Oliver's Observatory

The Blog & Observations of Oliver H. Evans

Robert Coombs and ArtPrize

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One of the delights and achievements of ArtPrize is that it provides a diversity of venues for a diversity of artists. Fountain Street Church, for example, is a venue that reflects its values in what it chooses to exhibit. Growing out of the Baptist tradition, Fountain Street Church “strive[s] to be a vibrant church community that challenges individuals to craft their own spiritual journeys and to engage in creative and responsible action in the world.” That Robert Coombs is exhibiting at Fountain Street testifies to Fountain Street’s mission and to Robert’s stature as an artist. I have to start with the most obvious thing about Robert. A few years ago, he was an outstanding gymnast whose body responded to whatever he wished it to do, gliding—as the photo from those days shows—as though gravity did not exist. But that ended with an accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Robert has taken the occasion of his accident to embrace the fullness of who he is. As a creative artist, as a gay man, and as a man with a disability, he has articulated through photographs of himself and of other men the reality of that disability and a simultaneous assertion of himself and the other men as sexual individuals.

Not at all sentimental, Robert’s photographs cause some sadness in their uncompromising portrayal of the reality of these men’s bodies. Robert’s work compels us both to engage emotionally with them in embracing who they are and in celebrating their lives lived out as though gravity still does not exist.

Observing Robert’s work gives rise to many thoughts. The photo of him as a gymnast leads inevitably to thoughts of Icarus and to W. H. Auden’s poem, “Musee de Beaux Arts,” with its discussion of Breughel’s Icarus, and of how everything turns away from suffering. Robert's work does not allow us the luxury of "turning away."

For anyone struck by an overwhelming injury, many ways exist for the person himself or herself to “turn away, “ to deny, to strike out in anger, or simply to seek to ignore what has happened. Obviously something of tremendous importance has happened to Robert, and he sometimes makes me remember the Joy Hopewell, the central character in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Good Country People.” Having lost her leg and confronting a life with an artificial leg, Joy Hopewell changes her name to Hulga and decides she “believes in nothing.”  I resist the temptation to summarize what goes on in this wonderful story; it is a one of those works that is an absolute delight, which may seem a strange way to describe Hulga's encounter with a man who tells her that he has been believing in nothing since he was ten years old.

Robert is not a man who has given up being joyful; nor does he avoid making us confront what may be uncomfortable. He clearly believes in something, starting with his ability to construct and communicate complex and moving visions through photography. He has connected that ability with his own valuing of himself. Prior to his injury, he expressed that valuing through photographs of himself that in their expression of the freedom of movement through the air and the triumph over gravity. The work he exhibits in ArtPrize reflect a different kind of triumph on his part and on the part of the courageous men he presents.

I know that if all goes as planned, Robert will graduate from Kendall College of Art and Design in May 2013. Assuming commencement happens where it has happened for many many years, that commencement will take place in Fountain Street Church. On the day he graduates, Robert will be appropriately at home in Fountain Street Church, just as his work is appropriately at home in a venue that “challenges individuals to craft their own spiritual journeys and to engage in creative and responsible action in the world.” That is a wonderful description of what Robert has achieved and of what he presents for all to see during ArtPrize.

 

An Invitation to Keep in Touch

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I have now been retired for almost three weeks; and while I am still in the process of discovering what that will mean, I am committed to continuing my blog. From here on, the blog is mine and has no relationship—official or unofficial—with Kendall. I will blog about whatever interests me. In the coming weeks, those interests will include a good friend—Ozzie Zehner—whose book on sustainability is creating a most-excellent stir.

I also plan to blog about another friend—Sue Caulfield—whose art fascinates and intrigues me.

And my great interest since childhood—music—will also appear here, especially since Kalamazoo—where I have lived for thirty years—hosts two major musical events: The Gilmore Keyboard Festival and The Stulberg International String Competition.

And just to keep in touch with higher education, I am searching for a MOOC. If you know of one you think is interesting, let me know. Perhaps we can take it together.

Finally, I do plan to continue to blog about Kendall alumni, and so I hope that people will keep in touch.  Let me know what you are up to; and I will try to work it into this ongoing series of observations. You can keep in touch through my TwitterFacebook,  or via email oliver@oliverhevans.com.

I do want to say a word of appreciation to a person who has worked with me on many projects, most recently being the videos related to ArtPrize: George Bradshaw. I met George and his wife Carey in NYC when they were considering moving to Grand Rapids; and I hoped from that first meeting that George and I would be able to end up collaborating as colleagues on one project or another.

To me, George is a creative visionary who has benefited me with his nearly two decades of creative experience, both as a creative director and as a filmmaker. George’s extensive experience includes time with Disney and GEM Group (global experiential marketing), where he directed marketing communications for four Olympic campaigns on NBC Universal, culminating in the 2008 Beijing Games as the most-watched U.S. TV event of all time with 211 million viewers.

George is one of those people who—if I did not know him—would intimidate me with the extraordinary range of his experience. What I have found him to be is a person who brings that experience to bear on projects and who allows someone to collaborate with him, to work together to achieve some common goal. And one that both he and I enjoyed working on very much was the series of ArtPrize videos. And one thing he has certainly worked with me to understand is social media, as witness his profile on LinkedIn, his Portfolio, and your can follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and check him out on Vimeo. And check out his film company, as well as the short film posted on the Public Museum's Facebook page. I encourage people to “Like/Share” them all and then to stay connected with George as a friend/fan. Candidly, I am a friend and a fan of George.

So, I end this “invitation” with words from the Persian poet, Rumi—“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field: I’ll meet you there.

Portrait of Robert Coombs

Robert (Bob) Coombs   

Robert (Bob) Coombs

 

I first heard about Bob Coombs three years ago, when faculty began to talk about a photography student who was doing very, very well. What I came to discover as I got a chance to see some of his early work, and the work he was doing at that time, was indeed somebody with a great deal of potential. And certainly, I could also get a sense of Bob as somebody who was also a very wonderful athlete. Many of the photos he was taking at the time celebrated his ability as a gymnast. Then, of course, came the point of Bob's accident; leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. And you began to think at that time, if you were going to hear about Bob again, you might just hear about a person that occasionally people talked about. It seemed such a challenge that here would be someone who could exceed all expectations as a result of such an injury.

In fact Bob has returned to Kendall, and has established himself as a remarkable presence in the college. And it's a great pleasure to share this profile of Bob Coombs, an outstanding man.


 

Friend, Graduate, and One of Two Featured in Local Show

Crop of Illustration by Greg Oberle   

Crop of Illustration by Greg Oberle

 

I would like to announce a show at Byrneboehm Gallery that features recent Kendall graduate and friend of mine, Greg Oberle, along with current Kendall student, Taylor Mazer. The show, titled Colluvium, opens (softly) tonight, with an artists' reception taking place this Friday at 6 p.m. I am familiar with Byrneboehm Gallery, and understand that many talented Kendall students and graduates have had the opportunity to show works there from time to time. However, I was curious as to how Greg collaborated with Mazer to co-curate this particular show, which features ink drawings, illustrations, and paintings. Greg said of their joint effort, "I think we were dealing with a similar psychology in what we're trying to demonstrate."

Greg explains his work as being derived from previous thoughts or memories, which may have become unclear over the years. He says of his work, "I've been thinking about the architecture of thoughts."

After receiving his degree in Illustration last summer, Greg has illustrated and designed for several clients in and around Grand Rapids. He has even submitted illustrations for the Observatory (i.e. my Observing Artprize self-portrait). I hope to include more of his work in future posts.

Illustration by Greg Oberle   

Illustration by Greg Oberle

 

Greg has expressed how working artists make a living by using their creativity, but can sometimes be stifled by the demands of the work, client, need, problem, etc. Fortunately, he has found a sense of creative freedom in the works he will be showing at Byrneboehm. He said of this freedom, "I had no limits in the terms of what I could create."

I am happy that Keven Boehm, of Byrneboehm, has invited these two artists to show their works at the gallery, starting today and showing through February 29th, with an artists' reception at the end of this week. Greg will be showing a total of nine canvases. Taylor, 12. I look forward to visiting Byrneboehm in the next month to see what these two gentleman have created for this particular show.

A Place for Printmaking

A view of Dinderbeck Studios' 2,000 sq ft studio space.   

A view of Dinderbeck Studios' 2,000 sq ft studio space.

 

When I came to Kendall, I had an affection for printmaking and was impressed with the facility that existed then. Unfortunately, the numbers of students who registered for printmaking were not large; and although I hate to admit it, I do watch enrollment numbers and was beginning to wonder about printmaking’s future. And given the size and weight of the presses in the third floor print lab, I was not anxious to have to try and have them moved out. My understanding is that to move them in the College had to have a crane lift them to the third floor. If you know the building, you know they could not have come up the stairs or up the elevator. As I recall, a number of years ago, Kendall conducted a search for a number of faculty to teach drawing. One of those selected, Mariel Versluis, brought great strength in drawing to the College. But then she sort of “volunteered” to teach printmaking courses as well. Of course, I was delighted; and she began teaching printmaking.

Enrollments in printmaking grew. I am at a loss to explain why a person of Mariel’s ability and achievement as a printmaker, coupled with her commitment to printmaking should result in a growth in printmaking enrollments. But then I do not try to explain mysteries—I just accept them.  The long and short of it is that printmaking has become remarkably viable and some current and former students have done extraordinary things.

One that quickly comes to mind is a collective known as Dinderbeck Studios. I'd first like to point out that the partners at Dinderbeck, which I believe the list has increased to eight partners, are all affiliated with Kendall - either as graduates or current students. Most of whom studied printmaking while at Kendall, taking courses taught by Mariel.

Alison Horn, of Dinderbeck Studios.   

Alison Horn, of Dinderbeck Studios.

 

Initially conceived as a printmaking collective and studio, the group has received small grants and donations allowing them to fund a larger space, which they have begun to renovate for shows, workshops, and gatherings.

The group has displayed a great work ethic, along with an ability to manage projects, tasks, and duties while each maintains a 9 - 5 day job. Each member is quite driven in his or her craft, planning to contribute to the group as much as possible. Co-founder, Brandon Alman, says of the group’s process, "I wouldn't say it's delegated. When things need to get done, we pull together and get it done." I think they possess a certain chemistry that proves them a true collective. Whether they're hosting a show for local artists, or tuning up a print press from the 1950's, they have been keeping busy.

A collection of type: Finding type for antique printing presses can be an arduous task.   

A collection of type: Finding type for antique printing presses can be an arduous task.

 

Community is an important part of Dinderbeck Studios. I favor their gumption to reach out to other groups and clubs seeking funding, and offering their space and talent. Alman says of this, "A lot of kids graduate from any school in printmaking and they just can't do it. It's hard to access the equipment." He also mentioned that a more distant goal is to allow the community to benefit from the use of their studio space and actual printing equipment. In the meantime, they will continue to host shows, curating their space for others to enjoy.

Last Saturday, on the 1st of the month, Dinderbeck Studios hosted a collective show titled “Fortified,” featuring forts from more than thirty artists. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. However, based on this Flickr set I found, it seems the show was a splendid one. I would like to continue a series on printmaking by following the work of Mariel, the printmaking department at Kendall, and the Dinderbeck group.

KCAD Faculty and Two Chicago Galleries

Gianfredi - Alison   

Gianfredi - Alison

 

This past week, I was in Chicago for a meeting and had the opportunity to see the work of two of Kendall’s faculty, each in a different Chicago gallery. David Gianfredi, an assistant professor of Illustration, is being shown in the Museum Works Gallery in the Merchandise Mart. Margaret Vega, a professor of painting and chair of the painting program, is being shown at the Lydon Contemporary Gallery, 230 W. Superior Street.

The history of the Merchandise Mart is, itself, an interesting story; and getting to the Museum Works Gallery on the Mart’s eighteenth floor--the Design Center--takes a person past high-end showrooms for Henredon, Barbara Barry, Holly Hunt, (see http://www.josephjeup.com), Morgan Richards, and Maitland Smith. The Mart is home to a great many contract furniture showrooms that are extremely busy during NeoCon in June (Kendall holds a class in Chicago during NeoCon).  Thus the Museum Works Gallery is in the heart of a commercial center.

Vega - Beyond the Landscape   

Vega - Beyond the Landscape

 

The Lydon Contemporary Gallery at 230 West Superior Street is nine blocks north of the Mart, which is at 222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza. Douglas Lydon, the visionary behind Lydon Contemporary, started out to pursue a career in painting, but switched to printmaking. He graduated from Washington University with a degree in that area and, through a series of events, he took a job in sales—at which he has considerable ability. Building on his success in sales, he decided to move to Chicago in 1989 and begin his gallery. He is a realist, who speaks of the challenge for artists at any time, but especially in the current time. And the impact of the economy can take a variety of forms, including influencing the size of a painting people can or will pay for and thus the size of a canvas on which an artist can work. He realized that his love for art and his ability to sell, organize and operate a gallery represented a happy combination of commitment to art and the possibility of operating a successful gallery. Douglas Lydon has been doing just that—for more than a quarter century and always in the Superior/Franklin area of Chicago.

David Gianfredi is a Kendall alum, who went on to complete his MFA at Brigham Young University; Margaret Vega holds a BFA in Painting and Drawing, with a minor in Art History, from Michigan State University. She did her graduate work at Western Michigan University.

Davis says of his work: “As a result of studying the artist Norman Rockwell, I came to the realization that he painted his notion of the perfect vision of America’s golden age, yet it was never actual place. His paintings were an image of everywhere and nowhere. In concept my work resonates similarly, the images I use are from everywhere and nowhere, but certainly American.”

Merchandise Mart   

Merchandise Mart

 

Margaret says of her work: “In my work, the landscape, often juxtaposed with the figure, documents time and place. I am fascinated with man's need to re-organize a nature which has its own order.”

To work as a professional artist—i.e., an artist who seeks to express her or his vision, together with the ambition that someone will ultimately buy the work—requires commitment and courage. And it takes a similar commitment and courage to operate a gallery, especially in these times.

I know that over time I will be sharing my admiration for other artists; and David, Margaret, and Douglas present qualities I admire—a commitment to the integrity of their vision, coupled with an awareness of the realities of the market, and an ability to create work that expresses their vision and at the same time may find a home in the world.