Open to anyone
When I was a kid, our local newspaper ran a weekly art contest. It was open to anyone. Once a week, I sent in a drawing -- a squirrel, a horse, a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a vase of flowers. Nothing took. Every week, I waited for the Friday issue, always to see someone else's sketch. Then I drew a scene I saw every day when I looked out the window or walked down the road: the palm tree at the far edge of the riverbank in front of our house. It leaned a little. Reeds and sawgrass grew up around it. Sometimes a blue heron stood in its shadow, fishing. That sketch won. I think there was a $2 prize. Pretty hot stuff for a little kid. I remember what it felt like knowing that other people would see that sketch.
I'm reminded of that contest -- and what it felt like to 1) strive and 2) win -- as I prepare for our town's annual art tour this week. It's open to anyone. I've applied to show with other local artists maybe seven or eight times over the years, submitting photos and an artist's statement, and the organizers have always said yes. Lucky me!
Coordinated by mostly volunteers, Prowl is a delicate wild spinning confection that seems to fly in a hundred directions before coalescing, condensing into this precious slice of our community: the artists and the people who are drawn to them. No one pays us to do this; we dig a little for sponsors and grants; mostly, we pay for this celebration of an event ourselves.
There's a certain rhythm to this striving and making art and showing art. You work on a particular project -- let's say bowls. There are big bowls, little bowls, pretty bowls, bowls with carvings, bowls with attachments, bowls with or without feet, bowls that curve outward -- generously, as if to accept soup or salad - and bowls that bend inward, protecting ice cream or pudding from the heat. So many choices! So you make them, make them, make them, make them... and then, hooray, the perfect bowl!
This takes forever. And then it's on to the next challenge -- platters, say, or vases. Over many years. You build up a body of work. And then along comes a public art event, like our Prowl tour, and once again the nice people have said yes, and I'm showing.
It's a lot like a party or trip. You want a new dress, yes? You'll see your friends but also new people, and you want to put your best foot forward -- but mostly friends and family and you don't want them to think you're still working on that same old bowl form, that you've moved on, taken on a new project -- say, platters or vases.
So that's what I keep doing. Trying new forms. Right now, I'm in the thick of a series I'm calling "marine life." It follows a lot of years of work I call "fossils and artifacts," slab and coil pots carved and impressed and hollowed out -- very subtractive. This new work is functional and wheel-thrown -- bowls and platters and vases! - but with coils and buttons, very additive.
As I write this, a glaze load has just finished firing, and the pots are cooling. I don't know how they'll turn out; you never do. There's one tall vase in particular that I'm anxious about. It could be great, it could suck, the glaze could have fallen off and melted onto the shelves, it could have cracked, the whole damn thing could have exploded and taken out everything around it for all I know. And I won't know until tomorrow night when the kiln has cooled enough to open. At the risk of rationalizing or vainly looking for the bright side or silver lining... but even if it sucks? Other stuff doesn't, and I'll show that during the ART Prowl tour this week, and people will see it, it'll be public, and that's a win. People will see my work -- and just as importantly, I want them to.