Highlighting the creative processes by exhibiting artists’ first drafts, thoughts, and inspirations, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) presented an exhibition of sketchbooks titled First Traces, curated by Britta Konau from October 31 – December 20, 2008. The term “sketchbook” remained loosely defined, as these initial expressions can take the form of maquettes, sketches, digital files, set-ups, etc., and may not even be visual at all. Work did not have to be in book format, and selected artists were invited to also exhibit completed artwork alongside their “sketches.”
“This exhibition presents a unique opportunity to learn about artists’ creative processes. It illuminates the journey many artists make from first observations and initial ideas to finished artworks. The focus is not on material process, but rather on mental process as it can be traced visually and verbally. When artists first explore ideas for future projects or quickly record a scene they encounter, some of the freshest, most uncensored work evolves. This exhibition of first conceptions represents 86 visual artists, craft artists, furniture and jewelry makers, and other creative people working in a wide range of media from traditional sketchbooks to digital drawings. The artists have generously agreed to allow visitors to glimpse these first traces of inspiration; in fact, many sketchbooks may be handled and perused by visitors.” (Britta Konau)
Artists included: Susan Amons, Josefina Auslender, Dyan Berk, Nina Bohlen, Rush Brown, Sam Cady, Cole Caswell, Peter Chamberlain, Kate Cheney Chappell, Megan Chase, Avy Claire, Kenny Cole, Maury Colton, Stoney Conley, Alan Crichton, Rebecca Daugherty, Cynthia Davis, Scott Davis, Lois Dodd, Charles DuBack, Evelyn Dunphy, Ingrid Ellison, David Estey, Joshua Ferry, Blair Folts, Nancy Freeman, Samuel Gelber, Shelia Geoffrion, Jessica George, Gregory Miguel Gomez, Susan Groce, Naushon Hale, Katherine Harman Harding, Connie Hayes, Jennifer Hodges, Frances Hodsdon, Gail Hollenbeck, Emily Hopkins, Matt Hutton, Phyllis Janto, Pamela Johnson, Marcy Kagan, Jeff Kellar, Mark Kelly, Sarah Knock, Anne Krinsky, Judith Krischik, Nick Lamia, Frederick Lynch, Alan Magee, William B. Martin, Phil McBride, Ed Nadeau, Tim Nihoff, Clyde Paton, Kit Pike, Victoria Pittman, Carlo Pittore, Amy Pollien, Jill Poyourow, Peter Precourt, Svetlana Prudovskaya, Abbie Read, Beverly Rhoads, Marguerite Robichaux, Bill Ronalds, Björn Runquist, Abby Sadauckas, Kris Sader, Lee Silverton, Owen F. Smith, Mara Sprafkin, Mike Stiler, Cheryle St Onge, Barbara Sullivan, Gwendolyn Tatro, Walter Tisdale,Lynn Travis, Jacques Vesery, Patricia Wheeler, Lucy White, Deborah Winship, Nancy Wissemann-Widrig, Henry Wolyniec, Victoria Woollen-Danner, and SharonYates.
There are no exceptions: without independence there can be no art.
The history of art tells us that all powerful artists broke with the past, and with their contemporaries, and created independently. Giotto broke with Cimabue and the Byzantine tradition and developed space. Michelangelo broke with classical norms, and created the anxiety forehead of a troubled David, in an otherwise ideal form. Caravaggio forsook the ideal of light, and worked his honest realism in the shadowy world of darks.
Cezanne said it: ‘If you admire me, do not imitate me’.
It is 1984 and I cannot pretend that I understand the contemporary art, in a world that is so diverse, so multifaceted, so large; one must make pronouncements with trepidation, and humility, and the knowledge that sloganeering is not adequate to art, nor are definitions that were useful previously. And then, who can really care about the opinions of a relatively undistinguished and youthful painter? Can my opinions really be pertinent, or provocative to the art minds of our day?
When I think of independence in art, I have several responses. Firstly, for me, independence is the pursuit of every artist. It is not a static concept, but a movement, like the verb of a painting. Independence is the process of becoming free of illusions, clichés, habits, routines, mundanities, formulas, gimmicks; of becoming free of history, the present and the future; of developing the courage and the conviction to advance in art areas that have been forsaken, overlooked, or neglected.
You may have heard a little song I composed a few years ago called” ‘There are only two seasons in Maine, Winter and the Fourth of July’, this sums up my view on independence (July 4th) in that everything that is NOT a celebration of freedom, of independence, is boring, snowbound, frigid, cold, unmovable, dead – like freezing grey skies of winter in Maine.
Secondly, for me, Painting is my art of independence. Although Painting is a long-standing and universal cultural tradition, it is still original and fresh – or can be. It is not the dead or outmoded art form that one hears about in our Post Modern Age, although a lot of painting today is dead or outmoded. For those who say that the tradition is antiquated, or used up, that the system of painting is irrelevant to our age, I can only respond with the example of my life, where I pursue painting not unaware of its limitations – it has always had limitations – but in hopes of my achieving a breakthrough, that will allow me to experience, exuberantly, my own independence, and afford me the opportunity of revitalizing, and enhancing this existence.
For me Painting is making love. It is not like making love, but it is making love.
Painting is emotional, instinctive, inspiring, and life enhancing. It is my raison d’etre, my backbone, and it provides me with the courage, and the will, to pursue forcefully. However slim the ‘hope’ of making eternal love to the universe.
Painting has strengthened my eyes, my mind, my coordination, my resolution for living and although I am already at an age when it would have been to my advantage to have achieved some forceful original vision, that I have not, has not overwhelmed me with discouragement.
Thirdly, painting is painting, and I am now independent in terms of pursuing painting for itself. There is no carrot outstretched in front of me. I am not seeking approval, fame, or fortune. I am pursuing powerful painting for its own sake.
My reward in painting is painting. I am, I can say, blessed, in that I have found what best motivates me. I am happily wedded to painting, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, and this UNION and this satisfaction provides me with the sustaining faith – of my eventual triumph, or, to carry the metaphor to its conclusion, that this UNION will produce, will give birth, will create.
Fourthly, I am able to sustain this tenuous hope, this belief in true creativity, because I am independent from reality and accountability. The belief in the realization of the impossible dream is difficult to relate, as any unrequited lover can tell you; but does any unrequited lover cease to love the loved one, even when spurned? Love is made of the finest stuff and is not based on preconceptions of reward, the convictions of success, or making this dead art of painting come alive, it is based on independence from experience, and on the transcending power of dream. It is the source of all art.
The external facts of encouragement are really non-existent. The world we live in is almost wholly commercial and run by philistine bourgeois interests, for profit. One sustains the writing of poetry, or pursues a disavowing lover because one hopes and believes against all odds, because the pursuit of this impossibility defies all sadness, and all the loneliness that is forever threatening to engulf all. The independent act of pursuing love must be the most beautiful, most sublime activity known to human kind. The joy of this pursuit, the very joy of life. Of course it is much easier to follow an action when guaranteed of success. How functional! How business-like! But this is not the situation in art.
Art is that game where there is no winning/losing, no profit no loss. Art is its own reward, it is a pursuit, and it is the sustenance of dream and the faith of achievement. Art is the independent religion; each artist the Independent Priest of Independence.The true believer is rewarded with the possibility of wholeness, health, happiness, and eternal life.
In an age when fashion and commercial interests have so overwhelmed the art world, the example of Michelangelo is still instructive.The great Michelangelo was not motivated by money or fame, but by the greatest motivating factor, in art, the quest to become free, and independent from loneliness and solitude. It is an ironic situation for one who labors long hours alone. When Michelangelo took his chisel and threw it at his marble sculpture of MOSES, he did so because Moses would not respond to him. Indeed, he had failed. Moses did not speak. And yet, didn’t God create the world because he was alone? If the art of poetry, sculpture, and painting cannot free one from solitude, the suggestion that it can and will, remain as the promise. And what one surely achieves from art and in the pursuit of art, is independence.
And so, in this spirit of independence, I salute my comrades-in-arms, and I look forward to the day in the future, when we will be united and in celebration on Mount Parnassus.
The entirety of Carlo’s estate is now being cared for by International Artists Manifest (IAM), a non-profit organization founded with the mission to ‘Remember the Artist.’ IAM takes on the collections of under-represented artists to ensure their work is cared for, preserved and made relevant for future generations. http://www.iammanifest.org. IAM encourages anyone who is interested in keeping current on happenings with the organization, or specifically with Carlo’s work to sign up for our mailing list.
Producing films on art and artists has been an ongoing dream fulfilled. Good for me. But what about for you? What about for the school kids of Maine? Or the elderly? So in the past two years I’ve devoted more of my studio time working on getting these films on Maine artists seen by a larger audience where they could actually have some impact.
Recently I was asked where our films could be seen and I said they’re often in film festivals, on Maine Public TV, in libraries and universities. And I said proudly, “We also have DVDs!” The response was devastating. “How quaint.” Arrgghhh! Then I spoke with my friend Marianne New, a red jeep-driving nonagenarian (95!) who loves Ashley Bryan’s books and art. But Marianne told me she couldn’t hear the DVD! So we’re now getting the films closed-captioned. Next we opened an On Demand Vimeo portal starting with:
Just yesterday I was inspired by an email from France asking if we had our film on Carlo Pittore streaming yet. So I spent a good part of the day posting that film: www.vimeo.com/ondemand/Carlo
J. Fred Woell will be next.
Perhaps the most important impact we could have will be on the next generation. With diminishing access to arts learning there is a need to enhance students’ capacity to think creatively and make connections — building blocks in a young person’s development. But our schools’ schedules are so tight they have no room for long form. So I spoke with the recently retired principal Don Buckingham of Sedgwick who thought short films were a great way to allow for “immediate hands on time in class to create art.” Would schools pay $1.99 to see these streaming films? Don replied: “I would turn handsprings down the hallway for the art teacher to tell me the cost would be $1.99.” So with Don’s encouragement, I’ve started raising money to edit each episode down to ten minutes. Any financial help will be so appreciated.
I also had an “Ah ha!” moment while attending the Camden International Film Festival’s Points North Documentary Forum. “Get a publicist!” the workshop leader said. Easier said than done. But through showing Imber’s Left Hand at 25 film festivals, I connected with a Boston Outreach and Audience Engagement Director who has made all the difference! Marga Varea has opened the door to hundreds of organizations who are now booking screenings. And I’ve been on several screening/speaking tours around the country with I Know a Man … Ashley Bryan and with our latest film J. Fred Woell: An American Vision.
But I haven’t stopped making films. Our Yvonne Jacquette project is back on the table as is our project on Rob Shetterly and his Americans Who Tell the Truth.
A big thanks to Maine’s artist community and the UMVA for all its support of the Maine Masters Project.