Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The ATHICA Mystery Triennial, Saturday, August 20th, 2011 - Sunday, September 18th, 2011

This Saturday, August 20th ATHICA (Athens Institute for Contemporary Art) presents their Mystery Triennial. This is a small works invitational, a "Who Dunnit" including the works of 120 extrordinary artists the likes of...

REM (Yes, the band!), Lauren Gallaspy, Robert Sparrow Jones (That's me!), Hope Hilton, Brian Hitselberger, Jon Swindler, David Hale, Didi Dunphy, Will Eskridge, Melissa Harshman, Nash Hogan, Grammy winner Art Rosenbaum and Charles Westfall just to mention a few! There are so many great people involved in this show and gives you a cross section of the eclectic and outstanding community in Athens Georgia.

Also to note; there is a music event by a terrific friend of mine, super-talented singer songwriter Kate Morrissey!

Opening Reception: Saturday, Aug. 20th 7:00-8:00 p.m.: First Dibs
w/ $10 Donation 8:00-9:30 p.m.: Free Entry

Music Event:
Sunday, Aug. 28th
7:30 p.m.
AMT Benefit Concert Series:
Kate Morrissey & Marty Winkler
$10.00 Suggested Donation

Mystery Triennial

It has been almost a decade since ATHICA (Athens Institute for Contemporary Art) opened in the Chase Street warehouses on Tracy Street. Since then, we have come to rely on the nonprofit art space to provide provocative exhibitions of contemporary art on social topics by artists from around the world and our own backyard. ATHICA’s director, Lizzie Zucker Saltz, founded the non-commercial gallery in 2002 after moving here with her husband when he joined the theater department at UGA. Rather than become, as she puts it, a victim of “university spouse migratory syndrome,” Lizzie created her own niche by bringing to Athens some of the excitement she experienced visiting contemporary art institutes in big cities like New York, L.A. and Chicago.

“ICAs were where you saw the most intriguing work—art that made you feel alive! I wanted to recreate that experience: where you see something that awakens you to a new way of thinking about your world,” Saltz says.

This passion became embodied in ATHICA as she found volunteers from the community to join her in creating this new contemporary art space. An army of volunteers (including the director herself) and a sense of community spirit are the secret to ATHICA’s longevity. Art lovers, artists, musicians, performers, students, professors and local business owners are a part of each and every event. ATHICA has put on 40 exhibitions since it began, highlighting challenging work by national, international and local artists and providing a forum for their ideas in Athens. Lizzie describes this approach as one that “lifts all boats” by showing emerging artists alongside those who are more established. Exhibitions are accompanied by a full roster of events that includes music, films, lectures, dance and performance art book-ended, as anyone who has attended an opening or closing knows, by convivial parties with excellent catering donated by local restaurants.

Running on volunteer power, ATHICA has also been the recipient of grants from the mayor’s office, the Warhol Foundation and the Puffin Foundation. These grants help pay the bills: rent, utilities, printing and shipping are still part of the expenses needed to keep the operation afloat but cover only a portion of what is needed. This year, ATHICA is in a gap period before it can reapply for new grants. To show that the gallery has the community support to be sustainable, it is reaching out with an exciting fundraising endeavor: the first “ATHICA Mystery Triennial.”

ATHICA has invited artists from the community to create a small work (5.5"x 8.5") to be sold for $60 (or two for $100) at the fundraiser which opens on Saturday, Aug. 20. Over 120 artists have answered the call and will have their paintings, photographs, drawings, prints and 3-D constructions available for purchase. So, what’s the mystery part? All of the works are hung anonymously, meaning it’s up to you to guess who the artists are. Imagine owning your own Art Rosenbaum painting or collaboration by the members of R.E.M. for $60; guess correctly and it could be yours! Though some may try to figure out the big names, ATHICA board member and UGA art history student Ashley Wespheling encourages people to just buy something they like and find a new artist to love. She notes that while a lot of students want to start collecting art, it is something that is usually out of their price range. This event offers a chance for locals to support this important community resource by purchasing local art.

Artists involved in the exhibition have remarked on the impact ATHICA has had on them and the community. Painter Anthony Wislar points out that “Athens has a pretty great group of artists, and they need places that connect Athens to the national and international art community. Additionally, the community at large greatly benefits from having an art scene. It's a pretty well established fact that art communities enliven urban areas and boost local economies.”

The gallery has been a testing ground for new curators and curatorial concepts as well as artists. Didi Dunphy recounts this as being something she experienced when she curated the ATHICA exhibition “The Way Things Work”: “[This experience] provided me personally with a way to explore my creative possibilities as a curator, something much different than being an exhibiting artist, but more towards my design sensibilities.”

Photographer Jason Thrasher remembers when ATHICA first began and notes how it was integral to building the arts scene that now flourishes at the Chase Street warehouses: “ATHICA is great. I've always loved the chance to show work there. It's amazing what a huge part of our community that the Chase warehouses have become. I can't image Athens without ATHICA, Canopy and all the amazing people at that warehouse compound.”

All of the artwork in the "Mystery Triennial" will be on display from Aug. 20—Sept. 18; attend on opening night to witness this incredible display of local art and buy an original artwork (you will discover who made it at the point of purchase). If you are feeling competitive, arrive during “First Dibs Hour” from 7–8 p.m. where, with a $10 donation, you can have the first crack at owning art by Robert Sparrow Jones, Jill Carnes, Jonathan Jacquet, Judith McWillie, Melissa Harshman, Jon Swindler, Nina Barnes, Paul Thomas, Bob Clements and Claire Clements and many others. With each artist offering one to five works in the fundraiser, there will be plenty to choose from, and you’ll have the opportunity to get your pick professionally framed for only $10. Participants can win gift certificates to local businesses by guessing the identities of the mystery artists and vote on the People’s Choice Award, which will offer a solo show at ATHICA to the winning artist. The bidding will continue until all works are sold, but there’s yet another reason you may want to make sure you are there on Aug. 20: catering for the opening will be donated by Five & Ten and Ted’s Most Best Pizza. Throughout the exhibition, affiliated events include concerts and dance performances before the final closing party where the artists’ identities will be revealed and all remaining works will be offered at half-off.

This playful fundraising event has a serious reason behind it, however, and it comes at a critical time for this important local resource. Participating artist Don Byram makes this point plain: “It is important for the general population of Athens to understand that the 'Mystery Triennial,' in many ways, is one of the most important events to be held at ATHICA. It brings together the two human elements needed for an independent art space to exist in a community. At its core, ATHICA challenges artists to be free: free of censor, free to push their limits, free of stigmas—a safe place to bend rules and push boundaries. With this event, ATHICA brings in the second element, which is local financial support for the arts. It is easy to say, as a community, ‘We support the arts’ if someone else, in a far away place, pays for it. The challenge the 'Mystery Triennial' creates and says is: prove it.”

That we can “prove it” while having a great time is part of what makes ATHICA such a beloved local institution. If you are a longtime supporter or new to the scene, I hope you will consider participating in what is sure to be a landmark event in our community’s history. See ATHICA’s website for details and the full list of participating artists at www.athica.org.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Now at your Local Newsstand!! Oxford American!!

In this summer's issue of Oxford America: The Very Best of the South 2011, I am lucky enough to be one of the featured artists!! This is an excellent Literary and Arts Magazine/Journal under the National Endowment for the Arts. It is always full of terrific published writers, poets and painters. This edition is especially wonderful. Look on page 112 for a FULL PAGE reproduction of an oil on panel painting, "Islander" I made in Athens in 2009.
Writing is connected to my work in many ways and usually the two mediums are side by side as I create. For me it is exciting to be included in a journal as such, alongside writers who have published novels, short story collections and have completed works for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, The Believer, Bookforum and Spin—just to name a few.

The editors at Oxford American were so great and in the end they sent me this wonderful handwritten letter signed by the cast and crew:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coast-to-coast artist settles in Athens

Admittedly, Athens is a town of learning and music.

Art is considered in the abstract, ‘his or her songwriting is an art’ or ‘he has mastered the art of playing guitar.’ But art, in the traditional sense and as a scene – beyond the halls of Lamar Dodd – is growing, and to know where it’s headed look no further than T-W-O, This Way Out, gallery’s current exhibition featuring paintings by Robert Sparrow Jones.

“[T-W-O] is a new thing and we’re feeling it out, keeping it slow,” Jones said. “On opening night it was crowded. It’s nice to see people looking at art as a thing to do and it’s nice to see it happen outside of the UGA galleries.”

Jones, a relative newcomer to Athens, is a teacher by day and an artist by trade.

But before he could teach he had to learn, and before he could learn he had to live, and in order to live he needed a place to do so.

Jones is from Jermyn, a town north of Scranton in rural Pennsylvania.

“I was able to be in the woods all the time building tree houses,” Jones said. “That sense of strength and fragility of nature, even the idea of a tree fort or a hut is fragile.”

Jones’ appreciation of fragility is more an understanding of nuance, of details. Not surprisingly, he was first drawn to film as a creative outlet.

“When I picked up my first camera I was in high school,” Jones said. “I wanted to be a filmmaker, creating stories and narrative, but the camera, well, it also helped me towards understanding how to design a picture on a plane.”

Jones went on to study at Kutztown University, expanding his work from writing and photography to printmaking and later painting, or ‘”from the mechanical to the physical,” he said.

“Going to college was beneficial and I’m still interested in writing and ecology. When I came to painting it was the summation of everything but with one extra thing: color,” Jones said. “Kutztown has a good art department and for an artist it’s a really cool place. It’s a place where artists remain and it’s still kind of a magical place.”

But Jones didn’t remain, instead he moved west, far west, to Seattle.

“The land of milk and honey,” he said. “I’d just started painting and people were buying art and a lot of young people were buying art – the dot com boom. I lived in a warehouse in downtown Seattle, lived cheaply and illegally a little bit. But it was the cultivation of [my] painting.”

Jones, though, hadn’t given up filmmaking. In fact, his work in that medium ended up opening a few doors.

“I was commissioned to make a documentary on Red Kelly, a jazz musician,” Jones said. “He lived in Tacoma and had opened for [Frank] Sinatra and Elvis [Presley]. People like Tony Bennett would stop by to see him on their way through.”

Around the same time, Jones started teaching at community colleges on the side.

“I really liked it, but if I wanted to teach I needed an M.F.A.,” he said.

And so Jones went to Baltimore and to the Maryland Institute College of Art – MICA.

“Baltimore was a hard place to leave, but I didn’t know that when I got there” he said. “I drove across the country with my old Saab, no air conditioning and in the summer. I came into Baltimore from the west side, just pure devastation. It is where ‘The Wire’ shot, and I thought, ‘I just left beautiful Washington state for this?”
But Baltimore surprised him, welcomed him even.

“It’s still a fun, viable place for artists. It’s the last city on the East coast to live on the cheap,” Jones said.

The community of Baltimore’s creative scene and of MICA, specifically its people, intrigued Jones. One person in particular became an influence and a friend.

“Grace Hartigan, she was the last living abstract artist,” Jones said. “She knew [Elaine] de Kooning and [Jackson] Pollock and was good friends with Frank O’Hara the poet. She’s so interesting, and so crass.”

After completing his degree, Jones taught at both MICA and Towson University.

“I’d teach four or five classes at each. It was OK money but it became too tough to do after a while,” he said.

So Jones looked elsewhere, applying to schools and eventually accepting at position at Piedmont College in Demorest.

“I moved right to Demorest and it was quite the eye opener,” he said. “After living in cities for 20 years there’s nothing out there. I lived near water for 15 years and now I’m landlocked, I’m thinking, ‘Where’s my ocean?’”

Now Jones, like T-W-O, calls Athens home.

“I love it. In high school of course I loved R.E.M. and I actually had this T-shirt, the Life’s Rich Pageant tour, and on the back it had a bird’s eye view of Athens,” he said. “Athens has a mystique about it, and some legends to it.”

But for an artist who’s spanned the coasts, where or what to next?

“I don’t know where it’s going to go,” Jones said. “It can be frustrating but it keeps me on my toes.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Cast Adrift

Troubled Like the Restless Sea: Entering the This Way Out (T-W-O) Gallery is a bit like going down the rabbit hole. The gallery, situated in the hodge-podge strip mall above Ben’s Bikes, looks like a parlor in a historic home. Wood floors, a small table arranged between two welcoming arm chairs and a fireplace are unexpected in a building that shares a roof with a tacky adult novelty shop, but inside are paintings that similarly evoke a dreamlike state. Robert Sparrow Jones large-scale oil paintings share with the Romantic masters a sense of grandeur and the sublime.

The figures in these richly hued paintings inhabit land and seascapes or empty houses and fields. The subjects appear like a half-remembered dream or the record of a stranger’s memory in a found photograph; you have some clues as to what is going on, but the more you look, the more mysterious it becomes. Jones studied with Abstract Expressionist painter Grace Hartigan during his MFA work in Baltimore, and this connection appears in the splashes and drips that texture the canvas beneath the high-gloss surface, giving the scenes an even greater sense of movement and drama. His background also includes creative writing and photography; both disciplines are revealed in the way he sets up enigmatic narrative snapshots within his compositions.

My favorite paintings are the seascapes, where a blue-green ocean envelops and threatens to consume curious collections of figures adrift in crowded boats. “Shelf-Cloud” (2010) and “Maelstrom” (2010) appear almost as pendants, the former a picture of a boating party embarking on some unknown voyage, the latter a portrait of a similar gathering of men and women experiencing rough waters as their boat is tossed on frothy waves. Elsewhere, Jones paints figures in rural landscapes in radiant gold and red. Difficult to nail down to time or place, these, too, seem part of an in-between space. The detail with which Jones paints his subjects’ varied expressions allows the viewer to make imaginative leaps in thinking about what is happening in the painting, something you may still contemplate long after you have left the gallery. T-W-O is open by appointment and from 6–8 p.m. daily, Mar. 10–20.

by Caroline Barratt

Friday, February 18, 2011

Nationwide Artists on Display at SIC Gallery

The art gallery at Southeastern Illinois College is currently hosting the show Isolated Testimonies displaying the work of five nationally recognized artists who are working at locations all over the country.

The artists include Gloria Adams (New York City), Robert Sparrow Jones (Athens, GA), Courtney Jordan and Jarrett Min Davis (both of Chelsea, MA), and Brent Webb (Harrisburg, IL).

The show includes 15 works, ranging from drawings to paintings to silkscreen prints. Wide ranging approaches, influences and subject matter are all on display, but one unifying thread weaves its way through each piece: the artists’ unflinching exploration of a self-populated world.

Webb said the show provides a wonderful opportunity for the community to see such a diverse range of artwork in one exhibition.
“This represents our continued effort to display local, regional and nationally recognized artists.” Webb noted. (Full curators statement below)

Isolated Testimonies will be on display through March 14, and the gallery is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 – 4:30.

Full curators statement:

The artists selected for this show all present us with a tiny snippet of their personal realities. Regardless of the artists' choice of imagery or the method used in creation, one unifying thread weaves its way through each piece of art: the artists' unflinching exploration of a self populated world.

Wide ranging approaches, influences and subject matter are all on display. Yet, each artist lays before us an individual world of systems, symbols, constructions, deconstructions, ambiguities and specifics. These codes assume the guises of organic and inorganic forms, from birds to bridges; each work offers us a delicate invitation to a series of isolated testimonials.

B.Webb 2011

Gloria Adams: New York, New York
Jarrett Min Davis: Chelsea, Massachusetts
Robert Sparrow Jones: Athens, Georgia
Courtney Jordan: Chelsea, Massachusetts
Brent Webb: Harrisburg, Illinois

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Robert Sparrow Jones AHA! at T-W-O Gallery

6pm-8pm Feb. & Mar. 10-20, 2011
& by appointment

Artist's Reception Friday, February 18th 6-8PM

Music by Ranch and catering contributions by Sugarbeet Pastry
680 West Broad Street
Athens, GA 30605