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Updated: Aug 23, 2019
In February’s newsletter, we featured the current Esker Foundation shows exhibiting the works of Jack Bush and contemporary artist Colleen Heslin. Richard, Doris and I attended an artist talk shortly thereafter, during which Ms. Heslin herself led a group of curious patrons through the journey that is this exhibition’s body of work.
In a conversation initiated by someone’s inquiry of process and background, Ms. Heslin led an impassioned dialogue about the limitations of institutions, of narrow-minded castes of art and culture, and further, about breaking out of those norms to reach new limits of personal and professional exploration. Immediately, her own work serves as an example of such contrast; she marries the notion of high “art” such as painting with the idea of perceived “craft” such as in the art of quilting. She simultaneously elevates one while taking a hit for compromising the other, and yet the end result is an establishment provoking body of work.
In the bigger picture and at first glance, one might instantly begin to draw parallels between her work and the work of long-passed Jack Bush. This connection is not unusual, and in fact, typical of our societal interpretations of things that we deem successful. All too often, admiration of one is referenced to the inspiration of others who have come before and the examples they have set. Because we have studied so many of “the greats”, we instantly recognize similar qualities in others. We are constantly grasping at familiar anecdotes to rationalize current progression. Even Jack Bush is marvelled in comparison and contrast to other greats.
The honest truth, however, is that while Colleen Heslin shows a great respect for Jack Bush, his work and his processes, the major drivers of her work do not originate in his lessons or examples.
“Push your heroes aside to find something new”: these are the words that ring through my lasting impression of her presence at the gallery that night. Yes, respect must be had for those who have blazed new trails ahead of us. However, our familiar institutions focus so intensely on learning the lessons of others, that we often become blinded by a fear of experiencing the same processes ourselves, or an impulse to skip them in good faith. Regardless of previous or current successes, acting from a place of humbleness encourages an artist to blur the line between mastery and amateurism; a line that Ms. Heslin is keen to encourage crossing – back and forth. Allowing mistakes to be made, or at least allowing the room for mistakes to be made, inspires thorough investigation. It requires taking chances, getting hands dirty, and it might even require retracing the steps of those before us. The key is that it allows first-hand, experiential results that lead to organic solutions.
There exists a sweet spot between knowing and not knowing, the same way there is a difference between hearing and listening; it is a space for opportunity and for growth. As happiness is, mastery is more of a journey than a destination.
As designers, we ask for the faith of our clients regularly. This responsibility is two-fold: on one hand, we want to do our passion justice and we want our resulting work to embody the principles of what we consider to be successful and sustainable work; on the other hand, we owe it to our entrusting clients to put forth a client-centric and responsive solution. In order to successfully satisfy the needs of our clients, we can’t simply “copy and paste” what we believe to be the ideal of quality ideas or results from one project to another. It is the process of exploring and discovering the satisfaction of those needs, the process of getting messy and walking in our clients’ shoes, that makes us successful at our craft. We walk a fine line between formulas, psychology and facts, and the intangible, abstract and conceptual. We cannot allow the success of other or of past projects to cloud the experience and results of another. Architecture and design are both a passion and a responsibility; equally. As is Colleen’s impressive body of work a successful combination of art and craft, professional and amateur, experienced and naïve.
Ellysa Evans, Jr Interior Designer Davignon Martin Architecture + Interior Design
Excerpt from a Jack Bush diary entry, dated August 9th, 1957:
“It seems that I have 3 worlds. This home – where we have no trouble much, active, working, building – living. We all seem to love it. But it all depends on the commercial studio work – which seems dead – no future and a shove. And I love it too – but I don’t seem to stay there much. Then the painting world. More and more this becomes absorbing. I find it difficult to relate these 3 worlds. Maybe, tho’, like the areas in a painting – they are complete entities in themselves – but related by the space separating them? This crazy, fascinating, fantastic world of make believe, I don’t understand it. Is it real? In one way it is – but I keep trying to back out of it. No I don’t, I keep pushing deeper in.”