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by LINDA MITCHELL
BY NOW, JUST ABOUT everyone
in Eureka and Arcata has encountered the creative force known
as Empire Squared (E2), whether they know it or not. The art
being produced by the 25 or 30 local artists who make up the
group is everywhere. I'm not kidding. They had 21 formal shows
in 2003 alone, and that doesn't include all the informal stuff:
the graphic art, public art projects, impromptu hangings in coffee
houses and donut shops, and all that "Free Art" adorning
the hallways of HSU in Arcata and the backs of bus stop benches
in Eureka. As I said, their work is everywhere.
artists are maintaining a very visible community presence as
well, working in art supply stores and framing shops, interning
at art galleries, building and piloting kinetic sculptures, painting
murals, drawing for Pastels on the Plaza. They're joining larger
arts organizations like the RAA and HAC, contributing time and
resources, and shaking things up. Even though the E2 alliance
has only been in existence for about three years, the group has
already become an energizing force within the local art community.
And here's the thing -- almost all these artists are under 30
and most of them are still students.
"These kids have so much
positive energy," said HSU art lecturer Jim Moore, who works
with several E2 members in his classes. "They have this
spark that's contagious. It's a real privilege working with them
-- their enthusiasm for art transfers to the rest of the class.
They're what teachers live for."
Like many alliances among artists,
E2 began informally. "Jeremy [Hara] and I started doing
landscape painting together and then Rachel [Grusin] started
coming and then Katherine [Simon]," said Donovan Clark,
one of the group's original members. "So we went out almost
religiously, rain or shine, for about two years and we did lots
of landscape painting. Then we started getting interested in
more contemporary issues in art and more experimentation. That's
when we met Forest [Stearns], during that transitional period,
and we started getting into more conceptual art."
E2 has grown to include mixed-media
artists, photographers, painters, sculptors, graffiti artists,
videographers and musicians. While the group's members don't
necessarily have common aesthetic goals, what appears to bind
them together is a shared, serious commitment to creative activity.
"We all have different styles, but the main thing that links
us together is being really serious, positive, energetic artists,"
Alliances among creative people
are nothing new, of course. Groups of like-minded artists have
banded together throughout history, offering individual members
not only emotional and creative support, but practical help as
well. "I have friends that, if I'm not here, they can hang
or take down my work for me -- if I don't have a vehicle, they
can help me out," Clark said. "And critiquing -- I
seldom feel like one of my pieces is done until I run it by Jeremy."
"With this group, I think
it even goes deeper than those practical, networking connections,"
Moore said. "These kids are really challenging the boundaries
of art. It's a very exciting thing to see."
This challenging of boundaries
is the focus of E2's current show at the Ink People Gallery (through
January), which features "contemporary/cutting edge art
reflecting the postmodern age," and includes the work of
21 E2 artists.
I talked with some of the gang
at the Arts Alive! opening Saturday night, asking them about
the show. "Contemporary means art that's happening right
now, post-post-modern, experimenting with mediums, doing stuff
that people have never seen before, really trying to be different
and original, crazy and eye-popping," Clark said. "We're
trying to show something that's not the same art you see at Arts
Alive! every month."
Clark's work in the show includes
a wall of evolutionary self-portraits which he says reveal his
creative thought processes, a column of stacked coffee cups which
is about denying an object its functionality, and a sculpture
made from two bricks, a spoon and an egg.
"Contemporary art is very
broad," said Anayansi Ricketts, another early E2 member.
"For me, contemporary meant using poetry and images to represent
my ideas about what's going on in the world politically. For
my friend Katherine Simon, all her images are about walking around
Eureka -- so for her, contemporary art is about where she is
right now. It's something different for all of us because everyone
has their own unique vision. "
Anayansi also talked about her
connection to Empire Squared. "A lot of our shows have themes
or involve trying out new concepts. The group stretches me to
think in different ways and to delve into ideas I've been contemplating
but don't pursue until someone says `We're having a show!'"
"In the age of technology,
culture is constantly changing and shifting, so we're looking
for our art to express that, that change that's going
on now, currently," Hara added. "Earlier, a woman came
into the show and saw Donovan's piece and said, `That's just
bricks and an egg -- that's not art! How is that art?' And then
she went through this whole process of thinking about it, and
she ultimately justified it as art, but said she didn't get it.
I think that's great! She expanded her definition of what art
I asked Hara what his definition
of art is. "Art is constantly changing," he said. "Art
is something that speaks to another person, that can't be conveyed
in any other way. I feel like when I try to define it or fit
it in a box, I'm doing it an injustice. The more I try to define
it, the less I understand it."
Participating artists in
E2's show at the Ink People include Chris Anderson, Tomas Atwood,
Donovan Clark, Mike Dewey, Nikki Edge, Julia Finkelstein, Trey
Gossestt, Dustin Green, Rachel Grusin, Keenan Hand, Jeremy Hara,
Ryan Lee, Jesse Leimer, Luke Forsyth, Laurie Naber, Anayansi
Ricketts, Katherine Simon, Cyrus Smith, Forest Stearns, J.T.,
and Jordan Vilardi. The show was coordinated by Donovan Clark.
Linda Mitchell can be reached
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