This is definitely it. This is the last of it. A few cool soft breezes at night with the windows open will taunt you in your memory a week from now. Soon we’ll be closing the blinds and hissing at the sunlight like trapped vampires. It goes by many names but I like to call it “underwear weather.” More traditionally, it’s called summer. And, as every good Phoenician knows, summer begins in May.
Years ago, it used to be that once May rolled around, all of the art spaces in downtown Phoenix that didn’t have functioning A/C or swamp coolers would shut down for the summertime and stay closed until re-emerging in October. Now, considering the vast amounts of Facebook event invitations I’ve been getting, this tactic is no longer the case. Either art spaces have suddenly come across a windfall of cash or people in town are more willing to brave sweating together in a small room for the sake of seeing art.
While venues like Lawn Gnome, The Trunk Space, Frontal Lobe and Crescent Ballroom seem to have plans scheduled deep into the beast that is high summer in Phoenix, I see this time of year as having an additional advantage.
All good work needs time and focus to develop. With a self-imposed sun and heat quarantine, the summertime in Phoenix is the perfect time to think, read, write, develop, plan and scheme all of the ideas there was no time to focus on while friends were luring you out the door for beers on a patio or a hike in the mountains. The winter weather here can be blissful but is really not conducive to hours of concentration. I find myself staring longingly out the window and cursing our American workaholic existence.
When staring out the window means being blinded by a high noon reflection of the sun or witnessing a sweaty individual finding a sliver of shade to wait for the bus, the prospect of hiding indoors seems much more inviting. Living in such a unique environment, we must take advantage of the odd variances of this place.
Starting right now, you have five months to work on your grand plan. Instead of going stir crazy and disgusted with the sight of four walls, an entirely new project could be born. Most of the time, people don’t discover the benefits of focus and development. It can be ugly. Starting off is always a struggle of the conscious as it battles to defeat the beginnings of any idea. But this time, with fewer distractions, instead of saying no to the idea, you can say yes.
Philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote that philosophy is useless in the practical world without action that could take the form of writing or spoken words. Simply by stepping forth with the ideas in your head and putting them in to reality, we change the make-up of our world and begin participating in life.
So, although you might be sitting in your dark cave space, blinds closed, fan on, a/c set at 82 degrees so you don’t break the bank, and limiting contact with the “outside” world, you may ultimately be taking a greater part in it.
Once September or October approaches, emerge from your cool dark place and share your results with the city. If all works out, we should see some pretty amazing and weird work and maybe even some projects that expand on the conceptual groundwork that was created the previous year. Summer is the time to hibernate, develop and grow. Take this time to walk around in your underwear and see what’s possible.
Frontal Lobe, Go Joe show, May 24
Lawn Gnome Publishing, Sole: No Wising Up, No Settling Down Tour, June 18,
The Trunk Space, event calendar for June
Crescent Ballroom: Sea Wolf, June 17, Melvins, July 12
Music and art—they seem to go so well together. It just sort of rolls off the tongue: musicandart, artandmusic.
For some of us in grade school, they were even taught at the same time and maybe even by the same teacher. If you were good at one, there was a good chance you might have been good at the other.
Then maybe you go to college, or maybe you don’t, but either way a person ends up traveling down a path that is predominantly music OR art. Somewhere in this process, a person might keep ties to both and some people even manage to integrate it seamlessly with the work they do, but most lean to one side or the other.
The artist stares longingly at the violinist, remembering what it used to feel like to labor over a solo. The violinist attends art openings to vicariously sense the feeling of creating a new body of work.
How did we become so separate?
I will admit that I am one of those people. I used to play flute and bass guitar and believed that I could really be amazing at both music and art but at some point, I felt I had to choose to make one or the other better or risk being mediocre at both. The word “dilettante” kept jumping to mind.
Maybe this explains a phenomena I have troubling understanding in our sunny city: the Grand Canyon of a divide between the art and music communities. I discovered this after meeting my partner who came from a music background into multi-media artwork. It seemed like a natural progression. I assumed we would have a lot of friends in common. But, it turned out that we knew virtually none of the same people. How could this be?
Artists and musicians share a lot of the same struggles: attempting to make a living while doing the thing you’re good at; fitting in time to practice while managing the making a living part and all of life’s other sundries; determining whether to go the more commercial or more independent route; and fielding all of the inquiries from family members/friends/acquaintances about what you really do. It seems we’d have a lot to talk about with each other.
It also seems as though we’d have a lot to collaborate on. While we’re working at putting together new multi-media pieces and staging impromptu events in vacant lots, members of both communities could step outside of their familiar zones and try something that lands in the middle. In the process of brainstorming, we might even realize that our creative processes are very much the same. John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg collaborated often in the 1950s to 1970s, generating multi-faceted pieces that would have been very different had they been coming from a solo perspective.
Mingling of these worlds surely occurs from time to time but, as both communities struggle for audiences, respectability and a place in the cultural landscape of Phoenix, we could benefit from joining forces more often. Each group brings its own audience that is likely unknown to the other’s. By intertwining mediums and people, we broaden the artistic landscape for both. Downtown Chamber Series has managed this successfully with their performances that take place at various art spaces downtown. They can promote the show and their own concert—promising their audience a dynamic experience that they may not have sought out alone. Before long, both audiences could potentially double while also adding something new to our experience of culture here.
Closing the gap between these two worlds doesn’t have to mean jumping to the other side. It could simply mean acknowledging that we’re both really after the same things. We’re not so different, after all.
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
There are just a few seats left! Reserve your spot on the Third Friday Collectors Tour on January 18!
Artlink’s Third Friday Collectors Tour returns on Friday, January 18, and includes three of downtown Phoenix’s most acclaimed galleries.
The participants will have a private viewing and the opportunity to meet the artist(s) and curators one-on-one, and learn more about their processes and vision.
The exclusive guided trolley tour will include:
- Bentley Gallery – “Mark Pomilio / Jeremy Thomas,” a delightful exploration of nature’s geometry, with Curator John Reyes and Mark Pomilio.
- monOrchid – Introducing new Curator Justin Germain with artist Linda Ingraham’s unique project “Off the Beaten Path: A Departure From The Norm,” and Matt Dougan’s personal retrospective “As the Crow Flies.”
- Willo North Gallery – “Youth: New Work by Bob Adams” with Bob explaining his inspiration to re-enter the world of solo gallery shows after two decades.
The tour will be hosted by Robrt Pela, Willo North curator and arts critic for Phoenix New Times, whose NPR “Morning Edition” radio essays are occasionally themselves the talk of the town. Pela will provide context on the contemporary art scene in downtown Phoenix and background on the artist spaces and galleries on the tour.
Event: Artlink’s Third Friday Collectors Tour
Date: Friday, January 18
Time: 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave. Phoenix. The trolley will depart promptly at 6 p.m.
Tickets: $35 per person, $50 per couple. Seating is limited. Light refreshments provided. To reserve your seats please visit http://collectorstourphoenix.eventbrite.com/.
About the Host:
Robrt Pela is known primarily as an arts critic for Phoenix New Times, where he has written a weekly columnthese past 22 years. His radio essays air each week on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” and he’s worked as a writer and editor for national and local magazines including Psychology Today, The Advocate, Phoenix Home and Garden, and Men’s Fitness. His last published book was Filthy, a biography of the film director John Waters.
As a curator, Pela presents a new exhibit each month at Willo North Gallery in Phoenix. Last year he curated shows by, among others, Annie Lopez, Jeff Falk, Jason Hill, Janet de Berge Lange, Paul Wilson, Carolyn Lavender, and Bob Adams. He and his spouse, Todd Grossman, divide their time among their homes in Phoenix, Arizona; Niles, Ohio; and Bargemon, France.
I have buried my sketchbook under books on polar exploration, a plant-based diet and the concept of space in the age of the internet. When I enter my studio space, I take a moment to stare frighteningly at the scattered, messy desktop buried under unopened mail and a few dirty coffee cups. I am haunted by Facebook posts of artist friend accomplishments and the reflection it has on my inactivity.
This is the frozen desert of being at an artistic standstill.
Like pressing on through a frigid, barren landscape with no clear end to the steady, repetitive horizon: the days of inactivity and unmeasurable creativity continue. For many artists, this is when we start to look at whether it might have been better to study as a Latent Print Examiner or follow a more practical career as an accountant. Maybe some have even fantasized about the seemingly simple life as a heavy machine operator or bus driver. Imagine the satisfaction of completing an honest day of work and settling in to relax in the evening.
This possibility is as remote as a constantly shifting magnetic pole and as unappealing as an unseasoned bowl of polenta. Any artist who has attempted this shift in career due to a temporary lack of inspiration soon finds out that they are floating in a virtual world of non-ideas. It is not the world they are cut out for.
Unfortunately, the artist is beset with the drive to produce and put something in to the world. Although one might be able to sit back and be distracted, distraught and disengaged, the pull to act keeps nagging like hunger. I can’t ignore forever that there are thoughts in my head and I am compelled, like an explorer was to the open sea, to find out more about it.
It is time to get out. When in the darkest moments of intellectual despair, sometimes it’s better to turn outward. Luckily, Phoenix has answered with a repertoire of activities to foster ideas, import information and maybe most importantly: generate human contact. Tuesday night Lawn Gnome hosts Books and Beakers, a weekly “bringing science to the people” event on the subject of Time Dilation Theory and more remotely local interdisciplinary artist Chris Danowski opens his show Dogface at the ASU West, Artspace West Gallery. Friday I can visit the multi-media installation by Ann Morton at Modified, Jackalope Ranch’s Manifesto exhibit at Drive-Thru Gallery and the Valley of the Sunflowers Paper Project at Combine Studios.
With so many options to turn outward, I have no reason to fall further into the crevasse of my own artistic inactivity. Instead, I can revel in the collective ability for others in the community to lift me up through their own action and energy and realize that I will get mine back in time. The desert, even in its cold state, need not be bleak.
Suggested reading: The Race to the White Continent: Voyages to the Antarctic by Alan Gurney; Below the Convergence: Voyages Toward Antarctica, 1699-1839, Alan Gurney; City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn, William J. Mitchell; Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health, Brendan Brazier
When it comes to gift-giving, artists have never been like other people. It’s a hit to your pride to shop at Macy’s for a sweater when you could (should) be at home, crafting up that perfect one-of-a-kind gesture.
If you have an artist friend, it is likely you will be given something unique. This can have something to do with several factors: (1) occasional bouts of “poorness;” (2) an overactive sense of “do-it-yourself-ness;” and (3) the simple fact that artists have a lot of crap they’ve made that is currently taking up space in their house/studio/shed/rented storage space/parent’s house.
The following is a handy guide to artist gift-buying, and yes, receiving.
The Giving Artist
Here are a few things you might find cleverly gift-wrapped, “just for you:”
A Piece of Old Art. An obvious choice. For those who aren’t artists, it might (literally) shock you to find out how many things an artist has made in her lifetime: sets of prints; small drawings: little crafted wooden boxes (this also applies to architects): glass or metal lamps from that time she went through that phase where she made lamps; or a framed (failed) photograph of a generic thing that will look good above your kitchen sink. If you have an artist friend and haven’t yet received something like this, just wait.
Handcrafted Utilitarian Object. I have, in the past, crocheted cup cozies and screen printed placemats. You may receive a lopsided ceramic bowl or a t-shirt imprinted with their “symbol.” This category could also include self-made objects like bookends, napkin rings, ashtrays, wind chimes, tote bags, clocks and anything made of felt. TIP: Remember to always have these objects out and put to good use next time your artist friend comes over.
Some honorary mentions include:
- Homemade food (When there are no more old artworks to give and your artist friend has run out of craft-making ideas, it’s always fun for her to pretend she’s a chef.)
- A plant
- A gift card to FilmBar
- A Phoenix Art Museum membership
- A Heard Museum membership
- A Desert Botanical Gardens membership
- A donation made in your name to Oxfam
- Booze (Case in point: I almost bought a bottle of Japanese whiskey because the packaging was so nice)
For the Artist who has…Not a Lot
Similarly, a little creative thinking can go a long way when buying for an artist friend. Here are a few gift ideas that will bring a bit of joy:
Booze. Not crappy booze but good booze: the kind that might cost more than $10 a bottle. I have never met an artist who doesn’t like to have a drink every now and then. Given the attention most artists give to subtlety and detail, they can be wowed with a gin that’s bubbled, not boiled; whiskey made in 1 gallon batches at a time; or just a well-designed bottle with a wax stamp and an interesting font. This tasteful booze will assist during the next period your artist friend is doubting her self worth and wondering why she labors over this stuff to begin with.
Health Insurance. An idea for those with extra cash. Most artists are self-employed or work part-time which means having to foot the bill for their own insurance. More often, it means going without while hoping the table saw doesn’t ricochet a piece of wood back into your head. While an artist may be morally conflicted by the generous gift of a cashmere sweater, she would greatly appreciate subsidized healthcare and affordable birth control.
Some runner-up options could include:
- A gift certificate for a massage
- A book on some obscure subject they once mentioned
- A gift card to a grocery store (Handy during those “poorness” bouts.)
- Scrap wood
- Decorative paper
- A gift card to their favorite (local) coffee shop
- A blank notebook
- A moss garden
Artist to artist
Artists giving gifts to each other is almost a perfect storm. Maybe one artist doesn’t believe in the rampant commercialism of the holidays so refuses to take part in giving something of monetary value. She will choose, instead, to enact an action on your behalf, carefully documenting it via video, an online slideshow or a series of drawings.
While the other artist may be covertly (not creepily) drafting impromptu sketches of her friend for the past week, which will be given in a well-decorated, sealed envelope.
Remember that shopping for or receiving gifts from an artist will always be slightly more interesting than the Chili’s gift card you might get from your boss or the Christmas socks you might get from your mother. Artists are maybe (likely?) working out some end-of-year issues with those projects that never quite got off the ground but which could be perfect if wrapped with a festive bow. I have resisted sewing, constructing or drawing anything for anyone this year but I have been eyeing up some mason jars and the possibility of canning my own food.
Bottom line: whether you’re an artist of a friend of one, it’s best to be prepared for anything.