Young artist Derrick Quevedo was a little nervous. He hadn’t spoken about his vibrant color-focussed work before a group of people since his last “crit” in art school. That was in 2011.
Friday night Quevedo hosted a curious curator who had a dozen question-asking art appreciators and practitioners in tow.
He gradually became pumped up about his love of color. He declared the long-lost origin of all painting was in love of pigment, not trying to achieve likeness.
One articulate questioner even helped him learn something about his painting surface.
And, who knows, he might even as a result sell some of his new work.
The scene of such interchange, a curator-led studio tour of Quevedo’s work, was one of four that Citywide Open Studios (CWOS) offered at Fair Haven’s Erector Square for the first weekend of the month-long art extravaganza. The Friday night tours kicked off a busy weekend that saw crowds streaming through Erector Square’s buildings to visit dozens of artists’ exhibitions.
Click here for more information about the curator-led tours, three more of which will be offered on Oct. 17 in connection with the second, “Passport” weekend (when the public gets to visit artists’ studios around town).
This is the second year that CWOS has offered the tours. The seven tours this year more than double last year’s inaugural effort, said Artspace’s Helen Kauder.
“We’re trying to find new ways for New Haven artists to be seen,” she said.
She invited Herb Tam, a curator at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York, and other curators from beyond New Haven to check out our local artists. They were asked to review work of some of CWOS’s 334 participating artists. Some 40 artists threw their hat in the ring to be a subject of the tour.
Curators chose two or three each. On Friday, after an hour’s socializing at the Giampietro Gallery at Erector Square, some 80 people broke into four groups. Tam led his group to visit the studios or exhibition spaces of Quevedo, Sophie Aston, and Lani Asuncion.
First stop was Building 2, studio D. When Tam and his group trooped into painter Sophie Aston’s studio, he was conversational. Noticing her accent, he asked where she hailed from. The answer: England.
Why was she showing painted collages of what looked like pages from House Beautiful magazines? He posed that question as the members of the group milled about, looking and listening.
Answer: “I consider myself a painter, but these collages were [self-] assignments to think about, to work out problems in painting.”
Tam had a casual, jargon-free manner that invited group members to ask their own questions.
Why these particular magazines? one person asked.
Aston answered when she had a residency in Vermont, the place where she was staying had a pile of vintage House and Garden issues. She said she became interested in the interiors, not for their beauty or quaintness but for how she could use them to test or play with. Or, to use a quaint English expression she taught the group—“throwing a spanner in the works”—visual problems.
“Are you trying to create harmony?” Tam finally asked.
“The opposite for me. Something works best when there’s dis-ease. The activity of searching is something meaningful and beautiful. The spanner causes frustration and [you appreciate] the need” for the search, she answered.
She often knows when she’s gotten to a place with “visual legibility,” as she termed it, or clarity or resonance, when she feels an emotion of sadness.
Her answer went to a deep place, one likely that would not have come out from individuals, who often contemplate new work in silence, or even a small group talking among themselves unled.
That’s precisely the intention of the tours, Kauder said. “We’ve heard our audiences want to be educated. This is part of the education mission.”
Next stop was Quevedo’s exhibition space, a small room where he shows. Tondos of thin balsa wood and rectangular shaped pieces of pine, all brightly colored in acrylic, were arrayed on three walls of the room, as well as leaning against the base of one wall.
As he had done with Aston, Tam asked politely if Quevedo might reveal his ethnicity. Filipino-American, came the answer. And that was that. Quevedo’s ethnicity had no more bearing on the discussion to follow than had Aston’s English background. They were just, it appeared, conversational ice-breakers, and they worked.
Within minutes, visitors felt at home. Quevedo talked about his unorthodox approach: no brushes, a sense that color, no shape, is the basis, even origin for art. “I grew up with the palette knife, with large blocks of color, not worrying about draftsmanship,” he said.
“Your color sensibility is like the 1980s. I don’t say that negatively,” said Tam. “I’m thinking school supplies.”
That was when Quevedo proudly took out his screaming melting butter lemon-colored school bag from behind the door.
“You have to be 6 years old to wear that neon yellow,” Quevedo said proudly.
Maryann Ott (pictured) asked how Quevedo knew when a work is done.
“It’s hard. I know when I’ve done too much,” he replied.
On the way to the third studio stop, that of video artist Lani Asuncion, Sarah Fritchey, herself an independent curator, praised the openness of the discussions she’d heard. “You’re not talking in the same discursive tropes,” is how she put it.
She also said that CWOS is so full of stops, you can hardly catch your breath. “Now I can reflect on one image [at a time], and then on to the next.”
Quevedo said he had been a tad nervous. In the end he enjoyed the back and forth with curator and guests. He appreciated some remarks about how he had sanded down the wood on which he applied his paint. “It’s made me rethink that,” he said.
For the non-artist participants the price of such up-close-and-personal talk was $75.
Buying art is not the aim of the exercise. “Dialogue with the artist in studio opens up the possibility of purchase,” Kauder said. “I put myself in this category: you walk into a studio, you don’t know where to begin, you walk in and you’re shy. Someone does this for a living, and you are able to be a fly on the wall, it makes it easier.”
The other curators who led tours were Charlotta Kotik who, among other achievements, was the 1993 U.S. commissioner for the Venice Biennale; Jennifer McGregor, the senior curator at Wave Hill, in New York; and Omar Lopez-Chahoud, most recently director and curator of UNTITLED art fair in Miami.