'In the Studio' at Blue Door Gallery: Art creates a reaction
For this month’s In the Studio, we went to Blue Door Gallery, and I quickly learned that working with three artists on a single collaborative project is much more intimidating than simply following the lead of another artist.
I met Kathryn Fink, Matthew Borgerson and Mathieu Nicklay at the small gallery and studio space on DeMers Avenue in downtown Grand Forks. I was told we’d be working on a collaborative multimedia piece, but as to what exactly that entailed, I had no idea.
I assumed it would be some type of sculptural artwork that involved a little painting, cutting, pasting and who knows what else. But, the sound of a “collaborative” piece was reassuring. I wouldn’t be alone on this one, I thought. I’d have the help of three talented artists, who were all working toward the same goal. In my mind, a collaborative project was less intimidating.
Man, was I mistaken.
Passing the palette
In the workspace, a piece of recycled scrap wood was placed on an easel and divided into three sections — one for each of the artists. Fink said they do collaborative pieces to inspire discussion and collaboration, to understand circumstances and consequences without being judged critically and to allow the exchange of ideas and styles.
She explained that they would take turns adding to the piece and along the way, they’d show me some specific painting techniques.
“Simple enough,” I thought.
Nicklay was up first. He started the piece with two simple blocks of paint. Then, he stepped away, passing the baton to Fink. She prepped her palette with several colors of paint and started working, adding a red and black patch toward the bottom of the canvas.
She then used white paint to demonstrate the first technique, which involved watering down the paint and running the brush against the board to create a dripping effect.
Next, it was Borgerson’s turn. He said when working on a collaborative piece he likes to force the other artists to react to his work. So, he painted a thick blue line across the middle of the piece and used the dripping technique to make the blue paint flow down into Fink’s section.
From there, he grabbed a stiff wire brush and roughly ran it back and forth over the paint to add texture to the surface. He said the others probably hate him for it, but he didn’t care.
When Borgerson was satisfied with his first contribution, the cycle repeated itself. But, this time they worked into each other’s sections to create one collective piece.
They explained that working on a collaborative project is all about acting and reacting to one another’s work. They added that they often “ruin” each other’s work and get upset with each other during the process, but they eventually come to a point when they all agree that the piece is complete.
Taking the brush
After finishing that thought, they said it was my turn.
Fink prepared some watered-down paint for me to try the dripping technique. When she handed me the palette, I looked at the piece and immediately felt the pressure.
“What am I doing?” I thought. “I’m not an artist.”
Although I knew this was just a piece to demonstrate their techniques and creative process, I couldn’t help but think I’d completely ruin it. I knew what to do and it sounded simple, but with the paint brush in my hand, I froze.
With obvious hesitation, I ran the brush along the top of the canvas, attempting to create a drip down the piece. No luck.
“What am I doing wrong?” I thought. “How can I possibly mess this up?”
I tried again with no avail. I felt like a timid child as they got me more paint and water. Eventually, I got the technique to work with a huge sigh of relief.
The next technique involved a simple flick of the wrist to splatter paint onto the canvas. This was something I could handle. I picked a dark blue and flicked a few splatters of paint onto the wood. Just as I started to loosen up, I remembered that the camera was rolling and all eyes were on me. Artists were watching as I ruined their masterpiece, I foolishly thought. I became self-conscious and decided a couple of splatters of one color were enough.
I would have liked to call it quits, but I wanted to learn more techniques and this time learning involved doing.
Fink grabbed a piece of chalk and explained that they like to add writing to their pieces. She said the words don’t need to have a powerful meaning or story, it can be anything. She wrote “white wine” in beautiful cursive handwriting and handed me the chalk.
My mind went blank. I didn’t know what to write. Nothing came to mind. Nothing.
They tried to help me out, telling me to write something from my day. I wrote “blank” because that’s what I felt. But as the chalk touched the wood, I soon realized that writing on wood isn’t easy. The word was completely illegible, but it didn’t matter.
Act and react
When I was away from the studio, out of pressure and able to reflect on the creative process, I realized that art is not about pleasing others; it’s about expression.
Whether it’s from artist to artist during the creation of a collaborative piece or from artist to viewer with a complete piece, the goal is to stir some kind of emotional reaction. And, that emotional reaction doesn’t necessarily need to be positive.
I thought back to an interview I had with a young artist this summer. She said she wanted people to feel something when they looked at her art. It didn’t matter if it was happiness, anger, sadness or disgust; she just wanted them to feel something.
And, as I watched Fink, Borgerson and Nicklay at Blue Door, I saw them act and react to each other’s work based on what they felt. When I was done attempting different techniques, they moved the painting to the floor and really got to work. I loved watching as they got in each other’s way, used each other’s paint, covered each other’s work and eventually agreed that the piece was complete.
Unlike me, they never hesitated or thought twice about what they were doing. They didn’t worry about pleasing each other or ruining the collective piece. They just created and reacted to each other’s work.
So, while I may have frozen when they handed me the palette, I learned a valuable lesson in the studio this month: artwork isn’t created to please others; it is created to express an emotion and create a reaction.
- Artists: Matthew Borgerson, Kathryn Fink and Mathieu Nicklay.
- Studio: Blue Door Gallery & Studio.
- Medium: Paint, multimedia.
- Info: Bluedoorgf.com.