Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday Wonder: Shea Hembrey's 100 Artists

Today's Wednesday Wonder, artist Shea Hembrey, knows how to push the creative envelope, stretching it beyond what it can contain. After one too many visits to art biennials around the world, Hembrey says he found himself "longing for several things that I wasn't getting, or not getting enough of", including "more work that was appealing to a broad public, that was accessible" and "more exquisite craftsmanship and technique." 

Hembrey's initial response to fulfilling these longings was to stage his own international art show (no small undertaking), organizer and director both, using as his criteria for curation two questions: Can the artwork be explained in five minutes? Does the artwork satisfy the "three Hs", which comprise head, heart, and hand? "Great art," according to Hembrey, "would have head: it would have interesting intellectual ideas and concepts. It would have heart, in that it would have passion and heart and soul. And it would have hand, in that it would be greatly crafted." (Those criteria, by the way, are as sound as any I've seen applied.)

After some consideration, Hembrey scratched his initial idea in favor of an altogether different approach, what he calls the "easier solution": creating — and also becoming — his own 100 international artists (plus two curators). (Think of Hembrey's project as the art world's answer to literature's Frankenstein; or perhaps, a more highly refined version of schizophrenia, a la Sybil.)

Hembrey assigned each of his fictions a gender, gave all the artists appropriate names, figured out their styles, wrote their bios and artist statements, and made all their artworks, which range from oil paintings to large-scale installations to photography to performance art and more. Realizing this was "the kind of project that I could spend my whole life doing", Hembrey gave himself to two years to turn concept into reality. 

As you'll see in his TED Talk below, Hembrey, a self-described "hick" from rural Arkansas who was in his twenties before he ever visited an art museum, is a talented, determined guy with a great sense of humor, a lot of energy, and no little insight into the contemporary art world. His project raises some fascinating questions not only about what passes for art, how we discern the authentic from the inauthentic, the acquired from the inspired, and what it means to live under the pressure to create, but also about the mind's exquisite ability to juggle multiple tasks while wearing many different masks.

Of related interest: Essayist, memoirist, poet, and short story writer Philip Graham has written an excellent post on Hembrey and his project, titled "How Many Selves Hide Inside Us?"


Anonymous said...

Utterly fascinating. Great catch Maureen.

Louise Gallagher said...

Love this one Maureen!

Hannah Stephenson said...

And ALSO discussing this in amazing!