Thursday, November 14, 2013

Day 186 - The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art/Under the Influence

I have never been to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. In fact, before today I didn’t know the location of this anchor point for the Madison art scene. As ashamed as I am to admit that, I knew taking time to visit the museum during my “I have never...” year would provide me a great experience that would offer a lot to write about. As a result, I began doing some research on the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s upcoming events, which led me to a unique event called “Under the Influence” where a featured artist discusses their work over drinks, food, and a group art project held inside the museum. With the event offering so many unique and previously undiscovered experiences, I immediately committed to attending “Under the Influence”, which gave me the opportunity to experience the MMOCA for the very first time.

After convincing Rachael to join me for tonight’s event, the two of us made our way down to State Street in Madison to track down the location of the MMOCA. Although Rachael was somewhat familiar with the museum’s location, I was very surprised to find the MMOCA was actually connected to the Overture Center of the Arts, which has served as the location for many of my “I have never...” events over the past six months. A bit dumfounded by my oversight of the MMOCA in all my years living in Madison, I entered the facility and immediately began to look around. The museum space was sparsely populated with works of art, but the flow of the setup made the works in the space stand out against the otherwise stark backdrop. As we walked, Rachael and looked over several works hanging around the space while a group of people milled about in anticipation of the “Under the Influence” event.

Starting the event

Within a few minutes of us arriving, a MMOCA employee welcomed everyone and directed the group to take a seat near the front of the museum’s main hall. Continuing, she introduced the featured artist for the “Under the Influence” event, Gabriel Pionkowski, who promptly took his position before the audience. For the next 30 minutes, Gabe walked the audience through his background and the development of his creative process, speaking specifically to the techniques and inspiration that went in to various examples of his work hanging along the room’s featured wall. As he worked through his presentation, Gabe provided insight on the idea of working with the entirety of a canvas, which included the idea of working through the surface of canvas to create perspective and uniformity in design. As he spoke of his work, Gabe carried a highly expressive and enthusiastic tone about the finer details of his creative processes, but he left enough room for interpretation as the group gazed upon his works.

Gabe talking about texture

A closeup of Gabe's work

It was clear waves of curiosity and inspiration were rolling through the group as Gabe brought his presentation to a conclusion. With that, the group moved through the museum and into the onsite art studio to begin our own collaborative paintings with Gabe, using many of the concepts he discussed earlier in the evening. As we took our positions at art stations on tables around the room, Gabe explained the blank pieces of paper at each seat contained a backside covered with his work. Asking us not to look at his work before completing our portion of the project, he advised us we had creative license to paint the blank side of the paper as we saw fit, which would precede the final task of cutting the paper and weaving the two sides of the work together as one painting.

Gabe’s concept provided me ample inspiration for my work, which began with the class gathering paint for the artwork. After some thought, I decided my piece would focus on bright colors with little design, which I thought would blend nicely with the assumed pattern Gabe had painted on the opposite side of my paper. As a result, I began painting freely and cascaded swaths of color across my paper over the 30 minutes. With intent to make the project a symbol of this point in my “I have never...” journey, I then proceeded to work the paint with wet fingertips. The process permitted me to move color off of parts of the page, revealing my purposed design of the number of days I have completed thus far in my “I have never...” journey, 186.

Hard at work

As I waited for the paint to dry, Rachael and I enjoyed some wine and food offered by the “Under the Influence” staff, which filled our stomachs and enhanced the overall experience. After a brief wait, I then set work slicing my paper under the direction of Gabe and weaving the sections of the work through one another. As I did, a pattern of squares alternating between bold colors and a black and white striped design began to present itself on the surface of the work. The sudden shifts in color and contrast presented by the changing landscape of the paper made a strange design that, despite the obvious differences in approach on either side of the paper, came together as a form of fluid work. By the time I was finished with the project, I was amazed to see how both sides of the work came together in uniform design, which left me satisfied and Gabe excited about the outcome.

Our finished works

By the time this evening’s event drew to a close, each participant in the “Under the Influence” event had an uncommon piece of artwork that blended the work of us amateurs with the professional talent of Gabriel Pionkowski. Of the works created, Rachael’s received particular attention from Gabe given the transitional phase the work presented as it moved across the page. It was clear our projects were a success, and the best part of the outcome was the highly unique new experience we gained from making good on my desire to visit the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. When it waws all said and done, the “Under the Influence” event gave us a way to interact with the museum, with one of the museum’s featured artists, and with art in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Those factors made today’s “I have never...” experience one to remember, and I’m sure we’ll do just that each time we look at our new works of art hanging on our wall.

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