Page 1


Stan Sharahal


Stan Sharshal EXHIBITIONS, PROPOSALS & DRAWINGS

TULA Foundation, Atlanta, 1994


Stan Sharshal EXHIBITIONS, PROPOSALS & DRAWINGS

TULA Foundation, Atlanta, 1994


C 1994 TULA FoundJt1on and the amhor.; TULA Founcb tio n 75 BcnncH 5c NW Suit e B-1 Atlanta , CC0r'b,;a 30309

projl'(/ mo rd jllaliOIl Lil Fri edlander

David Lee

('xllibil ioll (O(lrtiilUl/ioll

D::tn Talley pliblicatiOI/ di's~ell & produ(f ioll

Andrew Forste r editill,\! & bi<ljlraph y

Lau ra Liebl'fIllall

cove r: To Some Ihl' Proposal &emed 1M Similar in Fonn

/0

(/1/

1:"Ir/;er Proposa/ (c. 1980)

Unl ess otherwise specifi(路d.::tll reproductions arc courtesy of the ('state of5t'3n Sh3rshal widl pho tography co u rt ~ y o f the Atlanta History C enter. To Somc tlu' Proposal Suft1(,d TtlO Sim il.lr ill Fo"" /0 all Ear/icr Pro!,<lsal courtesy oflil Friedlande r. Atlama. Georgi::! (phow; John Crunke) and PaciJ/S Pla"k Witll Strama Tnmk cour颅 tesy of the C GR collection, Alb,nta. Georgia. Dimensions Jrc lin ed in inches with height preceding width. TI,is projcct is SIIjJJXlrted ill pltrt by tlu.' Cily of Athmfil Burcau ofCII/ruM/ Affairs, Office of fill' Mdyor alld by 111i.' Fu/um County Commisiott "mill'r tile ~I! I/ idtl,,(l' of the F!I/uH/ Cell/tty Arts COlmoJ wilh additiol",lfimdi"gjrom CGR Advisors "ltd rlu.' Art History Dcparrnrttlt cif Emory Utlivrrsity.

~

FULTON COUNTY ARTS COUNCIL

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-......

CITY 0" ATLANTA - .- ~. ""' .


Contents

6

Introduction Lil Friedlal1der

9

From X to Mr. Blue David Lee

21

Approximation of Unattainable Things: The Pursuits of Stan Sharshal Dati R. Talley

35

Exhibitions, Proposals & Drawings

63

Biography / Bibliography


Introduction

Lil Friedlal1der

STAN SHARSHAL'S 1991 INSTALLATION AT THE TULA FOUNDATION GALLERY, AND HIS LAST, STILL LIVES,

seems hauntingly prophetic. Six hospital beds, taut under impeccable linens and per足 fectly plumped pillows were arranged in a semicircle. At the foot of each bed he had placed a light stand. On each stand was mounted a colo r reproduction of a detail of a painting recently auctioned at a record price. Whatever Stan intended to say about the status of art in contemporary culture, it was obvious to any viewer that the artwork had survived, the patients who once occupied the beds would not. On the exhibition invitation, I wrote that the installation was to be approached with "a sense of the paradox in every encounter." That phrase describes my relation足 ship with Stan as well. Captivated by the poetry in his work and daunted by his bristly temperament and capricious tantrums, I both admired and avoided him. A year before his death I watched a female friend greet him with a hu g and a big smack on the cheek. I was shocked, more than if I had encountered him naked: I had never seen anyone hug and kiss Stan. I wish I hadn't blamed my timidity on his moods. Now I can onJy embrace his work. In th e months that followed Stan's death, his friends groped through the pain and th e physical problems posed by his pets and personal possessions . We reviewed the 171 drawings he left carefully stored in his makeshift flat files many times. This pro足 ject, the exhibition and catalog of his work, is the outcome of acknow ledging and directing th e emotions of mourning. A friend once told me that anything she ever had to let go of had her claw marks all over it. This retrospective has the individual fingerprints , if not scratches, of all involved. We have overcome ou r personal reserva足 tions and misgivings about how to honor Stan, but if we ha ve made decisions he

6


would have challenged (hardly possible to avoid), we']] argue about them with him later. The Stan SharshaJ retrospective exhibition and catalog are the products of a cooper足 ative effort. Many people and organizations contributed skills and funds. Those of us who assumed responsibility for the execution of this tribute - Dan Tilley, David Lee, Andrew Forster, Laura Lieberman and myself - would like to acknowledge the many others involved in its planning and production. Special thanks to Tammy H. Galloway and Bill Hull of the Atlanta History Center for photography of Stan's artwork; David Perdew at Stock South for the film stock; John Grunke and David Stevens for addi足 tional photography; Annette Cone-Skelton; Susan Krane, Carrie PryzbilJa and the Twentieth Century Art Society of the High Museum of Art; Stan's sisters - Julie Crumbaugh, Jane Peterman and Susan Heitman; Julia Fenton and Judy Henson; Reg Darling; Catherine Fox of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution; Mari Gamad and Barbara Schrieber, Art Papers; Mary Margaret Wade for design assistance on the exhi足 bition invitation; Kris Johnson of the TULA Foundation for endless of administrative support; Gail Centini and Charles Beaudrot of the Georgia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts; CRG Advisors; Emory University Art History Department; Myott's Studio Workshop; the City of Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs and the Fulton County Arts Council for funding; and the Division of Arts and Humanities, Jamestown Community College, Jamestown, New York. We dedicate this heartfelt offering to the life and memory of a passionate artist and teacher, and a very human friend.

7


/

!


From X to Mr. Blue David Lee

THERE IS A DRAWING I HAVE WHICH STAN GAVE ME IN THE LATE SEVENTIES, MAKING ME THINK HE

made it a couple of years earlier while he was in graduate school. It is a rough sketch for a performance piece. Though most of the original text on it has been scratched over and obscured, the situation is sti.ll clear. Two rows of people are lined up on each side of a large divider, a fence-like barrier over which they may just be able

to

see

each others' heads. One figure, on one side of the divider but standing apart from his group, is about to begin walking the length of the panel to emerge at the other end in full view of the people on the other side. Simple instructions for the participants are printed on each side of the partition, visible, of course, only

to

those facing them. On

the side of the walking figure, the instruction caUs for, "whispering." On the opposite side, the instruction reads, "when X walks out laugh loudly." This drawing has been hanging on the walls of my successive Living places for the past seventeen or eighteen years. As rough and simple as it is, it has always held a fond presence for me, a distinctive little part of Stan residing in Illy home. But also, because it is so fragmentary, so slight, so offhand, it has always seemed more accessibly revela足 tory to me than a lot more fully worked out pieces ever would. In my view of Stan's art, this drawing works welJ as a transition piece between his earlier works in undergraduate school and the more mature work that emerged during graduate school and continued

to

develop until his death. [n the earlier period , when

we first met, Stan's art was either highly sculptural with the minimalist and materials concerns of Art Povera or highly conceptual as in the projects he undertook with Dan Tally through their invented organization, The First World Brain Bank. During gradu足 ate school these approaches seemed

to

drift back to secondary importance, to sub足

9


I UNTITLED. 1992: pl'Jldll111d oilSlick

(.III

pdp('r; 22.5" x 30"

merged method rather chan primary motive. Many of the issues that began to take their place are already present in a rough way in the drawing I just described. These concerns, among them isolation, dualiry, al.ienation, social dislocation and a blurred relationship between performance and installation, proved much more enduring. The reason, I think, is because they came from a deeper, more intuitive and more heartfelt place. This cluster of ideas, feel.ings and instincts appeared in a variery of forms in Stan's art. The Illost prevalent, the one he returned to again and again for the next twenry years, was found in his drawings, usually drawings in series, featuring two objects or images floating freely in space. Occasionally these objects were accompanied by a minimal text but most often they appeared without context or background. The earli足 est appearance of this approach I'm aware of was a huge, eighteen-piece series he exe足 cuted in graduate school with pairs of picture post cards mounted symmetrically on large pieces of white paper. The last drawing he made - in fact, the last piece of art he created before he died - had a large, bright yellow generic tissue box sitting happily beside a large, bright red firecracker, both vividly colored with grease pencil. There were many other, similar drawings made during the intervenjng years. It was an idea he returned to like a mantra. It

W ;IS

a rejuvenating process, a safe and pregnant place to

stir up nt'w ideas or transmute old ones . Stan never showed much of chis work, though I'm not really sure why; they were

alJ metic.ulously executed and carefully preserved. I think he always thought of himself more as a sculptor and saw exhibitions as an opportuniry to produce work that too often had its beginning and end on paper. The major installations, which were Stan's most public work, shared the same concerns as the drawings. They derived from the same deep source, though somehow, in the process of bringing them into the third dimension, a heated residue of protest was created that the cool drawings lack. This wounded sense of justice became palpable in the objects he made, living inside them

10


like a buried source of nervous energy. But even in this work, where Stan's motives may more or less be felt, the motives of the objects in the insrallations remain opaque. The parts of the whole stand as mute and isolated as those in the drawings. The nature of their relationsh.ip is just as invisible. Stan liked to think of his installations as stage sets, but they were sets without action, Like in the drawings, narrative existed only in implication ,

;l S

potential. The situation

was stripped down to the bare presence of its participants, Perhaps the nexus of these ideas is best represented by a series of drawings and models he made for an installation that was never realized , They call for a darkened room with a series of sharply focused spot lights pointed straight down ontO the floor, creating irregularly spaced circles of bright light in an otherwise blackened space. Some of th ese circles had objects in them and some were empty; in one model the two objects used were a hammer and a newspaper. And that was it, It wasn 't that the relationship between these sudden.ly potent objects was murkily hidden from view; it simply wasn't given . As our friend Susan Eldridge pointed out, in Stan's work it was always left up to the audience to draw the lines between the dots, to fill in whatever story it could, The experience of being Stan's friend, as anyone who got close to him knows, could be equally charged and difficult. He could be incredibly supportive of other artists' work, Many people credit him with providing particularly meaningful insight into their art. His comments could be blunt, sometimes not at all what one wanted to hear, but they were always incisive, More importantly, they came from a perspective of studied contemplation. He looked closely at others' art, took it seriously and treated it seriously. This attention was extended not just to his friends but to his students as well. He could also be genuinely sweet at times, selflessly caring, which was all the more affecting coming from his normally prickJy, uncompromising personality. There were other times, however, particularly times of heightened closeness, when

UNTITLED,

c. 1982: lIIaqll('II('; mixed tIIediums; aprtlxilll(lI C'fy 3.5" x 7" x .25"

.-­

. . ~~

••• 11

,­ .;,oj


being friends with Stan could be hard and even impossible. He had few close friends who can' t recall ex tended periods of Stan's not speaking to them. Friendships that had gone along with few signs of trouble would suddenly explode in a passion of betrayal. Assumptions Stan had made about relationships had not been seen by others. Feelings and attachments that had grown stronger and stronger in Stan had not been felt by others because he hadn't spoken about th em, hadn't shown them in a tangible , recog­ nizable way. His indignation, his sense of being wronged, could be intense, self-right­ eous , brutal. Taken by surprise, it was hard to know how to react. The only thing to do was step back, nurse the wounded friendship where possible and wait for his anger to subside. It was at times like this when I would question my own assumptions about our long friendship , when I began to think the interpretation of Stan 's art that assumed there were no connections between the isolated objects may have bee n all wrong, that per­ haps there were relationships that Stan saw and expected other people to see too, even though they weren't stated. I remember once, during one of a number of disagree­ ments we had over the years involving women, when Stan accused me of trying to steal away someone he had a romantic interest in. When I told him I didn't know he was interested in this woman since he had never shown any sign of it, he replied that whenever I saw him with a woman, any woman, I should know he was interested. And he meant it. There were things he could not bring himself to say out loud, feelings of love and need he simply couldn't express. But he had heard them spoken so many times in his own head , had felt the feelings so intensely inside that he felt th ey must be obvious. They were just too potent not to be. THE LIFE OF PERFORMANCE GROWS OUT OF FOCUS AND ENGAGEMENT

WHEN IT IS PURSUED WITH

enough concentration it lifts actions, even common actions , out of the realm of the unconscious and habitual day to day. It imbues every body part and every gesture with a heightened presence, a presence charged with a physical, compacted energy, a life force. Creating this presence and bringing an audience t:lce to face with this deeper experience of Life are the basic functions, the basic reasons for the existence of perfonnance. I've diverged for a moment here partly because performance work, done live in front of an audience, came to play an increasingly important role in Stan's life during his last few years. Understanding the part it played is important to any approach to understanding Stan. But more importantly, I've brought this definition into the nar­ rative because where I want to go here doesn't have so much to do with Stan as an artist or even Stan as a friend but more to do with Stan as a being in the world, an independent entiry in intt'nction with his environment. More and more, this partic­

12


ular idea of performance has become the lens through which I've come to view my dead friend's life. For Stan, focus was engagement. Whether it was learned or inborn, he knew that an intensely concentrated focus could bring hyper-definition to objects, gestures, frag­ ments of life. These things then became infused with a heightened strength and beauty derived primarily from their singularity in the world, their wholeness and separateness, their exjstence as isolated, pulsing sources of energy. They became more real than real and gained a new power: the ability to affect other things in the world strictly through the inherent force of their presence. This embrace of the separateness of things confirmed and reinforced Stan's own state of separateness and autonomy, his own self-perceived state of contained, hard­ ened potency. Like any good artist, Stan made work to show people a new way of seeing the world. But the vision the work contains was more than distanced observa­ tion; it was deeply a part of the fabric of his existence, inseparable from the day to day movements and conversations, the physical experience of ljfe. Pushed to an extreme, this state of being led to contradictory experiences. The stubbornly held on to isola­ tion could create difficult and dulljng periods of alienation and loneliness that alcohol and the company of friends barely eased. But it could also lead to brilLiant moments of interaction. Focusing that strongly on a part, a fragment of the world gave it an enlarged pres­ ence and importance. Lifting it free from the clutter of its uncontrollable connected­ ness lent the object focused on a certain purity, a definable reaLity. The resulting point of contact, charged by the inherent, compacted energies of the nvo, gained an intensi­ ty, a transcendental clarity, that the normal experience of life, pale and diluted by complication, lacked. This interaction created a great sense of engagement: the observed and the observer face to face, floating free in space, loving or attacking or simply contemplating each other in a timeless moment of nervous, heated exchange. There was another aspect of this experience as well. By focusing so narrowly on the particular, escape from the interaction, the point of contact, became a matter of simply turning away. As strong as the engagement was, as truly interactive as it could be, it was an engagement without entanglements. This, of course, led to a frustrating, insolvable contradiction: how

to

increase the vibrancy and affectiveness of something

by giving it an independent power and at the same time control it so it couldn't in turn thrcatcn your own independence. In the end Stan always reserved the option of resolving the contradiction by moving away, by breaking off contact with a friend, quitting a job or walking home in the middle of the night. For a large part of Stan's shortened adult life, this was the end dictated by the need to maintain his separateness Jnd autonomy.

13


of Colony Square inst-a llation) . 1986: mixed /II ediums; Jllm·ablc dilllf lJ­ Ersatz Callery, CalmlY &/Wlr(', A rltl1J/(I, Gl'O~ill

UNTITLED (dera il 5iollS;

Disengagement, however, was never simply a state of absence. The disengagement always had its own forc e and presence that matched th e engagement's in intensity and passion. Both actions, both the movement toward and th e movement away, were pur­ sued with equal conviction and involvement. It was this consistently uncompromising approach to life that most puts me in mind of perfonnance. This man for whom alien­ ation was a natural , if unwanted, state of being found a way to transform his sense of separation into an even stronger sense of engagement with the world . H e did this by pursuing life with the intensity and focus of a performance, a performance driven by a deep imperative to lift the experience of life to a higher level of affectiveness. At the core of this approach

to

life was the fragmentation of the world, the need to

remove objects, people, even gestures and phrases from their natural context. For me, this was the engine that created so much of the strength, eloquence and pathos in Stan's art work. There is one particularly beautiful piece that continually comes to mind, a nine-piece drawing he made in the mid-eighties . The central image is of him­ self striding fOr\va rd, hands in pockets. One foot has just stepped on a stick and broken it in half. The other eight panels carry enlarged, replicated images of the broken stick, again floating free in white space. Installed, the stick images were mounted four to each side of the central figure, creating a horizontal piece at least twenty-six feet long. The drawing takes the simple act at its center, the most insignificant contact benveen a human and the world, and raises it to the level of poetry. The images of the stick, stretching out in each direction, create a reverberation like the echo of thunder across the horizon . But this approach that could take the insignificant and make it resonant and noble could also turn destructive. During times of emotional distress, fragme nts lifted out of life and worried over like a speck of sand in an oyster's shell grew in importance and power until they overwhelmed logic. One particularly alarming memory arises. Acting on the basis of a single misunderstood phrase picked up in idle conversation, Stan once

14


imagined an entire secret relationship, a relationship between two people thac never existed. Not only did he imagine it but he brought it into the public arena, jeopardiz足 ing two friendships that were very important to him at the time. This manner of being in the world, this existence, was pushed by Stan as far as it could go. Eventually it became untenable; the price of too mJny abrasive brushes with the world was becoming an increasing aloneness. His approach led to a repeating cycle of engagement and disengagement, a treadmill that created intense peaks and valleys of experience but ultimately spiraled in on itself, leading nowhere. I' ve spoken throughout this narrative as if aU these observations were static, nonevolutionary facets of Stan's life. And for a good part of his life , this was remarkably true. These approaches, postures and facades were deeply woven into Stan's definition of himself. He held on to these habits of being stubbornly, as if loosening their hold or moving outside their dictated behavior would somehow irrevocably erase a part of himself, make himself undefined and unrecognizable. But in the last few years of his life, even Stan saw the need for change. PERFORMING IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE CAN BE A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE

trained in and more or less grown lip with this kind of activity and those who come to it relatively late. For those more experienced, the process of stretching oneself into different manifestations is a part of their self-definition, a point of pride, an expression of their abilities. But for those who built their personalities outside of this culture, the changes in self necessary to perform a piece become much more rattling actions, each time approaching a redefinition and transformation that calls into question what has gone before. The challenge is not a matter of craft; it reaches deep into how you see yourself and, ultimately, how you interact with the world. When Stan joined Red Clay, the performance group that now consists of Susan Eldridge, Ellen Ishino and myself, it was with great reluctance. He was leery of orga足 nizations and feared the commitment would end up detracting from his own work. But as time went on, Stan's involvement came to match and sometimes surpass that of the rest of us. This involvement included lots of unpleasant work like writing grants and producing newsletters, but it also meant an increasing willingness, no matter how much grumbling accompanied it, to participate in other people's performances. The changes in Stan's Life that began to take place around this time were by no means programmatic or systemic. Most came in fits and starts, tentatively, sometimes grudgingly, tried out before being allowed to sink into the fabric of his life. Some of the changes were very basic, like exercising more and buying clothes with a greater sense of style. Others were more deeply sourced, sometimes to the point of unawareness. These changes, which reached below the surtlCe to touch his very mode of being, are harder to describe and

15


explain because, in most cases, they were cut short in mid-development by his sudden death. Hints of these changes, however, were occasionally apparent, surt:lcing here and there, noticeable mainly because of their divergence from expected behavior. For me, the most tangible indicators were to be found in his art, as always, but specificaJly the work involving perfonnance. In 1991, Stan undertook a major perfonnancelinstallation work entitled, {coII]wrrent

events (see p. 50). The piece took place in his apartment and centered on the construc­ tion of a corridor that literally split his living space in half. The waUs of the corridor were made of plywood and painted a dull, institutional green. Their bottom edges began around a foot lip from the floor and their top edges ended a foot shy of the ceil­ ing, allowing light and sound to escape but hiding most everything else behind it. The experience entering his apartment was of a long and uninterrupted hallway growing narrower as it led back into space then turning sharply left where it opened up a bit into an equally walled off dead end. The positioning of the corridor created three dis­ tinct physical areas behind the walls: a living room space, the kitchen and a much reduced bedroom space. Each of these areas contained a separate sphere of activity. In the living room, a group of men were drinking and playing darts; in the kitchen, two women were baking cookies (with the aroma wafting out into the corridor space); and in the former bedroom

~pace,

a man and a woman were discussing buying a new

home. Each of these areas was cut off physically from the others. For the audience. with the exception of two people who crawled under the walls out of conillsion, the only visible manifestation of these activities was the

occl~ional

appearance of the par­

ticipants' feet beneath the edge of tht' walls. In many ways this was very much a piece in keeping with the concerns and approach­ es Stan developed over the course of his career. The walls echo back fifteen years to the drawing I described at the beginning of this text. The experience of alienation, isolation and social dislocation, for both the audience and the participants, is directly in line with the themes that dominated the great majority of his work. But in subtle ways, this piece also diverged from old patterns. There was actual, improvised activity going on behind the walls, its broad outlines directed by Stan but its details ultimately beyond his COntrol. Even though the different areas were isolated from each other, the actions within each one had a relaxed wannth to it, the live feel of human interaction (enhanced, perhaps, by the [let that outside Atlanta was experi­ encing one of the coldest weekends on record). But more important was the location of the piece. By constructing the installation in the middle of his home and by partici­ pating in one of the areas of action, Stan committed himself to a level of intimate, inextricable involvement nonexistent in his previous work. His life and his art were deliberately intersected in the most physical of ways.

16


Another memory comes to mind that, compared to the experience of !con/currell! events, seems small and insignificant but nevertheless continues to hold a great deal of resonance for me. When I began planning one of my own performances, Estuary, Stan was one of the seven people I asked to participate. [n many ways this piece was the opposite of Stan's approach to art making. It was a sound performance for found and invented noise makers built around three improvisational cells. As in most of my work, my role as director consisted primarily of creating loose parameters and relationships within which each performer had to find his or her own way. This process can be ini­ tially frustrating to a lot of perfom1ers but was particularly so for Stan, who was used to having most details of an art work under control. During one phase of the long rehearsal process he even tried to assume control by making sounds he took to be final gestures when he felt an improvisation should be ended. Fortunately, no one paid attention. It was in the first part of the piece where Stan's discomfort approached near-insur­ rection. The instruction for this part was very simple and its interpretation very lenient. Everyone was supposed to sit quietly, eyes closed, with a single sound maker of their choice. They were asked to search inside themselves for some kind of sensa­ tion, concentrate on that sensation until it became a physical presence and then use their sound maker as a conduit to push that physical presence out into the air. Everyone agreed to try it except Stan who protested loudly that he didn't "do medita­ tion" and that, furthermore, what I was asking of them would take years to achieve. When no one joined his revolt he reluctantly took his place on the floor. The sound maker he had chosen was a crude bow and stick modeled after a fire making appara­ tus. After the third or fourth attempt at this part, everyone opened their eyes after Stan started chuckling. He had pursued his sound making with such determination the board beneath his stick had broken into flames. There is a picture of Stan that lingers in the mind, partly because it may have been the last photograph taken of him but also because the image it projects is so at odds with the Stan most of us knew. He is smiling, covered in shiny, vibrantly blue robes, with a small hat of the same material sitting slightly cocked on his head. The photo was taken during his performance as iI/fr. Blue, when Red Cia), participated in the Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs' pilot Arts in Education project. The intent was to use performance as a vehicle to bring Head Start children together with senior citi­ zens. Each performer was assigned a color, which became their persona, and had to tell stories connected to that color. At the start of the week-long project, Stan's turns at storytelling were brief and a little awkward. But at some point midweek he hit his stride and began improvising freely, using his blue goggles to peer into blue water to describe the lives of blue fish. Where earlier the other perfom1ers had had to rush into

17


their parts almost as soon as Stan had begun, they now had to wait as his stories grew more complex and his telling of them more animated. It was almost as if a dam had given way, as if this deeply hidden desire to be silly and fun and unself-conscious had suddenly been set free from an imposed personality and, reveling in its new found freedom , let loose with exuberance. WHEN I DISCOVERED STAN'S BODY THE MORNING AFTER HE DIED, HIS PRESENCE IN THAT APART足

ment that always smelled ofleaking gas was so overwhelming that for a time I couldn't act; all I could do was look at him. Slumped on the floor, his skinny, white legs tucked under him where he'd slid out of his chair, his eyes, nonnally covered with glasses, staring calmly upward beneath his pale, gray head, the expression on his face impossible to describe but not completely unlike wonderment, it was as if everything that defined the old Stan had coalesced into its perfect, final expression. The deliberate silence, the compression and containment of self, the internalization of joy and pain, were all magnified, plunging inward like a collapsed star. But of course it was just the shock of the moment, the sudden and awful confronta足 tion with the loss of my friend . To assign meaning to a dead person's presence is the ultimate unfairness. Stan had simply died. The task of being himself, a task he was in the process of redefining, had ended. The intangible parts of his life, the ones that are the hardest to hold onto after death because they're the hardest to see during life, had left long ago. The intricacies of his relationships, the vibrations set off by his contact with the world, the heat and tension of his special brand of engagement, all of the things that had made him a vital force had evaporate~ without a trace. After a few moments, even the intense presence I'd mistaken for Stan had faded away. All that was left was absence and sadness.

18


'.


Approximation of Unattainable Things:

The Pursuits of Stan Sharshal

Dall Tallc),

FOR SEVERAL DAYS, I'VE SEARCHED FOR AN EFFECTIVE, WRITERLY WAY TO BEGIN THIS TEXT -

A

way to sum up and pay tribute, a way to preserve, and a way to move on. It's obvious that I can't write Stan Sharshal's biography in the short pages of this catalog; I can't chronicle all the details of his artistic career, nor can I fully assess the impact that his work had on the lives of the people around him. Looking for my path, I've thought about the mysterious chemistry that causes two people to bond in a deep and lasting friendship and I've thought about trivial things that stick in your memory as your mind dances through the years of a relationship. I remember the good times and the not-so-good - the times when Stanley Alfred Sharshal seemed to be my only friend, and the times when we didn't speak for months. Sometimes the only way to start is to simply begin, so I emptied the contents of a 13 by 10 by 14 inch cardboard box onto my desk and began to sort through the slides,

papers, negatives and notes produced by my late friend. As I opened the box, I also opened myself - not to the mournful depths that I experienced when I wrote Stan's obituary for Art Papers a few weeks after his death, but I opened myself nevertheless 足 this time to a gratitude for having been blessed with such a deep and meaningful friendship. The box was filled with documentation and mementos, the relics of the most pro足 found and consuming love aff.1ir in Stan's life. The box was loaded with his dedication and his obsession; it overflowed with his conviction and eccentricity. The box trans足 ported me to a time twenty-three years ago when I first met Stan art the beginning of our junior undergraduate year as painting students at the Atlanta School of Art. ' Stan had just transferred there from a state college in Pittsburg, Kansas, where he'd done

21


painting, sculpture and printmaking. 1 never asked him how it all started for him, how he knew he wanted to be an artist, but in recently discovered writings, Stan ironically traced his interest in art to a slide of a Stuart Davis painting that he saw as a high school student in Parsons, Kansas.' I'm not sure what cemented our friendship, but I remember that 1 was transfixed by the intense "art and life" talks we were having long before 1 ever saw any of his art­ work. H e was incredible: the quirkiness of his thought made him seem at times worldly and complex, at other times simple and naive. He wasn't too concerned with how things looked but he was real interested in what they said. Stan's mental paths were connected in a very non-linear way; and his logic, often convoluted, was intensely creative and inspired. The first piece of Stanley's art I ever saw was a godawful abstract geometric painting. The piece, at least on first inspection, was a form al and conceptual flop . [ couldn't believe that my intellectual buddy had produced such a vacuous (and ugly) painting. But he talked a great game. I was amazed by the freshness of the ideas that supported this rather ineffective and ordinary image and felt that while th e piece didn't work ­ the ideas that supported it definitely did . Stan wasn 't bullshitting: [ knew that this work, in all of its hard-edged horror, had grown out of some very substantial ideas, ideas that excited me more than anything I had encountered since starting art school. That painting was a transitional and transformational piece for Stan. [ vaguely remember it being the subject of a class painting critique shortly after he and I talked about it that day, but I never remember seeing the monstrosity again. (I think he chunked it into the dumpster behind the Memorial Arts Center as soon as the painting critique ended.) He immediately took a different tact. His pieces lost their early-mod­ ern look; and he seemed to begin consciously to work in opposition to every qualiry that even hinted at a modern or pre-modern aesthetic. H e explored and developed a new personal vocabulary that expressed his ideas about the work of art in a context of physical labor and rational thinking. These new forms allowed him to critique the social position of the art object and to speculate on its value as cultural commodiry. His art became ephemeral and illusive as he introduced minimally manipulated non­ traditional materials and performance procedures into his work. He definitely wasn't making art school art anymore. [n the months following the bad painting, Stan produced a number of temporary site-specific outdoor works using rope and canvas. On one occasion, he methodically walked around the lawn of the Memorial Arts Center arranging a heavy hemp rope on the ground in varying configurations. He would stop occasionally and carefully reposi­ tion the 100 foot rope into a slightly different pattern. I was stationed on one of the Art Center's fourth floor balconies where I shot slides of the work-in-progress and

22


ROPE DRAWING, c.1972;

ropt.'; variable dimcusious

later joined Stan on the lawn where I continued to photograph the ever-changing lin­ ear shapes. When the slides were processed, we talked about the virtues and limitations of various shots. A central issue arose around whether the documentation of the piece worked better when the slide simply showed the rope with no reference to the act of its being placed or if the shots containing Stan with part of the rope in hand somehow framed the work in a more informative temporal and performance context. I f.wored the shots with Stan included, but he seemed to be going for some other statement altogether. 3 While these pieces seemed quite radical to the majority of students and faculty at the art school, Stan recognized the pictorialness inherent in the work and ventured into realms even less reliant on traditional compositional references. Nailillg and Walking

Piece allowed him to closely interrelate the work's process and its content. Performing on a large athletic field, Stan drove nails into a 1 by 4 by 32 inch wooden board; the length of the board approximately equaled the length of Stan's normal walking stride. The nails were driven into the wood as close together as possible without splitting the board. Once the board was full of nails, Stan walked at his usual speed and stride in a straight line away from the work site for a time equal to the time it took to drive the nails into the wood. I photographed both processes. The 'documentation photographs were mounted on a piece of illustration board with the nailing photos placed in a ver­ tical line and the walking photos below them in a horizontal line, forming an inverted "T" The issue of the time and labor involved in the production of art is echoed again and again in Stan's work. Years later, the act of walking would fom1 the core of a pro­ ject that always seemed to delight Stan, his Pacing Planks. Stan continued to explore ephemeral objects and actions by making and photodocu­ menting a series of simple interior installation pieces consisting of rope, fabric, masking tape, plywood, tree branches, mattresses and electric lights. These pieces, made pri­ marily with goods that were freely found or cheaply available, dealt with the value of material versus the value of art. He mounted small snapshot-sized black and white documentation prints of these pieces on archival museum board and eventually boxed

23


a collection of these images representing essentially all of his work from 1971-73:' Stan's interest in ephemerality caused him to embrace th e emerging video technolo­ gy th at had just become available to artists in the late sixties in the form of the SONY Porta-Pac. The art:world was making use of video technology; and much of this activi­ ty was being chronicled by Willoughby Sharpe in Allala/1che magazine. Bill Nolan, a new faculty member at the art school, had previously taught at the Nova Scotia Coll ege of An and Design, a hotbed of conceptual art activity in the late sixties and early seventies. Nolan arranged to bring Sharpe to Atlanta as a visiting artist. While at th e school, Sharpe showed a selection of videos by Vito Acconci, Dennis Oppenheim, Terry Fox and other artists who were exploring the new medium and its effect on " traditional" modes of representation. Stan had intense conversations with Sharpe and watched all the tapes that Willoughby had . Shortly thereafter, Stan began producing some short, straightforward, minimally edited videotapes. One piece, Sticky Fingers, used the Rolling Stones' song as a low-tech soundtrack. The video image was very simple, a stationary medium shot of a Penthouse magazine lying on a drawing table. Stan's hands came into frame and carefully made five one-inch loops of masking tape . He then stuck one loop onto the end of each finger of his right hand and proceeded to turn the magazine pages with his "sticky fingers ." Around this time, Stan and I developed the First World Brain Balik, "a multi-faceted specific organization" (Stan's verbiage I believe). As co-directors, we used the organi­ zation as an umbrella for various projects and as a vehicle for developing collaborative exhibitions and performances. FWBB was a playful device for examining objectlidea relationships and for exploring the role of exhibitions in the artmaking process. We commissioned a visual communication student to design a corporate image for th e bank. His design, a mechanical-looking head in profile formed primarily by a large question mark, was printed on stationery, business cards, bumper stick­ ers, caps and shirts. In order to disseminate the bank's image as widely as pos­ sible, we sponsored an all-night silk-screen party and freely printed th e logo on any shirt brought to us. In keeping with the bank's corporate image, we preferred white dress shirts. One event sponsored by the bank, Park Project (1972), involved publicizing and stag­ ing an exhibition reception in a park near the art school. Invitations to th e event were silk-screened on paper lunch bags that doubled as serving vessels for the refreshment of the day, malted milk balls. During the event, Polaroid photographs were made every fifteen minutes facing the four cardinal points. These photographs were then affixed to a chart placed on a studio easel near the refreshment table. The chart, documentation photographs and easel were the only art references present at the "show." While the Park Project had a t:lirly juvenile premise, it did provide us with the

24


opportunity to tocus on the way that publicity tended to authenticate Jnd legitimize various enterprises. That gave rise the following year to The First World Brain Bank

Selected Deposits Show, a national correspondence project that culminated in the first video and mail art exhibition held in Atlanta. We solicited material through ads in art magazine information listings, direct mail to artists, galleries, and museums, and word of mouth. The response was overwhelming. Display cases borrowed from the High Museum of Art housed some of the show's rather eclectic pieces, heightening the paradoxical nature present in virtually all mail-art exhibitions. The juxtaposition prompted one viewer to describe the show as a "freak Smithsonian ."' W e received "deposits," ranging from a submission by artist Lawrence Weiner to a piece from the art school's custodian. In the £111 of 1973, Stan moved to Hartford, Connecticut, to work on his Master of Fine Arrs degree at the University of Hartford. I stayed in Atlanta but kept in close contact with him by phone. When I visited Hartford that winter Stan and I immedi­ ately fell back into our "art and life" discussion mode. During my visit, we made a piece called The In~tTable COl'lIJcrsatioll, got into a members-only reception for a Marcel Duchamp show at MoMA, and partied with students and faculty from "U Ha." The trip inspired me. I return ed to Atlanta, submitted a portfolio to the university, got accepted, and moved to Hartford the next summer. While in Hartford, Stan began to explore drawing as a serious vehicle for the devel­ opment and presentation of performance and installation ideas. The small pencil draw­ ings from this period had an intentionally crude style that exuded a rather precious and intimate tone. In one series, Ironworks, clothes irons were drawn in arrangements that suggested installation possibilities. Many of these drawings contained text, such as "neither iron makes the mark" and "neither iron works." While many of these early drawings were at least nominally preparatory to installation and performance pieces, they really seemed to focus more on drawing for drawing's sake. A number of works in this mode followed, including a series of shifty eyes behind heavy eyeglasses with the text line, "Looking at ... through ... and .. . around the glasses," and a similar piece that read "to some the proposal seemed too similar in form to an earlier proposal." Stan's interest in drawing coincides with a developing friendship with fellow gradu­ ate student Kirk McKend. Stan was intensely attracted to Kirk's deft draftsmanship and his ironic, slightly sarcastic southern California wit. The contact with McKend greatly enhanced the humor in Stan's work; Sharshal's drawings from this period are some of the richest and perhaps funniest of his entire career. The pieces cover a range of artis­ tic, cultural and philosophical issues from a refreshingly direct conceptual foundation, humorously heightened and emphasized by Stan's pseudo-naive style of draftsmanship. One pencil drawing shows several views of an oddly distorted male nude holding a

25


small rectangular object. Its text reads, " Artist contemplating parts of his body that he will probably never see, with the aid of mirroring devices." The work was a playful and intentionally sophomoric assessment of the human condition: the lumpy, twisted man vainly trying to reconcile his being-self with his knowing-self. In a diptych from this period, a man is shown with arms crossed, hands gripping at his own back. The next frame shows the same man holding a smaller man wearing a pointed hat. The caption reads, "Hugging oneself/hugging one's elf. " Stan captioned a very simple six­ panel drawing of a potted spider plant, "Six portraits of a plant that I once introduced as my wife ." This humor was carried into some 1974 photo works that were conceptually light­ years away from the sometimes ponderous photodocuments of the temporary installa­ tions done in Atlanta. These new works appropriated the vocabulary of commercial photography: highly staged, well lighted, tightly controlled, and immaculately printed. In one piece, a young man in a dark turtleneck holds a gleaming chrome coffeepot in one hand and two chicken eggs in the other. A Zen-pointing phrase, parodying the notion of the photographic present, is typeset in white letters at the bottom of the image: "Yesterday's coffee and tomorrow's eggs." Another photo work, this one in the style of a typical advertising product shot, is a satirical color photograph of a sim­ ple, red plastic HO-scale barn with a black roof. Referencing Rock City's classic rural advertising campaign , the barn's roof is emblazoned in white letters with the words "SEE SOHO." The barn is photographed sitting on top of a hardcover book and is placed to emphasizes a grisly crime scene photograph on the book's cover. The words, "ANGER + JEALOUSY + FRUSTRATION + REJECTION + DESPAIR," leap from the book jacket in bold red letters. "SEE SOHO," with its blend of cynicism and nostalgia, perfectly captured Stan's rather dim view of the highly competitive art­ world of the early seventies. While at the University of Hartford, Stan 's interest in video as an artmaking tool was rekindled. He produced a series of short video tapes that loosely parodied the seriSEE SOHO. c.1974; cibadm>me prim,

8".\"10" (Origill ll/ IOSI)

26


from UNTITLED. c. 1973: pail/ ted video mOl/itor; b/IV video tapr; aproxima fely 90 seconds

UNTITLED.

c. 1974; I,idt'o lIIo"itor; bi ll' vid('(1 tapt';

(f(';scnlt wre1lcl!; IIp,,,ximau:l), /20 st'Co"ds

ousness of the era's structural filmmakers and simultaneously acknowledged Andy Warhol's six-hour static film of the Empire State Building. In Still Life with Goldfish, Stan chose to contrast the notion of traditional still lifes in a movement-oriented medi足 um by shooting an essentially static tabletop that supported a spider plant (the one he once introduced as his wife), wine bottles, and a small goldfish bowl with fish . Due to the scene's lighting, the framing of the image, and the generally low resolution of half足 inch helical scan video (state of the art at the time) , the movement of the goldfish in the corner of the frame was extremely subtle, almost imperceptible. The soundtrack of the 30-second piece was the ambient sound of the room including the barely audible traffic noise from an out-of-frame street. The piece was calm and measured, and quite funny in the context of a art school obsessed with the latest in New York art fashion. Although William Wegman was making quite a splash at the time with hilarious videos of his weimaraner Man Ray, the general art mood of the early seventies was highly reserved and

ver),

serious.

Stan began to use video as an element in more complex pieces where aspects of per足 formance , drawing and sculpture were called into play. In one series, Stan Literally used

27


the screen of the video monitor as a painting surface, thereby making the pieces into one-of-a-kind works of art. This subversive strategy questioned the rather naive belief that video was a technological panacea capable of democratizing the artworld by putting "art" into every living room. Stan constructed pieces in this series by pausing a video tape and tracing elements of the video image directly onto the monitor's screen in acrylic paint. When the tape was replayed, the painted elements would appear incongruous and disjointed until the point in the tape when suddenly the screen draw­ ing would be "completed" by the previously traced video taped image. Generally, this would be followed at a later point in the tape by another "completion," using a differ­ ent pre-recorded passage. In one such piece, Stan painted two dots onto the video monitor. As the tape for this particular drawing played, Stan's face came into view until the two dots precisely covered his pupils. Stan's face gradually moved out of the frame, again leaving the dots as errant pictorial elements. A few seconds later the face of a man and a woman came into view from opposite sides of the screen until one of the dots covered an eye on each of the faces. The two characters gradually moved out of the frame to again leave the dots to stand alone. While these pieces were not exact­ ly exhibition-friendly, Stan continued to make them for some time focusing on hands, faces and feet. He never publicly showed this work and seemed to make them primar­ ily for his own amusement. They only existed for the time it took him to make and document them. A series of more sculpturally oriented video works involved short taped scenarios depicting extremely simple actions or situations. While the activity in these pieces was essentially straightforward, some aspect was always left awry, prompting a question or impulse in the viewer. An actual physical object on top of the monitor completed the piece, containing the solution to the taped dilemma playing on the screen below. In one such piece (exhibited in the 1977 New Orleans Biennial), a large Crescent wrench lay on top of the video monitor. The accompanying tape showed a man's hands unsuccessfully struggling for several minutes to loosen a huge unyielding hex nut from a one-inch diameter bolt. We have all grappled with that same hex nut: intensely concentrating, straining, twisting and sweating, we often miss the simple solution that seems so obvious from just a slightly different perspective. For about a year and a half after his completion of graduate school in May 1975, Stan spent time in New York City, briefly visited his family in Kansas, and temporari­ ly returned to Hartford. When I finished grad school a year later in May 1976, I returned to Atlanta to work with Julia Fenton and David Heath on Contemporary Art / Sol/theast magazine. C.E.T.A. money was flowing like water, and activity in Atlanta's burgeoning arts community was at a fevered pitch " By that fall, Stan too fell victim to the hype and came south. He soon reconnected with his former Atlanta

28


roommate, David Lee who had also just returned to the city. David had been attend­ ing Goddard College in Vermont and was writing short storicsthJt had an intellectual framework very compatible with Stan 's visual interests. Soon the three of us were spending most evenings talking about art and partaking of Atlanta 's nightbfe - one evening we were threatened by rednecks who decided that phenomenology, struc­ turalism and the new novel were unfit topics for Moe's and Joe's Tavern. By 1978, as the director of the Atlanta Art Workers Coalition Gallery, I invited Stan to present Jllst Such a Pineapple, an installation th at featured a half-dozen transis­ tor radios sitting on a six-inch wide wooden shelf that stretched along the entire 30 foot length of the gallery's longest wall. All tuned to different AM frequencies, the radios elTtitted crackles, static and general noise. Their volume controls were all set at a very low, almost imperceptible level. Stan pushpinned a row of twelve 24 by 30 inch drawings directly above the shelf. Each drawing contained a pale pencil image of two very small objects that were essentially overpowered by the relative size of the unmarked paper that surrounded them. The object pairs included seemingly irrational combinations like an electric fan and umbrella or a tennis racket and a billboard . The act of walking along the 30 foot shelf, while viewing the small drawn objects and lis­ tening to the faint static of the radios, inspired a mood of reflection and association. The randomness of the drawn objects began to suggest a complex array of narrative possibilities. The act of walking from one image to the next became a meditative act; the drone of the radios created a kind of vague white-noise mantra. Although racing thoughts were not extinguished by the mantra , they did become directed and smoothed. [n 1978, Stan produced four large colored pencil drawings, the Fear Series (see p.4D-1). Extremely personal, the pieces probably reveal aspects of Stan 's inner life more directly than anything he ever made. Each of the 36 by 24 inch images depicts a few heavily rendered objects hovering in a flat, unmodulated area of highly saturated color. The objects are easily recognizable, but the drawing style is L1r from photo­ graphic, tending more to a stylized cartoon ish expression. Subtle directional lines in the background color call attention to the medium and to the laborious process of covering such a large expanse of paper with the tiny soft point of a colored pencil. The image area of the drawings occupies the upper two-thirds of the sheet - the lower third of each piece contains two paragraphs of text penciled in highly legible block letters. Although the text of each drawing describes a different situation related to the objects depicted above, the text is unified by an objective, almost antiseptic descriptive style. Through this veneer of textual objectivity is a sense of melancholy and despair. A drawing depicting weapons against a vivid orange background con­ tains the text:

29


It is a

la~~e

rectal/glliar rvolII. Th e walls are a fresh ly paillted gray, the cOl/crete Jloor is

also gray bllt twds more towards billc. Lights, tripods and other photography eq/lipmellt arc scattered throllglwllt most (if the arca. II/ Olle comer there is a large wooden desk behind which call be seell a bookcase alld a set of.files.

all

aile

~f

the IOl/ger walls several rolls (if

backdrop paper have beell lamg. Paper frOIll aIle oj these rolls has been extwded dowlI the wall mid over a card table to the floor.

TIzree objects sit all the table: a crossbow, a hatld grellade, and a piece

~f rock.

There is

nothillg to illdicate the reason jor this arrangemelll. a,le cO/lld assllme that a photograph (if these objects wOltld be IIsed as 0" illllstratiolljor amell'S magaz ille or perhaps, a book cover, bllt this is IlOt the case. He has had direct experiCllce ,/lith a similar bow and althollgh Iwt jrightC/1ed by it, (he) kllows that it Illust be treated with respect. TI,e rock is actually a piece <?f ore contaillillg an i/lSigll[fiwllt all/Q1./l11

~f urallilllll.

He I/lellt to a lot oj trollble to acqllire

it evell th(lIIgh the idea <?f radiatioll has jrightelled hilll sillce yOllth. TIl ere is a slllall reactor Ilear the studio mid he call all/lost Jeel it pulsillg. He has had the grwade Jor several years alld is IWt sure whether il is aClive or 1101. There is a reasorl jor the grwade's illCillsi"" Ihal is 1I0t so "bvious h"wever, but he rquses to talk about it.

Another image in the same series presents an Arljorum magazine and a pair of scissors against a black background. The image on the magazine cover appears to be an approximately 2 by 8 foot section of hardwood flooring with a telephone sitting at one end. The wooden structure refers to a sculptural idea that Stan was developing that would later become the Pacil1g Plal1k Series. As in the previolls drawing, the first paragraph of text is essentially descriptive with only a hint of emotional content. But this textual tranquillity is jolted by the last sentence: "Two of his greatest fears, success and love, are somehow represented here, perhaps in an attempt to exorcise himself of the effect."7 Stan had always guarded himself against excessive intimacy and vulnera足 bility, but inherent in this defense was personal doubt and pain. This drawing was his first public admission that there were chinks in his arnlOr. The third drawing shows a white envelope leaning against a small brown leather case. A copy of the paperback novel Coma stands onend slightly behind the case. The text describes a photography studio where the objects in the drawing are about to be photographed. Here, referring to a time during his undergraduate studies, Stan writes: "While in college he had good years and bad years, but one in particular stands out. That year he lost it, that is, he went completely crazy. He treated the small leather case during this period as if it were a tabernacle, putting variolls small objects in it that seemed somehow to possess power.'" This rather frightening episode occurred in

1972. Stan had become infatuated with a woman who did not return his feelings. The

30


rejection sent Stan into a private world of mourning and despair. He became increas足 ingly distant and withdrawn; his work became menacing and erratic; at dinner one night he became physically unable to move. I rushed him to the hospital that evening where he received sedatives and a prescription for additional medication . After a time Stan recovered but he always held the event as a benchmark by which to measure his future emotional conflicts. The Fear Series' simplest image shows a sheet of plywood, its face marked with faint geometric lines, resting against a bright red background. A section of the text reads: " He has the material and the outline for a project but every time he begins to contin足 ue it's as if some force were invading his mind and body confusing him completely. He believes the cause to be a fear of having nothing to think or say and the feeling has become so pervasive that he has to express it in some manner."揃 Stan, raised as a good midwestern Catholic, made a trip to the confessional. His "sins" - emotions about artistic immobility, success, love, betrayal, insanity and death - have been admitted. The Fear Series' powerful autobiographical elements seemed to prepare Stan mental足 ly and emotionally for a profound period of introspection. The series put him in touch with his personal demons and with some of the more haunting aspects of creativity in

PACING PLANK WITH STEAMER TRUNK,

c. 198 1; (o!tlri,d pellal

011

ptlPl'r; /3 .2 5" x 19.25"

-

3'1


general. He began to seriously question art's ability to hold center stage in one's life, and he began to speculate on the price that is paid if indeed art is given that position. These questions gave rise to what, in my opinion, is the masterwork of Stan's career, his 1979 installation, PrUSt/it. ,'11 describe the piece later in this text, but it must be mentioned here because Pursuit essentially changed the meaning and direction of all of Stan's later work. After Pursuit his work possessed a sovereignty not previously found in his pieces. While some of the issues he subsequently addressed remained the same, a new finess e and subtlety emerged. Work after Prusuit demonstrated a deeper under足 standing of human frailty, a more delicate wit, and a more complex irony. Through some inner upheaval , Stan had repositioned himself in relationship to the world of art and in relationship to the universe in general. Following Pursllit, Stan began to realize many elaborate and complex proposals (a few even received funding). He genuinely seemed to enjoy showing his work for the first time since I had met him. He became increasingly able to earn a living in ways that complemented his artmaking. He also found personal encouragement and a ready audience for his work from an amazingly diverse group of loving, supportive people. This is not to say that Stan's life suddenly turned into to some utopian fantasy - it did not. But Stan did seem to relax and to accept his situation. He no longer seemed to fear a "force ... invading his mind and body confusing him completely." H e seemed freed of the fear " of having nothing to think or say. " '0 Stan spent part of 1981, producing Pacillg Planks, a series of simple colored pencil drawings of an approximately 2 foot by 8 foot by 1 inch high platform. The platform was always isolated on the page surrounded by the white of the drawing paper. Like the object depicted on th e cover of the art magazine in the Fear Series, the platform in these drawings was often rendered so as to resemble a section of hardwood flooring. In many, small objects were draw n sitting next to or at the ends of th e platfonn. The

objects - screwdrivers, alarm clocks, tv sets, notebooks, and steamer trunks - were very meticulously rendered much in the style of the objects in Just Such a Pilleapple. In fact, the mood suggested was very similar in ton e and effect to that achieved in his earlier installation. The enigmatic objects mutely sitting at the ends of the floor-like platforms seemed to beg for some kind of narrative completion, a logical solution, an answer that would dispel aLl un certai nty. Stan pushed the notion of implied narrative even further in his 1982 instaLlation in the foyer of the High Museum of Art, Two Vierrls oj tire Sallie Slroreline. The piece was fraught with technical difficulties and dilemmas (including a glass of wine spilled into the work at the show's opening reception), but Two Views ... established Stan's impor足 tance in the minds of many in Atlanta's art community. " The work consisted of a 25 foot long by 2 foot wide by 6 inch dee p, clear, open-top Plexiglas tray that rested on a

32


I

4 foot high gray pedestal. The tray was fill ed with glass shards and fragments of pho足 tographs: images of th e Ku Klux Klan, cows, th e ro ck band Devo, an empty living roOIll, a typewriter on a desk, etc. The photographic fragments were ge nerally con足 centrated around eight miniature tower-like stmctures that rose out of th e glass to support small green platforms. The scale of th e towers provided a reference point that transformed th e surrounding field of glass shards into a virtual crystal ocean. Eight framed photographic bird's-eye views of th e platforms were displayed on a waLl nea r th e tray. Stan considered th e photographs on th e wall as a component of the work 足 but a componen t th at was ab le to exist independently of th e sculptural element. A third component, Seglllellt5, a book containing reproductions of th e photographs an d text by David Lee, was likewise an interrelated element of th e work but again, not interdependent, which proved quite fortunate wh en th e book was delayed at th e printer and not ava iJab le during most of th e exhibition. The interrel ationship of th e three sepa rate elements distorted and hazed the work, much as th e broken glass challenged and interrupted th e integrity of the photographi c


images. The ambiguity was intentional and integral to the piece's overall effect. The narrative was wide open; exact meaning was anyone's guess. The very title of the piece seems to suggest that no single interpretation can ever be sufficient: the shore is ever-shifting, and you can see it from the water as well as from the land. Because the piece was at the High Museum of Art, it also seemed reasonable to speculate that Two Views... might be addressing the function and role of art institutions in general. The green platforms possibly suggested exhibition areas where art (the fragmented pho足 tographs) could be dealt with in relative safety (out of range of the sharpness of the world that gave rise to the images in the first place) as if the platform acted as a wedge of sorts (possibly a Duchampian reference) between art and life. Although Stan was showing regularly at this time, he still regarded the gallery/ museum system with a cer足 tain amount of suspicion, skepticism and occasional contempt. Stan and I hit a major snag in our relationship in the summer of 1983. We were next-door neighbors living in rapidly deteriorating houses on a soon-to-be redevel足 oped block of Sixteenth Street in Atlanta. It was not a good time for me - addiction consumed my life and I made serious mistakes everywhere I turned. One of the biggest mistakes was telling Stan that I never wanted to speak to him again. I regretted the words as soon as they came out of my mouth. I had seen Stan disengage from friendships before, and I knew how stubborn he could be. I was stubborn too. We didn't speak for months. We didn't reconcile for years. Nevertheless, I continued to follow Stan's work. I saw S,,.,all PM,ds with "'fajar

Imp[icatio,.,s, an installation at Nexus Contemporary Art Center that featured a 4 foot by 4 foot by 6 inch wooden tray filled with shredded computer paper that "floated" two miniature boats. I caught Stan's piece at the 1983 Mattress Factory Show. His contribution, Concomita,.,t, cleverly used the abandoned industrial space that housed the exhibition to "camouflage" a hand truck that carried a small scale-model of a mis足 sile launching and tracking system. I also saw Numbers, his 1985 installation at the Georgia State University Art Gallery. Stan had painted life-sized black and white human silhouettes directly onto the gallery walls. The silhouettes served as statistical markers to graphically represent the 28% of Atlantans living in poverty. Coincidentally, as the exhibition pointed out, this was the same percentage ofIowa farmers on the verge of bank foreclosure. Because Stan chose to use black silhouettes to represent the economic victims, some gallery visitors accused him of racism. We were still on the outs and I never talked to him about the work, but Stan was too perceptive not to consider the inflammatory implications of black silhouettes in a show about economics in a predominately black southern city. His motives remain a mystery to me. In 1985, I began to address my addictions. In the recovery process, I started making

34


peace with myself over my drinking and drugging escapades. [ also started making peace with the people I had harmed . It took a while, but by 1987, Stan and [ were aga in talking on a regular basis. We were opening up, sharing ideas and once again having the old "art and life " conversations of days gone by. The talks weren't as intense as they once were, we were different people with different priorities, but the talks felt good . [n 1988, Stan started working at N ex us Contemporary Art Center where [ had been employed as gallery director for about nine months. Working together at Nexus we were able to get through th e remainder of the residu al garbage that we had still carried from our falling out. In spring 1989, shortly afier [ made my decision to leave Nexus for my current position in Jamestown , N ew York, Stan and [ had lunch. W e talked about how parallel our lives had been and [ suggested to Stan that he should co nsider moving to Jamestown. H e replied, " You 'll never leave Atlanta, you'll be back in a couple of years." H earing that statement, [ felt that we had really reconnect颅 ed. We joked . [ reminded him how we had always talked about being old m en together. For the first time in years we talked about sitting in our rocking chairs some day on some mythical front porch, reminiscing about th e "young whippersnappers" that we used to be. Late in October 1992, at 2 a.m., my phone rang. [ answered only to hear a tape recording on th e other end. The tape was a co nversation between two men, they were talking about art. As the tape played [ recognized Stan as one of the recorded voices. [ then realized that th e rather inebriated voice on the tape was mine . The tape played for about five minutes before the caller hun g up . [ quickly called Stan, "Did yo u just call me?" "No, but [just got the same call. That was a tape we made in grad school," he sa id. We figured that Kirk McKend must be the phantom caller and had a laugh as we reminisced about the night that we made the tape. W e talked till about 3 a.m., [ told Stan that [ missed him, and that I'd see him soon. That was the last time we spoke. When I was asked to write his obituary for Art Papers in January, 1993, I realized that there was only one possible way to do it: Atlanta artist Stan Sharshal died of a ruptured aneurysm on December 20, 1992 .... [ followed Stan's work for over 20 years ... (and) one piece, in particular, remains active and constant in my imagination with a power that I've rarely felt from anyone's work.

PI/rsl/;t [see p. 42-4), an installation done in the late '70s at the old Atlanta Art Workers Coalit;o/路/ Gallery on Peachtree Street had an intellectual honesty and integrity that forever changed th e way [ thought about art and artists. The work was installed in three parts that were on view for one week each. During the first

35


week, the gallery was filled with fragrant floor to ceiling stacks of crudely made cedar sawhorses. The tools used in their manu£1Cture and the debris from their con­ struction were scattered on the gallery floor. A small photograph of a comet, fiery tail ablaze, lay on a sculpture stand off to the side of the room. DUling the second week, the gallery was transformed . The space had been cleaned, tools gathered, and sawhorses disassembled . The wood Ii'om the sawhorses, along with sheets of ply­ wood that had been inconspicuously stored in the gallery during the first week, were fashioned into a drawing table that ran the length of an entire 30 foot wall of the room. Wood not used in the table lay in a bonfire-like heap in the center of the gallery. The table was covered with six or eight aborted pastel drawings of the comet. The photograph of the comet from the previous week was now tacked to the wall over the last in the series of unsuccessful renderings. The drawing below the comet was savagely attacked with slashes of charcoal, the apparent victim of frustration and rage. The !.ighting in the gallery was set so as to intensifY the appar­ ently dramatic struggle that the maker of the drawings had experienced. In the third and final week of the installation, the tables were disassembled and the table's pieces, as well as the pile of scraps from the previous week, were arranged in a neat stack in the center of the gallery. The top of the wood stack was painted a flat pool­ t.1ble green. A tiny six-inch-Iong balsa wood table surrounded by six miniature chairs was centered on top of the stack. The table's size bellied its incredible scale as it riveted the viewer's attention as soon as the room was entered. The drawings from the previous week were stuffed into a dramatically lit trash can in the corner of the room. All of the tools were neatly packed in boxes apparently ready for removal from the gallery. The photo of the comet lay beside them. The tiny spot­ lighted table became a focal point that resounded with a feeling of consolation. The table was reminiscent of a dinner table and seemed to reflect the importance of communion in the face of cosmic uncertainty. It stood as a mute testament to the impossibility of ever being able to grasp the great mystery of our own existence during our time on earth. This beautifully poetic piece is a metaphor for Stan's !.ife. He devoted himself to the pursuit of the ineffable, knowing full well the transcendental folly of such a quest. As evidenced in the piece, he fully recognized that such ultimate riddles can only be alluded to and hinted at on this physical plane. Undaunted by such realiza­ tions, Stan spent his entire !.ife experimenting with the possibility of a close approxi­ mation of the unattainable. His struggle to find the illusive surrogate that represents that larger fleeting truth enriched us all. Stan, we are grateful for the illumination that you provided. We feel diminjshed by the passing of your light. Blaze on dear friend, blaze on. "

36


NOles:

I. The Atlanta Sc hool of Art is now the AtlJnt:l College of Art. St;m\ work. as on e might imagine, did not fit neady in to any of the major areas of study as they were constituted at the school ;tt that tim e. He began his junior ye:lr as a painti ng major but quickly est-ablish«l. independent studies w ith Bill Nolan and the \~te Edvorard R oss. Sr:an also spent consi derable time in convemlion wi th for­ mer Atlanta School of An fuc ulry mL'mbc r Kinj i Abgaw a. 2. Th is infonnatioll \vas fOll nd in a st:ul.'me J1[ prepa.re-d by Stall (o r a Adolph Gottleib Foundation grant applkJtion . Carol H ollis. Sf:1n's art teacher at Am13 High Scho ol . showed him the Davis slide.

3. I am e xtrem ely indebted to anist/criric R eg Darling for hdpi.ng m e see the overall im portance o f the " abse nt perfomler" in St"Jn's work. After discussing the wo rk w·ith R eg. I reali.z.cd I.he fu ll impact of somt! ofth ~e early decisions lnd saw how they info nllcd much of Smn's later works. 4. This set of boxed photographs was sem to the Universil)' o((-b rtford. as 3. portfo lio to be co nsidered for G raduate School adlll..is.sion. The admission com mi tt ee was very impressed w1 dl fhe wo rk and immediately accepted Stan into the graduate program. Shortly after the comm itt ee met . the bo xed photographs were stolen. The Un iversity later reimbursed Stall for the cost of replaci ng the works, but the sec wi th the exception of so me iso lated images. was never reassembled.

5. T he majority of the pieces in the y /trtrd fkp(lsits show were crated in a w ooden bo x and donated to the AtbntJ. C ollege o f Art LibrJry. In 1976. Sta n and I discovered that the crate and aU of itS cont entS had disappeared from the Lib ra ry . 6. C.E.T.A. (Comp rl.'hensive Employme nt and Traini ng Act). was a feden l program that attempted to combat underemploym e nt JIld une mployme nt by teac hing workers new skills rhar would allow them to re-en ter the work (orce. In Atlanta. duri ng Mayn:trd jackson' s tirst maY0r:l.1 administr.Hion. a rt~ org;mi l.Jtlons received C.E .T.A. funds to train the.sc workers.

7. The com plete text of the second drawing reach; : "Th e walls arc covered with 3. Oat gray paim . The hardwood floor is in good shape bu t shows signs of neglect. the room is narrow and long. One e nd is well lit while the ot he r is in relative da rkness. C ameras. lights. tripods. and several unopened boxes sit in the well- lit area and an unmade bed . dresse r drawers and J table art barely visible in the dark end of the room. A roll of black backdrop p..per has been hun g o n th<.· short wall in wh at appc-::a rs to be the work arta. Plper from the roll has been pulled down the wall and across part o f the 1100r. Two obj ects sit on the p ~ pe r: a copy o f 3n art magaz.ine and a pair o f scissors . From the looks of th ings. they were lefe there duri ng the execution of so me project . Actually . they are th e subj ects of the project itse lf The cover of the art magaz.ine is a fa ke ; he has photographed his own work and made a cover with it. The pair of scissors is si milar to a p3i r mentioned by so meo ne close to him. Two o f his greatest fears. succ(:ss an d love. are somehow represented he re. perhaps in an attempt to exorcise himself of the effect." 8 . ThL' compk'{c text o f th e third dnwing reads: "The room is nea rly squa re. T wo of the walls are no thing but glass while the othe r f W O form a solid whit e 'L.' Three roUs of bac kdrop paper have been hung o n one of the so lid walls and paper from one of the m has been dr.lwn down th Lo wall lnd across a small tJble. There are three objects on the L1 ble: an envelope. l srnallieathcr case and a copy of a popu lar novcl. In (ront of the table is a c3 l1ler3locked o nt o a tripod and aimed at the arrangeme nt. In e mp ty film box sits next to two filII ones on the floor ncar the tripod. While in college he had good years J nd bad years. but one in part icular stands out. That year he lost it. that is. he w ent cOlllpk·tdy crazy . H e trea ted the sm;l1 l leath e r case d uring this pe riod as ifit were a tabernacle . puning various small objects in it that seemed some ho w to possess pow er. The envdope leaning against the Cdse is an unopen ed letter . It cou ld be good news or bad. H e is afraid to OpC Il it. T he book placed to rhe rear o f th ese twO o bjects seems humorous to h im. Popular thrillers. such as this one play to what he consid('rs a dulled sense o f reality." 9 . The co mplet e text of th e fonh drawin g reads: "'n tht' middle of th e roo m is:1 lo ng workbe nch . Off to onC' side stands l table saw and a drill p re~s . O n til t' oth(Or side are severaJ metal shelves which ho ld v:].r10US. too ls and some hardware. At one end of th e space is a pile of wood and n('xt to it scver.lJ sheetS of steel and a w elding outfit. The workbench has bee n cleared <l nd a sheet of plywood leaned up aga inst it. A pi<.' cc of backdrop paper has been tJcked to the top of the plywood :md allowed to fal l owr the work surt.lee . Anothe r but m uch smaller piece ofplpvood is posi tioned within the paper covered area. It has bctn lIlark ed for cutt ing. A 3SIlllll camero is sitting o n the bench a fe w feet away fro m the paper although it 3ppt':lrs (h.l t SOllleone is documenting tht' construction of somethi ng. it is not $0. He has the material :lnd the outl ine for a project but every time he bt'gins to conti nue it s as if some force were invading his mind and body confusing him completely. He believ<.-":S the ca use to b1.· a fear of luving not hi ng to th in k or say and rhe feelin g has become so peI'Vlsive that he has to expres.s it in SOllie manner. " 10. T ext from the PIYW'l.kJd Dmwillg of th e Fear & ries. Stan A. Sh.arshal. 1978.

I I.

YEW Vitws ... prompted long time Sharshal supporter. Emory Professor o(art history . john Howett to write in a review oCthe wo rk in Art Papl"rs: "Stan Sharshalmay be the least known il11port"Jrlt art.ist in the So uth east .. Art Pllpm.january-Fcbruary 1983 .

12. Art Pd[k"'rS. Marchi April. 1993.

37


Exhibitions, Proposals" Drawings


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42


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Stanley Alfred Sharshal

Born November 17,1 950 in Parso ns, Kansas Gradu ated fro m Arma High School, Arma, Kansas, 1969 Attended Pittsburg State College, Pittsburg, Kansas 1969-1970 Bachelo r of Fine Arts, Atlanta College of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, 1970-1 973 Master of Fine Arts, University of H artfo rd , Harford, C onnecticut, 1975 Associate Edito r, C(lIlIclllporary A rt SOl/th ellst, 1976-1977

Contributing Edi to r, A tlmllil A rt Pilpers, 1979-1 98 1

Boa rd memb er, Atlanta Art Papers, In c. , 1980-1 981

Printer/ T echnical and Artisti c Consultant for artists' books produ cti o n

(including IlIIplclllelltillg Anhitcclt/rc by R ob MilIer, DOMIN ION by Andrew

Fo rster, and DES IRE by T elfer Sto kes), N exus Press, 1988-1 989

Fo undin g Boa rd M embe r and artist, R ed ClllY (a n exp erimental performanc e

gro up), 1989-1 992 Ind ependent Produ cer for the Atlanta public access channel, Peo ple TV, 1990-1 992 Adjun ct Professor, Sc ulpture and Visual Stud ies, Atlanta C ollege of Art, 1988-1 991 T eac hing Affiliate, Sculpture, Em 01Y Univers ity, 1987-1992 Died of an aneutysm at age 42 o n Dece mber 20, 1992 in Atlanta, Georgia.

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

Still Lifc, Tula Fo undatio n Gallety, Atlanta, Georgia, 199 1 [colI/wrreut evellls, Po nce de Leo n Place, Atlanta, Georgia, 1991 NUMBER S, Georgia State Unive rsity Art Ga lIery, Atlanta, Georgia (catalog), 19S5 T wo Views oI the Sllllle Shorelillc, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia (catalog), 1982 PUR SUIT: All Exhibitioll ill Three Pll rts, Atlanta Art W o rkers Coalitio n Gallery, 1979 JI/st SI/ch II Pillcllpple, Atlanta Art W o rkers Coalitio n Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia , 1978 Til e Fellr Series, H ea th Ga lle ry , Atlanta , Geo rgia, 1978 SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

Persoll.', Space O ne Eleven , Birmjngham , Alabama, 1992 Vitlll Siglls, N exus C ontemporary Art Center, Atlanta, Georgia, 199 1 FIlCIIlty Exhibitioll , Atlanta Coll ege of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, 1990 COIIIIIICllt, N ex us Contemporary Art Ce nter, Atlanta, Georgia (catalog) , 1988 J1,e A tllllltil Sholl', N ex us C o ntemporary Art C enter, Atlanta, Georgia (poster), 19H7

63


Off the Beaterl Path, Limbo Gallery, Charlotte, North Carolina, 1986 Shared Quarters, Ersatz Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia, 1986 Southml Satellite Exhibition , 10 on 8, New York, New York , 1984 The Political Show, Nexus Contemporary Art Center, Atlanta , Georgia, 1984 TI,e Avant-Garde: 12 i,l Atlanta, Five Years Later, Heath Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia, 1984 The Arts Festival of Atlanta, Site Sculpture, Atlanta, Georgia (catalog), 1983 The Mattress Factory SholV, The Old Southern Cross Mattress Factory, Atlanta, Georgia, 1983 The Avant-Garde: 12 ill Atlanta, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia (catalog), 1979 Gallery Artists Show, Heath Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia, 1978 The 1977 Biennal Exhibition, New Orleans MuseulII of Art, New Orleans, Louisiania, 1977 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Laura C. Lieberman, "Persons," review, Art Papers, January 1993 jerry Cullum, "Coalescence/Stan Sharshal: Still Life," review, Art Papers, January 1992 Stan Sharshal, "Going to Work : Radical Traffic Babble," feature, Art Papers, Septem ber 1990 Dan R. Talley, Comment, exhibition catalog, Nexus Contemporary Art Center, 1988 Douglas DeLoach, "The Atlanta Show," review, Art Papers, November 1987 Thomas Dorn, "Shared Quarters," review, Art Papers, January 1987 Catherine Fox, '''Shared Quarters' adds up to be a great deal of quiet work, dedi ca tion," review, AtlalllaJou/'Iwl ConstitutiMl, October 17,1986 Louise E. Shaw, NUMBERS, exhibition catalog, Georgia State Universiry Art Gallery, Atbnta, Georgia, 1985 Laura C. Lieberman, "The Avant-Garde 12 Revisited," feature, Art Papers, November 1984 Al an Sondheim, "The Old Mattress Factory Show," review, Art Papers, january 1984 Catherine Fox, "Avant-Garde reunion disappointing, with certain exceptions," review, AtlantaJoumal Constitutiol', October 28,1984 john Howett, "Stan Sharshal," review, Art Papers, january 1983 Catherine Fox, "Sharshal's 'Views' are puzzling," review, AtlalllaJournal Constitlltioll , December 23, 1982 David Lee, SEGMENTS, exhibition catalog, High Museum of Art, 1982 Stan Sharshal, "Spaces & Illusions," review, Atlanta Art Papers, March 1980 Steve Henson, "The Avant-Garde: 12 in Atlanta," review, TI,e Atlanta Art Workers Coatitioll Newspaper, january 1980 Stan Sharshal, "Roses by K. S. McKend," review, TI,e Atlanta Workers Coalitioll NelVspaper, November 1979 John Howett, TI,e AVallt-Garde: 12 in Atlanta, exhibition catalog, High Museum of Art, 1979 Stan Sharshal, "One Artist's Response," feature, The Atlanta Art Workers Coatitioll Newspaper, 1978

64


Stan Sharshal Retrospective  

Exhibition catalog for a retrospective exhibition of the work of Stan Sharshal. Organized by Dan R. Talley for TULA Foundation, Atlanta, GA

Stan Sharshal Retrospective  

Exhibition catalog for a retrospective exhibition of the work of Stan Sharshal. Organized by Dan R. Talley for TULA Foundation, Atlanta, GA