Reflections from the Summit
Master glass blower John Hudnut created this striking 10”x11” piece entitled Crimson Vessel.
Five Summit County artists recently got together for a chat about the purpose of art in the 21st century. Included were photographer Todd Powell of Todd Powell Gallery in Frisco; Breckenridge painter Leona Sophocles Brownson; John Hudnut of Frisco’s GatherHouse; Maria Morley, ceramics and sculpture; and sculptur Chaz della Porta.
Todd has worked for years in commercial photography and now shoots for his Frisco gallery and struggles with if and when his work is art. Leona and Chaz purposely have chosen traditional practices. For Leona it’s oils, because they’re luscious, she says. Chaz carves stone and fabricates metal sculpture. Are they driving a horse and buggy or do these well-used media have a future? John chose the craft — or is it art? —of glass blowing, which has taken him years to master. Maria’s work has dematerialized since the time she was throwing pots in her Frisco studio and most often works in the non-object realm of installations.
Colorado Summit Magazine: What do you hope your work does?
Todd: My art, I think, is successful when it makes a connection, when people say that the picture means something to them, whether that’s what it meant to me or not. In a way, it has transcended me. What I like about having the gallery is that I actually get to talk to people, and hear what they have to say.
Chaz: It stuns me the depth and intimacy of what complete strangers say to me from having touched or seen an inanimate object I have fashioned. And it gives me hope to stay on my path.
I’ve chosen the path to make sculpture in a very traditional sense. … I can improve on [sculpture that has been made in the past] and learn from what people have already achieved, but that’s a very external thing. If I let go of my mind, my beliefs, my perceptions, then what do I have? I have my passion and the door to my subconscious. I’m walking blindly following my senses, but I’m choosing to do that. I might stumble across a shape — that’s what sculpture deals with: shape that has meaning or emanates a quality that is beyond me.
Leona: Maria walked in with me and said, “Look out there,” and what she was pointing at was a beautiful grove of aspen trees. She said, “I immediately thought of you, but I don’t need that big window because I have one of your paintings at home.”
That’s what I do. Not that I’m concerned with being a realist, but I’m providing windows for people’s homes.
Todd: I think I am too, but I always question if it is art or is it decoration. Is it fine art or is it decorative art?
Maria: Van Gogh called all of his work decoration….
Leona: Decorative is back in.
Maria: I believe what I’m attempting to do, and sometimes I might hit the nail on the head, is to document the myth of my day. Joseph Campbell said the myth of our day is a public dream. It’s required that it comes out from me to reach a broader audience. The myth of our day — I’m trying to document that, whether it’s a feeling or a thought.
I also think of myself as a sculptor of ideas. For many years I made product (ceramics) to sell, but only to work up to this point in my life where I can express myself, which is what I think my duty has always been.
John: Art is when all of a sudden something is making you happy; when the lights get brighter. I use the studio as a platform to, kind of, uplift the spirit and put it to work so that all of a sudden you are inspired in unexpected ways. I feel like I put a machine in motion.
Leona: You sound like you are raising a child.
CSM: Do you think making art is like that?
Leona: Yes, nurturing. I don’t feel much different when I’m painting than when I’m nurturing my plants. There’s a common thing going on there.
Chaz: More than the question of what it is to be an artist, I ask what’s the role of a human being? To earn an income is not very close to being a human being. The task of a human being is to shine our brightest — we’re all different so it’s going to be manifest differently — but literally to be a star shining, emanating that essence and quality of energy by doing our chosen craft. It’s not a question for artists but the question for every human being. Be your identity that you had when you birthed into the world.
CSM: If this is just about self-expression, as W.H. Auden said, shouldn’t you just keep it to yourself?
Chaz: The water’s been muddied by this concept of self-expression, over the past 50 years. It only works to conjure up our lower tendencies.
Art comes from yourself, but not your ego. Whatever you do, whether you’re an artist or a lawyer or a shopkeeper, radiating your correct frequency is the task of being a human being.
Maria: I’m saying it has to matter, in order to put it out there in the world. It comes from me, so I have to believe in myself to think it’s mattering to the world, that it’s relevant in this time and space.
Todd: Maria said she used to make things to sell, but she’s moved beyond making products. I feel like all the commercial work I did for 20 years prepared me and gave me the tools and experience to do what I need to do next. And I have ideas about what I’m going to do next, but at the same time I need to pay the bills.
Maria: About time making art — being the maker — my idea of total contentment is when the day flies by and it’s always morning. I’m more emotionless when I’m doing that work.
Chaz: As soon as I live outside myself, and the American Culture is very good at enabling that, then there’s no one at home. Then, I’m making ‘product’ that is soulless.
John: It’s about visual memory. We really do see it. People have to do a lot to make their livings, but we have taken the time to SEE. We are some kind of people, like the cave painters, who can do things and see. And what we make, it’s for joy, for communication.
CSM: From an art historical perspective, is there any point of being an artist if you’re not in New York City?
Todd: I wouldn’t be making art if I lived in New York; I’d be making commerce. My art all comes from this experience of living here, being here, and living outside. All I want to do is be outside, and all I did today was sit inside with the blinds down looking at pictures on the computer. I wanted to be outside on this beautiful day, even if it was just walking down Main Street looking at light. I’m inspired by the natural world.
Yet, I was thrilled to push my limits to create ski photography, and all I want to show the client is stuff they’d never seen before. I’m out there screwing with my brain trying to make this different than any ski picture that somebody else could take. It’s commercial; it’s a product. Or is it art? I don’t know.
CSM: When are you pushing yourself, Leona?
Leona: When I’m trying to get it right.
Maria: If I was in NYC, I’d be in urban survival mode, and I’d much rather survive in the mountains. I’m not so into the death-defying skiing as I used to be, but I find a history that is mine, here. Maybe I think art in New York City is commodity, about having a name or money. I’m thinking I have a responsibility, something to say that is mine, and because I can get out in the woods and find some peace of mind, I can go back to work. I lived in a big city in Mexico. In this shrinking world maybe a place to call home is really important.
Terry Talty is the editor of a webzine called unsafeArt.com where she writes about contemporary art. Visit this site to listen to the full-length audio of this interview.