Flathead Focus
Ten-year-old Katherine Eubank, left, and her brother, Jake, 11, dabble with the creative process as part of a new exhibit at the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell in which the art is always in progress. Photo by MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian

Kalispell museum features art in action

KALISPELL - Caution: Wet Paint.

For the next three weeks, art is an action verb and still life is anything but still at Kalispell's Hockaday Museum of Art.

The museum has embarked on an exhibit in which the creation of the exhibit IS the exhibit, and in which the creative process is on full display.

At the center of the gallery floor stands a still life scene, a blend of traditional flowers and bowls of fruit with Western cowboy boots and barbed wire. Between now and July 10, nine local artists will spend a day painting the scene, making an exhibit of the process of art rather than the product of art. Nearly a dozen artists already have passed through, and the gallery walls are filling fast with the show in progress.

"I think that in a big way people miss the process of art," said Hockaday director David Eubank. As he talks, he daubs a smudge of sanguine crimson across his broad canvas, smearing through earlier colors.

"We go to these museums and see finished products," he says, "but we have no idea how they got there."

They got there, he believes, via a long river whose headwaters are somewhere near cave paintings and petroglyphs. When art was young and functional, he said, and everyone created pots and clothes and tools and weapons, the creative process was very much out in the open.

But later, when art became the domain of the few and the yield of those few was locked away in museums, the artistic process was lost behind the exhibit.

"We see the art," Eubank said, "but it cannot relate the struggle the artist goes through; the risks the artist takes; the analytical process and the failures along the way."

Eubank interrupts his conversation, turning toward his 11-year-old son, Jake, who is risking all by adding a bit of green where only a moment before the gold surface of a vase dominated the canvas.

"Just relax a minute," Eubank advises the boy. "Just look at it. Just look. Where are you going?"

He turns back to his previous conversation. "Sometimes, you have it just right, but it's nagging at you, so you start in again. Sometimes you change something that works into something that doesn't. It's the process."

Eubank is joined by both his children as he paints in the "fishbowl," and anyone who wants to watch - or participate - is welcome, adding a social dimension to what is usually a very private creative process.

"This whole exhibit idea is a pretty gutsy thing," he said. "It's an experiment."

The idea came from his assistant curator, Kathy McEnery, who wanted to do an interactive exhibit that pulled the public into the art itself. The key, she said, is to keep it fun, and not to worry overmuch about being serious, brooding artists.

"This has to be fun and alive," Eubank said. "Usually, art goes to the museum when it's dead. When I was in art school, I called museums mausoleums. For the artist, the life of art is the process. The process is everything. Remove the process and you remove the desire to do art. The process usually happens behind the studio door, with no one to see all the mistakes and things that just didn't work out. Here, it's all exposed, and that can be a little scary."

Now Jake has laid more green across the gold, and is going over the blue background in white. It's more than painting the boy is engaged in, Eubank says. It's critical thinking and decision making, self development and creative exploration.

"Paintings are just big puzzles," he said. "To buy a puzzle already done isn't much fun. It's the problem solving along the way that is fun.

"And this exhibit is about fun."

His daughter walks by, her hands wearing a thick coat of blue.

"And it's about wet paint."

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