Walter Hood

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Rob McLean and Matt Kahler in the Hypocrites’ “Pirates of Penzance,” an update of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera (Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis)

We know that consciousness has no boundaries. It is for that reason that the connectedness of everything running through us is utterly overwhelming. In an effort to manage our day to day experience we create divisions and categories, overlaying a logical structure to our thinking. But underneath that artifice a bottomless melange of impressions, insights, awarenesses and ideas are churning perpetually.

And yet creativity and innovation happen with the unexpected and serendipitous juxtaposition of unrelated elements. This is evident in the painting studio all the time. Permitting the ongoing mash up of concepts, forms, colors and methodology is what studio time is all about.

But then is the rest of life to be packaged up in discrete categories, neatly organized piles? Not mine.

At a recent conference held at UCSC to discuss the interdisciplinary/collaborative intentions of the university’s new Institute of Arts and Sciences, San Francisco Exploratorium curator Marina McDougall stated it succinctly: “The world arrives to us whole, and the best and new ideas grow at the interstises of disciplines.”

While it is popular to approach that interstitial space with the idea that you throw everyone into the mix and a new consciousness will erupt on its own (along the lines of “order for free” in chaos theory), I am a proponent of a more nuanced approach to that liminal world of cross disciplinarity. At the same UCSC conference David Meckel of California College of the Arts described the open space/no walled classrooms/no private studios building that is the school’s San Francisco campus. That approach to interstitial space would be a nightmare for “I like time alone” people like me.

Gratefully Walter Hood, landscape architect, designer and theorist, stepped in to advocate for creative introverts by pointing out how many ways there are to manage “the space between.” “Sometimes we don’t want to be together, and it is our devices that keep us connected,” Hood offered. He went on to point out the value of taking a hybrid approach, one that offers a little of everything—privacy, connection, physical proximity, isolation. “We need to make environments where people can find their familiars.”

The same is true of art. And this is especially true with theater, particularly with productions that advocate for the “audience as participant” approach. The Chicago-based theater company Hypocrites’ production of Pirates of Penzance at the American Repertory Theater is a great example of managing the space between. This high energy, completely engaging and playful variation on the Gilbert & Sullivan opera takes over the entire theater space, but each audience member can gauge how involved they want to be in this 360 production. Some choose to sit on the stage and move around with the cast. Some are up and milling around, stopping by the bar at stage right to buy a drink. Some are singing along with the familiar music. Some are just happy to watch the whole extravaganza unfold. The options are laid out effortlessly right at the beginning by a member of the cast. It was a perfect example of letting the space between be multi-dimensional.

And as for the Pirates: Utter fun. Hats off to Sean Graney and his high wattage troupe of performers. The production is theatrically creative, cleverly delivered, irresistibly adorable. And I loved just being able to watch.

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Still in tact: The view of the Pacific from UCSC’s Porter College (AKA to some of us as College Five)

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“Material Ephemera” at UC Santa Cruz

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Another view

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Long time friend Alicia Falsetto at the artist reception on Saturday

Things, people, ideas—they operate with a certain kind of circularity. That coming round again has becomes even more apparent as I get older.

Last week I was at University of California at Santa Cruz for a show of my paintings at the college where I was an art student in the 70′s. The school has now grown to 17,000 students—there were just 4,000 when I was there—but the view from my favorite spot overlooking the Pacific is still unchanged, amazingly. And the decentralized campus of “clustered cloisters” still gives off a sense that this is a place that makes room for the introverts and the nomads in the population, those of us who can’t do groups and demand a peculiarly untethered approach to life and learning.

But most of all I was reminded of how things/people/ideas show up, disappear, come back again. In the words of Walter Hood, the brilliant UC Berkeley landscape architect and designer (and keynote speaker at a day long seminar about interdisciplinary exhibitions, architecture and community), it is not about erasing the past but about pushing at “palimpsesting.” He used another relevant phrase: “embrace the ephemeral.”

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Talking with Walter Hood (right) at the “Making the Institute” reception at UCSC (Photo: Gene Felice)

My show, “Material Ephemera,” plays with both ideas. Painting has a materiality that compels many of us to lean into that physical reality even more passionately as trends have moved the art experience away from that focus. From an earlier post, Resolute Materiality, this defense of painting from Eric Crosby still rings true:

There’s also something about the resolute materiality of painting that continues to attract artists. These are objects that follow deeply subjective and individual ways of thinking, as expressed through specific materials…Painting offers a frame for contact with this very physical presence. It’s a vivid contrast with our daily routine, where we experience so many images by using a cursor, linking to them, altering them, navigating away from them. Painting resists this kind of experience. A lot of artists today embrace that notion to an extreme. They go where the materials take them, not where the history of painting tells them to go.

Two other experiences spoke to that material ephemerality. One was visiting Kenjilo Nanao, the extraordinary printmaker and painter who is now in his 80s. While frail of body, he was at work in his studio, a brush in hand between frequent lay downs on the mattress in the corner. Material and ephemeral. We are both.

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Kenjilo Nanao in his studio

The second was being introduced to the Snail Painters. While a full moon illuminated the Pacific Ocean at 3AM, it also revealed the night time markings of a small gaggle of snails on the window glass where we were staying. Part Joan Mitchell, part Brice Marden and part Terry Winters, these moondanced masterpieces evaporate when the sun comes up. Luckily I awoke in time to catch the invertebrates in their own celebration of circularity before any trace of their magic was gone.

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Portrait of the Artist
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And again

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