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Showing Process — DallasArtsRevue on
the White Rock Lake Artists Studio Tour

Talking About Art   Showing Process   Interactive Art   Local Color
A Short History of One Artist's Work   My kid could make better art than that.   Thanks

Mark Williamson sanding and polishing - showing process

The White Rock Lake Artists Studio Tour was Saturday and Sunday October 15 & 16, 2005, and our participation in it was remarkably successful, especially considering how often I tried to get out of doing it. Until about three days before, my usual characterization of our then-future participation was shaking my head while ruefully reciting, "What a stupid idea."

Since tour founder and DARts Member Marty Ray wouldn't let me out, even though I carefully missed every opportunity to sign-up and precisely noted that I did not wish to participate. I was stuck with it. Admittedly, I was passively, rather than overtly opposed.

I tried to keep an open mind, or at least a clean house. I cleaned living, dining and bath rooms, kitchen, back porch and even put a big pile of junk I've been meaning to for about a year, into the garage. I rearranged my art collection.
 

Mark Williamson - polished piece of art

With half my house clean, I needed something to happen to cause people to come see, so I went along with the tour, even though I'd still rather go on the tour than be on it. I especially wanted to see Kathy Boortz' studio again. Visiting other tour members is probably what I miss most about being on the tour, although they are very different experiences.

About 80 people dropped by lucky #13 on the WRLAST map to see the front two rooms of my home filled with work by friends, family, DARts members, subscribers and me. A Modest Proposal explains how this informal, "non exhibition" got started. This story tells what happened.

Included in my front and middle rooms were works by Peter Ligon, Nancy Ferro, Alex TroupJames Michael StarrBob Nunn, Fannie Brito, Michael HelsemRichard Ray, Marty Ray, Elissa Foster Art Shirer, Ann Huey, Tom Moody, Zach & Greg Metz, Pamela Nelson, Gregory Horndeski, Dean Corbitt, Dwayne Carter, Elizabeth Reeves, Brad Metcalf, TJ Mabrey, Jim Bowman, John Abrams, A.M. Hudson, Mary Iron Eyes, Richard Crow, Roy Cirigliana, Gerald Burns, Georgia Stafford, Willard "The Texas Kid" Watson and briefly, Mark Williamson.
 

Michael Helsem in conversation among art

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Talking about art

Both Mark Williamson and Michael Helsem had planned to come by early, and did. The only other person to come by, earlier, was artist Art Shirer, who brought two smallish (his largish pieces can be fifteen feet tall, so something that's only 8 ore 21 inches high is tiny) kinetic sculptures, Spinner and Cranky Piece. Art also also talked about art (as seen below).

For two hours, nobody else came by, and the timing was fortuitous. There, sitting in my living room were two very different artists who possessed very different but deeply held philosophies, styles and unerstandings. When I had time, I sat in on their conversation, and I was amazed.

Mark brought a rough, unfinished piece and as they talked, he sanded. The scruff-scruff-scruff of him sanding and polishing continued through nearly an hour and a half of their far-ranging conversation.

Kinda wish I'd had a tape recorder going then, but I know the difficulties of pulling words from those things. Later, I thought about putting other such divergent artists together for more public discourse, but after a few seconds imagining that, realized that this early Saturday dialogue would have been impossible in any public forum. There in my living room, it approached perfection. Mostly, it was just two artists talking. No audience, except this editor guy who'd barge in every once in awhile.

One of the many, intertwining themes winding through that stellar interaction was Elephant Art. According to Michael, elephants in the wild are known to pick up sticks and make marks in the dirt. They are not, Michael explained, interested in those marks.
 

Art Shirer in my front gallery

What gets them off is the sensations in their trunks while wielding the sticks — the heft of the stick, the way it makes their trunks feel, the various pressures of holding and moving the stick.

In zoos that commercialize the process, keepers take the drawings away before the elephants destroy what they're making, so little are they concerned with their "art" and so much they are caught up in the process.

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Showing Process

Last year I tried to sell my work — and failed miserably. Two different people were rude enough to offer me $5 for my best and largest photograph. I had prices marked and set. Although we had some fine conversations and visits, especially with students and friends, there more than a few visitors I wished would just leave.

This year's tour, I took showing process, which this tour is supposedly all about, to heart and made it my central driving principle. I steeled my sometime shyness to greet people at the door, introduce myself and DallasArtsRevue.com, even explain the importance of Dallas art to me and my website, often citing the award from D Magazine.

I tried to draw viewers into the art. By telling stories art and by comparing and contrasting different pieces by the same artist over time and explaining histories and the compelling attitudes and thrusts of each piece, I tried to pull viewers into a deeper understanding of what artists do.
 

Art Shirer - The Cranky Piece (slight detail) - 21 inches high

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Interactive Art

One of my favorite process tricks was to engage people into Art's Cranky Piece. "Bring your finger over here," I suggested when someone was near the middle of my green living room or just coming in the front door.

It took us awhile to figure out how, precisely, to tell the unsuspecting art viewer to crank the Cranky Piece, and it was rarely clear to them what we were trying to get them to do until they actually began to do it. Then, suddenly, it was obvious.

It is not a static piece. When a finger is placed in the small circle near the middle, and the person's arm and hand circle (as one might dial an oversized, old-fashioned telephone), most of the sculpture is engaged and interlinked into a staccato cranking motion.

No one stopped when it became clear what we were inveigling them into. They — all of them — engaged, and kept cranking.

It was fun, and as they watched what they were involving themselves into, I explained that they had become a part of the art, and that their finger and arm would remember that experience and continue to be a part of that art a long time.

Brad Metcalf - Thing

After awhile, we realized that Brad Metcalf's Thing on the floor near the front window would physically engage viewers in a similar way — a way that seemed particularly attractive to adults, often standing over it in groups of thee and four, cranking it back and forth over the rug on its paint stir-er wheels. I explained that it left a nasty trail on wood, so please keep it on the carpet.

I didn't want visitors to walk away thinking they might have seen just more art on an artists' tour. I wanted them to experience it. I wanted them to feel it and know art, from the inside.

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A Short History of One Artist's Work

Another art trick was telling those who seemed to appreciate or spend some time with one of the three Dwayne Carter pieces in the living room what I knew about those pieces, and by extrapolation, about much of Dwayne's work.

My story was not pre-planned. It developed over the Saturday and Sunday of the tour as I realized its details. It began as description and grew into history and art criticism.

Usually the first piece I spoke about was the biggest, which I explained, was part of my permanent collection and was covering up a large gash in the wall behind it.

That piece was done when Dwayne was a student, perhaps the art star apparent at OSU in those days. It was intended to be a corner piece, and in my living room, behind my front door it does occupy a corner, but it was intended to be on the left corner wall, with a similarly textured painting of the woman in the mirror on its right.
 

Dwayne Carter - untitled (more info in JR's Collection)
(more info from the guy in the painting)

That painting, also exactingly rendered in soft airbrushed paint, was of a popular and attractive woman on campus, and it sold quickly. The part I have, wasn't. In it are two human figures in slightly odd, but very realistic poses (I used to have the painting where I could see it from bed, and I'd often wake up wondering who that was in my living room).

What's important, like what was important in much of Dwayne's work then, was the realistic rendering of flesh tones, shapes, and apparent depth, although there's some play in that dimensionality.
 

Dwayne Carter - Bad Habits (more info in JR's Collection)

My second Dwayne Carter painting, painted about 15 years later, is called Bad Habits. It's acrylic on board, which renders the paint with a soft texture, and it is of an attractive female.

One later visitor especially appreciated that work, because the model's head was cropped off, and her face is not visible. What we see are her bare legs and a splay of cigarettes (bad habits) on the floor at her feet — more accurately rendered flesh, another odd sort of pose and a direct kind of dimension and spatial presentation.
 

Dwayne Carter - title unknown, 2005

My most recent Carter piece came after another approximate 15-year span and is a digital painting he gave me from a show at Richland College, where he teaches.

The mirror piece is 67.5 inches high. Bad Habits is 36 inches high, and the digital piece is 13 x 19 inches. So another progression is size, with the smallest piece in many ways the most interesting, because the digital process allows Dwayne to pile an all those arms and faces into an impossible space.

Still, there it was. Flesh rendered softly and accurately, depth played with, and gestures and poses, all intact these many years later.

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Local color

Richard Ray's painting, Near The Fairgrounds, is just inside my front door, over where the TV used to be. I consider it a place of honor, because wherever you sit in my living room, you see it. Richard Ray is a friend and a DallasArtsRevue Supporting Member, so I didn't have to move it for the tour's non-exhibition. It was right where it needed to be, and still is.

What it's about is local color — "The interest or flavor of a locality imparted by the customs and sights peculiar to it," says my dictionary. "The use of regional detail in a literary or an artistic work."

Kinda what my front two rooms are all about with the green walls and all those bits of sparkling and translucent glass. Like them, it lights up the room. Unlike all that, it's simple and to the point of elucidating something not just near and dear to my heart (Dallas), but something nearby (the Fairgrounds and the skyline).
 

Richard Ray - Near The Fairgrounds, 2001

Which is part of why, when Peter delivered Top Liquor, I was so blown away. I mean, it's a nice piece. I'm honored to have it in my home, even for just a few days.

Richard's painting is of a real place, except that there's a building in the way that he disappeared, so we could all see through it. I don't immediately recognize the Top Liquor store, but I bet a lot of people from Oak Cliff do, I remember telling people on the tour when I talked about these two very different paintings that depict very real places right here in Dallas, Texas, USA.

I do know that bridge, which a visitor identified as Cadiz Street. Anybody who's rounded downtown on Stemmons, has driven through that distinctive structure. Another thing I like about Peter Ligon's drawings is that he leaves all the stuff in. He doesn't clean up the scene. All the real-life clutter is included, telephone poles and lines, a car parked out front, whatever.

Both pieces are real art about real places — places most of the people who toured #13 were already familiar with, familiar realities that can bring them closer to understanding and appreciating fine art.

Peter's drawing may be monochromatic and Richard's multi-hued, but both are rife with local color and reality.

Peter Ligon - Top Liquor Beer - watercolor - 26 x 20 inches

There were many other fine pieces in the show that wasn't a show, but only a couple other pieces in the unshow that I still have enough to say about and which I semi-automatically used to involve more visitors into the process and understanding of fun, fine art.

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“My kid could make better art than that.”

We've all heard somebody say that — or we've said it ourselves. Right? Well this piece was designed by a 7-year-old. I didn't see his original drawing, but I suspect that's how it started out. I do know that Zach, the designer, was heavy into Tomcats and other fighter aircraft.
 

Zach and Greg Metz - US Peace Initiative, 1991

This 50 x 68 inches piece had been in storage the last couple years, I told anyone who'd listen. But I got it out a couple days before the tour, gave it a sponge bath to bring the colors back from the dust that'd settled on it over the years and hung it back up. I was kinda proud for getting it down and then back up all in one piece without help.

The question most people asked was what was it made out of, and I had to admit, over and over again, that I didn't know, but that it was somewhere between plastic and paper maché. I also admitted that I'd been told repeatedly what it was, but that it was the same weatherproof stuff as the pieces on the front of Club Dada in Deep Ellum.

So it's this big hunk of vividly colorful stuff, designed by a 7-year-old and brought into deeply ironic political reality by his father. I also explained that it'd been created "the last time we started a war over there, and it was just as on-target now as it ever was."

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Thanks

Special thanks to Anna, who helped me clean up and made fresh brownies each day for tour visitors and who continued to remind me that it might not be such a bad idea after all.

Thanks also to all the DallasArtsRevue Members and Subscriber who brought work to be shown in our informal, non-exhibition and to Susan Lecky and Bill Verhelst for loaning me the light stands I was gonna use to photograph the artworks several people said they'd bring by in yet another attempt to show process (but they didn't).

I already have some idea for our next year's participation, but I'd really like to take off a year and instead of being on the map again, using it to go visit all the other stops on the White Rock Lake Artists Studio Tour.

 

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