Art lives in your memory, helps make new ones
By Jane A. Black
There’s this wall in my neighborhood that some people would consider urban blight, but I beg to disagree. It’s a peeling, flakey, worn-out pastiche of paint with some graffiti thrown in for good measure. It faces a prominent corner, across from a beautifully renovated historic school building. I’m sure that a lot of people wish they would either scrape it or paint it – and I think the urban pioneers who bought the building will do so. They’ve been working on the place, and I know I will enjoy how it adds to the neighborhood once it’s spiffed up. But I’ll miss that wall, because every time I see it, I think about Mark Bradford.
A while back, a massive unframed canvas appeared in the rotunda of the Dayton Art Institute. Helter Skelter I, measuring 12 feet in height and nearly 35 feet in length, was rich in texture, with papers adhered, ropes that had been glued and sanded away, layers applied and removed. Silver popped up through tans, beiges and whites – red bled through. It was one of Mark Bradford’s conglomerations of repurposed advertisements.
The artist, who grew up in South Los Angeles, undoubtedly saw his share of decrepit billboards in the “Golden State of Highway Signs.” Bradford translated them into compositions that are visually captivating and fraught with meaning. Last summer, there was a large retrospective of Bradford’s work at the Wexner Center in Columbus that I thoroughly enjoyed. His work has entered my permanent repertoire of thought, and so I convert similar source material in my head, especially now that I live in an area that is fighting hard against poverty and disinvestment.
Most things I look at actually remind me of art. Raking light on buildings? Hopper, of course. Fruit in a bowl? Ah, Cezanne. Those are the easy ones … more or less universal for everyone who took Art History 101, I imagine. But the ones that really mean something are the ones that are more personal, I think.
There was another installation in the Dayton Art Institute rotunda, even longer ago: a sculpture of oversized bowls of polyurethane filled with polyurethane foam. They reminded me of the red Melamine dishes Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Chuck gave us as a wedding present, and every time I saw those dishes stacked in the sink, they became that towering sculpture by Robert Therrien.
Seeing Creating the New Century: Contemporary Art from the Dicke Collection, the current special exhibit at the Dayton Art Institute, reminded me of how much I appreciated these earlier loans from the Dicke family, how they had become part of my life.
That’s the way art works in my life. Its formal and associative qualities blend together. When I look at art, it helps me see the world in a more conscious way, to connect where I am and what I think to the people and places around me. It ties things together, though not always in a neat little package. Art isn’t always pretty, and neither is life. But it’s all worth a look.
Jane A. Black is a fiber artist and the executive director of the Dayton Visual Arts Center. Visit the gallery at 118 N. Jefferson St. or visit their website at www.daytonvisualarts.org. Follow her on Twitter @lookingabout. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.