Thursday, June 15, 2017

Open Submission Art Exhibits in London and Houston

Robert Boyd

When the Salon exhibits began in France, the only artists who could enter them were members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. No amateurs need apply. The rules were loosened up over time, but the juries were notoriously conservative. Because of the complaints of many artists, in 1863, French emperor Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte established a second salon, the Salon des Refusés, which anyone who couldn't get into the official Salon could enter. That first Salon des Refusés featured Le déjeuner sur l'herbe by Manet.

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, Manet, 1863

In 1768, England decided it needed it's own official art body and established the Royal Academy. It started an annual exhibit in 1769 that has run continuously until today. And unlike its French counterpart, it is open for every artist to enter. The Times Literary Supplement's podcast, Freedom, Books, Flowers & the Moon, had a very interesting segment on the latest exhibit, which just opened. The exhibit is displayed salon style in a series of rooms. Each room is "presented" by an invited artist and tend to be somewhat thematic. Each work goes through three layers of judging--one to get selected for the exhibit, one to be hung (work can be "selected but not hung," which doesn't sound any better than being not selected at all), and where in the room you are hung (near the ceiling, for instance, is not as desirable as eye-level.)

Each year they have a different coordinator, so that changes the flavor of the show each year. The show is commercial--most of the works are for sale and the big catalog lists the price. Half the money goes to the artist and half to the Royal Academy schools. This is a big fundraiser for them, and apparently for many attendees, the one time each year that they may buy a piece of art (which can be as cheap as £90 to hundreds of thousands of pounds for big name blue chip artists). You could amazingly get a Cornelia Parker for £330 (it appears to have sold already). Many of the cheaper pieces looked absolutely great--I know I'd be buying if I were there.

Cornelia Parker, Stolen Thunder (Once Removed), Digital print on hahnemühle photo rag 300gsm paper

They get about 12,000 entries and there is a submission fee of £25, so before they sell a single piece, they've made £300,000 in revenue. The process of judging that many works, even if you have a committee involved, must be intensely grueling. It used to be that artists brought in their work to be judged, but now it is done electronically.

I don't know if there are any other open call exhibits with this kind of lineage in the world. But according to the TLS reporter, the Royal Academy Summer Show is very popular, and it is my experience that similar shows elsewhere are popular, too.  The first time I entered one was in the early 90s in Seattle. I had an idea for a cube-shaped painting on wood that would have a grid of nails protruding in all six directions. I was influenced by nail-fetishes, but thought it would be interesting if the nails face out instead of in. I made this very dangerous object and then heard about an open call exhibit in town. This was before the widespread use of jpegs, so works had to be submitted in person. There was a huge line of artists to get into the display space, including me gingerly holding my piece. (I didn't make the cut. Ironically, my friend Jim Blanchard later asked if he could have it, hung it over his breakfast table, whence it fell and punctured the palm of a friend of his.)

This is all a lead-in to discuss Lawndale's Big Show, which opens July 7. This is a juried exhibit that has been held almost every year since 1984. The rules state that "The Big Show is an annual juried exhibition showcasing new work in all media by artists living within a 100-mile radius of Lawndale Art Center." If you draw a 100-mile circle around Houston, it encompasses a huge area--Lufkin, Victoria and Orange all fall well within the circle, which extends into Louisiana to the east and almost to Austin in the west. Of course, driving to those places is further than 100 miles, but as the crow flies, they all fall within the radius. Consequently, every year Lawndale gets some work from the extreme hinterlands. This pays off in spades sometimes--like in 2013 when Port Arthur teenager Avril Falgout made Black Veil Brides and won a best-in-show award.

Avril Falgout, Black Veil Brides, 2013, paper maché, 75 x 50 x 105 inches

The jurors have been pretty great over the years. Among them have been Walter Hopps (1985), Luis Jimenez (1987), Paul Schimmel (1995), Lane Relyea (1999), Michael Ray Charles (2004), and Duncan MacKenzie (2103), who was the one who awarded Falgout the 2013 award.

For the past few years, the juror has always been from out of town. The last Houston juror they had was Don Bacigalupi in 1997, who was the director of the Blaffer Gallery at the time. One reason to use out-of-towners is to get fresh eyes on the art--to have jurors who are completely unbiased, who won't feel any social pressure to pick art by their friends and acquaintances.

But this year, that has changed. The juror is Toby Kamps, a curator at the Menil and soon to be director of the Blaffer Gallery. He has long been an active participant on the Houston art scene, including his curation of No Zoning: Artists Engage Houston in 2009 at the CAMH. He sent out an email to many in Houston's local art community (including me) announcing that he would be the juror. My first thought was that the impartiality of the previous years would be out the window. Kamps knows a lot of local artists, and even if the judging is name-blind, he can tell the style and approach of artists he likes by sight.

I expressed this worry in the Facebook thread, and several artists (as well as Kamps himself) responded. One suggestion was that many of Houston's finest artists don't often apply to the Big Show. Why? I don't know exactly. It used to be that you had to physically bring the art to Lawndale, and that's a pain in the ass (especially if your art is big). But now it's electronic. Part of it is that you get rejected a lot, which sucks and seems especially like an unnecessary insult if you already have venues for your work. And I think another factor is that the Big Show has come to have a reputation for amateur work (in the best sense of the word) and showcasing emerging artists, which for an older, more established artist, may make the Big Show seem less attractive. In the Facebook thread, Kamps seemed to be specifically working against that. He sent out his Facebook post to a large selection of Houston's best-known artists. He seemed to want the Big Show to be a showcase for the best of Houston, like the old Blaffer Area Exhibits, which the Blaffer put on until 2008.

One artist contacted me expressing a worry that this change might make the Big Show seem less welcoming for emerging artists. The Big Show has been important in years past for giving emerging artists the boost they needed.

But Kamps addressed that concern. He wrote in the Facebook thread, "I want the Big Show to be really big. There'll be room for older, established artists, rising stars, and lots of new talent. I want EVERYONE to apply, whether I know them or not."

Other rule changes this year have been that artists can only submit one work (in the past, you could submit multiple works, which sometimes meant one might have several works in one show--such as the little suites of work by Matt Messinger and John Sturtevant in the 2011 Big Show). Director of Lawndale Stephanie Mitchell told me that she wanted to "challenge artists to hone in on one work made in the last year."

To encourage amateurs and emerging artists, Lawndale has reached out to schools for entries. And unlike the Royal Academy, there is no admission fee, so that is one obstacle that formerly existed removed.

Mitchell added, "Toby's line of thinking--which I very much agree with and I think is very much in the spirit of Lawndale--is that by showing a wide, diverse range of artists working across different media and at different stages of their career, everyone is elevated."

I wonder if in future Big Shows, they could sell the work as the Royal Academy does. Or would that be a bridge too far?

Monday, March 20, 2017


Robert Boyd

I went to SXSW for the first time this past weekend. I'm not someone who really sees a lot of live music--I'm just too old to stay up late anymore. But my sister who lives in Austin suggested I come up and check it out. I'm not in any way related to the industries that SXSW caters to--music and tech--so all the trade show aspect of it was not available to me. But what SXSW does that's nice is that there are shows open to the public all over town, and that's what took up my time. For instance, a funky art gallery on South Congress, Yard Dog, had a series of bands playing all day long in the alley behind their store. I saw Jon Langford there (they carry his art, too).

In that regard, I have to say I loved SXSW. Sure there are probably a lot of douchey tech-bros there, and a lot of impossibly young musicians (about whom John Nova Lomax commented on Facebook, "Seems fitting that Chuck Berry died during the apex of SXSW. How many bands there know even a single one of his licks now?"); traffic sucked (it was a good day to take the bus), and this satirical website seemed to sum up the feelings of many Austinians (headline: "Woman Who Just Moved to Austin Excited to Complain About SXSW for First Time"), but I had a ball.

One great thing I saw there was Flatstock. This is a show of rock poster art organized like a comic book convention--each producer gets a booth from which to sell their wares. It was set up at the Austin Convention Center and was all about commerce. But it also was effectively a giant exhibit of silk-screen poster art. Flatstock is put on by the American Poster Institute and has been around since 2002

As I walked through Flatstock, it occurred to me that these posters were some of the only graphic art left to the music business. It used to be that album cover art was really important visually. Artists and photographers could make whole careers designing LP covers. They shrunk down drastically in the CD era and in the era of streamed music, they have no particular visibility. But posters are still produced--possibly more than ever.

Rock and roll posters started out as mainly squared-off lists of the act playing, cheaply printed with minimal design (although these are now valuable collectors items). In the late 60s in San Francisco, illustrators started producing highly designed psychedelic silk-screen posters for rock shows. This died out as the music business got more corporate in the 70s, but in the late 70s and early 80s, people started designing little flyers that could be stapled to telephone poles to advertise punk bands, which were mostly frozen out of the world of professional publicity. These amateur productions got more and more sophisticated, and some of the designers saw demand for their services growing. One, Frank Kozik, taught himself to make silk-screens and revived the San Francisco psychedelic style, with his own ironic punk twist. All the exhibitors at Flatstock are descendants of the San Francisco posters artists and Frank Kozik.

One thing I liked was the variety of techniques--lots of great drawing, of course, but also interesting photography and elegant design. My favorite of the show was a booth called Crosshair, which is run by designer Daniel MacAdam. His posters were images of nondescript industrial buildings with the names of the bands being advertised worked into the design.

A selection of posters by Daniel MacAdam (Crosshair)

I instantly thought of Bernd and Hilla Becher when I saw these posters and mentioned it to MacAdam, who acknowledged their influence. He told me that he is a big fan.

X poster by Daniel MacAdam (Crosshair)

The one poster I bought at Flatstock was the one above--X is one of my favorite bands, and I liked how the "X" in the poster could have been part of the building.

Crosshair shows how far the art of the rock poster has come from Kozik or Victor Moscoso. But generally they still go for intense colors and punk irony. Furthermore, every poster producer does posters for the same bands. For instance, there were a lot of posters for Tame Impala, Father John Misty, the Melvins, and many others. I decided I would take a photo of every Melvins poster I saw--that would be a good way to see the variety of work on display at Flatstock.

Adam Pobiak

Adam Pobiak combines Homer Simpson and King Buzzo.

Bureau of Print Research and Design

Bureau of Print Research and Design

Craig Horky

Craig Horky

Craig Horky


This was an unusually design-y image for a Melvins poster. I enjoy a lot of these posters, but let's be honest--a lot of them are basically updated van art. KLCTVE, on the other hand, seems quite smart.

 David Medel (Weirdbeard)

  David Medel (Weirdbeard)


Droid does something that Kozik used to do a lot. He takes photo halftones and printing effects and uses them as design elements.



Mike Fuchs

John Howard (Monkeyink)

John Howard (Monkeyink)


Squid Ink Kollective

I loved this last one because if you're familiar with the Melvins, you know their front man, King Buzzo, has an enormous fro that looks a lot like the bush in this photo.

I could have picked any number of bands for this trip through Flatstock. But went with the Melvins because I happen to have a connection with both the Melvins and Frank Kozik. In 1995, I was the editor of Roger Corman's Cosmic Comics and one of the comics we published was an updating of the 1979 movie, Rock 'n' Roll High School starring the Ramones, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Clint Howard, P.J. Soles, etc. We wanted a contemporary band and someone suggested the Melvins.

We met the band and conducted interviews with them, which I then supplied to writer Bob Fingerman, who incorporated some of their phrases as catchphrases uttered by the band members in the comic.

An interview with King Buzzo that ran in Rock & Roll High School #2 (November 1995)

As you can see, King Buzzo's fro was quite majestic. (It's completely gray now.)

The art for Rock & Roll High School was by Shane Oakley, whose great humorous stylized drawing that was perfect for the subject matter. The covers were designed by Frank Kozik, who basically repurposed some of Shane's artwork to create completely new images. That was his technique in doing rock posters--they were all about cleverly appropriated images.

Rock & Roll High School #2 cover, November 1995. Designed by Frank Kozik based on art by Shane Oakley.

Getting Kozik to do the covers was part of our desperate attempt to be hip. It didn't work--Roger Corman quickly pulled the plug on his comic book line because sales were terrible. But they were fun to do.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Finding Forrest Bess

Robert Boyd

I've always wanted to have hard copies of some of the writing I have done for this blog. So I decided to do it myself.

I chose to update and collect my three pieces about artist Forrest Bess (1911-1977) from 2013 into a pamphlet. I've been thinking about this for a year or so.  Then last year, I curated an exhibit at the Galveston Artist Residency. One of the things we did was to produce a catalog for the show in the form of a zine that contained a long interview with artist Scott Gilbert and a list of the pieces of art in the exhibit. The zine was produced by Dan Schmahl, who designed it and printed it on his risograph printer.

I loved how the True Artist Tales catalog came out. And I also liked Wake, a zine that Schmahl contributed to and printed. And Binder, a zine produced by the Galveston Artist Residency. I recommend both. So I asked Schmahl if he would design and print 100 copies of my pamphlet.

You can see the result above--that is the entire print run. You can order a copy for a mere $6.50 through my online store.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Return of Danube Classic

Robert Boyd

Thanks for reading Mysterioso by Scott Gilbert. (And if you haven't, you can start here.) Mysterioso is one of the unknown classics of 90s comics. As far as comics go, the 90s were my decade. It started out the decade working for Fantagraphics Books, then moved onto working for Dark Horse Comics, Roger Corman's shortlived comics line (Roger Corman's Cosmic Comics) and finally Kitchen Sink Press. I also started my own small distribution and publishing company Westhampton House. I drew a lot, including a comic story that appeared in Coober Skeber #2: Marvel Benefit Issue (it was free).

Coober Skeber #2, cover by Seth

In the 90s, I also kept a daily sketchbook. I mainly drew images I found in ink--with a #0 or #1 sized sable brush and india ink. I almost never sketched the image first. I got pretty good at it. That was probably the high point of my drawing ability.

I took some of my sketchbook drawings and made a couple of mini-comics like things. One was called Mala Faca ("bad knife" in Portuguese), the other called Danube Classic.

During the 90s, I collected old high school yearbooks. It seems like a trivial thing to collect now--you can easily get pretty much all the high school yearbooks you want from online dealers, but when I was collecting them, finding them was a matter of pure luck and haunting used book stores. I especially loved yearbooks from the teens and twenties and from the sixties and seventies. I used them as sources for my own drawings frequently.

Sports pictures from the 70s were really good. Taking pictures of the football team in action was a chance for high school photographers to show their skills. I drew a lot of images based on those photos.

I also read The Histories by Herodotus. This was the first work of history, basically a history of the relations between Greece and the Persian empire which culminates with the defeat of the Persians in 449 BC. But one of the most exciting bits is when the Persians, accompanied by some Greek vassals from Asia Minor, make war on the Scythians. The Persians had a lot of confidence because they were a powerful empire and the Scythians were just a bunch of primitive, illiterate nomads. But like the U.S. versus Vietnam, sometimes a seemingly weaker enemy can embarrass the stronger aggressor.  Persia was defeated by the Scythians. For Herodotus, I think this was a foreshadowing of the smaller and weaker Greeks defeating the powerful Persian Empire.

Anyway, I always loved the story of the Persians versus the Scythians. So I reimagined it as a football game between crosstown rivals. Using my yearbook football drawings, I made a 12 page minicomic called Danube Classic

The Super Bowl is being played in Houston this weekend. It is a pain in my ass. I'm so sick of it already. But last weekend I was at my sister's house, and I noticed she had a copy of Danube Classic. I had honestly forgotten about it. It seemed like fate. On the spur of the moment, I borrowed it and photocopied the whole thing. Then I went down to my local copy shop and made 100 new copies. In "honor" of Super Bowl 51, I have reprinted Danube Classic. You can get it here on my Storenvy store.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Mysterioso part 29

Scott Gilbert

True Artist Tales and Mysterioso copyright 1996 Scott Gilbert

First part

Previous chapter

See Scott Gilbert's original art for Mysterioso and many other pages from his comic strip True Artist Tales at the Galveston Artist Residency through February 4, 2017. Three more days! See it!

For more Scott Gilbert strips, order It's All True! It's All True!, published in 1995, collects 50 strips from Gilbert's weekly comic strip, True Artist Tales.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mysterioso part 28

Scott Gilbert

True Artist Tales and Mysterioso copyright 1996 Scott Gilbert

First part

Previous chapter

Next chapter

See Scott Gilbert's original art for Mysterioso and many other pages from his comic strip True Artist Tales at the Galveston Artist Residency through February 4, 2017.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mysterioso part 27

Scott Gilbert

True Artist Tales and Mysterioso copyright 1996 Scott Gilbert

First part

Previous chapter

Next chapter

See Scott Gilbert's original art for Mysterioso and many other pages from his comic strip True Artist Tales at the Galveston Artist Residency through February 4, 2017.