Artistic mishaps open to interpretation at new SPC art exhibit

Editor’s note: The authors for this story include 10 students from Margaret Kirby’s COMM 2311 News Writing.  They helped write this story as a group during class and tackled issues such as how to write a lead, what quotes to use, how to organize information, and how to end a story.   Student names are:  Joshua Cantu, Cade Dannhaus, Carter Evans, Anna Gonzales, Payton Hinojosa, Noah Lopez, Marley McKay, Natalie Reyna, Isabela Salas, and Cade Thomas.  The photos that illustrate this story were taken by students in COMM 1316 News Photography.   

Dark.  Bold.  Eerie?  

It’s hard to find the right one or two words to describe the latest art exhibit at the South Plains College Fine Arts building.    And perhaps none of the words that first come to mind include “mishap.”  Yet that’s what artist Joe Clifford chose to call his solo art exhibit now on display inside the SPC Fine Arts Gallery.  

The full name of the exhibit is “The Infinite Mishaps on Paper.”  It opened on Jan. 26.  It includes more than two dozen prints.  Some of them are as big as 3 feet by 5 feet.  Many are black and white, while others have washes of color like red, orange, or green.

So why is the word “mishap” part of the title?  

Artist Joe Clifford explains “mishap” has to do with how he makes his prints.  In a statement about his art, Clifford says, “The prints encompass a vast exploration within the woodcut medium and its own inherent unknowns.  The woodcut medium itself allows for many happy mishaps to occur during the actual printing process.”

In an interview he explains more details about woodcuts.  First, he says he takes a piece of plywood.  Then he does a drawing on it.  From that drawing, he cuts the design out.  The resulting woodcuts act like giant stamps for his prints.

 “The negative space,” he says, “ is what you see on the paper.  That is the white.  Black space is what I leave.  And there’s a lot of stuff which just happens because of the grain of the wood or I didn’t cut deep enough or when I roll it out.  It’s just a mishap.”

Clifford has been teaching art in the Slaton Independent School District for about two years now.  He says he has classes in both the junior high and high school.

 “I love where I’m at,” he says.

Down the hall from Clifford’s solo woodcut exhibit is a display of nearly 50 pieces of student art from Slaton ISD.  They represent artists from all age groups, from first grade up to high school.  

At first glance, the students’ artwork appears to have nothing to do with Clifford’s.  None of the student pieces, which are displayed in a long hallway behind glass, would be described as “dark,” although many are bold.  They are square after square of bright or pastel colors.  Some pieces from younger students feature patterned popsicles with wooden sticks glued onto the paper.  There are silhouettes of forest animals layered over pastel skies.  Some of the older students combine words and color with a nod toward science fiction.

Clifford says when the SPC art gallery director asked him about displaying his own work, she asked him if he wanted his students’ work to be displayed too.  He said yes.  “And I was like, ‘Oh,’” he says, “‘how many chances are they gonna’ have to show in an actual gallery setting?’”  

His students, he says, were excited to be included.  Several proud students and parents, who obviously came from Slaton, were on hand to view both art exhibits when they opened with a reception on Jan. 26.   

And despite the contrast in styles, there are several reasons why Clifford’s and the students’ art exhibits complement each other.  

SPC Fine Arts & Gallery Director Kristy Kristinek , who’s in charge of booking art exhibits on campus, says one of her main goals this semester is “inspiration.”   So, including the students’ art with Clifford’s, she says, helps push the fact that you can be an artist at any age.  “And if it’s something you want to do for a living,” she says, “it’s possible.”

At the same time, Kristinek says there’s a balance between professional and personal art making, and that’s her theme this semester in booking exhibits.  It’s a balance she says she’s trying to teach SPC art students.  Many of them, she says, are trying to decide what they want to do professionally when they’re done with school.

 “There’s this stigma,” Kristinek says, “that if you become an art teacher at whatever level that you don’t continue to make art of your own, which is a total lie and a total misconception.  Yes, it can be hard to balance.  I do so in my own life trying to balance art making and teaching at the same time.”

Kristinek is herself an artist.  She explains she also teaches art at SPC.  She’s been in charge of the SPC art gallery for about three and a half years now.

Does Clifford find balance between professional and personal art making too?  It appears he would say yes.  

 “Even when I’m teaching in class,” he says, “when my students are engaged, I’m thinking about what’s going to be next.”

What does Clifford hope people take away from his solo exhibit of “mishaps?”  That, he would say, comes from the person looking at it.  “It’s up to your interpretation,” he says.   “I’m just facilitating something to look at for you to come up with your own.”

Some of Clifford’s woodcuts are very customized for clients.  For instance, he offers to create a woodcut of someone’s pet dog.  And with these pieces he says he’s trying to tell the client’s story.

Photo by Morgan Minnick

But as he talks about his art, it becomes clear that most of Clifford’s art tells his own story.  “Most of the time when I start a piece it almost becomes like I’m writing a book,” he says.  “Cause I know where the beginning is.  Now how the piece is gonna’ end, I’m not sure.  Cause things slowly change as I go.  Like the story changes.”

Kristinek says one word that comes to mind when she looks at Clifford’s exhibit is “collage”.   Clifford himself says, “I am not a painter.”  Instead, many of his pieces are collages of both print designs and color.  

 “I use a lot of collage elements,” he says.  

Kristinek says her favorite piece in Clifford’s exhibit is a 3 by 5-foot piece called “Dead Poet’s Society.”  She says it has a “sculptural collaged feel” to it but it also feels like a painting at the same time.

Photo by Katie Brackens

 “That one in particular,” she says, “is multiple pieces of wood put together like a jigsaw puzzle, and then run through the press.  So those layers of color are all separate pieces of wood.  And then the different images that you see are pieced together and run through a multitude of different times.”

Clifford offers several pieces of advice when asked what he would say to young people if they want to end up where he is now.  First of all, he says, “It’s hard work.  And you’ve got to persevere.”

The process, he says, is never ending.  With that, he’s describing a combination of creating of art, learning how to market it as well, and teaching.

 “If it’s your dream,” he says, “you know, chase it.  You’re going to know whether or not you have it.”

If you want to see more of Joe Clifford’s work, you can find it on display at the Charles Adams Gallery.  He says anyone can contact him through the gallery to make an appointment to meet him at the Helen DeVitt Jones Print Studio in downtown Lubbock where much of his work is stored.  If you want to text or call him directly: 806-632-7835

You still have time to catch a glimpse of Clifford’s “The Infinite Mishaps on Paper” and art from Slaton, I.S.D. students.  Both are in the SPC Fine Arts Gallery on the Levelland Campus.  The gallery is inside the Helen DeVitt Jones Theater for The exhibit will be on display until Feb. 24.

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