183. Real Art Ways

Kevin Van Ael-some
(Google Maps location)
August 5, 2010

183I’m a lucky dude. No, not only because I’m so gosh-darn handsome, but also because I get to meet a lot of really cool and talented people along the CTMQ-way.

Sure, I’ve been on the teevee and in several newspapers and magazines, but it’s still humbling when someone recognizes me. When somebody with a far greater body of work than I have (or ever will have) knows of me and compliments the site, it’s just awesome. I’m not sure any experience will beat spending a day with Mort Schindel down at Weston Woods during which he kept asking about ME and what I thought of things, but meeting and hanging out with artist photographer Kevin Van Aelst was right up there.

I love Kevin’s work. I think it’s brilliant, often funny, provocative, incredibly skillful and creative. And beautiful. And now we’re Facebook friends! Like I said, I’m a lucky dude.

183cI’ll get to Kevin’s exhibition in a minute. Because this page is about Real Art Ways (known locally as RAW) and RAW is about more than just one exhibitor’s work. RAW is, quite simply, great. As we are painfully all-too-aware, Hartford doesn’t really have an “art scene.” Only one in-town college or university (Trinity) anywhere near downtown (sorry Capital Community College) and only one art museum.

RAW is located in what appears to be a semi-abandoned old building on Arbor Street in the perpetually up-and-coming Parkville section of Hartford. (Though, it must be said that I really and truly do believe it is really and truly up-and-coming and I think Park Street is one of THE recent success stories of the city.) Back when I started going to RAW in the mid-90’s, there wasn’t too much to do/eat/drink within a mile of RAW. Now there’s plenty.

mFounded in 1975, Real Art Ways is one of the country’s early alternative arts spaces. Real Art Ways presents and produces new and innovative work by emerging and established artists, and serves as a crucial connection for audiences and artists regionally, nationally and internationally. The organization has sustained itself through committed support for new ideas and disciplines, and has steadily built a diverse and unique audience that crosses lines of color, sexual orientation, economics and age.

The Real Art Ways Cinema opened in the fall of 1996, showing first-run, independent films seven nights a week. The galleries were renovated and re-opened in June of 1999. The Real Room and Loading Dock Lounge were renovated and opened in November of 2002.

183aToday, Real Art Ways is widely regarded as one of the country’s outstanding contemporary art spaces, one that has a special link with its own community. Real Art Ways is currently celebrating its 35th year as Hartford’s only alternative multidisciplinary arts organization. This anniversary also coincides with the 20 year anniversary of Executive Director, Will K. Wilkins. With films, concerts, performance, readings, exhibitions and a lounge where people gather before and after events, Real Art Ways is a unique meeting place for people of widely varying backgrounds to come together around art and ideas.

I used to go to movies at RAW all the time. I’ve seen some awesome films you’ve never heard of over the years there – and some rather awful ones as well. They do not shy away from small and/or aVant garde releases. Put it this way, they’re showing “Human Centipede” this month. If you don’t know about “Human Centipede,” consider yourself lucky. Roger Ebert’s review pretty much sums it up.

183bAside from the cinema (wherein you can drink adult beverages), and the great work RAW does promoting Parkville, RAW has two art galleries with constantly rotating exhibitions. They are almost always contemporary artists showing contemporary art.

Now, I sometimes find a lot of this stuff annoying and pretentious. RAW always seems to have at least one exhibit that utilizes film, video, and/or projectors and I pretty much always hate those things. They strike me as lazy art bordering on not even being art. The exhibit during my visit did indeed have not one, but several artists who utilize the medium. Hurrumph.

I was annoyed before I even saw the exhibits, after reading this note on the door:


I chose to go on this particular evening because Kevin Van Aelst was giving a talk. I’d never gone to an artist’s talk before, nor have I ever wanted to. However, I couldn’t wait to go and meet Kevin.

I saw a piece on him on television a while ago and became interested enough to learn more online. Kevin is a professional artist who actually makes a decent living as a photographer. He has shot covers for Time Magazine and has a regular gig for the New York Times. Kevin’s work is unique in that he creates the art for the shot by thinking about conventional items in completely unconventional ways.

183iPerhaps on the surface, his pictures don’t inspire awe – until you realize just what it is you’re looking at. His exhibition at RAW, titled “elsewhere,” was somewhat limited, but still quite impressive. (Concurrently, there are several Van Aelst pieces showing down at Yale’s Physician’s Building ArtPlace – CTMQ’s visit here, with a few more shots of his work.)

Sayeth RAW: “Kevin Van Aelst’s color photographs consist of common artifacts and scenes from everyday life, which have been rearranged, assembled and constructed into various forms, patterns and illustrations. The images aim to examine the distance between the ‘big picture’ and the ‘little things’ in life—the banalities of daily lives, and the sublime notions of identity and existence. While the depictions of information – such as an EKG, fingerprint, map or anatomical model – are unconventional, the truth and accuracy to the illustrations are just as valid as more traditional depictions. This work is about creating order where we expect to find randomness, and also hints that the minutiae all around us is capable of communicating much larger ideas.”

183jYou see? Even the description isn’t annoying as is so typical with these things. In one picture, Kevin has disassembled a Pilot G-2 pen (my particular pen of choice, by the way) and inserted tiny little handcrafted palm trees in shadow. That’s insane. And awesome. In another, perhaps my favorite of the RAW exhibit, Kevin tore up actual pages of his journal and created a skull from the pages.

The diary sits beneath the work, Pilot G-2 pen in full view, as the viewer stares into the hollow eyes of the skull. What I found most interesting about this piece was the finality of it all. Most artists save every scrap of every piece of everything they’ve ever touched. Not Kevin. Many audience members gasped when Kevin told the story of how authentic this piece was and how he just wanted to get rid of old ideas and move forward.

Not me. I totally get that. I rather enjoy throwing stuff away and/or deleting old CTMQ ideas. Not saving for future perusal or usage, but just totally deleting whatever it was I wanted to move beyond. Kevin even sells the physical art parts of his works at auction to assist in various charities. That, to me, is just really cool.

183kWanna know what else is really cool? Slathering Rain-X on a windshield and creating a temporary water droplet airplane before an azure sky. I can’t imagine the level of frustration he reaches when creating this stuff… but I sure as heck know I couldn’t handle it.

I’d like you to take a moment to click on the following – a few choice works selected by me from Kevin’s site. Note, Kevin does not use any digital manipulation on his photos at all. It’s a shame that he has to make this point time and time again – and more of a shame that many people simply don’t believe him. Anyway, check this out:

Just a regular ol’ blue shopping cart? No, it’s blue tape on a wall.
Just a regular ol’ bar of soap with a box on it? No, that box is actually human hair. Kevin called this his most absurd work that he sort of created as a joke, but people seem to like it.
Pretty self explanatory, but I love it.
Learn cloud types the Van Aelst way.

I’ve saved my favorite for last. Here it is, titled “Chromosomes”:


This one is showing down at the ArtPlace at Yale. I think I’m going to buy a small print of it. Not to take it too far, but a) it’s just beautiful and creative and b) to me, it shows just how fragile our genetic makeup really is. Seriously, it’s as fragile as a bunch of delicious sour gummy worms. Trust me, I know – what with a son missing a piece of his 17th chromosome and all. (Click on Damian tab above to learn more.)

Meeting Kevin was great and he is a super nice and down to earth guy. I would totally invite him to my hypothetical “Movers and Shakers in Connecticut” roundtable that doesn’t exist.

183hMoving on… There were several other artists exhibiting at RAW during my visit and truth be told, despite all the whiz-bang cameras and projectors and blinking lights, it was all pretty cool for the most part.

Although, the often painfully pretentious artist’s statements? Yeah, these guys live up to that cliché. Starting off with the guy (gal?) who calls himself LoVid. Ugh. (Actually, I just learned that LoVid is a pair. Their large-scale work, called “Rural Electrification,” was a bunch of paper transmission towers connected by a mess of wires with lights flashing on them. Says the pair: “LoVid explores signals to translate and preserve information and memory. Their work is a mix of high/low tech, craft and real-time interventions. The pair use exposed electronics, conductive wires and live audiovisual 183dfeed to create a narrative of a retro-futuristic coexistence between biological and technological systems. The word ‘Wirefull’ describes their aesthetic and philosophy. Wirefull suggests a parallel universe where technology developed by a different evolutionary route and artificial systems are organic, large, chaotic, social and emotional…”

I had to stop there. You’re welcome.

Up next, Robin Mandel. More projectors, more light – but very well done. I can’t really describe his work, but basically he takes objects and projects light through them or on them as they move or turn creating interesting light patterns. Or something. He also does some more conventional art work like the photos of various light sources using a camera invention/technique of Mandel’s. Check it out here. I dig this stuff.

183gActually, I dug the other stuff too; it was certainly interesting and held my interest for quite a while. If you weren’t satisfied with my description, perhaps you’ll enjoy the artist’s own attempt: “Robin Mandel’s work examines how objects can embody our domestic yearnings, and how these desires address themselves to the viewer. He is interested in how an object can literally perform for a viewer, and what the duration of this experience can mean. In his work, household objects take on roles in an archetypal domestic drama, and their relationships play out through the kinetic mechanisms that drive structure that generates them.“

Lastly, there was Wade Aaron. Again, more big spaces and projected images. But again, these were cool. An object that cast way more – and way more interesting – shadows than the viewer would expect. There were several of these works and I liked them all. But, since I have a theme going, once I learned that Mr. Aaron refers to himself as “wadeaaron” on his website, I knew what I was in for in the artist’s statement department:

183e“There is knowledge. There is belief. And while knowledge might connote something a bit more justified by evidence and reason, they are essentially one and the same: models for anticipation of outcome regarding present and future realities in the world outside of the mind. In their brevity, knowledge and belief are necessarily incomplete. They are always simplified distillations of accumulated experience, personal or societal, which should be by its own continuous nature unbounded and infinite…”

It goes one for a few more paragraphs. You can enjoy it yourselves at his link below.

I used to be a member of RAW when I lived closer and had the free time to get down there. It’s a well-run facility and covers the gamut of the arts. Don’t be scared of the location or the freaky movies or the quirky art. Try one of their Creative Cocktail hours. Head down there and check it out – the next art exhibits look rather excellent.

Trick Thumb!


Back to Top

Cost: Free (for the art exhibits), $3 donation requested
Hours: All over the place, see site
Food & Drink? During movies, there’s typical movie food. And beer. And wine.
Children? Probably not, but sometimes
You’ll like it if: You have one once of street cred
You won’t like it if: It’s “Meg Ryan” and “Thomas Kincaid” for you
Freebies: None


For the Curious:

Real Art Ways
Kevin Van Aelst
Robin Mandel
Wade Aaron

2 responses to “183. Real Art Ways”

  1. martinet says:

    Wow. I’m totally disgusted with RAW for showing “The Human Centipede” (I read that Ebert review a couple months ago and truly wanted someone to scrub out my brain). But I wish we weren’t going out of town this weekend so I could catch the Kevin Van Aelst show. THAT was wonderful–thanks for the intro to his work!

  2. Rob says:

    I always liked RAW, not the exhibitions so much (hit or miss), but the movies that you could never see unless you lived in NY or LA that somehow made it to Parkville. Now that I live in NYC, I don’t see nearly as many as I did when I lived in Hartford

Leave a Comment

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism