September 12, 2013
Casting a spell - Artist, poet Allan Graham uses words, wordplay as a visual language
Albuquerque Journal, 09/13/2013
Kate McGraw

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Casting a spell - Artist, poet Allan Graham uses words, wordplay as a visual language
Albuquerque Journal, 09/13/2013
Kate McGraw


Words, says artist Allan Graham, are the way the mind works.

“We use description to try to understand what we call reality,” the Pecos-based artist said in a recent telephone interview. His fascination with wordplay (Graham is also a published poet) shows in the intricate title he gave a show of his work at David Richard Gallery in the Railyard: “Any Position Limits the View (We Are Only Here for a Spell).”

“It’s almost self-explanatory,” Graham said. “It’s such a simpleminded statement because it’s so true. And the word ‘spell’ has three meanings: a short-period of time, to spell a word, or an illusion; to be under a spell.”

Graham, who sometimes uses the name “Toadhouse” for a backyard underground kiva he and his son built in Albuquerque years ago, was born in 1943 in San Francisco, Calif. He is a contemporary American artist based in New Mexico. His work includes sculpture, painting, poetry, and video. The David Richard exhibition surveys the range of text and language-based art that Graham has done by himself and in collaboration with others, including his wife, the well-known artist Gloria Graham.

He’s also published poetry under the moniker Toadhouse. There is no current toad house at his home and studio near Pecos. “We called it that because desert spadefoot toads kept jumping into it. It’s was a kiva-like structure underground. I would go out there and write these little things. I gave them to my friend V.B. Price, and I would just say, ‘They’re from the Toadhouse’, Graham said.

“I’ve always liked the thing G.K. Chesterton said: ‘Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.’ Toadhouse kind of goes along with that, because it’s so absurd that people have mocked me.” The son is grown now and Graham, who’ll be 70 in October, has a 6-year-old grandson.

The David Richard presentation features the many different ways by which Graham has de constructed the English language over the past 30 years of his career using the words themselves as the visual language. Canvas and oil paint, handmade paper, graphite, ink, toilet paper rolls and rubber plungers are his varied props and media. Sometimes the words are presented in standard fonts; at other times cursive text streams across the page to create abstract images that become visualizations of phrases such as “Chance Forming On the Edge Of Need” and “Why Forming In An Is Universe.” His latest paintings are comprised of four-letter words written with no spaces and the letters stacked in quadrants, two over two.

“Initially, the viewer sees a pattern in black and white, some purely geometric and others a bit more anthropomorphic depending upon the grouping of letters, but then the actual word emerges through the abstraction,” curator David Eichholtz said in a written statement. “Through his work the viewer realizes language is an abstraction, both in the way it is spoken and written. The meaning and power of language is not only in the content of the chosen word, but more in the context in which it is delivered and even then, subject to personal interpretation.”

Graham himself explains it more simply: “I was writing and I could see multiple meanings in words. For a while, words as titles ended up becoming the pieces themselves.”

One of the featured works is “Add-Verse,” a two-part collaborative project between Gloria Graham, Allan Graham and 25 poets produced between 2003 and 2005. This is an installation project in which Gloria Graham took photos of the 25 poets and Allan Graham videotaped their hands and manuscripts, while they read their poetry. The video portion is comprised of a montage of 3-to-5-minute segments of each poet reading their own poetry in their natural setting with just their hands and the text from which they are reading captured on video. It is a seamless loop with no interruption or introduction between the poets to produce one continuous poem.

Also presented are spontaneous photographs of each poet taken during their individual readings that measure 24-by-24 inches square in black and white. The featured poets who collaborated on the project are Jimmy Santiago Baca, Mei mei Berssenbrugge, Maxine Chernoff, Wanda Coleman, Clark Coolidge, Robert Creeley, Diane Di Prima, Vincent Ferrini, Gene Frumkin, Barbara Guest, Lyn Hejinian, Jane Hirshfield, Anselm Hollo, Paul Hoover, Joanne Kyger, Nathaniel Mackey, Jackson Mac Low, Michael McClure, Harryette Mullen, V. B. Price, Carl Rakosi, Tom Raworth, Arthur Sze, Anne Waldman and John Yau.

“It was a mutual idea between the two of us,” Allan Graham said. “We both launched ourselves into it. It gave us a great break from the art world to spend three years doing it. We had 25 poets and our rule was you had to be 50 or older to participate. Seven have died. It seemed like a number of them died within about six months. It got a little creepy.”

The poet, art historian and critic John Yau has written an essay for the catalog of this show — a version of “Add-Verse” will appear at the Brooklyn Museum in October as well — and Yau is the other collaborator with Allan Graham on the David Richard show.

“John Yau sent me postcards and I would respond to them. Yau would write words on the postcards. The word he wrote on this postcard with a picture of the Crucifixion was ‘Morttuage.’ I wondered, ‘What if I cancelled it and it never happened? How would the world be different?

“It’s a controversial piece; it cancels the Crucifixion. There are going to be things here that people in Santa Fe aren’t used to,” Graham said.

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January 17, 2017
Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts
J. Willard Marriott Library
The University of Utah, 01/17/2017

The University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library will host the art exhibition Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts, Jan. 20-March 3.

Artnauts, an art collective formed 20 years ago by George Rivera, professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, consists of 300 global artists who serve as goodwill ambassadors, acknowledging and supporting victims of oppression worldwide. Their creativity has generated over 230 exhibitions across five continents. Five faculty members from the U’s Department of Art and Art History are members of the collective, Sandy Brunvand, Beth Krensky, V. Kim Martinez, Brian Snapp and Xi Zhang.

Globalocation derives from “Globalocational Art” — a concept used by the Artnauts to refer to their exhibitions in international venues. It is the mission of the Artnauts to take art to places of contention, and this anniversary exhibition is a sample of places where they have been and themes they have addressed.

“The Artnauts could not exist without the commitment of the artists in the collective to a common vision of the transformative power of art,” said Rivera. “The Artnauts make their contribution with art that hopefully generates a dialogue with an international community on subjects that are sometimes difficult to raise.”

Krensky, associate department chair of the Art and Art History Department, had the opportunity to travel with Rivera in Chile as part of an Artnauts project, working with mothers who were searching for their children who had mysteriously disappeared during a time of political unrest.

“When I travelled to Chile in 1998, George and I spent an afternoon with the Mothers of the Disappeared, and the meeting changed my life,” said Krensky. “It was from that moment on that I placed a picture of them on my desk to look at every day. I was so moved by what they each had lost — a son, a brother, a father — and yet what remained for them was a deep, deep well of love. They were fierce warriors and stood up to the government to demand the whereabouts and information of the people who had disappeared, but they lived within profound love.”

The 20th anniversary exhibition at the Marriott Library is a retrospective of the traveling works the Artnauts have toured around the globe. The exhibition will be located on level three of the library. The opening reception is open to the public and will be held on Friday, Jan 20, 4-6 p.m. Rivera will speak at 4 p.m.

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