Jan 23, 2015

Artists Get Deeper Into CONTINUANCE

Putting Up Risk

This text is excerpted from an informal conversation among artists Charles and Collin Parson, curators Joy Armstrong and Blake Milteer, and led by Colorado Springs-based artist Sean O’Meallie was recorded on November 14, 2014.

Ch: Charles Parson
Co: Collin Parson
S: Sean O’Meallie
J: Joy Armstrong
B: Blake Milteer

S: The conversation we’re having right now comes from a fine tradition. So much great art and many stories have come from people like us gathering and just having conversations and throwing out ideas and having little tugs of war and then responding by going back to their studios and making new work.

Ch: In the spirit of Black Mountain College in North Carolina years ago, and like the cultural luminaries of the mid-20th century, we’re hungry for the dialogue. To me, this hasn’t been just about the orchestration of putting a show up, it’s been a dialogue in which the conversations we’ve had during studio visits and correspondence have continued on a much deeper level — at times even absurdly humorous when we’re doing heavy lifting during installation!

J: Chuck has referred to the exhibition as a “punctuation” — not in the sense of being the end of any particular activity — but rather being a comma in the progression of the artist’s work.

S: Maybe that’s especially true when, as with this exhibition, a lot of the work is built for the first time in the gallery space — so it only takes its first breath in that setting. When I’m doing a large project, I can’t stage it in my studio. Often times, the first time I see it is when it is afforded by a large enough venue. I recently put up a piece and was ecstatic and I just ran around the gallery saying “I can’t believe it worked!” But for you guys, both of these works are the first time you’ve seen them. But have you even really seen your pieces yet?

Ch: Hell no! I’ll recall a moment that will shed some “light” as it were: Collin was about 10 days ahead of me in the installation process due to the sheer nature of our extended responsibilities — our daytime jobs, individual installation requirements, and other expectations. So I walked in and saw that he had finished the first phase of getting his work up. His gallery was already inspiring dialogue after that first week of installation, and I went home very despondent because I couldn’t yet see what mine was going to actually look like. I was suddenly concerned; it wasn’t insecurity, but I was creatively questioning whether my installation was going to be as good as I thought it was supposed to be. That’s unsettling!

Co: Blake, you called that, though. Remember when I got my exhibition up, and you said, “your Dad’s gonna walk in and be proud but immediately start thinking about his piece — how am I going to get it up?” You called it! But I think that comes from getting to know the artist over the past few years.

B: At best, it’s important for these exhibitions to gestate over a number of years. When you get to that point of installation, the process and the relationships become all the more intensive, as it should be. You want to be able to anticipate certain things, some of them from a professional level and some of them from an intuitive level — both of which can only be developed over that duration. Part of it is that you’re going to have those inevitable “uh oh!” moments even right before the opening and everyone has to have the tools and trust to conjure greatness in spite of adversity.

S: There are so many unknowns and so many variables — for artists making the work and for all the people who put up risk. I think everybody here put up risk and took a chance — there’s no way to exactly know the outcome. Like in theatre, you don’t quite know how it’s all going to come together until dress rehearsal. It’s a live thing, an organic thing, and that’s really nice to have, I think, as a gift from the institutional provider — to trust artists. To choose and trust an artist — it’s like describing a balloon, when you don’t quite know the exact shape of the balloon.

J: I think Sean’s theatre comparison is really great. It’s that idea of being able to develop the relationship to the point where you’re comfortable and you trust the people that you’re working with. So when it comes to opening night, it’s not so over-rehearsed that it feels stale. There’s room for spontaneity and room for improvisation because it’s not 100% planned out, giving you the flexibility to play.
Five Spaces/Two Generations and detail 2011
Painted steel, acrylic, stone, glass, and hardware
35 inches high x 192 inches diameter

S: It’s live.

Ch: I love that confidence; it’s got to be there if we’re going to take chances.

Co: I think in his career, (Chuck’s) been around so long that it’s easier to trust an artist of his age (laughs), or of his experience, compared to an artist of my experience. But I think that when you guys came to visit me at Pirate (Contemporary Art gallery, Denver) over and over and over, I would hope you started to have a confidence and trust, right?

J: Blake mentioned intuition, and for me with you, that was there from the beginning. There was never any doubt that you’d be able to do it.

B: All the right ingredients are there, so that trust is in place. With Continuance, that was tested by some big alterations in course along the way with changes in the schedule and in the gallery spaces.

Ch: Looking back now, I like the idea that we had to adapt our definition of the show. Thinking about evolution of the space and the conditions, I remember talking with my friend Fred Ramey about (Olivier) Messiaen, the composer. In a German concentration camp, he wrote a piece of music, “Quartet for the End of Time.” I think it’s one of the most stunning pieces of music ever written and recorded. But it’s written for a violin with three strings because that’s all they had. What he pulled out of those three strings made what he was attempting to say in the piece of music so much more direct and poignant. So what does this present (as an analogy to the exhibition)? It’s that we have to be more attuned to what we’re trying to say and deal with it creatively. What most people would say is …

Co: “… Can’t do it!”

Ch: Yeah, “can’t do it,” and you then (settle for) a more conventional solution like just putting up an existing body of work. Instead, it’s a great opportunity to develop another body of work by extending the timeline a little and articulating the space.

B: Some of the specific changes were that we had to push the show back a year at one point, and had to pretty dramatically change the gallery spaces for each of you.

Untitled (site-specific work from Divided Series) 2014
Wood, color-changing RGB LED's and Arduino controller
192 inches diameter x 4 inches deep

Co: I originally had the lower ceiling gallery, so I would have never been able to do the 16-foot diameter signature piece in the show.

S: And is this your largest piece?

Co: To date, yeah.

S: Wow. I really like that you responded to that opportunity. You saw that you could hike up the scale on this thing. Chuck’s piece is also site-specific. That came to you while in the space, is that right? That’s how you conceived it, in that space?

Ch: Yes. The theme was already developing, but to have the space in that specific room, my first comment to Blake was “I wanna use the (18-foot-high) ceiling by putting nothing up there above human height.” His comment was, “yeah, that’s pretty interesting, let’s explore it.”

S: The negative space?

Ch: Yes, but it’s not just the negative space — it’s that absence. That is what I’m intrigued with in a controlled interior space as opposed to the works I build at a particular exterior location.

S: I think you are both after something quite ephemeral. Whether you intend to or not, it’s a result. Collin’s work is quite atmospheric; it’s light in material and lofted on the wall and enveloping — completely enveloping. It alters the space in an obvious, quickly understood way, while Chuck’s work seems to have this great gravity of material. For me, the apparatus goes away when we’re within the spaces of your work. How important is that to you? Is that something you’re thinking about from the get-go, or is that a product you just discover? Is the apparatus — or the departure from it — the most important thing in the room?

Ch: You’re talking about form and content. You’re talking about that essential attempt to visually enunciate. The read on Collin’s work, and I don’t mean this in a dismissive way, is that there is an immediacy to his work. It’s not just the color, it’s not just the scale, it’s the cycles that are perceived quickly. Mine is the absolute opposite in terms of my attempt to slow time down; it’s as if Collin’s is ice melting and we can watch it melting before our eyes on a hot day. Mine is like marble that is dissolving but over a longer duration of time. There’s an immediacy to his work and there’s a denseness to my work. At times I envy the initial quick response that people give his work, but I realize that the driving forces in my work are the apparatus, the language of the materials, the use of the room, even the title of the work. It’s like when you listen to music and you don’t hear the instruments, you don’t hear the notes. You hear the music. That takes time in the music and it takes time in my art.

Co: When you mean apparatus, it’s the mechanism, right?

S: All the things that take up physical space.

Co: Then I would say yes, I create the apparatus as a mechanism to support the light. If I had my ultimate world, you’d go in there and experience an environment of thick light that you can grab and eat it like an apple. But you can’t do that, because you need these mechanisms. I create an apparatus but it’s less about the object than what (it’s) helping to convey.

Ch: There is light spillover from Collin’s gallery through the portals on each side of my work. When I sat there late on a Sunday night during installation I could see no object in Collin’s gallery, just the sheer light. Then suddenly the light turned a faint turquoise and for a split second echoed (the green tinted plexi) I just spent all day putting up. The joy of interaction! You can’t touch it but that feeling conjured up an awareness of the moment. That moment, for me, is ultimately what I’m looking for in art.

S: Discovering art, happening upon art when you least expect it — it’s a momentary thing, it’s something that you can’t choreograph, it’s something that you just stumble into and realize that you’ve just felt something. Collin’s work pushes and pulls on that a little bit because of the slow cycles of color changes.
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Ch: The color transitions are perceptible but not predictable. There’s a harmonic rhythm to it.

S: There is a kind of pulsation in your work.

Co: That’s why I use light. It’s not like, say, a red canvas on the wall; light can make that red feel different, feel more alive. I love light — it has a quality that is unknown, but you sense it.

S: Light permeates us — we’re ambient beings. I can make an object but it doesn’t penetrate your body. It registers with your vision and sense of touch, but it doesn’t emit. I think light reaches us in other ways.

S: Backing up to the making of the art itself, here’s something that sticks with me: Carl Reed is one of the longtime instructors here at Colorado College, and he’s a wonderful artist. His work will make you reconsider all of the objects in your world and their relationship to one another. I remember one time on an art discussion panel, Carl said, “good art just needs to happen. It’s not dependent on — should not be dependent on — any kind of other processes; it just needs to happen.” I’m paraphrasing, but this is one of the more truthful things to me as an artist who is putting work in front of people and taking earthly resources and committing them to this kind of intent. I thought it was a very good thing to hear, and a good observation that good art just needs to happen, regardless of the process it takes for it to happen.

Ch: I love reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. He self-published it seven different times before it was picked up. I mean, that pretty-well says that if it needs to be done, do it. I have a protestant work ethic. If it’s that important, you’ll find a way as an artist. The challenge is to make some concessions in materials or in scale, but not to the art’s intention and merit.
Art doesn’t always need a huge audience. I’ll give you a quick illustration: my two sons and I had just installed a work next to the Brooklyn Bridge. We were going to drop-off my truck and trailer at aunt Jean’s house on Long Island, and between she and her husband we could not get clear directions. The truck was pretty big and the trailer was even longer so we parked it in their little suburban neighborhood with meandering little single-lane roads. I knew their house was somewhere nearby, so we (went) walking and suddenly heard Jean’s voice singing. Now this is a woman who had in a previous year performed at the Kennedy Center as a soloist; this is a woman who had just had major public television specials done on her 40th album. We rounded a bend, walked up a little drive, and then figured out we’d come in the back way. She’s on the back porch with no audience except a cat and she is singing for the sheer joy of singing! That’s Carl Reed, in essence, saying it’s gotta be made.

S: There’s that old question of who you make your art for — why do you make art? To be honest, I make art so that I can see it. I need to get something out of me, I need it to be out there in the room and I need it to talk back. So I’m the first audience for the things that I make. For me as a maker, that “live” art moment is when I get the thing up in front of me and I can confront it physically, frontally. That’s the moment when I have to consider it and have to start living with it. I get to respond to it and I’m working in a syntax and a language that is all my own; it’s very unique, but I am the first person who encounters it.

Co: I think that’s not unusual.

S: That’s actually as sincere as I can be. I’m getting something out of me and I have to then live with it and respond to it. Now, one of the wonderful things that happens is that other people respond to it too, in ways that I could never anticipate. So (the art) has a life beyond that moment.
Another aspect is that when I make something, I am also confronted by the idea that it didn’t exist until I made it.

Ch: There’s great satisfaction in making. But then you put ideas — the concept — into (the art). I’ve had times when I’m getting ready to go to bed after supper and I’m so curious about an idea that I go out to the studio in my underwear and find myself two hours later, shivering and still working on something.

Co: It’s a physical need.

Ch: An issue I ran into in academia is that the idea of art as being heroic is obsolete. Well, I think making art is a very heroic activity in today’s culture!

S: And noble.

This artist discussion is an excerpt from the Continuance catalog, available for purchase at Alice's. Food. Art. Coffee.

Jan 16, 2015

Meet our latest Members of the Month: Jimmy & Katelyn Do - Fine Arts Center, members for 2 years

Why did you become a member of the FAC?

Jimmy: Regular visits to the opera, museums, art exhibits, concerts, and galleries, was part of growing up and highly encouraged by my family. I performed in show choir, acted on stage and sang in musicals, played in the orchestra, and appeared in film. These experiences developed a foundation and cultivated my appreciation for the fine arts, which I am now passing onto my daughter. With the family membership plan, we have access to the theater, galleries, and Bemis School of Art. The FAC offers a local home for our artistic inclinations.

Katelyn: I’ve always loved making art and it’s fun. I’m a member of the FAC because I am on the plan with my dad and I take art classes at Bemis.

When did your interest in the arts begin?

Jimmy: Instead of an alarm clock to wake us, my mother played vinyl records of Beethoven’s 5th and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, regularly turning the volume up to 11 on our monstrous speakers. I remember regular visits to the Getty, Huntington Library, and the Orange County Performing Arts Center. My mother also sent us to art school so we could get some fundamental training in areas such as lighting and composition – these classes were invaluable.

Katelyn: I remember taking several classes at the Bemis School of Art and loving the experience. I especially loved the cooking class. Painting and sculpting were also favorites. I hope to attend another class to learn how to throw pottery, so I can make vases and pots just like the ones on display in the Bemis student gallery.

What has been one of your favorite plays, classes or exhibits at the FAC?

Jimmy: The Wizard of Oz?

Katelyn: …because of the wonderful things he does! ♪♩♬ ♬♫♪

Jimmy: We loved Oz, best show last season. It’s difficult to create and deliver a performance that stands with nostalgia, but Oz did it marvelously and so did Mary Poppins. Halfway through this interview, we attended Poppins – one of the best shows I have ever seen. Words can’t describe the pure joy and excitement I felt watching this performance…well, there is a word (even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious). It was also great to see many familiar faces returning to the stage in Poppins.

Katelyn: I loved the Bemis art classes, especially the painting and cooking classes. Really loved cooking, did I mention that?

Jimmy: A memorable exhibit showcased the work of wounded warriors in the Bemis student gallery. I’m glad to see the FAC provide a safe space to display our military veterans’ talents in their time of healing.

What is your favorite work of art on display at the FAC right now?

Jimmy: There are quite a few. Anish Kapoor, specifically Shadow IV – Orange Plate is quite soothing as I move between meticulous gradients or color. It’s done well. Ahn’s Forked Series #29, is pretty awesome. I could take it in for hours. Sanchez’s pair, San Vato and María, are great takes on the retablo.

Katelyn: Kasahara’s Between the Lines was great during the summer. I really liked the umbrellas. Right now, Collin Parson’s Divided is my favorite. We should sit in front of it for a longer time on our next visit.

Jimmy: Art is enjoyable at any age. You can marvel in the process of
creativity, think deeply about the meanings behind each piece, or just appreciate its beauty. You can do all or none of these. It’s up to you.

What else do you like to do for fun in Colorado Springs?

Katelyn: Camping! Biking! Fishing! Skiing! Playing video games! Does that count?

Jimmy: Colorado is the ultimate outdoor playground. We enjoy staying active during all seasons and love to take in nature in any weather.

Katelyn: …and let our dog swim in the lakes!

Jimmy: This city has a great variety of activities.
We’re members of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and visit often. We are regular season ticket holders for AF Academy hockey. Downtown is on the rise and there is always room for work on
this. There are so many things we enjoy about our city it’s difficult to list
them all here. Katelyn: There’s no place like home!

Jan 6, 2015

Eric Bransby gets the attention he so richly deserves

Colorado Public Radio produced a wonderful piece on artist and local living treasure Eric Bransby.

It aired Saturday on NPR's Weekend Edition. An extended version will air on CPR stations (in Denver, Boulder and Pueblo) on Wednesday (1/7/15)  at 6:51a, 8:51a and 5:50p. The segment will be part of a weekly podcast on cpr.org on Friday. You can see the transcripts and hear the original NPR report here.

Here's a brief tribute to Bransby and his work by FAC Museum Director and Chief Curator Blake Milteer:

Since the 1940s, Eric Bransby has been among America’s most renowned mural painters. Over the course of his esteemed career, Bransby has developed a signature style of traditional Renaissance-based figurative compositions, and has adopted a strong abstract sensibility that allows him to integrate depictions of the human figure with architecturally-based geometric shapes.

As a young artist in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, Bransby nurtured his skills studying under renowned American artists Thomas Hart Benton and Josef Albers. Of great significance to the Fine Arts Center’s history is that he also studied under master muralists Boardman Robinson and Jean Charlot at the Fine Arts Center School, where he later taught. His association with these artists in the 1940s represents one of our enduring connections to the FAC's predecessor, the Broadmoor Art Academy.

Bransby became an important muralist and draftsman in his own right, creating permanent works for Kansas State University, the municipal building in Liberty, Missouri, the University of Missouri, Brigham Young University, Colorado College, the Pioneers Museum, and the Air Force Academy among others. In the mid-1980s, Bransby was commissioned to restore the FAC’s badly-damaged façade mural originally painted by Boardman Robinson. Bransby, who still lives and works in Colorado Springs, received the 2007 Pikes Peak Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award. At 98, Bransby continues to create art in his classic realist style and depicts the nobility of human endeavors.

The Fine Arts Center has been privileged to maintain a 70-year relationship with Eric Bransby. The FAC has curated many solo and group exhibitions which included his work, including the major exhibition From Roots to Soaring Visions in 2000-2001, which highlighted both Eric and Mary Ann Bransby's work. In 1985, Bransby skillfully restored Boardman Robinson's mural on the FAC facade, and in 2012, he completed a spectacular mural celebrating the FAC's 75th anniversary. The FAC collection also boasts 1 oil painting, 3 drawings, 4 lithographs, and multiple studies for his 75th anniversary mural. Our painting The Good Book, 1941 is currently on loan to David Cook Gallery, Denver for their exhibition Transcending Figuration: Bransby in Retrospect, which is open through January 31. - FAC Museum Director and Chief Curator Blake Milteer