelsey spoke not simply of dance, but of “movement as a language that makes transparent the space between dream and reality with spontaneity, juxtaposition, and the element of surprise.” Doris described her socially engaged projects in Chiapas with Mayan artists as “memory and testimony intersected with transformation and activism and beauty.”  Margaret, often described by others as a political writer shared, “I resist ‘political’ art – I am political and politics show up in my art, but so does love and nature and beauty.” Dagmara’s description of her theatre work was both literal and metaphorical and is arguably true for many artists, “we are trying to find accurate pictures working with shadows.”

It was encouraging and powerful to see Erin and Kelsey (the youngest members of the panel) seated on either side of Margaret (the eldest of the panel) – not simply the continuum of age, but also as a representation of the arc of life-long creative practice. Erin, finishing her M.F.A., shared that she has a lot of questions about her identity, especially as a Filipina-American. While Margaret confidently said, “I just am who I am.”

Motherhood pushed Kelsey to ask herself, “Now what? What is the purpose of my work?” These questions led her to co-found SHIFT I DANCE to give voice and a platform to many women artists. While 80 year-old Margaret explains, “I went from my middle years when housework and motherhood accompanied every book that I published to my later years when I balanced my own work with my day job. Now, these are my most productive years – I am free to do my own work and work 12 – 14 hours per day. It is wonderful.”

The gift of this wide-ranging discussion was the pure enthusiasm of each woman for her creative discipline and a long list of with inspiration and insight in my notebook. Here are just a few of favorites:

“Our language is being changed – that is my big concern as a writer. Beware of hierarchies and ask more questions.”  – Margaret Randall

“Be more focused. Follow your intuition. Be patient. Read. Make love. Don't surrender yourselves to other voices.”  – Doris Difaranecio

“I disagree with the fake smile and the pressure to be happy. Don’t be afraid – defeat is just defeat – it’s really not the end of the world.”  – Dagmara Zabska

The event “Public Forum: Women Artists Speak Out: Feminism & Creative Expression” was presented by 516 ARTS in conjunction with Women & Creativity 2017 and in partnership with Tricklock Company’s Revolutions International Theatre Festival.

Shelle Sanchez is a planner, facilitator and optimist working at intersections of art, education and community. She serves on the Advisory Board of 516 ARTS.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Karsten Creightney
Paper Visions 

His voracious curiosity about art’s role in history means we cannot avoid what Karsten Creightney has contributed to this moment in our voracious living history. Partly that’s because the scale of his offerings are dimensional not only in size, subject matter, materials. In his words, the heart of things is “worn on [his] sleeve.”

That advertisement for me advocates unabashedness combined with humility. Creightney refers to himself as a “very slow learner,” someone who in younger days felt worlds away from technical prowess of European Renaissance and Dutch masters, leagues apart from El Greco and Velasquez. Their times and subject matters appeared too far afield, a full understanding of what they portrayed or portended elusive. But it wasn’t much time before repeated open-minded returns urged by the safety of his family, his schools, their books, and those doors began to gradually swing open.

He discloses how aspects of his training, their emphasis on old ways of hierarchical mastery, are what turned him away from those previous eras of artistic practice. He strives instead to maintain a constant sense of autodidactism. “I never want to stop apprenticing.” Thus his tendency propels a commitment to liberal arts without fear of veering into unexpected or uncharted territories.

Retreats into the natural world also provide ongoing tutelage. Those and adventures in foraging, pulling materials from thrift stores and discarded books, layering them with matter and inquiry without caution about how they might transport him and his viewers into unexpected places. He says such improvisational impulses are in response, in part, to contemporary academic and art market fixations with conceptual art. The trick, according to Creightney, is not to fear ubiquity, not to fear subject matter if it veers hazardously close to derivative or what he refers to cheerfully as overplayed. (In fact, labels of all sorts be damned for their impositions and superficiality.) 

Arab Spring II, lithography, silkscreen,
ink & colored pencil on paper, 30 x 22 inches 

“If I want to paint flowers,” he laughs, “then gawd-dammit, I’m going to paint flowers.” 

Lightheartedness is part of how he renders what others might press into hackneyed imagery. How he’s capable of playing with and in contrast to a subject of conventional beauty the recurring flower figure in ways not prescribed by traditional precedents.

There were moments he wondered whether it was viable to fixate on a subject we find ourselves yawning at, glazed over at in a hospital waiting area or a sterile hotel room. It’s viable. With head-on pursuit of multiple mediums, offset and highlighted with multiple fields of information. With rabbit-skin glue to preserve the integrity of what others refer to as a canvas. With layers of pasted paper, thin mixtures of wax, varnish, linseed oil. With printmaking pressure that sinks one thin piece of Japanese parchment into a thicker base. It means great lengths to smooth it into a complete carrying vessel. And for work so antithetical to superficial, the surface is one of the essentials.

Speaking of precedents: What I read as (cheeky?) references to early Andy Warhol’s floral work, Creightney says are grateful and unabashed acts of homage. He loves, after all, that Warhol implanted a conversation with the culture of mass production still buzzing, loves learning through imitation by adopting some of the same processes that Warhol did in his frenzied pursuit of imitation. The Warhol way of making work implanted a kind of new dialect into the world of art, a license to give its practitioners, Creightney among them, an abiding lack of inhibition.

“It’s in his spirit that I’m stealing and borrowing.” (Again, laughing.) Such full transparency in methodology means weight and depth of his pieces manage to simultaneously wholly complement and counteract other forms of sincerest flattery or thievery. His Lagoon woman was “straight-up lifted” from Gauguin’s Woman By the Sea. (It had to be done. “She’s a gesture of pure beauty.”) There are also nods to David Hockney’s deconstructed Western landscapes photographs, though Creightney’s are an invocation of serenity, an idyll imagined rather than imprinted or constructed.

He’s considered making work more polished, more precisely packaged. Stints in academia instilled how to distill polished descriptives, but those exercises also taught him that those are “against my nature.” Rather he tries to exert a “push and pull between deliberate intention” and what materializes, morphed by reactions to the materials he collects and manipulates. Not immune to the manic barrage of political discourse that only seems to have picked up steam and vitriol and volume, “but it’s also so exhausting and infuriating, that I have to escape into my own worlds--peaceful worlds that only exist in the imagination.”

Karsten Creightney, Self Portrait as Walter Scott, 2016, collage, silkscreen, acrylic & wax on wood, 24 x 32 inches

Karsten Creightney, Lagoon, 2016, collage, silkscreen, watercolor, acrylic, oil & wax on canvas, 66 x 78 inches

And “I don’t want to shout,” he says, nor does he confront with aggression. Rather he extends an invitation, provides the space and time he’s been allowed in his own life for asking disconcerting questions, for expelling anger and frustration in compelling forms  rather than reacting. He’s seen people turn away hardened, lacking transformation, when they’re “immediately hammered with the point.”

His wariness of the potential of art to comment on civil society with exploitative methods is palpable. “I’m not living in the ghetto. Cops aren’t harassing me on a daily basis. Talk to me on the phone, and you’d probably not have any idea I’m black.” The question, then: Is the maker’s right to explore such subjects, to take any ownership, to benefit from an awful extreme?

A film that struck him, 13th, omitted Walter Scott’s killing by a Charleston police officer per wishes of Scott’s family. And yet a still frame trimmed out of the worldwide sharing of his visible death notice meant Creightney felt not only “fury” and horror, but that “as an artist it’s also my place to acknowledge countless things,” no matter how they incite feelings that simply cannot be contained. His Arab Spring II piece, for one: Creightney describes its background as a field of noise. But that field feeds crops, bloom bursting through what others see a desert. Not unlike the places he calls home, places that can peel  eyes open with drought or depletion, beauty brimming from a wilderness unaccustomed outsiders might overlook as too harsh, too brown, too barren. Too fertile to crave shelter.

Karsten Creightney, Outskirts, 2016, collage, watercolor, acrylic, oil & wax on canvas, 66 x 78 inches

— Margaret Wright
    Freelance journalist from New Mexico, residing in Washington, D.C. 

View the exhibition brochure here

Thursday, October 29, 2015

On the occasion of the completion of “Brainbow Alley”

by Suzanne Sbarge

I am pleased to announce the completion of “Brainbow Alley” by Larry Bob Phillips on the backside of the 516 ARTS building. In this piece, Phillips has created a mash-up of high and low culture, art history and comic books. The piece references Pieter Breugel the Elder’s masterpiece “The Triumph of Death,” in which a panorama of skeletons and humans are locked in an eternal battle. Unlike the anonymous, indistinguishable human faces that comprise Breugel’s macabre disaster-scape, the featured protagonists in “Brainbow Alley” include some familiar Albuquerque artists, professors, kids, grandfathers, dogs and community leaders.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Economics of Environmental Art Panel

By Sherri Brueggemann

At left: collector Chris Burmeister and curator/moderator Nancy Zastudil
I suppose for all artists the “new normal” has always been the norm for them – how do I fund my work? Regardless of if the art is object-based, performative or conceptual, there is always the question of how to generate meaningful revenue to allow oneself to be creative and obtain the materials, time and inspiration they need and seek. From sourcing extremely rare or exotic materials to visiting locations 100 miles down the highway or around the world, how do artists, especially those who are working in social practice or non-object based expressions, navigate the precarious balance between creative expression and capitalism? 

The October 3rd panel discussion at 516 ARTS on the Economics of Environmental Art was a brief but enriching conversation about that dilemma. With two artists, a curator, collector and gallerist on the panel, and a room full of the same as audience participants, the conversation provided insights into the nuanced values of art created about, and inspired by, our environment.

In David Throsby’s 2001 treatise on Economics and Culture (2001 Cambridge University Press), six distinct values of art contribute to its cultural value: aesthetic, spiritual, social, historical, symbolic and finally, its authenticity. Once a cultural value is established, the economic value is determined by either its private ownership value or its public good value. Environmental and ecological artists – or artists who are working within those subject areas as well as other political subjects – create art that can have both a private commodity value and public good value. According to the panelists, varying contributing factors affect both of these cultural and economic values and how environmental art is funded.

In describing a specific European artist who “sells” private conversations between himself and his patrons, panelist Chris Burmeister contributed the perfect metaphor for what I see most environmental art is at its core —a special conversation with an artist about the land, water, sky or nature on this planet, the third one from the Sun. First we must value the conversation with the artist before we can value the objectification or documentation about that conversation. As the collector on the panel, Burmeister summed it up well when he said, “…what provokes sells.” Environmental artists provoke, but how do they sell?

From left: Artists Ryan Henel, Jami Porter Lara and curator Patricia Watts
Patricia Watts, seasoned curator and non-profit arts director, provided a thumbnail overview of the evolving land art/ecological art aesthetics from the 1960’s to now, moving from objective (sculptural/materials/earth-based) to non-objective (didactic documentation only) and back again. While foundations, institutions and even government generously funded the non-objective, experience based art interrogations about, and remediation of, the environment during the 1980’s, more tangible outcomes are now expected. Foundations are asking artists to go beyond just “raising awareness,” they’re looking for art projects that will affect change, permanently. This brought up the question of permanent vs. temporary art, especially those publicly funded at the local level.

Artist Ryan Henel noted that cities and government agencies have implemented such highly developed infrastructure systems that often we no longer see the environment. Henel’s personal inquiry as an artist is, “How can the artist, and therefore art be holistically integrated into the design and building of these systems to help us keep seeing the environment?” Jamie Porter Lara, on the other hand is creating portable, easily privately owned, artworks that intentionally build on the continuity of environmental materials (clay) and cultural artifacts (vessels) but are transformed into an “activist object.” She makes things out of clay that this planet already has too many of —liter-sized plastic bottles, but in the ancient tradition of the Mata Ortiz pottery of Mexico. Her objective is to respect and carry on the ancient medium and process, but to leave “an ethical trace” as reference to who and where we are now.
Some of the best questions left on the group table, unanswered, include: How does an artist not become a “brand” that can eventually be at risk of going out of style and discarded while pursuing multiple scale objects that can be purchased by a variety of supporters? Is the subject of one’s art the “type” of artist they are (read, “label”), or is it how you work as an artist that defines what “type” of artist one is? Is making an object about the environment just illustrating the (environmental) problem? How is that different than reading about it in the news? And finally, how can an artistic experience be conveyed in ways other than the object that can still yield revenue?

Panel moderator and exhibition curator, Nancy Zastudil’s passion for answers to these questions clearly stems from her unending passion and desire to support artists. I share her sentiments and through these conversations maybe we’ll all find our most creative outlets to support artists, support art enthusiasts and support the growing need for all to live a creative and art filled life. Special thanks to 516 ARTS for hosting the panel and audience discussion amidst the incredibly inspirational exhibit, Knew Normal, up now through the end of October – go see this amazing art!

Sherri Brueggemann is the City of Albuquerque Public Art Urban Enhancement Program Manager and a member of the Advisory Board of 516 ARTS.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mel Chin in Albuquerque

by Suzanne Sbarge

I was fortunate to spend a few days with guest artist Mel Chin, who came to Albuquerque September 8-12 to give the keynote talk for HABITAT: Exploring Climate Change Through the Arts. As we shared meals and I drove him around town, I got to hear about whatever was on his mind – from his haunting adventures visiting Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria to try to help their plight; to his latest plan for a climate change awareness campaign staged in Paris with an Inuit driving a sled powered by poodles.

Mel Chin is a featured artist in both Knew Normal about climate change curated by Nancy Zastudil at 516 ARTS and Necessary Force: Art in the Police State at UNM Art Museum. So, in his talk at UNM, he chose to encompass the topics of both of these separate exhibitions. He started with singing a prison song by Leadbelly that led him into the subjects of racism and police violence, and ended with an introduction to The Potential Project about the creation of a model solar economy in the Western Sahara. In between, he described some of his projects over the years, many of which deal with exposing inequality and addressing environmental justice. Through each of these efforts, he serves as a temporary representative and convener for people not given voice in issues that are affecting them in dire ways. Although dealing with serious topics, his approach is steeped in humor and his own unique form of untamed imagination.
Zastudil says, “Mel Chin was one of the first artist's on my list for Knew Normal because of his ability to create art objects that are both informed and formed by culture and environment. For example, I first saw his installation of Spirit at the Columbus Museum of Art when I was an undergraduate art student at The Ohio State University. This dramatic, multi-layered work consists of a one-ton barrel, or cask, balanced on a thick rope of braided native grasses indigenous to the American Prairie. The piece depicts and embodies the ‘uneasy relationship between industrial and agricultural America, and nature throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.’ I attribute much of my interest in art and environment to Mel and my experience with Spirit.”

“The most subversive thing you can do is to get the ones who always say no to say yes.” 

For his smaller roundtable discussion at 516 ARTS the day after his keynote, Chin described his latest concept called Les Arctiques a Paris for artCOP21 in Paris this fall, which features artists from around the globe presenting public art projects in conjunction with the 21st United Nations’ summit on climate change. 20,000 delegates from countries around the world are anticipated to convene to make commitments to programs that address climate change. Of course artists want to be part of this important moment.

Chin is envisioning Les Arctiques a Paris as a video public service announcement that provokes a an emotional wake-up kind of moment, like the crying Indian or the Coke commercial in the 1970s, but not selling anything. The video will depict an Inuit sled driver driving a sled through Paris powered by trained poodles. The Inuit man will convey this message: “5000 years of Arctic culture is now dying. The Arctic is Paris. This melt is already affecting you. Everything you know about where you live will be different now. The Arctic is no more.”

Chin believes we can’t stop climate change, but we have to look at connection and adaptation or we won’t make it. He said, “Get ready for the age of altruism. We have to find out how we will relate to each other now or we will just kill each other. The key is behavioral modification of ourselves. The option of doing nothing is the most boring thing. Let’s get busy here people.”

When asked about his way of working, Mel said he started the first ecology club in 1969 at his high school in Texas. “I work in an evolutionary mutated basis. I do research.” His mind jumps around a lot, but always comes back to his clarity of vision, making powerful connections across the realms of art, science and politics with a sensitivity to issues of inequity. When asked, “Do you ever just draw?”, he responded, “Yes all the time. When I was young I took a year and a half to recover from a breakdown. I was in a completely catatonic state. When I came out of that, I realized drawing is a joy. Everyone can be taught to draw. I can never regain the sensitivity that was vaporized by shock therapy. Maybe that’s why I do what I do. If you want to learn to draw, get a pencil and start… Any avenue to open up or criticize your consciousness is good.”

Mel highlighted the book The Body in Pain by Elaine Scary, which is about the inexpressibility of things like human pain. Scary says there are only two camps of people and activities: 1. The Unmaking of the World, which equals pain and leads to war and torture, and removes the capacity for imagination and language; and 2. The Making of the World, which equals imagination, representing the beginning of language and it remakes the world. He said, “I am in the camp of the imagination.”

In his conclusion, he said, “The most subversive thing you can do is to get the ones who always say no to say yes.” He advised that as artists and cultural workers we need to devise strategies for how to convert people through creating empathy, which can be done by confronting them with something awesome. He said, “It doesn’t always have to be political. That’s art. The dogs in Paris will be awesome. You have to do things to excite people. In his parting words to a rapt group of artists and community members gathered around him in front of his installation for The Potential Project, he referenced Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech about creating change: “From time immemorial we have been taught to value self-preservation first. It’s false. The rule of life is the preservation of the other. You can apply it to anything we’re doing, including art and climate change. How do you preserve the life and mindset of someone else? It’s a powerful lesson in how to be human.”

Nuggets of wisdom from dinner with Mel Chin, distilled by Nancy Zastudil:

Having / finding / creating options is vital, and even exciting.

Connect with those things that have helped us persevere up until now (creativity, humanity, empathy, survival, joy, love, sadness and more).

It’s not about the masses, it’s about the individual.

Martin Luther King Jr. taught that we cannot preserve ourselves without preserving other-selves (love each other).

We are not inspired by tragedy or human suffering—we are compelled.

Did you attend the talks? Please let us know what you thought in the comments below!

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Art of Buying by Valerie Roybal

Recently I was asked what I thought makes people want to buy art (or not).

For me, the purchasing of art is an exciting and joyful experience— like hearing or seeing good music or the tasting and eating of delicious food. Plus, you get to live with the piece of art in your home , experiencing it again and again. The purchasing of art creates a connection within the transaction, and for me, it creates an experience of understanding, and feeling part of something beyond my own experience of the world.

I have a new friend who calls himself a coveter, meaning he wants things that he has a response to, he wants to acquire what he sees and loves. I enjoy seeing this excitement and awakened sense in him. I like to see him have a visceral connection to what he sees. This coveting is not about acquiring, but more about appreciating, and feeling a connection to the piece, like: "wow! I love that, I want it!" When presented with the experience of art, it is wonderful when we are able tap into that deep sense of appreciation, or felt sense of art. 

Valerie Roybal, Transmutation 7, 2014, collage & ink on clayboard; 9x12 inches
It's interesting to think about this, right now, as I don't know why people do not tap into this amazing experience. Perhaps it's pure economics (people think it's out of their range or not affordable) or it's a lack of interest in art and aesthetics (people don't think art is for them or its not their cup of gin), who knows? From the economic standpoint, studio sales (and other non-traditional ways of purchasing art), are great, as they present people with an opportunity to acquire art at affordable prices. It's less risky. And this particular sale poses a wide variety of styles, choices, sizes, and price points, so that hopefully, there is something for everyone to covet, fall in love with, and even take home. I hope that people see this event as a treasure hunt of sorts, and find joy in the discovery.

Valerie Roybal, Zig Zag 20 (detail), collage and ink on clay-board; 10 x 8 inches
Another great thing about this particular event, is that the sales benefit both the artists and a non-profit organization which supports art and artists—full circle.
As an artist participating in this studio sale, I am excited about the process of "clearing the decks", so to speak. As a person who is always in the process of making work, it's great to get stuff out of my home studio and storage and out into the world. Its especially exciting if my art makes its way into the hands of others. Clearing the decks also creates space an openness to create more.

When talking with the other participating artists over the past several weeks about the event it seems that we are pretty excited just to be part of this and contribute to the fundraising efforts of 516. We also are excited by the idea of being in this together, setting up spaces within the space, and experiencing each others work. We will be presenting a version of our working space, transported to 516, so that visitors can see some of the process. The day immediately following the opening, we will all be there working, so that the making of art can be a shared experience. I like to take a peek into people's studios, and see behind the curtain, so I am happy at the prospect of not only providing this experience, but partaking in it, from several viewpoints and ways of doing, all in one place. Hooray!

About the artist: Valerie Roybal holds a BA from the University of New Mexico, where she studied communication, journalism and graphic art as an undergraduate, and printmaking and book arts for several years beyond that. As an artist, she has shown her work in many group and solo exhibitions, including the 2nd National Book and Paper Arts Biennial at Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts in Chicago; Unraveling Tradition, and New Mexico Showcase at 516 ARTS; and Biennial Southwest ’08 at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History. Her work can be seen in the book Cutting Edges: Contemporary Collage (Gestalten) and CUT and PASTE, 21st Century Collage (Laurence King Publishers). She is a recent recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation artist grant.

Read more about the 516 ARTS Studio Sale at  Pyragraph.