Village Theatre gallery exhibiting Art Tag works
By Lou Fancher
Unlike tag, the childhood game of avoidance, Art Tag is all about deliberate contact. And although participants say it can be fun, it isn't a game.
Instead, Art Tag is a three-month call and response process in which a circle of artists send individual pieces or materials to a partnering member of the circle. The partner, in turn, "responds" by creating an original two- or three-dimensional work of art. After three cycles, the artists meet and discuss, argue, commiserate and celebrate the collaboration.
The exercise is undertaken in the Bay Area by the Northern California Women's Caucus for Art. One of six California chapters of the international organization, the NWCA draws its members from San Francisco, the East Bay, Marin and all parts of Northern California.
Art Tag would be insular if it were not for public exhibits and participatory events like "Art Tag = Inspire," presented by Danville. Opening Friday and continuing through June 18 at the Village Theatre & Art Gallery, the exhibit is curated by Exhibitions Chair Leisel Whitlock. The work of 17 women artists from six different Art Tag rounds is featured.
Public activities include "Young @ Art: Tag! You Art It!" (May 19, $15), an opportunity for kids age 5-11 to make art inspired by the exhibit; and "Artist Uncorked" (June 2, $30), a wine and art-making night for adults.
For the exhibit, Whitlock selected work from rounds with themes including Outrage, Junk, Fauve Intimiste, Fire, Decay and Intercept-Divide. She's also chosen one work produced by each of the artists that is independent of Art Tag.
"When I looked at the artists and saw the work they do professionally, I wanted to show more of their work. The caliber was high. With Art Tag, which is an exercise and out-of-context experience, you don't get a good glimpse of the artists' level of skill."
Reviewing the artwork, it's sometimes true. Because the push of the "game" is to climb out of a comfort zone in order to expand one's range, there's the sheer risk of failing to produce, or equally problematic, failing to accept risk.
"Sometimes, when I talk to artists afterward, they say they're coupled with an artist who keeps creating the same type of piece they always do. They're frustrated by their partner. The discussions at the end are a safe environment for saying, 'You know, you're doing the same thing. You're phoning it in.'"
It's hard to imagine San Francisco-based artist Priscilla Otani phoning anything in. A mixed-media artist and owner of Arc Studios & Gallery, her clear-cut collages delve into taboos and myths in Japanese and Western cultures.
"For me, the theme is usually problematic," she says. "An example is the theme of 'Fauve-Intimiste.' I had no interest in the Fauvists or Intimiste painters. But with time running out, I decided to research Pierre Bonnard and became fascinated."
"Maison du Reclus," a piece included in the exhibit, draws disparate concepts into the frame including bathing habits, dogs, a fetish for staying indoors and more. Because communication with the partner during the process is entirely visual and unspoken, Otani says that finding the "elusive connective tissue" can be viewed with defeat or positivity. The conversation at the end provides the reward for having made the struggle: a chance to discover hidden influences -- one's own and those of a partner.
Judy Johnson-Williams, of Oakland, has participated in Art Tag for 15 years. Her usual art-making process involves coating cardboard with watered-down black acrylic paint, then cutting into and peeling back layers. The resulting work resembles woodblock prints, except that there is no woodblock and each piece is one-of-a-kind. Her images often center on social and political concerns of women and children.
The rich, black and brown palette and fine, classic lines convey a timeless, allegorical narrative. As a teacher who works with immigrant and refugee children on a regular basis, she says their hopeful expressions and upturned faces belie the preconception that hardship has left them feeling downtrodden or lacking in spirit.
Johnson-Williams' sculpture based on the theme "Burnt" in which lopsided cardboard buildings collapse -- or appear to lean against each other to remain standing -- sends a frank, dual-tone message of grim circumstance and uplifting hope.
"We like our food cooked, our homes heated. But fire is also guns, nuclear weapons and burns out of control. This piece shows a hint of that: the buildings are burned and rebuilt upon the ashes. It shows the essential hopefulness of people as they build again what was destroyed."
Johnson-Williams says that although she typically spends 100 hours to complete each piece intended for sale, participating in Art Tag allows her to begin work with less preparation, change the direction midcourse, and even ruffle a few feathers at the post office.
"I decorate the package just to get a rise out of the P.O., though they're much too jaded to respond." she says. "The guy in front of me last week was mailing live birds."