Friday, December 2, 2011

Thomas Michael Alleman, Ellen Akimoto, And More

Thomas Michael Alleman was here at CSU, Chico yesterday for his Sunshine & Noir exhibition at the University Art Gallery. He spoke to the Advanced Photography class for over an hour and a half, with much energy and animation, speaking very quickly, moving around a lot, and gesturing with his hands. Using a powerpoint presentation he showed us gazillions of his images and spoke about his career as a photojournalist and how he moved into his present work. Alleman has taken an artful documentarian approach to his work, like Garry Winogrand or Lee Friedlander, using his role with the newspaper to gain access to interesting events, taking shots to fulfill the assignment, but also taking more creative shots for his own interest. At some point he began using a portable lighting system to light people for portraits, which was very unusual for newspaper work at the time. This allowed Alleman to transition into shooting for magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and National Geographic, especially shooting portraits of various celebrities like Donald Trump. But with 9/11 the news focused on New York and the following war – his specialty work was thus not needed, allowing him time to shift his photography towards an art focus rather than journalism. Using a plastic Holga camera allowed him to detach from camera technicalities and produce more of a dreamy effect, capturing places such as Los Angeles and New York. The Sunshine & Noir exhibit shows some very clever images, some whimsical, some moody and mysterious. The image that affected me the most was one that seemed to fit the exhibition the least, as I could not really tell what I was looking at – something like the face of a cliff with much depth and earthiness. What I appreciated most about Alleman, however, was his enthusiastic attitude that kept saying "whatever drives you forward, pursue it, go for it, give it a try, don't over-think it, do it."

Yesterday was also Ellen Akimoto's reception for On, On, Pliant Signifier at 1078 Gallery. Unfortunately I could not stay to hear her speak, but the show is wonderful, taking up the whole gallery space with large drawn and painted, cut-out, human figures in various poses, gestures, and expressions, arranged against painted portions of the wall. The result is delightfully curious for her work denies us the picture frame, forcing us to see each figure as an object in itself and yet those objects still relate to other similar objects. Also, I love how she painted the figures, quite naturalistic, and yet slightly tweaked, with various figures being headless or bearing some other enigmatic quality. Nicely done, Ellen!

Two other openings happened on campus last nigh as well: Black by Greyson Collins in the B-SO Space and Fictitious Wanderings by a few MFA students (Chelsea Gilmore, Mariam Pakbaz, and Ruby Rudnick) at the 3rd Floor Gallery. And the MFA studios were open to the public as well. 

So much art for such a small town! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Natural History

I find this portrait (cyanotype over digital print) by Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman to be wonderfully interesting. For more of this series, called Natural History, visit their site.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Interacting with Leslie Shows

I find myself much impressed by the number and quality of Visiting Artists that have been coming to CSU, Chico. This semester we have already welcomed Brett AndersonXiaoze Xie, Xavier Monsalvatje, and I think one or two others that I am not presently recalling. This week Leslie Shows was here. A few of us graduate students and faculty enjoyed sharing dinner with her before her presentation and then breakfast the following morning. Her work is fascinating and she has had a good deal of success, even working with the Jack Hanley Gallery before finishing graduate school. I appreciated her introspective personality, often pausing when she speaks as she searches for the right word(s). She seems very thoughtful about her work and about how she communicates with others. As I noted about Xiaoze Xie a couple of weeks ago, I am encouraged by seeing the success of people who are more gentle and sensitive in a world that often claims that we need to be bold and cut-throat in order to succeed. 

The graduate students were privileged in having Shows give us each a one-on-one critique of our work. In talking about my Professor of Self series, Shows spoke of how it will be important for me to develop my own language as an artist and how this series is a good stepping stone for me because its what the work is about – discovering and living out one's own voice. She felt I was using symbology too literally, or in too much of a culturally accepted way. We spoke of how almost everything is loaded with symbolic meaning and how difficult it can be to infuse things with new meaning. The conversation reminded me of some poems I wrote a few years ago that were perhaps more successful in expressing my unique voice. I wonder how I might apply what I was doing with those poems into making visual art. Shows also spoke of the distinction between illustration and art. Illustration is typically meant for conveying specific information – you want your viewers to "get it." Whereas art needs to possess a more transcendent quality, pulling the viewer beyond their own understanding. The Professor of Self series is reading more as illustration than art, which is fine for what it is. I actually want people to "get it" because I think it is an important issue. However, its also important for me to move beyond it, which I very much want to do. I am grateful for this outside perspective that Shows was able to share with me. 

Also on Thursday night was Joshua Olivera's MFA culminating exhibition, "We'll Build the Perfect Ship." He gave an excellent talk which gave much insight into his work. He even recited some poetry, and handled questions from the audience with great tact. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Art in Chico: Lalaguna, Heights, and Moore

On Saturday (11/11) I visited the 1078 Gallery to see Shrinkage, an exhibition by Trevor Lalaguna. I had the impression from the exhibition card that the work would be photographic. However, I discovered something else. While the work was diverse (extremely oversized clothing items, ink on paper drawings, small paintings on wood), Lalaguna's artist statement was effective in tying the work together, providing thoughtful and humorous insight into our over-materialistic culture. In the drawings I would have preferred to see more of the figures overlap to add depth to the images, but I still enjoyed the line work and curious happenings contained within them – figures wrestling with their demons and their consumerist obsessions and the like. I was reminded of how helplessly gross and foolish we can be. 

Continuing my stroll in downtown Chico, I remembered that Chelsea Beights, a fellow student, was showing work at Has Beans Café and Galleria. Her series, Porte, consists of about a dozen photographs (about eight by ten inches each) taken from her time in Viterbo, Italy this past summer. Featuring a variety of doors, doorways, and doorknobs, Beights has captured beautiful light, compelling textures, and rich tones and colors, with great clarity. These are probably some of the loveliest images ever to grace the walls of the place.

Earlier on Saturday I met up with some new friends who are part of The Prayer House here in Chico, CA, and had a great time playing music with them.

This past Thursday (11/10) I was delighted to attend my first MFA culminating exhibition since being here at CSU, Chico. The show, Botanically Restructured, featured the work of Megan Moore, who has developed an interesting technique of combining printmaking with collage. She uses photo-lithography to make hundreds of life-size botanical forms on very thin and translucent Chinese paper. Inspired by her father's garden, the prints of individual leaves, stems, and flower petals are pasted onto a large sheet of BFK paper (I am guessing around 4 x 6 feet, although the works do vary in size). Watercolor and pencil work are added to the forms, leaving a significant portion of the surface still white and bare. The result is a two-dimensional image of semi-realistic, yet creatively restructured, plant forms.  Dreamy and calming, the works are evocative of fragile memory fragments floating betwixt the conscious and subconscious. Wonderful. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Great Week Here at CSU, Chico

I experienced such a great week here at CSU, Chico. (I am in the middle of my first semester pursuing an MFA in visual art.) We had two visiting artists on campus: Xiaoze Xie and Xavier Monsalvatje. And the BFA and MFA students had Open Studios. 
In my graduate seminar class Xiaoze Xie told us his story of how he came to the United States from China, his gradual successes building one upon as well as some of his difficulties. He was wonderfully humble and sincere. I was grateful to be in his presence and hear him speak. Part of the reason for my admiration is because he is soft-spoken, which I tend to be as well. The world has a way of regarding this as weakness and so it is encouraging to see him being so successful anyways just by being himself.

Xavier Monsalvatje was also inspiring. I had glanced at his website before his talk and found myself only mildly interested. But it is not everyday one can go and hear and artist from Spain speak about his work and so I went. He spoke in Spanish with a thick accent, pausing occasionally for the translator. He gave a slideshow showing the history of art as signs of industry increasingly crept in through the late 1800s and early 1900s and how his work addresses issues of industry. Hearing him describe his work with the accompanying images was profound. 

Open Studios was encouraging as well. I especially enjoyed interacting with various students, faculty, and other visitors about my Professor of Self series. I was delighted to hear how others talk about my work, to see what they see in it, and to hear their questions. Discussing my work was also an excellent exercise for me – sometimes this came surprisingly easy, other times quite difficult, but I had fun with the challenge. How wonderful to observe my work having an affect on others. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why I Am Blogging

I am blogging because I believe it will be an interesting exercise, causing me to not only be more observant of my world, but to gain practice in articulating those observations. My intention is to keep the blog more professional than personal (although such an endeavor is innately personal) and more about art-related things than un-art-related things. We will see how it goes.