HUDSON D. WALKER GALLERY
GET TO KNOW THE ARTISTS: Q & A WITH FAWC INTERN JAMIE GILLETTE
Q: Much of your work features female bodies and sea life, whether it’s the women themselves that are transformed into fish or mermaid-like creatures with splayed tails in When We Talk About Rape, intertwined with a lobster in Shiva (The Art of Survival), or even, in your Shell Series, physically painted onto the interior of a vacant clam shell. How did this recurring relationship develop in your work, and what is it about the exchange between the women and the sea creatures that compels you to return to them?
A: Growing up in Provincetown, I think I pretty much crawled directly from salty womb into the salty sea. I honestly have no memory of not being able to swim. One of my earliest memories is shuffling along the tideline on all fours, scooping sand into my mouth and trying to understand why my mother thought sand wasn’t edible. I mean there was so much of it right there at hand!
So that tidal plain is very familiar, familial, and primal to me. I think we’re all half fish frankly. I mean—we start our lives submerged in fluid and insto-presto, the minute we’re born we’re supposed to breathe air and just forget all that? The rest is metaphor. Mermaids with their twined legs/tail on the one hand and lobsters with their many limbs on the other. So often considered kitschy or cliché, it’s a risky enterprise—but perhaps because of that, it can be an especially disarming and potent vocabulary.
Q: How central was the artistic vocations of your parents in your experience growing up?
A: Well, they had to be pretty central, since I grew up surrounded by art and artists. Overhearing their rowdy dinner parties through my bedroom door, their conversations became the bedtime stories of my youth. I saw how they and their artist friends interwove studio practice with everyday life. My father was also an art historian and I loved our many trips to museums here and abroad. It was never a didactic experience—my sister Stephanie and I would just meander with my Mother, following our whims, while my Dad took off on his own quest. We’d compare mental notes when our paths crossed and that’s exactly what my husband Dan and I do now. I suppose it’s no accident that art history informs a lot of my work. Sometimes an allusion will pop up in one of my paintings seemingly unbidden. Other times, as in this show, all of the work very consciously uses appropriation, re-contextualizing past works of art to give them new meaning.
Q: What do you most admire about your father, Tony Vever’s, work? How does it influence your own?
A: I think my father’s integrity and the quiet intentionality of his mark-making are underlying values that are important to me. The very human, narrative quality of his oil paintings made a deep and enduring impression on me. He was not one to talk a lot about his feelings, but who he was came forth in his work. I was also aware of the high regard his New York artist friends had for him and how his lack of careerism frustrated them. His transformative use of found materials in the sand paintings which make up the second half of his career, along with my mother’s resourceful repurposing of materials, left me open to playing with unusual materials
myself. I’ve painted on a wide range of surfaces over the years, ranging from goatskin vellum to clam shells, recycled piano key ivory to galvanized steel, choosing materials that bring an added layer of meaning to the work. Also, seeing my mother move from photography to sculpture and my father from oils to sand, helped me to understand that art is more than just a career. It is a personal journey and you owe it to yourself to go bravely where inspiration carries you!
Q: Like the piece you created after the attacks of September 11th, The Whole World is Watching, one source of power driving your work seems to come from its socially charged implications. Why are you drawn, then, to create inside boxes? What is it about the boxes that feel most suited to encapsulating these reactions?
A: I feel that the box construction form opens a vast sense of space, light and implied time, in which to locate both found and made objects. I place them in such a way that their stability is dubious and hidden, creating unexplained shadows and reflections which are ambiguous and may force one to wonder if they are floating. In my protest against the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, "The Whole World Is Watching" box, I imagine the eight horseshoe crabs in the upper section as both the bombers and the victims; below, in a separated section, the ladders, swings, trees and female torso are an earthly paradise or fantasy of life before war; the central vertical structure begins at the floor of the box under an arched staircase protecting the female, and extends through the dividing partition, as an image of the World Trade Center, reaching the sky and embracing the eye (a "cat's eye" marble), of the sun at the roof of the box. (Thus, The Sun is also Watching.) I think that box as a medium, with its walls, roof and floor allows me to create an implied sense of vast distance, perspective and light which can be endlessly changed with the use of mirrors, magnifying lenses and other hidden reflectors. As a vehicle to react to world problems, celebrations or wonders, I find the box limitless in its possibilities. One may cut windows or openings in any or all of its five surfaces to allow additional light or dimension. Color, drawing, painting or photographs are also occasionally used.
Q: The work of Tabitha, Tony, and yourself is described as “in dialogue” with one another in this exhibition. What do you imagine is being said in the dialogue taking place in VEVERS3? What feels most important about this exchange to you?
A: As to "dialogue": I think that Tony, Tabitha and I all have, in our work, been intent upon delving into our inner sense of the mysteries of life, love, beauty, nature, history, etc. and how we may recreate it as it interacts with our own shared hopes, wonders, losses and fears. I must also add that I believe any serious artist is likely included in this "dialogue".
Q: How would you describe Tony’s artistic process? How did it vary from your own?
A: Tony used canvas as a surface upon which he sprayed adhesive emulsion. He similarly coated strips of canvas with varied colors and textures of sand, and added them to the composition. Among other elements attached, were the remains of shoe soles (jet black), found on the shore, and long dangling ropes, often with their seamen's elaborate knots. The ropes are aligned horizontally, or in various curves and circles. The descending layers of parallel ropes or canvas strips convey the sense of time and tide (one of his titles). I imagine the shoe soles as souls of the lost Provincetown Portuguese fishermen, and also as footsteps in the sand… Again dealing with time and tide and loss. If Tony found a work not going to completion, he would cut it into strips and incorporate its parts on a new canvas, thus recycling the recycled. Fellow artists and friends often mailed sand from all coasts of the country, and once, even Europe… white, tan, black; some very fine, some course and some almost dust. He used various grades of strainers to sift the sand for different textures. Tony kept the sand in jars. They were his pallet of color. The strainers were his brushes. The table was his easel. The work must be hung with a raking light that will cause a sharp shadow of every grain of sand, to come alive in Tony's intended vision. I sometimes work with loose sand often held behind a glass plane. As one moves or tilts the box, the sand may be shifted to form valleys and dunes. They may start as a flat plane against the glass, and recede toward the rear of the box, or they may form at the back wall and drift towards the front bottom edge. Thus the box is always able to be transformed by its owner (again dealing with aspects of time). Our tools are similar but the results are very different. We could never decide who had used sand first, but I think it was Tony. When we were in Mexico in 19--, he had intended to photograph the desert landscape, but his camera jammed, so he made cast impressions of the surface of the ground and colored them with sand.
HUDSON D. WALKER GALLERY
The Hudson D. Walker Gallery at the Fine Arts Work Center features an extensive schedule throughout the year of acclaimed Cape artists as well as Work Center Fellows. In 1972 the former storefront of Days Coal and Lumber Yard was transformed into a gallery named for Hudson D. Walker, a steadfast patron of FAWC from its earliest days. The gallery offers dynamic, thought-provoking exhibitions featuring the Work Center's and Provincetown's rich artistic history.