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Carnegie Center for Art and History banner, Feb. 2014

Our first gallery talk about the”Potential in Everything” exhibition happened yesterday.  Through a light dusting of falling snow, about 20 people braved the elements to hear R. Michael Wimmer and myself talk about our respective projects.  I was delighted by the turnout and had a great time too.  I am glad to have had this gallery opportunity because the river has been so high of late that getting to my usual spots at the Falls of the Ohio has been a challenge.  Perhaps this is nature’s way of redirecting me?

R. Michael Wimmer talks about one of his works, Feb. 2014

Folks in attendance for the artists' talk, Feb. 2014

It was a nice mixed ages group and a few local artists attended as well.  People were very respectful and asked some interesting questions.  Michael and I have very different processes, but the end results involve using something that has already functioned in the world and making something new from them.  For me, that shift took many years of transition because my formal artistic training involved “staring down”  a blank piece of paper or canvas and making something happen in a more traditional way.  Although my old drawing professor might disagree with me about this…so much of the work I now do comes out of the conceptual concerns I first encountered through drawing.

Flat-faced Cat with Bird and homemade ball collection, Feb. 2014

When I get the chance to talk about art and creativity in general, I like to mention how important it is for all of us to cultivate that impulse to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Sadly, I hear far too often from too many people how they aren’t artistic or have any business being involved with creative acts and I know this to be untrue.  I feel that part of my role is to get folks to expand their definitions of what is creative or aesthetically minded.  Creativity is a precious, universal resource and available in everyone and may represent much of our hopes for a better future.  We need to get people turned on to their own potentials instead of emphasizing the consumer in them.  Too help illustrate this I brought my Homemade Ball Collection with me and placed it upon the pedestal that my “Flat-faced Cat with Bird” is sitting on.  I found all these “balls” at the Falls and they are made from electrical tape, duct tape, cellophane tape, and aluminum foil.  Rolling these waste materials into balls is not necessary for their disposal, however, I was struck by the artistic impulse I perceived in them by their anonymous makers to shape and form.  There is obvious care in their making and rolling something into a cohesive ball has a satisfying side to it.  After this sidebar and when the talk ended, I went outside to see how my “other” ball piece in the tulip poplar in front of the center was doing?

detail, La Belle Riviere in the Carnegie's tree, Feb. 2014

detail of La Belle Riviere in tree, Feb. 2014

La Belle Riviere in tulip poplar tree, Carnegie Center, 2014_1_1

“La Belle Riviere” seemed to be in good shape.  I was curious to see if any ice would be decorating it, but not this time.  Ice can contribute a lot of weight which might take my nylon line beyond its limits.  I look forward to spring’s arrival and how the appearance of this piece will change as the tree transforms.  New Albany, Indiana is just a few miles downriver from Louisville.  The town has an extensive riverfront and I took the opportunity to check it out in greater detail.

Concert, special events shell, New Albany, IN, Feb. 2014

There is a large earthen berm that protects the New Albany from the adjacent Ohio River.  A key feature of their riverfront is this structure used for concerts and special events.

Sherman Minton Bridge at New Albany, Indiana, Feb. 2014

One way to reach New Albany from Louisville is to cross the river over the Sherman Minton Bridge.  Bridges in our area are a usual and often contentious topic of conversation.  This one was closed down recently for much-needed repairs, but caused a headache for commuters while it was being fixed.  Bridges are vital to river towns and a new one is currently being constructed near Louisville’s downtown. This new bridge was years in the planning and much of the controversy surrounding it involved where exactly would it cross the river and how would it tie into the existing interstate highway systems.  The Ohio River has been high due to snow and rain in the upper part of the valley, but I walked down to the river’s edge and guess what I found?

Styrofoam and ice, Feb. 2014

Styrofoam in the river at New Albany, Feb. 2014

Yes, it’s river polished Styrofoam.  There’s goes my main art material floating towards the Gulf of Mexico.  There are a couple other events associated with “The Potential of Everything” exhibit including a family workshop I will be leading on March 1.  I have enough collected sticks and polystyrene that it will be fun making things with other people.  I will also be giving a solo gallery talk on March 4.  Michael will be doing a studio talk and welcoming people to visit his place on March 25.  And, there will be a closing tea and cookies event at the Carnegie on the exhibit’s last day on April 5.  So, if you are in the area and haven’t seen the show…there are other opportunities coming hopefully in beautiful weather! If you want to see my found homemade balls in more detail, I did a previous post about it entitled “The Need to Form:  Handmade Balls from the Falls of the Ohio” and can be found in this blog’s search feature.  Speaking of balls, I did find one other item by the river in New Albany and I’ll end this post with it.  Stay warm out there!

softball core and snow at the river, Feb. 2014

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I have had a few folks ask about the Project Reclamation exhibit I’m participating in and I thought this post would be a good place to feature this.  The exhibit opened a couple of weeks a go on November 2, 2012 and will run through January 12, 2013.  About a year and a half have passed since curator and artist Mary Margaret Sparks asked me to participate in this invitational exhibit.  There are thirteen artists represented in this group show with a nice cross-section of projects in various media addressing the complex topic of coal its use and extraction.  The Carnegie Center for Art and History located across the Ohio River from Louisville in nearby New Albany, Indiana has done a fine job of installing and interpreting the works and has planned many activities that the public can engage in to learn more about the controversial topic of coal mining through the practice of Mountaintop Removal or MTR.  This is a highly destructive way to extract coal from southern Appalachia’s mountains which also endangers  some of the greatest biodiversity in our part of the world in pursuit of cheap and reliable energy.  To further spur the artists along, the not for profit organization Kentuckians For the Commonwealth invited the participants to Whitesburg in Letcher County, Kentucky to tour Appalshop and watch a few coal-themed documentaries.  A guided tour into coal country provided additional impressions of the mountains and the folks who call this place home.

All of the participating artists had some prior interest either working with coal as a social issue or material substance before accepting the invitation to show.  There is a unity in the belief that the more we degrade the environment, the more we change ourselves and not for the best. For me, my entry came through the related issue of clean fresh water  which is also our number one vanishing resource.  I frequently find river-altered coal at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Combining this coal gravel with discarded and river found booze bottles gave me an opportunity to work with ideas about consumption and addiction.  The result was my “Mountaintop Mini-bar” sculpture, but I also have six photographs from my “Coal Flake Series” on view as well. My impression of our guided trip to coal country reinforced what I’ve previously seen and experienced.  It seems to me that the people who were sacrificing their land and culture were not receiving much in the way of compensation for our quest for coal.  Regrettably, this is an old tale seen time after time across the globe.  People might think that this is something that only happens in distant poor countries, but we have our own share of material poverty in our own backyard.

Most of the participating artists took considered approaches that referenced and respected the uniquely rich culture of coal country.  Several artists worked with traditional fiber and or needle and thread to produce their statements.  Julie Yoder created a large wall installation, “Appalachian Patchwork”,  assembled with woodcuts on handmade paper.  Patchwork quilting is an important Appalachian art form and Yoder’s piece represents the landscape and local culture as being a composite of unique designs that have come together over time to form a whole.  Mountaintop removal has a way of fragmenting this landscape and disrupting the continuity that life here depends upon for survival.

Other artists utilizing fabric, needle, and thread include Jo Ann Grimes with her sympathetic portrayals of miners.  Joel Darland and his marvelous hand-embroidered quilt squares.  Rachel Brewer’s two embroideries of song birds on dirty furnace filters.  Mary Margaret Sparks’ imposing “Lest We Forget” hand-embroidered and sewn re-purposed fabric waterfall that is a memorial to lost mountain streams and creeks that were damaged by coal mining.  Also in this group is a fascinating video entitled “Harriman” which is the work of Denise Burge and incorporates video, fabric, and thread.  Burge’s video is a statement made in the aftermath of a disaster.  A broken coal slurry dam in Tennessee had poisoned the surrounding watershed and imperiled the health of a community living in the area.  Burge’s video documents some of the clean-up involved and how protective the coal industry is in guarding its own image.

Photographs by Joshua Howard contrast the natural beauty of coal country with the grim realities of the industry.  A more overt political statement comes from Wayne Ferguson who sees Kentucky’s senior senator as being in cahoots with the industry that helps bankroll his re-election campaigns.  Ferguson’s drawings chart the corrupting influences of money and power at the expense of the land and the best interests of the people.

The sense that mountaintop removal is a great calamity for nature at large comes through the works of two artists.  Ceramic sculptor Alex Adams’ piece entitled “Wounded” suggests that MTR mining disrupts the very living tissue of the mountain range. He does this by representing two mountains that have had their peaks literally removed revealing  raw, open wounds.

Painter Michael Koerner’s approach is equally reductive and he comes to a similar conclusion about the fate of the mountains.  His diptych entitled “After the Canaries Left the Coal Mines, the Mountains Began to Leave Appalachia” is an argument reduced to its essential points.  For example, in Koerner’s landscape, the painting is physically divided into two parts suggesting man’s indifference towards nature.  The bare slopes past the forested mountains are a warning of what could occur with unchecked mountain top removal.

One last artist before closing.  Aron Conaway’s work lies at the heart of our culture of consumption.  His work entitled “Billions and Billions Served” features a Ronald McDonald clown driving a toy front loader on top of a large pile of coal.  In his work, Conaway makes it obvious that we are all implicated in the big issues of our day.  The demand for coal exists because we demand the energy to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer time heat.  If we don’t like the side effects of coal mining, perhaps we should speed up our search for alternative energy sources, find ways to curtail our addiction to electricity or both?  The demand for cheap coal and energy is what drives the supply.

The Carnegie Center for Art and History has a nice program of upcoming events that expands the breath of this exhibition.  I have already participated in one gallery talk that drew an interested crowd.  Film screenings, art making opportunities, and a panel discussion on mountaintop removal and renewable energy sources will also be held during Project Reclamation’s run.  There is the hope that this show will travel which will be an added bonus.  Thanks to Mary Margaret Sparks, Karen Gillenwater, and the staff at the Carnegie Center for their hard work.  I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into an exhibition from our area.  My next post will be from the Falls of the Ohio!

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I hustled out to Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest after supper.  The evening promised a twin bill of fun and I wanted to reach Clermont while the sun was still out.  I was able to take in the “Model Homes and Habitats” exhibition of bird houses and bird inspired art.  The show had a strong Murray State University flavor to it with many past alumni and one current professor showing work.  Murray grad, Brad White assembled the exhibition for Bernheim.  I even saw my old drawing professor Dale Leys there as well which was a nice surprise.  Twenty five years goes by fast!

The designs of the bird houses ranged from the traditional to the conceptual.  Because the light level was getting low, I’m surprised I had images to work with.  Unfortunately, I can’t credit many of the artists because I didn’t see an exhibit guide and some labels were hide to find.  This house with the scary back has a more traditional hole in front.  I liked this picture once I downloaded it from my camera…the house seems to be suspended in mid air.

My friend Raymond Graf had a nice piece in this show.  Inspired by dovecotes and Japanese architecture, this piece looked like a bird skyscraper.  The piece is primarily made of wood and incorporates many Louisville Slugger souvenir baseball bats in its construction. 

At Bernheim it can be hard to tell how many people are attending an event because the park can accommodate them all.  I know I saw several hundred people enjoying the music, food, and art. The bird houses were scattered along a walking trail.  Once the darkness fell, the white screen behind the band would become center stage.  Folks would concentrate in the informal amphitheater sitting on old limestone blocks from the renovation and expansion of Louisville’s McAlpin Locks and Dam.  Kentucky’s first sanctioned “Pecha Kucha” event was about to start.

Now I will confess that I have never heard of Pecha Kuchas before in fact I kept calling it Machu Picchu all week-long!  Apparently, two American architects decided that the traditional slide show was too boring and could be shortened and made livelier.  The idea is the presenter is limited to 20 projected images and 20 seconds a piece for a total talk of 400 seconds.  That’s it.  Pecha Kucha  is said to be Japanese slang for “chit-chat”.  To me, it sounded like it could have some pace to it like a poetry slam.

Fourteen presenters interpreted the idea that “Mother Nature wants me to tell you something…” in very personal ways.  Many of the speakers were artists who are aligning what they make and do with the needs of the planet.  A concern for where society is going and what should we place value in were common threads in many of the talks.  Not all the presenters were smooth during their 400 seconds and you could tell a few less experienced speakers were nervous, but the crowd supported everyone with applause regardless of the performance!

This evening and the one before it were successful because of the collaboration and partnership between Bernheim and the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.  The weekend began with the opening of Julia Oldham’s “Possumhaw Plant Electrics” exhibit at the Carnegie Center which consisted of four videos and a gallery of wonderful line drawings.  Julia is the 2010 Artist in Residence for Bernheim Forest and the videos were created during her ten week stay.  For those who have followed this blog, Julia is a new friend that I shared a couple of outings with that we posted on our respective blogs.  It was great seeing her in Kentucky again!  Sometimes it’s a big world and sometimes it’s not…perhaps we will meet again?  I hope so.  The next Pecha Kucha will be held in December at the 21C Hotel in Louisville.  That’s another fine venue to take in an event.

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Here’s a collection of found objects that I photographed on location at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  All form a theme centered around transportation in the form of mostly discarded toys.  I found all this stuff by the side of the river during the past year.  Since the theme is obvious, I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.  Let’s start with another boat.  It’s not the “Titanic” or the wreck of the ” Edmund Fitzgerald” but it bore witness to forces in nature larger than itself.

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Guess what everybody!  An interview I did with one of my favorite blogs was recently published and I’m honored to be placed in the spotlight.  If you get the chance check out the interview and scroll through some of Lynda’s stories.  If you like art, poetry, popular culture and more…than you will find her blog worth the visit!

Here’s the link to the Echostains blog, http://echostains.wordpress.com/

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Trick or Treater at Galerie Hertz, 10/09

After the Bluegrass Bioneers talk, I had works open in a group show at Galerie Hertz in Louisville.  The exhibit dates are October 18 through November 14.  Many of the fifteen sculptures on display were featured first in this blog.  It’s a night and day difference seeing them in a gallery context as opposed to their original settings at the Falls of the Ohio.

Rain Deer, 10/09

This space on South Preston Street is the latest incarnation of Galerie Hertz.  Billy Hertz and his partner Tom Schnepf are rightly credited for their work in revitalizing and rehabilitating old buildings and distressed neighborhoods.  Much of what exists as an art scene in Louisville, especially on Market Street, owes this unique pair a debt of thanks.  Whether lightning can be bottled yet again remains to be seen.  In addition to serving as a gallery, this large, high-ceilinged space is also home to the couple and serves as Billy’s painting studio as well.  Tom is a marvelous gardener and it has been fun to watch black top and concrete being transformed into a living space for plants.

Galerie Hertz, 10/09

Paintings by M. Van Pelt and W. Goodman line the gallery’s walls.  The opening was relaxed and informal and it was nice visiting with old friends.

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Falls of the Ohio landscape, 8/09

I had the itch to make a larger figure today, but only had a few hours to do it in.  I reached my outdoor studio and was elated to find that someone had left me a couple presents.  Two very abstract sculptures made with the materials I had left behind.  Here are what they looked like:

anonymous abstract sculpture, 8/09

anonymous tree ornament, 8/09

Not exactly my style, but I appreciate the effort.  In the six years I’ve been working out here only a half dozen or so anonymous works have been made with the materials I’ve salvaged off the river’s edge and left on site.    Here’s the piece I quickly put together and photographed.

Mr. Blue FuManchu, 8/09

With walnut and bingo dauber eyes this guy rode out the short rain shower with me.  We have been having some uncharacteristically cool and sunny days that have been picture perfect.  Unfortunately for me, they don’t seem to be occurring when I’m actually at the Falls.  I did a bit of slipping and sliding on the mud surface as I posed this piece along the riverbank.  There is this site that has all these abandoned car and truck tires and I wanted to see if I could make  an interesting image on location.

Mr. Blue FuManchu with Tires, 8/09

Back view of Mr. Blue FuManchu, 8/09

As I was moving this piece around and photographing it, I was approached by two local guys.  “Delante” on the left and his friend “Mikey” asked me if I could take their picture standing next to the figure.  At least it will give a better idea of scale.  They were moving down the shoreline looking for stuff to get into.  I later ran into them again with some of their friends and they were complaining of being “bored”.  That’s something I’ve heard my own sons say before and they know it always gets a rise out of me.  Life is too short to get bored!  You could always make Styrofoam figures like me for instance!  Now there’s an antidote for boredom.  One last image…this one is of two friends fishing and walking on water. 

Delante, Bearded Man, and Mikey, 8/09

 

Two guys fishing in the middle of the river. 8/09

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