These assemblages are an ongoing studio project I began this year showing people who turn their backs on the noise of society, e.g. politics, social media, and cell phones, seeking solitude. They show people on beaches, alone as the individuals they are, even in a group. Our society is very group-oriented, and we are expected to conform to our groups. Through images and text, I show people, small as they are, who have carved out time and space for themselves.
Prof. Arlo Kent is the main piece with smaller assemblages exploring the world more deeply. I start with collage that I’ve painted and dissected, and adhere it to canvas with wheat paste. Photographic images printed on acetate are layered and attached over the collage. The mats on the smaller pieces—windows within windows—are voyeuristic, like peering through a viewfinder. I want the viewer to experience the same feeling, preserving the feeling of aloneness I feel for the subjects. A handmade frame of ash completes each assemblage.
Each piece shows the imprint of my hand. Blemishes are intentional, expected, welcomed, including uneven frames and exposed or stray pieces of collage jutting beyond the mat, especially now that we have AI. The pieces and the artist are guaranteed to be 100 percent human-made.
Do you ever feel you or your work are so misunderstood that you could just spit?
And don't give me the line that it's not misunderstood, it's just bad. Bullshit.
Photographers--and I use that term loosely because the photography-based world has so radically changed since the days when Ansel Adams was king--tell me I shouldn't focus so much on the materials but on the image. And I just want to scream, They just don't get it!
The materials now are just as important as the image, if not more. Today, the image, or in this case, the "photograph", whatever the hell that is, has been subsumed by the artwork. The photograph is no longer sacrosanct. You can no longer print it, put it in a frame, hang it on a wall and bow down before it. It is now a commodity. Words used to be that way. When the printing press was invented, words were locked up in a safe. Now we print them out and staple them to a bulletin board: Ice Cream Social Tonight! Which is why I staple my images. Images are just as commonplace as a piece of paper. Which is why, for example, the staples in the above image (two pieces of acetate printed upon and layered, btw) are just as important to the work as the image. In this case, I'd say they were equal.
If I used a violin in my work, it wouldn't mean much. But when Ai Wei Wei uses one, it has an entirely different meaning. A violin, in Wei Wei's world, could have gotten him killed. It would have pegged him as an intellectual. You have to know the meaning of objects and materials, otherwise you won't experience the richness of a piece of art.
In my work, the material I use--plebeian material, I like to call it: cheap stuff--directly addresses the high cost of making art today. When I use acetate sheets, window screen, lathing, I'm saying, You don't need the multi-thousands of dollars to buy a Nikon Z series camera and lens to make an image. You don't need the money for a degree from RISD or Yale. The material is conveying as much message as the images. They're equal. They're democratic.
i’m amazed by what the sea belches up just bits & pieces nothing ever whole never complete
lobster traps boat parts broken shells crab clam scallop razor lady slipper whelk the devil’s pocketbook jingle shells nothing ever whole never complete just bits & pieces
they stroll the beach searching but for what they don’t know something that has meaning only to them
then something catches their eye they stoop pick it up turn it over skip it back onto the waves but sometimes they pocket it bring it home
puzzle pieces without the box to see the big picture
bits & pieces nothing ever whole never complete just their shells
--Prof. Arlo Kent
I do not have a high regard for humanity. We're destroying the planet through greed and neglect. We can't get along. We are a warring species. I think we should just die out, as it seems we're destined to do, and let another species take over for awhile.
These images are part of an assemblage or mixed media piece I'm working on. I still haven't figured out what to call what I'm making, trying to fit it into an understandable label, and that's proving a problem as I try to "explain" my work to gallerists and other gatekeeper types.
I'm amazed by what the ocean belches up on the beach. Just bits and pieces. These are not just bits and pieces of shells, they are bits and pieces of individual people on the beach. Just bits and pieces themselves, belched up by the sea. Searching, but for what?! They don't know. But there are just bits and pieces. And every so often they pocket something and bring it home. Just puzzle pieces. But they can't see the entire picture, so they'll never know. Just bits and pieces. Puzzle pieces.
And that's pretty much how I feel about humanity.
These images could be printed, framed, and hung on a wall, one after another. Or put in a book. But I don't see the point of that.
Prof. Arlo Kent
And explanation, and I suppose an apology, of sorts.
At the risk of being too on the nose, I'd like to give an explanation of my work. I know there are artists who are very much opposed to explaining their work, believing that the work should stand on its own, that if you have to explain it the work isn't successful. But I believe an artist should be able to articulate what they are doing, that it makes the artist and the viewer complicit, and that the viewer, quite frankly, needs all the help they can get from today's modern work.
If you approach my work and understand from the beginning that everything I do is political, you've won three-quarters of the battle. Starting with subject matter, coyotes are not the cuddliest of animals. They're not the pretty birds and cute animals people want. They're a step above rats, in terms of animal subject matter. Even Indigenous People don't look that kindly upon them. The Hopi--and someone correct me if I'm wrong--believe that coyotes can be spirit animals, but a real coyote are few and far between. Embracing a coyote as a subject flies in the face of everything in the bougie art world. Also, the subject matter of a poor woman, probably a single mom, isn't in the same vein of the heroic woman that Hollywood like to depict.
Nor do I make "pretty" art; it's not part of my sensibility. I show the marks, the splotches, the "mistakes">
Black and white. A white coyote against a white background, and a black coyote against a black background--does that really need explanation??
My work constantly addresses the lives of the ordinary individual against the greater forces in our society.
I'm changing my images intentionally. Even more painterly. I see the world fading, decaying. But that's not a bad thing at all. When I first came to Portugal I was so anxious and hurried. Now it's as I keep saying about the country: Portugal is hard, then she smiles and she reveals herself. I love this country. The pace of life, and how they live it.
Today I ordered canvases to be delivered to my studio so I can begin work when I get back to the United States. I don't want to go back, but if I have to I might as well begin work. I have so many ideas I want to try out, to execute. I want to combine the words in my head with the images I'm making here. With the work I began earlier this year. Because here, even here, the syphilitic voice of Trump can be heard. This is the only way I know how to respond to what is happening.
Life ain't nothin' but a bowlful of Tango Bango.
Details from a work-in-progress. Self-portraits. Still questioning, What is/constitutes a photograph? What is a photograph's role in a piece of artwork? (And also, text's role, too?) What is a portrait and its role? What is pretty/acceptable? What does a self-portrait convey? What is Tango Bango?
JP’S PARENTS EMIGRATED FROM SICILY TO THE UNITED STATES IN 1911. I NEVER MET THEM; THEY BOTH DIED LONG BEFORE I WAS BORN. SICILIANS WERE NOT WELCOME IN AMERICA, OR EVEN IN ITALY. IN AMERICA, THEY WERE CALLED THE N-WORD. EVEN TODAY, SOME OF MY MOST INTELLIGENT, LIBERAL FRIENDS HAVE MADE DEROGATORY REFERENCES ABOUT SICILIANS. THEY’RE NOT REALLY ITALIAN. THEY’RE ALL CRIMINALS. I KNOW THIS IS NOT WHAT THEY THINK OF ME, THAT I DON’T MEASURE UP TO SOME HIGH STANDARD OF WHITE, EUROPEAN HERITAGE. STILL… SOMEDAY I’LL BE DEAD, TOO, JUST LIKE MY GRANDPARENTS AND JP.
ALICE ANNE’S PARENTS WERE BORN IN AMERICA, BUT THEY STILL SPOKE GERMAN AT HOME. GERMANS WORKED HARD TO ASSIMILATE INTO AMERICAN LIFE BECAUSE GERMANS WERE THE ENEMY IN TWO WORLD WARS. ALICE ANNE TOOK THIS PICTURE OF JOSEPH AND JOSEPHINE. THEY ARE SITTING ON THE PORCH OF THE “OLD HOUSE,” A TWO-STORY LOG CABIN JOSEPH BUILT. ALICE ANNE EVEN INCLUDED HERSELF IN THE LOWER RIGHT. ALICE ANNE WAS BORN IN THAT HOUSE IN 1917. (THEY COULDN’T GET TO THE HOSPITAL IN TIME.) ALICE ANNE WAS EDUCATED ONLY TO THE EIGHTH GRADE, BUT SHE WAS VERY SMART AND SENSITIVE. SOME DAY I’LL BE DEAD LIKE JOSEPH, JOSEPHINE, AND ALICE ANNE.
John Greiner-Ferris is an artist in the Boston area. Sometimes he makes images. Sometimes he writes. Sometimes he does both.