The experience of looking at visual art can run the gamut from a fleeting instant to life-altering. The ultimate interrogative moment, mindful art appreciation can conjure a barrage of questions, yet still leave the viewer satisfied, even if they walk away with no real answers. Art can draw you in or run you out, but you will surely be affected. Or, to paraphrase ’90s psych-rock band Magic Hour, does it “turn you on or turn on you?”
The upcoming pop-up show What The What?!?! is a group exhibit that attempts to penetrate that very experience. The show counts both emerging and established artists, featuring original works by Deborah Adams, Alex Barnes, Matthew Dolby, Van Eggers, Sarah Flora, Makeda Joseph, Andrea Lukic, Kevin Mahoney, Russell Maycumber, Matt Meinhardt, Loren Myhre, Erick Wayne Patterson, Heather Pellecer, Joseph Provenza and Douglas Stearns. The Facebook invitation says the participating artists “are a strange breed; intensely dedicated to crafting thrills for the eye.” Co-curated by Myhre and Eggers, the one-night-only event also features live music by The Dewars and the promise of free beer.
Both Myhre and Eggers bring different albeit equally potent experience and taste to the table. Myhre is a painter and sculptor who, for the past eight years, has been teaching sculpture and drawing at Flagler College. Conversely, Eggers is currently earning his BFA at Flagler; last year he was awarded the school’s distinguished student award for the fine arts major. And it was their connection to Flagler that lit the fuse for What The What?!?! — the title takes its name from a Tracy Morgan catchphrase on 30 Rock.
“Van and I met through the metal sculpture course I was teaching last spring. We had a lot in common and he invited me to participate in a ’zine that he and his friends were publishing,” explains Myhre. “It’s called Anxiety, and features the exceptional artists and citizens who make up the underground North Coast Florida art scene.” Myhre acknowledges that the show was really about “intersections” between him and Eggers’ friends’ work. “So really, the impetus was out of a desire to bring both of our friends’ art together and to show them love and respect for what they do.”
Eggers is a product of the crucial blend of skateboard culture and art. “The show was created in response to a lack of do-it-yourself art shows in St. Augustine,” explains Eggers of the attempt to widen the creatives’ paradigm of creating, while following through with broadcasting the very thing created. “When living in a community like St. Augustine, that generates such a dynamic range of creative people, be it musicians, visual artists, or skate and surf enthusiasts,” says Eggers, “it seemed peculiar that the extent of most creative platforms stops at music, played at a few local bars.”
The only real suggestions for the show, says Myhre, were that the art “contained a strange hybrid of fine art technique merging into graphic-commercial stylizations.” And while there is a theme for the show, it actually developed after the wheel was set in motion in July.
“The artists did not know anything about the title or statement for the show,” explains Myhre. “That materialized really after we had our committed artists and sat down to brainstorm.” Any group show immediately expresses a statement of harmony, if not clearing away some of the aggravating, yet certainly needed, egos of artists. “The aim of this show is to, hopefully, encourage students, as well as other artistically minded members of the community, to create the types of shows they want to see happen,” says Eggers.
The work ranges from the arcane photogravure-like work of Joseph Provenza to the entheogenic-illustrative wash of Sarah Flora to the continuing sardonic grotesqueries of Russell Maycumber. Contemporary, cutting-edge and crucial, the artists of What The What?!?! rose to the challenge, and, in the process, created the show’s theme in a weirdly poetic hindsight.
In the end, both Myhre and Eggers believe that art is an ineffable experience, inherently beyond the tongue, and ideally beyond any expected explanations. “Visual art and written language are commonly synonymous, but it can be dangerous to utilize too much dialogue when it comes to art that is meant to create an emotion larger than the work itself,” says Eggers. Parallel to that, Myhre believes that any verbalization is ultimately unnecessary. “I don’t think artists need to be in the business of explaining everything to death,” says Myhre. “Inspiration should be the seed to all artistic pursuits, and inspiration is not something that can be articulated or explained, really.”
Regardless of our response to that visceral reaction to visual art, our reactions are personal and, at times, sacrosanct. Yet for all of the inevitable questions the works of the artists of What The What?!?! may pose, they share the same goal: unity and creative action.
“The title in some senses pokes at St. Augustine’s complete obliviousness to the prodigious amount of unrecognized and undisplayed talent oriented around visual art in our community,” offers Eggers, believing that a sizable number of people will be shocked by the incredible and, at times, unnoticed talent that calls the Oldest City home. “What The What?!?! will, hopefully, be the town’s response when viewing its own potential.”