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Young and the Restless
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
There are many communities around the United States which are, at this very moment, attempting to fight "brain drain," a concept that is as insidious as it is vague. Although the idea of retaining all of your talented youth is definitely attractive, it is equally shortsighted for city in Fort Wayne's position. Without major research institutions, a plethora of corporate headquarters, or universities large enough to encompass a variety of post-graduate and terminal degrees, students can only go so far in certain academic approaches, and because we are a mid-sized city, the market potential for sustaining a community of working artists locally is many years off. For many, at some point in pursuing their artistic ambitions, they must travel to outside institutions.
Other communities have developed strong methods for retaining talent, with good efforts being seen as "incubators" of students, and the best are producing "boomerang" effect where talent is leaving, gaining more talent, and returning to re-invest it into our community. A perfect example of how this effect could produce a large impact is the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's regional program of The Scholastic Inc. Art and Writing Awards program, and the students that it interacts with.
A prime example of how this program is a perfect way to highlight and develop talent is the local artist Austin White. Currently a graduating Senior at Canterbury High School, Austin White is a great example of an emerging post-studio artist who works with multiple media, from photography, to collaged found images in published material, to small scale ink wash, minimal, abstract drawings. A student of Vicki Junk Wright, Canterbury's art teacher, White has grown as an artist through the Scholastic program, competing each year, and grown his art from basic ideas in the beginning, into a constellation of interrelated constructs, each taking root within a contemporary dialogue.
Being that White's work has been highlighted and received high praise through the Scholastic competition, this writer has highlighted his work in the past, and been able to watch it grow.
While former pieces like the gold-key winning "Adam and Eve, Eve and Eve, Adam and Steve" photographs were in some ways very heady for a high school artist, dealing with socio-political issues like sexuality in a dualistic manner, White's work has grown into a more subtle and controlled exploration of contemporary gender roles, and the influence of the media on these ideas which bind our identities. In pieces like "The Femininity of the Masculine" and "The Masculinity of the Feminine", White melds common, mass produced images of male and female "ideals" using the symbology of sports as a denominator for comparison.
Other pieces like "On Display," provide questions of the role the viewer and those being viewed. The woman in the image, literally on display for the viewer, sits with a look of incredulity and passivity as a thin electroluminescent tube outlines her form and flashes on and off. Again, White's use of technology as a tool for expression beyond intense material study and mastery puts his work in a direct position of being "post studio," or within the contemporary vocabulary of art and cultural production. In other pieces like "Fisherman Fatale", "Little Miss Artificial Sunshine," and other pieces, White plays with the positioning, placement, and view of the figure in the images and the role of their gaze with or without the viewer.
Some of White's most successful pieces however, are a series of collaged images which pair very strict, geometric compositions and harsh vertical lines and the soft domestic and flowing nature of stitch work to produce small vignette images where the brands of the fashion world are placed on display as the primary motivators for both the images themselves, and the titles of the piece. "Brains by Gucci," and "Death by Prada," explore the role of the "brand" within our lives, and how an individual can be swept up into them, allowing the brand to consume our identity while we simultaneously consume the brand.
This very impressive understanding art theory, history, and criticism allows White's work to gain great attention not only through national competitions like Scholastics, but also by high education institutions. White will be attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Fall 2014, where his methods for production, and his cocktail of conceptual primers, will be well received.
Austin White's ability to gain many new connections, abilities to produce work, and build new skills are well established. His acceptance into SAIC nearly guarantees this. While this relationship to our arts community is not so well established one can only hope that he will be able to find ways to interact with local institutions and keep some connection to his hometown, and someday, even return to build new places and bring new ideas back into our community. Without this focus on growing talent, sending them out into the world, and being there to celebrate their successes, our community will never truly be able to grow.
For More Information:
"Upstarts" (featuring Austin White, David Ryker, Erin Schwartz, Brandon Le, and Alison Resac)