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Return of the Contrarian Optimist

Who is the person writing about art?


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  • Mairead Dodd and E. Christian Wisner
  • Lovers

If you, like me, looked forward to someone new submitting his or her thoughts on the Humboldt art beat, sorry to disappoint. Circumstances have compelled me to continue. Given our now enduring relationship, I feel like you should know a bit more about what I bring to the table. Is not all reaction to art dependent upon the viewer's own history, experience, prejudices and desires?

Many years ago, a fine music magazine, Verse Chorus Verse, debuted and then vanished, a loss for those of us who enjoy the interesting and intelligent. One of the aspects I appreciated about VCV was how, at the beginning of every story or review, the author's likes and dislikes were stamped on the intro page along with other pertinent information. Right away the reader had a feel for how much she might relate to this person: "You like Golden Shoulders and Egon Schiele? Me, too!" or, "This person loves Yes and Rush? Ugh. I'm not taking his advice!" Certainly, we shouldn't let shared (or not) preferences sway us from allowing a review to stand on its own, but knowing the reviewer's starting point can, and should, play a role in evaluating how much to take her words to heart.

For example, I grew up in the 1980s, during a time when New Wave ruled, Less Than Zero seemed the height of literary achievement, and date rape and eating disorders were considered simply the cost of being a teenage girl in America. Consequently, I still twinge nostalgic when "Don't You (Forget About Me)" emanates through the Co-op, am a sucker for L.A.-centric films, and maintain an interest in gender politics.

I am both a writer and a former bartender. On one hand, I truly believe everybody has a story. But my years behind the bar induce the more eye-rolling "Yeah, everybody's got a goddamn story." So I encourage you to tell yours, through painting, writing, music-making -- just don't ask me to stick around unless you're willing to make it very, very good.

My childhood unfolded in the desert and my young adulthood in the big city, which means I have no tolerance for the romanticizing of either, but still prefer the urbanscape to that of Joshua Tree. The redwoods, the rain, the ocean, the unavoidable majesty of this place we live? Give me the landscapes celebrating it. Room in my heart still exists for funky mixed-media, boundary-pushing installations, explosive abstracts.

I work in commercial radio, so I know that repetition equals ratings equals my ever-diminishing faith in the human race. I appreciate any artwork that validates a contrarian optimism.

As far as professional credentials, mine come from experience more than education. As anyone who's done it knows, the journalism program at HSU is useful only if one is planning to transport back to 1982, when newspapers and radio still served as important cultural lifelines. (To be fair, I attended HSU in 2001, so perhaps the education-in-a-dying-field has improved. Certainly, the students have never failed to offer a great deal of talent. My despair has arisen from the professors' failure to provide guidance worthy of it.) My entire adult life has been wrapped around art in one form or another. Prior to taking on Art Beat, I spent seven years evolving the Scene pages of the Arcata Eye. Before that, I wrote freelance reviews, lugged my children around to stoic museums and edgier galleries. Even earlier, I fell in love with and married an artist, a man who showed me how many colors exist in the world and can articulate why one piece of work transcends and why another doesn't.

Perhaps that's the part I romanticize -- that experience of viewing and feeling. I've felt my heart unlock standing in front of a Modigliani. I long to be moved beyond words. I believe we all need that experience, are made better for it. To that end, I will spotlight, encourage and advocate for a thriving art scene, because without one, landing in that state of grace cannot occur. I typically shun negative reviews, a move that makes editors crazy, because what they want is reader response, and anger spurs reaction (see local political blogs versus the simply sweet and lovely ones). No, not every creative endeavor is amazing and no, not all artists are gods. I remain more interested in reactions to work than the artist's reason for doing it.

Because this column falls just after Arts Alive!, the typical way to cover the beat is to share the highlights from that event, then mention upcoming items of interest. These next paragraphs will not deviate from that habit.

Must see shows from AA! include natural world illustrator Shawn Gold's exhibit at Piante, provocateur artist Chuck Bowden's collection at First Street Gallery and Mairead Dodd's photos (in collaboration with E. Christian Wisner) at Good Relations. Gould's photorealism style places the viewer squarely in the breath-taking outdoors.

At last, even the shyest of creatures holds still for you to admire. Bowden's collection includes the controversial 9-11 piece The Tactics of Tyrants Are Always Transparent, pulled from a 2003 Redwood Art Association show despite winning second prize. Beyond the warning that "the images in this gallery not appropriate for children and may be offensive to adults," visitors to First Street will not only find themselves potentially shoved right out of their comfort zone, but be treated to pen-and-ink mastery.

Meanwhile, at Good Relations, above the sexy Halloween costumes, Mairead Dodd and E. Christian Wisner have put together a collection of photos that show Dodd, a breast cancer survivor, as delicate, playful, strong, whimsical, but never hopeless. Taken together, the three encapsulate the human experience: the natural world we emerged from, our tendency for destruction, our ability to rise above individual devastation.

Also of note: the Ink People's annual Maskibition show and, in recognition of Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month, an October exhibition by artists who are blind or visually impaired at the Morris Graves Museum of Art.

Finally, Planned Parenthood seeks artists to submit work for the upcoming Choose Love benefit. Call Chelsea at 442-2961, ext. 243.




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