Exhibit shows what really went on in chemistry class
The debate definitely continues as to whether graffiti is art or not. In Chico, the “medium” has achieved the same respectability as that bestowed on art, evidenced by it being the sole subject of two recent exhibits—the Chico Mind Map at the Crux Artist Collective, and Taking Notes: Drawings, Doodles, and Engraved Desktops.
The latter is the new installation by Chico State graphic arts instructor Chris Ficken and Chico State graphic design student Jeremy Golden in the university’s Trinity Hall gallery.
Golden’s half of the Taking Notes show is composed of birch-plywood-mounted collages of select torn-up pieces of Golden’s often elaborately decorated classroom notes he took in his Chico State classes over a couple of semesters’ time.
Next to pieces of binder paper bearing an instructor’s name and office hours or an out-of-context “4 A’s—attention, awareness, attitude, action” are other bits of paper boasting outstanding sketches of people and animals, and ordinary words like “Intro,” “Asian Studies” and “Remember,” which have been elevated to art by the ornamental style Golden has written them in.
“It’s just clippings from lecture notes,” shrugged the soft-spoken, modest Golden, who was walking around the gallery shortly before the show’s March 5 reception, taking care of last-minute details.
Golden did allow, though, that with his work he was “paying homage to the mundane, giving glory to the ordinary.”
A piece titled “Bad notes” is half college-note collage and half more-recent drawing. In the midst of scraps of ordinary lecture notes one sees drawings of skulls, a sketch of the teacher, a picture of an object that looks to be part ganglion and part carrot, and a very ornate “Read Chapter 4,” which looks like something straight out of a tattoo shop. In the lower half of the piece Golden has added a large drawing of a hand taking notes with a pencil that looks very much like it’s aiming for the margin—that wonderful blank area just begging to be creatively doodled in.
“Several hours in classes and a general lack of sleep are some of the contributing factors that led to my distraction and doodles,” is how Golden put it.
Golden’s sketches are very realistic, right down to the detailed upper spine on an eye-patch-wearing pirate skull. Some of the skull sketches are fancily decorated with flowers as well as other designs and pictures, including the devil, Gandhi and a very likeable, chubby little character that my 7-year-old daughter took to referring to as “jelly man with the crazy hairdo.” He also has a talent for various styles of lettering, and even Golden’s more “primitive” sketches are entertaining.
Ficken’s part of the exhibit includes actual desktops (salvaged from a Chico State chemistry lecture hall remodel eight years ago) mounted on framed squares of blackboard on which partially erased chemistry lessons are still legible.
With the exception of one desktop—which one gallery-goer called “the modern equivalent of an illuminated manuscript” because it was that colorful and artistic, and likely mostly the work of one person—none of the desktops come anywhere near displaying the skillful artwork of Golden’s hand. Still, they are interesting because they, too, show something of what those numerous distracted minds who wrote all over them were experiencing.
Names of people, hometowns, fraternities, radio stations, rock bands and references to drug use compete for space with drawings of hearts, peace signs, four-leaf clovers and the inevitable (or so it seems) words “Fucker” and “Fuck such-and-such,” which in this case was chemistry. One person just wanted to know, “Where’s the beer?” Another wrote the more obscure “Pride of Cucamonga.”
One desktop, of which Ficken took a photograph, and enlarged and mounted for display next to the original, summed up someone’s day in chemistry class with two words, written in huge letters—"BORING SHIT"—that had been politely changed by a later occupant to “BORING SHIP.”
As entertaining as all this doodling is, one must keep in mind Golden’s warning in his artist’s statement: “Doodles can be very cathartic … But the satisfaction that comes from doodling comes at a price … Good doodles are NOT a substitute for good notes and good doodles are not helpful when studying for a final exam! (Unless you are taking notes for art history.)”