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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Anne Bouie's Art Journal: Check Out WPA's The Critique Session

On Saturday, August 14, 2010, I arrived to check out The Critique
Session, hosted by " the Studio Visit @ WPA " The Studio Visit is a web
journal with a dedicated focus on visual artists and their process. (",
and was created in 2008 as a virtual public access forum by WPA
member, Isabel Manalo. As part of WPA's Coup d'Espace initiative,
Manolo and TSV held an open forum where artists discuss current work
and works in progress. Five artists presented work: Kendall Nordin,
Amy Glengary Yang, Lisa K. Rosenstein, J. Jordan Burns, and Mei Mei
Chang. The critique was moderated by curator and arts leader Karin
Miller, formerly with Conner Contemporary and now Program Manager for
Visual Arts and Creative Communities Fund. Karin is also responsible
for the management of the artist selection and recruitment process in
the Flashpoint Gallery, as well as the coordination of the gallery’s
advisory panel.

Although the work shared spanned a number approaches and
genres, the common theme was the artistic process. Four of the five
artists shared that their work had been spurred by profound and deeply
felt challenges in their lives, and two in particular resonated with me deeply—confounded memories, and the loss of one’s father.

J. Jordan Burns shared that his work was created after a brain tumor.
Memory loss caused him to be able to remember bits and pieces but
unable to place them in context. His work uses an array of materials:
acrylic- and oil-based enamels, shellacs, and wood stains. I
resonated with one piece in particular where part of the work was very
figurative and the abstract seemed to have emerged out of and from the
concrete reality. He and I chatted after the presentations, and shared
the experience of remembering an event but not being able to remember
anything that prompted, preceded, or followed it. His work seeks to
depict these experiences. Like many artists, including Michael Platt and Aziza Gibson-Hunter. He was insistent about the use of both abstract and figurative modes in his work, stating that, he does not see or feel the need to pose abstract against figurative, use one instead of the other, or choose between them. I sensed that surviving grad school, and battling for his health have given him resolve and confidence to work as he feels it to be.

Lisa K. Rosenstein’s work also emerged from a period of “chaos
struggle and pain where she wanted to be released from the experience
of constraint and the desire for freedom." Her woven objects made from fishing wire. Most striking for me was work that served as a kind of totem and memory keeper of her father who died two weeks short of his ninety-second- birthday. The piece was done on a 12 x24 canvas, using white on white acrylic and consisted of 92 narrow columns which represented each year of her father’s life; each row consisted of 52 dots, each representing the weeks of the year. The last row was missing those final two weeks….

There was ample dialogue throughout the critique. It had the feel of
a comfortable, intentional, and focused conversation with lots of
thought and reflection by artists, the audience, and facilitator. I
was especially taken with the questions Karin posed to the artists.
While she posed them to each artist specifically, based on her
research of each artist’s work and review of the websites, they are
useful for any artist, so I will simply roster them for reflection:

Is this work in keeping with what you’ve been doing, or does it
represent a departure?

• How and why do you choose your materials?
• What is the intention behind the work?
• How do you approach a painting or a larger body of work?
• How do title your works?
• How does the viewer come into, or connect with it?
• What do you want the viewer to leave with?

I left the critique with that sense of what Judith Cameron says
is the mark of a good session: where the feedback and questions prompt that “aha” response as opposed to the “ouch” that can cause an artist to put their tools away and shut down their creative process—which, when you reflect on it, is akin to crushing a person’s spirit. It was the kind of feedback and sense of camaraderie that I have often experienced at critiques sponsored by Black Artists of DC (BADC), and just as that group incubates and nurtures, the critiques hosted by The Studio Visits and Washington Project for the Arts provide space and room to grow and breathe as well.

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