One of the bonuses of working at, or being involved with, an art institution, is the opportunity to meet artists and talk to them about motivation, technique and inspiration - ideally without resorting to the dreaded "But what does it all mean?"
When the Boca Raton Museum of Art hosts exhibition openings for living artists, we often are privileged with the presence of those artists at the Member and Patron receptions. This gives the Museum Members, guests and staff a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the artists' works and to put a face with the work, so to speak.
Two of the three featured artists - photographer Stephen Althouse and painter Gary T. Erbe - attended the September opening reception for the Museum's fall exhibitions. Clyde Butcher, a renowned, Florida-based landscape photographer, was hosting his annual swamp walk that night and was unable to attend the opening reception. He will, however, visit the Museum on October 3 for a seminar and book-signing.
The day after the opening reception, Althouse and Erbe returned to the Museum for a morning talk with Museum docents. These docent tours provide "inside information" for Museum docents, who in turn, pass along the knowledge to Museum guests.
(L-R: Photographer Stephen Althouse talks to Museum Docents; painter Gary T. Erbe during a morning Docent tour)
Below are a few notes from the docent tours:
Stephen Althouse: Tools and Shrouds
Althouse discussed the large black-and-white images of Stephen Althouse: Tools and Shrouds. The images are stunning, stark compositions of cold steel implements juxtaposed with textured cloth. In explanation of his work, Althouse emphasized that he doesn't strive to assign "religious dogma, story or social commentary" to his photographs, but concedes that the viewer might ascribe such a meaning based upon his or her own interpretations.
Althouse also said of the images that "(they are) contrived and controlled work...(They represent) personal thoughts and emotions, expressed in a private way." Althouse said there is "no real overt story or message for these photographs."
A close look at some of the pieces in Tools and Shrouds reveals subtle details such as a Braille inscription on the handle of a tool. Althouse declined to give the translation for the letters, as well as a translation of a German inscription on another photograph, saying that the revelation of such literary details is very nearly always a disappointment to the viewer. Althouse chooses to protect "the power and mystery of not knowing" the literal translations of symbols within a work.
Erbe, who attended Althouse's tour with the docents, said of Althouse's technique; "it elevates (the works) to Abstract."
Painter Gary T. Erbe comments during Stephen Althouse's docent tour.
Gary T. Erbe: Forty-Year Retrospective
After Althouse's presentation, the docents and various Museum staff were treated to a tour with Erbe, a self-taught artist who initially had an exhibition at the Museum when it was at its original location on Palmetto Park (now the site of the Art School of the Boca Raton Museum of Art).
Erbe is known for his trompe l'oeil paintings of pop culture artifacts and assemblages. He taught himself how to paint at a young age, by looking at his work, analyzing it and seeing what could be improved. After four years of honing his craft, he became self-employed as a painter.
Early in his career, Erbe developed his own method of painting, which he dubbed "levitational realism." The style "removes objects from their settings" to create a new idea. Erbe had great success with this unique style.
The artist also shared the story of his first significant sale to a collector. Erbe was stationed at an outdoor art show. At literally the eleventh hour of the show, Erbe was approached - as he said, "on the street" - by a collector, who bought a painting for $4000, a somewhat arbitrary figure that Erbe plucked from the air. The collector, clearly a fan of Erbe, bought the painting and approximately 40 more throughout the years. Erbe incidentally never again worked at an outdoor art show.
As we move along in the 2009-2010 season, we are anticipating more educational events with artists, such as Clyde Butcher and Enrique Martinez Celaya, whose exhibition will be unveiled on November 17, 2009.
What artist(s) living or dead, would you want to listen to talk about his or her art? What kinds of questions would you ask?