AHA! A House for Arts

S6 E6 | FULL EPISODE

AHA! | 606

George Dirolf is an artist with many talents. take a trip to his studio in Loudonville NY. Last summer, Boston-based curator Pedro Alonzo collaborated with The Trustees and artist Doug Aitken on “New Horizon,” a multifaceted art event that traveled across the state of Massachusetts by air. Based in Saratoga Springs but and in North Atlantic dance tunes and folks songs, check out Drank the Gold.

AIRED: June 30, 2020 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

(upbeat music)

- [Lara] An artist working in three different mediums.

Independent Curator Pedro Alonzo discusses his work.

And a performance from Drank the Gold.

It's all ahead on this episode of "AHA! A House for Arts."

- [Narrator] Funding for "AHA!"

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT Venture Fund.

Contributors include

the Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

The Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank,

we understand that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts,

and we invite you to do the same.

(upbeat music)

(gentle piano music)

- Hi, I'm Lara Ayad and this is "AHA! A House for Arts,"

a place for all things creative.

George Dirolf is an artist who works in oil painting,

charcoal drawing, and engraving.

Let's take a trip to his studio in Loudonville, New York.

(gentle electronic music)

- Currently I'm working in oil painting

with pastels as a sketching medium.

Large scale charcoal on mylar.

And I'm working in relief work.

Wood engravings,

wood cuts.

I see my fellow artists and friends

that work in a single medium

and really refine it.

And I sometimes wonder,

you know,

like I should just pick one

and really focus on it.

I don't think I could if I wanted to.

And I don't know if that's like,

you know,

schizophrenia or it just seems,

I love all of them.

And I'm loath to you know,

eliminate any.

(gentle piano music)

What I'm working on here is a sketch

for the final of oil painting,

This is a pastel painting.

I really wanna get an idea for my mostly tonality,

the lights and the darks and a balance here.

And also some ideas of the kind of colors I wanna use.

I'll be enlarging this piece in a final painting.

I like to work it out I guess on a small scale,

kind of because I got used to doing the plane air work,

small paintings and then making them bigger.

So currently though am working with pastels

and you know I'll go from that to develop

then into a full scale,

a larger painting.

I work in a lot of media's because I think it's

because of my background which is high school arts.

I taught for quite a while Bethlehem central.

And having to teach everything I became

proficient in everything and or had to

and so I just you know kept that up.

So this is my set up for the charcoals.

And I have a sheet of mylar here over my drawing.

Charcoals and mylar was probably 15 years ago

when I walked in into an architectural supply store

and they had a three foot wide roll of mylar,

and it was on sale for pennies.

No one is using mylar to draw on anymore.

And I tried it out its wonderful,

its like it's the closest thing to painting in a dry medium.

With the charcoal on mylar its like its almost greasy

you can smear it and I use my fingers quite a bit

to my palms and you know, make it to whatever tools I want

but it really is almost like liquid.

And the mylar just I won't say it soaks it up but

the tooth on the mylar is just perfect.

I bought a press and that changed my direction

where I became more interested in the wood engravings.

The press is an old golding proof press

that I picked up from a print maker in

or a printer in Worcester.

1889 is when this press was in use

and it still works today as well as it ever did.

I put my paper in the press and will make a print.

This is the print.

One of the most important things

to know about wood engraving is

that its a form of relief print making.

So if you think of a stamp that is really print making

and you stamp it in the ink and you stamp your image.

Most of the time I would do a sketch proximate size

of the block that I want to use

and then transfer that to the block

by simple you know I trace it, I flip the tracing over

to reverse it and I use a piece of transfer paper

and just draw on the back of the tracer

and it transfers to the block.

And then you know its a matter of cutting it .

The details aren't all there, its a very rough drawing

but I have enough wood engravings under my belt

that I know where I want to put different tonalities.

I have always made art since I was a kid.

But honestly I don't,

I look at everybody's art its always like its great.

I have a problematic ego and I love a piece

when am working on it and am thinking this is

the greatest thing I have ever made,

and the you know a month later am like I fall out of love

with it and I gotta do something else, and go beyond.

It's real hard to describe my art.

But I realized I don't want to compare myself

to other people and I really have

to remind myself of that and just do what I do.

You know if it's four or five mediums

or six mediums, so be it.

- Last summer, Boston based curator Pedro Alonzo

collaborated with the trustees

and artists Doug Aiken on New Horizon,

a multifaceted art event that traveled across

the state of Massachusetts by air.

Pedro, welcome to AHA.

It's a pleasure to have you on the show.

- Oh, thank you, Laura.

Happy to be here.

- So you're an independent curator based in Boston,

but your work takes you all over the place,

and all over the globe, if I'm correct.

Most people that would vision curators as folks

who arrange paintings and sculptures in a white room,

in a pleasing or nice way looks nice to the eye.

But that's not what curators do.

And the projects that you've worked on

in particular look and feel very different from

the traditional idea of the curators work.

So can you tell us a little bit more about some

of your most recent projects and particularly New Horizons?.

- Yeah, yes you're right,

I'm not a traditional curator.

I've never really managed a collection.

I've never had a full time job at a museum.

I've had adjunct appointments over the year.

So I have had a I'm totally afraid of commitment.

(laughs)

So I have had, you know, ongoing gigs at museums.

But I'm you know,

I'm much more interested in

bringing work out into public space.

And I think this is really a product

of having worked with street art.

I did I put together a lot of shows at museums,

like the ICA Boston or the Museum of Contemporary Art

in San Diego,

put together these exhibitions

of street art that you know,

always had an outdoor component.

And for me that was really important

because it created the situation

that Shepard Fairey refers to as cross pollination.

Where the people who are outside who are familiar

with street art, you know, would consume

that those images but then people who aren't

would see it and might be interested in going

to the museum as vice versa.

The people who go to museums would see the work outside.

So that really led me to think about

how I wanted to continue to do that.

So I in many ways, I adopted a lot of their strategies

and ideas to work outside.

So I couldn't have gotten to Doug Akin in new horizons,

which was this balloon that traveled

across Massachusetts in the summer of 2019.

Without having worked and learned extensively

from people like Shepard Fairey and Jr.

- So can you tell us a little more about this balloon?.

- Yeah.

- Because it's apparently pretty famous

and pretty infamous too Right?.

(laughs)

- Yeah.

So I had been,

I developed at that point three projects

with the trustees,

which is the country's oldest Land Trust.

It was started by Charles Eliot.

So I developed three projects for them.

And the whole idea was really to engage

with the public to get people

to experience these special places as

the trustees refer to them differently.

And as I began to develop,

I wanted to really do something with Doug Akin,

and we were trying to work it out,

It really wasn't coming together.

We kept looking at sites it wasn't right.

And I kept pushing Doug and Doug's an amazing artist

who lives in Los Angeles.

And one day he called me which is

normally not the way it works.

I'm the one that was always chasing him.

He called me said,

"Pedro I've got it,

I've got the project but I don't want

to tell you I want to show you."

So next time you come to LA you know So,

luckily, it was February I flew out to LA.

- So what did you find?.

- Well, when I arrived, he showed me.

He said,

"Pedro you've been trying

to sell me on all these properties in Massachusetts.

And I thought well why just work with one?

I want to work with all of them."

I thought wow that's ambitious.

They have 120 properties.

And he said, and I said, how do you wanna do this?.

He said, Well imagine a giant mobile sculpture

that travels from site to site and in each location,

it ignites a series of activities.

Wow, this sounds fantastic.

What kind of mobile sculpture you said,

a giant reflective hot air balloon.

- That sounds fantastic.

- It was.

- And kinda scary.

(laughs)

- Well, my whole thing was like, God,

how am I wanna to do this, but how am I gonna convince

the trustees I have to sell it?.

But actually, the trustees loved the idea.

One of their big challenges is

because their properties are spread out across the state.

Most people don't realize that

the same organization runs the old man's

and conquered and the crane estate

or cranes beach out in Ipswich.

So it created the situation where for them,

it was a great idea to bring all

of these properties together.

And we started this tour that I call it a tour

because it did feel like being on tour with a band.

And we started in Martha's Vineyard, and made our way,

first north and then to the west

and visited multiple spots.

And in each spot, we would have speakers and musicians.

So we had you know people like Norman Foster speak,

Spencer Glendan, we also had amazing musicians

like Kelsey Lou,

Destroyer.

It was,

- Just to draw people around the balloon around the site.

- At first I think that's what we thought

but Doug Doug's vision is much

more extensive than that really.

It was to create the atmosphere.

- Okay.

- So it happened the event took place on one

of the hottest weekends of the Year in July.

And we were out at the crane estate,

It must have been 108 degrees and really really muggy.

And right, as the speaker started David Edwards

from Harvard, a storm hit,

and for about 10 minutes we were doused.

And the temperature went from 108 to maybe 88.

But it was still warm but we were all wet.

And then Moses Sumney came on and played this amazing set.

And it was Giuliana Barwick and Moses Sumney.

And it really set the tone

for this balloon in the background.

Moving around inflating lit up at night,

it lit up with with LED and there was a program

so you could arrange the colors

and the shapes that moved around it.

So it was really an atmospheric, an immersive experience.

So it was a combination of the art and the music

and the thought provoking conversations

that really created this very you know,

the will this once in a lifetime experience.

That was what was so powerful about it.

- So I want to come back to this emphasis

on being outside or being the exterior.

It sounds like those who are, you know,

kind of part of this whole project

with new horizons were subject to the elements.

I you know, a lot of people have referred

to your work as work that

is really concerned with public art.

So how do we mean exactly how do we define public art?,

Where is the public?, Who is the public?.

- Yeah, well, I think the public really depends on.

The public is kind of amorphous, right?.

Because I don't think

that artwork appeals to Everybody, right.

But I do think that if you put an artwork out in public,

you know, people might see it.

So one of the things that I think is really important

that I keep in mind is that,

you know people visit museums,

but they inhabit public space.

So as you're navigating public space,

you might run into an artwork and that may,

you know, trigger a thought or an idea or an experience.

And that's what we're trying what I'm trying to provoke.

And also, not just to provoke,

but also to give artists an opportunity

to address a much broader audience.

You know, museums, galleries,

being always have a fairly limited audience,

compared to the general public.

So just by getting it out there,

and I also think it's really important to team up

with partner institutions and groups

and be as inclusive as possible.

- Right, Yeah.

And, you know, I think this idea of Public Art

and its definition is so fascinating.

I know that you also used

to work as a curator in Mexico.

- Yeah.

- And Mexico has a very rich history of public art.

I think of Diego Rivera, right away

or David Alfaro Siqueirosor.

- Yeah.

- Do you think that this type

of history in Mexico had any kind

of impact maybe on your interest in public art?

- Sure, Sure.

My dad went to college at the Nunam

and watch Diego Rivera paint one of his murals

and mural at university and he would tell me about it.

And so and in Mexico, I mean, you know,

our identity was largely shaped by the mural lists.

So it's hard not to think about them,

but I am, so they definitely played an important role

and really broke the idea

that art is an object in a white cube.

And also the idea of having a figurative narrative body

of work being comfortable without at a time you know,

when I was sort of get becoming familiar with art,

it was much more you know conceptual,

minimal,

was much more you know,

the dominant trend.

So knowing that that existed I think helped me understand

that there was a broader world out there.

- Right.

And that the maybe the importance

of public art is when people run into

or encounter art in situations where

they don't plan for it, or where it's not very controlled.

- Exactly.

and that I would say, I learned much more

from street art.

Because that's exactly what street art,

what street artists do,

they place the work in unexpected places.

And you know if you've never seen an invader work

by invader the French artist who works with ceramic tiles,

and then one day you're walking

through lemma Ray in Paris and you see one,

then you realize that they're all over the place

and it makes navigating the city a much richer experience.

- It makes you notice things

that you may be before you took for granted?

- Yeah.

- Perhaps.

And so can you tell me like kind of pan out a little bit.

As a curator, then you know,

what do you think is going to be the most important role

for curators moving forward to say in the next,

like 10 to 20 years from now?.

- Well, I think, you know,

curating has become much more specialized than it was.

I think it's important for curators to remember

that we have a much broader public to attend

to than the specialized public that we tend to focus on.

So I would encourage curators

to think more about a broader public.

The way the system of reward works unfortunately,

is that we are working for a very specialized group

of people and we gain our reward

and ascend in the sort of hierarchy

of the art world through appealing

to you know, a certain group of people

or totally pandering to the masses.

So I think that it's important for curators

to really think about you know,

the public and how to address a broader group

of people without pandering.

- Right, without pandering,

provoking just a little bit but also not pandering.

- Yes.

And then it is the razor's edge.

I mean, it's not an easy thing to do.

But I think I mean, that's what I would hope we strive for.

- Thank you so much Pedro for being on AHA.

It was a pleasure to have you on here.

- Pleasure's mine.

Thank you.

- Based in Saratoga Springs

and steeped in North Atlantic dance tunes

and folk songs, please welcome Drank the Gold.

♪ What will we do if we have no money? ♪

♪ Oh true lovers what will we do then? ♪

♪ Only hawk through the town for a hungry crown, ♪

♪ And we'll yodel it over again. ♪

♪ What will we do if we marry a tinker? ♪

♪ Oh true lovers what will we do then? ♪

♪ Only mend a tin can and walk on with me man, ♪

♪ And we'll yodel it over again. ♪

(instruments playing)

♪ What will we do if we marry a soldier? ♪

♪ Oh true lovers what will we do then? ♪

♪ Only handle his gun and we'll fight for the fun, ♪

♪ And we'll yodel it over again. ♪

♪ What will we do if we have young daughters? ♪

♪ Oh true lovers what will we do then? ♪

♪ Only take her in hand and walk on with my man, ♪

♪ And we'll yodel it over again. ♪

(instruments playing)

♪ What will we do when we have no money? ♪

♪ Oh true lovers what will we do then? ♪

♪ Only hawk through the town for a hungry crown, ♪

♪ And we'll yodel it over again. ♪

♪ And we'll yodel it over again. ♪

- Thanks for joining us for more arts visit wmht.org/aha

and be sure to connect with WMHT on social.

I'm Lara Ayad.

Thanks for watching.

(upbeat instrumental)

- [Announcer] Funding for AhA has been provided

by your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include

the Leo Cox beach philanthropic Foundation,

Chad and Karen Opalka.

Robert and Doris Fischer Melesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and the Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand that the vitality

of our communities is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.

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