My short talk at TEDxLongDock on Friday went well. It was a good day altogether. I think that all the presentations will be edited and put online in the next couple of weeks, so if I can, I'll post a link. For now-- although it's not nearly as fabulously enthralling as hearing me speak it-- here is the text of my talk and the accompanying slides. Nothing too fancy. I got some positive feedback. Many seemed surprised at the perceived incongruity of my generally-known persona, and the ease (they said) I projected up there (the morning's heart palpitations notwithstanding). I like to surprise sometimes.
This is a story about the intersection of romance and reality.
On East Main, you can find a small traffic light that stands alone in the middle of the street. It has been there for decades, during which Beacon has seen a lot. Other similar lights were removed as the roads changed over time, the city deeming them dangerous obstacles, maybe, or just not relevant anymore. It became one of only three in the country. It stopped working at some point and was shrouded in black plastic while its fate was debated. I don't quite know what brought it about, but the light was eventually repaired, and reliably blinks yellow or red from its post, whether or not anyone is there. And as Beacon has gotten busier again, there always seems to be somebody making a turn.
My painting of this light was not so much a romantic gesture as one of observation and response. My interest in old things with a sense of history is part of what inspires me. After ten years of painting and sporadically exhibiting, with the support of various jobs, I can propose that one romantic vision of being an artist is to have ample space and time to make art, then to have eager galleries and dealers clamoring to show and sell it.
Turns out, romance is a lot of work.
The reality is, I need to live, and I need to paint.
I want to engage the public, support artists and open a good-looking place to show art on Main St; I need such a venture to sustain itself and to facilitate my own work.
My friend and I manage Catalyst Gallery as a rental space where people can realize their creative projects, independent of a more typical gallery model. They rent it short-term to install essentially whatever they want, find new exposure, experiment with ideas and inspire dialogue. They have full control, which is something we as artists so often end up handing over to someone else, or waiting for others to make decisions about our work.
This way, artists have access to a professional gallery space in a highly-visible location, to try something out for a week or a month. A sculptor used the gallery as a testing ground for new pieces and to meet with collectors. Another wanted to explore the local market potential with an eye towards opening a permanent shop. A group of New Paltz MFA students were able to curate and install their own show. As for us, we have extra studio space, a venue for group exhibitions and workshops, and a home for my phone booth- in itself an additional space for art.
Every time I see a new show going up, and watch people walking by, peering through the windows, I am reminded that the vitality that drives Catalyst is rooted in making our own work, providing a way to sustain and encourage the creative life, and supporting the art community we are part of.
One recent artist was a woman who grew up in Beacon in the '50s and '60s, but hadn't been back in over 30 years. While she was here, which coincided with the centennial celebration, she mentioned her amazement at how the city had changed, and changed again, in the time she'd known it. "Young people come in and talk about the 'historic' end of town-- they say, 'you know, by the dummy light?'" she laughed. "The historic end! And back then, nobody dared to venture down here!" During her show, she made an installation in the phone booth with paper speech bubbles of collected "do you remember"s, which stimulated conversation (and sometimes debate) with visitors and residents about what was where, and for how long.
Somehow this exchange seemed to clarify the light's attraction for me. An ordinary object in the middle of everything, but overlooked. It faced indifference and neglect, and is now not only fixed up, but used as a local point of reference. And an unexpected source of inspiration, embodying the romance of looking back, and the reality of moving forward.