These Feelings that Haunt

thesehauntingfeelings

Authenticity in Life & Art

Staying authentic.
This was the important message relayed to me by an artist teaching a workshop I attended early last fall. She said it in reference to one’s own artwork.
Her message resonated much too clear in my personal strive for career success, and one way I chose to look at this idea of staying authentic was not forcing my creativity for the sake of anything.
Let me explain more thoroughly.
I see beauty everywhere and one of my goals (now) is to bring that beauty to the forefront of others that may not have it so clearly or as often as I perceive it. This bit has been a hard intention to admit, even to myself, because I felt guilty. Why? Because it didn’t feel important enough to do just that.
I’ve always felt the need to be part of the struggle against the many injustices of the world. Children going hungry, third-world countries being exploited by the developed world, the damage to our environment for the sake of profit, etc. Within this context, beauty just did not rank high enough, and I couldn’t base my artwork on this sole concept.
And so I found that my idealistic views were getting in the way of my creativity. Every time I set out to make artwork I would mentally beat myself up about how to make it transmit a message. How do I amplify these literal injustices through my work to make others more aware of them? And when I set out on these seemingly impossible tasks and fail miserably it would send me into depression mode. I thought to myself “I just have to keep focused and with more experience and effort I’ll find a way.” And the cycle would begin all over again.
At the end of the aforementioned workshop, the artist/teacher looked at the work I had produced and said to me “you have a heightened sense of beauty, so you should keep making beautiful things.” A confirmation that made me happy yet at the same time scared that this was all I could do.
Since, I have had a bit of time to reflect on these thoughts and I’m coming to terms with my own capabilities as well as my limitations. So now when I circle back to this idea of staying authentic, everything makes more sense. I believe if one stays authentic to their inclinations in life that the path to all you need will come. Nothing needs to be forced.
Therefore, if I concentrate on making beautiful art I can not only bring meaning to my own life but through that Vessel I may contribute to the struggle against those injustices I do wish to end rather than just bringing it to other people’s awareness. After all, I even find beauty in the fight for justice because it is the beauty in a just life itself which I want to preserve.
The sculpture pictured above was developed during the workshop. In the realm of my work this piece was such a freeing experience.
Are you an artist? Can you relate? Have you ever been road-blocked from the thing you do best because your intentions (as good as they may have been) were not aligned with your most authentic self? Please feel free to share or comment on my experiences laid out on this post.
Happy New Year 2017! (Since this is my first post of the year after a long hiatus).

Meeting Mohamad Hafez at CCSU

How lucky am I to have to the opportunity to, not only meet the artists that we showcase at the CCSU Art Galleries, but also the artists who we (the art department) invite to present lectures for the students.

This week, as was the case, we had the honor to present Mohamad Hafez to speak about his most current body of work.

Mohamad Hafez Bio

When I first saw Hafez’ artwork at City Wide Open Studios in New Haven back in October and I was immediately intrigued.  It was as if gravity pulled me in closer to each piece.  The subject that his works portrayed revealed themselves to me immediately as I discovered a Middle Eastern citadel, shattered and ravaged by what one could easily identify as the trademark of war.

If anyone knows me they will know that I don’t shy away from politics.  In fact, I actually attempt to keep up with current events around the world.  And it’s not unheard of, amidst my friends and family, to have argumentative discussions about the state of world.

However, what I love more than politics is art with a powerful message.

A Refugee Nation - Shown at CWOS, New Haven, 2015.When I turned into the small room where the artist had his work displayed, I knew I had found a special treat.  This work by Hafez was skillfully crafted and installed in the perfect setting that is the Goffe Street Armory in New Haven.  A run down industrial space, the Armory space gave his pieces a sense of belonging, a kinship the works shared with the deteriorated walls, peeling paint, and rusty window frames and exposed structures.

The art history professor in our department contacted me to find a time frame for hosting an artist lecture in our gallery.  When I learned who the artist was that would be presenting a lecture, I was utterly enthused.  Admittedly, she was also a big fan of Hafez’ work like myself, and unfortunately she had missed seeing him speak at Real Artways in Hartford, so what better way to mediate that problem than by hosting his lecture for her students and the university body.

Both sides of the conflict. Shown at CWOS, New Haven, 2015.

detailShotIrrevocably, I loved everything about his lecture and message.  My favorite part of the presentation was his end goal.  He wasn’t just trying to make a statement with his artwork.  The work was born out of his necessity to feel closer to home, to his roots, and to his people rather than trying to spread his own idealistic beliefs.  He focuses his efforts on shedding these perceptions we have which corporate media has manufactured so wrongly in our minds.

He didn’t need to convince me, I was already on his side before I even saw his works of art.  I may not have first hand experience in the kind of suffering that war brings to cities, countries, multitudes of people but my empathetic heart stretches into a universe inside of me, feeling very helpless and wishing I could do more.  He did more by simply sharing his family life in Damascus with us.

He showed us the snapshots he took of every day life when he was finally able to go back to his country.  Homesick and nostalgic about the little details of his home country that most might miss if you’re not really looking, he shed light to his culture’s best aspects.  A culture where humility is of utmost importance is truly noticeable in the neighborhoods as you walk by front doors of houses completely clear of embellishment, they all look the same regardless of how much or little you may have.  He also shared how communities come together when there are neighbors in need.  He showed us pictures of a normal Friday night dinner with immediate family, gatherings of 15-20 people around the table having a grand meal and actively being a family.  It reminded me of some family gatherings I have been to myself, where family extends not only to brothers, sisters, and parents but also cousins, second cousins, uncles, aunts, and friends whom we consider family.

It was easy to relate to his stories, and though our cultures may be different, they are also so similar.

This was my take on the artwork and the artist’s presentation.  I am sure I could go on for another 600 words to critique the quality of the artwork but after all I have already said, I don’t think it’s as important as you (the reader/viewer) to draw your own conclusion and opinion.

Rewind…

It’s always a busy time in September when school is once again starting and here I am trying to push my artwork as much as I conceivably can.

So let’s rewind just a bit to the late spring/early summer time when I went kind of crazy on ceramics work in my studio, tried to do as many shows as I had inventory, and tried to submit my work into juried competitions all over.

I managed to get rejected a few times as well as successfully set up and take down shows, sell some pieces, get some great feedback, and even make it into some of those juried exhibitions.  The rejections did leave a mark.  Instead they motivate me to be bigger and do better for the same competition next year.

This past Saturday was the opening of the “Untitled: AbEx 2015” in Hartford, Connecticut. I was honored to be included in this abstract exhibition artist list with one of my ceramic pieces and one of my old cyanotype photographs, both of which you can see here.

It was a great celebration of artistic talent in our local area.  And talent we have.  There were some very strong abstract paintings and mixed media on their walls.  My artist friend Monica Hewryk was also part of the exhibition with two of her ceramic pieces.  You can see our excitement in the images below.

Paola @ Hartford Artspace
Me next to “Missing Pieces” sculpture.
Monica @ Hartford Artspace
Artist Monica Hewryk next to her pieces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later that same night before we walked our way to dinner we stopped by EBK Gallery, their small work gallery situated on Pearl Street in Hartford.  It was my first time visiting, and to my surprise, we found this great one piece show.  You might ask one piece show?  Yes!  It was the opening for a mural piece by Tim Wengerstman.  And yes, it was the only piece of artwork there, however, it was a big mural covering the main wall of the tiny gallery.

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Tim Wengertsman (image from EBK gallery website)

The mural was strong, assertive in its message, and it spoke of the generational awareness of our times.  It was a busy gallery with mounds of people outside of the gallery trying to get their questions answered.  My friend overheard the artist reveal that many of his artist friends were getting ready to relocate or move on with their lives in one aspect or another, a rite of passage kind of thing.  This impactful series of events brought on this painting, adequately titled “The Last Supper in Hartford,” is so politically charged it’s one of the main reasons I loved it so much.

Besides being stylistically strong (he works in woodcuts), one must study this mural with some time at hand.  It has much to decipher besides the obvious political punches he inserts with symbolism and some words.  I highly recommend anyone in the Hartford area to go see it.

It will be showing until September 28th, 2015.  Go See it!!

Tell me what you see.  Tell me what you feel when you look at this mural.  Aren’t all your senses on edge??

As an audiophile…

…I must share this music video, I love it in every language.  Calle13 does not disapoint!

Ok, yea my political inclination might have pushed me to post this.  I hope you enjoy it too!!

Political Ideals in Art

One of the things I find most fascinating about art is that it can actually be used as a vehicle to change the world.  I know, changing the world, what an ideal to have.  Both my parents, and many other university students, were very politically active in the 1970’s in Lima, Peru; a time when right-wing dictatorships of many surrounding countries were actively eliminating any influential communist ideas from the population because it contradicted the existing government.  In 1983 my father was tortured in jail for possessing written documents from leftist idealists.  This while my mom was giving premature birth to yours truly.

Growing up, I always admired my parents’ struggle for bettering others’ lives.  We never had a lot, but my parents were always willing to help however they could.  As I write about it now I cannot help but analyze this as being the biggest influence on the way I perceive the world today.

Since I started working at CCSU, I have had the chance to interact with some of the professors in the art department I had not met.  One of those professors was Mike Alewitz.  One of the first things he said to me was “I can’t believe you graduated without having to take one of my classes.”  Since I was a transfer student in the CCSU art department, there were basic courses I was able to circumvent, therefore I did not know all the professors.

We started talking about politics the same day we met.  I told him that his class was the one I was always looking for but never knew existed.  Since, he has invited me to sit in his mural painting class.  Now I need to come up with a worthy concept to paint a mural about.  Ideas I have plenty, but more important than an idea, or a cause, is how well illustrated  and composed it is so that it is able to get the point across.  As I develop these ideas I will write a post about them.

Most people either love Alewitz, or hate him.  I have known some students that were horrified by his teaching methods and others that take his classes again and again, whether they failed or passes the first, or second time.  Some may tell you that he is crazy, but are we not all some measure of crazy?  He and I are of kindred philosophies which is why I enjoy sitting in his class.

Alewitz also grew up in a household with radical thinking parents who were highly influenced by the communist party, as were many others of that generation, my parents (at that time in South America) included.  It is interesting to me how such involvement in the political front can dissipate so quickly from one generation to the next, and even cease to exist with the following generation.  Alewitz is a good contradiction of this development in society, but others in his generation were, too, because they lived through the Vietnam war era.  A time when you fought a war against the authorities to not have to go to war.

Already Alewitz had a radical influence from his own family growing up.  By the time he was 17, he was already a self-professed Marxist.  By the time he got to college, at Kent State University in Ohio, he was organizing anti-war movements among others.  He was marching with other students the day of the Kent State Massacre on May 4th, 1970, where the National Guard opened fire against unarmed college students killing four students and injuring 9 others (source).

If you reside in the United States then you might have a chance to see one of Alewitz’ many murals.  He has painted murals in Austin, Minnesota, South Los Angeles, Chicago, Tennessee, Washington state, Washington DC, Denver, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other locations I might be missing.  Sadly, some of his murals have been destroyed.  Throughout his life he was victimized, harassed, and even added to the terrorist list.  He is never scared away from a mural project.  He has been to Nicaragua, Ukraine, Iraq, Mexico City, Northern Ireland, the West Bank and Jerusalem to paint the voice of the people.

Monument to Rachel Corrie, East Jerusalem
Monument to Rachel Corrie, East Jerusalem
Monument of the Workers of Chernobyl, Ukraine
Monument of the Workers of Chernobyl, Ukraine

Let’s talk about how this nonconformist artist, Mike Alewitz, helped to change the world.

In the early 1980’s, there was much energy brewing in South Africa.  There was a lot of friction on the capitalist corporations.  The strength of the organized community along with militant political unions was promising in ending the apartheid regime.  This was the goal the ANC (African National Congress) and the South African Communist party were trying to reach (source).  It was also around this time that Ronald Reagan listed the ANC and, by default, Nelson Mandela (source).

The racially unequal treatment of employees at the 3M plant in South Africa’s was revealed at the same time that 3M tried closing their Freehold, NJ plant (which would leave 1000 unemployed) (source).  Factories were closing everywhere.  Many were losing jobs.  And in Austin Minnesota 1,500 Hormel meat packer workers were on strike for 10 long months trying to protect a fair wage (source).

Solidarity was shared by labor unions, workers, and activists everywhere.

Enter activist and mural painter Mike Alewitz who was in Austin, MN in 1986 organizing the development for the concept and the painting of a mural.  The mural spoke for the people.  It stood for the striking meat packers, for South Africa, for working people, for farmers, for families, and for Nelson Mandela, who at the time was imprisoned by the U.S.

P-9 MURAL - Austin, MN, 1986
P-9 MURAL – Austin, MN, 1986

You can no longer see this mural if you go to Austin, MN.  As you can see from the picture below, the mural was sandblasted.  The U.F.C.W leaders (United Food and Commercial Workers International Unions) ordered the mural be destroyed and forgotten.  It was a demonstration of power on the part of the union bureaucrats; a power hold that was so weak no union member would sandblast the wall.  The U.F.C.W leaders had to do the dirty work of destroying the mural themselves (source).

Defaced P-9 Mural
Defaced P-9 Mural

This instance was only one example of art activism.  Many of the Hormel workers were changed by the experiences of the strike and the Mural.  Some of those people even went on to fight for the labor movement (source).  My only hope as an artist is to be able to influence people in such a way that they become empowered with knowledge and the desire to change the world.  What kind of mark would you like to leave behind in this world?