Thursday, March 25, 2010

Christiane Baumgartner

Charles Eldred, one of my undergraduate teachers said: "One day you will make a piece that will make all the others that came before it look bad. Is that a good day or a bad day?" My surmise now is it has to be "good" for just like writing, one puts what is inside to the outside as a way of clearing the way and moving ahead. I have often joked that graduate school was a good investment because it allowed me to make all the bad paintings I needed to do so I would never do them again. Essentially this is true: artists don't just pop out of the creative womb as finished entities. We stumble around a lot, especially at the outset and the tuition is long, or certainly longer, I believe than most people realize. But then, what happens when you're stumbling around and you find someone else, far off your artistic radar has been following similar issues and has not only explored some of your ideas, they have realized them brilliantly and garnered great acclaim?

My own work has pulled together a lot in the last two years, but it was both humbling, difficult, and I also believe, ultimately important, that I stumbled upon Baumgartner's work only to realize what I'm doing is art that is only just emerging. The lecture I attended last night with the artist and Julien Robson from PAFA really drove home the idea that if I could level one BIG criticism at graduate school, it is that it fundamentally lacked the power of experiences such as observing first hand the interaction between an artist at the top of her game and a curator who is brilliantly insightful. The blame does not rest squarely on the purveyors of my advanced degree. Looking back, probably all of us, were not ready to consider such critical ideas; we were too wrapped up in our own issues--many simply still struggling with the raw materials of our craft, painting. Perhaps too, many of us were just too overwhelmed or too self-involved so that the mental conduits needed to re-shape our thinking were just not open.

Much as Baumgartner's work exquisitely melds form and concept (including notions that relate to my own work) and visually embodies many of the characteristics I want my own pieces to possess, one must believe there is always room for one's own unique voice, one's own way of working. To feel more than a momentary pang of jealousy for the success of another is to deny the uniqueness and value of one's own experience and vision, to suffer a kind of spiritual death. There is a folktale entitled Tree of Sorrows where all the town's people, hang their woes for a day like fruit so that they may pick and chose what cross they will bear. Naturally, in the end, they chose their own. The experience, the moving through time via creation-- the giving of vital force and concrete and lasting form to that which is inside myself, that which is ever-growing, dying, and bedeviling me, that is what matters; that is what will let me find repose. What I'm going through now, even as I sort out my thoughts concerning the events of the last day, will ultimately inform what I will make tomorrow . I really would have it no other way. The joy is the transcendence that I will only find through unraveling my own riddle.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What If A Portrait Studio From 1920 Suddenly Appeared In Your 'hood ?

Whether it's creativity or not, something happens when I start making images that feels like I'm tuning into something. Unfortunately, I'm my own worst enemy when it comes down to focusing in (no pun intended) and proposing projects to be funded. My imagination packs its trunk and takes a holiday in Diluth. Luckily, I have a lot of great people around me who can see things a bit more from the outside.

I met with Amie Potsic yesterday. She's the director of The Center for Emerging Visual Artists here in Philadelphia. We talked about grants, looked at work and discussed what I really wanted to do. I went in feeling rather diffuse, but left with the germ of an idea that I just have to follow: a real, live 1920's style photo studio, albeit a temporary one. Most likely the portraits would be free.

The notion dovetails perfectly with the type of photography I've been doing. It too fits perfectly the idea of making a real community connection. I'll actually be IN the neighborhood and become a working part of it. The prospect of having a creative space with props, accessories, costumes and backdrops at my disposal, rather than having to shlep eighty pounds of gear and be limited by what I can physically carry, is vastly appealing; but moreover it should allow a very different, more meaningful and sophisticated body of work to emerge.

The idea of a pop-up storefront studio has been done before by others, but never as a long-term project. I'm hoping to be in-residence for four to six months. It really all depends on economics. 7th Street in deep South Philadelphia, where I hope to continue my community-based art, had once been a nexus of Jewish immigrants and Jewish-owned stores. None remain today. So, there is an added poignancy in my doing this, an additional eccentric circle drawn in the sands of history.

Now the real work begins.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Steampunk Photography: Reinventing the Mechanical Image.

Steampunk World's Fair, May 14, Piscataway, NJ.

Forget that point-n-shoot and cookbook methods for making sepia images in Photoshop, and definitely DO try this at home!

Join alchemical photographic wizard RA Friedman, founder of Tsirkus Fotografika, for a rollicking old-school visual presentation as he discusses his unique DIY analog/digital methodology; one that has defined the forefront of Steampunk Photography. Highlights from the large archive of retro-futurists Friedman and crew have photographed will be shown, as well as studio images. Caution: contains artistic, but sometimes graphic nudity. A brief no-holds-barred Q&A will follow.