Posted // 2012-02-01 -
Dave Borba's artwork has always been an eye-catcher, whether sitting in the gallery or part of a local festival. The mixed-media craftsman has been a highlight of the Utah Arts Festival with his hand-carved woodwork and interactive folk-art pieces, capturing an early style of the genre while putting a modern spin on the display -- not to mention his popular heart works, paintings and pieces of photography, making him one of the more sought-after freelance artists in the city.
Today, we talk with Borba in an extra-long, in-depth and frequently hilarious interview about his career and the process behind his work, as well as his thoughts on local art and the work coming out of it, all with pictures of his works for you to check out.
Gavin: Hey, Dave. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself?
Dave: Howdy, Gavin. Man, that question always stumps me. Is that enough of an answer? It’s a pretty telling answer, really it is. Perhaps it’ll add some mystique to my reputation and better personify me as an artist if I remain aloof by not answering this one. Or, perhaps I’m genuinely stumped because I’m still figuring myself out, and what my thoughts are on the subject today may be entirely different tomorrow. I also don’t know what to say that folks would find interesting. I’m not big on having to maintain an aloof mystique, I’m not big on maintenance so, the truth most likely lies in the second avoidance of the question. No, wait, the third … hell, I don’t know, I’ve lost track of where I was at in this answer. And, I might add, that took me 20 minutes of twiddling my thumbs, trying to come up with an answer. Does that tell you enough about me?
Gavin: What first got you interested in art and what were some of your early inspirations?
Dave: Honestly, that’s a tough one to answer, as well, because I don’t have any recollection of a defining moment or experience that drew me into the world of art. I’ve always seemed to be soaking it up from my surroundings as far back as I can remember. So, I guess you could say I’ve always been interested in art. On my good days, when I’m awake and feeling connected to the world, my eyes are truly open and I find art in most everything, and life is inspiration for my creative process. I find myself inspired. On my bad days, I wallow in the murky water of dark daydreams and depression, and art is my release, my vehicle and motivation to once again wake up. On those days, the process of creation is my both my relief from, and inspiration for, life. I find myself inspired. In short, my interest in art is innate and my inspiration for art is the sum of my experiences, be they good or bad experiences.
Gavin: When did you first start experimenting with art, and what were some of your early works like?
Dave: I guess that depends on what you define as art. Art is subjective, so it’s difficult to define. I like to think of art as a result of opening yourself up to the creative process. What the process yields may be art to one person, but shit to another. For me, and at the moment, the process is where the art lies. And using that definition/opinion, I started dabbling with art before my memory can pinpoint an age. My earliest memories of messing around with materials and manifesting things from my imagination are very faint. So, it’s fair to say, I’ve been crafty or artsy as far back as I can remember. Imagination was my most steady playmate when I was a kid, and my imagination was pretty strong back then, much stronger than it is now. It was constantly egging me on to explore and experiment with ideas and materials. One of my favorite things to do when I was a kid was go to Zim’s, with my mom or my grandpa. I remember being awestruck by the overwhelming inventory of endless art supplies! Zim’s was THE megastore of craft and art supplies back in the day. There was nothing else like it. To a 4- to 5-year-old, it seemed like mile after mile of aisles, shelf upon shelf towering toward the sky, overflowing with countless treasures -- pipe cleaners, pom-poms, dowels, popsicle sticks, googly eyes, felt. Making up fuzzy little creatures -- those are the earliest memories I have of the creative process. Later, in my elementary school days, I was fascinated with miniatures and I’d strive to make things smaller and smaller each time; whether it was drawing or sculpting, the goal was to go tiny. My early works were small, furry, and had large eyes; I should get back to that. It’s been proven that people are emotionally drawn to such traits, I’d probably sell more stuff that way and my gas bill is overdue. Anyhow, that’s what my early works were like.
Gavin: Unlike a lot of artists in our scene, you have no formal training or college behind you. What made you decide to forgo an education in the arts?
Dave: Last spring, I had a short-lived romance with a very intelligent woman who confided in me that she had a habit of dating men who “lacked ambition.” Does that tell you anything? There’s that, and then there’s this: In high school, my English teacher had a friend in the art department of the University of Utah. He arranged for a meet and greet for me and a few of my classmates with the folks up at the U. The intent was to spark our interest into pursuing an art degree. Overall, the experience turned me away from the idea of pursuing an art degree. The defining moment: One of the students had prepared a little presentation followed by a Q&A session. During his “performance,” he pulled out one of his prints and asked us what we thought about it, and if we knew what it was. Some of the students offered up their opinions while I quietly thought to myself, “Hmmm... looks like he lathered his cock up in paint and pressed it up against a piece of paper. WTF? I need art school to figure out how to do this shit?!” I wasn’t too far off -- turned out that he’d dipped his junk in ink, pressed it up against a lithography stone, and ran a series of prints from it. I wasn’t very impressed. I felt ripped off. There I was, on a tour of a prospective art school, and this was they were showcasing?! This is the level of work they were highlighting?! That was something I would’ve expected out of boredom in my buddy’s basement, “Hey, Mark, check this out! I made an ‘Angry Elephant’ with my cock and some fingerpaints on your coffee table.” That wasn’t what I expected to be considered a “crowning” achievement of art school. I felt like if I was going to invest my time and myself into a program, I deserved more than the lackluster “shock value” of a lithographed cock-induced inkblot (which lacked both shock and value, in my opinion). I felt that, overall, the program, at that time, seemed like it was placing its emphasis primarily on “conceptualization” and knocking out a high quantity of work, not focusing on the quality of work and in-depth understanding and control of mediums. At the time, I already had the ideas and I wanted to learn how to bring them to fruition; I needed the tools and the knowledge to do manifest what I had in mind (I still need those tools!). I didn’t feel like spending my days being taught how to think “outside of the box” was worth the investment of my money and life. I felt like my mind was already well outside of “the box”. Whatever the case may be, I wasn’t pickin’ up what they were throwin’ down that day. And I didn’t identify with any of the students or professors I’d met in that scene, either. So, in lieu of a formal education, I took to surrounding myself with incredibly talented friends who were willing to take me under their wings and let me hang out in their studios and workshops while I picked their brains, and I “winged it” on my own, instead of pursuing an art degree. Sometimes, I think it would be nice to expand my horizon and have a piece of paper on my wall, but, unfortunately, an artist’s wage can’t really fund an art degree, and art degrees don’t seem to be the kind of degrees that lead to jobs that can repay student loans. I know it’s not fair to judge an entire program solely on the events of that day, and I know that my interpretation could’ve been way off, but it left a longstanding impression -- an inkblot-lithographed-cock impression. Well, there’s all of that, or again, there’s my lack of ambition. Or maybe that romance was short lived because I actually HAVE ambition? Nope, that wasn’t the case. there’s still the probability that I lack ambition.
Gavin: Considering you had no major, you kinda played around with mediums and genres and you've become skilled in a few. What made you become versed in so many rather than pick one and master it?
Dave: “Jack of all trades, king of none” is the story of my life. Sometimes I think it’s a curse, sometimes I think it’s a blessing. I’ve never been anything, but I’ve always been a little bit of a lot of things. Art itself is only one part of my life, and it’s no more significant than any other part of my life. This is why it’s taken me years become somewhat comfortable with saying, “I’m an artist.” And, just as significant, if not more so, I also hesitate to call myself an artist because I don’t feel I’m knowledgeable or skilled enough to be associated with the people I look up to as artists -- I’m a “jack of all trades, king of none.” But, then I return to the concept of art being in the process, not the end result, and then I can feel more comfortable with calling myself an artist. We’re all artists. You have to be creative to survive! I feel comfortable with that. As far as being skilled, I feel like I hit the occasional ball out of the park, but I don’t feel like I’m consistent. Being consistent gets you to good, then being consistently good gets you to great, and then, finally, being consistently great approaches mastery -- holy shit! Becoming consistently great in pursuit of mastery seems like it requires a lot of time and dedication. That very noble pursuit also probably means you’re not going to do much of anything other than what you’ve chosen to master for a good long while. I truly admire people with that kind of dedication. For me, to just get better at art in general requires that I spend less time mountain biking, hanging out with my son, climbing, river running, playing music, taking road trips. To pick one medium and master it would require me to make all of the previously mentioned sacrifices, plus sacrifice all of my other artistic interests for the sake of mastering just one medium. For me, it hasn’t been worth the cost. I’ve never felt a drive strong enough to endure sacrificing all of the other interest in my life for the sake of just one thing. Juggling interests is a constant theme in my life, and it’s often a struggle. It’s frustrating at times to be a “jack of all trades, king of none,” but on the flipside, whenever I focus on any one interest in particular for an extended period of time, I start to burn out, and I start to miss all of the other parts of my life. It does limit the levels of skill I’ll reach at anything and everything overall, but I’ve never been able to be just one thing, I’ve always been a little bit of everything. Well, there’s all of that, and then there’s Attention Deficit Disorder.
Gavin: You do photography, graphic design, illustration and a few others. What would you say has become your personal favorite genre and why?
Dave: My parental instinct curbs my ability to “pick favorites” but the truth is, every parent does have a favorite child -- I can safely say this publicly because I only have one kid. He IS my favorite! AND I’m the favorite child! Kiddin’, bro and sis! Or am I?! I do know for certain that I’m the favorite youngest child. Anyway, although I rarely get around to it and haven’t since “Flight of the Wounded Bird” back in June of 2011, my favorite genre at the moment is sculpture. Carving is my favorite process, and wood is my favorite medium. Why? Oh man, many reasons. I like the “Zen” aspect of carving wood. You have to stay present and in the moment or else you can ruin hours spent on a piece in one split second. Once to make a cut, you can’t add it back on. More influentially, wood, and working with wood, takes me back to very fond memories of spending time with my grandfather. He was a fine craftsman, a skilled finish carpenter, and the biggest influence in my life as I’ve tried to grow up into a man of his stature by following a few of the steps he laid down before me. He had a chest of hand tools from his carpentry days that he’d occasionally bring out to show me and teach me what each tool was for and what each tool could do. I still have the hammer he taught how to swing with, and I taught my son how to nail with that very same hammer. One of my favorite recollections of days spent with my grandfather is that of him using a block plane to shave long curls of wood -- he called them Shirley Temples -- off of a length of pine. The smell of fresh-cut wood takes me back to those memories. It reminds me of my grandfather. Yep, carving wood is my favorite.
Gavin: Probably the biggest thing you're known for is your mixed-media works. What made you gravitate toward creating those?
Dave: Mixed media enables and validates my Attention Deficit Disorder in one fell swoop! I really enjoy it because the diversity of mixed media keeps me interested and motivated. I can sketch the concept, sculpt, carve, toss in some metal, fabric, etc. I get to put a little of everything I’ve learned along the way into creating a piece. Being a “jack of all trades, king of none” also comes into play with my gravitation toward mixed media. Mixed media helps camouflage where I think my weaknesses are by creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Being able to bring multiple skills to the table, even though they’re not at the top of their individual games, when combined can create an overall pleasing gestalt. I’ll take all of the help I can get, and mixed media helps. More importantly, mixed media is fun and it’s a great workaround for my ADD.
Gavin: You've created a few different mixed-media series including “Folk Art” and “Works Of HeArt.” Where do you get the inspiration for each series and how do you figure out what you'd like to do with each?
Dave: The first to come along was the “Vintage Inspired Interactive Folk Art” series, followed shortly thereafter by the “Works of HeArt” series. My interactive “Folk Art” series started from a Christmas present I crafted for my friend and mentor, Adrian Prazen. Over the years, Adrian has taught me a great deal and helped me develop my skill set along the way. He’s always been generous with his knowledge and his resources. One Christmas, I wanted to make him something special as a gesture of gratitude for all that he’d done for me, but I couldn’t figure out what to do. One night, I was over at his house for a visit when inspiration struck. Adrian has a fantastic and eclectic collection of art and oddities including an assortment of devils and, at the time, a recently acquired and very creepy ventriloquist doll with a missing lower jaw. While we we’re chatting away, he brought out the ventriloquist doll to show off his recent acquisition -- I had my inspiration. The next day, I sketched it in the back of my writing journal, and shortly thereafter I began carving a wooden devil with “Jaw Dropping Lever Action!” His mouth opens when you push down on a lever, and thus “The Original Devil Boy” was born! When I gave it to him on Christmas day, he was pretty stoked, proud and very enthusiastic. He told me, “You HAVE to make more of these! You should make a whole series. I can teach you how to make silicon molds!” His encouragement continued throughout the conversation. Adrian gave me the nudge to develop a series, and taught me the skills necessary to reproduce a series and then follow through with it making it happen. And that, my friends, was the beginning of the “Vintage Inspired Interactive Folk Art” series. Of course, Devil Boy needed a girlfriend, so, naturally, came along “The Original Devil Girl.” The rest of the characters in that series came about from random thoughts while running around the park and the occasional cameo from a family pet. “Lucy in a Handbag” is my ex-wife’s chihuahua named Lucy, nestled in a pink purse with the backdrop of my ex’s black & white polka dot dress. That piece is still my favorite in that series. It literally made me laugh out loud when Lucy’s little head shaped up out of the wood, and it’s also a reminder of a fantastic friendship between my ex and I that survived our divorce, so it still makes me smile to this day.
The “Works of HeArt” series came about from a prop I carved for a photograph series I had in mind. I was the process of recovering from the final split of my marriage and coping with my family now living in separate homes. I had a lot of empty and dark time on my hands and I needed something to do to get me through it, so, I turned to the creative process. As I was working though things, I had the idea of creating a series of photographs portraying a process of mending a broken heart. I needed a heart for a prop, so I carved one out of wood. As soon as it was finished, I lost all interest in the photograph series and continued on with carving instead. The first heart developed into “Love’s Wings,” a piece with wire-framed, fabric and feathered wings that lift and spread with the pull of a string. Shortly thereafter, “It Takes Time to Mend a Broken Heart” came to me, a broken heart that’s bandaged and held together by a timepiece. The first pieces of the heart series were a dark, but it was to be expected considering the inspiration was heartbreak. Further along as my heart healed and I found myself in brighter times, the series morphed into metaphors of falling in love, or finding love: “That Butterfly Feeling,” a heart with butterfly wings that flutter when you pull on a string. And then came along “Lover’s Bloom,” a root and a bulb both shaped as hearts growing up through the earth into intertwining flowers and displayed as a Victorian-era herbarium specimen. It’s inspiration “stemmed” from a conversation with a lovely gal who strolled into my booth during the 2008 Utah Arts Festival and mentioned that hearts reminded her of flower bulbs. I immediately loved the visual her words inspired and it stuck with me but it took me a couple of years to return to the idea and work through it. That’s my favorite piece of the series. I held on to it for nearly a year and hung it on my bedroom wall. It resonated with me but I hadn’t quite figured it out, so I was holding on to it until I figured it out, or I was certain it meant something significant to someone else. Finally, someone found it, gave it it’s meaning, and it found it’s home. To date, it’s the most personal and influential piece I’ve sold.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a piece, from concept to final product.
Dave: If the piece is elaborate, or a new piece in an edition, I’d say the process is OBSESSIVE. I can’t focus on much of anything for long before my thoughts return to whatever piece I have in process. I don’t truly find rest until I’m done and I’m looking at a finished work. My last sculpture, “Flight of the Wounded Bird,” drove me absolutely nucking futs at times! For the most part, during the time it was in progress, I was completely useless in any aspect of life other than working on it. Somehow, I’m not sure how, I managed to function well enough during the process to keep a job -- not my finest performance; feed my son -- he put up with a lot of boring weekends at my house; and take an occasional bath -- I was reminded, just because you don’t smell your own stink, doesn’t mean you don’t stink -- before an occasional rare night of debauchery. I made sure to go really big when I did manage to get out. For the most part, I found myself staying in the house, making tiny screws and filing gears, for hours, day after day, obsessing. Or was I being ambitious? I must have been obsessing.
Gavin: Considering the work that goes into each individual piece, do you usually stick to what you have planned out or will you play around with it while creating each one?
Dave: Early on, I would “wing it” all of the time. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know what I was starting until I reached the end. In high school, I often argued with my teacher, who placed emphasis on the value of planning a piece before starting. I would argue that spending so much time planning ahead smothered the creative flow, and that spontaneity was the purest form of expression. I still enjoy improvisational art, but at that time I was just making excuses for not knowing how to plan a composition or properly develop a concept. Lately, I’ve been focusing more on trying to think a piece through as thoroughly as I can before moving beyond the concept sketch. As the pieces have become more intricate, I find myself staying closer to the original concept. At times, I actually enjoy the forethought that goes into a piece before starting production, even though thinking hurts my head and sometimes drives me nuts. For example, in a piece like “Flight of the Wounded Bird” there are a LOT of parts, all of which required a high degree of accuracy to work mechanically. I spent days thinking through things in my head before putting it to paper and drafting a part, and then I ran though multiple revisions of mechanical drawings until I was convinced I could translate a part from paper into a functioning component. My mind was never at rest, it was constantly distracted by “Flight of the Wounded Bird.” The labor was both intricate and intensive, so, I didn’t have a choice but to thoroughly plan, and I had to stick to the plan or else I could’ve found myself wasting a lot of time and materials. Of course, I had to occasionally adapt my vision here and there to overcome oversights along the way, but for the most part, I was able to stay true to the concept. I found that through the process of creating that piece, and sticking to its concept/plans, I developed more control of, and a better understanding of, my mediums and tools. Conjuring up more intricate concepts also forces me to make sure the concept is sound before investing a large chunk of my life into the work of it. I still don’t feel like I really know what I’m doing, though, and, of course, with a piece like “Flight of the Wounded Bird,” I got lucky a time or two. Somewhere during the process, I’d overlooked some pretty critical measurements and ended up with uncomfortably close (paper-thin) clearances between a few of the moving parts. Five months of planning and fabricating parts, and when it came time to put it all together a couple of simple oversights almost resulted in “Drop Kick of the Broken Bird,” an entirely different sculpture than its original concept. Would’ve made for one helluva improvisational-performance piece, though. So, I try to come up with a solid concept, plan it, then execute as close to the plan as I can, but even with all of the planning, in the end, there’s usually a lot of luck involved. I think there’s a bit of luck in almost every success. That seems to be the case with my life, anyway.
Gavin: You've become a highlighted artist in festivals and are usually featured prominently due to your works. How is it for you to have that kind of exposure, and does it help sell your works?
Dave: Last year, the amount of exposure leading up to and during the Utah Arts Festival and afterward, for my August Gallery Stroll show at Brand32, was incredible. It blew my mind! I remember walking into The Park Café and sitting down at my usual spot and being welcomed by the Tribune article that Randi had placed front and center on the counter for my arrival. There I was, eating my breakfast, staring at my own scruffy mug in the paper. I didn’t quite know what to do with that. I was elated and grateful, but I also felt a bit guilty and unworthy of it. There are sooooo many amazingly talented people in this town, far more talented than me, who haven’t received the kind of exposure I was granted last year, and most of them probably won’t get the recognition they deserve, and yet, there I was. It definitely backs up my theory of luck being involved in success. It was a trip. As for having an effect on sales, I’m almost certain of it. I had numerous people approach me in my booth during the 2011 Utah Arts Festival, tell me that they tracked me down to come see the “little bird” that was in the Tribune article. Last year’s UAF was also my most successful event to date. Some of it may have been due to having a presence at the festival back in '08 and '10, but I have a hunch that a large portion of last year’s success at the UAF was related to the exposure leading up to event. It gave me a larger audience; more importantly, it gave me “street cred” that probably made people feel more comfortable with forkin’ out their hard-earned dough to take a piece home.
Gavin: Do you have any new works on the way? Or are you possibly expanding into another genre?
Dave: Nada. Zip. Zilch. I’ve got NOTHIN’, man! I have no inspiration at the moment, but I’m trying not to freak out about it. In fact, I’ve really been enjoying my weekends away from art and my basement. Having a full-time job and wrangling art takes a lot of time, and I’ve enjoyed taking a break. If I could, I’d gladly take a break from having to work, but that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. So, at the moment, I’m takin’ a break from art. Recently, I’ve been enjoying a lot of good days in the saddle of my mountain. bike, spending time with my son, hiking with my dogs up in the hills, hangin’ with friends, sippin’ coffee at Alchemy -- I even got back into fly-fishing for a while. Since I’ve taken a break from art, I’ve been gettin’ out more and actually livin’ life for a while, and, it’s been fantastic. But, it does feel a bit strange and worrisome not having any inspiration at the moment. I guess it’ll come when I’m ready for it again. As for other genres, my New Year’s resolution that’s failed the most times in a row is putting together a music project. I say it every year and I have yet to follow through with it. Perhaps this is the year?! I’m not holding my breath though. I’m currently debating on whether or not to apply for the 2012 Utah Arts Festival. It’s a fantastic event -- especially last year -- and I could really use the money, but if I get in it, gearing up for it would require putting music and the majority of any recreational activity aside until after the festival. Right now, I’m weighing the potential benefits of making an appearance at the UAF against the known costs. I should probably at least apply and see if I even get in, then I can truly make a decision. At the moment, as far as what’s on the way, it’s all up in the air.
Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Dave: In short, I don’t fit in with the “scene” or with the genuine artists. I’m constantly blown away by the local talent, I think this town is chock full of amazing artists, it’s really hard to make a living as an artist here and you can get amazing art at ridiculously low prices -- sometimes too low. What are my thoughts on our art scene? I guess that depends on what you mean by scene -- are we talkin’ about “the scene,” as in “scenesters” and such? I dunno. I’ve seen the “scene” from the outside, but I haven’t been invited in. I don’t think my pants are tight enough and I often express how impressed I am by smiling. I smile. A lot. I don’t see scenesters smile very often, and they rarely look impressed. That’s about all I know about the “scene,” so I can’t really say much about it, be it good or bad. But I think I just kinda ragged on the scenesters a bit; maybe that’ll get me invited in? That would be sooooooooo ironic, and I’ve heard irony is really cool these days. Maybe irony was cool a long time ago. Or maybe it’s only cool, I mean not cool, with the hipsters. I dunno, I can’t tell the difference between a hipster and scenester. I can’t keep up with the kids these days; it’s exhausting and I lack ambition. I thought lacking ambition would make me cool enough to fit in with the scenesters, but apparently it doesn’t. Shit. Now if we're talking about local art and artists, I have to say I don’t really feel qualified to critique what’s shakin’ down in this town. I’m not well versed/studied in art and I don’t really know who’s who and what’s what. I know what I like when I see it, but that’s about it, which makes all of the following just layman’s talk. I don’t feel like I fit in with the genuine artists of this town, either. They have skills and knowledge that I don’t possess. I also find it difficult to talk about the art community of this town without it sounding like I’m giving it a major fluff Job. This town is so chock full of talent, it’s ridiculous! Seriously. I was reminded of this just last night as I walked through a few galleries during the Gallery Stroll.
Dave: The talent here is incredible and both inspiring and intimidating! That’s both the good and the bad of it, as I see it. Another thing I’ll say is that it’s really hard to make a living through art in a town full of artists -- hence my day-job -- and this town is saturated with artists.This town is saturated with really good artist, which makes it hard to stand out, and difficult to sell. One small, although long-winded, criticism I’ll make is that I think many artists in this town under-price their art, and under-priced art compounds the difficulty of trying to make a living through art. Perhaps the high population of artists in this town makes artists feel they have to price low to make a sale, or perhaps they just haven’t given it much thought. Of course, there’s the state of the economy that may play a role in under-pricing art, too. Sometimes I’ll see a piece that obviously took a lot of time to produce, and then I see the price and I think to myself, “Wow! Did they even think about what their hourly wage would be? What about the cost of materials?” If people are actually trying to make a living through art, they need to figure how to price a piece with a livable wage after they’ve recovered the cost of their materials. If you’re just doing it for fun, or just for the joy of the creative process, then it doesn’t really matter what your price is, right? I would disagree, and here’s why: There’s a real danger to the art community in consistently undercutting prices bellow an honestly livable wage, because eventually, the market will only bear the prices of a non-livable wage, meaning nobody gets to make a living through art. It’s true that in a capitalistic market, competition drives prices, and competitive pricing is part of the game, but if the prices are below a living wage, nobody wins. Game over. On the flipside, I guess that brings art back to its purest form, art for the sake of art. I can dig that, too. For me, I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll probably never make a living through art in this town, for numerous reasons. A few: the competition is incredible, my art has limited décors it will fit into, and last but not least, I can’t keep a roof over my head working at minimum wage. So, I’ll sell an occasional piece every once in a great while, but if it’s a production piece, I’m not selling it below what my time away from the rest of my life is worth. The stuff I do for the sake of art, those are the pieces that rarely go to market, anyway.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?
Dave: Hmmm ... I’m struggling with any plausible ideas. A central, geographically compact, and UNIFIED art district would probably do the trick. I don’t know how you’d pull something like that off, but if it existed, I’m sure it would be more of a draw to both locals and visitors. With little clusters of galleries scattered all throughout the town, it’s difficult to sample all of the flavors we have to offer. It’s especially difficult for visitors to see what we have to offer, and if we want to become more prominent, we need more exposure to the outside world. We know what we have here, but the rest of the world doesn’t. A centralized art district could potentially become a significant destination for visitors. I think if we had such an art district, with at least few venues large enough to facilitate large installation pieces, we could draw some attention to this town’s talent and show the world what we’ve got. All of the above would take some serious support and funding from local,and state government, not to mention a sizable chunk of real estate. I don’t know how to do it, but it’d be pretty fantastic.
Gavin: What's your take on the ride of the craft festivals and the work they've done to promote art in the state?
Dave: I really dig’em and I’ve enjoyed watching them crop up over the last few years! Craft Lake City, especially, has done an amazing job providing local artists an event in which to shine. I haven’t participated as an exhibitor, but I’m a BIG fan and I’ve tried to make it every year. If I’m in town on Craft Lake City weekends, I’m there! From what I’ve gathered from conversations with participating artists, the support they give the artists is amazing, and from what I’ve seen, the crowd that it’s drawing is growing steadily each year, and it’s only in its infancy! Watch out Utah Arts Festival, Craft Lake City is gaining some serious ground. Derek Dyer and The Utah Arts Alliance are true champions for local artists, and I thought their Urban Arts Festival was a lot of fun last year. I hope we see it come around again this summer. I’m also a fan of Craft Sabbath and enjoy swingin’ in on the occasional Sunday to see what’s shakin’ down at the library. I’ll give kudos and gratitude to anyone who’s organizing an event to promote art. It takes a lot of love to put that kind of work into something; event organizing and promoting is no easy endeavor. Oh, yeah! Last but not least, keep your eyes out for Art Adoption events. They’re a lot of fun to attend and participate in!
Gavin: What do you think of the galleries we currently have around the city and state, and is there anything you wish they'd do to help the art scene?
Dave: It seems like galleries, like artists, are having a tough go of it these days. So, I’ll toss’em some empathy; I’m feelin’ the pain in my wallet, too. I’m sure it’s extremely challenging to keep a roof over a gallery. I honestly don’t see how they sell enough art to cover their overhead each month. I’ve seen more than a fair share of galleries have to close their doors over the last few years as a result of this economy, including the first gallery that allowed me a foot in the door, Palmer’s Gallery. I hear some artists rag on galleries here and there, complaining about how conservative they are with what they’ll show. When I hear someone complaining about galleries -- going on about “conservative” this or “mainstream” that -- I think they’re a bit wrapped up in their ideals of art and overlooking the reality of the business aspect of galleries. After all, most galleries are businesses and have overhead they have to maintain. I have a hunch that most galleries that are surviving are making the majority of their sales to the interior-design trade, and even with that, they’re only holding on by a thin thread. So, I think it’s only fair to expect that they’re going to primarily exhibit art that is marketable and appealing as décor. I’ve heard it said, “If you want to make a living as an artist, paint landscapes.” That statement holds a lot of truth even though it doesn’t jive with everybody’s ideals of what art “is” or what art “should be.” Look, I’m not ragging on nontraditional art or artists, or kissing gallery ass here. I’m just saying I don’t have unfair expectations of galleries. Trust me, I’d dig getting my work into more galleries -- I’m a terrible salesman and could use all of the help I can get! But, my work isn’t the kind of stuff most people would decorate with, especially the demographic that shops at galleries, so I don’t get into galleries. No hard feelings.
To artists who have different expectations from galleries, and criticize them for being mainstream, I say, I don’t think it’s fair to expect galleries to be anything other than mainstream if that’s what’s keeping a roof over their heads. I don’t think you can fairly expect a cutting-edge or progressive exhibit from a non-subsidized gallery, especially in this economy. And, if you’re into art for the sake of its progression and to push the boundaries, and you’re not in it for the money, then it shouldn’t matter to you what the mainstream galleries are or aren’t doing. If you’re just frustrated because you’re looking for an outlet for your work and haven’t found one yet, then create one. Organize an event, be proactive, don’t just talk shit on the “mainstream” because you’re frustrated that it’s not up to par with your ideals; accept it for what it is and move on. If you are trying to sell your work and can’t get into a gallery, the galleries here aren’t necessarily proper venues for selling art on the fringe, anyway, I know I’ve only sold a total of three pieces in galleries. If you want to try to sell nontraditional pieces, try places like coffee shops, salons, or eclectic restaurants. They’re far better venues for displaying art that’s on the fringe, in my experience. You get a much broader audience in coffee shops, salons and restaurants, better business hours and a steady flow of patrons, and their overhead isn’t dependent on art sales so they can show more diverse work. An added bonus is that they usually take less of a cut from the sale because their overhead is already covered. As far as wishing there were anything galleries would do to help the art scene? Oh, man ... I think they’re probably doing what they can and doing their best to survive. I guess it all depends on what people’s expectations of galleries are. What can the art scene do to help the galleries? And especially, if progressive, cutting-edge, or nontraditional art is what you’re into, what can you do to support and promote the galleries that are willing to invest, support, and risk their livelihood for art that goes against the grain? We’re all in this together.
Gavin: What's your opinion on Gallery Stroll today and the work being displayed each month?
Dave: I think it’s fantastic! I think it’s probably the only night the general public goes to galleries. Hell, I’d go as far to say it’s the one night a month that ANYBODY goes to galleries. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t remember the last time I went to a gallery other than during a Gallery Stroll. See!? There’s a way I could be more supportive of galleries. Oh, wait! I did last week. I always see plenty of work that impresses me or blows my mind while out and about on a Stroll. My only complaints are that it’s too spread out, and it ends far too early. I think there’s opportunity to make it a much better event by extending the hours until at least 11 p.m. if not midnight. Let’s make a night of it! Give people a chance to sample the spread and digest what they’re looking at instead of having to rush around after work and, hopefully, hit a couple of galleries if they can find parking.With as spread out as the Gallery Stroll is, I think they really need to consider giving people enough time to make the rounds instead of having to choose one or maybe two clusters of galleries for the night. I think a lot of people get stuck in the habit of only making it to their favorite galleries because that’s all they have time for, and they miss out on being exposed to new artists and experiences. If we had more time during the Gallery Stroll, we could see more and enjoy more.
Gavin: Who are some local artists and crafters you believe people should be checking out?
Dave: I feel like if I highlight a select few, I’ll inevitably neglect mentioning someone that I meant to mention, and I’ll inevitably leave some people feeling left out. Man ... that’s a toughie. To all of my artist friends out there, you know I love you, and it’s with great hesitation that I drop a name, but here goes. I’m going to drop one name, and I don’t even know the artist, so this is based solely on his work. I saw his painting at the Utah Division of Arts & Museums, Statewide Annual Exhibition, and I was drawn to it over and over again on opening night, and then again at a later visit. The composition, balance, technique, subject -- everything about the painting struck me, and the technique and skill impressed me. The painting? “Be of Good Cheer.” The artist? Matthew Larson.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Dave: Always expect the unexpected. Better yet, have no expectations, you won’t be disappointed. I have absolutely no idea. Hopefully, you’ll see a lot of happiness from me over the rest of the year.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote.
Dave: I think we could all use a little more love, kindness, honesty, and gratitude out there. I could really get behind promoting such things. I’d also like to promote less time Facebooking/texting and more time sitting across the table from one another, actually talking and having genuine interactions. Also, get out there and support the people who add to the beauty that surrounds you. Support the arts and support your fellow artists. And one last rant, because it’s related to supporting artists: I think it’s lame to pirate music, especially from small and independent labels. I think people should actually pay for and support the things they say they “love." If something moves you and touches you, be grateful for it and take care of it. Feed it, don’t starve it. That would be nice. And, I think that about sums things up for today. Wow! If you managed to read through all of that, thanks for your time. I’ll step off of my soapbox now. If I stepped on anyone’s toes in the process of getting up on it, my bad.
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