I am an artist and I’ve been working…
Ego is a word usually associated with some element of the arts, whether derogatory or explanatory. Possibly we assume automatically that the creator (writer, painter, sculptor, performer, etc.) has an intrinsic personal link and stake in the validity of the work, rendering the ego palatable.
This makes sense on a certain level, but it does not excuse exclusionary, price-inflating hyperbole that is the frequent companion to an artist’s ego and works. Consider instead a contrary view of the artist ego as commitment and duty to proudly stand behind a finished work with explanation in hand. A self-deprecating artist is suspect; an unflinching artist is more likely to warrant inspection and admiration. Ego in this context can simply be a matter of perception.
New and emerging artists frequently grapple with the public face of their talents by feigning confidence or shying away from the spotlight, trying to find a flattering key light. But there are those rare few artists who demand our observation and consumption as if by birthright. These are the artists I find most intriguing … and often the most troublesome because seeing genius in action is as dangerous as looking into the sun.
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More than 15 years ago, I met a self-confident autodidactic assemblage artist by the name of James Loftus Jr. He literally showed me his works from the trunk of his old car.
My first reaction (before seeing the contents) reminded me of times I politely avoided a homeless person asking for change. In this case however, Loftus caught my attention by his genuine pride that did not seem fabricated or contrived.
I smelled a waft of originality, and I was not to be disappointed. Having seen hundreds of aspiring artists and their “new” visions come to life, I never expected to see something that was literally a new concept built on a solidly modern foundation, especially from the trunk of a car in a parking lot. But what I saw sent light pulses to my memory banks searching for relevance and finding hints of Louise Nevelson and unintentional homage to Joseph Cornell. In fact, much like Cornell’s affinity for extracting poetry from discarded objects, Loftus was a scavenger of relics who then imagined decidedly fictitious accompanying journals as “documentation.”
As a friend to Duchamp in the 1930s, Cornell laid the groundwork for many modern artists and movements (notably Rauschenberg and Nevelson) by incorporating compartmental objects. Where Cornell (1903-1972) alchemized “commonly discarded objects into a visually compelling state of being” (Deborah Solomon, art critic for WNYC Public Radio New York).
Loftus picked up the thread and ran for the goal with them, careening from one statement piece to the next, accumulating misunderstood gems that begged for an audience that remains mostly imagined.
Paved road or not, this field of poetic construction art places demands on the viewer to contemplate the depth if not the validity of each piece. There will be a day when Loftus is held in the same company as his illustrious celebrated forebears, and I can’t wait. His confidence is the kind of ego I like because it does not waver in its certainty of the knowledge that this working man poet has issued a clarion call.
Meeting talented, humble artists has its own sweet taste as well, and I’ve been lucky to meet a handful here in California over the last few years. On a completely different spectrum of personality is the homegrown genius of Tom Gould, whose photorealistic paintings are on display in Cambria, and Flo Bartell, whose timelessly modern encaustic works are part of a new show in Morro Bay. These fine local artists remind me constantly that valid art is just a stone’s throw from our door, and we don’t even have to fight the paparazzi to see them.
Patrick Dennis’ column appears the second Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian. Find him online at www.patrickgallery.com.
“Reflections,” a solo exhibition of paintings by master photorealist Tom Gould. Feb. 1-25, Allied Arts Association, 1350 Main St., Cambria. 805-927-8190. cambriacenterforthearts.org.
“Windows to Other Worlds.” Encaustic master Flo Bartell and other artists of various disciplines pay tribute to the customs and people of other countries. Feb. 22-April 2, Art Center Morro Bay, 835 Main St., Morro Bay. 805-772-2504. www.artcentermorrobay.org.