I’m just not a big supporter of community arts, theatre & music. I’ve attended my share of school recitals, local exhibits and theater, but somehow local shows disappoint me. While I think the efforts to keep arts in the schools and public spaces are noble, I’m not sure I would ever choose to fund them over basic needs. In San Antonio, probably the most successful art shows are by mariachis in the restaurants and “Starving Artists” along the Riverwalk. I don’t mean to say that we got no cultcha; we have a struggling symphony, art district(s) and museums, and get the usual mix of national performers (especially during rodeo) and Broadway road shows — so please, Chamber of Commerce, don’t scream at my omissions. What I thought we lacked, I guess, is pure gold talent. Then, last night I changed my mind.
I attended a free performance at Gallery Nord , an art gallery in San Antonio. I was one of about 50 who came to hear Mark Cheikhet play his violin, while standing in front of his paintings. He was accompanied on piano by his wife, who later was accompanied by their baby.
While I love jazz, and have sucked in some fine late night jam sessions, I’ve never felt the urge to attend any form of intimate concert involving classical music. Going to the symphony seems like listening to the records with rows of polite people in uncomfortable clothes. Last night I sat among a jean and leather crowd enjoying music just like in jazz clubs; eyes closed, nodding and smiling, tapping and sighing. I finally understood it when Mr. Cheikhet, in front of his abstract canvases rose on his toes as the crescendo built, and I watched a passionate classical musician slice all the bow hairs during a hot finale.
Afterwards, it was easy to talk with him, and hear him describe why his paintings and music are simultaneous expressions of the same feelings. I complemented him on his performance, and asked him which of his paintings were most recent. He told me it was the one I liked best, which made me feel smart.
I also spoke with Enrique Gutierrez, another artist whose works were also on display that evening. I wasn’t initially attracted to his work (actually I was frightened) but up close I could appreciate a three-dimensional intricacy and depth. He told me he used to be a sculptor, and then I understood it. I also asked him which pieces were most recent, and he also pointed out the ones I liked best. However, when I followed up to find out if this was an evolution of his style, he said that no, he actually liked all styles and used them when it suited his mood. Then I did not feel so smart, but actually more enlightened about the creative process.
It’s a luxury to talk with the artists, particularly those with star power, but that’s just what I’ve been missing when trying to appreciate art outside my comfort zone. It is the luxury of human contact, with others living in your own community, seeing the world so differently that is exciting, and keeps us appreciating the grandeur of each of our own little lives. It could also be that Gallery Nord is just a perfect acoustical place. Indeed, Allison Peery, the architect, designed a space that is perfectly suited for music and visual arts displays. It is also true that the gallery is curated by a woman of impeccable taste. Still, a great space and fine artistic sensibilities don’t necessarily provide constantly perfect experiences.
When you live in world cultural centers like NYC, it’s easy to see Lincoln Center and the MOMA as your local exhibit houses, with each show stimulating and worth your time. It’s just not so likely to find it deep in the heart of Texas.