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Road trip! (#1224)

Topics/tags: Autobiograpical, rambly

Yesterday, Michelle and I drove seven hours to somewhere near the southwestern corner of Indiana, spent a few hours there, and then drove seven hours back. We left a little before seven a.m. We returned a little after midnight.


Because I’m a little bit crazy, and she’s a little bit rational.

Wow, that was a failed take on the Donny and Marie Song, A Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Rock ’n Roll. It sounded better in my head.

The real reason is that we went to see an artist speak at their exhibition.

Here’s the story.

A few weeks ago, Michelle said, Sam, did you see that Andy is taking his art on the road? Can we find a place for him to show in Iowa? In this case, Andy is Andrew Chalfen, who hasn’t gone by Andy in about three decades, and his show is actually at the open gallery in Vincennes, Indiana. The find a place in Iowa thing was a joke; it appears a few of Andrew’s friends had asked about him visiting Iowa.

It’s weird to call him Andrew. I’ve known Andy since we were both about four years old, back in preschool. He was the best man at my wedding. He’s my longest-serving friend [1], even though we haven’t seen each other face-to-face for about thirty years. So I’ve thought of him as Andy for fifty-four or so years. But I’ll try Andrew.

Andrew is a talented artist and musician. He’s been in three bands: The Wishniaks, The TrolleyVox, and now I think like midnight. I love powerpop, and the first two bands were definitely power-poppers [2]. Did I learn my love of powerpop from Andrew? Perhaps. I remember borrowing Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy from him back in the day. Michelle and I saw the Wishniaks live.

For over a decade, Andrew has been making generative art, although not in the computational sense. That is, he picks a set of patterns and processes and sees what happens if he repeats them. You’ll see more at his website. I love Andrew’s sense of precision and, for lack of a better word, rhythm.

As I was saying, Andrew had a show in one of the Tri-I states [3]. I decided it was within driving distance. I planned to visit Michelle’s brother and sister-in-law in Northern Indiana, spend the night, drive down to Southern Indiana, see Andrew’s artist talk, spend the night, and drive back. Unfortunately, other things came up, so it became a one-day trip.

It was great to see Andrew’s work in person and to hear him speak about his work. I love that he refers to the little wooden pieces he makes as poems. I like to see things that echo back to the art he did in high school. And I especially enjoy thinking of his art as generative since that’s usually a strategy applied with computational techniques. He’s drawing on Eno’s work, and Eno was more analog than digital. Perhaps he still is.

I also appreciated how stunned he was when we showed up. There was a glance, a look like I think I know these people. Then a realization of who we were. We also got to meet his wife, her sister, and her sister’s family. It was great to talk.

But we were also there for the art. Michelle and I both like his work. So we drove out knowing that we planned to buy something. Michelle and I debated which of Andrew’s pieces we wanted to add to our collection. He only had smaller pieces there [4]. I appreciated how he described using smaller pieces as a place to experiment.

Let’s start with mixed media. You can follow along on his site.

Someone else beat me to one of the pieces I liked because it combined many different techniques, demonstrating the breadth of his experiments; it included some printing, some drawn shapes, his new cast paint castoffs, the stick poems, and more. I think it’s one called May Experiment.

While sitting at Andrew’s talk, I found my eyes turning to one of the Data Field series. I think it was Data Field V. Maybe Data Field IV. Yes, I realize they look almost nothing alike; you think I’d know. Of course, I drove for fourteen hours yesterday, so I’m giving myself a break on poor memory; I hope you do, too. What made it special? The ways to colors interacted. The dimensionality. The relationship to data visualization.

Michelle found herself drawn to Enhanced Detritus. I like the reuse of a circuit board, and I see some strange echoes of Elias Sime, but … But …. But …. It didn’t stand out to me in the same way that other pieces did.

In terms of paintings, Summer 1971 stood out to me, perhaps because it reflects some of the generative techniques I used to use in my old Gimp+Mediascript days. I wonder if I’ll be able to reproduce those. I also liked that it gave a sense of dimensionality, even though it’s only 2D. It sold, too. Michelle found herself really appreciating Digestif and Amuse Bouche, two very small pieces. We bought those. However, as their titles suggest, they are just little tastes of his work. We needed something more.

We finally settled on Tarantula. The interaction of the little poems and the variety of ways it presents itself are what sold me. I’m not sure what sold Michelle.

Here it is.

About 100 small rectangular sticks of varying sizes, each painted in multiple colored stripes, arranged horizontally and vertically.

Echoes of pop art, a bit of Mondrian, and precision infuse the piece, at least in my view. Tilt your head, and it’s different. Tilt your head far enough, and it’s sculpture.

About 100 small rectangular sticks of varying sizes, each painted in multiple colored stripes, arranged horizontally and vertically.  This time, viewed from the side so that the ten or so layers of sticks are visible.

We’ll enjoy spending some time with it. And the color looks better in person. I’ll also admit that I focused more on the bars then on the background. But, as I look at the pictures, I’m reminded that I like the painting that backs the sculptural aspect, too, especilly that it wraps to the side of the canvas.

I used to drive nonstop from Boston to Chicago, or Chicago to Boston, or Maine to Chicago, or even Iowa to Boston. I’m mostly too old for that these days. But it’s nice to know that, if push comes to shove, I can still have fun on a road trip with Michelle.

It was great to see Andrew, to meet his wife and her family, and to encounter his art in person. It was easily worth the eighteen-hour day.

I wonder what our next road trip will be.

Postscript: Vincennes is a prime location for watching next year’s eclipse [5]. Maybe we’ll head back!

[1] Oldest friend is ambiguous.

[2] I think like midnight might also be classified as powerpop. But it’s instrumental powerpop; no vocals.

[3] Iowa, Illinois, Indiana.

[4] Apparently, it’s a pain to get larger works from Philly to Indiana.

[5] Or maybe Mitsubishi Eclipses are made nearby; I have trouble keeping such things straight.

Version 1.0 of 2023-04-26.