Sunday, May 18, 2008

Choose Well or be Damned

Years ago, as 224 in Boardman and Canfield was being developed, I was working at the McDonough Museum as the Exhibition Preparator, the number 2 position at that facility. A local businessman came in, looking for artwork to hang in his new million dollar office building just off 224. He promoted himself as shrewed, successful and highly refined culturally. I showed him my work and the work of several other regional artists whose work had achieved a great deal of national respect, then later on that day I took a ride out to see his new building. It was a beautiful, sleek, contemporary structure with a futuristic look to it. Though it wasn't large it was certainly impressive. He explained that he was looking for at least one very large painting for the rather lavish lobby. I quoted him some prices for my work and the work of the other artists I'd showed him at the museum, prices that were very reasonable for this high caliber work. After a few days, I called him and he told me that he thought my prices were too high and that he found a local high school student to do a large painting for the lobby for a mere two hundred dollars! I had to choke back a condescending guffaw as he further went on to explain that in his refined cultural wisdom he was certain this student could create work as good as any artist I'd shown him. My final words to him were "You get what what you pay for!"
A year went by and I stopped by to see this High School Masterpiece in the lobby. It was certainly an ambitious undertaking and perhaps if the student had some college level training the painting might have been successful. Unfortunately, it was obvious that low quality materials were used and the student had little understanding of color and composition. His naivete' and lack of general life experience were glaring. It was embarrassing to look at for many reasons. I knew a lawyer who kept his offices in this new building and I asked him his opinion. He said that most of his clients were wealthy people from Poland who invested in art and were generally culturally sophisticated. Many of his clients made statements to the effect: "That painting reflects badly on this building and and the businesses that are here". He went on to say that though the owner spent a million on the structure he was unwilling to spend the money on the true heart heart of the building and the businesses and clients suffered for it. I thought it was an accurate statement as I viewed the building owner to be cheap, pompous, narrow minded and culture less. His art reflected his heart.
These days a similar situation is brewing downtown. Weekly I am contacted by people who have opened or will soon open businesses. Much of their financing is very good and they receive government grants and other "free" money. I often hear sentiments from them as I did from the above mentioned "art connoisseur". Many of them seem to believe that any art will do and the cheaper the better. Some have purchased work that is low quality and amateurish and proudly display it. I sincerely wish that these people would consider our position in the National and International landscape and buy art accordingly. We have some of the most powerful and culturally sophisticated people in the ENTIRE WORLD checking out the downtown. People like Nancy Pelosi and a myriad of presidential candidates! I have spent time with people like this and I guarantee you one thing: On the trip back to DC in Air Force One they will be laughing their asses off at the crap from Wal-Mart or Goodwill that you hung in your office and lobby. I can just hear Barrack Obama solemnly state "When these small town people lose their hope in government, they cling to their bad art".
Remember: Your choice of art will determine how people will perceive you, your motivations and your business.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Stimulus Package, Baby!

Some of you have been missing my blog posts while others are glad to see me gone. What can I say? I have been making a concerted effort to rid myself of a serious case of cabin fever and the extra few inches around my waist that I accumulated during that mean, cold winter. Basically the daily 2 hours that I'd been devoting to blogging are now spent walking 3-5 miles per day in the park, and I can't say i miss sitting in front of this computer.
I'm sure many of you have been contemplating how you are going to spend that chunk of loot that will be coming in your mail any day now, compliments of Uncle Sam. How about some very fine art from one of our illustrious Youngstown artists? I guarantee we will spend the money immediately in this country, thereby stimulating the economy. please check out my website for a look at my recent work. The paintings titled "Sleeping Kittens", "Old Glory", "Wild Pumpkins", and "Victoria's Secret" are now available in fine Giclee' prints (printed by Hyland Digital Images). I also have a few of my prints of the WildCat Rollercoaster framed in actual wood from the coaster itself. I can be reached at artbake777 (at)

Jess Adkins

Showing at the Star Gallery, Oakland Center for the Arts, is an impressive body of sculpture by the artist Jess Adkins. This ambitious show features 21 carved wooden figures displayed on the ends of steel rods. Each expressively carved figure is approximately 12 inches tall and garishly painted. The rods are over 5 feet tall, which permits the viewer to look at each figure squarely in the eye.

In his statement, Adkins says that each figure is based on people from his Youngstown neighborhood where he lived during his childhood. He says that these figures are not necessarily true, physical renderings of these people, but rather vivid impressions distilled from distant, childhood memories. But as we can all attest, our memories from our childhood are often the strongest and still haunt us through our dreams and reveries.

I found this work to be very strong and compelling. It is well thought out and constructed, not only on an expressive level, but on a fundamental design level. Adkins very economically and esthetically combines the carved wooden figures with the welded steel rods and bases.

Adkins also states that his carving skills reach back into his Appalachian roots. With the high number of Appalachian Whites (a Federally designated minority) who live in Youngstown, it is no surprise (and is certainly a pleasure) to find this cultural expression arising in our city. Despite this obvious cultural connection, Adkins work strongly reminds me of the African tradition of wood carving, specifically the Colonial Dream-Spirit figures carved by the Baule people of West Africa. The Baule develop close relationships with the mystical people that inhabit their dreams and they honor them by carving likenesses of them from wood. In recent times these carvings have taken on the accouterments of contemporay society, such as uniforms or anything that would indicate the personalities and professions of the "Dream People". They can be policemen, firemen, doctors, soldiers, housewives etc., and each is carved in a close physical likeness.

Adkins carving are very much like this, the images having been molded by his deep, subconscious, childhood memories. Each carving bears a strong resemblance to the original person and each carry the accouterments of their lives, such as Bocce balls, six packs of beer and pans of fresh baked cookies.
This show can be viewed during the performance hours of The Full Monty which s now showing at the Oakland, Friday , Saturday and Sunday starting at 8PM.