Monday, October 27, 2014

Charles Clough Arena Painting: Hamburg

HAMBURG: There are as many definitions for art as there are shapes to form. For some it’s about interpreting society while others focus on color and texture. It might be a tool to define place or a means of recording history. For Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery this past weekend it was about 48 gallons of paint mixed, stirred, splashed and enjoyed by friends at the latest landscape project with artist Charles Clough and his “big fingers.”
                A few months ago the Albright-Knox put out a call for volunteers willing to employ puddles of paint under the guidance of Clough using his trademark abstract method. It would be, they said, performance and interaction on a work destined to be installed in the Hamburg Library.
                Potters like me are familiar with “messy” but clay messes are gray and dusty while paint makes a mess with colors. The project accepted me so garbed in mucky shoes, ruined jeans and a splattered sweat shirt, we rambled our way to Hilbert College on Saturday morning.
                There wasn’t much guidance from Aaron Ott, Curator of Public Art for the museum. He said not to wear precious clothing and to arrive at 11. The unbendable rule was to keep paint the carpet.
                Hilbert College offered the Swan Auditorium stage as a painting venue, though some might see that as an act of enormous faith in strangers. The majority of the stage was covered in plastic and duct tape while “Messy Shoe Police” guarding the stairs. 
                The Shoe Police assiduously checked feet as people aged 2 through 90 s they flung, dripped, poured, splashed splattered and dumped cups of latex paint over a 6 by 17 foot canvas with various levels of accuracy. The canvas was surrounded by a drip pan that looked inadequate to the task of containing 48 gallons.
                Each participant was allotted 3 plastic cups of color from the rainbow array chosen by Clough and each color danced with pride on the canvass for brief moments before another splat arrived.
                Little ones poured and smeared. Tidy folk approached with a plan and then bumped into wildly messy painters who flung with abandon. Others timidly dripped.
                Each participant chose an area, played the paint game and recorded their efforts by pressing a cardboard over their area and pulling it away with a gooey mono print that the Albright Knox would mail to them later.
                As the hours passed, cameras took still shots, time lapse and videos because the project includes a film and book. Periodically Clough came out to make mono prints that he would add to later and then present as gifts to the Erie County Library System to display as they wished with the primary canvass going for permanent installation at the Hamburg Library.
                Clough interacted with many talking about their areas of work and posing for photos, particularly with family groups who came to get messy together.

                In a sense this project started in 1985 when Clough was invited to paint a 20 x 60 foot wall at the Brooklyn Museum. He’d been finger painting small pieces and having them photographed and printed in larger formats but there were 2 problems. Large photos at the time were expensive and disappointing.
                “What I needed,” said Clough, “were bigger fingers.”
                So, he made big fingers. Wooden circles and ovals were affixed to long poles and covered with padding and leather. Some were used as single units and others were banded together in a series of 4 fingers.
                When people told him that their ___________ (fill in the space) could paint like that, he decided to let people in, show them the process and let them try. People, he thought, didn’t often enough experience art as uncertainty, choice and community.
                At this project, one enthusiastic painter was 9 year old Maggie Ggiehart. Maggie worked carefully with greens and black and pulled an intricate swirl of color on her mono print. She said that her dad gave her an easel and canvas to work on at home. Her dad said they might buy a tarp to protect the floor since Maggie was vibrating with enthusiasm after her experience.
                While Maggie and 199 others had their hands in the work, the finished canvas will likely not show her touch. At 5 pm, Clough was set to take on the remainder of the paints with some big fingers and make the surface his own. The other 200 participants will be present in the resulting book and film as well as their personal mono prints.

                The Albright Knox Art Gallery is on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo and offers tours, classes, exhibits, lectures, yoga, community outreach and hundreds of definitions of art. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Missing the Gentle Hands of Bruce Greene

Bruce’s Hands

ALFRED STATION: The leaves are gold and red among pumpkins turning orange but inside some hearts the world is blue. As Allegany Artisans dust off their signs and clean their studios, many will pause to think of two long time members, Charley Orlando and Bruce Green, who will not be adding their warmth and welcome to the 27th Annual Studio Tour on October 18 & 19.
                Much has been written about both of these generous men. Both were treasured in their families. Both were teachers whose voices wove permanently into the lives of hundreds of students. Both created objects now found comfortably within thousands of homes across the country, working into family traditions as well as everyday life. Both helped to build their communities with a generosity that is less and less common.
                Susan Greene spent some time with me in the home that she and Bruce filled with memories and history as she described to me the hero of her life, her husband, Bruce Greene.
                Bruce Robert Green was born in 1939 and worked pretty much ceaselessly until September this year.  FDuring
During 40 of those years his were the hands that created Hillbottom Pottery in Alfred Station.
                For 24 years he guided Alfred Almond’s high school students as they gained critical thinking proficiency, planning skills, social behaviors, self expression methods and the myriad lessons of math and science needed to employ various mediums of art in their coursework.
                Susan said that she and Bruce were in concert in their beliefs and attitudes. Both felt that much of the work they did was an act of worship. Bruce valued creating things with his hands and worked with gratitude and respect.  This generous, gentle man and his wife found objects created by long-gone hands and brought them into their home to honor the lines, the designs, the craftsmanship, the color, the utility and the labor of their involved.
                “These look like things but they’re not. These are memories. They represent a place we saw or they stand for a conversation Bruce and I shared.” Susan said while showing the collection that she and Bruce gathered over decades.
                How does she most remember Bruce?  As many others, Susan remembers her husband as a teacher. Teaching was important to him. Students were important people and they knew it. It’s why so many came to celebrate his life at the memorial service at the Alfred Station Seventh Day Baptist Church. It’s why several of them created a “Teacher Quilt” to warm him in his last days at the Hart Comfort House.
                It’s why his voice still guides them in their lives and careers. Though their careers are not art-centered, they are always Mr. Greene-assisted. One past student became a ceramic engineer who feels that Mr. Greene put art into his personal and high tech life. Another said that art is communication and so is useful in all fields.
                Bruce and Susan both saw making art as a vulnerable act. She worked with elementary students giving them background information and confidence to move toward creative works. When they met Bruce in junior and senior high school, they felt secure in making creative leaps. Art was part of life for students of all grade levels at Alfred Almond Central.
                As a teacher, he was a gentle man but he had expectations and presented structure with lots of room for exploration. His interactions with students gave them room to find happiness and made them aware of their environment.
                As a potter he was pragmatic. He spoke, at times,of his love/hate thing with clay. He’d get tired of a design or a process but he always pressed forward because of the pride he knew with the making of  attractive, appealing, appreciated objects. 
                He felt that he was given the role to bring beautiful, satisfying things into people’s lives. He didn’t want a lot of “ballyhoo” about it but he enjoyed that sense that so many potters have of being written into someone’s life by virtue of the favorite mug or the morning cereal bowl.
                In this way, Bruce Greene continues in many lives. A mug handle connects him with a person, a place, a time and his memory is honored by this.
                Bruce felt that there is good and God in handmade things. Artisans know that there is beauty in a piece of wood, a silver wire, a ball of clay or an old can and as they pass that material through their hands they bring out this beauty. This creative act, the Greenes know, connects with the idea of creative people having been themselves created.
                During his last months, Bruce’s brain was under assault and his body suffered from it but he pushed himself to do things so that there would be greater room in Susan’s life to finish the book she published in January. She didn’t know how hard the struggle was for him until the spring because he didn’t complain. He just helped. This she sees as heroic and typical. He was always ready to help anyone.   
                His studio still holds his clay tools and some of his last pots. The Allegany Artisans have agreed to an exception in their policy to allow Susan Green to sell this pottery during the hours of the 2014 Studio Tour on October 18 & 19, from 10 am to 5 pm.       
                There will be 39 other studios open and hosted by 46 members of the Allegany Artisans ready to show what their hands have created. You may want to establish a connection in your life with something handmade and humbly presented.
                Call the Allegany County Office of Tourism at 1-800-836-1869 or write to to request a brochure listing all participants.

Wearable Prints, 1760-1860, History, Materials, and Mechanics was published by Susan W. Greene in January, 2014.  It is available on Amazon.

When I suffered a hip injury years ago, Bruce Green taught me to throw standing up. Bruce stacked things on the floor to stand on and made measurements and sketches. Thus armed, Rick Hardman did a bit of welding and carpentry to change a foot operated wheel into a hand operated model. The modified machine has what Bruce called a “belly bar”. His invention makes it possible to lean into the clay with steady pressure easing the stress on back and hip.