Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Place in the Sun

Our little rural Art School is flourishing in the new decade. My partnership with the Coleman Center is spawning a community institution that may very well last a long time, with sustained growth and evolution.

I feel like I built it practically with my bare hands, from the ground up, taking this abandoned, rather tattered wood shed, and transforming it into a place of creativity, art, and learning. Of course it required Coleman Center's corresponding vision to help me make it so. We just really clicked on this particular thing and we work well together.

Most days of the week, after school, I see High School students. They arrive from Sumter County High and Livingston High.

I try to give them the structured art instruction they absolutely will not get in school. I introduce the basic principles of art and design, placing things in an Art Historical context. Sometimes they hate me for all the technical stuff but I can only hope that one day they'll appreciate it. Regardless, I'd say, overall, we have a great time exploring different movements, eras, and forms from DADA to Hip-Hop, Classical and Tribal to Modern Contemporary.

We gathered scrap wood to create these Jean Arp-inspired assemblages. We struggled with color, experimenting with stains and acrylics, eventually settling on basic black.

But this education thing goes beyond the High Schoolers. More and more, we are attracting adults and parents (like my friend, Rock Anderson here) and teachers who want to either volunteer time or just take a class. People are usually ever-so-shocked that my..Ahem..fine, quality, world-class services are %100 free.

Last semester I experimented with running a Saturday program for the younger kids. It was mostly fun but it totally burned me out. Hard going after the week in schools and the after school and doing my own thing and running around, dodging wild boars and bullets down on Jake's farm, then trying to wake up early Saturday morning totally ON for some kids who deserve better than an exhausted grouch.

So to curb this decrepitude, we recently decided to take only the first Saturday of every month and open the doors to families and kids of all ages, offering more specialized, group-oriented projects. Officially known as 'FIRST SATURDAY', this new approach is going extremely well. It's family day at Coleman Center. Everybody on staff pitches in. We have garden tours, gallery talks, and food along with whatever big ambitious project I can put together to be completed in a couple of short hours. Now I spend my free Saturdays planning and prepping and sleeping in like a good man should.

This time, working in teams of two or three, we created the classic, face-in-the-hole, carnival attraction painting.

You trace a partner on the big paper. Everybody decides on a fantasy character or superhero. Then, collectively, the team draws and colors in the details. I encourage them to conjure the fantastic and to embrace the surreal.

Results are somewhat mixed but always good.


At some point it occurred to me that even our humble, rural students deserve their own personalized college tour geared to the budding artists and designers within. I thought that they should see the possibilities for extended study available to them on any decent campus. Even those who decide to pursue degrees other than the arts can still gain something from a solid arts education. The primary opportunity is scholarship money. Admissions committees also take good, rounded portfolios into consideration when reviewing potential freshman candidates. I wanted our students to talk to these people to get a better sense of what's up.

Nathan, Shana, and I were able to put a great trip together through our friends and professional acquaintances at University of Montevello and University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

We toured several departments and galleries and sat in on some classes. We were treated to a printmaking demo at Montevello and a bronze-casting demo at UA. Everybody was very cool and accommodating. Our students got an eye, ear, and mind full. I think they really appreciated the experience.

There's a giant dead or injured robot at UofA. We checked its pulse and piled on top for a group photo.

But by far the best attraction at UofA is Garland Hall. Heh.


Soul sister, Cassandra and her epic husband , Abdoul, came all the way from Brooklyn via Atlanta to pay me a visit.

I had to show them the best charms of Alabama so it goes without saying that we should swing through the jewel that is Mobile and pay our respects to the legendary, Tut Riddick.

I can't say enough about Tut. Her family has deep deep roots in the city of York. She is a prolific and consistent mad artist, always engaged with her work and always looking toward the next. This vivacious octogenarian has the energy of a spritely kid and won't hesitate to draw you into it. Along with her husband, Harry, Tut is one of the founding members of the Coleman Center. Long retired from involvement with it, she is nonetheless a fierce supporter of my work in the community and of my partnership with the Coleman Center.

Tut and Harry graciously put us up for a night. We stayed in the guest house next to the "Riddick Fun House".

I think Tut took a shining to Abdoul.

But she was more vocal about her love of Cassandra's foot-shaped rubber shoes with accented toes.

Cassandra and Abdul joined in several of my classes during the week. We were experimenting with Radial Designs - a process where the artist creates a motif on a quarter square then uses tracing paper to mirror the motif around the square. You never know exactly what you're gonna get until you get it.

Radial Design by Abdoul.

Radial Design by Cassandra

Great job, kids!