Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don't Quit Your Day Job

by Drew Martin

There is a brilliant new show up at The Drawing Center. It is my favorite one there since The Royal Art Lodge: Ask The Dust from the winter of 2003 (pictured left).
Like that exhibit, this is something of a group show, but unlike those collaborative Canadians gathering for their weekly drawing jam sessions, this band of artists is loosely associated by the fact that they all have day jobs, which keep them away from their passion but also define and contribute to their artwork; whether it's done in their spare time or within the walls of their cubicles, the art is a byproduct of a daily grind.

Day Job is joyful, fun and inspiring. Nina Katchadourian, The Drawing Center's Viewing Program curator, asks

"The day job stands in way of 'freedom.' But is complete freedom necessarily the best climate for productivity?"

The obvious answer to how one might support artistic pursuits is to work around art and make use of one's constructive and visual skills. Perhaps this is most possible as an artist's assistant, working in a museum or gallery or even at an art supply store such as Pearl Paint, where you would at least get a discount on materials.

The show includes some artists who have applied their skills and knowledge of art: a museum guard, a framer, a medical illustrator, a digital retoucher, a television scene artist, a landscape architect, a jeweler and a few art teachers. More interesting, however, are the artists whose jobs are not an obvious link to the arts because it displays another skill set but also because these artists bring a unique perspective to the art world.

These artists include Pasquale Cortese (pictured right), a mechanical assembler of satellite communications equipment, who makes inked drawings that reflect flows of energy and precision; Raul Mendez (picture below-left), a cargo jet pilot, who draws aerials of imaginative landscapes; Julia Oldham, a videographer for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who translates physics experiments and theories into performances; Alfred Steiner, an intellectual property lawyer, who addresses copyright questions; and, Justin Storms, a membership coordinator at The American Guild of Organists, who combines his obsession with whales with organs to draw huge whale pipe organ in remote landscapes.

Other artists in the show include a stay at home mom and a couple office workers who deal with themes such as the intrusion of the workplace into the domestic realm. Not addressed in the show are the day jobs, which extend to peers of the worker. Richard Serra, once a painter, was introduced to lead by his friend, the composer, Philip Glass, who worked as a plumber to make ends meet and had access to the metal, which inspired some of Serra's early works.

The day job may also be purely reactionary, fueling an escape from monotony or the inverse; doing anything to fly under the radar and to keep one's imaginative world intact and a private haven. The janitor/recluse Henry Darger created one of the longest adventure stories, with fantastic images.

What I feel is really missing from the show is work that deals more abstractly with the day job, such as loss, which a nurse would be influenced by, or the kind of rejection a salesman would be subjected to. I don't mean literal interpretations of loss and rejection but examples of work that can be approached with a thicker skin. This past summer I was asked to do a photo shoot in Prague. The shoot had a similar concept to what I had done twice before, in my neighborhood and in a friend's neighborhood. I knew I was going to have problems getting Czechs to participate but it was through my day job with proposal submissions and a high rejection rate that I could stomach the scoffs and so I was able to see the project through.