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Q&A: Outsider Artists at UTA

by Tina Aguilar 1 Apr 2010 10:52 AM

Guest blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts. While many have flocked to the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, the art scene down the highway is vibrant with the creative influence of Texas artist Benito Huerta, Associate Professor and Director/Curator of The Gallery at The University of […]


Guest blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.

Intermezzo, 2008, by Benito Huerta

Intermezzo, 2008, by Benito Huerta

While many have flocked to the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, the art scene down the highway is vibrant with the creative influence of Texas artist Benito Huerta, Associate Professor and Director/Curator of The Gallery at The University of Texas at Arlington. As an artist, Huerta’s imagery in his paintings and visual imprints cross boundaries. Through the use of textures, symbols in the imagination, geopolitical arena and daily culture, he offers variations of our human experiences and explores the very values that collectively bind us together.

I spoke with Huerta as well as with his colleague Marilyn Jolly – Associate Professor of Painting and curator of the current exhibition “Outside Influences: Michael Noland and Fred Stonehouse” – along with the two artists about their collecting and creativity. Huerta is one of our North Texas cultural influences and shares his insight about working in the Texas art landscape:

Tina Aguilar: I am interested in identity and iconography as it is represented in culture/art – your art – and value of heritage, but in a deeper sense that value of art and being creative. How we deal with the world around us: internally and literally, because place-making is an inherent part of our human condition. Can you talk to me about this?

Benito Huerta: I grew up with a Mexican background within an Anglo culture, and my experiences deal with these areas as well as what it means to be an artist. You can find similar meanings in both cultures, yet they may look a little different you can find similar meanings in both cultures, even with differences, and as a result your perspective considers new ideas and new ways of thinking. My images incorporate parts of me and the world around me, like the Loteria cards for examples, which are a version of Bingo, Mexican style. I decided to create some of my own interpretations and have used them in my paintings. There are connections to border issues and the dualities found between the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. One of the things that I have been asked to do is to curate Latino or Chicano shows, but I am also an artist. I have tried to mix things up within the gallery setting, and this is important — to have a range of work and individuals sharing their styles and expression no matter what their background. As a curator and an artist, I am always thinking and rethinking and playing with a range of ideas.

T. A.: What does it mean to be a gallery director in North Texas, as well as a working artist?

B.H.: Art institutions here in North Texas still differ a bit from other cities in other parts of the state. The importance of showing artists in the area increases the value of community and awareness. Local artists need to be part of the context they live in. I exhibit throughout the country and make a point to get to other institutions and smaller galleries. In fact, our work here in Arlington includes local, regional and a smattering of artists in new media. It makes sense because of who we are. We are, and should offer, a broader view.

T.A.: You travel a lot to San Antonio and Austin to name a few places. Do you like driving?

B.H.: Yes, I grew up driving a lot, and I like to play music on the road.

T.A.: Talk to me about the music parts. You have experience with bands as you were pursuing your academic path, right?

B.H.: I used to book bands to come to the University of Houston while I was going to college, and when I was younger I used to listen to it with my family and have memories of Spanish music, too. Something I have been thinking about lately is how rock ‘n’ roll is consistent. A friend of mine and I were discussing the music he has been listening to, and it turns out some of it is classic rock and Radiohead for example. I enjoy a lot of the bands I booked and experienced growing up, but I also buy new music.

T.A.: How can we engage with the art around us?

B.H.: Museums, for example, have shifted in the way they do art education these days. It is no longer telling the visitor about the art, rather, it is now more about the art and how you can have different opinions about it … or even in a gallery. When I hear comments about my art, I think, “Yeah, that is right” … and I might learn something new. Asking questions and creating art that invites new ways of thinking are a few ways to experience art. Art is a conduit, and it is an open conversation, not a closed one.

T.A.: What do you feel are important points with collaboration or arts partnerships?

B.H.: The current show for example is Outsider art in an academic setting. We teach certain fundamentals, as well as what can be good or bad art, but we see the appreciation of this style and work. Visitors can experience this in our gallery. The Gallery shows four exhibits throughout the academic year, along with BFA shows at the end of each semester. One of the interesting points that Fred Stonehouse brought up at the opening is intuition. An artist should have intuition and can be informed by the work they see or also by what’s inside of them. It just comes out. When a student gets to be a senior in the art school environment, they should see the broader spectrum and have their own style.

T. A.: Marilyn, can you tell me a bit about what inspired this show?

Marilyn Jolly: I am not an Outsider art collector in particular. I have known Mike Noland longer than almost anyone besides my immediate family. I guess we have just talked a lot about art and art making, and he became interested in the Outsider artists pretty early on in his art career, so we would talk about that along with everything else. I went to see him a few years ago, and I realized the scope of his collecting and his passion. Then I met Fred Stonehouse through Mike. They both had this ongoing friendship/collecting/searching out ritual together, and it was interesting to observe. I started to see the relationship of their collections to their work, and it just came together in my head as an interesting idea for a show. I think artists always want to know where ideas come from and how other artists make their work. I thought it would make for an interesting discussion to have a visual dialogue about those connections in the artwork as well as the whole discussion of what artists are looking at these days, what is valid art, is an academic approach necessary to make “real” art and so on. The lively discussion during what was supposed to be a brief artist talk on Friday night was really satisfying to me since it seemed like other artists in the audience were also interested in those questions.

T.A.: What inspires your own work lately?

M.J.: I think about the idea of creativity all the time and especially the way artists’ problem solve and see the world maybe a little different than some folks. I have had a show up in Fort Worth for the past month or so called “Creativity Test.” The premise is just that idea – about creative problem solving. I bought an old unpainted “Paint by Number” set at a garage sale a few years ago thinking I would do something with it. I did some research on the whole phenomenon, because I was curious about how they came about. I found out that they were developed in the 50s around the time TV became available in middle-class homes and the same time the 40-hour work week took effect. Since people had more free time than in the past, there were all kinds of companies and ideas that sprung up to give them something to do and advertisement played a large part in helping to sell the American public on the board games, paint by number sets, wood burning kits, etc. that were offered up. The idea was to convince the average Joe that he, too, could make art or be creative without knowing anything about it. At any rate, I came up with a project based on the idea that as an artist, I should be able to take the boring barn in a landscape image I had and reproduce it many times and come up with a bunch of creative ways to play with it. Eventually, I took on a partner in this project and we made a number of responses to the idea. That is an example of the way I like to “play” creatively, and I think it is something I think about as a teacher of art and as a studio artist. The nature of creativity interests me. I am constantly trying to help students access their creative juices and to figure what they need to be doing in their work within themselves.

Artists Mike Noland and Fred Stonehouse visited with me about their ideas and collecting sensibilities.

Roadside Angels by Michael Noland

Roadside Angels by Mike Noland

T.A.: How would you describe the work you collect and the connections to your own creativity?

Michael Noland: How artists do things differently piques my interest. Over the past several years of collecting and working with outsider pieces and objects, I notice a purity of creating. We see in the Outsider work how artists make stuff that they lived with everyday and currently live with.

Fred Stonehouse: They use what they have available and materials that are right in front of them. When we shop or go look … as I said we do this dance together. We also trade, as a matter of fact, this head over here used to be mine and now Mike owns it.

M. N.: Because we’re sharing a love of stuff we enjoy collecting. I grew up in Lawton, Okla., near this area, and a lot of my work comes from that landscape. I said Tornado Alley and this piece, “Roadside Angels” illustrates something I could only see here … something I have only seen here. These are catfish heads that were stuck alongside the road.

T.A.: Michael, what was the first thing you collected?

M.N.: Wow, I have to stop and think about that. I think it was a clay piece, yes, a little head of Elvis, and I still have it.

Work by Fred

Work by Fred Stonehouse

T.A.: Fred, talk to me about the heads and incorporating text.

F.S.: These pieces are all done on different types of paper and with different phrases. I think what drives you to be a maker is really important. Most of the text came after these images… I think there is a poetic reaction … adding to the images. My mother was deaf, so language was something mutable to me and I have tried to figure it out. … I am not quite sure what it means now. I am still exploring.

T.A.: Fred, What was the first item in your collection?

F.S.: Gee, I am not sure I can remember. I mean what was the first piece that I felt like began my collection was probably a life-sized concrete dog … like a Sphinx. I didn’t buy the other one, because it was chipped and I could kick myself now. I would like to have both.

“Outside Influences: Michael Noland and Fred Stonehouse” is on display through April 24 at The Gallery, University of Texas at Arlington. Benito Huerta will exhibit new work with his wife, artist Janet Chaffee, at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center in November. Marilyn Jolly opens a new show at Bows and Arrows on April 24.