Art Changed (Probably Saved?) My life

By John Roach

I’m a founding board member at DrewBoy Creative, where over the last 3 years we’ve energized and transformed the Tri-Cities community by showing work from more than 135 artists at over 26 art shows. I’m passionate about DBC because art changed (probably saved?) my life, and I’ve treasured the opportunity to help create a space where that same kind of effect can be facilitated here in the Tri-Cities. 

In the summer of 2000 I had an experience with a single painting that is also very reminiscent of what we’re trying to do at DBC.  My younger brother Luke and I were in Vienna, Austria.  We spent all day at the Belvedere Museum, home to many artworks by Gustav Klimt and Egon Scheel’s.  It was a long, physical day of museuming and we were ready to be done when we were stopped short by one of the final paintings we encountered – “The Last Contingent” be Franz von Defregger.  It depicts a group of old men marching out of town off to war, farm implements in hand, with looks of terror and anger and shock and defeat on their faces and those of the women & children watching them go.  The painting captures the horror and futility of war, and independently we were transported to thinking of our grandfathers and uncle who had fought in WW II and Vietnam.  We were emotionally leveled by the painting, and we each bought a print of it.  Later that year when Luke died suddenly while running the Chicago Marathon, the painting and the awareness catalyzed by it became a permanent thread connecting me to him.  It’s not a happy painting, but it explains *so much*, and that 20 minutes I spent with my brother contemplating its depths in Vienna is among the most treasured moments of my life.

The DBC show inVisible in 2017 was a culminating experience to what started 17 years ago in Vienna.  For the show, we convened a small group of exceptional artists who created works meant to illuminate experiences of mental illness and health. We placed written prompts around the gallery encouraging people to share their own experiences with one another, and we filmed an intensely personal documentary on opening night that we debuted at DBC’s first film festival later that year.   Hundreds of people gathered to bear witness to the art and to the shared experiences of struggling through, living with, and transcending mental illness.  Many audience members spoke to me afterwards of the catharsis, communion, and gratitude that they experienced as a result of their participation. The collective experience of it all fully validated for me the mission of art: its singular capacity to serve as a vehicle for self-discovery and transformation. 

Discovering and being moved by art together, in a space designed for interaction and shared experience, is foundational to DBC’s mission.  In the last 3 years we’ve held dozens of shows creating a forum for the life-changing moments like the ones I shared. 

Our signature color show opens on February 15.  We launched the space by celebrating the color red and have celebrated a color annually ever since.  We follow the color spectrum (or rainbow) and at the beginning of our fourth year of operations we will celebrate the color green. In May we will celebrate Latino culture, inviting artists from all walk of life to create pinatas. In July we will host our second film festival. 

For years, I succumbed to the all-too-commonly-held belief that the Tri-Cities was a cultural wasteland.  I am here to proclaim, without reservation, that this formerly prevailing view is bunk.  Alongside many other life-giving and life-changing organizations, initiatives, projects, collectives, and heroic individual efforts (many of which you can find right here in Tumbleweird!), DBC has reinvigorated and reimagined the role of art in transforming our community. It has been my great honor to be a small part of it, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.  I hope to see you along the way.

John Roach is a board member of DrewBoy Creative.

Tumbleweird article by Ashleigh Rogers

A little over two years ago, when I had my first experience with DrewBoy Creative (DBC), I was struggling to find my voice. I saw myself as a mother, a wife, a friend, a teacher even-but couldn’t quite find the courage to embrace who I was apart from my relationship to others. I knew that art made me feel alive, that my hands itched to create every day, but using the word “artist” to describe myself was a terrifying concept-too bold an assertion, and too presumptuous a leap into territory I wasn’t sure I had the right to be in. My cheeks would burn when my husband introduced me to people as “an artist”, and I would quickly go to work dismissing his claim, afraid that I couldn’t live up to such a lofty label.

Webster-Merriam defines an artist as a person who professes and practices the imaginative arts, or a person who is skilled in one of the fine arts, and my fickle ego always becomes entangled in the implications and ambiguity of the latter. What does skilled mean, and who gets to decide? The artists? The buyer? The public? Does skilled mean classically trained or in possession of a BFA? Does skilled mean your art is pretty? Realistic? Pleasant? All of these qualifications build rigid parameters that can have a stifling effect on the creative process. When a laser focus is placed on the potential sale or public perception and artist may stop taking risks, and stop listening to find their true authentic vision. In a society where identity is so entangled with achievement, and achievement so conflated with sales and marketability, identifying as an artist can easily feel like it comes with a plethora of conditions.

While art does serve an aesthetic role in our culture, and creating art for people to buy and hang in their homes and businesses- to beautify, decorate and celebrate nostalgia and sentiment, is valuable and important- art has other jobs as well. Art connects us, communicating ideas that transcend language. Art reflects and shapes our values, art serves as a record keeper, art gently guides us to consider new perspectives and elicits powerful emotions that enact change. We need art, and we need artists who feel empowered and unencumbered. John F. Kennedy said “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”

My first show at DBC, the State of the Union Art Show in 2017, after a divisive election, I remember feeling that freedom. Walking into the space I was terrified because I had made something that didn’t fit inside the rigid parameters I had for “good art”, it wasn’t pretty, or pleasant or technically excellent, but I was immediately accepted as an “artist” by the DBC. As I looked around the room, I felt excited and inspired- I saw art hanging on the walls that was different, I saw art made in a hundred different voices in a hundred different ways. Art that was beautiful, art that was shocking, art that was pleasant, art that was sad, and I felt the room vibrating with conversation and energy, buzzing with an exchange of ideas and a distinct feeling of connection and community. I heard poetry that night that moved me to tears, and saw art that expanded my knowledge of the human experience, and I when someone approached me at that show and asked me if I was an artist, I said yes...even though my cheeks burned. I said yes, and remembered the visceral truth, that I was an artist because I made art, that I was an artist because I had something to say, that I was an artist because, as Emile Zola said, “I am here to live out loud”.

DBC has created a space for artists of all kinds to live out loud, to follow their vision to the end, a space that prioritizes the artist and the art above all else. If you have a vision, something to share with the world, a desire to connect, to be inspired or gain a different perspective, consider attending or entering a show at DrewBoy Creative!

There is still time to submit artwork for DBC’s annual color show, this year the color is green and DBC celebrates their four year anniversary. Submit by January 20th and come to opening night February 15th!

Also join DBC in celebrating the Pinata with the opening of The Pinata Show opening May 3rd! Submit your interpretation of this cultural icon by April 13th.