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.
Our guest speaker on Tuesday, Christina Rees, shone a very insightful and honest light on life as editor for the Texas’s art website Glasstire. Rees didn’t throw any punches when she talked openly and in depth about her personal and professional experiences within the art writing realm. Being a true Texan at heart, she’s had a career in journalism spanning from the 90s living in art meccas such as NYC and London. She later returned home to Dallas in 2014 to take on Glasstire.
Rees is one of four editors at Glasstire that give art criticism the respect and full candor that tends to get glossed over by other websites. In her lecture, she stated more than once that she isn’t afraid to be blunt with artists and their work in order to be fair to the artist. I agree with her in that constructive criticism is essential for anyone who takes art seriously. When one deletes argument, one deletes dialogue, discussion, and the exchanging of ideas. That’s not to say all of her reviews are negative. Quite the contrary. Only 1 in 5 articles on the actual website are negative. Sadly, however, she stated those tend to be more memorable than the positive ones.
I truly enjoyed how genuine and informative she was throughout her discussion. I also share her weariness of what lies ahead for the art critic world as well as for the artists themselves. What I took away above everything else from her talk was to continue collaborating and discussing ideas with people and not feel the need to censor ourselves for anyone. By being critical with art and not being censored, we in fact might just save it.
Both native Texans, Debra Barrera and Jonathan Hopson illustrated on Tuesday their exploration with and commitment to human control and the power of choice. Their story, for us at least, begins with a mountain and a boat. No humans or human remains were found with the (abandoned but in good condition) boat, and the mountain was otherwise untouched by the residue of human control. This finding at this mountain inspired Debra to explore the notion of conquest and control.
They soon after started their first gallery, located in Hopson’s native Houston: Hello Gallery. As a team, the duo had complementary traits: She had the perspective of an artist, while he had a set of fresh eyes. From the start, they tried to showcase as much Houston art as they could. After some minor setbacks which included the closing of the Hello Gallery, the pair decided to start a new space. This one was deemed the Jonathan Hopson Gallery. The difference– it was also their home. One room was her studio, another the actual gallery space. Yes, they kept it commercial even though they lived there. No, they didn’t make it a nonprofit. These choices allowed them to keep control over what went into the gallery space.
Today, as a couple in the business side of the art world and also a prominent pair of voices on the Texas art scene, the two continue to complement each other and promise to support and promote the Houston art scene as much as they can.
Jonathan Hopson and Debra Barrera’s lecture was the most inspiring guest lecture I have attended in my four to five years at Texas State. Debra Barrera’s work was simple and varied as she did not stick with just one medium and chose to expand and experiment with different concepts and mediums. However, it wasn’t her art or his space that inspired me (though they were definite influences) but it was their drive to create a space, and follow and stick to what they love that was inspiring. As I am looking to start my own gallery space in the future, I always thought it had to be a professional gallery space to be acceptable for artists and shows. I had this preconceived notion that I HAD to know what I was doing for it to be successful. Jonathan Hopson stated that he had no idea what he was doing but it was going to shows, feeling confident with what you want to do and always keeping communication open is where he found success. Seeing their home being a form existing of her studio, and their gallery space opened my eyes to this other realm of gallery spaces. Their home is a welcoming, warm space that though may not be the right space for certain works, it is a welcoming experience for the visitor. This warm, welcoming feeling is important to what I am trying to achieve in my own gallery, and wanting to make art and going to see art an enjoyable activity for the whole family as well as for those who may not have the art background that most seem appropriate for going to see art. Hearing their lecture made me believe that it is possible for art to go from a bourgeoisie event to a community event which all feel welcomed in the space and comfortable expressing their own stance on a piece. I am re-inspired to begin my own steps to creating a space I am happy with putting my name on.
Last Tuesday, our class met in 2121 for a visiting artist lecture by Barrera and Hopson. They announced themselves as a married duo who contributed to each other’s success as artists and gallery owners. Barrera began the lecture introducing us to her art career, showing slides of how her work began and how it progressed. Her work explored the poetic idea of space and exploration of odd or unreachable places such as mountain and volcano peaks. She also shared with us the difficulties artists sometimes face and have to overcome through her Thunderbird car installation was that knocked over and ruined. After this incident, she didn’t feel the need to make her work so profound and big and has started approaching art making in a more meditative way. As a fellow painting major who has also recently reverted back to drawings and works on paper, it was comforting to hear how she gravitated away from old masters style painting to return to her first and foremost love of drawing.
Next, we listened to Hopson talk about owning a gallery and the curation process. It was insightful to hear him describe the differences between old and new galleries. Old galleries display work with the intent to sell them at the top of their priority, which affects how a show is curated. New galleries, however, take into account the experience or the artwork as a whole and what it is communicating to visitors, regardless of if they are looking to buy. Another comment they made I really like was how sometimes you need “life” time over “studio” time. This is how I personally overcome obstacles in the studio where I’ve hit a speed bump. The biggest takeaway from Hopson’s lecture was what he wished he has known when he was in our shoes. Figure out what you like, take advantage of the time at school, create your own gallery opportunities if they aren’t coming to you, and take initiative and ask people if you can do things. Life in the art world, regardless of what you are doing, takes “real work” that you won’t find at some desk job.
I think it was interesting to have two perspectives at this lecture, and I appreciated how they let each other give their own talks. Barrera was helpful to studio majors as she shared her experiences in undergrad, grad school, and post-graduation working as a professional artist. Hopson was helpful to studio majors looking for gallery opportunities as well, but also for non-artists who are more interested in helping to build and sustain the art community, which is essential for artists to sustain themselves. You could see how collaboration and taking the non-conventional path has also helped them to reach the point they are at.
Those two words I would describe Sam Sanford. He was our guest speaker last tuesday night for the first half of our class. He grew up in San Antonio and received a degree in Religion. I wouldn’t expect him to have a degree in religion. From then on I knew this will be interesting to learn more about him. He then had a slide show of a very straightforward “about me” facts. He was very blunt as a guest speaker. He openly shared that he didn’t feel like a real artist more like a poser. The best thing he has done for his art is to improve his mental and spiritual health. Later on he went in depth with this. Throughout his time as an artist he realized that the deadlines and exhibitions were taking away from that purpose. Making a living from his art is no longer his goal. He wants control of his art. Honestly, I don’t blame him. It’s his choice, he can rely on it without depending on it and trying to make a living out of it. It’s to find the ambition and standing more firm in your truth. The series of “Dark days”, exhibit in Farewell Books in Austin. These were actually based on his family pictures. He changed his technique in working smaller with glazing it gave him better results. This series shows the darkness in his childhood inside their family. Soon after this exhibition he was severely injured from an accident and he had to stop making art after that. The unfortunate event made him realize things happen for a reason. However, he hopes to return to abstraction but for now he is doing carpentry and framing as job. He advise us all that momentum is important everyday. You have to build up to that. You have to reach to a momentum cliff and after that you will get the inertia to continue.
This past Tuesday, Texas State welcomed Austin-based artist Sam Sanford to lecture on his work and process. He introduced himself and his work as “always trying to get back to a feeling of punkrockness and intellectual freedom” he had when he first started painting. His process began as a way to paint the same way a printer would- using three primary colors, yellow, magenta, cyan, he glazes thin layers of each to color correct and achieve any color on the gamut. While explaining this process he clicked through several examples of his early works, showing what he believed to be the “worst painting he’s ever done” saying “it looks like it belongs in a coffee shop, so I sold it”. His ultimate struggle as an artist is fixation; he is constantly trying to get back to abstraction, which is why he laments the fact that he is most well known for his photo-based realist paintings.
JAN 1972, 2013, oil on paperboard, 10″ x 15″
The painting above (from his Dark Days series) was printed on the “Sam Sanford, guest lecturer” flyer that hung around the JCM all week. Going into the lecture I had no idea who Sam Sanford was, and seeing the flyer in passing I assumed he was a photographer, so learning that this was a painting and hearing his process felt not only surprising, but ironic. The very series he is most known for (and wants to get away from artistically) was my first contact with his work.
At the end of the lecture Sam opened up about his realizations through painting professionally and the expectations of galleries that made working or even thinking about his art the same way, impossible. He talked about the invisible, uncontrollable forces at play in everyone’s lives and how he went to a dark place in making paintings that were dark and self-involved. Today, Sam Sanford makes paintings with friends for fun instead of profit. Together they paint or draw “dumb things” or anything that makes each other laugh. He closed by showing us the painting he considers to be his best work to date, it features two football players because in his opinion, “football is the dumbest thing ever”.
You can view some of his Dark Days series and the later more abstract/”punk rock” works on his website here -> http://samsanford.tumblr.com/