Worthless

New York Beautification Project. Ellen Harvey, 1998–2001. Gesso and oil on forty graffiti sites and photographic edition in frames, each painting: 5 x 7″ (12.7 x 17.7 cm), orientation variable. Photograph: Ellen Harvey Studio

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” -Charles Dickens

Value. It is a concept we encounter in so many areas of our lives. The value of things, the value of time, the value of self. So many of us struggle to keep up, to display our worth with goods and the ability to indulge in services when in fact value is entirely a construct. There is no inherent worth that is greater or lesser than. Each object, each service, each person is assigned a value according to a complex set of written and unwritten rules that have evolved and continue to evolve over time. Subvert them. Refuse to accept the value placed on you by others and do not affix your own value to them. Each of us is born in the same circumstance when outside values are removed. And each of us is merely making our way along the path toward the inevitable. Do not allow placement of value to dictate what you can and cannot do. To inform who you are as a human being.

Ellen Harvey joined Praxis for a second time to discuss her work. Many of her projects incorporate free services or gifts in a sense. Harvey has a strong affinity for the concept of art as a gift removed entirely from exchange of money. She believes there is a certain luxury and a definite benefit to both giver and receiver when something is given away. The first project Harvey did that incorporated giving away free art involved illegally painting 5×7″ oval landscapes in oil over graffiti sites. At the time Harvey wished to incite interesting public conversation about graffiti artists and their rights. As the project progressed and she encountered people on the street she began to realize that in a sense her art was a gift to the community at large. Harvey completed 40 paintings for the project which began garnering publicity. Amid some concerns she might be jailed if she continued, she moved on. She did have one rough encounter with NYPD who mistook her for a homeless person and questioned her about her activities. Ultimately the project opened up conversations Harvey couldn’t have imagined at the outset. For another project during an artist residency in a Las Vegas casino, she considered the concept of good luck. The project was titled Exchange Your Luck. For the piece, she crafted 77 bronze good luck charms. Unlucky gamblers could swap their unlucky charms for her lucky ones. Harvey took Polaroids of each exchange and asked participants to write on the photos the reason for the exchange. She found there was a lot of skepticism from casino patrons at first, always looking for the catch. In New Orleans, Harvey participated in a project called Something from Nothing curated by Dan Cameron. Rather than follow the guidelines of the project which called for artists to create art from the debris of Hurricane Katrina, Harvey placed an ad in the Times-Picayune asking people to tell about things they lost in the hurricane. She created paintings of items, and in one case the partner of a woman who perished when the generator in the hospital where he was staying failed. She was unable to create paintings for all of the responses she received but found that just printing each story brought a certain amount of satisfaction to the participants. Harvey puzzles over the tension in the art world between the focus on the monetary value of art and the widely held belief that art is something that should not be attached to money. To hear more stories from Ellen Harvey, listen to the full interview.

Paige Wery is a curator and owner of The Good Luck Gallery in Los Angeles. Hers is the only commercial gallery in Southern California dedicated to outsider, folk, and self-taught artists. Prior to opening the gallery, Wery spent six years as the publisher of Artillery Magazine, an L.A. based contemporary art magazine. During that time she became frustrated with the lack of hands-on art she encountered. This coupled with a longtime interest in outsider art led her to found the gallery despite discouragement from others in the industry. Four years later, the gallery is going strong. The name is a tongue in cheek reference to Wery’s search for space in China Town. Many sarcastically wished her good luck believing she would never find a place to set up shop. She did. Her very first show was the work of 103-year-old artist Harry Steinberg. Steinberg is now 107 and still works in his studio as does his wife who is in her nineties. Wery works with a number of older artists. She is preparing to open a show with an 85-year-old artist from Nova Scotia, Canada. Wery believes strongly that art is about far more than sales. It is about artists working on a craft they love. It is about the stories behind the work. Wery’s mission when the gallery was launched was to work exclusively with self-taught artists. But when the art of Jacques Flechemuller captured her imagination she was forced to reckon with this strict guideline. Ultimately she changed the mission to a focus on outsider/self-taught art and exhibited Flechemuller’s work. Despite this redirection, Wery has launched the careers of quite a lot of self-taught artists. In the process, she has proven wrong all those who told her this couldn’t be done. To listen to Paige Wery tell the fascinating stories behind some of the artists her gallery represents, listen to the full interview.

 

A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:

Believe that you are worth far more than the sum of your parts. Accept that value, ultimately, means nothing.

Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.

Books to Read

What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here. Paige Wery hasn’t had much time for reading books since opening her gallery but she has lately been studying art catalogs. In particular, she has made a careful study of Visions of the Left Coast: California Self-Taught ArtistsEllen Harvey’s book Museum of Failure is available now.

Opportunities / Open Calls

The Bemis Center in Omaha, Nebraska is currently accepting applications for their 2019 residency opportunities. U.S. based and international artists are invited to apply. For U.S. artists there is a monthly stipend of $1000 plus $500 travel stipend. International artists may receive assistance for B2 Visa qualified expenses. There is an application fee of $40. Deadline is May 1.

Deadlines

Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.

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