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Finger-Painting With Charlie Clough

"The Way to Clufffalo" by Charles Clough.
"Lackawanna" by Charles Clough.

Renowned artist invites participants in painting project on Friday

You can watch artist Charles Clough make a “big finger” painting—and participate if you like—Friday, June 21, in the Katherine Cornell Theater, Ellicott Complex, UB north campus. An all-day project, scheduled from 9am to 5pm. Then at 6pm, have dinner with the artist and other participants, in the food court down the corridor. And at 8pm, hear Clough talk about his life in art and current venture, the Clufffalo Institute—three f’s—based on reestablishing his studio back in Buffalo, whence he started out in the artistically heady 1970s.

The studio and institute will be located in the Hi-Temp Building in the Cobblestone District. The institute will include the artist’s “archives,” consisting of numerous finished and unfinished artworks, his roughly 5,000-page journal of text and images documenting his epic artistic journey, as he conceived it from the beginning, and a “painting laboratory” focused on arena painting, another name for the “big finger” artmaking method he invented in the mid-1980s, and has resorted to more and more—and in more and more creative ways—over the years.

Particularly communitarian ways, which has long been a guiding principle of his life in art, and is an ultimate direction objective of the Clufffalo Institute.

Clough was one of the founders, along with Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman and Michael Zwack, of the Hallwalls Gallery, which was a social and communitarian project first off as an artists collective, “but also in terms of the way we connected to the larger, outside art world,” he said.

“That mostly happened when established artists would come to this area—maybe to Artpark, or to one of the schools—and we would hijack them, and get them to come to Hallwalls and give a talk, and hang out. And we got to know them, and they got to know us.”

Arena painting is about large-scale painterly painting—lots of blended colors and blended forms—and promptly got to be about the communitarian thing. Clough invented the “big finger” technique in 1985 in doing a mural project at the Brooklyn Museum—he put large sponges or pads on the ends of long poles, as a way to extend his artistic reach, literally, and used paint by the bucket—and in 1992, at Artpark, in an outdoor arena, invited park visitors to join in the project. They loved participating, and he enjoyed the experience and discovery of a new way of making a painting—he always had last word on the work, determining the final product—and has been going the communitarian route ever since.

But what brought him back to Buffalo? Clough sees the overall picture of his life in art as in four phases, based on four locations, which turn out to be just three. The Buffalo early years, and quick detour into and out of art school, and Hallwalls, from 1971 to 1978; New York City and integration into the larger art world, from 1978 to 1999; a sojourn in Rhode Island—he calls this his “rustication” period—from 1999 to 2012; and Buffalo now and to his demise, as he puts it a little grimly.

Based on a complicated rationale having to do with a “critical mass” of events and circumstances that convinced him the place of his roots was the place he needed to be making the art he now wants to make. Some of the events and circumstances include the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel donation last year to UB of some 400 of his works, leading to an acclaimed retrospective show at UB; and so area art galleries and museums now hold about 500 of his works in toto; and then a “theoretical archaeology” event last year at UB when he unraveled—sheet by frail sheet—the pile of newsprint that once covered the Hallwalls main work table, on which the artists made sketches and doodles and wrote messages to each other. These were rolled up and tied in a bundle—in lieu of being tossed straight into the trash—and so survived to see the light of the present day.

In addition to his perception that a new manner of art community is emerging, and that Buffalo can be a focal point of it, and arena painting a template.

“When I moved to New York City in the ’70s,” he said, “it was to be at the center of the art world. But within 10 years, globalization moved the center.” And where is the center now? “The center is in your computer. And Buffalo as much as anywhere. I think globalization favors regionalism. Digital favors regionalism.

“So the center has changed in terms of place, but also the center has to change as to its essence. In the present polarized world—politically, economically—a new artistic center as to essence is required, a new heart, a new core enterprise. This is the social and communitarian idea. I was interested in the social and communitarian back in starting up Hallwalls. And so with arena painting. I see arena painting—the scale, the painterly quality, the public participation—as opening doors to inspiration, to bridging diversity, to creating common ground. That’s what the institute is all about.”

The Katherine Cornell Theater painting project will be filmed from above—from the rafters—by Eric Jensen. Clough said that from time to time during the course of the project prints would be pulled (on museum board cardboard) from current particularly interesting looking sections of the work. That’s the plan.

The after-dinner session will begin with a short movie by Sarah Elder documenting the Hallwalls table papers archaeology project.

Anybody and everybody is welcome.

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