Nearly a century ago, Marcel Duchamp electrified the art world in typical trickster fashion when he scrawled a signature on an ordinary urinal and set it on a gallery pedestal, thereby pitching his radical idea that “Anything is art if the artist says it is.” In the decades since, generations of artists have embraced Duchamp’s seminal gesture of artistic liberation, creating ever new and evolving art forms to reflect the complexities of contemporary experience. But we humans are creatures of habit, too, who often tend to favor the familiar over the startlingly new. Any artist can tell you that it’s hard to walk the winding path between tradition and innovation: the radical always meets resistance, and to buck convention in search of new truths requires a special kind of creative bravery. Luckily for local artists of the adventurous kind, the Temporary Artists Guild has lately emerged as a new vanguard on the Corvallis scene, popping up in some unusual places as it seeks to create fresh spaces for artistic collaboration, camaraderie, and experimentation.
According to co-founder Johnny Beaver, the Temporary Artists Guild coalesced in 2011 around the shared desire of a few local artists to “expand into less-traveled territory.” At the core of the Guild, says Beaver, is a collective openness to new forms and ideas, born of a strong foundation in diversity. Though the Guild idea was born in a painting class at Linn-Benton Community College (LBCC), its three founding members—Beaver, Jessie Barnhouse, and Kevin Lyon—all practice forms of art that vary widely in aesthetics as well as media. Beaver’s paintings and sculptures often explore jagged and colorfully electric figural distortions, while Lyon’s work involves the intricate weavings of Celtic knots, which he etches onto glass, paper, and T-shirts under his Lyoncraft logo. Barnhouse is a handbuilder, whose latest venture is taking scraps from her whimsical clay sculptures and crafting them into unique earrings and pendants. All three founding members of the Guild are accomplished in their respective media, as are the artists who have since joined their ranks: photographer Danielle Bean and mixed-media artists Miriam Morrissette and Cassie LaBrasseur, among others. But according to Beaver, the Guild’s purpose is not only to support and promote members’ artistic production, but to energize a spirit of camaraderie and collaboration that pushes each artist beyond the boundaries of his or her own comfort zone—encouraging a kind of vibrant push-and-pull that keeps art practice vital and alive.
This mix of artistic pressure and mutual support is a major benefit of Guild membership, according to some. Barnhouse enjoys success at regional craft shows with her “Sparkles and Mud” handmade jewelry, but she also explores more sensitive and daring material in other media. In 2011, she won the Instructor’s Choice Award at LBCC for a painting titled “Death of a Relationship,” in which she co-opts desert camouflage and pop-art iconography to reckon with the welter of tensions that arose when a loved one came back profoundly changed from a war zone.
“The Guild has inspired me to continue painting and to be more prolific,” Barnhouse says.
Another Guild initiative forges new ways for members to bring work to viewers. Along with showing in local and regional gallery exhibitions—including a show of several members’ works opening Sunday, Nov. 4 at Stash in Corvallis, and works by Beaver and Morrissette in the upcoming Small Pleasures Invitational at Eugene’s Jacobs Gallery—the Guild has also invented an entirely new venue. In early October, the Guild held its second successful Yart Sale in Lebanon, with impressive displays of works by Beaver, Lyon, Barnhouse, and Bean, along with an array of living plant works by David Lyon.
The Guild foresees an exciting evolution as new members arrive. All forms are welcome, says Beaver, and though the Guild does jury artists’ works “to make sure people are dedicated,” they are not out to exclude anyone on the basis of medium, aesthetic, or whether they have the acceptable brand of frames. For the Temporary Artists Guild, art is not defined by how well it fits into certain shapes or surfaces but rather by the dynamic and often chaotic creative processes that keep this peculiar human endeavor alive and necessary.