Up Close

Up close, the colors are richer, the subject clearer, traditional ideas of composition replaced with edge to edge canvas favoring gesture over context.

Which is interesting, because when we think of artists and art making — context pretends to be important to us. Young artists ask their mentors: When do you work? For how long? Is the door shut? Do you listen to music? Morning or night? Public or private? Inside or out? Most artists are particular about this — which makes the questions largely irrelevant except that the answers teach us that there are options. We never need to make art just one way — though I’m told if you paint from photographs, never admit it. Maybe it’s the distancing. Culture is mean.

But bring your fingertips to the medium, fingers close to the nib and the paper. Get yourself close as you can to the work — remove all context, which is both personal and private. The details are what’re on exhibition. The university studio, the museum lobby, the student center common room, the cabin in the woods — have been reduced to this, not even an artist standing in a room, just hands and tools very close to wood, paper, metal, fire, textile, acrylics. This is the level of the tactile, close enough to feel the knurling, the woodgrain, the vibrations, the heat, the imperfections in the fabric, the cool of drying watercolors, cedar chips, oils, and grindstone.

Write and draw, paint and hit things with a hammer. Stay close to the work. Children know this already. We do wrong by telling them to stand back.

—Thanks to UAF Native Art Center; Sheldon Jackson Museum; UA Museum of the North Fine Arts Collection; Selena Alexander; Earl Atchak; Sonya Kelliher Combs; Mercy Cleveland; Daniel Ogan; Adam Ottavi; Teri Rofkar; Ron Senungetuk; Turid Senungetuk; Teresa Shannon; Glen Simpson; Suzi Silook; Alfred Skondavich; Sara Tabbert (Alaska, 2002-2012)

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