Monday, December 17, 2007

Walter Kravitz--Commissioned Artist at New Nationals Park (Part Two)

"After I taught at a professional school in Florida for a couple of years, I saw that the classical way of teaching art—the professional school—was not something I felt good about. I needed to experiment more with materials and leave--and I needed my students to do that.”

At that point in his life, This Newly Commissioned Artist at New Nationals Park was looking for a change in his career path. Eventually, Walter Kravitz ended up at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “I heard about George Mason, why back when," said Kravitz. "As you know, George Mason was created as an alternative education to UVA (University of Virginia). It’s the only reason Mason got its original plot (in Falls Church). The school was all technology. And when they came to Fairfax, they were all about technology and new materials. My teaching is always about new invention and new materials. Public Art came with that. Part of my teaching is to invent new ways to solve old problems. So, that’s the reason I came to George Mason to start teaching here."

Today, as we continue with Part Two of My Conversation with Walter Kravitz--Walter talks about his brother's passion for The Brooklyn Dodgers and his frustration with The New York Yankees, growing up in Chicago.

"My Brother was a CRAZY Brooklyn Dodgers Fan!! Absolute die hard. Everybody in his neighborhood of Brooklyn was just super depressed when The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. None (of his friends) ever got over it. They never connected with any other team, not even The Mets. They just gave up on baseball after the move from Brooklyn. As for me, I always rooted against the Yankees. (Yogi) Berra, Mickey Mantle, (Bill) Skowron, (Gil)McDougald--one of them, somehow--when we played The Yankees--would find a way to beat us in the last couple of innings. The Yankees always found a way. They were The Yankees. (you could just hear the frustration in his voice as he described his childhood watching his Chicago White Sox)”

Having grown up with The Expansion Senators--I always felt the same way about The New York Yankees as a child. Walter's childhood recollections brought back all those memories of The Yankees of my youth.

From there--it was time to move on with our discussion about his artwork.

What scale is this particular model? (SBF)

“One inch equals one foot—approximately. The top of the art work is 23 feet high—width is maybe 20 feet or so. Its cubic in nature. The depth is about 38 feet. Its not a huge space. Therefore, the interesting thing for me is that the action is more focused. The smaller, more compressed space helps—which is one thing I like. I do a lot of commissions, such as The Reeves Center (DC Central Government Office). The work there is five stories high, the figures—even though they are 24 feet high—are kind of lost in the space. I think they are a little lost.”

“I am interested in this space (at New Nationals Park) because it is so compressed.”

How far along in the process are you? Is it really just beginning? (SBF)

“Well, I haven’t begun because I haven’t received the contract yet. Public Art is all based on contracts. I am ready to go. I have an engineer working with me, who is doing both the lighting and the mechanical aspects. In fact, we have collaborated before on The Reeves Center (Project) and The DC Convention Center (Project). He is on board. I also have a contemporary composer who is going to produce ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ and do all the recordings for me. And, I think I am going to use My Daughter for the soprano. She ‘s a voice person. She gave up softball to study musical theatre (both of us chuckling). Her main focus is voice. So, in a way, too bad I am not using Fast Signs for the fabrication. But, I am doing the entire project here in the studio.”

Doing this piece by yourself—has to give you more personal joy. (SBF)

“True. There is something to be said for doing Public Work in your own studio. However, if one is going to do this stuff seriously, then its best to be able to farm out certain parts. In other words, if an artist is going to make a living doing Public Projects, which is rare, you need to be able to do some of the work yourself, and farm out the major technical work. I work by collaboration a lot. I work with architects and engineers and musicians.”

Once you do get that official contract, what’s the time frame for completion? (SBF)

“That answer is on The Commission, to some degree. I was hoping to be able to get this done by Opening Day. The first meeting (on this project) was in July (2007) and I was announced as the winner about a month later—in August. However, finalizing and reviewing this package by The Commission takes another two months. I did not present this work directly to The Commission The Artists chose me, along with Mark Lerner and a few others. But, The Commission had to approve it—which took some time. I don’t know why, which brings the time frame to July/August (2008) for completion.”

“Ideally, I would have liked to had this work done by Opening Day. But, apparently, none of the work is going to be done by Opening Day.”

Yes, Tony Gittens (Executive Director of The DC Arts & Humanities Commission) told me the exact same thing.(SBF)

“Well, since I am doing most all the work in my studio—instead of using Fast Signs—I will need an additional two months to complete the work. Fortunately, I have two really good assistants who are excellent at cutting out the shapes—and making sure the stenciling is correct.”

Was being a baseball fan your impedance to get involved? (SBF)

“Originally, I was trying to be the consultant for this job, because I thought I would be inside the operation of baseball. Then, I could concentrate and have fun on that aspect and not do the artwork. Lo and behold, someone else was chosen as consultant and I decided to attempt the work myself (bemused over the irony). Actually, I was competing with some people I knew—artists whom I have competed against before on various works. This time—I won. But, strategy is to get in done and to install sometime in July when The Nationals have a 10 Game Road Trip. Hopefully, we can get it done—during that time.”

“If the installation runs any later, I would rather hold off and put it up for Opening Day of the following year. No one would be seeing it over the winter after just a few short weeks of the artwork being on display. But, I think I can do it by July—no problem. I have other work to do—but July is reasonable."

What feelings do you get out of your works on display? (SBF)

“A feeling of celebration going on a scale you could only suggest in studio work. When I go to see a work that I have done—in public—I participate much more in that work than I would if I saw one of my own paintings. The involvement in a public work is something I really enjoy. And, I hope that folks who pass under those works and in the ballpark, since my work is suspended, will feel that same interaction with the work.”

Will this particular artwork have the chance of being seen by the most people at one time? (SBF)

“My pieces are really meant to be seen in a dramatic way. I am not interested in subtlety. Even though my first connection to Public Art was as a kid in Lincoln Park in Chicago—climbing up on the statue of Charles Dickens. My Mother would kind of put me on Charles Dickens knee. On the other side was his daughter—Nell. But, I respond when I walk through airports or train stations, transportation centers or universities—where there is public art. I am always drawn to something that is very immediate, very emotional and very bright—which is the nature of a lot of my paintings. Public Art allows me to celebrate brightness and activity. That’s what I see with this work, generating celebration of the game and exaggeration. My first three years after art school, I worked as a traditional animator, not computerized. This gave me the opportunity to draw these very exaggerated figures as cartoons. That has gone into a lot of my work.”

If I am walking somewhere and a piece of artwork is striking and bold—I will stop. Rarely, do I pay attention to work that blends into the background. Final Thoughts? (SBF)

“What I hope to see—is a person coming in and seeing the action, the movement—everything going on—hearing the music. And then, rather than walking through it, which is what happens with most public projects—they will stop and look at the figure. Hopefully, the fans will relate in some way.”

That concludes My Conversation with Walter Kravitz. He was fun to chat with--our mutual enjoyment of baseball--made our talk even better. Walter did tell me: “Whenever I go to another city to work on a piece of artwork—-I always make the effort to attend ballgames in that part of the country. Whether its Major League or Minor League—does not matter. And, I have seen some pretty good baseball in AAA Cities.”

Hopefully, Walter, along with many fans of Our Washington Nationals will not only view some Good Baseball in The Nation's Capital in 2008 and beyond, but also a very fine piece of artwork representing The Game--on display--at New Nationals Park in the very near future.


An Briosca Mor said...

Hopefully I will feel differently after I see this installed in the stadium, but right now from the pictures of the models I am not exactly overwhelmed by this artwork. It's going into a baseball stadium, but to me it just does not say "baseball". The tight groupings of three or more figures do not invoke the action of baseball plays, indeed they look more like football or soccer plays to me. And what is the deal with having players with three differently-colored uniforms involved in a single grouping or "play"? That would never happen in reality, so why do it like that in art? The figures are drawn in too lifelike a fashion to be considered "abstract", hence the reason a viewer would be expecting to see something closer to reality. If the intent was to invoke the sense of baseball action and also to include bright flashes of color, then more abstract depictions of the figures would have worked better for that purpose. It seems to me that this art will just provide a nice splash of color and movement to the space, but not invoke baseball at all, and that would be a shame. As I said, though, I hope I'm proved wrong on this once the art is up there for real.

Anonymous said...

This thing looks like junk. Give me 5 statues. 1) Walter Johnson. 2) Roy Sievers 3) Mickey Vernon 4) Harmon Killebrew 5) Frank Howard

Anonymous said...

I like the style, but I agree that the groupings are very strange. I also find it disappointing that they will be generic ballplayers and not clearly in Nationals' uniforms. Bravo to the organization for including art at all. Hopefully we'll all love it when it's in.

An Briosca Mor said...

I can understand not wanting to use the current Nationals uniform in the artwork. What if some years from now the team decided to change the uniform style? The art would instantly appear dated. OTOH, they could have done one grouping of players in Senators-era uniforms, another grouping in Grays-era uniforms, and another grouping in modern Nats-era uniforms. Then you'd have a historical theme and if the Nats changed their uniforms it would still fit in. As it stands now, though, it seems as if efforts to be both inclusive and politically correct in the depiction of the players has resulted in something that's needlessly generic and therefore, despite the many colors, will be pretty much meh rather than something striking. Again, I hope to be able to change my mind on this once I see it in person, but I'm not optimistic about that.

An Briosca Mor said...

Just had another look at all the photos of the model of this artwork, and it raises another question. There are figures depicted in the recognizable uniforms of at least three major league teams (Cubs, Reds and Pirates) among the rest who are in presumably generic (or at least non-MLB) uniforms. So why not at least one figure in a Nationals uniform? Whose ballpark is this, anyway?

Anonymous said...

a b m,

I would agree with you regarding the different phases of Senators and their uniforms. I don't agree with the Grays. I know DC has sort of claimed them, but history shows that the Grays, formerly Crawfords were pimarily a Pittsburg team, and are well represented in PNC Park. The Grays only played part time in Washington, DC and for not so many years. FWIW.

SenatorNat said...

This all reminds me of those plastic baseball figures on your birthday cake when you turned 6 - except they look like jockeys and, are collages comprising three different, contrasting teams' players involved in one play - confusing, as said. The one close-up shows a batter who appears to have already swung and missed at an opus pitch while the umpire is raising his right hand as if to signal strike very prematurely...or the batter has swung and connected and it is being launched, and the umpire was preparing to call it a strike! It reminds me of the painting of a friend's Mom of sport's scenes when we were growing up - great abstracts totally ignorant of the rules of the subject...

Steroids are for the players - but LSD must be the enhancement of choice for the fans as they conjure this mobile.

Sounds like I am being overly critical - but, actually, I like the idea of a mobile and it is intended to be absurd from any purist's point of view - which is just fine. But, I do agree that SBF should press the artist to include an abstract "W" somewhere in this montage, eh?

Trust in the D.C. Fine Arts Commission. All good.