Visual Arts » 2D

Collective Sigh of Relief

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"In the real world, if you are an artist you also have to be an educator. Doing the work is the first part, explaining it -- so they can understand it -- is the rest," says Richard Emery Nickolson, veteran artist (in the most literal sense, having served in the army during the Vietnam War) and Professor Emeritus from Herron School of Art and Design. Nickolson, along with almost a dozen other established artists, has set out to challenge the way Hoosiers consume creative works in this city.

This is not just a typical, run-of-the-mill gallery show. It began with a few folks at the Stutz building who were having conversations about their ideas and experiences within the local arts scene. But those initial chats seeded a unique gathering the likes of which Indianapolis hasn’t seen in years.

Susan D. Brewer is both a Stutz Artists Association member and one of The 11. She created this mixed media piece, Vibrant Stillness. - SUSAN D. BREWER
  • Susan D. Brewer
  • Susan D. Brewer is both a Stutz Artists Association member and one of The 11. She created this mixed media piece, Vibrant Stillness.

The 11 is a collective of artists who at first glance don’t seem to have much in common. Their work is eclectic, abstract, figurative and narrative, and it features sculptures, paintings and drawings. The common thread weaving these artists together is their drive to consistently respond to their environments and to continue to grow. Even while many of them find themselves mid-career, they are still making choices and challenging their ideas in spite of the changes they view within the local art scene.

“It’s important to see things in person -- there has to be a physical space.” explains Heather Stamenov, a painter who was the last artist recruited for the collective and also a former Stutz Resident Artist. She got to meet and work side by side with many of the members of The 11. “This idea of solid artists showing together -- a collective -- has more weight. It takes a lot for people to come together and do something,” she says.

Although Naptown is conducive to making things happen and many new artists have managed to carve out a niche for themselves, several of the artists from The 11 saw a golden age of galleries emerge but then disappear. Having had their works in those galleries, the artists now find themselves unrepresented and unsure of just exactly where they fit in to a scene that seems tailored for a much younger crowd.

Nickolson has seen several generations of artists come and go, including some of the members from The 11. As a board member, he was one of the active players in creating the former Gallery 431. Most recently he also helped with the retrospective show in honor of 431 and Ed Sanders, who was also his student.

Nickolson was one of the first artists to join the collective and believes that producing a show that is exemplary can be radical. Although his experience would easily afford him gallery representation in many cities, Nickolson remains committed to working in Indy.

Pop-up shows are temporary spaces, yet this approach seems fitting for the group as they seek to challenge the idea that art should exist for the sole purpose of entertaining. “We don’t want to see our work as only entertainment, but for what it is: quality work.” says Nickolson. The setting provides a sense of kineticism and impermanence that reflects its lifespan.

Constance Edwards Scopelitis' work with be on display at The 11's pop-up gallery. She works in a variety of media, including graphite as seen in this piece, Mirror Mirror. - CONSTANCE EDWARDS SCOPELITIS
  • Constance Edwards Scopelitis
  • Constance Edwards Scopelitis' work with be on display at The 11's pop-up gallery. She works in a variety of media, including graphite as seen in this piece, Mirror Mirror.

Most members of the new collective have been Indianapolis-based throughout their careers. They remain pillars of the current and historic local arts scene. Among The 11 are Herron graduates, founders of noncommercial art galleries, and artists who have been making a solid living and good work consistently for years.

So, in a society that’s always on the lookout for the next big, new thing, the collective’s members remind that consumers can run the risk of consuming too much “bubblegum.” It is sweet at first, but loses its flavor quickly. There is also art that takes time to cultivate and weaves itself into the identity of the city as The 11 has set out to do. Not that just anyone can be this type of artist.

Over the past year, these individuals have had many conversations regarding their motivations and issues surrounding this effort, but until now, they have not shown their artwork side by side as a collective. And that is what is most exciting for them -- showing their work with people they care about and whose work they have deep respect for.

At the beginning the group members jokingly called themselves “The Collective Mess,” a moniker that reflected their desire for more fluidity while not knowing exactly what that looked like. Fortunately, those who’ve heard the buzz about The 11 won’t have to wait much longer. The first show will preview tomorrow afternoon, just in time for First Friday, and it will remain open until Sunday from 5pm - 8pm at 659 Virginia Ave. (the future location for Amelia’s next to Bluebeard).

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