Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

About | Summary | Events | Media | Backers | Contact/Sign Up | Donate

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March Madness

March is a time of emergence and stepping forth. The sun passes over the Equator and will stay with us for a few seasons. Lives that were thriving but hidden under the fallen leaves burst into the open bold and vigorous. Renewal is in the air in the countryside, and in the city too!

Back in old New York, Jen Dalton and Bill Powhida closed the book on their month-long #class extravaganza. They were kind enough to allow me to moderate the discussion on Artworld as High School. My session was fun, but my strongest impression came from the overall experience of being inside the larger exhibition—albeit for a short time.

I needed surprisingly much reflection to settle on the word exhibition to describe #class. Although there was technically some art on display, it was marginalized to a secondary room. #Class was not about the presentation of visual artifacts, as is typical in most gallery shows, but rather the pure exchange of ideas, usually ephemeral, in the larger conference- (or classroom-) configured main gallery.

On the night I was there, it started with a two-our table discussion about similarities between the Art World and a clique-infested school cafeteria. I wore my letter jacket, which I am proud to say still fits and we talked about how to penetrate the small group that inhabits the top of the social pyramid (for sake of discussion, we accepted the metaphor as valid) and the ways that art explodes stratification. It was a very worthwhile conversation, but it was just the beginning.

Following that session, the tables were rearranged and there ensued a 15 minute audience-inclusive performance that linked drawings of genitalia in a gender-crossing way with the names of respected public figures. The presenter took the drawings with her and no questions were accepted.

Immediately after that, the tables were re-shuffled again and an art-critic wrote an artist statement in real time. Poor Jen was shanghaied to be the guinea pig and, as her art is exceptionally personal, the process resembled open-heart surgery. Perhaps open-soul surgery would be a more apt description.

Then everyone left and we downed some much-needed beers in the back room. The three sessions were enough to make the head spin, more for the diversity of their offerings than their individual emotional intensity, which was considerable. I can scarcely imagine how it must have been for Jen and Bill to repeat the cycle every day for a month. I hope they’re able to retreat to rest and reflect for a while. I won’t even ask for their impressions until some time has passed.

Although the show was not visual, musical, lyrical, or many other things one expects from an art exhibit, it was most definitely an exhibition: a putting-on-display of ideas and artistic information in a discombobulating whirlwind that neither artists could have anticipated. A reshuffling of the creative deck in plain sight.

When I got back to Virginia a few days later, head spinning with thoughts about the non-visual things that an exhibit can do, Nature greeted me with gusting winds and torrential squalls. Neither coming nor going, March was behaving more like an indecisive lion than a lamb.

And green shoots were shoving aside Winter’s blanket.

Full #class thread

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Crocus were just the first salvo in Primavera's surprise conquest of my backyard--and my heart!

I confess to a raging crush on Springtime. When Zephyrus blows the pollen around and the three Graces start dancing in my yard, I just want to run out and join their frolicking.

Bulbs are coming up all over the place, some that I planted, some cached and forgotten by squirrels, and many busting out from under the leaves with purely voluntary enthusiasm. I want to roll around among the crocus and the daffodils and lose myself Emily-Dickenson-style in the living hummus and the perfume and the warm sun.

This is the reason I moved to Virginia. I can throw open my window on a March morning and smell Life bursting from the ground. I can see the Earth sending its woody tendrils toward the sky. I can wear the same thing outside and in. Just a few degrees warmer than New York brings this rapture a full month sooner. I definitely wouldn’t roll on the ground there.

Sadly, as I write this, that’s exactly where I’m headed: northbound on the Regional and I’m watching the gorgeous Piedmont roll by—and away. I won’t be able to welcome the Equinox as I had hoped on the porch of a cabin in the woods by a lake. Equinox means something different in the City and my rites will have to wait.

First a short exile and I will be very glad to see my friends. Sprintime has undeniable charms there but throughout the sojourn I will be thinking about the trees in bud and the many green shoots in my garden. Soon I’ll be back and Primavera will be there and although she won’t wait for me, she will welcome me back to her embrace without reservation.

She’s good that way.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Status Deferred that won't be Denied

I was gathering input for my Art World as High School discussion over coffee the other day with an artist friend of mine when she raised a very interesting point.

She pays a great deal of attention to personality types (as do I). She observed that a great many of her artist friends/colleagues are people who had frustrating high school experiences from a status perspective and are now (over)compensating by seeking the approbation the feel they missed back then. Because they’re trying to make up ground, it is not enough for them that their work be simply good, effective, or respected. It (ergo, they) need to be loved by a large audience.

Unfortunately visual art is not a pathway particularly well suited to broad-based approbation. To say so is not a knock against the quality of a given artist’s output or a dismissal of the public as visually ignorant. Those are weak shortcuts.

Rather, it is simply a question of whether someone can relate to a stranger’s intensely personal message. Perhaps the more leaden a work, the smaller the audience. The result is a maddening tension between a hunger for big-time adoration and a life journey that is paved with small “aha” moments, most of which the artist does not even get to hear.

A better path, to my mind, is to find a way—through meditation or whatever—to be happy with oneself. Torment does not make better art; obsessive, hard work does. Life is too short to spend being unhappy, and art is too important to waste by tilting at chimera left over from who sat where in the high school lunchroom.

But that’s just me.

[View full ThinkTank thread]

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Scratch boards

Tufton Avenue. Oil pastel on inked mat board 4" x 6" 2010.

Is it possible to combine the beautiful, varied lines one finds in dry point with the rich painterly color of oil pastel? My new work is a marriage of the two forms--one that I've recently discovered and one that I've long-since mastered and always loved.

I have embarked on a new series of scratch boards, small (4"x6") unique drawings made by inking a piece of mat board, drawing a background with Sennelier oil pastels, then scratching through the pastel with a stylus to reveal the ink underneath.

Detail (magnified 10x) of above image.
I love the decisiveness of the lines--like drawing with a ballpoint pen--but with a vast arsenal of subtle variations obtainable by varying the pressure and angle of the stylus. The line can be micro-thin and nearly invisible, or by turning the tool sideways, I can remove wide swaths of material.

Combine that with the luscious almost juicy quality oil pastel, which can be blended or moved around freely and with rich, saturated colors--the results can be quite gorgeous.

I have nearly completed the first set of twenty images. They will be priced very affordably and will be exhibited, along with my prints and source photos this June at McGuffey.

Here are a few more images to preview. A whole lot more here.
(all images 4" x 6" oil pastel on inked mat board 2010)