(Not) Making Art
It was one thing, driving by the old camper and wondering if the old man would sell it cheap. My husband had been driving through the subdivision for months, ogling the thing parked in the yard up against thick shrubs for what appeared to be years. It was obvious that nobody had taken that camper into the wild anytime recently.
He’s always had a bit of wanderlust, and some of our best memories were of camping trips around the US – during our 20s and 30s. So I honestly thought that he was thinking about camping again…
But when he creaked open the door and the moldy musty stink wafted out – YUCK, I was outta there. I spun back to the car.
It was a 1987 Toyota camper – the kind with the bulging trailer hanging over a tiny truck. It had that late 80’s look – pointy, with brown and orange stripes. 25 years ago, I would have thought it was perfect. (Then again, 25 years ago, it was brand new.)
It stunk bad.
As his talk about the camper grew in pace and frequency, I started to worry. Do we really want a nasty old camper looming large in our yard? God, no. What’s he going to do with it? Why on earth?
“It only has 61,000 miles on it. A Toyota truck with 61,000 miles will last ten more years. Plus it’s got dual duals, and it’s only 300 bucks.”
This reasoning didn’t hold much water with me.
But why? What’s the point?
“Look,” he said. “This isn’t your hobby, this isn’t your project. It’s not your concern, and it just doesn’t matter what you think.”
OK, then. And I felt a little relief. It wasn’t my hobby. Don’t worry about it.
So he did it, and did it some more, and I just didn’t look across the yard where it all happened. Even the neighbors (polite as they are) hardly said a word, they just went on about their business.
I started finding little drawings lying around the house – sketched versions of his project.
I mostly ignored them.
But when he said “it’s art,”… I began to wonder.
I’ve watched Kevin deal with artist’s block on and off for 30 years. It comes and goes, as does the art-making, in fits and spurts. (Just like writing.)
Make-make-can’t. Can’t-can’t-can, is the tempo. There’s that familiar pace, a build-up of anxiety that finally bursts forth into a new project, often quite unrelated to the two-dimensional drawing and printmaking that makes up the majority of what used to be his work.
The notion of dismantling an old moldy recreational vehicle and considering it as art just never occurred to me.
Until I watched him do it.
And realized that this wasn’t artist’s block (which I hilariously joked about on facebook.)
This was art.
This IS art. (I was wrong again.)
This morning, I searched for and found a little piece that Professor Douglas Dowd of Washington University wrote many years ago about Kevin. Here’s part of what he said; some of it is paraphrased:
“Kevin Garber has eschewed a “look” and provided something better: a sensibility. Here is what he does: he describes, he insinuates, things. A thing-in-the-world attracts his gaze or triggers a memory, and he sets about the reporting the sighting, of an object, or building, or creature. And they always remain things too, even in narrative works, there is no migration to symbol. A poetics of thisness, of the concrete. Things. Places.
Kevin comes by it honestly. He knows things in the same way that he knows stuff. Material. He once restored an 18th century stone house block by block; I recently watched him build a wooden boat in his studio. His fluency with materials has found expression in prints, assemblage, ceramic reliefs and tiles, drawing, painting and industrial enamels. Thingness, then, in his aesthetic can be apprehended in two ways: the pictured thing, and the fabricated thing, made of stuff.
His work shows materials range, but emotive range as well. From bright to brooding, joyfulness, mournful, affectionate, funny. Across this continuum of emotion, there is a sense of rapid variation, like a country in which the weather is unpredictable.. This kind of range is rare. And it’s better than a “look.” We are left with a sense that Kevin Garber has an appetite for living; lucky for us we get to watch him work.”
And in recalling the 20 years since Dowd wrote that piece, I picture the old nasty sailboat that Kevin got for 500 bucks, and restored over two years time from a freak into a gorgeous beauty.
The giant steel sculptures, fiberglass and more made in the commercial studio. The driftwood sculptures and the diagonally shaped and engineered stacks of firewood: “this is art”, he said.
The urban Midwestern Marbleworks complex that we bought in Y2K. In six short years, he completely transformed it from an industrial set of garages into awesome commercial studios. Day in and day out, with his hand-tools, a crane, occasional contractors. Year after year.
This ain’t no artist block. This IS the work.
It’s not about studio work and it doesn’t hang on the wall.
But make no mistake, this artist is on a roll.
And I just figured that out.
After 30 years. Bada BOOM.