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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Art All State Over -- Recapping the event.

ART ALL STATE actually begins the October of the previous year, when AAS Manager Gillian Bonazoli accepts the artist applications and begins the screening process.  G as I like to call her, does an absolutely remarkable job throughout the whole process.  Her professionalism, charm, humor, wit and facilitation skills create a seamless drama free event.

Once you are accepted as one of the artist mentors you'll need to attend a meeting sometime in March at the Worcester Art Museum which takes up a good part of a Saturday.  At the meeting you'll meet your artist partner-- this year I had the pleasure of working with Boston based artist Heidi Kayser who is herself an installation artist-- she also has a tremendous sense of humor and an ability to interact and motivate the kids that helped make this year so smooth.

At the March meeting you pick your limited supplies.  The students are only given two supplies to create the installation with, in the earlier years there was no limit and the installations were out of control.  The idea of limited materials keeps things more in line and forces them to problem solve.

This year Heidi and I chose plastic shrink wrap and white cotton balls.  

You also choose a minimum of two pieces in the museum collection to act as a sort of inspiration to your group-- and we picked the Giant Buddah head from the Asian gallery and Rona Pondick's MOUSE in the modern gallery.

We chose those two pieces for a number of reasons;

1. They were created multiple centuries apart.
2. They both depict the human head.
3. One was created by a man and one by a woman.
4. One is done in wood, the other in metal.
5. One has an expression of calm the other suggests pain.

We thought these contrasts would make a good base.

ART ALL STATE 24 began Friday May 27th at 8:30am with one more artist meeting.  Then we head over to the church across the street for Museum Director Jim Welu's presentation on the artist as a young person so that the students in the audience can see what the old masters were doing at their age.

Jim's speech is always inspiring and fascinating, but my favorite part is when he shows the student work.  One piece of art from each student participating is shown on the screen, some first during his presentation and all of them in a great video put together by the legendary Mark Lynch at Radio Station WICN 90.5FM here in the Woo.

Over the images of the work Mark and a female collaborator read quotes from the students application packets.  This years work was extremely impressive.

After that has wrapped the assembled group heads back to the museum where they break out into their groups and assigned studios.

The Ice Breaker Begins

We introduce ourselves to our students and we begin our Ice Breaker project.  I find that the students coming in for this event expect to make art-- and to many of them that means drawing or painting.  As an artist myself I can appreciate this--  I draw everyday whether on assignment or not-- and get very antsy if I don't.  So our ice breaker involved taking an image-- in this case Veronica's DR GROOD piece and cutting it into 20 pieces:

The Final Image, which only Heidi and I saw.
Each student is given one piece and a large piece of 18x24 paper-- they then must recreate only their piece using paint and large brushes.  You can see in the final image that I added the AAS Studio 203 text-- this is both shameless studio pride and also because I need to divide the image into pieces that translate into 18x24 segments.  Since we have 18 students that means two extra pieces-- yes the artists could do those but we are busy during this process facilitating the exercise and also doing a sort of mini name game which is a lot of fun.   As important as it is for the artists to be part of the event, it's more important for the students to come together-- and we should not be leading as much as steering so I like having the extra parts for anyone who finishes early and then putting them in groups of 4-5 to help finish up.

Once the pieces are complete they then have to assemble the image on the wall-- keep in mind it's now ten feet tall and they don't have a clue what the image is.  This helps them to problem solve.  They came up with the idea to create the image on the floor first and then hang it.

The Group with the finished piece.
I think you can see from their expressions that the ice breaker accomplished it's goal.  

The Ice Breaker is such an important part of the process of getting them to come together that I don't mind if it goes over-- in this case it took us nearly an hour-- but it goes a long way towards building a team spirit that we need to make this installation work.

From there we moved into the galleries to look at our choices from the collection.  We asked them questions, had them ask questions and come up with the items they felt both pieces presented.

After lunch we brainstorm-- breaking into three groups of six students they play with the materials and try to imagine what the installation could become.  They spend about a half an hour and then present their ideas to the group as a whole.  I think if I am asked back next year I might consider breaking them into six groups of three and give them less time to brainstorm-- then mix them before they finish and present to us.  

The ideas were good, and I'm always impressed with the ambition offered.  The only guidance I gave them beforehand is that in the seven years I've done this almost every group does either;

1. A Tree
2. A hand
3. A fort or tunnel
4. A tornado
5. An angel

I think after this year I'm going to add Spider to that list, since that seems to be growing in popularity.
Now that's not to say they can't do any of these-- they can, but I want them to push themselves past those original thoughts and try digging deeper into the idea zone-- if they want to do one of these items that's perfectly fine, they just need to make whatever they want the best it can be.

This year some of the other groups did do trees, tornadoes and forts-- I can't say I saw much in the way of angels, but I thought this was a particularly strong year with some really exciting installations.

In offering them guidance, Heidi and I emphasized that it's not only what people will see when they enter the installation for the public viewing on Saturday, but what they will feel.   Do we want them closed in or do we want them to feel welcome?  

They worked out a pretty intense concept where there would be a giant head that features fabric hair on one side flowing off into an all fabric (wood) mural of a forest which represented dreams and wishes while the other side would have plastic (metal)  hair to represent nightmares and worry.

We liked the idea and the work was divided up among the group.  It was decided that the entrance would feature a spider-web cave that opened up to the vision of the giant head which would be light using the studio spotlights.  Right off the bat the web started coming together quickly, but we struggled with the overall concept of the mural and the construction of the head.

Mandy and Robbie working on the construction of the head

Heidi and I quickly drew a face with all it's planes and emphasized that it had to have form.  Keep in mind our materials are plastic, cotton balls and fabric-- not the easiest things to build a sub-frame with.

Susan Halls giant pig sculpture
We broke for dinner- our studio a complete and utter shambles.  I had to laugh looking at the faces of the people who would stop in to see our progress.  Some of the other studios were coming together very quickly but we were taking our time and assembling our parts.  One group creating the giant strands of fabric hair, one group on the forest mural, a few on the spider web and three working on the base of the giant head.

After dinner we headed back over to the church auditorium for the artists presentation.  Our work was shown and each of us took turns up at the podium discussing our processes, our experiences, our struggles and our goals as artists.

When it was finished we took Q&A from the audience which included some really good questions like;

Is it better to get a BA at a school with a good art program or a BFA at an art school?

The answers from the artists varied, some went to "regular" college and earned a BA, others went to art school.  Eric Donaldson made a great point when he said to check out the work of your prospective professors and the grad students before you make your decision-- these are the people you'll be learning from over the next few years.

My answer to my students was if your high school experience is you can't wait for art class-- then go to art school.  If instead you enjoy track or science or any of the other things a good high school offers then consider a 'regular' college.

Afterwards we went back to the studios to work for another hour, but the steam is essentially gone and it's really just a time to recap, review and make a plan for tomorrow.

The students headed out and Heidi and I took one last look around-- the studio honestly looked like a dump truck had flipped over on the interstate, but I wasn't concerned in the least.  The head and the forest were starting to take shape, the web was just about done so we'd be able to slide workers onto the other projects and things were coming together.

THE SECOND DAY goes by very quickly-- we arrive back at 8 and get to work by 830.  You really only have until lunchtime to get the major portions done and then the time after lunch is spent doing final touch ups and cleaning.

The Cotton Whirlpool which runs off the forest mural
Much of the after lunch time was spent exchanging names and contact info among the students and taking pictures.  This year was a particularly fun group.  I was very impressed with them as a whole and with two of them in particular (sorry I'm not telling).

Students putting the finishes on while I talk to Heidi and our Studio Observer
Our studio observers included a charming woman from the National Gallery who was brought here by invitation of education director Honee Hess-- she was amazed and what the students accomplished.  Our own personal observer took a few minutes to talk with us and said frankly that she hadn't seen how it was all going to come together and left the day before very uncertain of our success, but that she was incredibly impressed with the results.  She said she felt that Heidi and I were more hands off than some of the other studios but that goes with my theory that this should be the work of the students and that we as mentors should help guide them with THEIR choices, be there for support, jump in wherever it's needed, make suggestions as to how to work faster but I never want this to be one of those science projects that you see in schools and realize the parents did all the work.

I can say with complete certainty that Studio 203 was completely the work of the talented students.  We merely kept things moving and offered very subtle suggestion when it was needed.

From 230-330 we opened the studio to family and friends and I had a chance to chat with several parents-- I was happy to hear that the kids enjoyed themselves and even signed an autograph or two for students who had known my work.  

At 330 we had closing ceremonies and then returned to our studios to dismantle the installations.
Another great year, and next year is the 25th!  Art All State is a program that deserves to be international, it not only teaches artistic thought, but critical thinking, collaboration, builds team spirit and gets these talented students to approach art making in a whole new way.

Without art-- the world would be a very boring place.