Young Momentum artists find inspiration in unlikely places
Justine Green at home with the original bone wreath
Momentum Tulsa 2014, an exhibition for Oklahoma artists age 30 and under, opens at Living Arts Oct. 3 during the First Friday Art Crawl. In line with this year’s community engagement theme and the established tradition of the Art Crawl, admission to Momentum is free for the first time ever. Overseen by the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition, the Momentum committee raised thousands more sponsorship dollars this year than ever before to make this possible. At the opening only, don’t miss the Momentum Market, where exhibitors will sell small works under $50. The show runs through Oct. 18.
Get to know the young creatives behind a few of our favorite pieces, and before you say “I could do that,” remember—they think you're silly.
Justine Green, 25, Tulsa
Submission: Bone Wreath, a 10x10 oil painting. Green brought the original bone wreath home from a secondhand store in Dallas. The remains interested her because “they could have religious or spiritual significance, or ritual significance, but it’s not really clear,” she said. “I don’t have an agenda or a specific idea behind them. … It could just be some hunter, what he picked up in the woods. Or maybe someone was making something for their altar at home.” Whatever their previous uses, the bones were Green’s instrument in a recent noise composition—“kind of music, not really”—at local shop Second Hand Third Eye. Now, the mystical string of duck feet and mammalian jawbones, femurs and vertebrae hangs in Green’s studio.
The Voice visited with Justine Green in her sparsely furnished studio, a back bedroom of her house. Clicking through digital photos on her laptop, Green paused to show us a still life of a slightly tortuous-looking mouth gag—“It cranks open,” she said. Green works full-time sterilizing surgical instruments at a local hospital.
It probably never occurred to you that a flawed fellow human decides whether the tools of the trade are clean enough to cut you open. Because “the machines can’t get everything,” Green uses a variety of brushes to clean fluids and debris off of the equipment.
Although Green doesn’t deal with the “buckets” of blood that come from the operating room, she sees plenty of it.
“At this point it would be like, ‘Well, what’s a lot of blood? What do you mean?’” she said laughing.
Still, “there are things that are grosser than blood to clean off,” Green said. “Earwax is pretty bad. I think it’s the worst. It will get stuck in the instruments, and cleaning it up is really gross. Like bloody, slimy, greasy earwax.”
The gig is mostly just an “interesting” way to pay the bills for the artist. Green paints every week and shows her work regularly. She started out figure painting and has recently focused on objects like the bones in her Momentum piece. Exhibit by Aberson now owns the instrument series—including the mouth gag—Green painted when she first started working at the hospital (she was permitted to take the tools home to paint).
“Those I think were actually more like portraits than some of my figure painting,” she said. “They’re so evocative, like pokey things, and stretchy things and sharp things, blunt things.”
But “even though they’re instruments, I’m still thinking about the body,” she said. In her paintings, Green gravitates toward the flesh and bone and “charged artifacts” of the natural world. Her medium has the same organic quality as her subjects and the surgical aftermath at her job.
“Oil painting is just so gross,” she said. “The texture of it, its oiliness, I think is very much bodily.”
Although Green never intended to sterilize surgical tools for a living, the peculiar connection to her painting interests isn’t lost on her.
“I don’t know, it’s a little morbid maybe,” she said. “It was by chance, but there is definitely a relationship there.”
Preston Pettigrew, 22, Oklahoma City
Submission: The Wave, an undulating 6-by-1-foot installation made of scrap paper, steel and wood that Pettigrew recovered from around the University of Central Oklahoma campus. The piece references our over-consumption of disposable materials and “the wave of trash that we leave in our wake.” From a distance, The Wave’s rolled-up tubes of paper resemble a mass of barnacles and urchins. This particular effect wasn’t intentional, but “it’s supposed to be sea-like,” he said. “A lot of our trash ends up in the oceans, and that’s obviously super-harmful to the animals there. So that works out perfectly that they look like barnacles.” This is Pettigrew’s first time showing at Momentum.
Much of Preston Pettigrew’s work speaks to human impacts on the environment. But like many young artists, he’s still experimenting with different media. Pettigrew is most interested in mixed-media metal sculpture and oil painting.
Metals appeal to Pettigrew because of their fragility and manmade quality.
“Steel, in particular, is an alloy that humans have manufactured and has put us above all the other animals,” he said. “But if you leave it outside, it falls apart because nature always takes over. That’s why they have to re-pave roads every so many years. I think those ideas are really interesting, and I try to stick within that kind of thing with my art.”
Pettigrew also wants to explore portraiture, and he’s taking cues from the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, an internationally-renowned young New York artist who shot to fame in the 1980s.
“His self-portraits were monsters,” he said. “I think that’s an interesting take on the portrait, to show what you are rather than what you look like.”
Pettigrew studies studio art at UCO, where he works as a ropes course and climbing wall facilitator. Outside the studio, he’s into rock climbing in the Wichita Mountains and all kinds of cycling, including mountain biking trails at his local Draper Lake and BMX trails in east Tulsa.
“I think nature’s really important, and all of my activities are really nature-centered,” he said. “That’s where I guess I feel most at home, is out in the mountains or in the forest—just anywhere that’s not overwhelmed by people and our creations.”
As an up-and-coming artist, Pettigrew said “it’s pretty terrifying” putting his work out there for the public.
“But I need to get used to it,” he said. “I think it’s really important also to have friends and family tell you what they think of your art—as long as they’re being a hundred percent honest—because they could be potential buyers in the future.”
Tahlia Ball, 25 & Tommy Ball, 28, Tulsa
Her submissions: In addition to the installation described below, Momentum features two of Tahlia’s 120mm unedited black and white photos. She took the shots at Stonehorse Café and Market, where she works as a chef’s apprentice. “Jose” features Tahlia’s friend Jose, who used to wash dishes at the restaurant. “We’ve got a special relationship,” she said. “We communicate in sounds and meows, because he speaks Spanish. I speak a little bit of Spanish, but it’s just funny having a friend that you just sort of communicate with.” “Eggz” shows boiled eggs in an ice bath—“I just really liked the eggs,” she said. “I like repetition a lot.” Both photos are 24x18.
His submission: “Facing West from the Summit Club,” a 48x24 watercolor. Although the dramatic cityscape is one of a three-part panoramic series, it’s the only piece to be featured at Momentum.
At first glance, the Balls’ dining table appeared to be set with several elaborate dishes of food.
“Are you in the middle of cooking?” we asked.
“No, this is actually a part of my project,” Tahlia Ball said. “This is the installation. But these are like week-and-a-half old demos.”
The “demos” were plates of gelatin-encased food: a rounded dome of gelatinized crawfish suspended above a ring of shrimp; an inch-and-a-half deep translucent “pizza” of pepperonis, bell peppers, mushrooms and olives; a pitcher of orange slices in “water.”
We were planning to ask Tahlia about her photo submissions, but “Supper Suspended” stole our attention in a cold, jiggly second. Tahlia hadn’t attempted the project before proposing it for Momentum, but she did some informal research to confirm its feasibility. Although it’s real food, it’s all uncooked. “So you wouldn’t want to eat it,” she said. You bet your beans, we wouldn’t. “But it’s going to look appealing.”
No need to over-think the concept; Tahlia just thought it sounded like a neat idea. The installation is one night only, and it’s not for sale.
“It’s totally useless,” she said. “It’s just for fun really, just to freak people out.”
Tahlia prepares salads, appetizers and deserts 50 hours a week at Stonehorse. Although she also paints and takes photos, her main priority is learning to cook. The gelatin installation “is like marrying those two worlds and kind of blurring the line between art and food, and creating confusion that way,” she said.
Tahlia first met her husband, Tommy Ball, when she dated his younger brother—“for like two months,” she said. “We didn’t do anything weird.”
They reconnected after Tommy moved back from college, and they celebrate two years of marriage Oct. 6.
In addition to painting vibrant watercolors of Tulsa sites, Tommy does masonry 30 hours a week. It’s hard work, but it lets him get outside and use his creativity.
Tommy said art sales make up about half of his income. Some clients see his art at SMOKE. on Cherry Street, but most people find him through his website, tommyleeball.com. He sold more than 30 paintings last year. An oil and gas firm bought 24 of them for office decor.
“They just bought pretty much everything I had,” he said. “ … Sometimes you get a homerun, I guess. You find someone that wants your stuff and buys a whole bunch of it.”
Tommy studied fine art with an emphasis in photography at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.
“They told me I wasn’t a painter,” Tommy said. “I was like, ‘Alright,’ and I did all the photo stuff. And then I was like, ‘Hey, how ‘bout this? Look at all my big paintings that I sell all the time.’”
“It’s funny now.” Tahlia said.
The two are a little bit like kindergarten BFFs in adult bodies. When they’re not working on their solo pursuits, they build stuff, ride bikes, finish each other’s sentences—you know, kid stuff.
Upon request, Tahlia grabbed one of her many homemade hula-hoops for a demo—it’s called “hooping,” she said. “It sounds like you’re saying pooping all the time—‘I gotta hoop in the yard!’ It’s funny, cause when I first started doing it, what I liked most about it was like, ‘Oh, I can just dance in my yard, and no one looks at me funny cause I got a hula-hoop here!’”
The Balls are also drawing up plans for a 200-square-foot tiny house.
“We’ve got some big plans,” Tommy said. “Rooftop terrace on it.”
“Rooftop terrace,” Tahlia said. “That’s my idea. I gotta have a rooftop terrace.”
The Balls take themselves pretty lightly, and they agreed that observing the public response to their art is part of the fun.
“People are always saying hilarious stuff,” Tommy said. “I don’t ever wear nametags at shows, and I always just sort of creep around my artwork and listen to what people say. It’s great,”
“‘Ah could do thayt,’” Tahlia said.
“I love that,” Tommy said. “All the time. Actually, that’s sort of why I stopped doing Blue Dome [Arts Festival], is just dumb people [walk] by going, ‘Ah could do thayt, Ah could do thayt, Oh, look at thayt, Ah could—’ Do it. I don’t doubt that you could, go for it. Go try it. Do something, please. I used to get my feelings hurt about stuff, like not getting accepted into things, but you learn not to take it too seriously.”
MOMENTUM TULSA 2014
Momentum exhibits Oklahoma artists age 30 and under in a venue created specifically for them. Works include film, performance, new media, installation, music and more.
Friday, Oct. 3, 6-10 p.m. (During the Brady Arts District's First Friday Art Crawl)
Exhibition continues through Oct. 18
Tues-Sat 1-5 p.m. and Thurs 1-9 p.m.
307 E. M.B. Brady St.
Curators: Sean Starowitz (Lead) and Libby Williams (Emerging Curator)
Music: DJ Spencer LG
Stephanie Addison—Broken Arrow
Kerry Azzarello—Oklahoma City
Randall Barnes—Midwest City
Eli Casiano—Oklahoma City
Heather Heck—Oklahoma City
Klair Larason—Oklahoma City
Tatjana Marley—Oklahoma City
Cortney McConnell—Oklahoma City
JP Morrison Lans—Tulsa
Preston Pettigrew—Oklahoma City
Marissa Raglin—Oklahoma City
FOR MORE INFO, VISIT OVAC-OK.ORG