Monday, May 5, 2008

I'm Watching You, Somerville

There's nothing particularly voyeuristic about looking at things that are on display, right? I mean, if someone hangs a picture on the wall, and you look at the picture, that's not, like voyeuristic? What if the picture is in their house? What if they painted the picture, and it's in their house, and you have never met them before? What if you are deeply excited about being in their house precisely because you've never met them before, and thrilled by their picture because you know that they painted it? What about that?

This is the joy that is Somerville Open Studios. Of course I'd like to yank some pictures and put them on my blog, but the website made it impossible. So click the link and look at Joe Keinberger, Dana Pearson, Tova Speter, and whomever else catches your fancy. Now imagine that Joe is sitting on a stool, reading Henry Miller, while Tom Waits plays in the background, and you are walking around his attic room at Little House Studios (which is in one of the oldest, and tiniest buildings in Somerville, another artist told me), staring not only at his paintings and illustrations, but at the table where he makes them, the paints and pens he makes them with, the masking tape he uses to keep them steady, the window he looks out of when he's thinking, and the posters he's put on the wall to remind him of who he is and what he likes. I understand that might cause some shy people anxiety, because they would be unhappy having to create interactions with paint-smeared stranger after paint-smeared stranger.

But not me. I have no anxiety about this situation whatsoever. I only have a nearly fever-pitch curiosity.

In some apartments, artists had roped off a few rooms where, presumably, they put most of their furniture in order to make room for their Open Studio set-ups. We walked in their front door and through their living room, looked at their work, and then turned and went back out. In other places artists spread their art through many rooms, or a few artists used one apartment together. In one place, I walked through a bedroom, looked at art in a living room, in a dining room, and then in the kitchen, where mint-green walls set off bright paintings of flowers very nicely. In another place, a hoard of the artist's friends had dropped by, and were drinking wine out of glasses (unlike the rest of us visitors, who sucked the proffered 2-buck-chuck out of plastic cups). The friends were cooking something that smelled like cinnamon rolls in Heaven, and while I sorted through a pile of matted photos, I listened to them chat, and then I meandered into the living room, and picked up a handmade doll off the coffee table, and put it back, and then thanked them, and left.

"I wanted to be invited to that party," I told my friends Aaron and Karine. They agreed. "I want to be invited to all these parties," Aaron said. "I feel like all these people should already be my friends."

I liked artists who put out cookies or carrot sticks for visitors, and noticed that many people bought the same snacks: green grapes, chips and salsa (a sale at Costco maybe?). I loved Carolyn Marsden, who makes awesome "woven photographs" which I simply cannot describe, and who also made tiny cupcakes for visitors, and stood genially in her adorable living room, with her T-shirts, paintings, and photos, chatting with us. She had a haphazard stack of books right by the door. It wasn't a sculpture, but I'd become so used to looking at everything in the home as an art piece, I noticed it as if it was.

And this was part of the great inspiration: going into artists' homes reminded me of how wonderfully important it is to personalize, to change, to mark up the things that I live with. Sometimes I imbue my own objects with a permanence of character (decided by their manufacturer) because I paid money for them. I don't always paint on my furniture, or draw on my shirts, or sew extra buttons, or glue extra rhinestones, or hang extra fabric, and so on. But sometimes I remember, and when I can treat my stuff with that kind of loving, creative attention, I live better, write better, feel better. I want original art in my house--mine and other people's.

It was a delight to visit Vernon Street Studios as well, although after the warm and sensory joy of being in various homes, making my way through the maze of studios there presented stark contrast. I wondered if viewing those artists as having more success (i.e., having commercial success as an artist enough to pay/qualify for separate studio space) chipped away a bit at my enjoyment--I wasn't getting to peer into the places where they sat at the end of the day, where they drank coffee and read the paper, where they napped after the "real" job before the painting, where they drank wine with friends. I loved much of the art I saw there, but the experience was quite different--more like a museum. (I love museums! I just also truly love seeing people's homes, and therefore some reflection of themselves. And I especially love museums that seem to capture both elements of display and secret personality--like the Isabella Stuart Gardner, or historic homes, or weird places like Museum of Jurassic Technology.)

I imagine that participating in Open Studios is exhausting for artists, especially shy ones, and I'd like to offer up my gratitude to everyone who was able to let me in to see them, and their work. I wish I had a gabillion dollars to support them all.

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