January's Arts Alive! is as notorious for its low attendance as the December one is for its celebratory crowd -- especially when it falls two days into the new year, two days before the official end of the holiday season. People can be forgiven for opting to stay home polishing their resolutions and packing up the Christmas lights. I expected Old Town to resemble a ghost town, and was pleasantly surprised to see a decent turnout instead.
My friend and I meandered over to Accident Gallery, a place embracing the edgier side of Eureka art. Continuing exhibits included "Lighter Than Air" (paintings and sculptures by Matt Porr) and "Restrospective of the Female Condition" (assemblage by Joanne Stephens).
Porr's paintings of blimps range from rather flat and not altogether interestingly composed pieces to more dynamic, engaging works. His sculptures of ragged airships are particularly nice, capturing the fragility of flight and the optimism taking to the air suggests. Meanwhile, Stephens' various representations of "the Female Condition" ring with what appears to be meaning -- but not much in the way of artistry, unfortunately. Neither crucified dolls nor collages of naked women juxtaposed with a rat in a trap provoke more than a sigh at what is apparently meant to shock. In fairness, great satisfaction may have been found in the making of the pieces; they're clearly fraught with emotion.
Which begs the old question: Where does one draw the line between encouraging the making of art for the individual's sake and the exhibiting of art to better the masses? Certainly the acts of sketching, painting, assembling, sculpting provide their own rewards. Putting those creations out for the world with a price tag, however, is a dangerous thing, as the artist is then asking for viewers to validate the perceived value of his or her offerings.
A place where this question becomes moot stands just down C Street -- in the Cheri Blackerby Gallery at The Studio. The Studio, says thestudioonline.org, is a fine arts program for visionary artists, all of whom have some sort of disability. The goals of The Studio "are to help each person reach their highest level of artistic achievement and to encourage personal growth, self-reliance and self-esteem through the creative process. By professionally showing and marketing the artwork that is produced at The Studio, the program instills feelings of pride and self-worth." Given this, censorship or critique of the art made at The Studio would be out of place -- and unnecessary, as the shows by Ryan Stoltz ("The Way My Heart Reflects Pain and Struggle") and Mark Williams ("Maybe Cars or Trees and the Holy Spirit") demonstrate. The paintings are free of preconception, pure in intent, precious in the rendering. These artists are not concerned with painting objects that look the way we think they are supposed to look: They compose what they see, and the result charms. Of special note, in March and April, The Studio features an installation collaboration between the students and Redway-based artist Reuben Sorensen -- preview it at headwrapper.blogspot.com.
Over at Hurricane Kate's, we appreciated both the culinary and the visual arts over pizza and portobellos, and underneath paintings by Jesse Wiedel and Dean Smith. Wiedel also has a solo show, "The Cold Hard Fiction of Life," exhibiting at Art Queen in Joshua Tree through February -- he's sold nine pieces so far. His oft-praised work has been described as "hillbilly art" and "wacktastic," and called "ghostly, disgusting and comical" -- all apt. For the show at Kate's, Weidel combined both new and old paintings with a focus more on comical and less on disgusting. "It's a restaurant show," he explained. "It was hard to find enough pieces that weren't too offensive." To help fill the space, he asked Smith to join the show. Smith paints shoes. Yes, shoes. No, he doesn't have a fetish. "They have personality," he explains. He wanted to paint something that revealed character traits the same as portraits -- figure drawings without the figure -- and shoes "worked better than chairs." The result is fun, colorful and quirky -- check them out through the end of the month.
Friday night, Arts!Arcata takes place around the Plaza and beyond. Suggested stops include the Upstairs Art Gallery, 1063 G St. featuring works on paper by Susan Bornstein, Libby George and Joyce Jonté, Libation, 761 Eighth St., with landscape photos by Tony Gonsalves and live music by Duncan Burgess, and Fire Arts Center, 520 South G St., for a student exhibt featuring works by Gary Holder, Janice Hand, Julie Sessa, Ginni Hassrick, Theo Cress and more. Perhaps you'll even be inspired to sign up for a class or two -- Fire Arts Center's new schedule starts this week (schedule at fireartsarcata.com).
If life drawing is more your thing, Joyce Jonté's life drawing group may inspire you to commit to regular practice -- inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or perhaps watercolors seem tempting, more forgiving. Fortunately, HSU's Center Activities has a series of watercolor workshops beginning Feb. 4. E-mail instructor Ruth Canaway for more info at ruthbravermancanaway.com or visit humboldt.edu/~cntract.
Listen, you don't have to think of yourself as an artist to do art. You don't have to end up with a sellable result to benefit from the act of creation. Sitting, standing, working with focus, losing yourself in what you're doing, attaining that flow state so vital to happiness is a great therapy, sketching a perfect antidote to stress. If you don't want to take a class, just stop by Art Center, pick up a small sketchbook and a couple soft pencils. Set aside 20 minutes a day to look at something and make lines on paper. Don't worry about what the tree or flower or apple or dog is supposed to look like. Just look -- and make a line here, a curve there, turn the pencil sideways and fill in shadow. Leave the light. You might surprise yourself. Or you might end up with exactly what you expected. Either way, it doesn't matter. In an era of constant multi-tasking and continuously being plugged-in, you paid attention to a single thing for a sustained amount of time. You engaged your brain in a different way than usual. It feels really good.