Twelve artists, three blackboards, and plenty of white chalk are the ingredients for a month-long exercise in creativity taking place at ArtYard in Frenchtown, N.J.
Artist Tom Judd of Philadelphia is orchestrating the effort, which is a recreation of an artistic experiment he tried in Soho in 1997. It was captured in a 2016 documentary, “The Chalkboard Chronicles,” by Judd and Jeff Wolfe. The movie was shown at ArtYard Feb. 16.
Then and now, Judd hung up three chalkboards just over 4-feet-square and three artists at a time were given one week to work on them. White chalk is the only medium. Then the boards are erased and the next three artists get busy. The work is done in public – in a gallery window in 1997, and in the ArtYard gallery at 62A Trenton Ave. this time.
As various artists pointed out in his movie, for most of them the blackboard was a locus of classroom failure or triumph, which added intensity to the experiment. Adding their own cross currents are the public nature of the work, the presence of two other artists, and the ephemeral nature of the display.
The artists for week one (Feb. 13 to 18) were Tristin Lowe of Philadelphia, Siyuan Liu from Shaoshan, China, and Illia Barger of Kingwood Township, N.J.
Lowe is more of a 3-D guy, someone who is more likely to build an 18-foot-tall beach chair than to chalk up a pretty picture. On the evening of his second day, you could see he’d been erasing as much as he’d been drawing, using the blackboard as a sketchbook for some visual ideas.
He called it “seed work, to see what germinates. You can surprise yourself by mashing things together and see what happens.” He cited a long-ago experiment in which a scientist was trying to reanimate a dead frog, but instead discovered how to make an electrical battery. Then he erased his sketches and started another, hoping for “a little finish instead of process all the time.”
Barger paints a lot of big blossoms, although she has done historical murals in Trenton. She is as intentional as Lowe is experimental. She started out writing a quotation on the board from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
But you’d have to take her word for it. By the evening of Day Two, she had completely shaded over the words and was well into creating one of her floral close-ups. A grid was keeping the highly detailed work sorted out.
Although she offers no details, she is grieving the loss of a loved one, to whom she has privately dedicated this picture. She says the temporary nature of the drawing is appropriate to this picture. It’s something of “extraordinary beauty that’s going to be erased. It’s a condensed version of life,” she said. And more specifically, the blossom’s petals represent the “myriad of delicate relationships” that a person might have.
Despite the gravity of her thoughts, she is not morose. Even though she lives nearby, she is staying in the ArtYard residence to be “in the milieu.”
Liu is the third artist. He has just earned a master’s degree from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. His portfolio includes historical photos into which he Photoshops his child self and also other dramatically doctored photos of historical figures. His focus is historical, cultural and political.
The chalkboard has whisked him back to middle school in China when he and his classmates would create “a blackboard newspaper for decoration and propaganda.” So that’s what he’s doing, although this time he’s following his own agenda. His dominant image is of a $10,000 bill showing the “conflict and cooperation between China and the United States.”
The gallery is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
The rest of the schedule is: Feb. 20 to 25, Cindy Stockton Moore, Jason Bereswill and Lisette Morel; Feb. 27 to March 4, Andrea Wohl Keefe, Casey Ruble and Ken Weathersby; and March 6 to 11, Colin Keefe, Jasmine Alleger and Darla Jackson.
ArtYard is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to be “an incubator for creative expression and a catalyst for collaborations that reveal the transformational power or art.”