• Art in Translation: “See the Forest for the Art”

    Hey everyone! Rachel here.

    As any of my friends will tell you, I absolutely love art. The interest manifested years ago when my grandma, an artist, watched me once a week while my mom ran errands and my dad was at work. She would take me to art exhibits and I always eventually wound up in her studio, creating the latest masterpiece for her fridge while I waited for my dad to pick me up.

    Years later, my artistic abilities have sequestered themselves to notebook-margin doodles and gift-wrapping (seriously, it’s on another level). My love of art is still just as strong, albeit a bit more refined.

    In fact, one of the only things I enjoy as much as looking at art is talking about art ­— an unfortunate circumstance for my friends.

    It’s not that they, and everyone else, have a disdain for art (okay, I’m sure some do). It’s just that contemporary art, with its varying degrees of abstraction, can be incredibly difficult to decipher if you haven’t studied it. Sometimes to the untrained ear, art talk can be a little, well — let’s just say it can sound foreign.

    Because of this, many of us are put off by art before we fully understand it. We miss opportunities to be inspired, find entertainment or perhaps even a chance to divulge criticism — all because we “don’t get art.”

    I could go around reviewing exhibition after exhibition, writing up generalized thoughts on shows around Austin, but let’s get real. This is the art blog post. There are no rules here (it’s like we’re in the international waters of online media). Okay, there are some rules, but the point I make is this: It’s time we try something different, something everyone has a chance to like or at least find interesting.

    Every Wednesday, I’ll pick one piece currently on display in Austin and explain it in a way that everyone can appreciate. This isn’t “Contemporary Art for Dummies,” but rather a much more conversational way of talking about art than what is generally used. Essentially, I’m going to tell you what the piece means, what the artist is trying to convey and why one might think it’s cool.

    I’m sure everyone won’t like all of the pieces I post, but I’m positive there will be something for everyone. And if not, I promise to keep it interesting.

    Last Thursday, I was wandering with a friend through I Art Congress: Eat Your Art Out, a monthly series of downtown exhibition features and restaurant specials. We stumbled into Champion, a contemporary art gallery at the corner of Eighth and Brazos streets, owned and directed by Sonia Dutton.

    After some less-than-clever maneuvering around construction blocks, we finally made it inside. Bloom, the exhibition by Claire Falkenberg, was a series of large-scale canvases (all roughly ranging from 29 to 61 inches in length) displaying combinations of photography, collage and painting. Each had a familiar landscape, partially obstructed by a large formless shape of either black or white paint. The paint gives viewers the opportunity to uncover extraordinary details in the real world, which are usually unseen.

    I was immediately drawn to the piece titled “Forest,” which depicts a litter-covered patch of forest floor.

    The photograph is actually a collage of multiple pictures of wooded scenes, giving it a feeling of timelessness and familiarity, as if you were revisiting a place you once saw in a dream. The black paint obscures a large part of the canvas, appearing somewhat three dimensional, shaped like a portal resting on the ground and fading into the dark tree leaves.

    Dutton said Falkenberg uses the photograph as a way to represent humanity mirrored in the environment. It is up to the viewer to determine the meaning of the void created by the paint. The cloud of paint could be ominous, violent, an escape or a beacon of light — the possibilities are without number. As for the rest of the photograph, the artist is taking away a large part of the scene and asking us to figure out what the picture means in its absence — how we would fill in that space.

    Personally, more so than the other pieces, the paint in “Forest” looks like a hole to me — almost like a rabbit hole. With all the garbage lying around the base of the black paint, it kind of makes me think of what would happen in a modern “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” if years after her last adventure (yes, including the second book) Alice revisited the spot where she had fallen into her fantasy world.

    My point is the scene itself appears worn by both time and people, and although darkness can often be ominous, the black cloud in this case seems to offer an escape from that landscape — possibly from reality. If I imagine myself in that scene, it feels whimsical and curious rather than discomforting. That being said, I would definitely be concerned to happen upon a giant gaping hole in the middle of the forest.

    Until next Wednesday, figure out what the void means to you and how it changes the picture in your eyes. I bet you will surprise yourself.