Monday, January 25, 2010

New Orleans Museum of Art: Two Sides to Every Story

Just went to New Orleans this weekend and while there visited the New Orleans Museum of Art. On a title-card beside a Jean Dubuffet painting there, the curator defined "outsider art" as (I'm quoting here): "The untrained art of children and the insane." The problem with defining art made by unconventional, untraditional artists is that definers seem doomed to create definitions that are just simple antonyms for "The Real Thing". Meaning: they always seemed hooked on the idea that outsider art is defiintely not insider art. But really art is art is art, and great art always somehow finds its way through the levels of BS. Proof: at the same museum in New Orleans there was a Henry Darger piece hanging in the contmeporary art section. The title-card for this piece did not mention that Darger was an outsider artist. It just listed his name, birth and death dates, and the materials he used. The work alone said everything.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

David and Kevin

David Jarred and Kevin White posed for pictures yesterday at the gallery... "Out of Order: Paintings & Other Creations by David Jarred and Kevin White" opens February 26, 2010, reception 6 to 10 pm.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Andrew Vansickle on Kevin White

Above: One of Kevin White's pieces in the "Out of Order" exhibit at Thunder-Sky, Inc.

In 1987, Andrew Vansickle spent the summer working under the guidance of Rev. Howard Finster. The relationship and education lasted until Finster’s passing in 2001. He considers Howard Finster his mentor. At the time, when Outsider Art was exploding in interest, Andrew also befriended many of the “Outsider Art legends,” including Mose Tolliver, RA Miller, Billie Lemming, and Rev. BF Perkins. He has helped coordinate a number of art exhibitions in the past 20 years, including one of the first Outsider Art exhibits in Ohio, “Howard Finster: Man of Visions” at the University of Cincinnati Gallery. He is currently the board president of Visionaries & Voices, as well as a working artist, and has known Kevin White for several years. Below are some things he had to say upon seeing Kevin White's work for the "Out of Order" exhibit opening at Thunder-Sky, Inc. February
26, 2010.

When I first saw Kevin's work back in 2003/2004 at Essex Studios in Walnut Hills, I was really taken aback by how much it seemed to have in common with traditional outsider artists like Howard Finster and William Hawkins. I recognized right off that he was going to be one of the greats. He has a raw painterly confidence that totally made me flachback to the late 80s when outsider art began to explode with interest. His work has simplicity, but also sophistication. It's a grand-slam. And I was excited, and still am, at what Kevin's next aesthetic move might be.

Kevin's work can also be easily compared and contrasted with "insider artists" like Franz Klein, Miro, and the constructions of Louise Nevelson. He visually flattens Nevelson's architecture. He does not reference modern art; he kind of uses it without knowing it, which makes for an even more interesting reinvention.

If you ask me what might be Kevin's biggest influence it would his dad. His father was an airport designer and engineer, and Kevin's work truly has a spatial and architectural overlay. You can see that also in the way he lays out all his drawings once he is finished and tries to create a sort of city out of them. Like he is a city-planner conducting business on another planet.

He wants to create a world, in other words. He is truly into organizing and categorizing and at the end of the day his paintings and sculptures have that rare quality of someone totally in charge of their gifts. It's been a pleasure getting to know him, and also collaborating with him when I curated his last exhibit (Summer 2008 at AVS Gallery in Cincinnati). He is a star, and I really look forward to the new show.

Monday, January 11, 2010

David Jarred

Above: 3D Drawamalg 5 . cast paper and acrylic paint. David Jarred, 2009.

In an email interview, Daivd Jarred talks about his own work, as well as the work of the artist he is sharing the spotlight with at Thunder-Sky, Inc.'s "Out of Order," opening February 26, 2010, with a reception 6 to 10 pm.

Your paintings and objects are mysterious and yet also uniquely familiar, like a word you've forgotten how to pronouce but is still in your head somewhere. What inspires you to create them? Other artists' works? Artifacts from the real world? Dreams?

Dave: The focus of my work is the expressive ability of form. When I am making the work I suspend my verbal language and work in a visual language with a vocabulary that I take from other man made forms like buildings and everyday objects such as a clock or a radio. I think people recognize this vocabulary when they see my work, but they are not used to seeing it jumbled up so it catches them off guard. One inspiration for this is classical music, I want to create a visual language that is as abstractly expressive as those used by music composers.

How do you choose the materials you use?
Dave: This is a good question, Since I am interested in form the materials are really secondary to the object. The sculptures could easily be bronze or wood and the paintings could be oil or even etchings. The sculptures are made out of my junk mail which I recycle into paper and press into plaster molds. This process can be labor intensive but I enjoy making paper and it makes me laugh when the unpainted sculptures have interest rates and other classic junk mail phrases on them. Sometimes I regret having to paint over them because the paper is so interesting, but I think it would add unintended content if I did not paint them. The paintings are gouache (acrylic watercolor) and acrylic paint on paper. I think the main reason I have chosen these materials is because I enjoy working with them on a tactile level and I think that it is important to enjoy yourself while you make work. I am also always trying to find ways to reduce my environmental impact so I try to avoid resins, mineral spirits and industrial processes.

You have titled your pieces either a made-up or obscure name (Drawamalgs), and I wonder why, and how do you think this obscure language adds to the experience of viewing and understanding your work? Dave: As silly as it sounds I was writing a statement and I misspelled Drawings as Drawmogs. I looked at the typo for a while and decided it captured something true about the work. I think it plays with the idea of distorting verbal language to become abstractly expressive much as my artwork does with visual language. I later changed it to Drawamalgs (Drawing Amalgamations) so it would make more sense. In Retrospect I kind of wish I had stuck with Drawmogs, but Drawamalgs is easier to explain to people.

What do you think of the work of Kevin White, your partner in the show?
Dave: I feel an affinity towards Kevin’s work, I think it was really a deft move to pair us together. I feel that Kevin really responds to what ever he is painting on in an intuitive way that shows a natural aesthetic sophistication. Kevin is really expressing his own visual language, and in a lot of ways he is much more adept at visual language than I am. It has also been fun working in Thunder-sky inc.’s studio with him. I have begun to see a lot of similarities in the ways that we approach art making. Kevin draws with a cerebral reaction that is very quick and decisive this pretty much how I feel when I draw. I can also appreciate his enjoyment of materials, especially paint.

Anything else?
Dave: Anyone who is really interested in the here and now of art should come check out Thunder-Sky Inc. it is a really interesting place and it will challenge your ideas about art-making and what art is.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2007 Becky and Bill Exhibit

This is a postcard image from an exhibit of Bill and Becky's work back in 2007 at Nicholas Gallery...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Basquiat and Warhol

Another great example of 2 + 2 = 5.

Mr. Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg passed away in 2008, but his work and spirit and philosophy continue to enlighten what we're trying to do with Thunder-Sky, Inc. and this 2 + 2 = 5 thing...

"Ideas aren't real estate, they grow collectively and that knocks out the egotistical loneliness that generally infects art." (Robert Rauschenberg)

Rauschenberg was a born collaborator: his work with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Alain Robbe-Gillet, and William Burroughs pushed the boundaries of what art can be and do, as he did in the eighties with the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Initiative, making art with people all over the world, culminating in an exhibit in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC in 1991.

But truly one of my favorite Rauschenberg collaborations is the erased drawing he did back in the fifties (see photo above). Rauschenberg took a drawing by DeKooning and with his permission erased it. In one gesture he redefined what art means and what art does and does not do. He eliminated preciousness, made a joke, and yet also created new meaning from stock footage.

Sometimes, that simple little gesture seems to say, erasing things becomes the only way to create something new.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Unnerving Joy

"Out of Order," the first exhibit in the Thunder-Sky, Inc. not by and/or about Raymond Thunder-Sky, features the works of two artists who, biographically at least, don't have a lot in common.

Kevin White (his work is the top photo)is an artist who spent much of his working artistic life in a sheltered workshop for people with developmental disabilities. Labeled with "Down syndrome," Kevin would draw all the time, with and on anything he could find, and many times he was told not to. But he persisted, and in 2002 Bill Ross, a cofounder of both Visionaries & Voices (a studio for artists with disabilities here in Cincinnati) and Thunder-Sky, Inc., was introduced to him. Kevin, along with Raymond and several other artists, were in fact the inspiration for Visionaries & Voices. Kevin still attends the V&V studio in Northside regularly.

David Jarred is an artist who has a degree in visual art and who writes about visual art regularly. He is just beginning his career, and Bill and I discovered his work late last summer in a gallery in Over-the-Rhine here in Cincinnati, 1305. His work seemed to be both provocatively simple and inherently strange. A lot like Kevin's.

When you put Kevin and David's work together, it completely pops -- as if one of David's objects has been pulled from one of Kevin's large paintings, or as if one of Kevin's paintings is a billboard on David's planet. There is a mutual and eerie happiness in their work, a sort of ethereal and somehow unnerving joy in the oddness and authority both artists share.

The main reason we curated this show is art, not biography, not resumes, and yet knowing upfront that these different people might not have ever met unless they made art really is inspiring. And also it is another example of the 2 + 2 = 5 thesis: pulling together the two bodies of work embellishes both beyond just showing them side by side. Knowing the back story also intensifies the experience of getting to know the art.

By juxtaposing David and Kevin's works, Thunder-Sky, Inc. offers viewers the chance to witness art as an equalizer and the gallery space as a site for new insights into what makes an artist “an artist,” and what makes art “art.”

Show opens February 26, 2010, with a reception 6 to 10 pm.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Story of the Pop Cans

In 2007, when we were curating a Visionaries & Voices (V&V) exhibit at the University of Cincinnati Gallery at Sycamore (a now defunct space that was completely beautiful) called "Pop Life: Outsider Artists and the Pop Ideal," Victor Strunk, who was the director at V&V then, came up with an idea: to see if Kevin White, one of the first artists V&V tried to help, would like to paint some pop cans for this show. He did, and he still does. Right after the exhibit came down, Bill got the idea to build some shelving units for the cans, so they could be displayed and sold this way (see photo above). In other words, "Pop Cans" by Kevin White is a wonderful example of 2 + 2 = 5. Someone thought up the idea (Victor), someone executed the idea beautifully (Kevin), and someone else embellished both the idea and the execution (Bill). This one piece, as well, is "co-authored" by Andy Warhol, who originated "Pop Art" and opened up avenues for artists often not cannonized or even exhibited.

(Keith Banner, 2010)