Thursday, July 4, 2013

Metropolitan Montana

Here's Dave Kirk in the gallery space at Aunt Dofe's Hall of Recent Memory. Everybody has to be nice to Dave from now on.

So they take me out to a back road in Montana, and I figured this was my chance to do some Western art. "Here I am, doing Western art," I thought to myself, and when I was done, I showed it to people and said, "See? I'm not afraid of Western art." I drew a cow, as well. I'll let you see it later.

When I got home and looked at my 'Western' art, I laughed out loud at what happens if you go far enough west...

Every day is backwards day. So of course, when I went to Montana for my show at Aunt Dofe's Hall of Recent Memory, I spent my time entirely in the company of people from the arts, academia, and broadcasting. The one civilian I listened to for any length of time turned out to write a column for a fishing magazine. And most of 'em were probably more conscientious lefties than I.

So go figure.

It was a ridiculously gratifying experience. I was treated as a precious object, I behaved as a humble servant, and the results were pleasing and harmonious. My pal Deborah (familiar to long-time readers) made sure I ate and walked every day, and arranged regular encounters with animals. I need a certain amount of physical affection, and without the missus and our dogs, horses, dogs, cats, cattle, and observed wild animals serve as palliative drugs. (Deborah's comment at the end of the trip -- "Animals compete for your attention, and people give you stuff. What's up with that?" -- was the last nail in the coffin of my former self-image. I am not an outcast, but rather one of those who glitters when he walks, and that boils up a whole fucking other kettle of worms. If I act like the sullen wretch I am, it comes across as arrogant or threatening rather than pathetic. I'm starting to feel that smiling and acting nice are responsibilities I've been shirking.)

But the whole scene wasn't about me, and I liked that. I was one of the main engines of the event, but an engine isn't an aeroplane. Dave Kirk, the curator of Aunt Dofe's, had gone through a fallow period, and this had been (or at least this is the impression people gave me) a source of hardship in the creative community. "Dave/Aunt Dofe's is the best thing to happen to Montana in a long time," was a statement I heard repeated from many mouths with the regularity of a chirping cricket. So a new season of shows at Aunt Dofe's was exciting news, a sort of cultural springtime.

Working on the sort of budget one gets for art produced outside the academic or commercial worlds, with access to any number of friends and colleagues who are known in the world of the arts, who have shows ready to go, who have pull and connections and collectors and so on, Dave, like an arrow straight to Hell, chose to go with an almost completely unknown artist, working in an eccentric, somewhat kitschy style, who would need complete sponsorship in order to participate.

On the night of the opening, I heard two phrases repeated over and over from a lot of different people. The fishing columnist (who I'm not ribbing) wasn't there, so it was all, you know. Arts types. Real arts types. Working, academics, broadcasting, like I said.

Some of them fixed me with an intense gaze, obviously meaning to drive some thought into my brain with the force of a wooden stake. "You do understand that this is one of the best gallery spaces in the world, and Dave is one of the best curators in the world, right? You do understand what that means?"

Well, I'm still in the process of understanding that one, but yeah, I kind of get it.

The other thing people said? "Thank you."

Like I said,  still processing, kind of get it.

Here's the thing.

I'm proud of the show. There are two booklets there, A Bad Part of Town, and Swimming Crawling Walking Flying, that have been printed in editions of thirty, available only from Aunt Dofe's. There are fourteen images accompanied by thirteen poems. I did a walk-on reading early in the show, and would have done more except the band -- Fear Eats the Soul, and I wish I could find a good link for them -- caught fire, and to interfere would have been worse than a sin. It would have been a mistake.

But it was the way people swung through the event and picked up a charge that got me. That was my reward, that was my payoff. There was a buzz, there was energy, and there was a sense of harmony, of things operating in their proper sphere. People were enhanced by their interactions. And that was what I helped create with my art, and with my labor, and with my person. The essential scene, the music, food, drinks, and guests, could have happened without me.

But having me there gave the scene specificity and novelty. Hey, these are some of the coins art brings to the table. Happy to oblige. Thanks for having me.

I used to say that I was good at arrogance and shame, but pride and humility were incomprehensible to me. That's changed. Pride is knowing your strength, and humility is understanding that strength is responsibility rather than license, that strength is a gift others paid for.

There was no point in the artistic process where I felt doubt or worry. Nerves, yes. That's how I'm built. But the sense of complete confidence I felt throughout seemed the simple and proper result of understanding the range of my abilities rather than hubris. And those abilities seem not so much a part of me but rather a public trust -- I can do what I do because people invested in me. Time, money, and tradition have been granted me. It is appropriate that I do honor to the gifts I've been given.

Over the period of time, six months or so, not even a year, my life has undergone a series of changes, some startling, some the obvious outcome of the way I conduct myself in life. I have a publisher, and my next novel will be released in early 2014. This Saturday, I'll be reading and helping host a reading as part of this year's Beastcrawl. I am operating at a very eccentric intersection of fine art, popular culture, and science, and whatever it is that I am is still in the early stages of emergence. I'm nearly fifty; by the time I find out what I am, I'll have fifteen, twenty years worth of career if I score big. (I won't turn down more than that, but really, let's not be greedy.) Robertson Davies went downhill for his last two novels, but Hokusai went from hack to genius in his dotage. I seek to emulate Hokusai...

Man, I'm out of it. Thinking about my last-days work while doing this-days work. Processing, processing.

I'll talk more about the show later. But for now, know this. Deborah Kuchar and Dave Kirk got together and gave me one of the very best weeks I've experienced in my life. They went to expense and effort, and I hope very much that they got what they wanted.

Because I have been enhanced, and I hold them responsible.

1 comment:

pongacha said...

The supreme accomplishment
is to blur the line
between work and play.
~Arnold Toynbee