A Canvassing Primer – Allen Leper Hampton

By guest blogger and St. Petersburg artist Allen Leper Hampton.

 

So you’re an artist!

If you’re reading this, there’s probably a pretty good chance that you consider yourself an artist, or at the very least you have a few artist friends. You’ve been to (or possibly even a part of) art exhibitions. So let me be the first to congratulate you on your nominal jaunt into the shallow world of the deep thinker! Soon you will be up to your ears in the genitalia of the gender of your choice! The local community will respect you as a forward thinking social leader, and support your creative endeavors both financially and intellectually! People will foam at the mouth to hear you speak, to see your creations! They will cherish your ideas, your attempts at progression, and your selfless endeavors to obtain an unattainable utopian ideal!

BUT FIRST!

Let me explain a few things:

1. Being an “artist” is one of, if not THE easiest self-appointed personal descriptor. One must simply speak the word aloud in the mirror, or at the local pub, for it to be true. Post modernism has taught us that there is no real definition of art, that anything and anyone can be art. The logical extension of this, of course, being that anything and anyone can also be an artist. And this I will not argue, not because I agree, but because there is nothing to be gained from that debate. So keep in mind that simply being an artist makes you no different from the rest of mankind. Artists are simply people with the potential to create and communicate.

So what does make you different? It’s the work you make right? The way you draw that bird, or that skull. The materials you use to paint the portrait of that girl’s face, or the way you photograph that gritty street scene. It’s your personal style that makes you different. An individual artist in a world of 7 billion other artists.

It’s not. I assure you.

It’s not even your concepts, your ideas, your communicative abilities. It’s not anything.

The sad truth is that YOU ARE NOT DIFFERENT. And being an artist, making drawings and paintings, will never change that. There is no piece of art that you or I will ever create, no idea or theory, that will not come in part from some other preexisting thing. The best we can hope for is to re-sort that which already exists in a more succinct, understandable manner.

I

The most distinct and vital line is drawn between what I call the Entertainer and the Educator.

The Entertainer is the most common genre of artist. An Entertainer creates pieces that they hope people will find attractive. And most (or all) of their visual, stylistic, and material choices are based on that hope. Their end goal, their best case scenario, is to create a beautiful work of art that will be popular and will sell. The Entertainer creates a wallpaper for a consumer populace. Art as decoration.

The Entertainer is a businessman, someone who focuses on the possibility (or actuality) of making a living off of the creative process. Art is their business, a commodity to be utilized to provide a specific lifestyle outside of the creation of art.

The Educator, as you can probably assume, is focused primarily on the transmission of ideas. The art of the Educator focuses on aesthetic beauty (as most art does) but it does not hold aesthetics above content. Form merely follows function. Communication is paramount, and the work simply looks like what it needs to look like in order to be able to most efficiently communicate the chosen concept. The Educator’s best case scenario is to provoke thought. Their work is created to pose questions, to make assertions, and most importantly, to attempt to progress intellectual culture.

The Educator is a committed hobbyist, someone who focuses on building a life that enables them to create the work that they NEED to create, in their free time. They assume little to no financial compensation for their work, as it is not seen as commodity.

As a new artist, you get to decide where on this imaginary scale you and your work will fall. And remember, you can always shift in and out of any and all types.

2b. Pricing your work will be one of the defining characteristics that will dictate to your audience where you fall on the afore-mentioned scale. Now I’m not going to say that art work should never be expensive, but it’s important to consider all the factors that went into production as well as how you view your work. If you feel like your work is worth a far greater amount of money than the amount of money (and time) that you put into it, then you are probably an Entertainer. If you value your work for its intrinsic intellectual significance and are more concerned with sharing the work and spreading ideas at any cost to yourself, then you are an Educator.

And the viewing audience is not ignorant. We have all walked through a gallery and positioned each piece next to its title card, judging how much the piece cost to make and how long it took to create against its typically exorbitant price tag. Just know that this affects the way people view your work, whether or not they trust the sincerity of your work is based primarily on whether or not they respect you as a human. And that respect, in part, is determined by whether you view your audience as a group of intellectual peers, or as a pool of potential buyers.

I have been told that you should price your work at what you think you can get for it. I see this as a relatively immoral practice, and an attempt to take advantage of supporting patrons. As an artist, you should be honest with yourself, with the work, and most importantly, with your audience. Price the work at what it is worth.

But no matter which category you fall into, consider this: art is a luxury. It is not something that mankind NEEDS, it is something that mankind WANTS. The service we provide, though it can be remarkably beneficial to society, is not NECESSARY. You should keep this in mind when determining the price of your work based on how important you think it might be.

Ideas are free, and should be shared as openly freely as is possible.

3. Now that you know what kind of artist you are, and how you will price your work, there’s only one more thing to do: decide what you want to make. Now most artists tend to do what comes naturally. Their particular style is one that flows out of them rather easily, something that they just DO. And sometimes this makes for some of the most intense and incredible viewing experiences imaginable. But, unfortunately, most times it simply creates artists that use their “style” as a crutch to keep them from having to visually and conceptually progress as an artist. Magazines like JUXTAPOZ and even ARTFORUM have taught us that in order to “make it” as an artist, we need to find our stylized niche and milk it until everyone knows that whenever they see a painting of a big-eyed girl with an animal skull, it’s OUR painting of a big-eyed girl with an animal skull. We’re taught that our work is not about content, but continuity of visual iconography. We are only as good as THAT ONE THING that we’re known for.

REFUSE THIS.

This is not fame, notoriety, or worth as an artist. It is comfortability and stagnation. It is a rut that, at best, will make you someone’s favorite big-eyed girl artist (for a short while), and at its worst, will make you a has-been who couldn’t make something different and new to save their life. So rather than this, I suggest a much more bold attempt. Try to be someone’s favorite artist EVER. In every genre of art imaginable. Be their favorite painter, but also be their favorite sculptor, their favorite video artist, and their favorite photographer. Shun the niche in exchange for the WHOLE.

Not only does this have the ability to make you well-respected, but it also helps with the much more crucial task of teaching you how to be a better artist and human being. Force yourself to learn new mediums, new ways of producing, new imagery and iconography. Surprise your viewer and you will gain their respect and their trust. Surprise yourself and you will learn more about who you are. This style of production will teach you about yourself and about the world. And what is art if not the most direct means of self-progression?

* * *

Allen Leper Hampton was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama.  In 2005 he moved to Tampa where he received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of South Florida.  He is an interdisciplinary artist whose work focuses on the analysis of the negative aspects of life.  He currently resides in St Petersburg, Florida.  www.allenhampton.net

A Canvassing Primer – Allen Leper Hampton

5 Art World Trends Yet to Roll Through Tampa Bay

Trends rise and fall in the art world, each (hopefully) a step toward the best art we can collectively make.  Some, though, don’t seem to have stopped by our little art world by the bay just yet.  I’ve listed five here and some of their inevitable (and awesome) exceptions.  I honestly don’t intend this piece to deride my beloved art scene.  Rather, it should serve to highlight those that are pushing our envelopes for us, and let’s say a personal wish list of the kind of art I’d love to see even more often.

1. Smaller, Subtler, and Subdued

If there is one actual overarching trend generally making its way through the art world at the moment it’s this.  This ‘trend’ was detailed by Jerry Saltz in his survey of the Whitney Biennial last year.  Perhaps it’s in reaction to the post-2008 market collapse, or maybe it’s a response to the swelling art market.  Regardless, a lot of artwork seems to have pulled itself inward, scrapped the factory staff, and scaled down its dimensions.  The sell-out show stopper pieces are just a bit fewer.  Also, as Saltz points out artists are more frequently looking for routes around irony and cynicism without relying on sentimentality or over simplification.  The best of this work is a refreshing respite from the out-of-control market hype of the past few years.

In terms of scale, most local work is relatively under control.  However, I suspect this is more closely tied to limited resources and venues than aesthetic concerns.  Subtlety, though, is a virtue rarely praised, often passed over for gimmicks and quick reactions.

Exceptions:  A notable exception is perhaps one of favorite local artists (I’m still considering her one of us though she’s now based in NYC): Ryann Slauson.  Slauson created a piece that I’ll always regret not purchasing.  On a pedestal sat a deflated basketball constructed from paper mache, each dimple carefully painted on.  The ball sat there lonely and perfectly useless.  Much like this particular piece, her work generally has a peculiar way of being earnest without being sentimental, smart but not cynical, and serious but not stuffy.  Her understated work asks for time, and returns on what you give it.

2. Net Art/New Media

Computer art has arguably been around since the 1950’s – even Andy Warhol joined the party as early as the mid-1980’s.  It’s at this moment, though, that it is growing out of novelty and into respected form.  Considering the amount of time that we spend on the internet and the profound changes it has made to the way we live we may rightly say, “About time.”  GIF’s, Tumblr, social networks, interactive sites, among many other forms are becoming standards of the heady fringes of art and are poised to enter the mainstream.

The reasons Net Art and New Media have been virtually absent from the Tampa Bay scenes are most likely practical ones.  Locally, artists that can also code are a bit of a curiosity.  Also, there are the complexities of exhibiting and selling work that is typically confined to a computer monitor.  Though, I’d like to see this trend roll through more than the others, I fear it may be one we won’t see for a while.  Somebody prove me wrong!

Exceptions:  Artist Hunter Payne is an unapologetic fan of the interwebs.  I realize that sounds absurdly vague but there honestly isn’t any better way to say it.  He’s produced several new media pieces, GIFs, and “games”.  Further, he curated the exhibit TRU_RL: Tight Artists Offline at Studio@620 – an amazing group exhibit featuring the work of artists from the Net Art quasi-collective known as Tight Artists.  This was one of the area’s rare exhibits that would’ve even been too hip even for the Chelsea white boxes.  I’d pay money to see a show like this again.

3.  Contemporary Art Fairs

2012 seems to have been the year of the art fair – oddly both for the art world’s unabashed revelry in and simultaneous hating on the institution.  Regardless of where you fall on the opinion spectrum, these fairs act as more than just a venue for the obscenely rich to relieve themselves of wads cash.  Contemporary art fairs serve as a time for the art world to gather together and figure out where this crazy thing called contemporary art is headed.

I realize it is unrealistic for Tampa to ever be home to anything the size of Miami’s Art Basel and its satellite fairs.  Still, I don’t think it’s unrealistic for us to host a quality Contemporary Art Fair.  Consider relatively similarly sized cities.  Washington D.C. has Emerge, Houston has Texas Contemporary, San Francisco has artMRKT.  I hate to say it but the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts (Tampa) and the Mainsail Art Festival (St. Petersburg) don’t count.  They are frankly little more than temporary art flea markets (though, I suppose in a way, the same argument can be made of Art Basel.)

Exceptions:  I debated whether or not to even include this ‘trend’, because this is the single trend I could not pair with an exception.  Perhaps we can take a page from the playbook of the Anti-Warpt music festival.  That is, could a fledgling Contemporary Art Fair could coincide with the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts or Mainsail Art Festival to act as an alternative event?  I’d love to see that happen.

4. Shocking Art

It’s difficult calling this a trend or even using the word shocking.  Regardless, it came and went back in the 1970’s.  That’s forty years ago – I’m not sure if I really care to see it roll through town anymore.  In a way, at that time art stretched itself to lay claim to all it could be.  It sought to provoke moral sensibilities, upset ideas of art’s relationship with the market, and upend all assumptions about what art was and could be.  It was nearly a time when art could be shocking simply for the sake of shocking – at the time is was something the art dialectic needed to pass through.

Our scenes produce very little truly shocking work, and perhaps that’s alright.  It would be difficult to present that kind of art now without it appearing adolescent.  Maybe its time to make peace with the possibility that we’re just going to skip this important phase in art’s progression.

Exceptions:  Last October’s drama on the 600 Block and his recent dual exhibit Strange Fruit set artist Allen Leper Hampton apart as one exception.  His work has been some of the most shocking to local sensibilities.  Beyond that, though, I like to think his work teaches people to critically read art instead of simply reacting to it.

5. Post-Modern and Post-PoMo Concerns

There are several interesting topics and concerns that seem to receive scant attention in the Bay area – feminism, post-colonialism, Neo-Marxism, modern identity, immigration, and so on (and on and on).  These concerns address the most basic and important ways we interact with each other and how we process our environment.  They encourage us to question complacency, to ask if things can and should be different.

I realize these topics can sound terribly academic and deathly boring.  However, good contemporary art is much brainier than it has been in times past and demands its audience dedicate deep thought to it in addition to romantic feeling.  Further, these themes are much more relevant and less played out locally than themes of generic self-expression.  In a way, this kind of art is much more easy to relate to than the adolescent confessional work that seems to have acquired a strong foot hold locally.  I suppose it is the difference between artists talking about themselves and artists talking about all of us.

Exceptions:  Tempus Projects‘ recent exhibit, Piracy Redux, applied some of these concepts locally – the POD installations touched on topics such as Post-Colonialism, Marxist Historicism, Private Property, and power relations among others – it urged revisiting our local heritage and ideas of our collective self.  (Disclosure: I was a participating artist in Piracy Redux) Also, the work of artist Becky Flanders has addressed feminist issues in a way that’s been poorly lacking locally otherwise.  Her art often demands us to be confrontational with ourselves, in reconciling women with our deeply held archetype of woman.  Her work is a great example of art that can be very moving without relying on sentimentality.

5 Art World Trends Yet to Roll Through Tampa Bay

Drama on the Block

The manifold levels of irony have certainly peaked at WTF levels: an artist compelled to cover over the image of Martin Luther King Jr. in a Klan costume with white paint in order to quell reports of complaints.  Likely you’ve heard of the rumpus and voiced your protest of “racist” or “censorship” as a Facebook/Twitter comment/tweet.  A shortened version of the events (in haiku form):

Allen’s mural of/Dr. King as a Klansman/caused a huge ruckus/with a store owner/and the landlord so he was/forced to cover it.  (In case you still need to be filled in, though, check out these articles at Art Taco and Creative Loafing).

Now let’s unpeel the ?! one layer at a time.

Curatorial Hijack

Creative Loafing reports that property manager Gary Burnside requested “the mural’s removal two days after the opening, telling Collective that the gallery’s lease would be in jeopardy if the image were not taken down immediately.”

Would Gary Burnside’s curatorial hijacking have been tolerated in any other major arts city?  Consider, what surely would have happened if this drama unfolded in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Wynwood, San Francisco, L.A.  The idea of a property manager imposing his views on art on his tenants would rightly be considered absurd.  Likely, a stronger gallery community would have largely denounced Gary Burnside and developer Tom Gaffney as well as dismissed the neighborhood as unfit for serious galleries.

In our mounting, but still fledgling art scene, however, galleries can be bullied without recourse.  The camaraderie of the St. Petersburg visual art community is impressive.  However, we don’t have the strong collector base that would give our galleries the financial leverage needed to defend themselves or move on.  Rather, in lieu of any real options, Collective Tattoo and Gallery is left to bow to the personal impositions of its landlord, and we’re left to wag our heads in disapproval.

Civil Discourse

As the above Creative Loafing excerpt mentions, the mural was only displayed for two days prior to being covered.  Because I haven’t spoken to all parties involved, I can’t say with total certainty that no alternatives were offered (e.g. a window covering) and no civil discourse was had.  Considering, Allen Hampton painted over his mural and Burnside resorted to an ultimatum, it seems unlikely that any rational conversation took place.

My gripe here, is not that Burnside (and perhaps Gaffney by association) were being mean – it’s unrealistic to expect otherwise in business.  This is my gripe: The apparent lack of any real discourse suggests that the property manager’s decision was an emotional one rather than a pragmatic one.

True concern for the property would logically lead to the utilization of realistic alternatives which would satisfy all parties.  Exacting an ultimatum in which the only realistic option is for the gallery and artist to destroy the mural seems to betray a leverage of authority in order to satiate a personal offense at a work of art.  That would be morally wrong.  Further, for a block that purports to be a creative neighborhood these types of managerial tactics are terribly disappointing.

Culturally Myopic

I’m not going to bother trying to explain how to critically deconstruct art (as opposed to blindly reacting to it) – if you’re reading an art blog, you probably already know how to do this.  However, I thought it would be prudent to at least address Burnside’s quotes in the above mentioned Creative Loafing article.

“This artist is nothing. For him to disparage Martin Luther King’s legacy — give me a break” – The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr isn’t so fragile as to be irreconcilably sullied by a mural in a tattoo parlor.  Further, the mural isn’t even ‘about’ Martin Luther King.  Instead the mural is concerned with his image in our visual lexicon and the power we invest in it.  This is obvious by the way Hampton juxtaposes the image of MLK with a similarly powerful (albeit hateful) image.  The same effect could have been achieved by contrasting any two loaded but diametrically opposed images.

“Some people don’t think. They just think they’re an artist and they can say and do anything they want to.” – Actually, artists can do almost anything they want – it’s the fundamental nature of art.  However, that doesn’t mean the result will be good and/or tasteful art.  There are lines to be drawn, though.  Two lines, that is – a personal line, and a collective line.  We must determine what we permit to be art personally and as a society.  Burnside can draw his personal line where ever he pleases.  However our collective line, our standard of what we as a community permit to be art, should be drawn but not here.  It should be drawn, not by an individual (and certainly not by a landlord), but by the creative community.

* * * * *

The 600 Block helped revitalize St. Petersburg as a whole and establish the city as an arts destination.  There are great artists and galleries that work and exhibit on the block.  The music venues are some of the best in the Bay area.

However, this kind of drama is unacceptable.  Gallerists should expect to not be micromanaged, bullied into ultimatums, forced to cede curatorial control, or be treated like children.

Indeed, this kind of administration could drag the 600 Block through a cultural regression and right back into artistic irrelevance.

Drama on the Block

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art: You Have One New Message

Allen Leper Hampton, Big Black Diamond, 2012, Big black diamond

It’s a curious road from graffiti to street art.  A blank wall sans ownership or permission may be a common canvas to both.  Street Art, though, brings more than just irreverence for private property and leaves more than only trite scribble.  The Morean Arts Center’s current survey of Floridian Urban Art is aptly titled Leave a Message: Urban Art in Florida.  The exhibit featured twenty Florida-based artists from various points on the street art continuum.

Read the rest of the article here

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art: You Have One New Message