“Epineaux” by Shawn Saumell (silver gelatin photohybrid)
“Take your time,” organizer Dean Odle told the first artist at last week’s Pecha Kucha event in Frisco. “Talk about yourself a little bit.”
Hey wait a minute. Or actually, don’t. We’re supposed to be on a tight schedule here. Pecha Kucha is a 5-year-old international phenomenon conceived for the time-starved. Combining art and social networking, with a timer in play, the concept is named after the Japanese phrase for the sound of conversation.
Each artist shows 20 slides of work, each for 20 seconds, for a total of 6 minutes, 40 seconds, including running commentary if they like. Odle, a non-artist art appreciator, started the local PK group just a few months ago. Thursday’s event was the group’s second effort. The next one on July 12 is at the Bone in Deep Ellum.
Diana Moya, who presented her Pop-style renderings of the Frisco water tower, hosted the event at her gallery, the Frisco Arts Center. Moya volunteered her space after a friend brought her to Odle’s first gathering.
Odle said he found out about Pecha Kucha from a training video called Presentation Zen. He compared it to a live blog. “It’s my mountain to climb.”
“It’s more than just art,” said Chad Ireland of the Collin County Songwriters Association, promoting his organization with photos of members performing. “We’re celebrating a format.”
It turned out 6:40 can be a long stretch. Several of the 16 artists went silent as Odle projected their paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs and video-art stills. Background music from DJ Curtis Parker, for some reason mostly from the’80s, filled in the soundscape.
“Oh, it’s [Thomas] Dolby – ‘Blinded by Science,’ ” Chris Elkins said as his paintings of pianos and sheet music, a sunglasses wearing dog and commercial portrait photography flew by.
For some, the 400 seconds were a blur. “Oh, we’re going very fast,” painter Jim VanKirk said after turning around and realizing his second slide was on the screen, and he was still talking about the first one.
“No, you’re going very slow,” shouted a woman in the audience of about 40. “I was never good at time,” VanKirk answered.
In the end, the format was just that: a way of organizing a multi-artist event without taking all night. If it had one flaw, it’s that there’s no time built in for Q&A.
But what made it a success, at least for me, were the two or three artists who given my preconceived notions I wouldn’t have expected to see there. Not that I had heard of them. It was just that the quality and depth of their work didn’t match my idea of a casual, off-the-wall sharing experience like Pecha Kucha. That probably makes me an elitist.
VanKirk was one who caught my eye. “I have one minute for every 10 years I’ve been artist,” he said, riffing on the mathematical focus. “And I’ll cover the last 30 tonight.”
It turned out he’s interested in “geometric programming.” The earliest work he showed often used small, crudely rendered rectangles to represent homes in abstract landscapes. Living in Spain and elsewhere, the native New Yorker moved on to painting plants in the 1980s and later diagrams as a tribute to illustrators he admired. When VanKirk said he was painting more realistic landscapes now, it reminded me of the Marsden Hartley show at the Amon Carter. Eventually, they all go back to landscapes.
The artists who put this event over the top for me, who stunned me, were Tia Petering and Shawn Saumell. Petering, a costume designer, wraps models in old bedding, bras and other fabrics, creates strange tableaux with a visceral feel and films them. I’ve already recommended her to the people putting on the video art festival at Conduit Gallery.
Saumell showed camera-less photos using light, paper and subjects that look hauntingly like X-rays, homemade pinhole-camera shots with multi-minute exposures, and photo collages influenced by Cubism. He’s also painting now and recently had a solo show at Texas Women’s University.
Maybe the format works because it taps into the OCD nature of artists. Julia Forsyth of McKinney, for instance, showed several colorful collages containing depictions of her and her husband on their wedding day. She’s now getting commissioned to do the same thing for other couples.
Laura Renee shared paintings she described as “abstract and Christian,” all of them with Scripture quotations written right on the canvas. In her presentation, she simply read the lines while each painting was projected.
The event ended with a few songs by a guy in a glittery gray shirt and white bucks calling himself Mr. Rock and Roll. “I knew I was getting big,” he said, “when I saw my name on the screen.” And he’s here all week, or so it seemed. Mr. R&R had no slides to show and went well over the time limit crooning “Blueberry Hill” and “Sweet Caroline.”
Despite the format or maybe because of it, anything can happen at Pecha Kucha.