Thursday, January 21, 2010

Proper Noun of the Week #28: Jacob Wesley Lang

I owe the Waterloo Road Arts District a great debt. Because of it, I've both found a home and met countless fascinating, talented, and immensely creative people, many of whom I've subsequently grown to become friends with. Getting to know these folks has broadened my appreciation of the art they create, extending my interest from not just what eventually gets hung on the gallery wall but how (and, to some extent, why) the piece went from initial idea to execution.

That's one of the reasons I'm so stoked about presenting Jacob Wesley Lang as the next Proper Noun subject on this blog. One of the aforementioned folks I've been lucky enough to get to know and befriend, Jacob is an impressive artist who shines the spotlight equally on the finished product and the process that led to it. All this week and some of last, Jacob has been installed in Low Life Gallery, making the art that gallery-goers can see firsthand on Friday night. At times, this residency has become a collaborative event, as friends and neighbors have stopped in to drop off or harvest the raw materials he's been working with.

The show, "FROZEN DELIGHT," represents the initial undertaking of an idea about visual artists traveling in the same manner as a touring band: using the musician's model, traveling from place to place, creating an entirely new body of work and then exhibiting, at each stop along the way. Lang intends to take the same residential approach to future shows in other cities, arriving, creating, exhibiting, and then moving on, time and time again. Each time, he will adapt three techniques (paintings made by freezing paint and water into ice cubes, then melting them on paper; magazine cutouts made by burning pages, using a circular saw blade as a stencil; and collages of cut and pasted letters, assembled to resemble ransom notes) to the available resources at any given stop, thus leading to works that are influenced by the environments in which they are created.

The process, plan, and philosophy behind this inaugural effort are just the kind that will certainly yield an enjoyable head-scratch. Recently, Jacob took a few moments to respond to my Proper Noun survey, and his answers provide a little illumination into the man behind the meta-project. Of course, meeting him at the opening and viewing the work itself is the best way to really get this one.

1) How long have you been in Cleveland? And if you didn't grow up in Cleveland, where'd you relocate here from?

Originally, I'm from Maine. When I graduated high school, I moved to NYC for a year off before completing 3 semesters of college and then transferring to Oberlin for 2 more semesters. After finally committing to dropping out of school, I moved to Austin, TX for a spell and then onto San Francisco. I returned to Oberlin in 1999, this time just as a Townie, where I opened a collaborative digital printmaking studio called Pangaea Press. Then 3 years later, I relocated to Cleveland in order to be closer to the artists I was working with through Pangaea. For the most part, I lived in Tremont before moving to the Waterloo Arts District about a year and a half ago.

2) What is your favorite Cleveland memory?

It would have to be the first time I drove into the city. I had just finished my first year of college in NYC and caught a ride here with a classmate to meet up with my folks, who were living in Dayton at the time. We were driving in at night, up I-77. I can still feel my face pressed against the glass trying to familiarize myself with the surroundings. The city is certainly tiny in comparison to NYC, but that night it seemed mysterious; like a place worth exploring.

3) How does (if at all) Cleveland influence your work and/or art?

I'm sure my creative output over the last few years has been affected by living here, possibly in ways I'm not be aware of, but it feels to me like the body of work I've been creating for FROZEN DELIGHT is the first time the city has been this pronounced in my art. The show feels like it's about the experiences I've had since being here on Waterloo. All of the work has been produced in the neighborhood, between my studio above Arts Collinwood and at Low Life Gallery, which definitely effects the outcome. But that probably also has to do with a conscious shift in my working process to allow external influences to factor more in my artmaking practices.

4) If it was your birthday and you decided to have a Cleveland-centric blow-out bash, how would you celebrate? That is, what would you do, where would you do it, etc.?

I can be a bit of a hermit at times and prefer it when I can keep my activities local. Recently, there was a wonderful evening with everything I need, all within a two block radius of my home! It started out with Terry Durst's opening @ Arts Collinwood - which is an AMAZING show - followed by the Scene's "Bands to Watch" @ the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern. After that, everyone from the Beachland poured down the street to the Boardwalk for a "closing time" performance by locals Casual Encounters. Then, a couple more doors down there was an all-night housewarming party, thrown by some folks who are new to the neighborhood. It was the first time I've seen the crowds here cover that much distance up and down the street. If I could figure out how it all came together, I'd definitely try and recreate something like that.

This weekend should be good too, though. Got FROZEN DELIGHT @ Low Life, up only through the weekend; Terry Durst's show @ Arts Collinwood and there's also the Cafe there; Ronnie Spector, HotChaCha and Sunday Brunch @ the Beachland. Lots to see and hear. And you never know what other kind of unexpected fun might just stumble into.

5) Say you had a friend coming in for 24 hours and had never been to Cleveland before. What would you make sure they saw and did?

MELT is a no-brainer! Also, the Cleveland Museum of Art and any of the Metro Parks. Maybe, a ride out to Oberlin for brunch at the Feve and a walk around town. It would most likely depend on who was visiting at the time. Although not many of my friends or family seem to want to make the trip here. Go figure...

6) What is something from another city you wish you could import to Cleveland?

I favor the idea of everyone who has moved away in the past 10 years moving back. If you can find a cooler, more affordable place to live, more power to you. But having to work my ass off to afford a Fanciful Big City life is really not my style. I can pursue my passions here without having to spend all my time working to keep up with the expenses of them. Having lived in both NYC and SF, I know that if I were living there now, I'd certainly not have the kind of "wide time" to dedicate to my art. Might be cooler places to see and be seen; and don't get me wrong, Brooklyn is cool. So is San Francisco. For me though, it all comes down to being able to make my artwork, not where or with whom. When I'm not making art, there's still plenty of potential for seeing interesting things, having new experiences and meeting unique people.

7) If you had the undivided attention of the mayor, city council, and county commissioners, what would be the one thing you'd ask for or tell them?

Being born naturally recalcitrant that's a hard question to answer. I'm not really interested in appealing to authority figures; putting faith in them inevitably leads to being let down. Like Gandhi, I believe "you must be the change you wish to see in the world." Anything worth working towards always begins at the grass roots level. If you see something that needs correcting outside your window, invest your own time and energy finding a solution rather than having to depend on someone else to do it for you. It's far more gratifying.

To meet Jacob and check out his work yourself, stop by Low Life Gallery this Friday for the opening of his solo show, "FROZEN DELIGHT." The gallery is located at 16001 Waterloo Road in Cleveland.

And if you found this post interesting, check out previous Proper Noun of the Week conversations about Cleveland and culture with the following interesting folks: Frank Revy, Bill Rupnik, Mina Hoyle, Brendan Walton, Leia Alligator, Arabella Proffer, Becca Riker, Greg Ruffing, Mallorie Freeman, Dave Desimone, J.R. Bennett, Jeff & Mike from CLE Clothing Co, Paulius Nasvytis, Lawrence Daniel Caswell, Curtis Thompson, John Ewing, Shannon Okey, John G, Sean Bilovecky, Dana Depew, Fred Wright, Amanda Montague, Ryan Weitzel, Garrett Komyati, Vince Slusarz, and Jonah Jacobs.

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