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Arts

The Art World After COVID and After the Murder of George Floyd. In Poem and Prose.

You can’t say much about the art world
That can’t also be said about the world.
Both are being hurled into a trajectory
New, untested, unimagined until now.

Like Charlie Brown, you have to face
Adversity with philosophy, insanity
With unity. Like the bard said, you
Gotta be tough. It helps to be in
Fighting shape when the weather
Gets this rough, this windy, this in-
Dependent-bookstore-spindly. Songs
Of canaries dot the landscape in rhyme
With each other as they slide towards the
Rapid decline. Some have resources, some
Have hope, some have enough dope for two
More days if they’re lucky, three if they’re not.

I had a studio in a gallery, Gallerie Soleil, in the
2000’s, teaching myself to paint after a print-
Making major and a stint as an art director
For local TV. This last frisky decade came to
A close on my own public studio & gallery,
Homegrown Press, where the occasional
Blocks were carved, prints were printed,
But mainly I painted paintings, trying to
Keep them all real enough while selling
Enough to keep the doors open, always
Hoping someone would walk through in
Time to pay my rent for me, with no new
Enemies, and as often as not it has worked,
But only online, social media sharing my work,
Connecting with and selling to souls from coast
To coast, Sight unseen, not laying my eyes on them,
Nor theirs on my pieces, except in an email, but my doors
Stayed open, if only for the occasional critique by the home-
Less (Old School was almost always right, and in fact, the piece
Of mine that upset him so, never sold, and it cost me my studio,
That and the virus that took all the restaurants and bars and my
Sweet buddy Carleton), but the main reason I kept that open sign
On the door, to welcome the occasional child/artist that would
Would walk in with a donut and a sibling, parents looking around
The crazy place with its murals and messes and giant rough easels.
The parents would raise a skeptical eyebrow at each other, or they

Would register nothing at all, but sometimes a child’s eye would rove
The gallery and the noise, the brushes and rollers and ink, and I could
See on their face the look that says “I have found my people. I could
Maybe do this.” And I would reply to them with a corresponding
Expression on my face, “If you want to, you should. It’s good.”
Maybe Old School was right about my piece, “Rat King.” And
Maybe he wasn’t. Time will tell. For now, I have carried all
Of my belongings home, one old truck full at a time, all
By myself, during quarantine, easels and tables, inks
And my press, books, magazines, slabs of old marble
And plywood and carved blocks, carving tools, brayers
And brushes, nails, screws, tools, lightbulbs and big ideas.

What didn’t fit in my music room, with the drums, guitars and
Keyboard, was relegated to the basement, where just last week
I had to go through it all again when our basement flooded, saving
Boxes of framed prints and canvas and paper. I had planes flying in
The air, in the clouds, then they were grounded and I had to retrofit
A tiny airport, and try to fling them aloft again. I’ve had help. Oh yes,
I have had help. Unemployment paid the back rent I owed on my now
Defunct studio. My wife has a good job as a medical administrator. We
Will be fine, there are many people in much more dire straits than are
We. And now that restaurants are decimated, and sports television
Echoes only its innocent past, people sit at home and have time
To watch as the world turns and the edges of cities burn, and
Our children empty into the streets to demand racial justice,
Racial equality, an end to the crushing status quo, and they
Can see much more clearly than we ever have, we are
All just people. The system is getting a much needed
Overhaul. The world is crushed and compacted and
The people try to hold on, much like the art world.

And, much like the art world, I imagine that the
Upper echelons will continue to be just a little
More bullet-proof than those creative folks
On the ground, in the trenches, making do.

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

2020 marks 10 years that Homegrown Press Studio & Gallery has been located on North Limestone at 6th Street, in Lexington’s NoLi district. 2020 also marks 30 years since I met my wife and organized my gypsy screen-printing endeavor into Homegrown Press. There was to be a celebration September 24th, my late father’s 76th birthday. My band (okay, my son’s band) was to make their debut on the little wooden stage, and I would have new paintings, block prints and T-shirts for the occasion.

Instead, faint murmurings of distant illness gave way to a couple weeks of social distancing which have, in turn, become a new way of life. And death. People stopped buying paintings (not forever). Coronavirus ended my much-needed lunch dates with artists, writers, and misfits, and took our sweet friend Carleton. Then fate took two more friends to whom I owed much more than was owed to me.

The regular stress and anxiety of studio overhead became too much when compounded with grief, loss and uncertainty. I had been putting together a modest 13 x 18 foot music studio in our house, a place for our band to practice, maybe cut demos. It would now have to do double (triple?) duty. I gave notice to my NoLi landlord and brought home everything from Homegrown: press, stand, inking table, easels, drafting table, filing cabinets, canvases, paint, brushes, ink, paper, frames, tools, lamps, carved blocks, uncarved blocks, knives, pencils, pens.

It has taken a few months to find a place for everything, but I have successfully integrated the printmaking and painting equipment into the music studio without disturbing the band’s footprint too awful much. I’ve had to get creative. I am now back to painting, working on a couple of promised commissions, and some surreal little paintings for my nieces and nephew in Oregon, whom I miss. Songs and poems are popping out occasionally, but the space to paint in is limited, and my paintings have become too expensive for most of the people I know. Times change, and it is time to get back to the drawing board. Or the carving table.

For the first time in the 20 years that I have been learning how to paint, I will again be working in reductive method block printing. While more physically and mentally taxing than painting, it will be a more democratic endeavor, and more affordable. Multiple prints of each design will be made, and the number produced in each edition will be limited, since the block is destroyed during the reductive process. I will miss having a public studio space, but the main reason I had an open sign on the door was so kids whose families happened to wander over from the donut shop could see an artist just being an artist. I really could have used that example as a kid.

Like I said, times change. Human beings can be very adaptable when circumstances demand it. And circumstance is knocking. It knows we are home. Coronavirus. Unemployment. Stress. Fear. Loneliness. Then George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Marching. Signs. Fires. Smoke. And marching out of that smoke and into the light? The many thousands of protesters who, day after day and week after week, are taking back the power, in dogged pursuit of justice, truth, and unity. I acknowledge this is a crisis for individuals who have lost loved ones, jobs, businesses. But what we are seeing is the beginning of a huge recalculation. The timing is horrible. The timing is perfect.

The world is preparing to get a little more creative. I am not really familiar enough with the art world at large to be able to respond to the Last Days of the Art World article by Jerry Saltz in any substantive way, other than to say what it has been like for me. I hope every artist and arts organization that operates from the heart can survive and thrive, from the largest museums to the weirdest little galleries, studios, venues. I have been shaken from my particular tree, and like a squirrel, I only hope to land with a little dignity. Time will tell. And Black Lives Matter.

Arts

Great Lakes Tour, Part 3: Lake Huron

Photographer and University of Kentucky Educator James R Southard was sent on assignment to circle the Great Lakes and document artists, their lives, work habits, social networking and their environments.

LAKE HURON

To me, Lake Huron was the most mysterious of them all. It is one of the least populated areas, as a map shows only undeveloped shoreline and small towns dotting the coast. It also has a long history of rough weather and shipwrecks, so I came to Lake Huron feeling it would be the most haunted as well. Being it has so few cities surrounding it, I was expecting to find few artists and more vacationers. Still, I arrived to the lake looking for craftsmen and preservationists working on historic sites and boating in a variety of ways. 

Thessalon – I drove out to the small town of Thessalon, to visit Miranda Bouchard, Acting Artistic Director of Thinking Rock Community Arts. They are working with the North Shore communities to build collaborative projects that respond to local issues. They also provide training and consulting services to the community. I kept finding people that moved up from southern Ontario to live and work in the hopes of being more connected to the region.

Big Basswood Lake – I was planning on swimming in each great lake, but due to the temperature and algae blooms, that opportunity never happened. It wasn’t until I reached Basswood Lake on the north side of Lake Huron, that I found got the opportunity. The lake was spring fed, so I could see straight to the bottom no matter how deep it got.

Big Basswood Lake – While interviewing the Sault Ste Marie Artist, Andrea Pinheiro, she asked about my accommodations in the city. Her response, “Nonsense, you are coming up to Basswood Lake and staying in a cabin.” The generosity of northern Ontario folk is staggering. Not once did they ask for money from me for the housing and meal. Great cabin, lake, meal and conversations that went late into the evening.

Manitoulin Island – It was a gray chilly day when I took a long ferry ride from Manitoulin Island to the Bruce Peninsula. I was sad to be leaving Northern Ontario.

Southampton – The Chantry Island Marine Heritage Society took me out to their lighthouse, which they’ve been working on for years. Without government funding they’ve done the labor and craftsmanship required to repair this lighthouse themselves. All the volunteers are retired citizens of Southampton. Rob Campbell, in the photograph, is a retired dentist.


Southampton – While touring Chantry Island I met a local historian, Mike Sterling. This retired award-winning mathematician has been coming out to the island to help fix up the cottage and lighthouse for years.

Chantry Island –The island is a migratory bird sanctuary. The local heritage society has been visiting for years, restoring it to its original state. The work features traditional carpentry.

Chantry Island – The island has been getting smaller as the lake’s water levels reach record highs. Many of the marinas and infrastructure surrounding the Great Lakes are out of commission with the waters as high as they are. This is greatly affecting summer tourism, which most of the small communities surrounding the lakes rely upon.

Southampton – While on the tour of Chantry Island I hooked up with the local historian, Mike Sterling.  After retiring, he started building instruments that rely on geometry and mathematics at the core of their design. Mike built this Bernoulli Involute years ago and has created his own type of script music to accompany the instrument.

Southampton – Since retiring, Mike Sterling has been working in his studio above his family.

My last evening on Lake Huron was spent wandering the streets where I came across the war memorial. A cross fashioned from metallic oil on canvas, the memorial faces the waterfront and the US. It inspired thoughts about the shared history and sacrifices of America and Canada.

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Lake Huron was where I got to see both northern and southern Ontario. People around the lake were just as friendly as Lake Superior and were just as interested in my project. I also kept finding people who moved up there from the more populated southern Ontario. The slower pace of the towns reminded me very much of home. You didn’t need more than one job to make ends meet in many of these small towns; one job pays the bills. While on Lake Huron, I also had the chance to get out on the water and visit a few islands. The water was just as choppy as I imagined, though the locals seemed quite comfortable in the waves. For the first time, a camera was turned on me while I was in Southampton. A local newspaper shadowed me for one of my photo shoots with the heritage society. I didn’t realize my project would draw this much interest from anyone outside of my crew of fellow photographers. The project started to feel more meaningful. Not only is this project a collection of images I photographed from my interactions with creatives in these communities, but I was bringing their story to a broader audience back home. To many people I was speaking with, this became important.  

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List of Contacts:
Miranda Bouchard – http://www.mirandabouchard.com/
Thinking Rock Community Arts – https://www.thinkingrock.ca/
Chantry Island Heritage Society – https://www.chantryisland.com/
Saugeen Times –  https://saugeentimes.com/chantry-island-attracts-visitors-world-wide/?fbclid=IwAR2uej3_PWrZBU0A8rFcelRkhhnAw1zQQbwulRL3qiivEA3XY_f5K5goU9E

See related content:

Great Lakes Tour: Part I: Lake Michigan

Great Lakes Tour: Part II: Lake Superior 

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This project couldn’t have happened without the support of the Great Meadows Foundation.