Smatterings of The Portrait-Story Project Bottomliner’s Perspective
I first came to what I thought of as the “Austin” or “Asheville” of the Midwest for reasons only art-related in the scarcest (tenuous bordering on fragile) sense – to immerse myself within experience I just might later get to depict, “research for art” in the broadest sense that teeters on forsaking it; indeed, I sought distance from my perceived need to produce aestheticized journaling in favor of pursuing life minus mediation – instead, ironically, I wound up laboring to promote others depicting experiences THEY found THEMSELVES within.
Prior to thinking of Madison as a long enough soujourn to call “home,” I’d tucked my own handground oil paints, prepared surfaces and other assorted gear-of-craft over a thousand miles away en obscuritum, fancying I’d kick the habit of an obsessive work ethic that for the previous year and a half had won me no comfort to speak of, displaying non-Portrait-Story pieces (au plein air landscapes, unconventional still lives, portraits without stories . . .) in one little town after city after near-wilderness after another . . .
On a bicycling “Grassroutes Caravan” & “mobile village of resilience” through wet prairie and dairyland to the northwoods subboreal conifers, a fellow caravaner inquires how one starts a Portrait-Story Project . . .”…to ask for it” I reply…
Around the “Mad City” Isthmus, finding very part-time “semi-volunteering” on a Community-Supported Agricultural farm, sharing stories with fast made friends . . . whilst honeymooned by The City of Four Lakes’ conscientious agrarianism and bicycle culture, independent bookstores, worker-owned and operated businesses, privately-issued currencies and covert rawmilk distribution – altogether heavily emphasizing creatively greener localization and fairness . . . a few offered me some of the drawing media they had lying around – and I relapsed, spending my meager earnings on expensive artist’s paper and marking implements I apparently couldn’t do without. In very nearly zero inertia, I spawned porfolio and accumulated arsenal as though I hadn’t similiarly debuted nine years earlier. Displaying my newer works on clothespins and wire from chainlink fences while sketching whatever object most recently entered my narrativity, I felt myself deepening into a “comfortably semi-homeless” niche under the summer stars of this mid-sized city, parts of which acted much like a small town, whose residents kept opening up their households and lives to me.
“Aggressively ambivalent” as to how long I’d stay, I vaguely contemplated cross-country cycling “any direction south” once autumn nipped. Yet living in this large moment, without end in sight, the sense of merely coasting occasionally or often nagged me and I wondered when my passions would again clearly apply beyond myself.
Then the aforementioned fellow bicycle villager, named Kevin Schiesser, excited me by surprise, asking precisely that question I might wait years for, forgetting it might actually come.
He first envisioned the not-yet-named Madison-grown Portrait-Story Project as centered on the housing co-operatives, a form of self-organization inwhich members serve as their own landlords, acquiring skills of communal living and reducing their survival costs by co-operation – and then our focus naturally expanded city-wide to all the protagonisms distinctifying the spirit of Madison.
Schiesser, then a boardmember of Madison Community Co-operative, a federation of 11 housing co-ops, “sponsored a proposal,” as went their process, to host this Portrait-Story Project bottomliner. Attending a series of lesser meetings, giving a pitch, then answering any clarifying questions, I eventually received invitation to a larger and longer board meeting, given the floor to recite The Mission Statement of The Portrait-Story Project as I preconditioned they must assent the document for said project to root and set in motion.
I then left the room to defer to their conclusion. According to a few boardmembers speaking to me shortly after, they concurred with little discussion and no debate. As progressive materialists piloting a multimillion dollar organization, none faulted me for needing lodging while volunteering in a region known for its deep, long winters, or found my flexible, monastically spare terms too burdensome.
An anachronistic bastion of the early 20th century Old Left, most Madisonians I spoke with enthusiastically approved of a broad-based presentation of voice with no economic barriers to self-inclusion, and held overwhelmingly non-theistic views of art, meaning they acknowledged it as a result of materials combined via skilled labor, what I unhesitatingly call a craft.
While thanking all who gave morale support or otherwise proves too cumbersome for here, a few stand out for mention: One, Frank McIntyre, http://www.flickr.com/photos/76960558@N03/ (scroll down to FMT004) an art and antique restorationist, and most of all to me, an artist’s artist in whom I befriended delight of unfortunate rarity: a craftsperson who extolled, intelligently critiqued and nurtured the production of beauty at length, with such ease, frequency, spontaneity and breadth, I can’t recall repetition or predictability ever occurring – or for my part, a lack of interest. He could spin painterly yarns around almost any artist or school formative to our styles, weaving in highly competent sequitors of humorous irreverence, while never resorting to the anti-intellectual cope-out or fashionable incoherence of watered-down avant-gardists today who flippantly innuendo that all artefact etched, printed, cast, molded or adhered before the current nanosecond’s ephemerality constitutes self-debasing tyranny.
One well-wined evening, in his cluttered “studiolo,” expectable from an artist with “many batches on the burner,” as McIntyre and I had one of those conversations, very much like taking long turns listening to eachother, I actually fell on my knees thanking him for “understanding” that technical knowledge and refinement of practice amplify or found, not diminish, concept and expressive potency.
When looking at the depths of archive by which artists make themselves functionally immortal, McIntyre saw wells of idea and menus of applicability, perhaps even debates unresolved, not an allegedly monotonous, cold mud heap which one could only depart by obligatory floundering. In his own originals he neither sought to imitate the past nor confuse ignorance with originality. He gave me stunned pause: a squirrel hair brush so as not to merely “shovel” on the paint, glass beads in impasto to accentuate raking light, swishing titanium white dust by finger directly into the “plastic snot” of acrylic gel . . . and gifted me supplies familiar and unfamiliar, introducing me to a gum arabic nugget, a bottle of casein and a vial of his very own walnut oil ink, widening and shifting my aesthetic trajectory.
I met very few other artists who harness the texture, verisimilitude and workability of their media by grinding their pigment in their mediums of choice. To date, McIntyre remains the only other artist I know going the next step beyond mainstream category: digging ore or clay from ground to pulverize into pigment, for color of subtlety unpurchaseable.
Without claiming so, or necessarily trying to, as he heaped adjectives and verbs upon molecular chains upon grains of wood, “warp and weft” or panes of glass and on and on, he nudged me into deeper appreciation, that material artists in our most mature realizations begin to approach a “science” in the sense that we research and “tinker” (artists often say “experiment”) to manipulate the behavior of evermore known substances interacting towards intended, controlled and observable results, albeit toward irrepeating and subjective finalities.
And Tiana Blackburn, the only one besides this co-bottomliner who has volunteered in some capacity for all 3 fully aboveground Portrait-Story Projects thus far, specifically in designing and redesigning these websites since 2006. For many patient hours as the need arose over the years, she enabled a broader public to view The Portrait-Stories as free online reference without advertisement. As the originals hung enmasse for “realtime wetware viewing in infinite DPI” (reality, in other words) they showed in tandem with many “hit and run viewers'” (pedestrians in hurrys’) later ease in uploading, scrolling etc.
And to another website designer, Davi Post of DaviWorks, who volunteered to launch (the now-historic/no longer current), http://daviworks.com/facesofmadtown/ – essentially the first time an active Portrait-Story Project had a corner of cyberspace exclusively for so-explicitly inviting content-generation.
The “Faces of Madtown,” portraited or not, would often smile and thank me for handing them the, inked or markered, canvas strip or cut matboard “outreach card” with a webaddress scripted or printed upon it, as thematic reinforcement for considering appointment. All those of Madison Portrait-Stories met this bottomliner in person first, then decided to draft prose (with one exception who wrote poetry) and model either from that interaction alone, or that interaction plus what they saw online or heard from friends or housemates.
Some objected that Madison lacked any crisis which they presumed must contextualize Portrait-Story Projects. This commonly stemmed from banally connotating The Post-Katrina Portrait-Stories as coming from a landscape of grievance alone, failing to notice the often-politicized efforts by which a region re-exists,
/ /postkatrinaportraits.org /
/ /bsnorrell.blogspot.com /2007 /12 /katrinas-apartheid-portraits-and-hand.html
/ /www.flickr.com /photos /postkatrinaportraits /show /
/ /knyo.libsyn.com /just-and-sustainable-new-orleans-post-katrina-portait-project
or, from mislead assumption of The Voices for Appalachia Portrait-Stories as coming from a landscape of exclusively ignorant poverty and industrial parochialism, as if none there lived in natural beauty at renewable rate or contributed to world culture or made stands pertaining to that issue of carbon dioxide emissions, which leaves no one an outsider:
/ /www.mountainjustice.org /portrait_story_project /index.php
While I certainly recognize the “upshot” of atrocity in galvanizing or catalyzing entire demographs to bring neglected concerns to sharper relief: as historical windows through which heroic thousands can leap, synergyzing their efforts, as so many who otherwise would not have bonded towards a stronger, more embedded grassroots . . . I hold that suffering does not prequisite validity, mastery of one’s path with respect to the mastery of others’ does.
Of course, despite how one may implore of art as intregal to the human condition, strictly speaking, no one needs The Portrait-Story Project per se, which can neither give one voice nor make one voiceless; it only offers yet another format amongst countless more inwhich a manifestation of one’s “voice” could surface, a complement to and vessel for whatever capacity for firsthand account scribing, one chooses to usefully share.
Our focus here lands on how one places their experiences of poignancy as selective emphasis fitting on a single nondigital handheld surface, not how one waxes grandieloquently or soapboxes with themselves possibly subtracted from, or only implicitly within, the equation.
In other words, a Portrait-Story Project concerns perspective, not opinion, accounts of mobilized selves, not polls of expectation; attempts, not witness alone and certainly not petitions.
In a text-dominant millieu, The Portrait-Story Project attracts or discourages, even disgusts as an unapologetic anachronism: any able to self-include could perpetuate its body by authenticating prose of their handwriting, an inherently archival form of self-indication maximizing the appearance and proof of individuation.
In and outside The Portrait-Story Project, the image versus word dicotomy provides an underlying creative tension in my porfolio: I assert that the endangered craft of writing goes along the tendency of an artisanal morality or elevation: a deeper humanization readable in the tactility of manually applied media (which becomes art once produced more by intention and execution of conceptually accessible nuance of quality than methodical utility).
In “The Faces of Madtown” a small phoneix spurred from a gargantuan pile of smoldering ash and when the flame elapsed, I moved on, too stubborn for any to convince me I wouldn’t ignite bigger, hotter, louder phoneixes elsewhere, leaving this collection of 74 Portrait-Stories at the Madison Community Co-operative Office at 1202 Williamson Street, where, as the co-signed Memorandum of Understanding which I drafted states, it should exhibit defacto for the forseeable future, available as well for local lending to any space where the public may see it at no charge.
As it stands now on this date of typing 12/22/2012, I do not believe that we will ever know another Portrait-Story Project and the world has the burden of convincing me otherwise, of thousands for and of their own human geography expressing their tactical menus or strategies within their embodiment of self-realizing struggle, blowing on the aforementioned embers and co-generating that kind of flare on a mass scale.
I would exuberantly stand corrected, committing years to such a turn of events,
Consider ya’ll’s bluff called,
-Francesco Lovascio di Santis