The artistic process is often confined to the shadows, yawning to life in the solitude of an artist's studio or in frantic 4 a.m. sketchbook scribblings. But two recent Linen Building shows—Unfinished, which opened in January, and Inter/Change, which debuts First Thursday, March 7—have parted the curtains on that process, seeking to show the progression of a piece of artwork, as opposed to its glossy, gallery-ready end.
For Unfinished, curators Eli Craven, Maria Chavez and Amy O'Brien combed the studios of 19 area artists for uncompleted or abandoned works, provoking a dialogue about what defines finished and unfinished art. Now, for Inter/Change, curator Matt Bodett has united a partially overlapping group of 19 artists to complete one another's artwork.
"It seems like the sequential step of not finishing a work is finishing somebody else's work. ... I think a little more abstractly, the concept even of a work that you've not finished compared to a work that you give up to be finished, to me that was kind of a poetic statement between the two shows," said Bodett.
For Inter/Change, each artist submitted an original piece of artwork that was assigned at random to a second artist and then passed on to a third to finish it.
"Every piece was worked on by three artists, but it was all sort of random; whoever got it next was kind of left to chance," said Bodett, who drew the artists' names from a hat.
Unlike other group shows or collaborative artistic endeavors, the parameters for Inter/Change were expansive.
"We didn't necessarily know who the three artists that were working on each piece were going to be, and the process or theme for the piece was totally open, so you were totally free to do whatever you wanted with the work and respond in whatever way to what the artist had done," said contributor Kirsten Furlong.
Yet, within those expansive parameters, some noticeable patterns developed.
"All of the artists are really conscious of their place in the three. ... The first one seemed like they were more refined, more of an opening statement. ... The second person was like, 'I can do anything to it.' And the third person has really been aware of, 'How do I finish this? How do I really clean it up?'" said Bodett.
In order for this process to be fruitful, the artists had to trust one another.
"You're giving up a lot and there's inherently a sort of trust that goes along with that," said Bodett. "There's times where I feel like, as artists, we don't do that—my work's my work. I like the idea of giving up in something in order to get something bigger.'"
Artist Bryan Anthony Moore submitted a detailed trompe l'oeil painting, which found its way to Garth Claassen and Brenda Fisher.
"It was a bit risky submitting a labor-intensive piece that others could paint over if they so desired, but I trusted Garth Claassen and the third collaborator would improve upon it," said Moore. "Trusting the other artists and/or not being precious about one's work is implicit in true collaboration."
And even though drastic changes have been made to some pieces in the show—John Sadler took Goran Fazil's canvas off its stretcher bars, wound the canvas around the bars and wrapped the whole thing in duct tape—most artists have embraced the chaos.
"I found that most people were open to whatever was going to happen. ... Some of the work has been cut up, totally disassembled. I believe one was shredded. So there's a lot of change that happens, but when I talk to some of the artists and I'm like, 'Guess what happened to your work? It got shredded,' they're almost excited because they're like, 'Wow, I never would've done that,'" said Bodett. "There's this idea all the sudden that their work has this life of its own."
On the piece Moore finished—an ashen campfire by William Lewis layered with faux wood paneling by Brenda Fisher—he added a cartoonish doodle of Mickey Mouse's skull and a couple of hairy testicles.
"There's an extreme difference between Bill Lewis and the way that he represents imagery; he would never put a ball-sack in his, but Bryan Anthony Moore totally would," said Bodett. "So it's this funny dichotomy between the vocabulary each person's using."
Moore said his intention wasn't to drastically alter or destroy the initial artwork but, rather, to have a dialogue with it.
"The ball-sacks hanging off the mouse character's phallus-shaped snout were a reference to a sort of aggressive, conquering, 'using up' feeling that I get from what the corporate elite have done to our world," said Moore. "I was inspired by the burnt-out, desolate fire-pit and the enclosed 'boarded in' feeling I inferred from the boarding over of that image."
Though it's easy to pinpoint some artists' signature flourishes in the show's finished pieces, Bodett said the process also pushed people in new directions.
"What I was hoping for, and what I think I got, was that they took what came from before and they didn't just make it their own, but they responded to the work," said Bodett. "They found something within the work—they still did their own thing to it--but they allowed it to communicate with what already existed."
Bodett, the curators of Unfinished, and Linen Building owner David Hale all hope that there will be a third exhibit in this series. But that show is still a work-in-progress.
"We've tossed around ideas, but it's not entirely concrete," said Bodett." We're trying to find what some sort of natural third stage of this would be. And there's really obvious things like, 'What if you destroy work?' that feel too kitschy. ... We're trying to find something along that poetic line: a meaningful and thoughtful approach."