Friday, December 18, 2009

The Onli Influence

I've been thinking a bit about lineage and how interactions with specific people can shape and change the course of our lives and art.  One such connection has been instrumental in shaping my life on so many levels that it bears long overdue acknowledgment.

30 years ago through the doors of my frame shop in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood came the artist, Turtel Onli.  Onli had recently returned from living in Paris.  He brought along a series of drawings, his "Rhythmistic Safari", for an upcoming gallery exhibit, to frame.  These were fine pencil drawings full of energy and motion, beautifully rendered.  In seeing them I understood how he'd won the  prestigious Concours du Dessin while in France.  Thus began what is arguably one of the most complex and profoundly influential collaborative friendships of my life. One that has touched every aspect of my creative life, leading me to become a gallery owner, wearable artist, and a recent MFA graduate in Interdisciplinary Arts.  In short, the artist that I am today would not have happened without Onli's influence.
   While our friendship started as a business arrangement between artist and framer, soon we were discussing my plans to set up a gallery in the backroom of my frame shop.  The Hyde Park Art Center was next door, the center of the Imagist movement, but closed to the emerging talent present on Chicago's Southside.  It was 1980 when the Younger Gallery became the first truly alternative artist space on Chicago's Southside.   Turtel brought his experience and contacts in organizing shows from his years with B.A.G. (Black Artist's Guild), a group he'd organized in 1970.  He contributed his expertise as gallery manager, curator, exhibitor and collaborative partner for the next 6 years until the back room space was lost due to a lease re-negotiation.  In those years, Younger Gallery hosted monthly exhibits showcasing the original work of both local and international emerging artists, praised by local press, despite the undercurrent of hostility from the small minded and provincial Hyde Park "art elite."

Besides the gallery collaboration, I represented Turtel's wearable artwork at ArtExpo NYC and we worked together on several publishing ventures.  Turtel always saw what we were doing as part of the overall global art scene. His vision has always been greater than those around him which is a persistent challenge for him.  For me, he set the standard to strive for, continuing to be an inspiration and a reality check for my own creative ambitions.

It was with his prodding that I grew from being a tentative BFA graduate to a fulltime arts professional.  He was the one who badgered me to complete a painting (above) that sat on an easel in my living room for nearly 3 years unfinished.  My procrastination, doubt and hesitation could easily have been my downfall as an artist.   He taught me what it means to live your art, to live your life as an artist in all things.  With his coaching, that painting was finished and more work was done.  I learned that I worked best with a deadline.   I set up regular solo shows of my work at Younger Gallery and began networking  for more opportunities.  Through Turtel's representation one of my paintings was sold to the Urban League Collection.  In turn, I would sell his work to collectors through Younger Gallery until I sold the business in 1988.

   Selling the business was influenced, in part, by Turtel's insight into my creative process.  He observed that I would spend more time obsessively knitting than painting. So he suggested I put my art into my knits.  I had never even designed my own patterns before this, but he commissioned my first design.  From this start, I began designing individual art to wear sweaters and eventually a full line of knits.  I sold my frame shop and moved to the SF Bay Area to be part of the active fiber arts scene in 1988.  From this seed grew 21 years of Younger Knits, a business that has provided a successful living for me in the arts, selling thousands of my garments nationwide in galleries and  fine craft shows. 

Turtel visited my booth at the One of a Kind Show - Chicago in early December 2009, where I said "thank you" for suggesting this path so many years ago.  This was the first time I'd shown Younger Knits in person in Chicago though I'd been doing shows for years, so it was his first chance to see the full fruition of his suggestion.  It meant a great deal to me to have him there.

This is just a sampling of the influences and collaborations we have benefited from over the years.  More recently he was instrumental in my returning to school to complete my MFA, writing a recommendation for my application.  This was years after he'd encouraged me to do it.  If I'd done so earlier I'd be in a lot less debt today!

As an innovative creator whose vision has always been ahead of the times, much of his imagery and ideas are only now gaining mass appeal through the work of others.  These ideas were developed in his future-primitif style of "Rhythmism" in the 1970's and 80's. With this in mind, collectors would do well to add his work to their collection for the far-reaching prescient vision he expresses.  I have several of his earlier works, like "Dancer's Eye" (below) in my collection that are as fresh and meaningful today as they were avant-garde when I bought them in the 1980's.

Having worked as an illustrator for clients like the Rolling Stones, Playboy magazine and Mode Avant Garde, to name but a few, Turtel always saw his illustrative work as part of his broader vision that links high art and low art as balanced equals in the expression of the artist.

He was a pioneering independent Black comics publisher in 1980 with his book, "Nog, Protector of the Pyramides."  Since the 90's he has been committed to growing the Black Age of Comics movement.  Recognized as the "Father of the Black Age of Comics", Onli organizes an annual Comics Convention, now in its 13th year in Hyde Park that has spawned successful offshoots in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Detroit .

 He has revived the publication "Future Funk" as a fanzine of this movement, a publication he started back in the 80's, to an enthusiastic new readership.  His Onli Studios is dedicated to building a distribution network for diverse independent graphic novels created by comics artists of all races. Through this movement he is influencing the next generation of creators.

I was also lucky enough to have witnessed Turtel's work with the youth of Chicago's Southside.  Understanding the therapeutic power of art, he earned both a BFA and MAAT in Art Therapy from the Art Institute of Chicago.  While his skills would have been effective in any environment, his opportunities led to positions within the Black community.  His contributions to the lives of Black youth, in particular, have been life-changing for many.  Turtel brought innovative arts programming to the at risk and hard-core youth populations of Robert P. Taylor Homes in the 80's through the Black on Black Love program.  In that highly volatile and destructive environment, he provided models of behavior and therapeutic activities that challenged the youth to rise to their positive potential.  The results were lower crime rates and a stronger sense of community amongst those who participated in the programs.  Had he been given the full support of the funders of the project, many more would have benefited from his coaching and clear understanding of the factors at work in their lives. This was done while he also was the creative director of Akiboards, a female house techno-band, and developed his own line of wearable art.
Turtel still provides strong mentoring of youth as a Chicago high school art teacher.  He speaks regularly at Black literacy programs and carries his messages of responsibility, racial pride and anti-crime through his comix too.

In 2007, he had the opportunity to design a globe for the large scale public art Cool Globes project to be displayed along Chicago's lakefront.  This was a public art project using pre-formed globes that each artist would embellish with art designed to heighten awareness of global warming issues and what each person can do to minimize its effects.  Turtel, ever the collaborative artist, brought in high school students to help paint his design.  His creation has since been shown in San Francisco and now Copenhagen.  It has been featured by the press with color images in the New York Times and most recently in The International Times London when reporting on this project and the conference in Copenhagen.

Onli's artistic vision has always been about more than his own work, seeking creative equals to realize its full scope. While many have benefited from this, few have returned the favor.    I tell my story not because my experience with his generosity and dedication to art and artists is unique but because it has been true for so many other artists who have yet to acknowledge his impact on their careers; painters, fiber artists, musicians, dancers and more.  If we all did so, it would be clear who deserves the credit for so much of the art that has been born of Chicago's Southside since 1970, Turtel Onli. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Flash of Perception - Preview of my upcoming book

Here is a teaser of my upcoming book called, "Flash of Perception."  The book features my photographs and mixed media artwork from the past 3 years, divided into five sections relating to the elemental energies of Water, Earth, Fire, Wind and Space.

These energies are active archetypal forces at work in all aspects of life and can be manifested in our own behaviors as either enlightened or neurotic forms.  The traditional Vajrayana Buddhist symbolism ties these forces with certain primary colors, so I have been experimenting with these saturated hues to see what impact they might have on viewers.  Can the colors actually invoke the energy?

This book is intended as an experiential artwork, a catalogue of work for sale and an object for contemplation.  If you enjoy these pages, I'll be posting ordering information here within a month so you can purchase your own copy of this book in either soft or hardcover.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cover Image for Goddard College Clockworks Magazine

"Released"  by Rebekah Younger cover image for Fall 2009 Goddard College Alumni Magazine

I just got my copy in the mail of the Goddard College Alumni magazine which features one of my photographs on the cover.   While my clothing images have been published on the covers of national magazines in the past, this is my first cover featuring my own photography and artwork.   My photographic work is about capturing moments of clear seeing. There is magic in the phenomenal world and a certain sacredness that is accessible when the world is experienced anew, unfiltered by our conceptual ideas about what we are seeing. To wake up to the world as it is can feed the soul. My images are intended to encourage the viewer to slow down and contemplate the wonder of our world.

This image records the morning light through our front door onto the hand of my sculpture, "Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion", a life-size porcelain and mixed media figure of a Buddhist monk.  The rainbow light caught my eye, calling me to record the moment of magic with my digital camera.

Here is a picture of the entire sculpture shot in 2007 at an exhibit in Brunswick, Maine.

Avalokiteshvara Installation with wall hanging and flower arrangement at a Shambhala Art Festival 2007

Saturday, September 12, 2009

2nd Annual 10 x10 Benefit for Arts are Elementary in Brunswick, ME

Heart of Gold - watercolor - Rebekah Younger - 3" x 3"
Yesterday I dropped off three watercolors for the 2nd Annual 10 x 10 Exhibit & Sale.
The Sale is on:
Friday, October 9, 2009,  5 - 8 p. m. Opening Reception
Saturday, October 10, 2009,  10 a. m. - 2 p. m.
at 3 locations in Downtown Brunswick, Maine
The Curtis Memorial Library - Morrell Meeting Room - 23 Pleasant St.
Points of View Gallery at the Brunswick Business Center - 18 Pleasant St.
Gallery Framing - 12 Pleasant St.
where the 300 works of art by 130 Maine Artists will be on exhibit for the entire month of October.

All works are priced at $200. framed and ready to hang.
Half of the proceeds of the sale go to Arts are Elementary, a local non-profit providing artist-in-residences to all Brunswick students in grades 1 through 5.
FMI: contact Catherine Worthington
A worthy cause and great art too!
Molten Gold - watercolor - Rebekah Younger - 3"x3"