B.O.S.C.O. 2004 

A postscript

Boise Open Studios Weekend 2004 (B.O.S.C.O) is behind us but it is worth revisiting. Although only in its second year, the event has expanded dramatically. The organization has grown to 50 members and all but a few participated by opening their studios to the public the weekend of June 4-6. It was a lot of addresses to hit and a lot of art to see in the allotted time, but it made for an interesting, if harried, experience. There were several studios I intended to visit but ran out of time.

The Thursday night reception at Boise Art Museum (BAM) was an excellent opportunity to view samples of the work, chat with the artists, and plan your itinerary. The turnout was impressive, B.O.S.C.O sold a bunch of tour tickets, and for an arts community that has been pretty fragmented over the years, the camaraderie and good vibes were encouraging. It was nice to see BAM actively involved as well. Recognition of local artists by the museum has been pretty lame in recent years. You would think an institution that strives to get more people in the door would take note of the turnout for this event.

A range of art forms was represented, and the quality was as uneven as the mediums were diverse. Much of the strongest work was in painting, like Gina Phillips, Geoff Krueger and Noble Hardesty, and included some surprises. Among Charles Gill's familiar canvases of suburban ranch-style homes whose crisp, simple geometry have the look of still-lifes, Gill had on view two large works representing his new focus--single male figures precariously perched on a ladder or chair, and set against a dark background. Gill's knack for dramatic light and shadow, compositional risk-taking and uncommon treatment of the commonplace, combine to give these works the feel of 17th century portraiture.

The conversation piece in Bill Lewis' studio was a hefty bound catalog of tactile painted and constructed images by the artist, which could be seen as both a source book for his strange, encyclopedic paintings and a work of art in its own right. And Godzilla is back in Richard Young's new canvases but now the big G has pierced the clouds and found nirvana. The grand, romantic landscape settings that Young likes to use now have a non-western look, resembling the pastel palette and stylized pictorialism of the art of India.

There were other unexpected experiences. I'm so used to seeing the big projects of Amy Westover that it was nice to discover her two-dimensional graphic art in the form of abstract monoprints and collagraphs. I never would have considered Troy Passey's Zen-like pen and ink drawings and Noble Hardesty's brazen counterculture aesthetic to be compatible, yet their collaborative pieces were surprisingly effective, presenting body language and the written word as related formal devices.

Entering Kathleen Keys' studio was to walk into a storm of color--a close, multimedia, seemingly multicultural space with so much going on it was dizzying. I particularly liked her oil pastel abstractions on panel, but also enjoyed poking around the paintings, collages and antique mannequins. At Anika Smulovitz's I came upon her new take on the art of ornamentation in the wearable abstract sculptures she fashions out of starched, white shirt collars. Inventive and whimsical, her collar art makes quite the statement when worn around the neck. Who needs the rest of the shirt? There is also a new warmth and approachability to the efforts of both Stephanie Bacon and Kirsten Furlong who are taking a more intuitive, less literal tact in their respective work.

For me, B.O.S.C.O and other local events have confirmed that too much art here relies on found images and materials. I'm not talking about artists like Gill and Lewis who transcend their sources, transforming them into an original vision; I mean those who simply recycle such matter, settling for its superficial, vernacular accessibility. It has become an easy out, more an exercise in clever design than substantive art. The pioneering work of Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell is history; in the present era it has become, with the occasional exception, a tired art form. Secondly, I certainly have had my fill of work in encaustic. A medium that artists elsewhere explored and graduated from years ago, encaustic has become a belated fad here. It is time to move on folks.

Finally, B.O.S.C.O underscored the desperate shortage of affordable studio space in Boise. I have to hand it to these artists; they get pretty good at carving a workspace out of what's available, usually at home. The promise the bus barn held two years ago has, predictably, come to naught.

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