A Chaotic Placement of Art: A critical review of “This is beyond insane. This is babel.” By ALAS

December 15, 2016

The best way to experience an exhibition is to enter with only knowing the title. Knowing just the title, leaves much more room for excitement and anticipation. Therefore, I find an exhibition’s name the most crucial aspect because it is the first encounter visitors have with the artworks. Upon entering, This is beyond insane. This is babel, and taking note of the first details and artworks, questions – similar to, “Who is ALAS? What is their artistic motive?” – begin to have answers.

The information given on the exhibition label briefly informs visitors of the San Antonio based collaborative, ALAS‘s, history. These two artists create their works by experimenting with rural objects and combining unrelated ideas relevant to their (rural) lifestyles. The Texas State gallery worked in their favor in this regard, because the large space welcomed exploration by giving visitors ample room to move around. ALAS‘s exhibition required a decently large amount of space due to the range and large amount of works.

While beginning with Gallery I, my curiosity heightened upon seeing markers (Sharpies) scattered on the floor, along with drawings apparently created by visitors because their content did not match that of the gallery works. It was apparent that the artists had provided the markers because of the amount and placement of them on the floor. This was the artist’s way of inviting the viewers to use the markers and draw or write freely on the provided parchment paper scattered on the floor. This gesture was appealing because the suggestion engaged the audience as opposed to leaving viewers to silently stroll through. The gallery walls themselves were covered with the artists collaborative name, ALAS, written in paint using an ominous font. The font appeared to contrast the rural essence of the works, therefore creating confusion amongst my first impressions of this exhibit. Confusion began to surface because the exhibition had a rustic, disheveled feel to it which did not match the font used on the walls. The displayed art itself ranges in medium and style from postcards, lists of objects and places, to a pair of dirty cowboy boots.

Upon entering Gallery II, I began to realize that ALAS’s works appear to be personal and intertwined with certain references that are significant to their partnership or friendship. This was my hypothesis in response to the obscure and seemingly particular subject matter, for example the specifically chosen pair of cowboy boots sitting alone on the gallery floor. The spot in which they were placed felt random because nothing was around them except the debris that had fallen off of them. From just examining these boots, it was certain that there was a story behind them or something being represented. Many artists use their works as symbols to portray something they have experienced or deem important. A sense of symbolism was received from this pair of boots, but it lacked a definite as to what the symbol meant because the object was not intriguing. And at the same time it felt very empty because of the banality and lack of effort in presentation of the boots. The two San Antonio based artists brought with them their rural backgrounds and characteristics, but unfortunately did not include much depth or imagination in their works. Many people who appreciate art, appreciate the combination of uniqueness and personality.

The exhibition, aside from the opportunity to draw with markers, was not inviting or interesting because the works lacked allure. In other words, the works presented an “inside joke” kind of aesthetic, which left viewers confused and uninterested. One work in particular that portrayed this feature was the random assortment of postcards laid out on a small wooden table. Each postcard had different text on it and were in no way related to the next. This work was creative, but there could have been more done to draw in the viewer and get them questioning the deeper meaning of these postcards – instead I just moved on. Another reason for the disconnection felt between the viewer and work, was the subject matter. I personally did not relate to their rural, obscure backgrounds and because of this did not understand their works. It can be difficult to appreciate a work of art when one doesn’t connect to the work, or relate to it in any way. While it is true that not every work will interest every person, I believe when an artwork is high quality art it can be appreciated by the majority of it’s viewers.

In addition, the art was arranged in a somewhat awkward or disorderly fashion, which was unpleasant because it disturbed the flow of the space due to the lack of direction. The works were placed in random locations on the walls and on the floor itself, which left large empty spots within the gallery. It gave off an unplanned, thrown together kind of aesthetic. Granted, they may have chosen the placement of each work specifically for a certain purpose, but it then leaves me feeling as if the disorder could have been more interesting or effortful. Personally, I believe the disorderly arrangement of the works reflected the lack of skill of the artists. If they are going for a chaotic aesthetic, then they could have put more time and effort into making the arrangement aspect of their exhibition more interesting. It seems as if the artists believed they were going “against the norm”, but did not follow through with the shock value.

Despite the exhibition being unenjoyable due to disorganization and lack of personableness, it remains one I will remember when visiting other exhibitions. This exhibition was unlike any I had seen before and it will be an experience to reference to when encountering new artworks and artists. The subject matter and artworks themselves were obscure and certainly possessed some sort of symbolism for the artists, however the presentation in its entirety was lackluster. Both artists may be worth checking up on in the future, and curiosity does remain, although, as to what their future exhibitions will contain and the subject matter they will choose to explore.

Rachael Pantuso

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A Moment with artist Samantha Saenz

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Interviewer: Rachael Pantuso

Interviewee: Artist Samantha Saenz

November 29, 2016

Samantha Saenz is an ambitious, unique artist who is getting her degree in Drawing. Her works derive from her adoration for cartoons and her enjoyment of comedic ideas. Her senior thesis works are on display in the Texas State Gallery, and they stand out for their comical subject matter and intriguing cartoon horse characters. What a pleasure it was meeting and getting to know her. 

Where are you from?

I’m from the Valley in south Texas, really far from here. (She giggles)

Do you like this area (San Marcos)? Do you think this area is beneficial in helping you create your work?

San Marcos? Yeah, there’s… not a lot of art going on in the Valley. They offer a Printmaking class at the University there. But yeah, I feel like because it’s a ‘college town’ there’s a lot of creativity and people experimenting and stuff. And it makes you feel comfortable to experiment yourself.

                 Do you visit Austin often?

                No, not really. I kind of just stay around San Marcos.

Did you always know you wanted to be an artist? If so, was there a specific moment or inspiration that occurred?

No, I didn’t think being an artist was practical. So I actually studied Interior Design for three years, almost four, I almost finished! (She laughs) And then I switched my major to Drawing because I was miserable, I didn’t like it! It was drawing but it wasn’t creative. It was structured, and I didn’t like that. I got to draw, at least, but it wasn’t enjoyable… So I switched because I thought as soon as I graduate I’m not going to want to do this. I’ve always liked drawing but it was just a hobby, I didn’t think I could ever do anything with it.

                 Was there an overlap (in courses), though?

                 Yeah, some classes even transferred over. But a lot of it was architectural drawing                  – you know with blue prints and structure. And I would clash with my professors a                  lot because they would tell me my work wasn’t realistic. Like one of my first                              projects was to make a living space and I made mine like a ‘hobbit home’, and                          they would say, you know, this is cool but who would want to live here? And I said                  ‘I would!’ (she laughs)… It became more about codes and the other person than                      about me.

Are there any specific artists that you have been following or are interested in?

Yeah, I’ve been really into Jean Michel Basquiat a lot recently because he has this quote, “Believe it or not, I can actually draw”! Because his works have this appearance or aesthetic of anyone can make them.

                  Does he have a style you try to incorporate into your own? Or do you just admire                                  his work?

                  Well I think I just admire his approach to it. Stylistically, there aren’t many                               contemporary artists that I look at. I actually like watching a lot of cartoons — I                       watch a lot of Beavis and Butthead, and I did when I was younger. And now I                             like a lot more stuff like South Park – stuff with a lot of character development.                       Characters that you can think about what they would do in a certain situation,                         and know what they would say. That’s what I’m really interested in.

Do you have any personal criteria that you follow to know when your work is complete?

No not really, I kind of just keep adding to it. For instance, with printmaking the plate is more malleable so I can edition it where I can make a set of prints and then decide later to go back and change it. You can start over or you can keep adding to it. There’s a bunch of processes you can use and I use three. That’s when it comes together. So I guess it’s just implementing all the different steps and processes.

Is there any music, literature or films that have inspired you lately with your work?

I mean not really any music or films. I like comics, I’ll read strips and stuff here and there. I don’t know if that counts as literature. (She laughs) I think it does! But my work is usually self-portraits, like the horse eating a corn dog is from an inside joke between my and my close friend.

Referring to your thesis works, do you feel you had enough time to complete them and the proper materials to create your ‘vision’ for these works?

Yeah definitely, I started these pieces in the summer and really worked on them in my printmaking classes — which I was lucky enough to be able to take alongside my thesis courses. So I had double the help from professors, and the printmaking professor always had plenty of materials for us so we could have everything we needed in class and not have to leave or not be able to work in class.

I know you said earlier that you enjoy drawing, have you always enjoyed that medium the most?

Yeah, when I was younger I would draw the Hey Arnold! Cartoons a lot and that’s why I think my parents weren’t really surprised when I switched majors. But I also really enjoy printmaking and the ability to combine them and create something.

Do you have a creative process? If so, what is it?

Yeah, well I doodle a lot, especially during my classes I will doodle all over my notes. So a lot of these pieces began as that. I was in a history class and I was thinking ‘I need to think of a new character’, so I asked my friend what animal I should draw and she suggested a horse. So I started drawing these little cartoon horses doing different little things like holding balloons or drinking a martini and then I showed them to my class and they all liked them. So it’s usually accidental, I don’t think I can really sit down and say ‘I’m going to create!’ (She laughs)

What would your ideal studio look like? Or ideal work station?

Well I guess just like a printmaking studio you know, or something that’s open with windows. The printmaking studio is kind of dark and you can’t really take the prints anywhere outside the studio until they are done, so something with lots of light that’s not so claustrophobic would be nice. I like feeling like I have a lot of space and light around me so I can feel relaxed.

How do you think you’ve grown as an artist? Maybe comparing your thesis works to your old works?

I definitely feel more confident in my work, before I would second guess my ideas and drawings. I would see them as just doodles and I think printmaking helped me put that value on my drawings. And my professors from my drawing classes didn’t really appreciate my drawings because they are simple, but now I’ll take what they say and consider it but I will be doing it for me. And the printmaking professors were really good about helping you do what you want to do and help you improve from there.

Do you have a specific audience that your work is directed to?

Um, well no because I think that anyone should be able to look at it (referring to her thesis works) and get something from it. Whether it’s what I’m trying to say with it or not. They will still feel a certain way about it, which is what is important.

What is your favorite part of the process of creating a work? 

I think for me it’s the final result, and being satisfied with something. Then thinking back to the beginning and how I didn’t know what was going to come out of it. It’s really cool to look at a finished work and think about the process and work it took to get here.

                          What’s your favorite part about being an artist?

                         I think the freedom of it, the freedom to be expressive. Like a pass to do                                      something crazy and someone ask you ‘what is that? You’re crazy!’ and then                            being able to tell them you’re an artist and they say ‘oh okay that makes                                    sense.’ (She laughs)

What do you feel makes your art unique?

I guess because its unique to me, and I’ve gotten a lot that the horses look like me and match my sense of humor. And I think because I’m honest to my sense of humor and not trying to cater to other people’s humor, it makes me feel good to be myself and feel like I really put myself out there for people.

What do you hope to get across with your viewers? Is there a message or idea behind your works?

I think, highlighting the unique qualities about yourself and not shying away from them. And acknowledging that the rougher parts of you make you unique.

I really enjoyed talking with Samantha, she was so kind and it was easy to tell how compassionate she is about being an artist. She has a bright future ahead of her because of her unique style and ambition. I hope to see her works gain more acknowledgement and to see her progress over time.

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Christina Rees: A Few Words of Advice from a Native Texan

Our class was given the wonderful opportunity of an inside look at the realities of the art criticism world by art critic, Christina Rees. Her presentation consisted of her personal life as well as her positive and negative experiences as a critic.

One of her main pieces of advice for us was that this profession and it’s community is not one  our country deems significant or financially supreme. But, it is exponentially rewarding and personally fulfilling — not to mention, you get to actually enjoy going to work. Rees explained in much detail that because the art criticism world is so small, it is not easy to establish yourself. Her transparency about the difficulty of creating a name for yourself and finding connections, was comforting to me because I appreciate knowing what exactly to expect.

I am glad we were instructed to read some of her pieces from Glasstire before coming to class, because it helped to have an idea of what her writing style was like. I came to the conclusion that she is as a critic because she does not fear giving negative criticism. She even made note of the lack of negative criticism the Texas art scene, and how it’s something that needs to be addressed and changed. I would say she may have been hinting at us/our generation of art writers and appreciators to stimulate that change. Personally, I enjoy writing negative criticism because I feel that I am able to write in a way that isn’t directed at what the artist did wrong, but more about what was missing and what could have made their work(s) better. And Rees made me feel a lot more comfortable about knowing there is a need for negative criticism and that it’s important.

I was very pleased to hear Christina Rees speak and give her advice to us future art critics. I feel more prepared and aware of what is ahead of me.

Rachael Pantuso

The Voice of Art: An Artist Statement Workshop Experience

Upon entering our Tuesday evening class, I observed the students sitting in two groups — in correspondence to the class they were in — and immediately a thought crossed my mind, “I wish I could be at both tables.” The reason for this thought comes from the fact that I myself am also an artist. With this in mind, curiosity and excitement filled me up and I was anxious to see how the workshop would play out.

Erina and Sterling structured the class so well, in my opinion, because their explanation(s) of what an artist statement should entail were thorough and simple to understand. It should reflect, attract and expand on your work while being concise and straightforward. Yes, saying it that way makes it sound simple to do, however many artists struggle with using words to explain themselves because art is their medium of choice. Coming into the class I was not entirely sure how I would be able to critique someone’s statement about their work(s). Mostly in part because I did not feel my opinions would be helpful considering the difficulty that lies in writing about your art. I understood this because I was able to put myself in the artist’s shoes, and think about trying to explain my own art. Although, once we began the first round of critiquing I felt more comfortable because it felt nice to be able to help someone improve on their statement.

I met with some incredibly interesting and passionate artists during this class, and it was very refreshing to give constructive criticism and it not be received offensively. Sterling’s students are a great group to work and grow with as writers and artists.

Rachael Pantuso

 

The Heart and Roots of Austin: A trip to Big Medium Gallery

Over the years, local art seems to have fallen from the top of the list of features that make up Austin, Texas’. Today, some of the city’s more popular trademarks–music festivals/venues; bars; and inescapable traffic–receive much of the attention of residents and visitors. Because of this relatively high-paced lifestyle, I believe that the concern about local art has slowly lessened.

I’ve always found it beneficial to be free of preconceptions. I suppose that, without a set of assumptions, any experience has a greater potential for being enjoyable. I had started to sort of mentally check-out upon arriving to the Big Medium but then saw the industrial-style building and felt a pleasant change of mood; I felt curious and excited.

The history of Big Medium begins with a true artist’s– or, in this case, several artists’– struggle. It started in a worn down warehouse where artists came together to collaborate on the creation of pieces and showings. The early phases were small but impressive, and necessitated a larger space. The project moved to a more suitable location that was then converted into an official gallery.

The current exhibition was a collection of abstract paintings done by Jonathan Faber, who was present for our visit. Many of his explanations drew from the experiences of his daily life and his eccentric interest in ping-pong.  The order in which the paintings were arranged illuminated Faber’s talents while also complementing his organic style that combines geometrical shapes with soft colors. Each painting was both a unique, separate work and a representation of the collection as a whole. And the minimality of the space itself was pleasant with its white walls and warm lighting, both of which paired well with the colors of the paintings. The gallery’s indoor aesthetic was an aid in showing that Faber is an artist worth following.

Overall, Big Medium is a little slice of peace in Austin’s busy-body atmosphere, and definitely has a bright future ahead of it.

 

 

Rachael Pantuso