Aspen Art Museum’s 2019-20 artist fellows unveil projects
Last year around this time, a standing-room-only crowd filled the rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum to see presentations from its inaugural fellowship class.
The 2020 equivalent was a virtual meeting hosted, of course, on Zoom with more than 80 people following along as the locally based Artist Fellows Curt Carpenter, Marilyn Lowey, Lauren Peterson and Teal Roberts Wilson walked the digital audience through their projects and the creative journey of the nine-month fellowship.
The program supports Aspen area-based artists — anyone within a 100-mile radius of the museum — with a $1,000 grant, visits with artists, curators and museum staff and monthly fellowship group meetings, which each of this year’s artists noted were particularly meaningful (those too moved virtual this spring).
It would be hard to think of four works of art more different in form and content than the four project that emerged from the 2020 class of fellows: a work made of light and shadow about power and the American presidency; woodcut paintings of mountain scenes in and around Aspen; a performance piece about party rituals; depictions of horses that connected an artist unexpectedly with a deceased relative.
In the virtual presentations, each artist detailed their process and their fellowship project.
MARILYN LOWEY, ‘WEST WING PATTERNS OF POWER’
A professional lighting designer, Lowey’s fine art pieces use light and shadow to create immersive environments that spark “mind-body experiences.”
She used the fellowship to work toward an immersive installation that will bring viewers into the Oval Office. Through the fellowship she made a scale model of the piece she hopes to realize at human scale — studying the dimension’s of the president’s off, digitally fabricating a maquette and creating a lighting scheme. The minimalist piece stripped away the curtains and the walls, the furniture and the president himself, leaving just the two iconic windows that sit behind the Resolute Desk. Lowey experimented with the natural light they bring into the room, the spirit of the room in bright day and ominous night.
After she added the lights, she spent two weeks experimenting with variations of light, while — in a pivotal period — reading power theory works by like Michel Foucault and Michael Asher.
“I was looking for new insights and after two weeks continued onward,” she said.
CURT CARPENTER, ‘A QUIET WALK BY THE ROARING FORK’
Carpenter used his fellowship to examine why he’s committed himself to his signature woodcut painting style, which is inherently abstract, while depicting real natural scenes he finds in the local forest.
His presentation detailed how his walks from his Aspen Business Center studio to the Roaring Fork River inspire him and how his 40-year study of the local landscape has led him to his “clumsy” black-and-white woodcut aesthetic, where detail is stripped away in search of another sort of visual truth.
“As a realist, why draw on site outside? Why not work from photographs?” he asked. “For me, observation-based art has integrity. … Aspen’s high-alpine environment is made for woodcut, it’s made of contrasts, dark shadows, a glacier-carved landscape,”
LAUREN PETERSON, ‘YOU’RE INVITED, I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE THERE’
All of the fellows were impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic and its disruptions of daily life, but none more than Peterson. The interdisciplinary artist lost her job as a studio coordinator at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in its aftermath and relocated to North Carolina, from which she gave her presentation. It scrapped her original plan for her fellowship presentation — an immersive performance piece — as well.
Peterson’s performance-based works use materials like balloons, streamers, birthday candles and noisemakers to make grotesque the rituals of a party. (At the Anderson Ranch staff show in November, she memorably stuffed birthday cake in her face while performing inside a monstrous suit of party decorations.)
“I’m interested in using these mundane materials and making absurd gestures to make us question our behavior,” she said.
As public health restrictions scrapped her party performance plan for the museum and she lost her job, Peterson planned to stage roadside party performances on her cross-country trip leaving Aspen during the pandemic, but found her props didn’t fit in her car. So before she left, Peterson staged a backyard rendition — a scene with a cactus inside a party sculpture filled with balloons — and made a film of the chaotic results.
TEAL ROBERTS WILSON, ‘DRAWING HORSES’
Wilson began the fellowship by studying depictions of horses in art, drawn to the strangeness of them — from Rafael’s 16th century dragon-slaying steads to sloppily made horse-emblazoned pillows she found at the Aspen Thrift Shop. Though her inquiry began with some ironic intentions, it led to some unexpectedly poignant and personal places. A photo of her grandmother as a youngster on a horse led Wilson to letters she’d sent to her grandmother as she declined in dementia, which led Wilson to make resonant drawings about absence.
One she shared, based on the photo, showed an empty outline of her young grandmother in a shadow-heavy scene. The fellowship led not only to this affecting body of work, but to a breakthrough in her process — that exploring ideas without an end goal in mind can lead to unexpected discoveries.
“This project was a powerful reminder for me to trust creative work without purpose,” she said.