Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Some artists I have known

"Caravan" painted sticks by Susan Christian

By Alec Clayton

When I was a senior in high school I used to wander around the Art Department at the local college just to see what the art students were up to, dreaming about the near future when I would be joining their ranks.

There was one guyI can’t remember his name; let’s call him Stevewho did a gritty and grimy collage and burned a big hole in it. It reminded me of an Alberto Buri painting. I loved it. Drawing and painting instructor Charles Ambrose kept a lot of props in the studio bays that he used for setting up still life studies, including animal skulls and other bones. One day “Steve” picked up a jawbone and ran around the department swinging it overhead and shouting, “I killed a thousand men with this jawbone!” No, it was not the jawbone of an ass. I don't think; I think it was a cow.

untitled painting by Thornton Willis, 66.5" x 45.5", circa 1964

"Taxi," acrylic on canvas by Thornton Willis, 2017, 20" x 16"
Thornton Willis’s senior thesis show hung in the hallway upstairs. His works were raw abstract expressionist paintings that in retrospect reminded me a lot of Jasper Johns, whom I had not yet heard of at the time. I’d never seen anything like them. I worked up the courage to introduce myself and ask him to come over to my house and look at my paintings. He accepted my invitation and was very encouraging. He particularly liked a painting on burlap that had been inspired by “Steve’s” collage.

After my freshman year in college Thornton went to graduate school at the University of Alabama, and I did my two-year’s active duty in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Seven years later, when I was a senior in the Art Department, Thornton came back home to teach Freshman Drawing and Design, and we became close friends. We rented a loft studio downtown and worked together. He was doing large shaped canvases influenced by Frank Stella. I was beginning to experiment with Pop Art. Thornton was a huge influence on me, not so much by what he said or did, but because he introduced me to new young artists who were being featured in Art News and Art in America, and through his sheer love of art.

Drawing by Nil Filts
Toward the end of that year he was offered a teaching position in New York. Now he is quite successful. He is represented by Elizabeth Harris Gallery in NYC and has works in the collections of Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and the Whitney. I also own one of his paintings, done when he was a graduate student at Alabama and left behind in our shared studio when he moved to New York. My nephew, the sculptor Willie Ray Parish, also has one of those paintings.

Mail art collage by Richard C with elements by Ray Johnson and Alec Clayton
In graduate school at East Tennessee State University I was best friends and studio mate with Richard C and Nil Felts. Nil did funky pictures of cartoon figures such as Howdy Doody and elaborate drawings of strange creatures reminiscent of works by the Chicago Imagists and the Hairy Who (Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, etc.). Richard (his last name was Craven, but he always went by the initial C) introduced me to Ray Johnson and the New York Correspondence School. About five years later I met Ray Johnson in person, went to one of his openingsglitterati galore, I felt terribly out of placeand Ray visited me in the tiny room I rented in Chelsea. Ray’s eventual suicide left a dark hole in the art world. I still get mail art from Richard C but do not respond nearly as regularly as I should.

"Rain House," oil on panel and mixed media assemblage by Susan Aurand
When I moved to Olympia, Washington in 1988, the first people I met were a couple of students in Rudy Martin’s writing workshop at The Evergreen State College, Claire Davis and Dennis Held. We lived in the same apartment complex. On their wall was a large charcoal drawing of a child with a bike. It was a tad too sentimental for my taste at the time, but the drawing skill and the richness of the velvety blacks was admirable to say the least. The artist was Susan Aurand. Over the years I often had an opportunity to review shows she was in and came to like her work a lot, but it wasn’t until 2016I can’t believe it’s been that longthat I met Susan in person at the opening of Kathy Gore Fuss’s show at Salon Refu. I greatly admire her lyrical and beautiful paintings of disjointed by related realistic snatches of sky, land, grass, bird’s nest and other images. Last year two of her paintings were purchase-prize winners at the Southwest Washington Juried Exhibition at South Puget Sound Community College.

"Ravine" study, oil on paper, 16.5" x 23.5" by Kathy Gore Fuss
Speaking of Kathy Gore Fuss, she and her best friend at the time, Louise Williams, were the first two artists I met after moving to Olympia. Shortly after arriving in Olympia I went downtown to the Maryanne Partlow Gallery. Louise was in the gallery at the time, and through her I got to know Kathyboth excellent artists. Louise drew and painted sensitive images of children and families. Some time before her tragic death from breast cancer Louise and I traded paintings, and I am now the proud owner of two of her paintings.

untitled pastel by Louise Williams, 29.5" x 43.5" (apologies for the reflections)
Kathy, when I first met her, was doing constructed paintings or assemblages that were inventive and often funny. Over the years since 1988 she has experimented with many different types of painting and sculpture, most recently with plein air painting in the forests of Southwest Washington and at the Port Of Olympia, and as of this writing she is making photoshopped images from digital photos taken from a drone.

Painting by Juan Alonso
Coincidentally, before we moved from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Olympia, I found in an art publication a call for entries in the Erotic Art Show at the Alonso-Sullivan Gallery in Seattle. Entry was by slides. I entered and was accepted in the show, and when we went to the opening I discovered that both Kathy Gore Fuss and Louise Williams were also in the show. Since then I have also gotten to know the gallery co-owner Juan Alonso, whose work I have come to greatly admire.

After a lifetime of making art and writing about art, I could easily add a hundred or more names to this list of artists I have known. More than I can think of offhand deserve to be mentioned, but I will mention only a handful whose work and friendship have been important to me. Do yourself a favor and check them out: Ron Hinson, Susan Christian and Willie Ray Parish.

untitled painted construction by Ron Hinson

Installation view of Willie Ray Parish exhibition at El Paso Museum

No comments: