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Oatman & Father, Signmakers:
Gordon and Michael Oatman

September 24 - October  28, 2016
Opening Reception: Saturday, September 24th, 4 - 6 pm
This event is FREE and open to the public.
Gallery Hours: Tues - Fri 12 - 5 pm, Sat 12 - 4 pm

"The Convenience Effect"
historic book cuttings on map on board
with custom frame by the artist's father, Gordon Oatman

Michael Oatman calls his practice ‘the poetic interpretation of documents’. His collages and installations integrate thousands of found, modified and handmade components, including artifacts of material culture, painting, drawing, video, and food.  With a focus on animals, this exhibition will feature Michael’s working drawings and other studies for his large scale collages, as well as the collages themselves, presented within frames created by his father, Gordon.  Gordon Oatman will exhibit a selection of his frames (unfilled) and his studies and drawings for those frames. The frames are a geometric abstraction of animal forms (thunderbird, butterfly, bat, fish), with some up to 8 feet in length. Michael says “there is a connection between the two bodies of work - in my mind this relates to the early lessons I received from my Dad about nature via hunting, fishing and general fascination with the animals around us growing up in rural Vermont.”

Gordon Oatman
was trained at Keene State Teachers' College and taught Industrial Arts in the South Burlington, Vermont School System for over 30 years. His many subjects included woodworking, metal fabrication, photography and printing in three areas: offset, silkscreen and hand set type. He earned a Master's Degree at RIT and the University of Vermont, finishing his career teaching architectural drafting and the newly invented CADD. A lifelong outdoorsman, he custom manufactured steam-bent fishing nets for the Orvis Corporation in the 1970s. He later produced hand carved dealership signs for the H. L. Leonard Rod Company, a rival fishing goods firm. For over 30 years Oatman and his wife, Shirley Oatman (a retired home economics teacher and cooking school owner) have produced material works for the many art projects of their son, Michael. At 79, this is his first art exhibition.

Michael Oatman
earned his BFA from Rhode Island School of Design, and his MFA from the University at Albany.  He has exhibited extensively in galleries, museums and public spaces throughout the US and abroad. Recent projects include All Utopias Fell, a permanent commission for MASS MoCA, open until October 2020; the 52-artist extravaganza "An Armory Show" for the Opalka Gallery at Sage College, Albany; and "ABECEDARIUS" with Colin Boyd at the Arts Center of The Capital Region in Troy. He is represented by MillerYezerski in Boston, MA; Lenore Grey in Providence, RI; Mayson Gallery in NYC and Stremmel Gallery in Reno, NV. His accolades include the Nancy Graves Foundation Award for work in new media; the Brown Fellows Award from the School of Architecture at RPI; Purchase Awards from the University Art Museum at U-Albany and the Albany Institute of History and Art, as well as grants from the New York State Council on the Arts. In 2009 he was voted Best Artist of the past 30 Years in the Capital Region by editors of the Metroland newspaper. He has taught at Harvard, UVM, University of Albany, St. Michael’s College and Vermont College.  He has been a visiting critic at RISD from 1986 to the present.  Since 1999 he has been a faculty member in the School of Architecture at RPI. He is the juror for the 2016 Mohawk Hudson Regional and is currently working on a solo project for the Bell Gallery at Brown University.

Exhibition Review online: Albany Times Union

Michael Oatman
Statement the Exhibition:
The Family Business

So far we have not cornered the market. We have not made, as they say, a killing. But quietly, and steadily over the past 30 years, numerous Michael Oatman artworks have found their way into museums, public spaces and the homes of collectors (and friends). And sometimes the silent partners – in the creation of components for my installations, props for my video shoots and frames for my collages – are my parents. Finally, it's time to break the silence and introduce one of my partners, Gordon Oatman. 

Quite possibly the collaborator with whom I have worked the most has been my father. While Shirley (my Mom) is very comfortable discussing wide-ranging and even obscure content, my father has been driven by more practical concerns: "Why would you do it that way? Who is going to want to look at that? Will anyone GET what you’re doing?" Luckily, every artist has parents, but not every artist is lucky enough to produce work collaboratively with their parents.  

Perhaps "collaboration" may be a strong word, for it implies that there is more of a partnership in the generation of content, not just form. The situation is usually one where I call Mom and Dad and say things like, "Guys, I need Mom to make me a dozen sock monkeys with no eyes, no ears and corks in their mouths. Dad, I need you to make me a brass and mahogany pillory to hang them in."

There is surprisingly little argument. We discuss material, dimensions and finish. A few weeks later I get a package, and check off the box for that show (the piece in question, "Hung Jury" was made in the 1990s, just shortly after the Rodney King beatings resulted in a "Not Guilty" verdict, precipitating the riots in LA). Because craft is important to my Dad, there are many experiments about fabrication and he offers me options. But again, the work flow is always me toward them.

So it was with great pleasure that my Dad called 4 years back and said that he had come up with a project for us to do together. He wouldn’t elaborate on the phone, but insisted that I come north to Vermont for Thanksgiving. There, in the basement workshop, he showed me some terrific drawings on vellum, of frames in the shapes of animals. "I'll make the frames, you fill 'em in.” Simple. Elegant. A great offer. Probably the most succinct proposal anyone has ever made to me. Of course I said yes; I had been waiting 25 years for the direction of the workflow to reverse.

The frames in this show reflect many areas of interest – if not research – for both me and Dad. In recent years he has become fascinated by the mathematical complications known as Burr puzzles. They are extremely difficult to take apart and even harder to reassemble. Cribbage, a lifelong interest, has seen Dad make dozens of elegant boards – each one unique – for friends and family members. Sometimes there are 50 hours in a board, and in the case of a recent collage commissioned by Hamilton College, hundreds of hours invested in the 8 frames that he made for my 30-foot long image, “The Branch.”

For my part, the major themes that seem to populate the shaped frames he makes concern ecology, sustainability and the outsized influence of industry. These works are warnings about the mismanagement of what Buckminster Fuller called “Spaceship Earth.” I suppose that growing up hunting in the woods of Vermont, making forts, hiking and being curious about nature might seem to be canned scenes from a 1970s –era youth. But my father is, at heart, a conservationist. My parents grew and preserved their own food, produced maple syrup with some neighbors, and even tried their hand at making wine (the last with less than spectacular results).

Some quick notes on a few of the works:

A seemingly incongruous piece, “Epicycle Pair” is a study for a film using two of my Dad’s 20-sided frames, one small, one large. If you can imagine the small circle rotating clockwise as it moves clockwise around the larger circle (which is moving counter-clockwise) then the orange and green horizon line will be a very overt movement, while the snowflake field might seem less kinetic. I have not yet decided on imagery for this but it seemed to me that I could take up my Dad’s conceptual interest in these mathematical orbits, rather than simply framing something in a circle. I have a feeling that there will more of these that emerge from the basement in Williston, VT, the house my parents built in 1963 – and where they have lived ever since.

A 2016 work, “Farmercencenaries” (not easy to pronounce, but a new word made from the words for two professions, ‘farmer’ and ‘mercenary’) continues the cautionary tale of “The Branch.” The frame is in the shape of a Vermont mountain, “Camel’s Hump,” which originally was known as “Le lion couchant,” or, the crouching lion, in French. I like to think of French farmers on strike, protesting companies like Monsanto, ADM, Ortho, and what it might take for Americans farmers, alienated by the strictures of GMO crops, to take up arms and fight for their right to feed the people safely. This was originally intended to be the final component in the above-mentioned commission for Hamilton College, “The Branch.” Inspired by Miro’s “The Farm” (1922), it may now be a standalone work.

My father’s production is currently outpacing my ability to fill these frames. There are many on deck. The geometric arrangement on the wall is matched by unseen twins to these frames, hanging back in my studio. At some point it is inevitable that I will catch up, but for now I see “Oatman & Father” as the only slightly fictitious name of a team that has brought some of the greatest pleasures to my practice, and, late in the game, has been a kind of art school assignment, a design problem, if you will, that I am only too happy to solve. After all, Gordon Oatman was an industrial arts teacher for over 30 years. And you have to do what he says or you’ll get an F.

-Michael Oatman, Lansingburgh, NY Fall 2016

This exhibition is funded in part by The Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust, Lake George Kayak Company and the New York State Council on The Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. The Courthouse Gallery hours during exhibitions are Tuesday through Friday 12 – 5 pm, Saturday 12 – 4 pm, and all other times by appointment. The Courthouse Gallery is located at the side entrance of the Old County Courthouse, corner of Canada and Lower Amherst Streets, Lake George, NY.

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