I wasn’t able to visit their Pilchuck residencies that are the focus of the upcoming Museum of Northwest Art show and about which I’ve been blogging over the last eight weeks, but I came away from the Scottish experience with some pretty strong convictions as to what makes for a potentially life-changing residency.
A great residency doesn’t just fall together, although I’m sure there are scattered exceptions to the rule. The residency that I watched up close in Scotland – as the Pilchuck one that I saw less immediately through Facebook posts and photos – depends above all on the selection of a dynamic mix of residents.
I know that for both projects, Klein and Parrish spent a lot of time considering not only the talents, but also the personalities of potential invitees. What might each artist bring to the group? Was s/he likely to share openly? To contribute a unique skill set and perspective? To “fit” without being “cookie cutter”?
Because the Scottish residency involved international travel for many and placement within local B&B’s – unlike the Pilchuck camp-like arrangements – it required additional months of advance communication and preparation by the residency leaders.
Insuring that appropriate materials were available on site added another layer of organization. Because Bullseye supported both residencies with glass, the leaders needed to consolidate the material requests from each participant and present us with a manageable request for supplies.
Those three aspects are just the tip of the organizational iceberg that underpins a successful group residency.
A residency is not a workshop, however. After all the planning necessary to insure a stable structure, it needs to be loose enough to allow each artist to participate and develop in very personal ways.
Again, I watched this pattern evolve at North Lands. In the later Pilchuck residency I likewise glimpsed the evolution through the pictures that came out regularly, posted to the group’s Facebook page.
Periods of obvious solitude, interspersed with regular gatherings, critiques, and discussion.
The range of directions and variety of work that emerged subsequent to both residencies are a testament to the impact of the time spent for each of the residents.
In speaking with a couple of the Pilchuck residents, it appears that, as freely shared as technical information was, it wasn’t the prime driver in the breakthroughs that many made.
“Honest evaluations…a diversity of consideration…the challenge to long-held perspectives and assumptions” are some of what came back to me as the strengths that Klein and Parrish brought to the group.
TECHNOLOGY & THE WILDERNESS
To me, one of the most remarkable aspects of both the North Lands and Pilchuck residencies was the fusion of modern technology with a rough and relatively isolated – I’m tempted to call it “frontier” – environment. At the end of most days at North Lands, the residents gathered for individual presentations or group reviews that were only possible thanks to tools that have just recently become integral to many artists’ working methods.
Digital cameras, laptops, programs like Photoshop and PowerPoint make it possible to capture and reconsider visual ideas in ways not possible only a short time ago. Watching Klein and Parrish use these new tools for the benefit of the group was inspirational. (Watching cellphone jokes on the Facebook page made it clear that this technology wasn’t without humor)
Beyond all the other elements contributing to a successful group residency, from compatible personalities to useful technologies to inspirational space, I have to come back to The Drivers, the two artists whose passion not solely for teaching, but for community-building gave form to both these remarkable projects.
At the risk of what may look like pseudo-psychologizing, I can’t help but turn to the work of each artist for a shorthand visual of why they’ve been so effective in both these projects. Klein’s embracing abstractions based on Scottish drystone sheepfolds point at a nurturing instinct that is a fine complement to Parrish’s broader, almost topographic perspective.
But part of the reason that I’m drawing these clumsy character deductions from Klein’s and Parrish’s art is frankly because I wasn’t at Pilchuck. I’m hoping that some of you who were there can shed some light on what these guys did that made the Pilchuck residencies so effective.