Sunday, October 16, 2016

Art From the Outside (Looking In)

An untitled element from Emery Blagdon's Healing Machine. This photo and
the two inset below were found on this Дай зин! webzine page.
(Click to enlarge.)

"As a young man, he apparently lost his parents and three of his five younger siblings to cancer, and he designed his shed––which housed a system of elegant, spindly mobiles and delicate freestanding sculptures made out of baling wire and found objects––to produce energy fields with preventative, restorative, and curative powers. The objects’ reflective, kinetic, and color properties were intended to resonate and release an electromagnetic force to combat physical and psychic pain. Blagdon’s cure also relied on an equally remarkable, but smaller, group of abstract geometrical panel paintings, which display a transcendental sense of color, proportion, and pattern."

- From Rachel Brice's 2009 post: Emery Blagdon and His Healing Machines.

"In the past century the human spirit's great need for the creation of art has come sharply to the fore – not through the commercialized vulgarity that is now the art market (my GOD – could anything so high sink so LOW?), but rather through the intimate obsessive worlds of artists (outsider or otherwise) who create for themselves and themselves alone, without thought of monetary gain, public approbation or acceptance of any kind.

...Compelled to create a world of healing machines to stave off illness, Emery Blagdon gave light and meaning to his life through wire, tinfoil, and a variety of organic and inorganic materials. These machines, and the paintings that helped power them, brought down and focused healing energy to allow Blagdon to continue living. Did he create to live or live to create? As with all true artists, the answer is either elusive, or both - but in Blagdon's case it is particularly poignant because just a few months after his machines stopped working he tragically passed away."

- From composer John Zorn's (2016) .pdf: Emery Blagdon. (Inset, left: another element of Blagdon's Healing Machine.)

"Over the years, the parameters of Outsider Art have expanded dramatically to include art made by a wide variety of art-makers who share this common denominator of raw creativity. Outsiders come from all walks of life, from all cultures, from all age groups.

In recent years, Outsider Artists may have even come to outnumber Insider Artists who have achieved critical validation within the elite art world, and yet who speak with increasingly less clarity and relevance to us about the human experience. Dubuffet's description of officially recognized art has never been more relevant: 'everyone immediately sprinkles it with champagne, and lecturers lead it from town to town with a ring through its nose. This is the false Monsieur Art.'"

- Excerpt from a description of Outsider Art found on this Outsider Art Fair page.


It's probably interesting to note that two of the quotes (above) regarding Outsider Artist, Emery Blagdon, originate from a belly dancer (Rachel Brice), and a musician (John Zorn), as opposed to an art critic or an art historian. And, why is this? Well, it might have to do with the nature of Emery Blagdon himself. Born in 1907, he was a self-taught artist living in the outbacks of Nebraska, who spent over 30 years of his life assembling an art installation (of sorts) - his Healing Machine - which he never intended to exhibit, and one of which he never sold one molecule of. In other words, he was a creator's creator, following his own inner vision and instinct and, pretty much, ignoring the rest of world; specifically the art world. Had his work not been "discovered" in the 1970's by Dan Dryden - a Nebraskan pharmacist who would eventually work as a sound engineer for the Philip Glass Ensemble in New York - his monumental work may have been disassembled for scrap metal after his death and the world would be none the wiser.

Then again, creatives of all persuasions find inspiration in the realm of Outsider Art. Once again, the Outsider represents the true artist's artist... understood more deeply by artists themselves as opposed to the curators, the critics, the categorizers, and the culture mavens who flock to the carcasses of artistic endeavor. So, in the eyes of the world Emery Blagdon was an oddball. In the eyes of a fellow artist, Blagdon is both a hero and an anti-hero; a maverick who left his mark outside the mainstream before the "mainstream" ultimately absorbed him. (Inset, right: a third element from the Healing Machine.)

But, in many respects, Emery Blagdon's story is a happy one compared to many of the Outsiders who came before him. He, at least, managed to stay well outside the walls of a mental institution. In reality, what we now consider Outsider Art was originally the sort created by psychiatric patients, and other marginalized non-members of society. And, it was a genre of art which would've have remained under the radar - possibly forever - had it not been for the fine, observant eye of French artist, Jean Dubuffet, who in the 1940s identified what he referred to as Art Brut - raw art - that is, art created by those on the fringe of society: prisoners, loners, the mentally ill, and, in some cases, children...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Book Surgeon: Brian Dettmer

A book sculpture by Brian Dettmer. Click to enlarge.

"New York-based Artist Brian Dettmer creates impressively intricate multi-layered sculptures from books. The artist calls himself the Book Surgeon because he uses knives, tweezers, and surgical tools to carve the art works out of old medical journals, illustration books, dictionaries, map books and encyclopedias. The bigger the book, the better – The Surgeon doesn’t add anything additional to the sculptures, he only folds, bends, rolls, stacks, and, of course, removes."

- Both the (above) quote and the photos of Brian Dettmer's book sculptures found in this post were sourced from this 2015 "DeMilked" article.

"So I think one of the reasons people are disturbed by destroying books, people don't want to rip books and nobody really wants to throw away a book, is that we think about books as living things, we think about them as a body, and they're created to relate to our body, as far as scale, but they also have the potential to continue to grow and to continue to become new things. So books really are alive.

... And I think of my work as almost an archaeology. I'm excavating and I'm trying to maximize the potential and discover as much as I possibly can and exposing it within my own work. But at the same time, I'm thinking about this idea of erasure, and what's happening now that most of our information is intangible, and this idea of loss, and this idea that not only is the format constantly shifting within computers, but the information itself, now that we don't have a physical backup, has to be constantly updated in order to not lose it. And I have several dictionaries in my own studio, and I do use a computer every day, and if I need to look up a word, I'll go on the computer, because I can go directly and instantly to what I'm looking up. I think that the book was never really the right format for nonlinear information, which is why we're seeing reference books becoming the first to be endangered or extinct."

- Two quotes from sculptor Brian Dettmer from the (translatable) TED transcript for the TED video below.


Considering all the book-related posts I've been inspired to write for the past few months, it only stands to reason that when I recently discovered the work of Brian Dettmer, I'd be compelled to feature his sculptures here. Considering that his re-purposed books are not, in fact, assemblages, but carefully carved from the pre-existing content of the old books themselves... well, words like "astonishing" are understatements.

And, I love stories like this... about artists doing unimaginable things... totally unprecedented "out of the box" things... not because they intend to start a trendy movement, but because their muses call upon them to do such things, and in doing so - following their muses - we are allowed to see ordinary objects - in this case, encyclopedias and the like - in a totally new, non-linear, and extraordinary way.

For those interested, an interview with Dettmer can be found here...

And, if art from re-cycled material turns you on, here's a nice Make magazine article about the Ancient Futuristic work of artist Theo Kamecke: Old Circuit Boards Are Reimagined as Sarcophagi and Ancient Monuments.