Friday, May 18, 2007

Art present brings back memories of Art past... and perhaps inspires Art future?

Today I attended (and was the volunteer bartender for) the SAWCC Slide Slam -- a slide show by several SAWCC artists who showed their work on an LCD projector and each spoke about her work for about 10 minutes... It was an inspiring art show and talk... something new for me... Bringing the process of art alive with talk of narrative, theory, and process. The artists featured were Yamini Nayar, Jaishri Abhichandini, Chitra Ganesh, Sa'dia Rehman, Swati Khurana, Rina Banerjee.

I was especially struck by Jaishri's explanation of the emotional impact of participating in P.S.1's Emergency Room exhibition earlier this year. The artists were given a set of elaborate rules to abide by in creating their pieces for this exhibit~ but in short they were to create, for thirty days, art that responded to or was inspired by something that was current in the media on each day. They had to work quickly, as each piece needed to completed within a very short time frame. The day that Sadam Hussain was executed, she chose to do a painting of his face after his neck had snapped, and when she described the visceral reaction she had initially, but then the need to acclimate herself enough to the YouTube video to be able to paint the image... well. That brought home to me that art doesn't have to be this esoteric "out there" thing that people "out there" do. Nor does it have to be a solely decorative process. She said that while this particular project had many limitations, one thing she gained was learning to create simple images, simple projects that could be read and experienced directly, and weren't unnecessarily abtruse.

Having the opportunity to hear the artists' thoughts on their work in a cozy, low pressure setting helped the audience better understand even the more abstract pieces that took more understanding of the deep meanings that the artist was gleaning from her environment in creating the piece.


Being immersed in the world of art, and not just art in a museum, but art given context and narrative by its creators brought me back to the times in my life when visual art was quite at the forefront of my mind... There have been many times like this, from the time in high school (and beyond) when I used to regularly stay up till one, two, or three in the morning, just to draw and redraw and redraw obsessive self-portraits... It wasn't so much that I was obsessed with myself, (though which teenager isn't, really?) as that I was obsessed with drawing faces... and mine was the only face I could with regularity get to sit long enough so that I could draw it.

Another time in my life when visual art was central was during the Notre Dame years... Actually, specifically the year 1998. I took an oil painting class with Charlie Strong. One of the assignments he gave us got me fascinated with the dichotomy of dark and light... What he did was to take photographs of each of us, in a relatively dark room, but with one very strong, unidirectional light source focused on one side of our faces... this produced striking effect of light and shadow, which were a delight to me... He asked us to use these as reference for our paintings.

I reveled in exploring the various nuances of light and dark, and the way colors changed in how they looked in different light. Also added to my challenge during this time was the fact that, in my cheapness, I only bought four cans of oil paint -- blue, red, yellow, and black. No white. So the paintings from this time were quite dramatic, both because of the dark/light contrast that was so pronounced, and also because I had very few colors to play with... (Although, i must admit, I did occasionally beg some white paint from a classmate. But the rare white stroke in the paintings from this time just seems to emphasize all the more how little white is there, with no white diluting the other colors at all...)

Another thing that led to the paintings' dramatic overtones was the circumstances under which they were painted... In those days, I used to work till 9 or 10 at night at the college, as I was one who could better concentrate after my coworkers left work... and then at about 10 or 11, I would go off to the art studio (having begged the security guard to let me in) and then paint to my heart's content. The thing that kept my energy up, besides being in my twenties, was that I kept a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan cd there in my locker... and at that midnight hour, with no witness, I'd paint and sing, and dance and paint... it is hard to describe without waxing silly-- it was at the same time a soul stirring and soul soothing experience. NFAK would transport me to a trancelike state as I slip-slid around in my flats on the dusty art studio floor.... It helped that the studio was huge, cavernous, with walls of stone that were two feet thick, giving me the sense of being in a protected fortress, free to dance to my heart's content and paint to my soul's exhaustion... Finally, when I was done for the night, it would often be well past three in the morning...

and then, contentedly I'd drive home.