Thursday, May 30, 2013

Vintage Trailers ... the Road Less Traveled

In May we attended a vintage trailer rally at Pismo Beach. We've been doing these rallies for over 15 years now and it seems like I enjoy them more each year. In the beginning it was mostly old car guys, but over time we've been discovered by the hipsters, so now we're an interesting blend of generations and temperaments.  One of my favorite parts is when you wake up in the morning, open your door and gaze out at a sea of small unique "homes" with wisps of campfires and sleepy eyed kids who say "hi" as they head for the showers. It's an echo of times past - when everyone seemed to have a DIY mentality and it would have been odd to copy your neighbor's trailer. It always baffles me to look at the rows of grand modern trailers...all of them white, beige or brown - plus, the occupants never seem to come out to enjoy the view, much less get to know their neighbors. 

I think these vintage trailers are also connected to the "tiny house" movement where people find joy in living "small" and freedom in structures that don't demand 24/7 maintenance (or massive mortgages). For me it's also a nice break from most of my media, reading books and escaping from tv. Here's some exteriors of my series from this year's rally. You can join us by getting your own vintage trailer at Tin Can Tourists, but I should warn you now...the problem with vintage trailers is no one stops with just one!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Palm Springs Vintage & My Anniversary!

It was one year ago (plus 1 day) that I started this blog. The idea was to explore creativity as I took a year's sabbatical finding ways to reinvent myself as an artist. Well...I'm pleased to say that I did accomplish that goal - but it was a hell of a year in many ways. 

In this past year I had my heart broken, felt truly lost and created a new foundation. It was a year where I met some very mean spirited, small-minded people with no understanding of how to motivate or why teachers do what we do - but I also met some real gems - people who know what collaboration and consensus means and who constantly strive for excellence. I both lost and then rebuilt a sense of myself as an individual and an artist. In the midst of feeling so alone, I realized I was actually surrounded by a rich and diverse community of souls who took the time to let me know how I had touched their lives...and let's face it, our connections to others is all we have in the end. 

I reaffirmed my goals for the next 5 years - and while I'm deeply saddened by the changes that have come to my school and frankly, not really sure if it will be able to recover - these are my peeps and, at least for now, where I will stay to fight the good fight. 

A few weeks ago I had a great time visiting Palm Springs - admittedly, I wish it hadn't been over 100 degrees for most of the time. was only May! That said, it's a really interesting town for design mavens. Between the tons of antique stores stocked full of modernist treasures, the vintage car dealership, the architecture, good food and friendly locals it's a gold mine for the visually oriented. I decided to look for vintage trailer parks and had a blast!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tiny Town & Marwencol - Obsession and Creativity

This week I'm featuring two amazing examples of obsessive creativity...people who worked outside of the "art world" and are excellent examples of creating your own world.

Tiny Town was the 68 year obsession of Charles Moshinskie's dad and grandfather. His dad worked on it for 68 years, creating playgrounds, swimming pools, dances...all of these little scenes play out in this construction with over 21 states depicted. Looking at what he created I'm humbled by the intensity of his conviction and imagination. 

I recently watched this documentary about another artist who also found his life's passion in creating his own world. Marwencol is a film about Mark Hogancamp who had been left brain-damaged after an attack and created his own World War II town that he then photographed to create an evolving storyline. If you have Netflix, you can watch Marwencol online!

We often call this type of work "outsider art" which always leaves me feeling just a little bit pretentious - as if there's an inside and outside to crativity. Actually the term isn't really about's more about business, or the business of art. What's always interesting to me about outsider art is its purity and the connection you feel with the artist...a vulnerability and truthfulness that cuts through all of life's crap.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thinking (and Talking) About Your Art

Wow...I'm surprised that I still have more to say about this experience - but I thought I'd add a bit about what I learned this week related to the process of discussing (and thinking) about your work. As I said before, these portfolio reviews are complex experiences with fundamental flaws and strengths. On the strength side, I found it meaningful to bring my work out into the greater community, i.e. people who don't already know me. By the beginning of the third day I had a different understanding of what I thought the work was about, which lead me to create a different interaction for my final day of reviews. 

I can't imagine how exhausting the process must be for the reviewers, but most of them really gave it a good shot. There was the occasional dud (overheard to say "maybe you should give up") or egotist ("I'm an expert so when I say this you should listen") but for the most part they showed up and gave their best input. I was able discover differences between the images I brought as a unit, which has helped me identify a few divergent trends. 

Here are some of the questions that people ask in a review - and I think they're good ones to ask yourself. 

1. "Tell me about yourself"...which really translates into "tell me what in your life has brought you to the point of making these images - what core values or motivation does this work come from?" Obviously, you don't want to go too much into your psychological depths, but it's good to help them understand you're not just playing. 

2. "What are your influences?" Well, this can also be a question asking if you see that you're referencing certain established artists. For some reason I totally blanked on naming Magritte as a strong foundational influence and so was faced with having to honestly say that I wasn't really thinking of Jerry Uelsmann when I was working. Which is really odd...because it's the truth. I never really connected to his work before, because it wasn't what I was interested in. A few months ago I saw a terrific show of his at Peter Fetterman's, but the work lacks an emotional quotient for me.  I think this question also helps the reviewer get some quick reference points on starting to understand what you're trying to accomplish - remember this all has to be attempted in 20 minutes. 

3. Obviously, they're going to ask about the work you're showing..."Tell me about this work." This is the time I always wish I had the perfect short sentence that brilliantly explains everything - they call that your "elevator speech" as in, you meet someone you've desperately tried to see in an elevator and you've got 20 seconds to tell them about your work in a way that will capture their hearts and minds....hmmm...I do realize the inherent flaws in that concept, but nonetheless, it exists. 

4. "What do you want from me?" Considering this concept is a good use of your time. Of course, there's the obvious, "I want you to tell me I'm brilliant and that you're going to make me rich and famous right now!" For the most part, this isn't going to let's get real and figure out what this person's skill sets are and how can you utilize them to your best advantage. This is true in any type of interaction - it's always a negotiation, it helps if you have a goal in mind. Try and avoid "I want you to tell me if I'm good enough for..." because that's not possible for anyone to assess. Let's face it, we've all seen crap work out that that it's not about quality. Consider them a resource book that you've got on a 20 minute loan. 

5. "If we had a group of people standing in front of this image on the wall of my gallery, what would you say to them about it?" That's an interesting one...part of it is wondering if you can help them in the promotion of your work, but it's also going into more depth about the images. You don't want to give them a long lecture about each image but, depending on the work, you want to be able to discuss it in some way. Yes, there's the legend of the famous artist who refuses to talk about their work...but let's face're coming to get their feedback and that won't happen without your participation. Talking about your images is about becoming a better communicator and that's the core of the creative arts.

Hopefully, this gives you some insight into the process, but also starts you thinking about how to discuss your work with others. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Getting Out...Part II

This week I'm in Palm Springs for Portfolio Reviews. You see these events advertised everywhere now, they've become a new industry...and I guess I have mixed feelings about them. In the past I've attended two other reviews: Photo Lucida, in Portland, is the best of the smaller regional reviews, Fotofest, in Houston, is an enormous, overly intense experience. Each time I attend one of these events I'm struck by the same's exhausting (and not part of my nature) to get myself out among so many strangers, all of us trying to make connections.

Over time, I've gotten used to the format of the experience and that has helped. My presentation method has been slimmed down to an easily carried portfolio box. The prints are standardized in terms of the size of the paper and how the work fits on it - basically removing any unwanted distractions. I've got a business card and a solid promotional leave-behind. The "review" is a 20 minute slot during which you've got to find the table, introduce yourself, unpack your stuff, give a short description of the work, have them turn the pages/flip the prints, answer their questions, take a few notes, ask your questions and pack up when the buzzer rings. Fun huh?

I decided to put myself through this process because I felt it was time for this new body of work to leave the studio and start its path into the world. However, now that I'm here, that old uneasiness returns. Part of it is the monetization of what used to be a fundamental part of the art-making experience - talking about your work with curators, gallerists and collectors. That conversation and relationship was a part of how artists developed and how the art world saw itself. I'm left with so many questions: what if your work doesn't benefit from being summed up in 20 minutes...what if it's better to look at all the work laid out at once...what if they've already seen 10 people and their brains are mush?

On the upside, I've met many great photographers in just a few days, which is one of the best end results of these experiences - that connection to a greater group. The Sunday afternoon event was an open portfolio review where all the participants got space to show their work and I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around meeting people whose work I liked and discussing it with them. There was a real mix of expertise levels and that was interesting as well.

So, is it worth it? I don't know...sometimes it's about movement...even when you don't exactly know where you want to go. We'll see...

Here are a few of the photographers I met:

Torrie Groening: she had been a print maker for over two decades and the work I saw was mixed media with layers of painting and photography - you can tell she has a strong sense of how to work with color. I loved the delicate quality of the work. She had traveled from Vancouver, Canada

Wendy Sacks: interesting body of work featuring photographs of children semi-submerged in water. There was a lush quality to the prints and I especially was drawn to the reflections that created patterns throughout.

Bobby Lee: he had both what I would call commercial/glossy fashion style portraits as well as a beautiful set of subtle landscapes. Additionally, he had hand bound his portfolio with pull out pages...very impressive.

Adam D. Gerlach: he was from Santa Barbara (Brooks Institute) and had a beautiful set of black and white intensely dark landscapes. Stylish work, abstracted with good design.