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Art Stalk: A mountain studio visit with James Surls

Camille Silverman
ART STALK
Free Press Art Columnist
James Surls —of Wood Shaving's, Surls & Locke Studios — in his Carbondale studio.
Robert Millman |

FIRST FRIDAY EVENT

“Playing with Your Expectations: Western Slope Avant Garde” and “Making Your Mark: Rocky Mountain Collage Society” will open at The Art Center on Friday, June 5, at 6:30 p.m. Both exhibit openings are free and open to the public.

“Playing with Your Expectations” is the final curation exhibit for Camille Silverman, the current curator of The Art Center. Though there are many unique voices in the region, Silverman chose this group of artists for range of media and the ability to address issues of beauty, spirituality, commodification and temporarily. While not all currently live on the Western Slope, all have lived here and made a significant contribution to the conversation of our visual language. Age ranges, living location, and media are surprisingly varied.

Adele Alsop from Castle Valley, Utah, near Moab, is also included in this exhibit. This New York City transplant studied with both abstract expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning and pop artist Alex Katz. Her work has been shown nationally with write-ups in such publications as the New York Times.

Palisade artist Gary Haushulz will have a fiber-optics piece in North Galley, and there will be more surprises with an evening dance performance by Laura Bradley, Matthew Lindstrom and Carol Christ, who are all affiliated with Colorado Mesa University. There will be 11 other artists exhibiting in this signature exhibit. Music will be performed in the Atrium Gallery by Palmas Guitar Dou.

“Make Your Mark” is an exhibit of The Rocky Mountain Collage Society. They love to say they make art out of anything, and it is true. By picking through dumpsters, old family treasures, and the annual Grand Junction city spring clean-up, each artist creates works that brings out his or her own personality. Many of these creatives start from pure scratch by making their own papers from items such as throw-away dryer lint.

These exhibits run through September. The Art Center’s hours are Tuesdays through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free to all on Tuesdays, with a $3 admission for non-members all other days of the week. For more information on lectures, classes and workshops in conjunction with these exhibits, visit http://www.gjartcenter.org or call 970-243-7337, ext. 2. The Art Center is located in 1803 N. Seventh St., in Grand Junction.

— Camille Silverman, curator of The Art Center

My graduate professor Beverly Fishman told her students — when writing artist’s statements, or maybe it was talking about our work during endless studio visits — to always communicate the artist’s intention: “Not what it is right now, but what is driving the work.”

It is like we were all aiming for the bullseye, and the body of work is this conversation that moves around the bullseye. Fair warning, it seems as soon as you hit the bullseye the target moves, leaving you to rethink everything. “It is the journey, not the destination,” goes the saying.

So, as a curator and director of an arts nonprofit, this advice seems to help in visioning The Art Center’s future. I began thinking of it once again as “The Western Colorado Center for the Arts” and decided my community, my draw for support, was the entire Western Slope, even Moab really. Exhibits and all programs have moved to a very focused blend of local, regional and national that is a bit of a hybrid between art center and museum.

Curators have always traveled and art stalked, even before they got the official job. It is integrated into my personal and work DNA. This excitement to move forward and expand has made me brave enough to knock on the mightiest of studio doors, James Surls’ studio being one of them.

Surls lives in Carbondale, Colo. His studio is the size of our largest gallery and the ceilings are just as high. His sculptures are all open forms. They protrude most elegantly with sharp points coming out in all directions. Some forms can even be named, like eye, profile, foot. Though I cannot say what the work is referencing exactly, I just made it sound predominately figurative (and, really, it’s not).

He said what he does (and always has done) is work in the studio; even in graduate school he worked in the studio and had little to do with the area around him in Detroit. But then he started talking about all that is going on in the world, and I also know how much he does with community organizations like Anderson Ranch Art Center, The Red Brick Art Center, and Aspen Art Museum. It was rather quickly that he began talking about the relationship to himself and the outside world.

Surls, in fact, thinks a lot about what goes on in the world — he empathizes, thinks about war, religion, the particularity of the human condition.

“Is it hard to be so concerned about the world and then have these feelings like you are in your studio coloring,” he said. “I need that connection to the world so it is not escapism or decoration.”

Surls also said that his art explores the male/female condition, war and religion; I can personally attest the feeling of that is present in his work through its beauty and violence.

How refreshing.

Really, if we did not have Guernica by Picasso, or Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, how sad if our visual artists decided that it was not their place to make work about the human condition. This is why we still need artists to talk about things that make us recalibrate from the chores of daily life — leaving us with our mouths wide open and speechless. We are then hooked.

James Surls’ work is in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim, Whitney and Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He will also be in the September exhibit — “Playing with your Expectations” — at The Western Colorado Center for the Arts (1803 N. Seventh Street, Grand Junction).

You can see more of James Surls work at http://www.jamessurls.com.

P.S. Just five days later I visited another mountain town, Crested Butte, and saw Dean Ween, formally of the Pennsylvania band Ween. What a joy! My refresh button was pushed once again by an amazingly unique, smart, humorous musician playing at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts. And when I finally made it back to Grand Junction and saw The Art Center’s galleries, everything looked so good here as well. I get to travel and return, knowing we are all so spot-on and doing the right things, together. The Western Slope is great and I am really proud of us all right now.

Camille Silverman holds a Masters of Fine Art from Cranbrook Art Academy located outside of Detroit, Mich. She attended Cranbrook as well as The School of the Chicago Art Institute. Silverman currently holds the position of Curator and Executive Director at The Western Colorado Center for the Arts, aka The Art Center. The word “Stalk” is important because implies relentless pursuit, but also implies the idea of growth, as in “Jack and the beanstalk.”


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