Scene | Art
An Important Lesson on the
Integrity of Art
by Courtney Cerniglia
In my first college studio art class, there was a project due that I wasn’t overly enthused about. I procrastinated; and in the evening before deadline, I sat on my dorm room floor and painted something. I used a basic pallet of primary colors in gouache, making a simple geometric collage. My lines were clean, and I created something within the parameters assigned. Voila! I thought my work was done.
On the due date, I walked into class unphased about critique. When my professor came my way, she took a glance at my painting and turned to me with a concerned look on her face. “This isn’t you,” she said. “Attempt the assignment again, and this time, don’t rush.”
I was shocked. How could she tell what was “me” or not? I painted it! And heck, I spent four hours on my floor the night before trying to finish the stupid assignment – I worked hard! She’s wrong!
After my initial grumpiness, I stepped back from my easel and really looked at my work. It was flat. And, frankly, not me. My professor was right. She called my bluff, and in turn, taught me a valuable lesson about art’s integrity.
I’m sure you can remember a time where you’ve looked at a piece of art and thought, “That’s art? I could do that!” Many famous artists have heard this critique. So what makes art art? Everyone defines art differently, which is something I enjoy exploring. I’ve found there’s an inherent truth that emits from a piece of art – from the most complex drawings to the simplest clay formations. If it’s allowing the artist to express an emotion, idea, or form of their truth, it is usually considered art.
My professor made this point when she called me out for my lack of effort and procrastination. She refused to call my work art – and while it may have insulted me at the time, she protected the coveted definition of art from my lazy attempt at completing a project.
When we refuse to label work as art, it is a choice that protects the integrity of the work we do label as art. Now, this is tricky territory, as the art world also counters the idea that there is such a thing as good and bad art. I don’t think these two concepts are the same. As my professor showed, she didn’t reject my art because it was bad to her. She knew that there was no emotional investment by me. It lacked any emotion or truth and resulted in rejection. It wasn’t bad art – because it simply wasn’t art to begin with!
I think the same philosophy is applied to a child’s crayon drawing. We don’t say, “Oh dear, that’s not art!” Often, we celebrate it and hang it on the fridge! In the same way we can celebrate a child’s artistic talent, we can celebrate artists and their expression through their work.
I suppose after having gone through this critique experience in college, I can say there is a clearer line for me to define what is and is not art, versus what is bad and good art. Art is subjective – our own opinions of it being good or bad lie within the viewer but do not determine if the work is art. Art, on the contrary, is defined by the artist. It encapsulates the ideation, process, and final emission to the medium.
This is why I love exploring artists of all mediums and crafts and finding those truly excited by their passions. Because at least to me, they are artists and their work is art.
The Perky, Vibrant Leatherworks of LiRA
by Courtney Cerniglia
One of my favorite parts of writing this monthly article is when I get to visit the featured artists in their studios. There’s something special about being welcomed into the space where the artist creates. You get to see their materials, the works in progress, a special seat they choose to work from, and feel the vibe of the space. The art encompasses you, giving you a deeper understanding of the artist and the work they create.
As I walked into the studio of Liza Allinger, I was greeted by zillions of wine bottles. Well, not because she is a renowned wine collector, but rather because she’s an artist in residence in the studio above Tandem Wine and Beer. As I climbed the stairs and zipped past the hangout spot in the balcony, I swung around the corner to find Liza amidst patches of leather in the brightest colors, and of course, a half-sipped glass of sauvignon.
Liza had just returned from living in San Francisco where she worked for Molly M Designs, a boutique studio of architect and designer Molly M. While there, Liza put her fine art degree to work and assisted with production of the leather goods line. While working alongside Molly, she learned more about the leathers she worked with and started to design her own line of accessories, LiRA.
When you look at designs by Liza, you can expect a structured, bright, and well-tailored design. For much of this she gives credit to her mentor, Molly, who encouraged her to approach design from the architectural standpoint. Seeing her work up close, you’d appreciate the level of craftsmanship with the piecework apparent in most. Intricate and colorful, it was surprising to me to find out most of her designs are created from just a few simple geometric shapes.
“I can get so much out of one shape. I can extend it, crop it, rotate it. If I start with a few shapes and colors that stand out to me and begin layering them to create a pattern, pretty soon I have a beautiful layout for my next piece,” she said, while manipulating the cutout swatches in front of me, designing a layout before my eyes!
Currently Liza works with leather remnants, which allow her to have a wide array of colors and finishes to use in her designs. It’s also an eco-friendly way to procure her supplies. She enjoys the challenge of finding creative ways to use all the material in her stock, which makes her a near zero-waste studio.
She had a large sketchpad on her desk with a drawing of the next pattern she wanted to paint. Painting on the leather is something she’s playing with, so her sketch helped her bring the new medium into focus. Painted leather, she told me, is popular right now thanks to people decking out their Nikes with custom painted features. Who knew?
Liza’s work includes handbags, pillows, table runners, wall hangings, and a variety of other custom pieces upon request. She’s working above Tandem Wine and Beer on Edison Avenue in Appleton, so swing by and check out her pieces on display. Follow her @lizaallinger.
An Artist’s View of Quarantine
by Courtney Cerniglia
“Family Life During a Pandemic”
Artist Leif Larson
While we all went into a period of quarantine, many of us felt disruptions in our work. As many industries and employees were negatively affected, I was curious how the artists in our area were doing. Were they still able to create? What did quarantine look like for them? What happens when you can’t leave your tiny box to seek inspiration? What happens to your work when your emotions are spiraling in this unprecedented time?
One of my favorite local artists, Leif Larson, continued to publish work during quarantine. The images he cast onto the canvas were so relatable that I had to speak with him about his experience. I really wanted to know how he kept motivated to keep creating and how he made space to be inspired in a world of uncertainty.
You’ve seen Leif’s work on McFleshman’s beer can labels and in the Red Lion Hotel with his mural installation. During quarantine, he published “Family Life During A Pandemic.” When you look at this piece, you can feel the energy emitting from it. The family seems in constant movement, in organized chaos.
I enjoy the fact this is a snapshot of a family amidst chaos, all centered in one room. Leif described that he was sitting in the kitchen one day and took a moment to pause and take in what was happening in one room. Kids at the table trying to do classwork, Mom checking in – work headset on – making sure everyone is doing as they’re supposed to, and Dad spinning in a million directions trying to keep the home in order. It’s just so relatable for families during the shutdown.
Leif’s process has always centered around observations like this. Quiet and contemplative, he’s used to the solitude that quarantine provided. After a few weeks of initial chaos, he was able to get back to his observation mindset and take note of what was happening around him.
For many, the quarantine period seemed like this “great pause” and for Leif, he had trained his mind already to focus on pausing and observing to enrich and inspire his work. Family life in quarantine is just one of those moments captured in quarantine life.
The other that seems to resonate is “Solitude #3.” In this painting, you can feel the eeriness yet calm of night, the winding down hour. Leif explained this moment where he went out before bed with the garbage and he paused to take in his surroundings. It was so quiet. Everyone was tucked in their homes. Leif noticed this moment in time that is rare and allowed it to inspire him.
The ability to keep an open mind during all the craziness life is providing right now is something to be learned from Leif. As an artist already focused on being in the present moment, it seems his art was a way to release thoughts and emotions related to what’s around him. Maybe we all should take a few minutes to sit back and sketch what’s happening around us?
Stay tuned for Leif’s upcoming collection on our relationship with physical space this fall at the Trout Museum of Art in Appleton, or visit leiflarson.com.
Taking Ownership of the City’s Sculptures
by Courtney Cerniglia
Artist Anthony Heinz May
installing “After the Storm”
Artist Sam Spiczka
Recently, the city of Appleton has had a lot of buzz about public art in the community. We wanted to chat with one of the founders of Sculpture Valley, responsible for sourcing and placing works like “The Collective” and “THEB: Stacked”, as well as beloved sculptures like “Cotton Column” and “Wing Meditation Bench.” We wanted to know what it takes to bring art like this to our community and why it matters.
Alex Schultz, Executive Director of Sculpture Valley, started his quest in 2011 in partnership with Rob Neilson, a local artist and art professor at Lawrence University. Together they founded Sculpture Valley, an organization focused on helping take care of the sculptures the community already owned and explore new installations.
Schultz and Neilson noticed many of the city’s sculptures were being neglected and wanted to help with the restoration and empower the city to take ownership of the artwork in public spaces. Many of these were war memorials like the “Spirit of the American Doughboy,” which honors local citizens who served in WWI and 85 of those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice. These memorials were either poorly restored in the past or simply neglected, showing signs of vandalism, scratches, rusting, and graffiti, and were not paying homage to those they memorialized.
By 2015, Schultz and Neilson’s work earned a line item in Appleton’s city budget, which allowed them to fund the full bronze replacement of the ailing Doughboy statue. Many of the other war memorial restoration projects are still awaiting redevelopment decisions, but funding for all of them is a constant in the City budget; this includes the redesigned “River” war memorial in Memorial Park, which is slated for rebuild this year. To date, this is still a primary focus of the organization, as Schultz is a veteran of the Gulf War. “In the future, we hope to introduce memorials for the conflicts not yet recognized in downtown Appleton, including those from WWII on,” Schultz said.
Restoration and ownership didn’t end with war memorials, however. They also wanted to reclaim artwork that had been moved or put in storage and place it back into public view. You might remember two of these works, “Metamorphosis” formerly in Houdini Plaza, and “Aerial Landscape” that sat on Lawrence University’s campus. With guidance from Neilson, Lawrence University staff completed a full restoration of “Aerial Landscape” in 2014. Sculpture Valley has also been advocating for the restoration of “Metamorphosis” since 2013 and is ecstatic that, in the year ahead, plans are underway to finally reintroduce the iconic sculpture, which has been sitting in city storage for nearly nine years.
One of the more well-known projects of Sculpture Valley, Acre of Art, started in 2017 with a goal to introduce more significant pieces to the community on a two-year lease. The goal was to bring in sculpture that “evoke emotions and spark conversation…to selectively and deliberately inject them into public spaces where they are most effective, most engaging…most evocative.”
Schultz says the project, now in its third year, has brought nearly 30 works to the area, five of which have been purchased or are in the works to be purchased to remain as permanent pieces of the Fox Valley.
Sculpture Valley seated a new board of directors this year with goals to install fewer pieces but by higher profile artists. Every piece that is brought to the community is reviewed by a jury for their value and what they would bring to the community. Schultz concludes, “If no one is talking about it, no one notices it, what’s the point? Art should spark ideas, conversation, and community, and that is what we hope to bring to our city with each piece.”
Learn more about Sculpture Valley, download the app to find where the current pieces are on display, and donate to their cause at www.sculpturevalley.com.