Instant Artshow #2

Yesterday I went out looking for supplies and inspiration–at the hardware store and the thrift store.

The general idea behind Instant Artshow is to bring a bunch of people together for the afternoon to collaborate on art and install the results immediately thereafter. I held the first such event about a year ago. Ten artists showed up and almost everyone was able to make a piece, but it was definitely a challenge to create a sense of collaboration. I found I actually made the constrains too restrictive, so this year I plan to have people work together on a number of projects that have a seed of concept and execution in mind.

I went to the hardware and thrift store with my friend, Mark, looking for items that participants could incorporate into their projects or otherwise turn into art. I ended up buying a limited number of items, because I want the pieces to be mainly constructed of found objects and recycled materials. We bought some light-weight mesh that will be used to create structure for a ceiling-based sculptural installation. I also bought a really cool, retro floor lamp, with flat, translucent sides that would be perfect for some silhouette work.

I have a number of other projects in mind and will spend the rest of the week gathering materials and supplies and setting up.

Carry on

Two bags combine into one, 2007

Okay, so it’s not my government, it’s the British government, but still.

If you have a layover at Heathrow, be forewarned that while your initial airport may have allowed two small carry-ons, Heathrow does not. While leaving Capetown, I packed my electronics into my computer bag and had a small shopping bag with my fragile gifts. When I flew into Heathrow, we had to go through security again (fighting terrorism and all) . Problem is, British security insisted I needed to check one of my carry-on bags from my previous flight. Neither of my bags were rugged enough to be checked so I balked. I told the guy, “So, if I had a big paper bag and could stuff both of my items into it, that would qualify as one bag?” He said, “Yes, it would,” but the rule was strict. After all, do I really want to wait while everyone else has two bags scanned? I pointed out that it’s the same amount of stuff and shouldn’t matter if it went through in one batch or two. He was unmoved.

So, I rifled through my bag and found masking tape and decided that if I didn’t have a big enough bag, I’d make one. I then took the contents of my shopping bag and stuffed everything into my computer bag, using tape to hold it together. Voila–one bag. They let me through.

New ways of working and thinking

Untitled mixed media work, created in Cape Town, 2007

I guess I was looking for peace of mind, some way of coming to terms with the way that I make art and why. I’ve been so busy for so many years and art has often felt like a neglected afterthought, something I couldn’t seem to incorporate into my everyday life, always bigger and more complicated then I could manage. I thought that the only way to come to terms with art was to let go of my need to make art. That didn’t happen.

What did happen is yet another fundamental shift in the way I work. While in Cape Town, I participated in an art workshop with one week in a minimally equipped art studio to create work. With very few materials and the fact that it was impractical to spend lots of time prepping canvases and making pristine pieces, I went to another extreme. I started working with found pieces of cardboard.

The inn where I stayed with 8 other artists was in nearby Kalk Bay, where I found a book featuring vintage photos of wrestlers. I also became fascinated with various maps of South Africa and purchased a couple of atlases, one Apartheid-era and one post-Apartheid, showing how the names and boundaries changed. I wanted to combine the images of the wrestlers and the maps and started working in charcoal and paint on cardboard. Working with the very rough media allowed me to be much more relaxed about the standards I usually apply to the work and the expression came much easier and quicker than the past.

Amongst the work was a large mixed media drawing, which took about 4 days to complete. It’s made up of 128 pieces of cardboard from boxes that I found, either in the rubbish or on the street, and measures about 60 inches tall by 120 inches wide (1.5m by 3m) and mounted into a corner. Each of the images–the wrestling pair, the coiled snake and the black wrestler in white trunks–were drawn separately, and then merged into a single image with an interconnected map in the background.

This piece symbolizes to me struggles of South Africa and my personal struggles, with art and my own psyche.

My Dad

Gary Howells, 1950I have dreams about him all the time. In my dreams, he’s always healthy, accompanying me on some sort of journey. I also know that he’s the only other one in my dream who is fully present because I can reach out and touch him or hear him breathing. If there is anyone else in the dream, they are always shadows, ideas of a people, but not really present. But my dad is with me. But then, sooner or later, I realize that he really isn’t there, that he’s gone, that I’m dreaming.

I’ve wanted to write something about my dad for a while but I haven’t known what to say. I feel like I’m not the most qualified person to talk about him, to sum up his life. I know that may sound silly but sometimes I think there was a lot about him I really didn’t know and that we were so different, and not just in the obvious ways. He was an outgoing, social person and had many friends and acquaintances. He made corny jokes. He liked to put people on the spot. He was opinionated and intolerant of ignorance and thoughtlessness in others. He could be incredibly kind, taking time to give a helping hand when others needed it. But he could also be oblivious at times, like any of us, to how his words and actions impacted others around him. He would tease when he was uncomfortable or didn’t understand somebody’s point of view. This could be difficult for me, especially when I was feeling shy and introverted, traits that I always felt stood in stark contrast to his personality.

But the last years of Dad’s life were the most precious to me. Even as his illnesses became more serious, he and my mom took more time to live a full life, be open to new experiences, travel to new places and our family became closer and more honest with each other.

In 2004, as Vince and I were getting ready to open our cafe in San Francisco, I would often call Dad for advice. After all, he and my mom had many years of experience running small businesses and no shortage of opinions. A few weeks before we opened, though, his health declined and he was hospitalized. I flew home and visited him and was shocked to see him transformed, not sure if he would make it through my stay. But he told me that seeing me again made him rally and within a few days we had him home again and I was back on a flight to finish preparations on the cafe.

Less than an hour before our grand opening reception was set to start, I got a last minute surprise. Mom and Dad came through the door of the cafe, grinning from ear to ear. With our friends Linc & Tim’s help, they had secretly flown to San Francisco, even though my Dad barely had the strength to get from the hotel room to the cafe for the party. I can’t imagine a bigger gift and honor from my dad. The reception was a big hit and Dad stayed for the whole event.

My parents stayed in California for five days, going up to Sonoma County for a few days on their own, looking at the ocean and sitting among the redwoods while Vince and I got the cafe up and running. When they returned to San Francisco four days later, Dad was noticeably quieter and weaker. And I was frazzled and stressed with the business. I wanted to spend time with him, but he wanted to sleep and be quiet and I was busy. When I dropped my parents at the airport, I knew that I probably wasn’t going to see my dad again.

My parents returned to Illinois without incident, but my dad continued to weaken. A couple of days after the trip, a hospice worker came to my parent’s home to install a hospital bed in my parents’ bedroom. By Saturday, five days after returning from California and 10 days after surprising me at the cafe’s opening, my father died.

I can’t thank him enough for everything he did for me.

Gary Howells, 1933-2004

Gary HowellsGary G. Howells, 71, of Pontiac died at 6:45 p.m. Saturday (June 26, 2004) at his residence.

A memorial service will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the First United Methodist Church, Pontiac, with the Rev. Gretchen Stinebaugh and the Rev. Phillip Icenogle officiating. Friends may call from 4 to 7 p.m. today at the Harris-Martin-Burke Funeral Home, Pontiac. The family suggests memorials be made to Franciscan Hospice of Central Illinois or Mycosis Fungoides Foundation, PO Box 374, Birmingham, MI 48012.

Gary was born April 22, 1933, in Lakewood, Ohio, a son of William and Helen Frost Howells. He married Carol Maisenhalder on Oct. 25, 1958, in Rocky River, Ohio. She survives. Also surviving is one son, Peter (Vince Constabileo) Howells, San Francisco, Calif.; one daughter, Karin (Mike) Kelleher, Normal; three granddaughter, Katrina Potts, and Carol and Anna Kelleher; and one sister, Shirley (Richard) Minard, Memphis, Tenn. He was preceded in death by his parents.

Gary was a graduate of Lakewood Ohio High School and attended Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He was a golf professional since 1969 coming to Pontiac in 1976 and golf pro at the Pontiac Elks Club until 1984. In 1984, he and his wife purchased Holiday House Gifts and retired in 2001. He was a veteran of the U.S. Army serving from 1956 to 1958. He was a member of the First United Methodist Church; the Pontiac Elks Club; and PROUD. Gary was one of the first organizers of the Pontiac Main Street Program of PROUD.

[From The Daily Pantagraph]

What’s Next?

This short article was taken from a “zine” that we distributed to our friends and family, long before blogging.

In a few weeks I’ll be giving my notice at The Eureka Company, where I’ve worked for almost the last two years. My job as graphic artist has been very productive and educational and, believe it or not, I am kind of excited about looking for a new job in a new town when we return from Europe.

I have outgrown my position designing flyers for vacuum cleaners and will be looking for something more challenging. I hope to find a job at a progressive design firm who either utilizes computer desktop publishing extensively or needs someone to set up a system for them (namely, me).

I will also be looking at larger companies with in-house designers, but the work environment is going to be the most important thing that I look for. Working at Eureka has been a good experience, but I think I would rather work for a company with a more diverse and dynamic work force. It is hard to be innovative at a conservative manufacturing company like Eureka.

As far as my art career goes, it has been on hold until we return from our trip. I am once again interested in finding a gallery to show my work. and my October show at A.R.C. Gallery in Chicago should help me get my foot in the door. Now it is just a question of where. I don’t want to spend my lime (and money) looking for a gallery in Chicago if we end up living on the west coast.

I also haven’t been producing much new work, but hope to soon. I would really like to mix together my experience as a painter and drawer with my new and varied skills on the computer. I think multi-media art (art that mixes different art forms including painting and sculpture with video, computer graphics, etc..) will really be the trend of the future. People like art that is entertaining, and I hope I can move my art more in that direction. But for now, I am thinking about returning to Italy. Last time I went to Italy, I became an artist. This time, who knows?