Tag Archives: art scene

Best Of Times, Worst Of Times

marionette
Wheeling Man
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I always thought that one of the reasons why a painter likes especially to have other painters look at his or her work is the shared experience of having pushed paint around.

-Chuck Close

Best of times, worst of times. Who can turn down the opportunity to slap those famous opening lines from the Dickens story Tale Of Two Cities into the bush leagues every once in a blue moon. Of course it's never easy to harvest or improve the sums of the differences in a social climate where the past is all make-believe and the future is sheer mortal doom. Like a whistle in the dark, life streaks through the conscious mind and even on the brightest day on the fanciest calendar, no one gets a free shot at handling the lightning without consequences. But there are certain habits one notices, certain patterns occupying the people that slowly begin to creep into the register from which the artist takes his cut, much like that quickening recognition of a muted thud wrapped with solemnity as it nails the proud cold pavement with best intentions as most of the sentinel hurry forth with no intentions at all. This muted thud I seek to hear with my own two ears involves two cities, the large scrambling feral city of Washington, DC, the national capital, the international bullseye, its inverted thin skin tokenism masquerading as the beltway bulge, home sweet home to hardcore right along side equally limp dhimmicants and republicratz with two hands wrestling for a single jellybean, spitting images, split tickets, and enough black-bellied potholes of rumor and wreckage to make Stephen Hawking, now all hooked up to a robust afternoon, cry into his—shudder—box of joys.

Then there's Wheeling, West Virginia, a five hour drive northwest of DC. Sitting plumply on the east bank flood plains of the once mighty Ohio River, kindred parts of this sprawling echo from a rare past are pitted into the gnawing Alleghany foot mountains and yesterday's mail where tremendous energies once pumped life into and out of teh long striking surgeon of steel mills, nail factories, unique spanning bridges, and the winnowed glass-blowing strength hurling the holy ghost of cobbled workers into what was once a rather picturesque little city of its own, historic and dignified, polished and craggy, a special glint in the eye of the Industrial Revolutionaries, muscular, charming, artistic and stern.

To answer with a simple pleasantry, a couple of minutes tops, while I continue to be deluged by invitations to gigs and art openings, all of which require hours of time to oblige, and can I even count the number of times I DO oblige my friendly neighborhood culture vultures in my midst, oh yes, dear friends ALL, usually with a stiff penalty at the wallet level, but not always. In fact, most of my rocker friends and foes have obliged me with copies of their great rock record over the years. Show up fresh to gaggle for the night at one of my art shows? Insert laugh track now.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark once slept in Wheeling, packing supplies in a big haul sent down the Ohio from Pittsburgh, before heading out on their own historic expedition through America, the far west, and common fates of the uncommonly famous, while the city along with the steel industry grew.

Washington is experiencing a growth spurt not felt in many decades, a growth that is manifestly transforming the old city from the sleepy southern town role quite fond and accustomed to its own harsh summers and even harsher winters which had kept the natives to a pace recognized by its own heritage as a pace best suited for quiet relaxation, the very meaning of hip for generations straight back to its marshland founding. The protocols of laws, a spell of business, and then more relaxation.

Squealing Wheeling is gripped by the devastation of an antiquated industry. Don't get the wrong impression. The citizens of the OV stand bold against a double whacking by the same old enemies of an aging infrastruction, an tired unhealthy population, and foul weather. But whatever fondness I hold for this old city, and I am there in spades, there is no escaping the realization that Wheeling is bleeding from the inside out, rusting old factories now long dormant salute the sun-soaked orange evening skies in silence, rotting buildings periodically claimed by the river's raging high waters grow more dank with each passing season a child goes to school, or a college grad begins the long hunt for a decent job and place to live in an area trapped in a downward spiral with no way to outsource nature's repeated assault, hemorraging its population, its tax base, and its future shares of the American dream. Wheeling's local economy and general charm do not lack potential, but problems persist, accrue with every passing pledge, despite heavy doses of encouragement and optimism issuing forth from the astute mouths of those straddling the ambitions and aspirations of those dreamers, dangling by both thumbs along the watchtowers—both inside and outside the northern panhandle and area code 304.

Here's the rub. Wheeling Youth is a MySpace hub. And these kids in their 20s and 30s, despite exhibiting the very same human traits and foibles when up close and personal that we do here in Washington, DC, possess a very special gift. That is the gift of reciprocity. Of good manners. And more specifically, excellent Internet etiquette. When I write to one of my Wheeling acquaintences, remembering I spent only four months among them as I painted the Wheeling Wailing Wall at Yesterday's, they respond in kind. They actually return my mail, and usually answer my question if I post one.

Not so, with this tribe of so-called Washington DC pals, most of whom I have known 10, 15, 20 years or so. Of course they are also ALL artists, rockers, painters, or heavy in mantle of some other wishbang prima donna act. Too busy? To answer with a simple pleasantry, a couple of minutes tops, while I continue to be deluged by invitations to gigs and art openings, all of which require hours of time to oblige, and can I even count the number of times I DO oblige my friendly neighborhood culture vultures in my midst, oh yes, dear friends ALL, usually with a stiff penalty at the wallet level, but not always. In fact, most of my rocker friends and foes have obliged me with copies of their great rock record over the years. Show up fresh to gaggle for the night at one of my art shows? Insert laugh track now.

Isn't this why I left the promises of DC for the reality of Wheeling in the first place? To probe for myself, one fair smile at a time, whether or not DC is as friggin' all-consuming self-important as I perceived it to be, or had the whole snatch a niche world gone completely hardwired, baked to a crude narcissistic core in the course of my own single unexemplary lifetime?

Raised root-first in a very small town myself, I guess I'm just not a big city capo when all the votes are in the bag, although had I hit my stride just a weebit earlier I just might have taken this town. Square peg, trapezoid hole. Can't find the rulebook. Couldn't read it if I did. That's fine by me. Like the poet said, "They can talk about me plenty when I'm gone."

Or not. Doesn't really make a difference, now does it? And now my health plays tricks on me. Gotta love it...

GT

Even Places Like Wheeling Can Be Turned Around (On A Dime)

Wheeling Youth
Wheeling Youth
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The DIY work ethic has never been of more importance than it is now. As big business continues to whistle in the wind while storing up riches for itself and dumping on the little guy in every field, including the art industry, what better time to revisit a couple of books that helped motivate me to move to Wheeling in the first place, out of Washington DC, away from my supportive and loving wife, and into the wheeze of West Virginia decay.

In two books, artist & sculptor Eric Rudd, outlines his manifesto for artistic and financial freedom in the often corrupt and always competitive business of making and selling art, which, he adds, is also about the making and selling of oneself. Those two books,The Artist Studio/Loft Manual (For Ambitious Artists and Creators) and The Art World Dream (Alternative Strategies For Working Artists), contain fistloads of great information in constructing new strategies in open rebellion against the large city, in particular, the NY, LA, Chicago art scenes in favor of founding one's own gallery, owning the space rather tahn tossing money away on rent, plus other provocative ways to implement one's own creative scheme in fulfilling rather than enslaving one's art. It's a must read for those ambitious artists who don't see much hope in getting recognized by the fickle and manipulative art establishment.

It was to this end, that I scoped out Wheeling this spring for relatively inexpensive studio & gallery space. Its growth potential is definitely seething just beneath the surface tension of old industry decay and new life bursting at the seams to stay in their cherished Wheeling with its historic past, and phlethora of old abandoned buildings of downtown due for a new influx of capital interest, ripe for the pickings. With its central location to cities in the midwest and eastern seaboard, plus the rise of Internet, even places like Wheeling can be turned around from its decades old economic slide and rebuilt to modern specs on a dime.

Stay tuned. Today the STEEL & GRISTLE is just a glimmer in my eye, but perhaps, to lift a phrase from Jean Genet, I am indeed the soldier who is to come...

But no need for such headiness. Upon arrival I was soon put in contact with Chuck. With the much anticipated opening of Yesterday's Draughthouse & Stage here in downtown Wheeling in a few weeks, life was beginning to open up as night to a candle. After meeting Chuck, Yesterday's man-in-charge, he gave the wife & me the eyes wide shut guided tour through nook & cranny four floors thick (it's gonna be a monsterous rock venue) and offered me hanging space in the foyer behind the vintage glass-encased direct lighting tombs of glory so I'll be exposing eight to ten of my larger works to every pair of eyes that enters the bar. Less than a month in town. Now that's what I'm talking about...

Thanks Chuck! And props to you too, Justin, for the good word. Glad to be in Wheeling. Now it's time to make a difference!

GT