Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A review of Delirium, curated by Mark Sink. Illiterate Gallery

Delirium is aptly named, not simply as a way to describe the fantastic and diverse collection of artists that Mark Sink has collected for the show at Illiterate, but as a testament to the state of mind of the artists as well.

de·lir·i·um (n)

1. A disordered state of the mental faculties resulting from disturbance of the functions of the brain, and characterized by incoherent speech, hallucinations, restlessness, and frenzied or maniacal excitement.

You really can’t go wrong with the phrase “maniacal excitement”.

When Mark Sink was asked to curate a show for Illiterate they did not ask him to do anything in particular and he hadn’t a clue what he was going to do. What came out was a show highlighting some of Mark’s favorite works. In his curatorial “howdy” speech he references having works in the show that he keeps around the house. That is to say this show is more like an intimate collection show than a typical group show.

This does beg the question what the role of curator is in this day and age. We recently had Eric Paddock, photography curator for the Denver Art Museum, speak at one of WWA’s fundraisers and he boiled down the role of curator quite nicely- that of the sifter. The one who sifts through all of it- the good, the bad and the ugly- to come out with what should be considered iconic and relevant. Quite a task actually, but then again so is doing the dishes- and we created a machine for that too, the dishwasher. Curators then can be considered the greatest in task saving appliances for the arts. Don’t have time to look at all of the art in the world? No problem, have a curator do it. Of all of the art appliances in the world, I would like to be on the record saying that I think curators are the most valuable.

Mark Sink in particular is Denver’s most undervalued art resource. He has been continuously been holding the IV bag of life saving fluids for our art scene for decades. He is the Cheshire cat of every art opening worth being at. Madly holding a cigarette, smiling a crooked smile a little too broadly for any environment he seems to find himself. Mark is a rare breed, a blend of celebrity art icon and street vagabond. He is the modern day high flying Nadar, but with street cred.

In Delirium he invites us into his living room to peruse through his personal collection. As you will hear in any lecture about modern or post modern art, buy what you like, you will figure out what it means (and if it was worth it!) later. Now we get to see what Mark Sink likes, a peek at the creept collection of persoanl loves. It is important to note that this show was not juried per say, in other words, not a “best of what we could get in a month or two” kind of show- but a glimpse into the collection of an artist and curator who has been collecting art for three decades, or since the Family Ties original first season on NBC.

So, the show. It is centered around Sylvie Tillman’s five foot grid of nine close up black and white anus images that are graphically nailed to the wall with larger than necessary tenpenny nails. Close-ups of what I imagine to be both men and women’s anuses, but honestly it’s hard to tell. The oddly disquieting part of these non-erotic sexual images is their, well, beauty. We are drawn to inspect parts of the human anatomy that most of us have never even glanced at to this degree. The sphincter in all its glory. Even as I write the word sphincter I see how it may be hard for some of you to see how there could be beauty here, but trust me it is. And this push and pull of subject matter versus aesthetic seems to be the glue that binds the images of this show. A seemingly irreverent subject matter couched in staggeringly simple, quietly beautiful images.

There is an aesthetic quality to these images that out shine the subjects themselves. That is to say the importance of craftsmanship is apparent in all of these pieces in this show. The images, like Mark’s own “medicine bottle” photogram, seem from another world in their stark beauty. The velvet like black tones wrought from the silver gelatin paper are a gorgeous backdrop for the sparse knifelike glowing whites that spring from the paper to express the contours of the bottle. The subject matter, again, rendered irrelevant in the face of such beauty.

The curatorial hang of this show is nicely developed, there is a series of three images on the wall; Zimmer’s Michelle, Wes Kennedy’s The Uberman, and an unknown photographer’s Victorian era ménage-a trios - really highlight the importance of the curator’s perspective. With these images grouped together we interpret one image based on the previous subject, much like a book. So, after seeing the Victorian taboo sex scene, we are set up to interpret the images to follow with same eyes, regardless of the intent of these image makers. So that Zimmer and Kennedy images are both imbued with an open sexuality that would not be present if it were not fore the brazen threesome that oh so recently just saw. Mark uses this to his advantage, playing images off of one another like the director of a mad improv dark comedy musical.

In fact the entire room is filled with an exciting sexual energy that seeps in to each and every image on the wall. I am not sure if this based on the images and proximity to one another, or simply the fact that we feel as though we are peering into Mark's bedroom.

The weakest pieces in this collection are the Harry Walters mixed media pieces. They feel quite disconnected from the rest of the show. In fact I thought they were part of a different show entirely, not part of Delirium. Part of this is that they make up 20% of the wall space, whereas the rest of Mark’s collection is made up of predominantly each artist being represented by one or two pieces. Coupled with the fact that the method of art making is so completely divergent from the rest of the show - it easily feels like something leftover from last month. Unfortunately, I want to like Walter’s pieces- it’s just that they are done in such a way that just seems clever without any real substance.

Delirium is a show that should not be missed. You will have to go soon to check it out though, on January 8 it will change. Rumors are that it will change into a virtual recreation of Mark’s living room. So something akin to cracked glass, dying plants, an 11x14 view camera or two and more gut wrenchingly beautiful art than you can throw a dart at will be on view until February.

Illiterate : : 82 S. Broadway : : Den, CO : : 303-709-5292 : : Thurs-Sun 11a-7p


Greg Cradick
Exec Director :: Working with Artists
workingwithartists.org :: 303.837.1341

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Art of the Mechanical Eye

Since its inception photography has been both cursed and blessed by the technical aspects of the medium. The "mechanical eye" of the camera has been criticized by many as cheating- as a way of creating imagery seemingly without skill. In some ways this is true- for example those of us who can not draw a straight line, as the saying goes, can at least photograph one. However, the ability to capture an artistic image is a skill and a supremely creative endeavor. Anyone can take a picture of something, but skill is involved when it comes to creating an artistic image. At first blush the difference appears to be in name only, one implies the taking of something that is already complete while the other speaks to making something out of nothing, but the difference is bigger than that- it is enormous. It is what sets an artistic photographic work apart from a snapshot. The difference is that one speaks for the artist, explaining what he has to say using a visual language that we can all understand while the other is simply a visual record of a time and place.

The unblinking eye of the camera creates powerful images in the hands of the artist because it is an extension of that artist's mind. The camera recreates an exact replica of what it finds in front of itself, true, but it is the artist that determines what it is pointed at. The mind of the artist is determining what is captured within the frame of that camera. Fifty photographers could all go out to photograph the same outcrop of rocks on a hillside and the viewer would see fifty different styles of imagery. This is because the photographs are of the artist's state of mind, not simply of the rocks.

We sometimes forget what photography is. Photography is a magical world where artists can translate thoughts and ideas into photographic images that we can all see and easily relate to in some way. Fantastic.

Speak your mind, make a picture.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hello photo peeps!

Long time, no blog. I know.

I spent the past week with my family, which was both wonderful and chaotic. All of us share in the dichotomy of experiences that come from spending a week with your clan. The beautiful times and also the uncomfortable ones.

What interests me though is how we relate to these events in the past tense. How we reflect on the occurrences when they are over, after the fact. One thing that will alter your memory beyond measure will be the photographs that you make at the event itself. These seemingly benign images will stick in your brain and become the pivotal moments of the event- at least according to your memory. A week of life lived will be abbreviated into the one snapshot of you wearing your cousin's dress holding a bundt cake to your mouth pretending to eat the whole thing in one go. No matter that you had a wonderful heart to heart conversation with your aunt, or that your brother came out to your marine corps dad, or whatever. No, that will be the week that you dressed in drag to eat a whole cake. That is the hierarchy of memory. Memory pushed by imagery that is.

Sometimes I do not take any photographs of a place, for fear of ruining it (Badlands, South Dakota). Sometimes I make images of a place that come out way more interesting than it really is (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I also have a complete memory of visiting a small island in the Northeastern United States that is just fantastic! Unfortunately, I found out recently, I have never been there. Someone else had though- they told me about it in great detail and they had a really nice picture.

No matter what though, images alter our recollections of time and place- regardless of your intent. I find that amazing and more than a little disturbing...

Talk to you soon,

P.S. I made a lot of photographs of my family with an infrared camera, I wonder what future generations will make of my time in Myrtle Beach. -g

Monday, March 23, 2009

Art as a Spiritual Practice & Bowling

Hey there everybody!

So, my talk went well at RedLine last week. Thank you all so much for coming out, it was fantastic to see you all there. Apparently we tripled the attendance of any previous speaker- go team!

Anyway, for those of you who did not make it (and even those of you that made it) I am teaching a Contemplative Photography workshop in April. So if you are interested in delving into the spiritual aspects of art making- come on out!

At the talk one question that an audience member asked stood out and left me thinking. She asked what a more contemplative way of art making has to do with quantum physics- specifically the bit of quantum theory that talks about the role of the observer in experiments of modern science. So, a bit of background is required- one aspect of quantum theory states that an observer will alter the results of the experiment. Literally the fact that the experiment was being conducted by someone who thought the outcome would turn out a certain way, could force it to have that outcome. In particular some scientists who believed light was really small particles conducted experiments that ended up confirming that hypothesis, and scientists who believed that light was a wave did the same experiment and concluded that light indeed was a wave. The same experiment had two outcomes, the only variable was the person conducting the experiments. So, the oserver changed the outcome- just by being there.

As photographers we are at our core observers. So I can appreciate the comparison. The question is, by observing- do we as photographers change reality? Not just show a differet perspective, but actually change the outcome or order of events? I would have to say yes, but would love to hear what you think. Please add a comment below...

Also, on Wednesday we had a fantastic nigt of bowling with all of the Working wih Artists staff and interns. True to form, there were at least 5 cameras there to record the evnts. We bowled a ton- and had a great time. And, interestingly enough and to bring up the point of my story, when someone would get up and bowl they would bowl much better if they were not being photographed. By photographing a bowler, we made them bowl badly! In the act of being observed by a person with a camra people do a worse job. Wow!

So next time you want to bowl well, leave your camera at home.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Contemplative Photography: What the Heck...

Howdy. I teach a class on Contemplative Photography (in act the next class begins April 9th!) and the question that is often asked first is what does the phrase even mean?

So, I thought I would expand a bit on this idea. The word contemplative on its lonesome simply means to view with continued attention, or to observe thoughtfully. To observe thoughtfully... should not all of our photographs be contemplative by this definition? Should we not as artists using photography as our medium be making images everyday that are only made with careful and thoughtful observation? I would think so, but alas, 'tis not so.

Often we see something in the 3D reality of our world and we decide that we would like to make a photograph of that something and call it our own. So we immediately hold our camera to our face and snap a picture. Sometimes it is captured adequately and sometimes... not so much. When it does not work, we often do not know why, but the image rendered on the page does not match the image in our mind. There are TONS of reasons for this- one biggie is that we are alluding to third dimension without having one. A piece of paper is a two dimensional picture plane, somethings get lost in translation from 3D to 2D (more on this in another post). There are some neat things you can do compositionaly because of this (more on this in another post, too!)

Sometimes we adequately capture the "thing" in the photograph, but somehow miss the mark in describing our intended emotional response to the thing. In other words, sometimes a picture of a lake is simply a picture of a lake- when in fact it would be a far more interesting image if we were able to capture our emotional response to the lake, like tranquility. This is because photographs are not just a representation of things in a frame- no, what photographs are "of" are actually emotional responses to things found in our world, (more on this in another post, too!). It is our responses that are so captivating.

So, as artists we are guiding our viewers to feel the same thing we do about a subject. Or perhaps, maybe not always get them to feel the same thing, but at least let them know how we feel about it.

I have somehow strayed away from my original thoughts on contemplative photography. Sorry about that. Contemplative- observing thoughtfully- right back on track. With the word "observe" this would imply that there is one who is doing the observing, so lets look at the observer.

The observer is the photographer, the final picture created is the "proof" of that observation. It is a visual depiction of the mind that did the observing. What I am getting at is that a photograph is an extension of the mind that observes. An extension of the mind, wow. We have a way of expressing exactly how we see/feel about a subject. As a photographer we have the ability to use a device that can render in utter perfection the thoughts that we have. We have our camera!!!

Anyway, if this sounds interesting to you in any way shape or form. Please come join me next Tuesday night at RedLine where I will be giving a public talk on Conmtemplative Art. The idea is to bring up some interesting ideas such as these and discuss them in an open forum. As artists we learn from one another, so I look forward to hearing and learning from you.



Please join me at Redline!

Contemplative Art: Art as a Spiritual Practice
a talk with Greg Cradick, Executive Director, Working with Artists
Tuesday, March 17th @ 6:00p

2350 Arapahoe St
Denver, CO 80205
(303) 296-4448

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Our NEW Blog

Howdy Everybody!

Well, we have done it. We have a blog. I am super excited about this. We will be using this blog as an informal way of discussing contemporary issues in photography (like whether or not Shepard Fairey is right or wrong about abusing Associated Press copyrights, or where do you draw the line between artistic nude and artistic porn). We will also discuss trends in fine art photography, review photoshows, discuss our book club features, do technical reviews of fancy gear that costs more than your car (as well as cheap gear that costs as much as a burrito), give you fun free tips for better shooting, alert you to things happening about town and much, much more.

Most importantly we will do what we do best- we will inspire you to be the most creative photographic artist that you can possibly be.

So, subscribe to this blog and stay tuned! PASSION IS CONTAGIOUS!!!!

Your friend,
Greg Cradick
Executive Director
Working with Artists

The Directors :: Valerie Photogoddess & Greg Cradick

We CAN Learn From Our Past!

In photography, as in any field, we learn from our past. We learn about various cultures from photography. We also learn about ourselves, our medium, our specific genre that we work in as artists, and where we fit within that genre. We can also sometimes see where the field of photography is headed, and even guide it a little to where WE want it. We have the power to do this, once we have learned of our past. Using this as a guiding light you will see more classes coming from WWA. These classes will contribute to the learning of the history of the photographic arts. You will also see all of our instructors using more images from the history of photography as a teaching tool. So stay tuned.