There are many ways that artists collaborate. Traditionally, it is found in apprenticeship relationships in which a master artisan takes on younger students and teaches them technical and - to some extent - stylistic skills for several years. At some point, the student is allowed to collaborate with the mentor on the art objects produced in the teacher’s studio. The mentor may in fact have his students reproduce art objects approved by or designed by the studio master artist. Rembrandt’s students often produced etchings that were nearly indistinguishable from his own.
Rubens took collaboration to a new level. He was both painter and diplomat with astute entrepreneurial leanings. He met with royalty throughout Europe as a diplomat and was asked to arrange large scale paintings from his workshop to be installed in their palatial residences. He pitched his image concepts to his clients with initial sketches and took the dimensions of the installation site. On his return to the studio, he did a small scale painting to guide a team of highly skilled artists in creating the full-size painting on canvas. Canvas was a material which hadn’t been used much as a painting support at the time. Wood panels were more common but were not as safely transportable by donkey or cart as is a rolled up canvas. Some of his artists were trained by Rubens and others arrived as skilled artists in their own rights. They specialized in rendering skies, still life subjects, animals or - like Van Dyck - fabrics and the human anatomy. Together they collaborated on many painting installations originating from Ruben’s studio.
Throughout history, there have been many “schools” of art. Each of these communities collaborated in in the evolution of the concepts of each school, like Impressionism, Expressionism and Cubism. These kinds of collaborative ventures were largely competition-driven with intermittent moments of total cooperation within small groups. Some schools of thought originated among a small group of individuals and then faded, as with Dadaism. Others, like Impressionism, caught fire and blossomed internationally, even reigniting periodically over decades.
In the performing arts, there has been collaboration from the beginning. Music, poetry, acting, dance, etc., have often shared in the same productions. However, with the exception of animation and mural art, visual artists - including painters, printmakers and sculptors – collaborate on shared projects less frequently. When there are multiple participants, a collaboration piece becomes not just a conversation between the painting and the artist, but also with all the other artists. It then becomes necessary to have some agreement between participants on the subject, support, media, project time, deciding when the piece is done and how to share authorship rights and sale profits. This can be difficult when artists are used to working alone. Collaboration can be very stimulating for the artists and the viewers but it requires that the artists put aside their egos for the sake of the art.
Corvallis has seen several different forms of collaborative art installations over the years in events called “Call and Response“ or “Pairing.” In both cases, artists – often working in different mediums – share their ideas with each other as a way of getting to know how to work together on the same installation. The September exhibit at the Giustina Gallery at OSU featured Call and Response artists. Viewers see how one artists makes the “Call” in his or her medium and the other artists participating respond to that piece. The Philomath Museum has had exhibits of works by artists who work in different media – such as fiber, glass, wood, metal – working together on the same piece of artwork. Both events are forms of collaboration.
There are six sets of collaborators in this exhibit, in which the common denominators are the photographer Don Ferguson and the painter Bill Shumway. Don and Bill began their foray into collaboration two years ago culminating in the Plethora of Crows I exhibit at Pegasus Gallery in February 2016.
Sculptor Raymond Hunter collaborated with Bill fourteen years ago on the River Song Installation at the Corvallis Library. Bill painted a crow for Raymond to hang in his “castle” in Kings Valley as thanks. Recently, Raymond decided to sculpt a grand and crowish frame for the piece. This inspired Raymond to do more crow sculptures, as exhibited here today.
Earlier this year, Rick Bartow became gravely ill. Three of his devotees – Bill; his daughter, Paige; and Rachel Urista - were drawn to his spirit and launched a series of paintings in response. Some were done separately. Several were initiated as calls to respond and then passed around between the artists until they felt done. Others were painted simultaneously by all three artists.
Photographer, Brizz Meddings and Bill have admired each other’s work for years. When Brizz came back from Malheur - one of Bill’s favorite en plein air painting locations - he dropped off a portfolio of mating Ibises for Bill to respond to.
Print maker, Kevin Clark has known Bill for years as well and they have shared many crow images. A particular favorite of both artists is the three- legged Japanese crow, protector of shrines.
Don’s newest crow collaborator is painter Edith Wolfe. Both have individual work on display and are looking forward to some powerful collaborative images.
COLLABORATION AND CROWS
Crows THEMSELVES are by far and away a most collaborative bunch. While they are endowed with self-awareness and territorial behavior, they are exceedingly playful and aesthetically generous in their daily interactions. They take on the challenges of each day from their rookeries with a berserk clamor into the skies, each bent on creating a new kind of truth to proclaim on the journey back home. Recently, a murder of crows was seen mobbing a coyote west of Corvallis. Periodically the coyote would stop and look at his tormentors, perhaps wondering how insanely and persistently beautiful they were. May you wonder the same as you engage with the images in this Plethora of Crows II exhibit.