I am an artist and I’ve been working…
Like most urban legends, it’s a common belief that great artists don’t receive recognition until after their death. This myth has been perpetuated for a variety of reasons, but mostly it’s rooted in economics. Once a “discovery” is made and collected by an agent or investor, it may be held for many years, only released sparingly in limited exhibitions to increase the potential value of the artwork. One modern example is the creator of vernacular assemblage art and arguably the father of “outsider art,” Thornton Dial.
While Dial received some recognition for his soulful, skillful storytelling and broke new ground with commanding works of complex composition woven with unexpected materials such as denim, metal and carpet, the vast majority of his lifetime’s body of work was not released until shortly after his death at 87 in 2016.
His works carry such weight that, whether the storyline addresses his humble roots growing up on a farm or the terrorist attacks of 9/11, they offer compelling evidence of honest engagement. Retrospectives of his work place him solidly in the sphere of modern greats such as de Kooning and Pollock. Today, numerous institutions show Dial’s works in their collections such as the Whitney, the Met and even the Smithsonian. Needless to say the value of his works has escalated, but not simply because it was manipulated.
The reality is that, throughout art history, we’ve recognized and celebrated artistic talent as it has come to light and resonates with our current social consciousness because the artwork reflects our state of being and seeks to excite dialogue. Modern art galleries consistently show more profitability with living artist exhibitions unless it is a “blockbuster” exhibit of unseen masterworks.
New Cambria gallery
Cambria has a new gallery that is primarily dedicated to and specializing in showcasing living artists of high caliber. After a long successful run in San Juan Bautista, the Mission Gallery has chosen Cambria for its new home. Co-owners Piper Jaramillo and Boykin Sellers have transformed one of the historic Main Street properties into an inviting, well-organized space that includes many works on paper, beautifully framed.
While the new gallery includes some home décor items, the etchings, engravings, woodblock prints and linocuts and mezzotints are its strongest feature. The breadth of global representation in the gallery’s collection is impressive as are the exquisite individual works. This is not a loud, large scale “hey, look at me” gallery. The curatatorial consistency provides an exposure to a world of small details worth exploring. Examining the skillful etchings and other obscure techniques takes time, but the environment is supportive for the viewer/client, allowing careful study.
American artist Stephen McMillan’s aquatint etchings are evocative and often moody, such as “Oak Grove” depicting a lost horizon within the grouping of trees, or “January Snow.”
Often we do not have the opportunity to learn the techniques employed by modern masters, or hear their story. Imagine being able to sit and listen to Thornton Dial’s childhood influences and how he taught himself to express his autodidactic creativity as a black man in a white man’s art world. That opportunity is lost to us, but modern masters of their craft continually rise up to lead our eye toward a new light.
In the interest of our collective art education, it is imperative that we learn what artwork is being produced, how it’s done and why it affects us as relevant. It’s not impossible to appreciate while we are all still sharing this great planet.
Patrick Dennis’ column appears the second Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian. Find him online at www.patrickgallery.com.
Ongoing and upcoming
The Mission Gallery will host events and demonstrations by artists, discussions about printmaking techniques and an opportunity to see their own press at work. Mission Gallery: 783 Main St., Cambria. www.missiongalleryart.com.
“Susan Jenkins: inside Out” — Solo exhibition of Cambria artist Susan Jenkins exploring the internal view of our lives and environment. Through Nov. 11, Patrick Gallery, 815 Main St., Cambria. 805-909-9522. www.patrickgallery.com.
“Celebrating Fall” — Through Nov. 29, Cambria Center for the Arts, 1350 Main St., Cambria. 805-927-8190. www.cambriacenterforthearts.org.
“Small Treasures” — Two and three dimensional artworks for $100 each. Through Nov. 29, Studios on the Park, 1130 Pine St., Paso Robles. www.studiosonthepark.org.
“Demonstration of Wood Turning” by Mike Rude — an orientation of techniques, lathes, wood grains and turnery. 3 p.m. Nov. 13, Art Center Morro Bay, 835 Main St., Morro Bay. www.artcentermorrobay.org.
“Fragments” — This exhibition may include decontructionist and unfinished works that speak to the nature of fragmentation in a variety of disciplines. Through Nov. 26, San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, 1010 Broad Street, San Luis Obispo. 805-543-8562. www.sloma.org.