Category: Local Art

A scarcity of clothing

Imagine venturing the urban landscape of Anchorage, or any modern city, with none of your possessions. No clothes on your back, no Smartphone in your coat pocket, no cigarette tucked behind your ear. Interacting with the landscape would feel alien, as without modern amenities the modern landscape can appear cold and inanimate. The florescent lights and plastic furniture probe the naked flesh; the two do not work well together. Technological devices and cancer-causing stress relievers have become necessary to many people’s lives.

I was born into a world influenced by mass media and brand names. Ipads, Big Macs and Billibong apparel are not needed. They are demanded. The idea of needs and wants has become one and the same. Identity is now based upon your possessions and American culture on consumption. It is now hard to speak of acquaintances without using labels. He’s sophisticated because he wears Prada suits, and she’s a thug because she sports Fubu and Mark Ecko. These statements make claim to a person’s character despite being based purely on clothing choice. Such assumptions about a person’s traits can often be wrong. The gentlemen wearing the expensive suit is hiding cocaine is his inner pocket. The girl hunching forward in an oversized hoodie is clenching a piece of paper in her hand, and on that piece of paper is a poem about the stigma attached with being a youth minority.

Take all the bullshit belongings away, however, and we’re all just flesh and blood. I want to demand that I be judged on my principles and morals, but to gain such acceptance of my college-aged peers is likely impossible. If I were to walk around wearing nothing but a Zen Buddhist robe my friends would surely shun me. If I were to walk around naked it would frighten everyone.

The November Fisrt Friday and IGCA featured a gallery consisting of about 80 sepia photographs. Hung upon the wall in a linear fashion the photos featured a single naked woman. The young female glances around the numerous settings looking sad, confused and —at times—empty.

She stands exposed in the middle of a basement, an empty McMansion, the Consortium Library of UAA, an apparel store, etc. Her natural beauty is at war with a synthetic existence.  How the woman has found herself vulnerable in these settings is beyond me, but that’s not the point. A sense is gained that natural existence would not cope effectively with an environment of plastic aesthetic.

“I don’t understand,” a young girl standing next to me said.

“What do you think it means?” I asked.

“Is it supposed to mean anything?” She asked in response.

Maybe I am missing the point. People have told me I think too much. The display could just have easily been screenshots from the upcoming sequel to the 1992 Pauly Shore film Encino Man. We’ve all been waiting with are fingers crossed for that masterpiece, after all. Thank you America for giving us Pauly Shore. Thank you McDonald’s for giving us the Big Mac. Thank you Phillip Morris for sharing your fine cigarettes. Thank you (insert brand name here) for providing us with quality apparel. You all have made us what we are.


Societal roles and totem poles

Art shifts its nature from century to century. The philosophy of art—aesthetics—can send people trying to understand its meaning off the rail. Contemporary native art and design incorporates lessons of the past while including modern aspects. It is important for Alaska Native artists to look to the past for guidance, possibly in an attempt to gain a similar mindset as their elders. The landscape surrounding the native peoples has not changed drastically—that is unless they live in close proximity to an area dominated by industry. Subsistence remains part of villagers’ lives, but the technologies and tools used to attain resources has certainly changed.

Just as these changes have altered their everyday lives, it has altered the way Alaska Natives make their art. The description of “(Re)Emergence: Contemporary Native Art and Design” at the Anchorage Museum states, “Rural areas of Alaska are no longer isolated as they once were. Artists have access to new ideas, new materials, new technologies and the larger, international art world. Contemporary Native artists creatively transcend traditional media while embracing the past and initiating cultural renewal.”

Art Photography is a major change, as Native elders had no access to the technology even when it was becoming commonplace with urban, American society. I wonder what Alaska Natives of the past would have thought about photography. Not just as a magical device capable of capturing moments in time, but if they were able to understand photos would they be able to accept it as an art medium. Art is in the eyes of the beholder, and a photo can hold artistic merit. There is no lore or mythos, however, behind a simple landscape photo. New ways of incorporating the medium are very important to contemporary Native artists.

Take Erica Lord’s two color photographs on display at the Anchorage Museum for example. “Blood Quantum (1/4 + 1/16 = 5/16)” and “Enrollment Number 11-337-07463-04-01” are not typical photographs. Two arms stretched out in Biblical fashion, numerals tattooed across each of the forearms. “Blood Quantum” conveys that while interpretation of the natural world has changed humans still contain spiritual aspects. They have a given amount momentum, and the quantity of energy an individual holds is not affected by those uncontrollable changes of the world. In contrast, “Enrollment Number” is representative of the part of the individual that cannot help but become trapped by an overbearing force. Flesh, spirit and energy are subdued by being enrolled in a modern system. Villages and villagers are now numbers in a sea of political regulation… Or maybe not. Having never been to a village I cannot comment on the reality of rural life. Overcrowded schools and high rates of suicide must weigh heavy on the residents minds. The system does not treat them well. This much I know.

Erica says of her photos, “My art explores the next wave of cultural examination, an evolution of new ways to demonstrate cultural identity beyond the polar ideas that exist within a strictly two-worlds discourse.” To which the Anchorage museum concludes, “Contemporary thought on tradition and being Native merge with complexities of self and the present.”

Another piece that adheres to the theme of present and past is Da-Ka-Xeen Mehner’s “My Right-of-Way, Summer.” The large photograph is a mixture of a number of the previously mentioned themes. Buckets of blueberries straddle either side of the frame (subsistence), scraps of rusted metals filling many containers occupy the center of the piece (present) and a simple photograph of a dirt road sits dead center (nature). The Native artist’s life now consists of all these aspects. Alaska Natives live off the land, use modern tools and soak in a beautiful surrounding. This is very detached from the life residents of Anchorage and Fairbanks. Locals of these two vastly different landscapes contribute to their stability. Art, though important, is pushed aside, but without these Native examples I would have never contemplated these societal issues.

Would you be able to live off the land?

Would you find time for art in a demanding subsistence-style setting?

Is nature itself art?

How can local Alaska Native artists be supported?

To destroy or not to destroy your mind and body, that is the question. While you may have instantly answered no in your mind, think deeper about certain social situations you find yourself in, especially if you’re recognized as one of “the youth.” Drugs and alcohol can be very sociable. A shy, timid college student may find himself or herself uncontrollably flapping his or her gums after two—or more—shots of liquor. Ultimately, freedom of choice reigns supreme when it comes to your party choices, and I’m not one to judge. I have been known to frequently partake in soirees.

Artist Yuliya Helgesen-Thompson used to believe that one of the most difficult decisions a person could make about their life is determining whether or not to destroy their body and personality with drugs. She has recently come to understand that the decision is actually taken lightly and without much thought. I can agree having lost a number of friends that mindlessly chased the dragon. Consequences held little merit in their decision-making process. “Nifties” made my high schools pals feel wonderful, like nothing was wrong with the world. Their fix was cheap, that is until their bodies physically needed the poisonous substance multiple times a day. I don’t have any quips about this point in my life. If my friends had made better choices they would still be around.

Yuliya’s painting “Spiking in Impulse” is part of a series based upon the ideas of “cold-hard fear and loss.” The painting was featured in the previous month’s gallery at IGCA “Shelter.” (See blog post below)

“The pain of losing a young relative to drugs, when they have so much of their life in front of them, is a pain that causes a dullness of the soul that never leaves the affected family members,” Helgesen-Thompson stated in the painting’s description.

The silhouette outlined on the canvas stumbles through the bleak landscape. The clouded atmosphere contrived by man-made substances has become reality. A temptress whispers into the ear of the lost cause, persuading the character to give into its undying temptations and thus feeding the black tar monster tearing away at the soul. Heavy greens, yellows, oranges and browns coat the terrain and the silhouette, as if it were a corroding rust.

Bloodstained ravens relax as they wait to claim another lost soul. In Alaska Native mythos, the raven represents many things. A raven is believed to be mankind’s protector and sometimes savior. The raven brought fire to early peoples so they would not die. But the raven is also a trickster. He play’s jokes on us, and he laughs and mankind’s expense.

I would like to believe my friends were tricked into throwing their lives away, but in reality it was their thoughtlessness that caused their spiraling downfalls.

“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.” –Jim Morrison

A glimpse into my future

Friday, Oct. 1 was like any ordinary First Friday. Find a parking spot downtown, walk around the crowded streets finding lively galleries and speak with a number of artists. The third gallery I visited that evening was the International Gallery of Contemporary Art, and the exhibition that had just opened was titled “Shelter: Contemplating homelessness in Alaska.” I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but I must have passed a handful of Anchorage’s homeless on my zigzagged walk to the gallery.

I have a safe and secure shelter of my own. My home is my haven. I do not have to worry about my home not being there after a long day of work. I have clean clothes hanging in the closet, a down comforter on my bed, a laptop sitting on my desk… The list goes on. Sometimes I think that perhaps I have too much, that I ask for too much, that I want too much.

I want to feel as comfortable as humanly possible every waking moment of the day. The homeless do not have such luxuries. Given the opportunity I believe many of the city’s homeless would do almost anything to obtain a safe haven. Growing up in Anchorage I was witness to such events as a vagabond entering a store only to be arrested for petty theft, which was often times on purpose. I place no blame on these individuals. I would do the same if I had nowhere to go during Alaska’s cold winter months. There is much to contemplate while considering the difficulties of being “on the street.”

A very personal foreword by contributing artist Chad Taylor began “Shelter.” Three years ago, Chad had spent Thanksgiving in New York City on the corner of 27th Ave. and Madison Ave. Across the street a man was finding his rest in a vacant vestibule. Chad willingly offered the man his leftovers from dinner, and returned from his hotel room with a sleeping bag and sleeping mat to give to the man as well. Chad stayed and chatted with the man for “several hours of wondering conversation.” Upon departure, the homeless man pulled the cover from his cart of belongings and retrieved a shoebox from the bottom. Inside was a pristine pair of plush house slippers, which he proceeded to offer Chad. This story is astonishing to me because, by and large, people in this city, in this state and in this country strive to obtain the newest in consumer products. And here was this man, offering his most prized possession to a stranger for a few hours of conversation and some basic amenities.

If only the homeless problem—the shelter problem—was that easy to fix.

Mike Mense, another contributing artist, had secured a door to the wall at the south end of the gallery. Above the door, letters cut separately from construction paper informed the viewer, “This is not an exit…Nor is this an entrance.” Black paint spread unevenly across the wall gave the door a
dark aura. The door was white and featured a horizontal rectangular window within its frame. In the window were scattered daily newspapers, often synonymous with a vagrant’s bedtime accommodations. Posted on the door were the words, “Homelessness is not a building problem, an architecture problem, or a shelter problem.
We cannot build our way out of a homeless problem.”

It has proven to be impossible to find the origin of this problem. It may be that people, especially those from our state’s copious amount of rural villages, are not given enough opportunities. The suicide rates in those villages have been rampant as of late. Many Alaskan Native adolescents see no hope in the future of a white man’s world. To them, it is easier to drown their sorrows away in a bottle of Rich & Rare. Reality can be hard to take, and escape can be easily attained with inebriation. I think the difference is the youth living in Anchorage have much more outlets for support than can be found in Ruby or Alakanuk. So, where do all of Anchorage’s homeless come from? Perhaps they came through the looking glass. Anyone who has interacted with a number of the city’s homeless can attest to certain vagrants’ frequent use of literary nonsense. Many neologisms come from Anchorage’s homeless. Galumphing through the streets, their important contribution to the literary world goes largely unnoticed.

Staring at the door, wondering if I should take the chance and see if Wonderland lye on the opposite side, I heard a voice off to my right. A speaker hanging from the ceiling was telling heartbreaking tales of the down-and-out. “Your eyes, your smile, your embrace,” the speaker projected. “Please invite me in.” Honestly, most self-centric residents of town with a decent home would quickly slam their door in the face of any dirty homeless brave enough to ring their doorbell. Then they would triple-lock their door. Then they would call the police.

Along the back wall of the exhibit an old bed frame atop a topographical map of Alaska was placed. What does it mean to be homeless in rural Alaska versus urban Alaska? Rural homeless are hunters and gatherers while urban homeless survive off nourishment obtained through handouts and department stores that forget to lock up their Listerine. The piece was titled “Drift.” It would be much harder to be a drifter in rural Alaska than in Anchorage. The drifting would not last long in the wilds of Alaska.

All of my insensitive jokes aside, I want to help. Through my education, I have learned to appreciate the finer things in life. I don’t give two fucks about what type of car you drive or what brands you prefer to wear. I enjoy friends, conversation and good beer. By those standards, I should soon be homeless.

When a homeless person asks me for a dollar I often ponder if the money will go toward food or an alcoholic beverage. Honestly, if I received a ton of free money, some of it would go toward booze. Unfortunately, my American-manufactured SUV needed a new transfer case, so my PFD went toward vehicle expenses. Capitalism prevails once more.

Sitting in my magazine writing course tasked with scribing a post for my blog, I find myself at a loss. The posts that I have filled this fine manifesto with are the result of real experiences, not simply examining something on the art section of The New York Times website, which I am doing right now.

Working at the student newspaper I have witnessed many young aspiring writers eager to start a career in writing and reporting, but they quickly groan in agony when they are instructed to leave the confines of the office and face society head on. In my mind, this is what makes the job great. You’re always meeting someone new, you’re always learning something new, and as long as you strive for creativity you’re always experiencing something new. Attending the First Fridays this year has been killer, engaging my thought in ways I never imagined possible. The artists I have spoken with are all professionals in their own right.

The works and galleries I have described do not stray far from what I initially set out to do: focus on sketchers, painters and sculptures.

Thus, when I am told to sit in front of a computer and post a blog with nothing to really ponder over except Internet articles, I find it frustratingly difficult. I like to do research; don’t get me wrong, but the assignment loses its shine when the NYT art section features movies I would never consider art. Movies do rely heavily on artists for character and costume design and set pieces. For example, it takes a certain high level of detail to create a realistic looking crowd of zombies—an oxymoron considering no one has ever seen a real zombie. I doubt George Ramero was aiming to create an artistic masterpiece when he started the filming for “Dawn of the Dead.” Some movies do aspire to be credited as art, such as… Japanese animation films or Tim Burton films. Tim Burton does draw his own sketches. Additional directors control every aspect of their films. Dramas can have tense dialogue and compelling characters while epic films can create an immense scope that would have been impossible in the early days of cinema. It is hard, however, to make the argument that the majority of modern films apply the same level of imagination and creative skill that painters or illustrators do. A lot of movies are released only to be forgotten within two months or less, and they should be. I refuse to spend upwards of $10 to waste two hours of my life. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

The third headline on today’s NYT art webpage said, “Eye-popping for art’s sake: An advocate for 3-D films.” James Cameron is either pushing for these next-gen films because he truly believes they are a dominant art form, or simply because he is feeding American consumption and lining his pockets in the process.  You may have heard someone assert, “’Titanic’ was a masterpiece and an ever-lasting achievement for the film industry.” Well, those people can look forward to a reissue of the 1997 blockbuster in 2012. Let’s hear it for art’s sake. Hurray… “We’re going to bring it out in 3-D as a theatrical rerelease on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in 2012,” Cameron said. People will definitely witness art oozing from the screen as they watch the film’s enhanced recreation of the terrible tragedy; bodies flailing wildly toward their watery graves. Can someone please sink this ship? I hate those 3-D glasses. They give me a headache.

Jackass 3-D was released this previous Friday. What a piece of art that was. High society will surely praise its nauseating, shit-infused skits and its slow motion dick shots as the pinnacle of cinematic achievement.

As my heart sinks while I read all the newest on the “art scene,” I find solace in the individuals I have meant over the past two months. Rather than experiencing a mediated form of reality by reading about or watching films, these artists’ opening ceremonies foster social engagement. This is something I can support to the greatest of my ability. But all of the hyped-up 3-D movie releases can go to hell.

What do you consider art? Movies? Books? Paintings?

Is the art section of “The New York Times” website impressive?

Are 3-D films eye-popping for art’s sake?

How much are you willing to pay for a terrible movie?

Fishing: the beloved pastime of many Alaskans. An abundant amount of lazy summer afternoons are spent casting reels, waiting for ‘the big one,’ and then taking your newly captured fish, covering it with ink and imprinting it on paper to create a piece of art… Wait, what?

The stated technique is referred to as Gyotaku (gee-o-ta-coo). It is a traditional Japanese form of nature printing originally used by fisherman to accurately record their prized catches. The Anchorage Visitors Center recently showcased the works of Jerelyn Miyashiro and Linda Warford during its First Friday event. There were over twenty pieces on display, and all of them had been created using this Japanese art of fish printing.

According to their information pamphlet, Jerelyn and Linda “work to create distinguishable, full-scale renderings of a fish rather than precise replicas. We strive to capture the essence and individual elements of each subject. The final fish print is a result of the artists passion for the beauty of nature and Alaska’s fish which continually inspires our art.” Think of it as a call back to Romanticism, minus the poetry and recognition of everything else in nature except fish. Fish truly are the pinnacle of romance. The Old Man and the Sea can attest. Also, Alaskans love fish, such as salmon, and Americans love tuna, as is evidenced in the fact that one-fourth of the tuna catch of the world is consumed in the U.S., but maybe that’s because Americans consume everything like there is no tomorrow, or like there is no African child who doesn’t have access to clean water. That’s why I am calling for the genocide of all of earth’s dolphins. The dolphins’ meat would be given to African communities in need. They could then sell the meat at inflated prices, using the copious amounts of profits gained to buy Ipads and Calvin Klein apparel. The Romantics would be proud, I’m sure. Nothing could be more passionate, except maybe fish covered with black ink.

No, this is not an article on the Gulf of Mexico. So, to create the best prints, the fish need to be cleaned and prepped before they are covered with ink, or—on occasions—with certain paints. “It is possible to do a print with a frozen fish, but it doesn’t come out as detailed,” Miyashrio said. In most cases, both of the artists start with an initial record print. A record print uses black ink resulting in the simplest print. The two artists stated that generally no embellishments are added unless the fisherman, or whoever is paying for the print, requests it. There are cases where embellishments are added, however.

Wondering to myself who would want a fish print above their living room mantle, I glanced at the visitors around the room and it suddenly became as clear as a polished pair of shoes made from Red Snapper skin. They truly were visitors, most of them wearing bright windbreakers and fanny packs. The gallery was packed with tourists filling the room with their gasps of enjoyment. The market was booming. I can see a market for fishermen as well. Who wouldn’t want their prize catch on permanent display? I myself have never caught a fish in Alaska waters, so my piece would be a blank parchment spread across my bedroom wall. I will be sure to save a single dolphin from the inevitable genocide that will take place specifically for this reason.

At the exhibit, most of the prints on display were plain record prints while others featured shimmering greens and pinks that accompany Alaska salmon. Most of the prints stuck to a realistic fashion, capturing nature in its most raw form. One print by Linda that emphasized a more mystic, whimsical feeling was titled “Story Fish,” as if the printed fish illustration were going to be placed in a storybook.

And so goes the story of Gyotaku. If you find the practice intriguing call Laughing Fish Designs, which both of the artists are part of. By the time of my next post you can expect a think tank to have erected for my dolphin genocide. Our campaign slogan will be “make the third world a little chipper, please kill flipper.” Until next time, arigato.

Another First Friday has come and gone in Anchorage. October 1 had its share of scattered showers throughout the night, but the overcast did not stop the “art crowd” (wine-sipping, cheese-eating liberals) from coming to the numerous shows. With so much to choose from, publications like the Press are useful with their First Friday times and locations page, but anyone can wonder downtown Anchorage from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and discover the galleries for themselves.

My first stop on the art trudge this month: Octopus Ink Gallery. The shop offers a limited line of clothing that is “inspired by nature.” So, if you would like a T-shirt with a crab or jellyfish printed onto it, look no further. I personally think hoodies with Homeless Bill printed on them would be much more exciting and wearable, but I am a diehard Bill fan.

The shop featured recent paintings and pottery by Anchorage artist Mark T. Stewart, aka Stew. His show was appropriately titled “Bikes Beer and Beyond,” with the comma omitted intentionally. He must have been heavily drinking. The paintings—a number of which were painted on old cupboard doors of various sizes—used four to five colors at the most. The paintings I had set my sights upon used oranges, yellows and blues. “Going Growler II” by Stew had bubbles floating up to a light-blue background, ascending away from a darker black and orange surface, upon which a growler and glass o’ beer rested. The piece definitely seemed to hold drinking-infused inspiration, almost as if the viewer is experiencing external beer goggles when looking at the painting. “South Light” depicted an elder man using the previously stated colors. The man appeared to be at peace with bubbles floating past his head. Perhaps he had just gone growler.

“Beer Bike II,” which was painted on a larger cupboard panel, shared the same surreal atmosphere as Stew’s other paintings. The artist’s description of these groups of paintings was that “cyclical changes of light, temperature and terrain inspire my art. Hard lines, solid forms and a flurry of colors… The colors are representational of the chaos which flows by my periphery, as I churn, ascend and descend through my surroundings.” Obviously, I began to think, this guy is drunk and riding his bike around town, which is a very common occurrence in Germany. Drunk, maybe not, but drinking, most definitely.

“I am a year-round bike commuter,” Stew said. “These paintings were inspired by biking around Anchorage in extreme conditions.” I had to ask him if he drank beer and rode his bike. “Yes,” he replied, smiling with a glass of white wine in his hand. Pointing to a nearby painting he continued, “That one in particular was inspired by my New Year’s Eve. I rode the coastal trail that night with a growler strapped to my back. It was negative 7 degrees, and my friends and I would stop and take drinks whenever are hands became to numb to continue without a short break.” The painting was titled “Beer Bike III.” The smaller painting was simple enough: a growler behind the handlebars of a bike. Oh, what joy. College-aged art students should take note of this symbolism and begin painting cans of Coors behind the wheel of a Ford truck, plowing 60 miles per hour down the New Seward Highway during a heavy snowfall; a more fitting image to an Anchorage hooligan’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

As a crowd of adoring fans called on Stew’s attention, I remained in front of the paintings. I pondered the energy its takes to ride a bike around town during the cold winter months mixed with loss of coordination that is often associated with beer consumption. A musician began playing violin in the background and people stood and watched the young musician, cozy in their fleece jackets and hemp caps. Beers, bikes… And violin.

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