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. 

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