Sketchbook: Jeff Woodbury at 117 and Counting… by Daniel Kany

Jeff Woodbury has a shelf in his studio stuffed tightly with 117 sketchbooks (at least, as I write this). I’ve published columns, catalogs and articles about more than 1000 Maine artists over the years, but I don’t know of another artist whose sketchbooks contain more visual ideas than Woodbury’s. His current sketchbook is always with him, and he doesn’t shelve it until every page is stuffed completely with images and ideas. No blank pages. Idea after idea. Image after image. Note after note. Nothing wasted. No leaf unturned.

For Woodbury, a sketch is “getting an idea down to physical form.” Drawing and painting have been part of his artistic practice for 45 years, but at its core, his work is launched by concepts — visual, strategic practice, hypothetical or otherwise. Phrases and notes are part of his process, but the critical kernel is visual thinking. There is a critical difference in contemporary art between “conceptualism” and “concept-driven work,” and this is apparent in every branch of Woodbury’s art.

Woodbury’s sketchbook work comprises an unwieldy blend of physically present ideas with a range of brain pings that reaches to the irrationally other-worldly. He might shift a bean pod to 2D swirl. He might note a red-headed airline attendant as a potential crisis-moment superhero. He might gush over the swollen magenta pinks of a Texas berry pressed into inky service. In a bored moment on board a work-related flight, he might transmutate a pencil into a jet engine… and let it take off on its own path.

From the surface to the deepest depths of Woodbury’s quick-sketched images, we feel the heady brew of his love for historical visual culture as it (generally) dominates and devours imagery of the past as a percolator engulfs coffee grounds. Yet just as often we see the almost meditative pulse of systems art in his sketchbooks: symmetrical drawings made with both of his hands at once, a page filled with lines pulled and limited by the space and time of the process-driven work.

Woodbury is almost bizarrely caught between his reverence for the visual art pioneers before him and the inclination towards individual creativity. He knows them. He learns their lessons. And yet his own path is fundamentally forced by his own integrity-driven inclinations to shift away from where they have trod… onto new ground which he seems to find everywhere, well-seeded and fertile. The easy-ready reading is to see Woodbury as an iconoclast. But considering his consistently productive practice, it’s clear that Woodbury is far more geared towards finding and producing visual ideas than anything else. His personal practice is often ironical and sometimes salty, but through it we see Woodbury as an artist floating up on a sea of ideas – that rare person who can continually churn concepts into robust visual reality.

Below are additional images and comments by the artist. All of the images within this article are culled from Woodbury’s sketchbooks. –Daniel Kany

“I almost always have my sketchbook with me. A friend gave me a leather cover more than 30 years ago, and it’s been with me ever since – my most cherished possession. I’ve filled more than 117 sketchbooks since then, all the same small size that fit inside the cover, which also provides pockets to hold random maps, brochures, stamps, and notes. I rarely remove pages, unless they are finished works, and when I do, I mark the removal, because that’s part of the history, too.

My mind is always churning with ideas, and I need to write them down or I’ll lose them. My sketchbooks are filled with drawings, notes, diagrams, lists, names, plans, dates, collaged pictures, kids’ drawings, and more. The first page is always for names, numbers, and important information, and the last page is reserved for testing pens. It’s been that way for years. It’s a good system for me.

I see my row of sketchbooks as my extrasomatic memory bank, and each book is part of what Zappa called his “conceptual continuity”: ideas come and go, and are not bound by time, but become part of the overall matrix, and an idea written 20 years ago might influence or become part of the current work. Sometimes I’ll look into an old sketchbook to discover a forgotten note, and that might trigger a new arm of work. Other times ideas are written down only to be fulfilled years later –  I drew the logo for “CRUD” in 1986, and it wasn’t until 2014 that circumstances came together to stamp that logo into bricks I made with local clay.

I don’t keep a journal or diary, but my sketchbooks serve as a record of my life. And that includes a record of unfinished works and unrealized ideas, and mistakes and poor choices and people lost to time and distance, and some pages are painful to see. But some pages shine with sketches or ideas that caught there first, and grew into decent works. My sketchbook is the garden where I plant those seeds.”

–Jeff Woodbury, SoPo

Notes from the UMVA Archives: What’s Lost, What’s Gained? by Pat and Tony Owen

Pat and I have been pouring over early (very early) UMVA newsletters. This ephemera goes back to 1975 and UMVA’s first issue. What struck us was, not how much has changed, but how much has stayed the same. The struggle goes on. Artists continue to look for recognition, believing their work is of personal and or social importance. Bureaucracies control not only the purse strings, but how the artists must represent themselves in order to be taken seriously. Nothing much has changed.

Pat and I moved from Maine to the west of Ireland 12 years ago. We made the decision to shake our lives up, to turn things upside down, to get out of the comfort zone. We knew Ireland to be a country rich in artistic legacy, a country that supports the arts and its artists. The move turned out to be challenging, but it was the challenge we ultimately sought, a new horizon, but the closer you to get to that line, the more familiar things become.

For the past 4 years now we have curated exhibitions for a May Day festival here in Dingle (Feile na Bealtaine). Last year’s show was titled ‘AGE+less’. It was in response to the concept of ageism. We chose artists using a wide spectrum of age, from 10 years to approximately 80 years. We hoped those viewing the exhibition would find the art more important than the age of those who created it. We are currently looking to this year’s festival and incorporating an issue affecting Ireland today: homelessness. It is hoped that we, as artists can add our voices to a growing public outcry. But can art fix the problem? Can art change things socially for the better, or will it all remain the same?

In January 1990, 28 years ago,the UMVA mounted an exhibition in Portland entitled ‘Artists for the Homeless’ organized by Natasha Mayers. We vividly remember the exhibition, not so much because of our participation (we had a piece on Congress Street) but because of the controversy that followed. A few landlords whose buildings housed some of the art, removed the work that they deemed inappropriate, vulgar or distasteful. Because the artists were not told in advance of this action, the ‘shit’ hit the proverbial fan! The outcry rang across the pages of the Casco Bay Weekly and the Portland Press Herald…Censorship! Natasha Mayers believed that the topic of homelessness was a ‘non-controversial’ issue, the public thought otherwise. It ended with four of the artists’ works being removed. Today in America the word censorship is masked in new terminology: ‘Fake News’.

At present here in Ireland, there are roughly 4000 people homeless. Lots of talk and protest from arts groups, but the problem still looms large. Will art change it? Can art be the great influencer?

Back in July of this year we attended the opening of an exhibition in Galway, ‘The Art of Protest’. It showed works by artists who were influenced by political and or societal problems in Ireland. The works were graphic and in-your-face acts of passive protest. On one wall was a large color photograph of an older woman of indeterminate age. She was depicted in an orange prison jumpsuit. She sat in a comfortable looking chair in a room filled with books. The juxtaposition of the prison jumpsuit and the dignified room she sat in was striking. A little later during drinks at the reception, there she was… the woman in the orange prison suit! We discovered that she protested the refueling of American war planes at Shannon Airport. She did this by gaining access to the runway and throwing a brick at a US military transport plane. This got her 3 months and a new orange prison jumpsuit, compliments of the Irish Government. This was her drama, this was her art of protest. The military still refuels at Shannon Airport on their way to the Middle East, and the woman in the picture holds dear her orange prison jumpsuit. It is her personal talisman.

Will art ever be able to change societies’ problems? Can art influence those who refuse to look or be influenced? As artists we work for the most part in isolation. Those of us that create socio/political works, do so in the hopes that change will come about in some small way because of what we make, because of what we put forward. We hope that the art will express more than the sum of our parts and not become that jumpsuit, a personal orange talisman. We hope that what we create as artists will nudge us all forward, just a little, to a horizon. If that comes about, we might just drag along a few disbelievers.

Post script; In March of 1990 the UMVA issued a special news letter. It dealt solely with censorship and the NEA. The National Endowment for the Arts was being attacked by forces on the right for granting monies to arts organizations that purportedly were organizing pornographic exhibitions. They demanded the NEA be shut down and or suppressed. At stake was freedom of expression in general, whether it be the visual arts, or printed material. The NEA was seen as a threat to the American way of life. Arts organizations across America fought back. We continue to do so.

Tony and Pat Owen Live and Create in Co. Kerry, Ireland. Still Mainers in Our Soul.

Introduction to the Summer 2018 Issue  

 
State of the Studio
What an artist does daily matters. The continuity of a steady studio practice is a place of invention and exploration, as—or more important than—putting on a show.
We asked the artists in this issue to tell us “What are you doing? What are you making?”  Are you staying on a course you have long ago established or have you recently started working in a new medium?  Are you suddenly working very large or getting small? Have figures emerged or has your work been consumed with geometry? Have you added color, or moved into monochromes? Does the outside world affect your studio life, or is your interior life reflected in your art? And was there a reason— or was it a whim— that brought you to your current direction?

Featured artist, Meghan Brady shares her experiences in studio residencies and scale. A studio visit with Ron Crusan explores his work, neighborhood and influences. John Bisbee talks about his new politically-charged art. Beth Wittenberg shares her thoughts on consumption, throw-away people, and being without a studio.  Pat Wheeler writes about how we can restore ourselves in troubled times. Sarah Stites reveals how drawing is her lifeline to her work. Sondra Bogdonoff writes about how her weaving is augmented and informed by painting and drawing. Tom Flanagan tells us that drawing connects him to the world and his sensibilities. Jim Chute shares his Conversations series and foreshadows our fall theme: Dialogue.
 
Member contributors include Sandy Olson who gets back into her studio and finds new inspiration. And Ruth Sylmor, Ken Kohl, Pamela Grumbach,Judith Allen-Efstathiou, Michelle Leier, Amy Pollien, Alanna Hernandez all share their art, thoughts and inspirations about the State of the Studio.

Janice Moore shares an account of her experience curating what became the  USM-LA Censorship story, and we include with it excerpts from letters written by John Ripton and Robert Shetterly with an essay on the topic by Dan Kany, and the National Coalition Against Censorship’s statement about the incident.

Regular contributor Edgar Beem writes about artists’ studios he has known. Dan Kany describes Henry Isaacs’ studio filled with brushes and small canvas “notes”.

Jane Bianco, Farnsworth Museum curator writes about the 19th century portraitist and landscape painter, James Hope.
Sarah Bouchard joins us as a guest contributor and interviews Michael Mansfield, the new executive director and chief curator of the Ogunquit Museum of  American Art about his personal artistic practice.

Dietlind Vander Schaaf contributes an essay from her place of inner contemplation and asks other artists what they are working on.

Our regular Poetry Feature introduced by Betsy Sholl presents  poems by Christian Barter and Dawn Potter.
Other regular features include: Insight/Incite about Krisanne Baker’s water activist residency in Malawi.

Richard Kane of Maine Masters talks about how he’d like to see those films used in the schools.  
 
ARRT! makes more banners, LumenARRT!  makes more projections, Portland and Lewiston UMVA chapters present reports.

The issue is full of many essays and artists to meet and explore, so find a porch, a hammock, or an armchair by a fire and curl up with the Maine Arts Journal on a fine, or foggy summer day!

From the editors,

Natasha Mayers, Dan Kany, Jessica Myer, Nora Tryon, Kathy Weinberg

 

ARRT! and LumenARRT! Updates

above: Banner created in March for use during the school walkout for gun control and the March 24th rallies in Brunswick and Augusta.

The Artists Rapid Response Team! is a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists. Members of ARRT! are UMVA members and activist artists who work to provide visuals for progressive groups throughout Maine, seeking to add a visual voice to help carry their messages far and wide. The following images are recently completed banners. Click on them to expand images.

The Banner below is for Earth Day in Bangor:  a “Transportation for All” bus which will be completed by children adding their faces in the windows during the event.

January ARRT! session

Anita gave us a lesson on how to use Tagtools on our IPads and we also made wonderful animated electronic graffiti for LumenARRT! projections for the MLK dinner in Portland.
Special thanks to Anita and Geoff for prepping and hanging about 9 banners for the MLK dinner, plus creating a GIANT animation/projection for the outdoor wall of the Holiday Inn, with LumenARRT!, plus creating electronic graffiti animation/projections inside, just before the dinner.
Thank you Renu, Nancy, Anita, Chris, Suzanna, Justin, Jane, Beth, Julia, Susie, Lee, Doreen, Natasha and Ed

February ARRT! session

Thank you ARRTists  Nancy,  Chris, Jane, Nora, Deb and Natasha

March ARRT! session

Thank you to ARRTists Nancy, Chris, Anita, Nora, Geoffrey, Suzanna, Beth, Susie, Jean, Natasha and Lee.  And thank you to three Americorps volunteers (Alicia, Darcy, and Audrey) from Bangor (Maine Partnership for Environmental Stewardship) and Anna, a student from the Friends’ School, who helped paint.

We hope you’ll join us in April for our next ARRT! session, April 8th.  Check out images and information at arrteam.org

LumenARRT!

LumenARRT! is a project of the Artists Rapid Response Team (ARRT!).  We work through the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA) to advocate for artists and further the work of progressive non-profits in the state of Maine.  Our video projections create a visual voice for these organizations and like electronic graffiti, bring awareness to issues of social, political and environmental justice.

Our most recent projection calls attention to the millions of marchers on 3/24/18 who want common sense gun controls — and the inability of our Maine State Legislature to act.

LumenARRT! Projection on Maine State Capital

LumenARRT! Projection on Maine State Capital

On January 15th in Portland, we joined with the NAACP in celebrating Martin Luther King Day.  We also had an interactive projection in the lobby for attendees to write or draw their thoughts on freedom and racial justice.

For more information go to LumenARRT! on the web.

 

 

 

ARRT! Update

The Artists Rapid Response Team! is a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists. Members of ARRT! are UMVA members and activist artists who work to provide visuals for progressive groups throughout Maine, seeking to add a visual voice to help carry their messages far and wide. The following images are recently completed banners. Click on them to expand images.

The slideshow below gives a glimpse of the July 4th 2017 parade in Whitefield Maine, titled “Liar Liar Pants on Fire!” Artist Natasha Mayers has organized a community Independence Day Parade in her hometown of Whitefield for decades. Many of the props, banners and constructions in this year’s parade were created by ARRT!

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LumenARRT! is a project of the Artists Rapid Response Team (ARRT!).  We work through the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA) to advocate for artists and further the work of progressive non-profits in the state of Maine.  Our video projections create a visual voice for these organizations and like electronic graffiti, bring awareness to issues of social, political and environmental justice.

LumenARRT! participated in the River Jam Fringe Fest in Biddeford Friday, September 15 with a projection of “Warming of the Gulf of Maine” video-mapped on the facade of the Marble Block on Main St. Festival goers of all ages also joined in the draw-your-own-comments/electronic graffiti using “Tagtools” and shadow puppets projected around the corner on a Franklin St wall.

Click on images below to see a short video of the project.

On July 14th, LumenARRT! created a projection extravaganza at MIFF (Maine International Film Festival) Opening Night Party.  Click on image above to see a video of the event. FIVE projectors were going and had an interactive component was available so viewers could Tweet and draw onto the party tent.   They were reacting to finding out the air quality in their zip code. Try it now! Visit the 10Green project at the University of Maine –> http://10green.org/ #WhatsYourBreathableNumber

Other LumenARRT! projects:

9/22 —Tag tools interactive projection on Mechanics Hall celebrated the Community Television Network and highlighted their annual fundraiser, UMVA Gallery renovations and transformation to becoming the “Portland Media Center” 516 Congress St.

10/6 — First Year anniversary of opening of the LGBTQ Equality Community Center:  LumenARRT! will be projecting interviews (with sound) on shapes in the Plaza, as well as some interactive components on Mechanics Hall, 511 Congress St, Portland.

Visit: lumenarrt.org for more.

ARRT! is thankful for the generous contributions from the Broadreach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation and the support of the UMVA and its members.