Skip to content

Prefab Teepee | 2013 | Delicious Activism


Art is man's constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.  

-Chinua Achebe


Is It You or Is It Me?

The artist in her element

I'm not the sort of person you want at your gallery opening. I know, I dress in a vaguely artistic fashion, write books, and typically arrive with an art major on my arm. It's easy to see how you would make this mistake.

But I arrive hungry. When you turn your back, I pop a handful of complementary grapes in my mouth. I make sandwiches of the crackers, pepperoni, and cheese. I graze on the vegetable plate until all that is left is baby carrots and celery, which should not exist even as socially acceptable means of ingesting ranch dressing. I will make thoughtful sounds while looking at your paintings, but I can't promise I am not just clearing my throat of vegetable dip.

I do want to be there, I do want to support you and your art. I appreciate art in the abstract and concrete. It is simply that, beyond telling you this, I don't have much business loitering around the gallery. I am well past the phase in my life where I feel the need to prove I am intelligent, so I am at best picking up amusing trivia by listening to other people scrutinize your paintings. "Oh, yes, this is reminiscent of the Pieta. I don't actually know if that is true or significant, I just thought I'd mention. There are multiple Pietas, you say? Then it is reminiscent of the better ones." It is impressive how much half a glass of red wine improves my ability to spew out ostensibly germane banter that is likely just gibberish of buzzwords. If I seem to be scrutinizing a framed print especially hard, it is even money that I am checking my reflection in the glass, not out of vanity as much as an avian distraction with shiny surfaces.
Amber's art  
All finger painted

It isn't that I do not have artistic opinions. Years ago, I was affianced to the daughter of a modern painter of some renown and it was impossible not to pick up scraps of his knowledge, if just to give myself something to retort. I know what I like but I don't always know why I like it, aside from that it is not ghastly or is ghastly in just the right proportions. I prefer my art clever rather than beautiful or meaningful. If I do not understand the import of a piece, I am likely to crack a self-deprecating joke and slowly back away, toward something I stand a better chance of faking my way through. I am not proud that most art is as inscrutable as an Imagist poet's diary (I'm not quite as ignorant when it comes to the literary realm...), nor do I tacitly assume that it is the fault of all modern art being pretentious junk.

Dating an artist now, I am no stranger at these events. Amber is affiliated with the Red Hook Community Arts Network as well as a local Etsy group, so I end up with a plastic cup full of bitter Shiraz and a handful of wheat crackers at least once a month.

However, tonight is Amber's first opening at The Art Riot in Kingston. Amber (along with Holly, Daniel, and a half dozen other people I know) has sold her art there for about a year. Her checks are not always grand (low double figures), but it is better than relying wholly on Etsy and craft fairs to move her wares.

While Amber works on final preparations, I mark up a proof copy of Flies to Wanton Boys and, when this proves too exhausting, doze on my bag on the table, disconnected by the pills I had taken to manage the allergies aggravated by pet hair the day before. After an hour of my being less than awake, Amber rouses me to give a final inspection.
Is It You or Is It Her?

For the first hour and a half of the show, the only guest in attendance is Sarah, who drove over an hour to look at Amber's painting and munch on blackberries Amber picked fresh this morning, as well as store-bought strawberries and olive rolls and a yogurt dip from Heidi, the proprietress of The Art Riot. As skillful as Amber's paintings have become, they are largely female nudes and can only hold Sarah's attention so long. I feel a bit sorry for Sarah and even more so for Amber. Other people promised they were coming to this, but that doesn't mean they will show. Sarah leaves, as there are only so many berries and so much cheese that she can eat while looking at painted breasts.

Amber does not seem as bothered by the sparseness of attendance as I am, but she tends to be more buoyant when it comes to these matters, not taking them as personal affronts and statements as to her artistic worth as I do when reading to empty chairs.

Minutes after Sarah leaves, Daniel enters. Soon after, many of the people from Amber's Dreaming Goddess circle show up with friends in tow. I start talking up Amber's paintings, finding the effort fluid rather than forced. "Yes, those three are all finger-painted acrylic. I would come home and she would just be covered in it. Over here is her water color and gauche series done from a figure study class she did in Woodstock. These here are from college. You can see the evolution from this to that. Oh, 'Intimacy 2'! You've got a good eye! I wish she had the original Intimacy up for means of comparison. It is really what inspired this whole show, this tiny little artist trading card she made for a Tumblr exercise, but the anatomy was all wrong. It led her to want to improve and you can see how far she has come so quickly."
Art Riot  
So many people...

Strangers walk in and, in the midst of my praise, buy one of the sketches, though they really want the painting she made for me for Valentine's Day and which is not for sale.

Amber's iPod, filled with music she wanted to have playing while people browse, is left at home but I fortunately have my memory stick and mini-notebook. Within a few minutes, I have got the courage to hook it up to Art Riot's sound system. Shortly after, Matt, the proprietor, rigs a speaker into the gallery, which Heidi claims is something she's been trying to get him to go for months, crediting this to Amber's charm. Jacki jokes that she should have known the music was my doing, as it is all angsty chick rock, but I wanted to align it to the theme of overcoming social anxiety, the point of Amber's show.

I wander about, feeling delighted for Amber now. She deserves this attention, she has worked so hard. Sue, Rhianna's partner, grabs my hand in parting and I say, "I know, I'm a lucky man."

I direct people to Daniel's etched tiles, too, knowing that his intricate symbolism will intrigue them. Before they leave, they've bought at least one of his tiles and several people have taken his card. Over the course of ten minutes, I peek my head into Daniel's monologue as to the purpose of the symbols in a tile, deeply impressed at how fully realized it is. With my own art, I half-feel that I am just channeling what needs to be. I know what's going on, but I am sort of blithely aware, not deeply.

After a few hours, most everyone has left. Daniel, Holly, Dan, Amber and I sit on the sidewalk outside as Heidi closes up and I feel that this went as it should have. It was relaxed and warm, full of friends and some curious strangers. Amber sold two pieces and felt loved and appreciated, as she should.

Soon in Xenology: Activism.

last watched: Resurrect Dead
reading: Good Omens
listening: Härmälän Mimosa ja Vihamielinen Pekka Nummi

Prefab Teepee | 2013 | Delicious Activism

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

eXTReMe Tracker