Last night was the opening reception for a solo show of work from my Oola series at Merced College. The drive there was uneventful, until I opened the door and got blasted by the San Joaquin Valley central heating.
If you do not know about the Oola series, you can find out here.
During the reception the mysterious one played mysterious music on his hand-built experimental guitar, music that was perfect for the occasion. But I was so busy the whole evening that there was no time to take pictures.
I was gratified by the large numbers of students who came to the opening, (and to the teachers who gave them the assignment to review the show!)
These students were much younger as a group than the groups of students I get at BCC. Many of these youngsters were taking their first art history class. The Oola pieces required explanation — and I just may have ruined some iconic images for them for life. Some didn’t know who Marilyn Monroe was, much less Andy Warhol. But I am comforted by the knowledge that they have their own set of cultural icons to rebel against in the future.
Everyone loved meeting Oola who uncharacteristically took refuge in my pocket. But the greatest number of questions were about the frogs.
The frogs just keep showing up in my work. I don’t particularly like or dislike frogs.
Who knows where they come from? Or why?
I sometimes think that as a personal icon they indicate something about my creative process….lots of eggs maybe.
In which case consider the frightening thought that the image above is of a poisonous frog.
Or more frightening — that frogs are rapidly leaving the planet.
I told some of the students that the frogs are part of that aspect of art making where a symbol or a shape or a color enters the work and you don’t know why it is right, but for some reason you trust your gut. Later the truth, or the story, or the meaning may reveal itself to you. But the work — this wayward child — if it is any good will evade your control and start shaping its own identity.
I’m an artist; I can say this kind of s**t.
Toward the end of the evening a whole design class came in to hear my take on iconography. The question came up again about the frogs. I told the class what I tell my students: when you want to talk about a work of art with the artist, don’t be afraid. Just say what you see. Because many times you will see something that the artist did not see. So I asked the students to tell me about the frogs. And I was amazed when one quiet young woman ventured that the frog has a dual water-earth life…….. I had never thought of that about my frogs. Beautiful! What a gift!
One of the pieces in the show has no frogs. Called “Oola Vandalized” it has a visual reference to Duchamp’s drawing a moustache and beard on the Mona Lisa postcard, and the crude joke “L. H. O. O. Q.” If you don’t know it, look it up. It’s part of your “heritage”.
The teacher of the visiting class pointed out the iconography I borrowed from Duchamp, and she used words I had heard from my past art history teachers. Oola leaped emblazoned from my mouth and started a screed that included references to the music I hear thumping from cars in my neighborhood, music with lyrics that are degrading to the half of humanity that happens to be female. Oola decried the fact of juvenile humor being defined as high art because it “challenged authority”. “Think about it.” Oola says. “That’s what teenagers DO for a living, challenge authority. What’s so new or world changing about that!?”. Ready-mades, indeed.
Yet, here I am, through Oola, challenging authority……..
As I have pointed out in the past, Oola can say things I can’t say. I hope it didn’t do too much damage. I hope the students lose those notes that some scribbled so frantically onto scraps of paper and others typed into their ipods. I hope they all get “A”s.
I counseled the students not to be afraid to challenge their teachers or the art-historical canon…but do the readings first!.
The drive home was uneventful, except for that one teensy time I came within inches and a big honk of causing an accident.