Arts » Visual Arts

Nine acres of omens at the Stutz Open House


David Hicks in front of his painting, "Long Division." - DAN GROSSMAN
  • Dan Grossman
  • David Hicks in front of his painting, "Long Division."

My struggle to find parking near the Stutz Business Center seemed to be a harbinger of a great crowd. It was April 25, the first night of the Stutz Open House, an event run by the Stutz Artists Association to showcase its artists. And I couldn't help wondering if the number of folks at this event matched the crowd gathered concurrently at the NRA's Annual Meeting and Exhibits - "Nine Acres of Guns and Gear" - at the Indiana Convention Center. But it wasn't even close! The attendance at the NRA convention was supposedly 70,000, a number that dwarfed the 5,000 odd attendees at the Stutz.

But if there was any hope on Friday night that I was ever going to get out of the NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre's delusional headspace, the work of David Hicks, one of the two Stutz resident artists this year, blew that possibility up. In his wall length mixed media drawing "Long Division," you see the Civil War still being fought under a highway overpass, with soldiers shooting angelic high-wire walkers, cowboys shooting pop cans out of little girls' palms, and a forlorn rainbow dribbling out from an artists' pen as he rests his head on his drafting table. Off in the distance you can see an old man wandering nude in the desert with his walking stick. Perhaps he is a prophet wanting to come forward with some pithy prognostications, but he is too scared to approach the Stand Your Ground action going on in the foreground.

Hicks, who teaches at the Herron School of Art and Design, had other large-scale work on display in a variety of media, but "Long Division" - which I first saw at the Harrison Center back in January - is the one that continues to have the biggest impact on me. This mixed media drawing invokes in my mind the crowded murals of both Diego Rivera and Thomas Hart Benton. There's also something reminiscent of the rhythmic quality to be found in much of Benton's work. Benton's America was an America of farmers and ranchers and townspeople multiplying on the plains of pre-WWII America, in a ceaseless state of frenzied activity. Hicks' America is an America still in a ceaseless state of frenzied activity but dividing and fracturing along ethnic, class, and ideological lines. Yet the slightly unfinished quality to this drawing - much of it is drawn in black and white - might lead the viewer to believe that the history of these United States is still being written (and drawn) and people have the power to make a difference for the good.

But my first Stutz studio of the night was the furniture refurbishing business ImNotKreative, run by one Mya Juray. Actually I found her work very creative, taking old furniture found in thrift shops and Goodwills, refurbishing it and repurposing it in a very contemporary style. (Certainly I find it more creative than George W. Bush painting Manson lamps on his otherwise mediocre depiction of Vladimir Putin) I particularly liked one repurposed coffee table painted done up in purple, which looked like the sort of table Prince might approve of. But under the glass on the table there was a fabric insert with leaf patterns geared towards spring. You could put a differently-colored cloth under the glass every with the change in each season.

Viewer in front of one of Woodard's abstract works. - DAN GROSSMAN
  • Dan Grossman
  • Viewer in front of one of Woodard's abstract works.

Abstract enthusiasm

Every year I go to the Stutz Open House I feel like there's a new chapter being written, a new story to follow. Commercial developer Turner Woodard must certainly be given some credit. He has largely fulfilled his goal of turning the former car factory (which produced the Stutz Bearcat that raced in the first Indy 500) into a thriving art center, a successful base for many small and medium sized businesses, and a home for his impressive car collection (including a 1914 Stutz Bearcat). And because the Turner Woodard management office space was open to the public on this night, I decided to take a peek.

And it turns out that Woodard is something of an artist himself. He calls his style "abstract enthusiasm." Many of his abstract canvases on display in his offices and conference rooms owe a debt to Jackson Pollock and his drip style of painting. Yet they are ornately-framed in a manner more befitting of large renaissance era paintings that you might find, say, in the European wing of the IMA. But hey, if you own the space, you can do what you want, I guess.

On to Taylor Smith's gallery. As I approached, I did a double take. For a moment I thought that I was nearing fellow Stutz painter Constance Scopelitis's space. (Her studio's doors were closed on this particular open house). A number of paintings here, with their nude figures against (or absorbed by) patterned backgrounds, recalled Scopelitis' work. But Smith's paintings that I couldn't really place in terms of influence and/or similarity in style. Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin were subjects in these mixed media paintings that incorporate 3.5 inch diskettes as a mosaic undergirding laid over the canvases.

The metal hubs of the diskettes serve as the eyes of said historical subjects (each of whom graces a particular denomination of U.S. paper currency). These paintings recalled in my mind a particular quotation by journalist, writer, and crank H.L. Mencken who said, famously, "When somebody says it's not about the money, it's about the money."

  • Dan Grossman
  • Mya Juray of IMNOTCREATIVE.

I next walked into the studio of sculptor Emily Budd. She was using a crutch to support herself: the day previous one of her beautiful bronze sculptures fell and broke her toe. "Nautilus," made from the direct cast of a fossil shell and weighing in at least 20 pounds, was the inanimate culprit.

"And I had just taken off my steel toe boots," she said, sighing.

In revenge, she dubbed this elegant sculpture "Toe Crusher." Of course, the bronze media that she employs is pretty heavy stuff in addition to being very expensive.

Lyrical stillness

My last stop of the evening was the studio of Susan Brewer. Her abstract paintings in the past couple of years have drawn my interest as she's increasingly restricted her color palette. Some of her most interesting paintings are entirely in black and white and scales of gray such, such as her 2013 work "Lyrical Stillness," which uses mixed media on watercolor paper.

I've seen a lot of what I'll dub the Google Earth effect in abstract paintings that I've seen recently. That is, when you're looking at a painting you feel somehow that you're looking down at a landscape from above. Perhaps the clumps and dried rivers of paint on the canvas take on faux topographical features such as river beds, talus slopes, and mountains. Is it that these artists are trying to approximate said features? Or is it because when you splash paint on canvas in random ways, the mediums imitates the effects of flowing glaciers, boulders rolling down mountains, etc... ?

Brewer's paintings are more atmospheric than earthbound. They achieve a level of engagement and three-dimensionality that is, I think, hard to achieve in abstract work.

Brewer's turned to color again in a number of current paintings. She showed me some paintings that she was hoping to sell to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, the management of which wanted to decorate their spa - called Amethyst. Accordingly, the predominant color in these paintings was purple. The Stanley, for those of you who don't know, is where Stanley Kubrick's The Shining was filmed.

But Estes Park, I recalled, was also the home of "The Rocky Mountain Rendezvous," the 1992 meeting of assorted neo Nazis, Klansmen, and assorted anti-government types that inaugurated the modern militia movement. The Shining isn't nearly as scary as these comingled conspirators, the people that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre seemed to be channeling in his foaming-at-the-mouth speech on Friday night.

A ponderous walk

I wondered what the fate of this country if the Wayne LaPierre crowd took control, say, in a time of environmental collapse and famine as I walked back to my car. And I wondered about the fate of artists and their art under such a reign. How many Cliven Bundy and James-Holmes-types were lurking in the shadows at that other event, checking out the latest in "sporting rifles" among the nine acres of high caliber death implements and assorted accessories.

It's one thing, I thought, checking out a hunting rifle or a handgun for self protection. It's quite another to get excited about the 100-round magazines of the type that allowed James Holmes to kill so many, so fast in an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre in 2012. In order to think that you actually need such weaponry for self defense, you almost have to believe that there are black helicopters casting shadows on your castle. Or maybe you have to believe that a certain black president is plotting to take your gun away. Hence, we have the paranoid and coded racist world view that the NRA has been cultivating over the past decade or so.

Yet there's an art to what they do, an art which effectively lines the pockets of the gun manufacturers that they represent so well. To concede that artfulness is, however, a depressing exercise. It's like admitting that Mao Zedong wrote some beautiful poetry, or admitting that a certain ex-president is capable of putting more than just stick figures on canvas.


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