As he laid out his photographs on the table for the group to critique, Jimmy (not his real name) said, “This is the work that I created at the XYZ Residency on the coast.” Normally, I would be jealous. Of the time, the space and the opportunity.
Artist residency programs give artists the opportunity to live and work outside of their usual environments to reflect, research, experiment with new materials or processes and / or make work. A residency lasts for a set period of time. It’s a formal affair. Artists fill out an application and submit a curriculum vitae, motivation for the residency and often a project proposal for a residency that is typically six months to years out.
But today, I was different. Residency programs are earned and require advance planning, and I wasn’t in a position at the moment to do that. If I wanted the opportunity to focus more intently on my purpose and craft as an artist, I’d have to be creative. I knew I was going to be in Portland for seven days solo. I’d have focused set of responsibilities but with that I would also have some free time.
It’s true that some free time carved out isn’t the same as a residency. But I could turn that time into something. I had 7 days or 168 hours. Out of that I needed to subtract:
- hours for sleep (56)
- working out (14)
- eating (21)
- other responsibilities such as job hunting and house management (28)
- social engagements (3) and
- personal maintenance (7)
- spiritual practice (7)
That left 35 hours. I could carve out a work week within a week! What could I accomplish?
In a bright yellow notebook, I penned 3 main goals:
- Develop a better understanding of the photography community in Portland
- Create a new artist statement that was better than the one automagically generated by artybollocks.com
- Produce new work
How did I go about all this? To develop a better understanding of the deep photography community in Portland, I:
- Enjoyed looking at photographers’ work at Camera Work, Blue Sky (especially the Pacific Northwest Photographers Drawers), and Vernissage as well as other media at other galleries (Disjecta, Carnation, Augen, Land, Froelick, Elizabeth Jones Art Gallery)
- Met fellow photogs in a monthly photo group critique
- Met more fellow photogs at the one-year anniversary of the Portland Darkroom (rising from the ashes of Newspace) including one of the founders
- Plumbed the depths of the film and camera experts at local gem Blue Moon Camera and Machine
- listened to an interview of a local photographer and publisher
- enjoyed thoroughly reading a book by a local photographer whom I had enjoyed meeting
To create a better artist statement for me than artybollocks.com was able to generate, I researched to remind myself what should be included, looked at and reflected on my own work over the past 20 years, read over 100 artist statements, and looked at photographers’ work. I wrote more about the process here.
Lastly to produce new work, I took a multi-step process to revive my now discontinued Contax 645 medium format camera, found Kodak Portra 120 roll film and a place that will develop it (the aforementioned Blue Moon Camera and Machine) and focused us on a new subject, the place where I stayed. The first two rolls were terrible. I have more hope for the 3rd now in development. I’ll share more soon. I experimented also with combining film with zentangles. Those results coming soon too.
The opportunity I designed to evaluate my work with methodical and sustained focus was a real gift. Time with friends was a welcome and joyful elixir. My key takeaways were:
- The photography community in Portland is vibrant and multi-faceted. Each artist I met was working to manifest his or her highest work for a given body and topic.
- You may not be able to have it all, but you sure can have more.
- Designing your own residency is completely possible. If you time bound your design, artistic pursuits can be balanced with work and family. For example, there are 24-hour comic contests where comic book artists get together for 24 hours to see if they can make one 24-page comic. That’s doable with work and family.
At the very end, I decided to call this The Tesseract Art and Design Residency because the benefits from the time will feed my work at TAD.