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Free Art Decatur: indulging our worst/best impulses

Atlanta Art Blog abandoned all objectivity last Saturday and indulged our deep and unholy greed by participating at the Free Art Decatur event. Free art would be hidden around Decatur. We would find it. And keep it.

The event was supposed to begin at 2:00 p.m., but we were scanning Twitter (#freeartdecatur) for clues immediately after our cheapskate lunch in the industrial workshop known as the cafeteria at DeKalb Farmers Market.

Death head by @DeadATL

Death head by @DeadATL

As we turned onto Church Street, we scored: Right in front of Java Monkey, a death’s head by @DeadATL. Awesome. This was just the beginning. By the end of the day we would most assuredly possess enough art to fill the bleak and barren break room.

Then suddenly there were no clues, and we were on foot next to Decatur’s strolling families, its students, its yuppies. We searched everywhere for art. Is that free art there?

Unknown artist, door behind Eddie's Attic

Unknown artist, door behind Eddie’s Attic

Is that free art over there?

priority whale, by Ghost, behind The Artisan building

priority whale, by Ghost, behind The Artisan building

We took a break in front of the Seen Gallery. It calmed us, just sitting on the bench outside its locked door.

Cycloptopi, by @larryholland1

Cycloptopi, by @larryholland1

Completely clueless, we strolled. We began to notice twenty-somethings snapping photos of strange corners. Was that an artist? We snooped into the back alley next to the dance studio on Decatur Square. And there in the alley, adjacent to a large mural by S. Parker, we found our second piece, a Cycloptopi by @Larryholland1. The Cycloptopi is the great symbol of Art Greed, with its all-seeing eye and its arms for grabbing.

Collector extraordinaire, Britney, holding a recent acquisition

Collector extraordinaire, Britney, holding a recent acquisition, believed to be by @evereman

Alas, all sorts of mental distractions soon interrupted our hunt. But not before we met the great art hunter known as Britney. The hour of Two O’clock had barely had enough time to stand up and yawn, and Britney had already found about six different pieces, was talking a mile a minute, and couldn’t contain her excitement for more. Her friends, Paris and Nate the bearded one, cruised closer to our speed than Britney did.

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Funerary graffiti in Castleberry Hill

How does a concrete block wall double as a time machine?

Stencil on wall on Larkin Street

Stencil on wall on Larkin Street

This graffito at ankle-height in Castleberry Hill, on Larkin Street, may be easy to overlook. Since it’s across the street from the Carl Williams Funeral Home, your mind may turn to the fragility of modern life. But once you fall under that royal profile’s spell . . . Continue reading

Duncan Johnson’s Wood Paintings at Marcia Wood Gallery

Duncan Johnson’s works on display at the Marcia Wood Gallery put me in that certain mood when walking out into the woods, for no other reason than to be among plants and animals, and noticing that I hope to find some treasure there, some little lost cache of jewels, or a gold coin, or a letter from Walt Whitman. All of the things in the woods are jewels in themselves–if you know something about them. When it comes to gold coins, though, you don’t have to know anything. It’s gold and you’ve hit paydirt.

In that act of finding, there’s also the beauty of a story. “I was just walking along in the woods enjoying the trees and plants, and I saw this glint of light on the ground.”

Johnson’s works are composed of wood that he has reclaimed, not from the woods, but from landfills and construction sites. He forms the found wood into rectangular strips and assembles them into flat collages. He adds straight pencil lines and nails. If you look at photographs of the works, they look like patchworks of varying rectangles that either have painted surfaces or the natural wood surface.

Bend, by Duncan Johnson, 2012, 24 x 21

Bend, by Duncan Johnson, 2012, 24 x 21

At first they seem impenetrable, like a color field. The opportunity for play comes when you look at the work in person and see the variations in grain patterns, the paint in its varying styles and states of decay, the natural wood punctuated by knot holes and nail holes and perhaps gunshot holes. Portions of the works, with their colorful stripes, sometimes resemble flags.

The wood that provides the material for these pieces is of course three-dimensional, but Johnson has made these pieces flat like paintings. On the other hand, the pieces are three-dimensional in one important way: beneath the knot holes and nail holes the viewer sees the darkness of space rather than the material to which the wood strips are attached. As I wandered visually among the knot holes and bullet holes, the faded colors, the flecking, I imagined I could peer into those holes and see something behind or under the surfaces. What would I see? Surely it would be some of my fellow human beings, having some sort of drama, or making something.

Colorcode, by Duncan Johnson, 2012, 48 x 60

Colorcode, by Duncan Johnson, 2012, 48 x 60

This brought to mind Leo Steinberg’s theory that some of the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns reflected a desire to use the picture plane differently. Instead of using the picture plane to serve as a kind of window onto another world, it would serve as a work bench that can hold any conceivable object and explore any operational process. Steinberg called this the “flatbed picture plane.” The work bench analogy is critical. In referring to Rauschenberg’s “Bed” of 1955, in which the artist had applied paint to his own bed and then hung it on a wall, Steinberg says, “The horizontality of the bed relates to ‘making’ as the vertical of the Renaissance picture plane related to seeing.”

Johnson’s work plays out this theory. In the colored rectangles and rusted holes where bolts and nails once fastened together the pieces of a house or an office floor, it is possible to peer into the making of human wooden structures. This includes the ideas that guide those acts of making: Johnson’s superimposed geometrical lines and shiny nail heads suggest a reference to design drawings, the process of preparing to build, to occupy and to “civilize.”

Firetower, by Duncan Johnson, 2013, 18 x 16

Firetower, by Duncan Johnson, 2013, 18 x 16

What is also present that is not manmade is the wear and tear of time that is visible on these flat surfaces. What time does, what time works upon objects, is intensely present in the beautiful breaking down of old maroons and yellows, the tiny bloating of ambient moisture in natural wood, and the holes that form where the wood is weak.

I am glad I wandered into the woods and discovered Duncan Johnson’s work. It has the capacity to suggest both an exploration of the manmade and also an exploration of what is not.

Duncan Johnson’s work is at Marcia Wood Gallery through May 25, 2013.

“Southern Stories: Print Big!” at Atlanta Printmakers Studio

In a village with many new people moving in, some old and new friends gathered to make something memorable. (Why printmaking is fun: parties form to make it happen.)

Woodblock carved by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, displayed at Print Big! April 13, 2013

Woodblock carved by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, displayed at Print Big! April 13, 2013

A visitor from far away helped with carving a block of wood. His name is Sean Starwars. He taught young artists how he works. (Why printmaking is fun: Two words: Sean Starwars.)

Sean Starwars carving a woodblock at Print Big! on April 13, 2013

Sean Starwars carving a woodblock at Print Big! on April 13, 2013

Other people formed groups to carve large and detailed woodblocks. Then ink was rolled on to the blocks while last-minute details were tended. (Why printmaking is fun: The aroma of the ink.)

Preparing a woodblock with ink, at Print Big! April 13, 2013

Preparing a woodblock with ink, at Print Big! April 13, 2013

After a white cloth was lain atop the inked woodblock, a big green visitor from a construction site rolled over it. (Why printmaking is fun: It involves mashing.)

Large print almost ready for pressing at Print Big! sponsored by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, April 13, 2013

Large print almost ready for pressing at Print Big! sponsored by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, April 13, 2013

The new print was then hung to dry and to be admired. (Why printmaking is fun: It causes the sun to shine and cast shadows.)

Freshly pressed print by a crew from Savannah College of Art and Design, at Print Big! sponsored by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, April 13, 2013

Freshly pressed print by a crew from Savannah College of Art and Design, at Print Big! sponsored by Atlanta Printmakers Studio, April 13, 2013

Thank you, Gina Reynoso of the Atlanta Printmakers Studio for anwering my questions!

“Enlightenments”: Gigino Falconi Paintings at Besharat Gallery

Gigino Falconi is eighty years old this year, with a long life of art behind him. His work demonstrates a vision unique to him, and his powers of drawing from life and nature help him to paint that figurative vision with clarity. In his work from the last decade now on view at the Besharat Gallery, Mr. Falconi’s view of women is the main subject. At the age of eighty, he continues to pursue an obsession around the power of sexual attraction to women.

If there is a unifying scenario in these images, perhaps it is this: I’m in a beautiful place near a natural harbor. It’s a broad harbor protected by low mountains. All sorts of boats come here to dock. As I stroll toward the shore, I notice a woman relaxing near some fishing boat docks. Then I come near enough to see her fully. She is very close to a boat dock, hidden from the dock by some large boulders that line the shore. She lies naked on a bed with sumptuous sheets. Yes, there is a bed there, out in the open. It’s not something a fisherman would have put there. The woman seems to have brought it there. As I come close to her, she looks at me, but she is not startled or concerned to cover herself. No, she welcomes me.

Il Porto, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 55.12 x 70.87 in., scan from exhibit catalog

Il Porto, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 55.12 x 70.87 in., scan from exhibit catalog

It’s a simple and cliché fantasy. It says far more about the viewer in the scenario than it does about the woman being portrayed. The viewer loves the creases of naked female flesh and the folds of comfortable cloth; loves the availability of silent, vulnerable women; loves to think it’s great to have sex in the open air.

There are no dangers to the viewer’s erotic arousal in that fantasy, especially not coming from the woman being portrayed. However, Falconi the eighty-year-old does see danger in the particular fantasies that these paintings display. Frequently the clouds in the open-air rendezvous are black with imminent violence. Sometimes a bright and mysterious, arced light falls on the woman, as if a giant flashlight were being pointed by God. The Flashlight of Judgment, or the searchlight of predatory fishermen?

Sometimes it’s just the folds of those plush sheets that suggest danger. For the most part the folds of garments and sheets are finely and delicately painted, as if to suggest the presence of contemplation. In some cases, though, Falconi draws the folds as if they had a life of their own and could mold into being certain unwanted, unshapely objects beneath the concealing cover of the cloth.

Sogno Bianco, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 78.78 x 37.40 in., scan from exhibit catalog

Sogno Bianco, detail, Gigino Falconi, acrylic on canvas, 78.78 x 37.40 in., scan from exhibit catalog

A similar danger is found in paintings simply portraying the harbor. Those boulders on the shore suggest a threat to the calm, anchored fishing boats. Beneath the silky, smooth skin of the water, one senses that hard, jagged objects lurk and wait to slash the hulls of the boats. In one painting even the sky is violated by a flying sea monster bent on finding prey (perhaps a reference to a legendary monster at Lake Como).

Falconi’s color palette ranging from black to blue to tan and flesh emphasizes the gravity of the erotic question he confronts. His division of some of the paintings with grid lines or wooden dividers suggests an attempt to find more distance on his subject.

The exhibit is called “Enlightenments,” which suggests that there are different types of epiphany. May I suggest the alternate title, Flash-lights?

“Enlightenments” is on view through May 31, 2013, at Besharat Gallery.

Seen on TV: Former Atlantan’s Work on Set; Sells at Target

I look through the art for sale at Target when I’m there. Some of the pieces have signatures but when I try to research the artists I generally find nothing. One notable exception is the work of Rodney White. Last time I was at Target on Edgewood Avenue he had a piece for sale (there were two of them available) called “Today.” It’s packed in cardboard printed with the artist’s website address.

From his website and several other places around the internet I learned that he hails from Augusta, Georgia, and he lived in Atlanta for several years before moving to Brooklyn.

On his “Rodney White Art” Facebook page he posts clips of his work as it appears on television in set decorations. Some of the programs listed are “Californication” and “The Office.”

Target’s website gives the following plug for the “Today” piece: “Spruce up your room with modern art when you hang the painting ‘Today’ from American painter Rodney White. White’s work is inspired by vintage advertising and Americana. This optimistic piece would look great in just about any room, such as a rustic den, game room or kitchen. The versatile painting is already mounted, so all you have to do is find room on your walls.”

By the way, “Today” was priced at about $54.00 at Target but was marked down for clearance.

The Sketchbook Project at the Goat Farm

The art of the book may be fading in the digital age, but the Sketchbook Project now in brief residence at the Goat Farm proves that the book will always be around.

The feel of a book in one’s hands is different from the feel of a Kindle or Nook or iPad. Yet the book’s unique feel is not easy to define. I have heard several literary people with great nostalgia for the book reach a kind of verbal brick wall when they begin to describe why they want to hold a book in their hands. Maybe it’s because the book has been around for a long time, and we have taken it for granted.

While the book seems to be under threat from electronic readers, it would seem useful to understand and describe in words what the value of the book is. The simple, handmade books of the Sketchbook Project are of use in this effort.

The organizers of the Project provide the blank sketchbook, a small thing of simple paper, though the artist is really only restricted to the format size, not the material. All are invited to participate, so anyone with $25 becomes an author. Samples are available from around the world. When you look inside the finished sketchbooks, you see a bursting of energy that seems to be propelled by the very limitations of the small, paper format with its repeated pages, its center-fold, its front cover and back cover.

Excerpt from Creatures! Observations, by Shari Moore, The Sketchbook Project

Excerpt from Creatures! Observations, by Shari Moore, The Sketchbook Project

In Decatur artist Shari Moore’s “Creatures! Observations,” each page is filled with a carefully composed pen-and-ink drawing of one or more whimsical characters and humorous text. The bareness, the suggestiveness and the simplicity of the well controlled lines allow for beautiful interactions between the artist’s imagination and that of the reader. Imagination and ink on paper—it’s a kind of purity at play.

Cover of Farewell Cliffdene, Gareth Watkins, The Sketchbook Project

Cover of Farewell Cliffdene, Gareth Watkins, The Sketchbook Project

British artist Gareth Watkins’ “Farewell Cliffdene” provides a similar pleasure, with affectionate drawings of a beloved chalet on a cliff in Dover, along with photographs. Watkins’ work also contains examples of the purely tactile potential of the book, as it contains remnants of wallpaper and other bits of the chalet, whose demolition is mourned. In touching this one, you’re really touching part of Dover and part of Gareth Watkins himself.

Excerpt from Dream of Creatures, Mary Blaney, The Sketchbook Project

Excerpt from Dream of Creatures, Mary Blaney, The Sketchbook Project

Mary Blaney of Michigan takes the tactile potential of the book even further, filling “Dream of Creatures” with thick animal shapes, beads, and all manner of glued in, glittery cut-outs.

What about words? In the eight samples I viewed from the Project’s traveling library, I didn’t happen upon the wordy artist. Did the Goat Farm’s goats eat them? We’ll have to return in search of more words.

From what we did see today, it’s apparent that the book is so rich with potential and challenge, and also with cup-and-saucer simplicity, that it can’t help but survive and thrive.

The Sketchbook Project, presented by MASS Collective and Goat Farm Arts Center, is on display at the Goat Farm through March 17. See also http://www.sketchbookproject.com.