Sometimes things get labeled and defined in ways that obscure a deeper, more meaningful value. I needed a place to use as a gallery to display a recent body of artwork. I’ve a background installing art museum exhibitions, running a cooperative gallery, and showing my work in other settings, so I knew I could make the right space work. I found a location and was pleased with how I was able to present the paintings. But the magic ingredient, the catalysts that really alter the dynamic in the gallery, are the people.
I’ve spent time sitting in galleries since I was 20 years old (gallery monitor was my first art museum role). It was usually a quiet time to take in the art, read, reflect. The more mature me of today notices other things, like how the visitors’ unique energies transform a space. Each brings their own special aura, and these in turn interact with the works displayed and as significantly, with the others folks there at the time.
Of course I enjoy receiving insights from people, and their very personal responses. There have been several visitors who mentioned being surprised by the feelings evoked, many have admitted wiping their eyes, some referred to feeling embarrassed about tearing up. For me, there’s no need for embarrassment, in fact I see this as a great compliment. When art can move us to connect to our feelings, and further, a setting has allowed them the room for these to be expressed, I feel it’s fulfilling a crucial role. In my view we are overly fearful of our emotions and desperately in need of healthy outlets in which to attend to them—and I would add, accept them and not instantly try to “fix them.” As one of my heroes, Brene Brown puts it: great courage requires great vulnerability.
This unfolding interaction has been an unexpected joy to witness and experience. I have met new friends, reconnected with old ones, and watched strangers bond through the conversations amid the art. While I greatly appreciate sales of my work, for me, this magical alchemy is in many ways more important. If I can contribute to people discovering buried feelings, recognizing our interconnection within the natural world, or bridging with each other, my role as an art maker is utterly complete. Observing and being part of these new bonds has been a delight and very fulfilling experience.
In addition, I’ve been able to share in the diminishing art of direct, non-digitized, fully exposed tone of voice, read-the-body-language conversation. Hearty ones abound in this space: the last few weeks have included serious brainstorming about how to bring back a successful city jazz festival with a highly respected jazz musician Lenny Marcus; discussions about the creative process with an eloquent and published poet Gyorgyi Voros; the importance of recognizing how humans fit within the “more than human world” with an environmentalist/author Rick Van Noy; the lost appreciation for hand-lettered sign fonts with a former skilled practitioner William Saari; how musical progressions translate into color nuances in a painting with a brilliant young artist/musician/philosopher Miguel Carter-Fisher; the challenges of being the first gay couple to adopt a child in Virginia Cole Gordon; the experience of ecstatic dancing and the courage involved in allowing oneself to truly BE one’s self Clarissa LaFountain; and dozens of other profound, playful, small and big topics we all encounter traveling along this woolly game of life. I relished and will cherish each and every one of these!
[I feature the folks in these three photos only because I happened to take their photos and generally didn’t interrupt moments with other visitors during the many wonderful encounters.]
“Juice” Juicepoet Smith the impressive man in the doorway is a fixture in downtown Roanoke, an anchor for so very many folks, and easily one of the hardest working people I know,. He can be physically imposing but reserves that for certain circumstances (he’s a bouncer, one of his many jobs) and he’s also a sensitive, extraordinarily sincere person with an amazing attitude about life. In addition he’s a refined, seriously hard-working slam poet, and treated us to one before he ran off to attend to another errand. It’s perfectly fitting that he’s got Ali on his shirt, as he’s become a great inspiring friend to me.
Joyce Crowder, (who I regret is barely visible in the right side of the photo) drove from over an hour away just to come by and see the show. We’d never even met, and she’d only seen my art on FB. She quietly wandered the space and patiently took in almost every work. She was so quiet, at one point I thought she’d left without me noticing. But in fact, she’s was trying to avoid being seen wiping tears. We hugged and within moments, we had the warmest conversation and the more I learned about her, the more I admired her, a stranger, then a FB friend, now become dear. She worked for many years as an animal control officer, loves the outdoors and spending time on the water, is a fabulous devoted mom, and a huge supporter of live music in our region (primarily at The Harvester performance center, a great music venue that’s also over an hour from her home)!
Gina Louthian has been a fast friend for years—a dedicated teacher and art maker, she has been a supportive spirit for me and I’m sure hundreds of others for decades. We share a knowing about what’s significant and important in life that transcends words. I love her art and am so grateful she’s in our region positively affecting young lives in her day job and guiding adult workshops in her after hours time! Mostly I’m happy she’s in this valley and in my life as a stalwart friend. Not surprisingly, the magic was flowing, and Gina found connections in Joyce’s home town, and Juice knew Gina from some interactions several years ago!
The radiant couple are Luisa Bartel and Gisela Pacho, old friends who came to the gallery together. Gisela is of Spanish decent by way of Cuba and then Detroit, my hometown. Beyond Motown, we’ve shared the rolling journey of life as friends for a decade now. She is earnest, articulate, kind, insightful, and fun-loving. The kind of friend with who you can talk about the most serious issues yet manage to always laugh when you get together. It’s a treat and an honor to know her. I’d never met her lovely friend Luisa, who’s family is from the same province in Spain (even though they met here in Roanoke, where they both worked as interpreters). I find it it so engaging to talk to people who were not born in America. Luisa quickly sensed what I was after in my art, got to the core of several of my works, and gifted me with her compliments and thoughtful questions.
Lastly, a photo of a fellow who will remain anonymous, but whose genuine childlike expressive enthusiasm for the paintings had me beaming. We all might aspire to be so uninhibited!
Thank you to the very many “undocumented visitors” (including intrepid folks who came out for the Closing Reception last Friday amid miserable weather) and for all the terrific, supportive conversations over the last few months that helped me grow, made sharing my work such a rich experience, and encourage me to “keep following my heart” on this path.