Saturday, May 8, 2010

Alexander Hall - Spring Open Studio Night

Please keep in mind that any reference to the current state of LPT is just that--current, and likely to change. Note: I suspect the opening of the novel will remain the same.

The opening scene of LPT is set in SCAD's Alexander Hall. The building houses the Painting department (both graduate and undergraduate), Printmaking lab and Ceramics studios. Positioned on the west-most edge of the historic district, Alexander Hall sits literally beneath Savannah's iconic Talmadge Bridge.

I am obsessed with "the first eight pages," as I like to call them (or, seven pages, actually, as I'm so involved with this part of the book I've micro edited it--it is no where near time to micro edit). I mean, fixated. The opening scene that takes place at Alexander was not originally the beginning of the book. In fact, I plucked the scene from a mere paragraph in one of Cameron's narratives and expanded it, fleshed it out to the plot-pushing scene it is now.

So when I caught word of the Spring Open Studio Night at Alexander Hall, I couldn't blow it off. Necessary research. And it's even better than a Gallery Hop (which is the event that opens the novel) because all of the graduate studios upstairs were open for exploration. As badly as I want to move to New York City, I'm glad I'm still living in Savannah for things like this. It makes researching so much easier--especially when you're examining, first hand, the reality of a pivotal scene.

There were certain discrepancies in the text. Of course I can't tell you too much but... Like a typical Gallery Hop, the opening event in my novel is a curated exhibit of student work, a group show in which Cameron exhibits one piece. It's a piece she completed that quarter (this is set during the end of May, near finals). In building the scene, I mention that there are "75 or so other people in the gallery," but when I read back over it I thought it might be too much. 75 people? Really? When Feifei and I slipped through Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, there weren't be maybe 50 people, more like 40.

As I approached Alexander Hall I could tell there were over a hundred people in attendance. Cars were everywhere. Students packed the elevated sidewalk outside the parking lot. The lobby was bustling with viewers and SCAD faculty, staff and servers exchanged clipped, specific directions with guests. No alcohol was served, only sweet tea and punch, veggies and other unexciting hors d'ouerves.

I started (on accident) with ceramics. I can't believe how very good so much of it was. It all looked professional, as if for purchase (a fraction of it is). Unlike hasty student projects, the ceramics on display were interesting and varied and fun--I'm not interested in this art form in the least, but I did enjoy slipping through the crowds to inspect work and take pictures.

I thought Danielle Bishop's sculpture was the most fun, though the cowboy boots and gun-in-holster appeal to me personally. The stocky, short structure and mostly-boots nods at childhood dress-up memories, complete with toy guns and Dad's too big boots.

Danielle Bishop
Ricky the Cowboy, 2010
Hand Build Clay

There were, of course, the typical pots and bowls and things, all of which was more appealing and more interesting than the usual lot.

The undergraduate painting classrooms are downstairs. Only graduates have personal studios (upstairs). I explored some of these, snapping pictures in the name of research. They were exactly as you'd expect a room to be, when shared with college kids who paint: sloppy, flecked with multi-colored dribble in varying sizes, taped together, ripped apart, pushed around, mirrored.

I wasn't immediately impressed with the undergraduate painting. A lot of the subject matter was interesting, but the technique is... in training... However, here are some of my favorites:

Lisa Williams
Third Painting
Intermediate Painting
Oil on Wood

Some fat girl was standing right in front of it so I couldn't get a good picture. Which needs me to another interesting note: there is a space issue among the halls of Alexander.

If you are trying to seriously examine an artwork at the same time as someone else, it becomes sort of an issue. Especially because people are rude. (Also, I caught a lot of nasty looks from other women, but that's neither here nor there...) Anyway, Williams' brushstrokes are at first invisible.

Amber Zoeliner
First Project
Intermediate Painting
Oil on Wood

As I passed by these pieces, I overheard Zoeliner explain to a couple of viewers, "I was trained to be photorealistic." She said interesting things about switching brushes, when she used bigger brushes, but I couldn't write fast enough.

Jayne R. Morgan
Realist Painting
Honey Bears

Everyone who passed this painting said, "Oh, honey bears!" or murmured some form of appreciation. I concur. What's not to like about a troupe of honey bears?

Also wandered down to the printmaking labs, which I swore off years ago. I made the mistake of sacrificing one of my precious open studio classes on Introduction to Printmaking. Obviously I had no idea the manual labor involved in this. Disaster. But I have a complete appreciation for printmaking now. Absolutely no patience for it, but loads of appreciation.

The presses have names such as "Henry Miller" and "Orson Wells."

Upstairs was the best, however. The artwork on display among the grid of halls and open gallery space was captivating, and I realized once I finally (finally) left (after nearly 2 hours) how interested I was in so very much of it. I suppose this has something to do with the lack of great gallery space in Savannah.

I was also arrested with the individual graduate studios. The white cubes (well, they start out that way) were so personal, so intimate, the spaces a reflection of both their occupants and the artwork produced there.

Note the mini fridge (not the only studio with one) and coffee maker.

Many closed black doors. Yellow cards bearing each student's name filled a slot on the doors. Others were open with notes and business cards and cleaned out platters where cookies and cupcakes were offered.

Among the narrow halls students discretely discussed their processes or lifestyles or finished pieces with viewers. "I've been painting everyday now," said one student. She was tired, shiny faced and complained of only eating once, much earlier today. That... does not make me miss college.

One thing I like so much about Alexander Hall is the view. It's sort of industrial, over there by the shipyards and ports, pushed down on the boarder near the strip clubs and Frozen Paradise, but when you look out there's a view of the Savannah River and the underbelly of the Talmadge Bridge that, unlike all the squares and picturesque monuments and Spanish moss that eventually blur together, these views around Alexander let you know immediately where you are. (Some of the undergraduate work reinterates this fact, painting landscapes immediately about the premises). It's a side of Savannah--and of SCAD--that you don't often recall.

"Why would you go there!?" Erin (who's an undergraduate painting major) exclaimed when we spoke after my visit. "It's awful and there are no windows and it smells awful, even though I love the smell of oil paint and..."

But I was entirely charmed.

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