Most artists enjoy a challenge. But imagine you are asked to change your artistic medium altogether, create a piece of art on a scale that is larger than life, complete your work on a tight deadline, and do it all alongside other artists handed the same challenge.
Five well-known local artists from varied disciplines experienced this challenge. Travis Masingale, Lisa Nappa, Tresia Oosting, Garric Simonsen and Lance Sinnema were invited by Karen Kaiser, curator of education for Gonzaga University’s Jundt Art Museum, to participate in the “Drawn to the Wall VI” exhibition, opening this weekend.
The “Drawn to the Wall” series was inspired by the works of American artist Jim Dine in Ludwigsburg, Germany, in 1995. Dine had six days to fill the interior of a gallery by drawing directly on its walls with charcoal. At the end of the gallery’s six-week event, the pieces were washed off and the walls painted over.
Now, every three years, Gonzaga University’s Jundt invites five regional artists to draw on its 8-by-11-foot movable gallery partitions, for two weeks, in a communal environment.
Choosing artists who don’t typically draw has stoked interest in this year’s exhibition. Even the artists are unsure about the results. “I’ve had artists I invited say, ‘But I don’t draw!’ ” Kaiser said. “But what makes a drawing anyway? I mean, I have two ceramicists, a designer and a dollmaker – a very disparate group. But they’re all going through the same thing: How does it work on this scale? In this amount of time? Working alongside these particular artists?”
Those creative challenges embody the spirit of the Jundt’s sixth “Drawn to the Wall.”
“It’s a very intensive kind of workshop experience,” Kaiser said. “What I really stressed to the artists is to maintain the spirit of the work. It doesn’t matter so much what the materials are, but that you create it while you’re there.”
Last Friday was the final day of the two-week work period. Sinnema, best known for his ceramics work and print collaborations, said he felt confident putting the finishing touches on his wall. “It was really exciting to take a process which you usually work on in a small scale and to see what it can do when you blow it up,” Sinnema said. “My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t have any time to paint at all … I didn’t expect the green I used to take three coats.”
Another challenge for Sinnema was the wall’s sheer size, which he and some other artists tackled by using ladders and projectors to blow up their original images. The spirit of the exhibition prevailed. “Anytime you get to change scale or you get to do something new as an artist, it’s a lot of fun,” said Sinnema, who is also a founding member of the nonprofit Saranac Arts Projects cooperative in Spokane and gallery director at Whitworth University.
Sinnema’s finished wall is a colorful, vertical landscape, done as a gigantic paint-by-numbers, and entirely wrapped in plastic. The plastic wrapping evokes a packaged feel any tourist can recognize.
“A lot of people think about landscape as something you drive through … something that is wrapped up neatly,” Sinema said. “So you go to Yellowstone, you get out, you walk these little trails. It’s a sort of a packaged experience.”
Across the gallery, Nappa, a ceramicist, said she feels elated and relieved. The day before, the Eastern Washington professor could not keep her nostalgic ocean photographs from peeling off the wall. “The Jundt’s walls are flat paint, but I had practiced on semi-gloss,” said Nappa, who considers herself more of a sculptor than a two-dimensional artist. “When you are not used to working in a certain material, you start to wonder ‘Am I going to have enough time?’ But you figure it out.”
Nappa’s recent works have been featured in Spokane’s Ridpath windows as part of Window Dressing, and in other public art projects in Tacoma and Seattle. Her piece for “Drawn to the Wall” is another in her series of waterscapes, highlighting water’s beauty and fragility. Last week, Nappa was deciding whether to call the soaring piece “Where the Water Meets the Sky” or “It’s About the Water.” She joked that “when it was falling off the wall,” she considered calling it “Unfathomable.”
Standing across the gallery from Nappa was award-winning artist and musician Simonsen, slowly mixing a bucket of paint while focusing on his own massive wall. Simonsen, whose eclectic works include etchings with paint on wood, embraced the exhibition’s spirit by choosing not to plan ahead before starting his drawing. “That’s how I approach teaching a lot,” said Simonsen, an associate professor of art at Spokane Falls Community College. “There’s a lot to be said for following your intuition and trusting the process.”
Simonsen’s piece evolved from bits of his own autobiography. Doodling and drawing elements fade in and out, splashed with washes of color, with the resulting changes, or “pentimenti,” still detectable underneath the layers of paint. Among the images are an Ace of Hearts from a Google search on “prison graffiti,” a fly-fishing reel and childlike lettering. The current working title is “When I Get to the Wall, It’s Blank,” a nod to both the process and the artist’s task. “This took on a personal meaning,” Simonsen said. “I’m not wanting to say, but it deals with loss. … I was able to resolve a lot of things with this drawing.
Next to Simonsen’s work is another highly biographical wall, drawn mostly in black, by Masingale, who teaches design and digital theory at EWU. “My therapist asked me to make a piece of where I was when I was a kid growing up in Spokane,” said Masingale, who attended nearly a dozen schools before he turned 18.
The most drawer-ly work of the exhibit reads like a journey through difficult memories, with references to design principles, software programs and computer hardware sprinkled throughout. Traditional symbols and tropes combine with contemporary design elements to create a code for the piece that can be interpreted several ways. Art and therapy become places “where I’m not always just complaining to my wife,” Masingale said. “Some of the negative experiences we have as a child become positives.”
Oosting may be the most unusual choice for a “Drawn to the Wall” artist. A self-taught dollmaker and mixed media sculptor, Oosting said she had to venture far from her comfort zone to face the Jundt’s blank wall. “Drawn to the Wall VI” has been for me a time of great anticipation, overwhelming readiness and utter fear, to say the least,” she said.
She embraced the exploration the task posed and grappled with the voices of her own “creative self-doubt,” she said. The result is one of the exhibition’s most three-dimensional works, with drawn versions of the artist’s folk-type cloth dolls mixing with actual dolls that hang from the wall and burst from the top of it. Patch-like squares drawn on the rumpled paper the artist used as a backdrop evoke the messy stitching the artist typically uses on cloth in her everyday work.
Despite the hours dedicated to the installation, the best part for some artists can be the final act of white-washing over the wall at the exhibition’s end. “It gives it a pleasurable finality,” Kaiser said. “There are a lot of us who think ‘If I could just rework that piece, maybe I’ll go back to it one day.’ … But really, for it to be final, is very artistically tidy.”
As consolation, the artists know that “Every drawing that was ever done for “Drawn to the Wall” is still in there, on those walls, covered up somehow,” Kaiser said. “Which is a magnificent thing.”
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