For just under ten years now, the Brady Arts District has hosted the First Friday Art Crawl, a monthly event meant to expose Tulsans to a variety of art and entertainment they might otherwise have missed. In line with the Crawl’s original purpose, independent artists are also given the chance to display and sell their work to the general public in mini-galleries. For just one evening, galleries such as 108 Contemporary, Philbrook, and TU’s own Zarrow center allow free admission. In addition, local restaurants and bars host live entertainment in the form of independent artists and musicians. The Annual Symphony in the Park played to a large audience on the Guthrie Green, while it should go without saying that a few food trucks accompanied the event.
I was only able to make it to three of the available venues, all located on the same block, as each occupied a space in the former warehouse of the Tulsa Paper Company. The building was renovated into a sprawling artistic showcase by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, and today serves this purpose impressively.
The Zarrow Center hosted Michael Ananian’s “Portraits, Characters, and Music,” a series of portraits and larger paintings. Though the artist used different techniques, such as oil on canvas and charcoal on paper, his work was consistent in its intimate depiction of individuals. Ananian’s depictions of people are extremely close. Faces, wrinkled, worn and caught in seemingly candid expression, make up the majority of his works, assigned simple titles such as “Jim Asleep” or “Mariam”, which seemed to convey a personal connection between the artist and his characters. One exception to these individual portraits was “The Only Song That I Can Sing.” That piece, which portrayed musicians playing in a communal circle, was one of many to explore Ananian’s interest in the “Old Time musical traditions of learning and transmitting music by ear.”
The next gallery was Philbrook Downtown, with an exhibition focusing on early 20th century artist Cady Wells. Wells was “inspired by New Mexico’s dramatic landscapes and traditional Hispanic religious traditions,” producing works very different from the “sunny, romantic scenes of the West popularized by cowboy painters of earlier decades.”
Admittedly I found these influences much easier to identify in his works, many of which were portrait studies, using a mix of ink and watercolor on paper, than I did his apparent fear of radioactive contamination, World War II atrocities, and society’s intolerance for homosexuality. It’s nevertheless interesting to hear of these anxieties, as it is probable a greater critic than I might be able to read a theme of paranoia in his work I was unable to discern.
After having visited the Native American works on the Philbrook’s second floor, I made my way to 108 Contemporary. This proved to be my favorite gallery of the night, especially for the way in which it challenged it posed to the very same exhibition I had just exited. 108’s works ran counter to the normative view of what constitutes accurate Native American art in almost every way.
One artist had produced prints of stereotypical Native American imagery, only to scrawl over each in bold white font condescending text. A valley caught in an orange sunset was obscured by the words, “I know what you are thinking, my Native American sunsets are authentic as shit,” while a majestic white buffalo was in turn covered with, “As requested here is that majestic white buffalo you troglodyte.”
Another artist had a book documenting Native American citizens and freedmen, but had drawn within the pages a teary-eyed blonde white girl, whose thought bubble reads, “I’m part Cherokee but I can’t prove it!” Also in the gallery were football helmets whose mascots were not Indians or Redskins, but rather traditional black and white pictures of Native Americans, and a board game whose tile spaces had been replaced with TV shows’ negative depictions of their culture.
I hope next month to make it to a few of the musical performances as well as the galleries, but this provided an above-satisfactory experience for myself. I urge people to attend every Art Crawl they can, not because the event doesn’t already draw a formidable, enthusiastic crowd, but rather so that they can appreciate Tulsa’s ability to promote their uniquely talented artists.