Not having a ton of family in these parts, I use the time off during the holidays to visit friends. On Friday, Amy & I went down to Lumberton, NJ to visit friends of hers who were in the area for their own holiday family-tour. We had an entertaining afternoon, centering around a lengthy meal at a P.F. Chang and a discussion of why Shawn Bradley never panned out in the NBA. Good times were had by me, which counts for a lot.
Yesterday, we drove up to Providence, RI to visit my friends Paul & Deb. They’d been having plenty of family get-togethers during the week, so it was a nice change of pace for them to get a visit from their weird friends in NJ.
I always love seeing Paul & Deb, because they have an awful lot of diverse interests and are quite passionate about them. We exchanged some holiday gifts — we brought back some neat tea from our Paris trip, and I also made them copies of a few Mad Mix CDs, while they gave us books, fancy knitting yarn, and unique coffee mugs from a local artist, before deciding we also needed to take back an amaryllis and some paperwhite bulbs. And a loaf of sweet bread from a Portuguese bakery.
In between these two bouts of gift-giving, the four of us drove over to the museum at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), which was exhibiting Wunderground: a collection of Providence poster art from the past decade, and a sculptural village called Shangri-la-la Land. I took a ton of pictures of the exhibit, before a staffer ran up to tell me that I wasn’t permitted to snap pix in the exhibition. I apologized and pretended I’d just taken one. Here’s a collection of 19 shots from the show. (The sculpture area was dimly lit, so I tried a few shots without flash, but gave up and started snapping away. I included both types.)
Comics Reporter and official VM buddy Tom Spurgeon wrote a great (and lengthy) article about Fort Thunder, one of the main groups of the Providence arts scene during that period:
Fort Thunder was different. The Providence, RI group has achieved importance not just for the sum total of its considerable artists but for its collective impact and its value as a symbol of unfettered artistic expression. The key to understanding Fort Thunder is that it was not just a group of cartoonists who lived near each other, obsessed about comics and socialized. It was a group of artists, many of whom pursued comics among other kinds of media, who lived together and shared the same workspace.
As an outgrowth of the Rhode Island School of Design [RISD] where nearly all of them attended (some even graduating), Fort Thunder provided a common setting for creation that imposed almost no economic imperative to conform to commercial standards or to change in an attempt to catch the next big wave. They were young, rents were cheap, and incidental money could be had by dipping into other more commercial areas of artistic enterprise such as silk-screening rock posters. Fort Thunder was also fairly isolated, both in terms of influences that breached its walls and how that work was released to the outside world. This allowed its artists to produce a significant body of work that most people have yet to see. It also fueled the group’s lasting mystique. The urge — even seven years after discovering the group — is not to dig too deeply, so as not to uncover the grim and probably unromantic particulars.
We had a great time in the exhibition. Over the years, Paul & Deb had snagged several of the posters from lampposts and walls in town, but they told us that most of the posters were stuck with pretty heavy glue, making it impossible to take home these amazing pieces. I figured it said something about the confluence of art, commerce and paste, but I say that about everything. I think it was also the first museum exhibition I’d been to where the art was held up by thumbtacks.
Before visiting the museum, Paul wanted to show us one of his favorite places in town, the Providence Atheneum. It’s America’s 4th oldest library (est. 1753) and requires an annual membership. Paul pays it gladly, because he loves coming to the place, reading magazines and newspapers, checking out the great collection, and soaking in the ambience.
After the Atheneum and the Wunderground exhibition, we were off to a Portuguese restaurant where I ordered the Shish-Kebab of Damocles, evidently an Iberian specialty.
If you’ve read this site for any length of time, you probably realize that a day that includes
- a comics-related art exhibition,
- an old library,
- some bizarre cuisine, and
- conversation with good friends
is pretty much as good as it gets.