STEVE PLEWE, Concrete Sculptures

STEVE PLEWE, Concrete Sculptures

STEVE PLEWE, Concrete Sculptures

STEVE PLEWE, Concrete Sculptures

When we think of concrete, most of us imagine driveways and sidewalks. Yet, how many of us envision it as artwork? Local sculptor Steve Plewe has such vision and sees endless potential in this versatile medium. Plewe credits numerous factors for his unique interest, including his father’s construction business, a graduate degree in landscape architecture, art classes in college, and his daughters’ encouragement.

Plewe prefers making works that allow human interaction and that depict non-representational forms. “All my work focuses on the properties of the pieces themselves, with no intended dimension of social commentary or protest. I think of my pieces as quiet and introspective, hopefully somewhat dignified and inviting of contemplation.”

Looking at his concrete creations inspires such introspection. Consider the following:

1. What effect does the medium have on your experience of the work?

2. How would your perception of the sculpture differ if it were rendered in another medium? Consider marble or glass.

3. Do the sculptures look modern?  Why or why not?  What affect does this appearance have on your appreciation of the object?

4.  List and describe three formal elements that contribute to your appreciation and understanding of the works.

To experience more of Plewe’s concrete art, refer to his Facebook page at:  www.facebook.com/pages/Steve-Plewe-Sculpture/190248453864.

Please note, the quote from the artist was taken from an earlier interview published on May 28, 2013.  Refer to the earlier post for the full interview.  The link is: http://fosterartprogramblog.org/2013/05/28/creations-in-concrete-interview-with-steve-plewe/.

MADDISON COLVIN, from "Typologies"

MADDISON COLVIN, from “Typologies”

Art possesses a unique ability to articulate the impossible.  Through art, we can experience dreams, merge seeming opposites, and create various perceptions of truth.  No artist better understands and utilizes art for this purpose than Maddison Colvin.  Colvin recently graduated with a Masters in Fine Art, teaches both the secondary and college level, and works as an artist in residence at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.

With such an extensive resume, what first inspired Colvin’s interest in art?  “The most imaginative years of my childhood were spent living in a forest in Michigan. At the time, I was really interested in nature and science, but I wanted to see it on a kind of personal, playful level. I wanted to see animals acting contrary to their nature, to explore the inside of a geode, to climb a tree and build a nest for a squirrel, or to be a tiny version of myself that could crawl inside of plants and mess with their cells. Creating these situations in play led me pretty naturally to drawings and paintings, where I could make things I couldn’t experience in real life. I wanted to replicate things I saw in nature but change them to suit my purposes.”

MADDISON COLVIN, from "Typologies"

MADDISON COLVIN, from “Typologies”

This love of nature nurtured Colvin’s interest in science and religion and in their mutual, yet, somewhat conflicting, search for truth. She often represents these dualities within her work.  “I think they manifest most clearly in my subject matters, although there’s a secondary level of influence in the actual approach to making. I often begin by choosing subjects that are either biological with an element of mystery, like the behavior of swarms or the information carried in a fossil, or religious/mystical with an element of repetition or similarity that implies correlation, like the structure of churches or the pattern of repeating words in religious rituals.. I’m interested in how a kind of looseness or unknowability can appear in a physical object or creature that can be scientifically analyzed and how a kind of rigid purpose can manifest in something that is supposed to be a deeply personal spiritual experience. Generally speaking, I think the ‘truth’ is massive and all-encompassing and unified. The mistake that both scientific and religious approaches make is to think that it’s unified in a way that is 100% knowable via one set of rules that currently exists. How and why are both parts of truth. You can’t ignore one or the other. So when I paint a swarm of insects, I’m thinking of them not just as these little biological units, but as things guided by unknowable forces.”

Despite Colvin’s interest in the pursuit of truth, she also acknowledges the limitation of knowledge. As an artist, she considers it important to represent this limitation and occasional transcendence.  “I think we all relate to reaching towards truth and not being able to grasp it. I especially relate to those moments of transcendence that we just touch the edge of truth. That kind of seeking action keeps me coming back and making things, far more than coming to any kind of conclusion would. Knowledge is ever-changing, but as an artist I make objects that sit still in time. Therefore, those objects have to represent a place marker, a little moment in a search. As an audience, I think it’s exciting to come along later and see what an artist has discovered, where they’ve achieved little moments of clarity and where they’ve failed. When an artist understands their limitations, the little steps are really exciting glimpses. When an artist deludes themselves into thinking they’ve gotten all the way there, their art rings false and arrogant.”

MADDISON COLVIN, From "Swarm Series"

MADDISON COLVIN, From “Swarm Series”

In keeping with this idea, how can art address philosophical issues more clearly than other means of expression?  “Art is a great medium for exploring dualities, because it doesn’t claim to come to any conclusions. I believe pretty firmly in unknowability, and art leaves a kind of room that language, whether it’s scientific or philosophical language, tends to whittle to a point. So it’s not that art addresses these things more clearly, it’s that it has room for murkiness, and that murkiness feels more true to lived experience than total brilliant clarity would.”

In the artist’s quest to grapple with philosophical questions, how does having degrees in art help articulate these issues and help her career?  “In a lot of ways, its greatest advantage is in giving you the time and resources to take your craft seriously for a few years. College is a time to challenge your thought processes and to be in an environment with peers that also challenge you. While you may also learn skills that are harder to access outside of school, like advanced figure drawing, printmaking, frame building, etc., the real advantage is the time to shape all those things into an idea of how to move forward independent of school. My undergraduate degree was all over the place, but I got a portfolio together and went to grad school. That was where I really started to understand what I wanted to do. For some people that happens earlier than it did for me! But an MFA helps, since it allows me to teach at a university where I continue to be challenged with new ideas and approaches.”

Despite degrees, challenges face artists.  What specific challenges exist in this economy?  “Many of the same challenges that other young professionals have, and then some. The job market for art teachers and professors is small, although that’s the way that many artists provide for themselves and their families. Many artists work day jobs in completely separate fields, and their art is a nights-and-weekends passion. This can be discouraging, but it is the reality for most creative fields, including actors, writers, artists, etc.  If you choose one of these paths, it’s an uphill road to doing exclusively that and a huge commitment to forging your way forward through extreme discouragement.  That said, there are galleries in the world. There is an audience for your work. There is even an audience in Utah for your work! The best way to encourage this audience, and to turn their eyes towards your work, is to become a part of it. There’s this myth that artists must work in isolation as sort of mad scientists. This may be a real impulse for the individual (It definitely is for me), but in order for artists to improve the economy for art, they must become supporters of it themselves. There is strength and visibility and value in that kind of community. Go to art openings! Go to art walks! Ask artists and gallery owners questions! Stand in the aisles of Barnes and Noble and flip through the art magazines, writing down the names of artists you like. Do research online when you could be on Facebook. Even if you’re working as a secretary during the day, make your art when you can, be involved, be interested, and things can happen.”

MADDISON COLVIN, from "Typologies"

MADDISON COLVIN, from “Typologies”

Considering those words of encouragement for professionals, what advice does Colvin have for young burgeoning artists?  “A lot of the above, plus- just MAKE. A lot of what you make will be horrible right from the get-go. A lot of what you make will seem good at first and then look horrible in six months or in two years. Take your work seriously, but don’t treat it as if it’s precious. Do NOT buy 100 dollar canvases for art you make in high school. Buy a roll of canvas, staple it to a board, and paint. Use each painting as a learning opportunity and not as an end goal in which your whole career as an artist is tied up. When you make something you love, admire it, but don’t be worried about whether the next thing will be as good. And most importantly, OBSERVE. Learn from things you see. Learn to notice beautiful light, a good shape, an off-balance-tree. Learn to see what is uncomfortable in uncomfortable moments, as well as what is beautiful in beautiful ones. Draw very boring objects every once in a while. Do your best to understand not just what faces and plants and buildings attract you, but what ideas and words and colors attract you. What you have to offer as an artist is tied up in your experience and ability, whether that experience and ability is to make very subjective expressive abstract paintings, or whether your experience and ability allows you the patience to photograph every single leaf on a tree. Don’t try to be something you’re not; take what you are and push it to the utmost.  Make it productive and singular.”

Colvin’s advice hold true, especially for her students.  Her passion for art outweighs any of the difficulties of teaching.  “I love being around people experimenting every day. I love setting challenges and restrictions and seeing how they can be worked around. It makes me excited to challenge myself. I love being able to help others using my experience and understanding. I also love how teaching stretches that experience and keeps me open. It’s much more rewarding in that way than most day jobs!”

MADDISON COLVIN, from "Swarm Series"

MADDISON COLVIN, from “Swarm Series”

To experience more of Colvin’s works, refer to her website at: http://maddisoncolvin.com.  To view several of her videos, click here.

 

MADDISON COLVIN, Monarchs from "Swarms" Series

MADDISON COLVIN, Monarchs from “Swarms” Series

What do you think of when you hear the word, swarm?  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, swarm defines as “A large or dense group of insects, especially flying ones.”  Yet, swarm includes various other meanings specific to astronomy and even to our own vernacular.

Local artist, Maddison Colvin, explores this multiplicity of meaning in her “Swarms Series.”  She not only includes the typical swarm of bees, she also features crabs, fish, and even birds.  What effect does it have on us as viewers to perceive swarms of these various creatures?

Colvin’s keen awareness of the world around us seems to dominate her works.  The artist expresses a fervent interest in knowledge and in acknowledging its limitations.  She specifically refers to science and religion and their attempt to reveal truth through knowledge.  “Science and religion are systems that work to organize experience into a manageable understanding of the world. Both of these systems gather information – one through mental/spiritual experience and the other through empirical/physical evidence – and then reorder it within a structured framework.”

Colvin attempts to merge physical and spiritual within the artistic realm to attain peace between these seeming dualities.  Art becomes a unique space that forces us to contemplate our perception of the natural world, our place within it, and our concept of truth.

Discussion Questions:

1.  How does Colvin’s work, Monarchs, affect you as a viewer?  List and describe three visual elements that contribute to your response.

2.  How does Monarchs represent this idea of merging science and religion?

3.  Why is it important the Colvin represents swarms of creatures other than just insects?  How does this affect our perception?

20140322_125340-1How can you buy an authentic Trent Alvey painting without buying directly from a gallery?  Would you believe me if I told you that you could get one at Whole Foods Market in Cottonwood Heights?  Also, how can you help impoverished women in developing countries while purchasing local art for yourself?  Again, may I suggest you check out the Whole Foods Market in Cottonwood Heights.20140322_125315-1

Come in this week until the 31st, enjoy local art in the cafe, and take advantage of your chance to contribute to the Whole Planet Foundation.  Whole Foods Market in Cottonwood Heights is holding a silent art auction to fundraise for the Whole Planet Foundation.  All proceeds go directly to micro-loans for women in impoverished nations.  Each woman receives only $175, yet, it changes her life.  (That amount of money is barely a car payment for people living in the US.)  Over ninety-seven percent pay back their loans.  Women use the loans to start businesses and pull themselves out of poverty.

20140322_125323-1While donating to this cause proves important, it’s also an excellent chance to buy local art.  The auction includes everything from paintings to photography and includes famous names as well as up-and-coming artists.

Trent Alvey exists as a famous name and generous contributor to the event.  The artist kindly donated two works from her Geometry Series.  She is one of Utah’s most famous and well-known artists.  One of her works, Toaster Worship, even appears in the permanent collection at the Utah Museum of Fine Art.  Her paintings and installations typically sell for thousands of dollars.  This is your chance! 20140322_125310-1

Other well-known artists include master printmaker, Bret Hanson.  Hanson currently works at the Leonardo in Salt Lake as an artist in residence.  He will also be showcasing an installation for Earth Day at the Cottonwood Heights Whole Foods.

20140322_125332-1If nature photography proves your cup of tea, be sure to see photographs by Debbie LaBelle.  It seems appropriate to showcase local scenes from our local artists.  Be sure to see her flower photograph and image of a wolf.

In any case,  come, enjoy, contribute.

Students at Brockbank Junior High

Students at Brockbank Junior High School, photo courtesy of Patricia Taylor

March 11th proved an exciting day for students in Patricia Taylor’s studio art classes at Brockbank Junior High.  Local sculptor, Court Bennett, came for the day, guest lectured, and brought a variety of unexpected sculpting material to share.  Spools of string, old denim jeans, and even rubber hosing became art.

Bennett began by discussing sculpture and “its relationship to the physical world around us.”  The artist continued by revealing how sculpture’s “function, unlike other tools and objects in the world, is to ‘be’ sculpture.”  This “makes three-dimensional work different from drawings and paintings.”  Bennett’s discussion immediately turned into a project and helped students bring the concepts to life.

According to Bennett, “I brought spools of tape, rope, string, and wire, along with large pieces of canvas, old denim jeans, plastic tubing, wicker reed, and rubber hose. I had the students then do a ‘three-dimensional drawing’ using only two materials of their choice, including fastners. So, for example, they could pick duct tape and plastic tubing and then had to come up with a way to create a three-dimensional shape with volume and form.”

Both Bennett and Instructor Taylor were impressed with students’ works.  “We had a great time at Brockbank,” said Bennett.  “I think that, overall, the kids did really well, and seemed to have a good time trying something new and playing with materials in a way they hadn’t thought of before….  The day went very quickly, which I think is rather telling.”

COURT BENNETT. Pot-Bellied Prickle, 2003, mixed media.

COURT BENNETT. Pot-Bellied Prickle, 2003, mixed media.

Taylor echoed Bennett’s appraisal of the day.  She effused that, “The kids in each class were thrilled!  They each made a found object sculpture using just two materials.  As you can see, they rocked.”  She revealed that students not only loved making sculptures, they enjoyed the process of having a visiting artist, too.  “They liked interacting with a ‘real’ artist and hearing his feedback and point of view. It was so fun to watch my students…become artists right along with me.”

Bennett concluded each class with a brief powerpoint of his work over the past ten years.  He discussed “materials, intentions, and meanings” behind what he does as a professional artist.

Taylor had nothing but praise for the artist.  “He really got along with the kids, made timely comments about them and their work, showed his art, and talked about it in an age appropriate way.”  In discussing why Bennett and visiting artists prove so important, Taylor revealed that, “it is essential that kids see working artists, understand the varieties that they can pursue in the fine arts as a studio artist, and hear the reality of how studio artists wear many hats and work hard to achieve success.”

To experience more of Court Bennett’s work, refer to his website at:www.courtbennett.com/.

We wish to thank our community partners for making this event possible.  Brockbank students would not have had this opportunity without your support!  Firstly, thank you to our biggest advocate, Whole Foods Market in Cottonwood Heights.  We appreciate your friendship and constant support of the Foster Art Program Blog and our visiting artist events.  Thank you also to our friends at the Dodo Restaurant in Sugarhouse and to our newest community partners, Gastronomy Inc. in Salt Lake City and the Good Earth in Midvale.  Your kind donations make a difference to our students.  Please refer to “Our Sponsor” page for more information about our sponsors.

image001Want to showcase your artwork with a great Salt Lake City audience while helping to end poverty? Whole Foods Market in Cottonwood Heights (a sponsor of the Foster Art Program Blog) is holding an ART fundraiser silent auction for the Whole Planet Foundation March 17 – 31st. What is Whole Planet Foundation? It’s an amazing program that provides micro-loans to impoverished women throughout the globe to help them start a business and rise out of poverty. The average micro-loan is just $175. That money can change a woman’s life forever.

Whole Foods is looking to auction off paintings, drawings, photography, sculptures, and more! Have artwork sitting at home with no place to go? Bring it on in! Your artwork will be featured in the Whole Foods café for two weeks. You can put a business card out with your item, of course. Please contact Debbie LaBelle if you are interested: debra.labelle@wholefoods.com or call (801) 733-9455. Why donate your art? You can write off your donation, put your art out on center stage, and feel great about investing in a future without poverty.

COURT BENNETT.  Chameleon.

COURT BENNETT. Chameleon.

Tuesday, March 11th, will be an exciting day at Brockbank Junior High.  Local sculptor, Court Bennett, will be visiting, lecturing, and sharing ideas with students in Patricia Taylor’s studio art classes.  Future artists and students who simply enjoy studio arts will benefit from hearing from this successful Utah artist and Salt Lake Community College instructor.

So, who is Court Bennett, and what do we experience in looking at one of his sculptures?  Something refreshing happens.  When looking at Court Bennett’s sculptures, it becomes impossible to decide if it’s beautiful, ugly, approachable, frightening, known, or unknown.  It causes us to stop and really consider our own opinions and to consider our preconceived notions about art.  “Natural and unnatural,” “human-made and organic,” and “mechanical and biological” are words used to describe Bennett’s work.

In asking how his art unifies such polar opposites, Bennett indicates that “unifying may not be the best word to use (though I don’t have a better one), but it does seem to me that all or most of the really interesting art being produced today explores edges and boundaries. The point at which two seeming opposites intersect is a very exciting place; to give a couple of metaphors, it’s where the match-head strikes against a rough surface and erupts into flame, or water and sand slowly swirl together in exactly the right balance to form quick-sand. A successful sculpture, for me, is one that exists in the space between polar opposites, where they meet, like the biological and mechanical universes. Because the work has the properties of both, it cannot rest solidly (or comfortably) in either camp, and so, therefore, is both and neither at the same time. The same goes for the natural vs. the unnatural or the human-made vs. the organic continua (and many others as well). In other words (and to put a fairly complex concept in simpler terms), I often play a game with family members once I have completed a new sculpture, in which they are asked to name what it is, and if they disagree and come up with many different interpretations, I know I have something special.”

COURT BENNETT.  Simbioticks

COURT BENNETT. Simbioticks

In discussing how his works challenge assumptions, Bennett continues, “My sculptures certainly challenge preconceived notions about art in that I use materials in unconventional ways. One of the best questions I have learned to ask seriously is why or why not. Why can’t thousands of screws become a surface or skin rather than being used as fasteners? Why can’t cloth such as denim be stapled or screwed instead of sewn? I once had a professor tell our class that hot glue was absolutely forbidden and that anyone who used it would receive a failing grade, so free from undergrad to experiment on my own, I built a sculpture almost entirely from hot glue. It was a great exercise – liberating. Asking why and why not has allowed me to make sculptures that have not been made before. I’m grateful for that simple three-letter word.”

Yet, what comment, if any, does Bennett’s work offer about society?  “I don’t know that my sculptures make a comment on society (honestly, I avoid overtly political or social statements as a rule) save to say that in an increasingly polarized world, much fertile ground in between lies largely unexplored. We seem to be abandoning the middle in order to draw a hard, uncompromising line on either side. That is the hallmark of fear: of the future, of the other, and of ourselves and of our capacity for good and evil.”

COURT BENNETT. Emergence.

COURT BENNETT. Emergence.

In his artist statement, Bennett refers to his works as occupying a narrative space or as manifesting “quasi-life.”  Bennett writes poetry and satirical pieces, so it makes us wonder if any of his artistic creations exist in his writings as well.  He responds that “in the past, I never even titled my work – I think I thought it would somehow detract or distract from the object itself, but over the years I have come to love word play and puns and to title my work in reference to some sort of playful narrative or story or even a person. I still don’t want to spell it out too plainly, for if a picture is worth a thousand words, and a sculpture perhaps ten thousand (or ten pictures), and then if I describe my work too deeply, I might as well just write. I would have no reason to make sculpture.”

Bennett also participates frequently in teaching and in helping students, whether as an instructor at Salt Lake Community College, as a guest lecturer, or as a juror for student art shows.  “I love the creative atmosphere of the classroom and have always been close to educators. Both of my parents have taught ceramics for decades in the Jordan School District, and my wife currently teaches Jewelry at Hillcrest High School and Salt Lake Community College, so art education is in my DNA, in a sense. I like to help others develop their own talents and personal visions. It’s very rewarding to see an idea take fire in a student and know that you helped kindle that flame in some small way.”

In describing his most rewarding experience with helping students, Bennett says, “I really had a wonderful time at Idaho State University as Guest Lecturer in connection with my show at the Carr Gallery in Idaho Falls. Not too long ago, I was an aspiring MFA candidate at the University of the Arts and I know what the students were going through; a different artist visits your studio nearly every week, giving advice on how they would do things differently. They mean well, but it can be a very frustrating and confusing time. You really feel pushed and pulled from one direction to another. Knowing all that from my own experience in Philadelphia, I just tried to be supportive. I talked with several MFA sculpture students, mostly about what their professors and these other visiting artists had said before, and we tried to make sense of some of the feedback – what seemed to ring true, what was ultimately useful and what was not. It was a good time. I hope I helped them become a little more grounded in their artistic sensibility, rather than add to the confusion.”

COURT BENNETT.  Terry Claw

COURT BENNETT. Terry Claw

For someone who proves influential to his students, which artists influenced him?  Bennett indicates that “Serra, Goldsworthy, Sze and to a lesser extent, Judd, Koons or Long, are like sculpture gods, to me. To stand inside one of Serra’s Torqued Ellipses at the Dia in New York is incredible, a transcendent experience, sublime. I wouldn’t presume to somehow carry on an artistic legacy, though, for Serra or any of them. I don’t think they would want that and I don’t want that for my work either. I want to make work that hasn’t been made – that makes an impact and footprint of its own for future generations to sort out. I think if I came across someone making sculpture like I do, then I would change immediately and do something else.”

In describing his view of the current artistic tradition of the 2000s, Bennett reveals that “If anything, I think in some ways art has gone too far, and become too much. Art that can be anything and everything sounds very sexy, very seductive, but that is ultimately the death of art. Art that is anything and everything is in the end, nothing. My favorite saying is ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.’ That goes a long way toward how I feel about art today. I fully understand the rebellion against the elitists in the 60s and 70s who wanted to depose the tyrannical modernists and bring art to the masses, but we’ve gone too far and lost the quality and care, the craftsmanship that once was. We’ve lost aesthetic beauty in deference to voice and issue. That’s sad; I think really good artwork can and should be both. The pendulum needs to swing back a bit.”

COURT BENNETT. Pot-Bellied Prickle, 2003, mixed media.

COURT BENNETT. Pot-Bellied Prickle, 2003, mixed media.

His advice for aspiring artists?  “Make. Make art like crazy. Eventually you’ll begin to see patterns and shapes take form, almost like walking out of a heavy fog. Don’t worry if it’s bad or unpolished or stilted, just make it, and the touch, polish and refinement will come. The best painting or sculpture you ever make will be the next one, and then the one after that. Don’t worry about current trends or if you will earn a ton of money and be successful, or just what the definition of ‘successful’ is anyway. Just work like crazy and do good work, and if money and success come, then even better.”

To discover Bennett’s portfolio,  samples of his poetry and satirical writings, biography, lists of exhibitions, and resume, refer to his artist website at: www.courtbennett.com/.

Please note: excerpts from this post were taken from a previous interview with Court Bennett and from a previous post published on July 7, 2013.