Does anyone want to give me A LOT of start-up capital so I can publish a monthly arts magazine? Not to compete with any other print medium out there, but because I think I can fill a glossy, full-color magazine with news about arts every month and not think twice about it. That notion was reiterated to me last month as I interviewed and wrote about 15 movers and shakers in the local arts community. While I could have written an entire story on each of these individuals, space constraints forced me to keep my profiles limited to 500 words max.

One of my subjects, Lee Roy Chapman, who coordinated last winter's Public Secrets exhibition with Live4This and Black Mesa Studio, has some interesting ideas about preserving the work and influence of local artists who've left Tulsa to find fortune and fame but who are largely still ignored in their hometown.

Joe Andoe is one such artist.

I've wanted to profile Andoe for UTW for some time now, but I'm continually sidetracked by my efforts to cover artists still living and working in Tulsa.

I read Andoe's autobiography Jubilee City and have since marveled at the artist’s life and work and how his life has influenced his work. The book, although it appears to be a tell-all, comes off as guarded, like Andoe really isn’t revealing all he knows, like he’s keep his audience an arm’s length away. Even so, the writing itself is unapologetically candid, straightforward. The book isn’t just about Andoe’s work as an artist; it’s about his life, the early years in Tulsa, the drugs and violence, the inappropriate marriage, his move to New York, his children, the divorce and, finally, success.

Andoe doesn’t actually discuss his art as often as I expected he would, but that fact just made the pages that were explicitly about his art all the more intriguing. I love these lines, the description of his first foray into the art world, when he discovered he could draw:

“I felt it was something of a trick I could do, like wiggling my ears. I was always surprised when someone enjoyed it. It meant nothing to me, really, but the other side of the coin was that it meant everything. This is very personal inasmuch as I didn’t even realize it until recently, because it was too close to see.”

Chapman’s point, with Public Secrets and in our discussion a couple of weeks ago, is that some of the city’s most successful artists – Andoe, Gaylord Herron, Larry Clark – have gone all but ignored in Tulsa. Why? Because they left town? Found success elsewhere? Still, Tulsa is as much a part of who they are as it was when they lived here. And this fact is evident in their work.

A couple of prints of Andoe’s work are available at Dwelling Spaces, as is his memoir, and the BOK Center, when it opened in downtown Tulsa, commissioned a work from the artist.

However, the way in which the city acquired that work is, to say the very least, disappointing. Here is, borrowed from his Myspace page, Andoe’s artist’s statement regarding “In Sight of Dreamland” and how the work, midway through completion, changed in scope and nature.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ignorance and sleep
Category: Life

In Sight of Dreamland
>Artist Statement by Joe Andoe
First off I want to say a painting is just a painting –it's just paint on canvas way before it's a picture of something or about any ideal. And a painting should be anything the viewer wants it to be no matter what anyone says even the artist…but then again an artist needs to entertain themselves.
Soooooo just for your information, this is what I first pictured for the 9 foot by 24 foot painting for my home towns new arena- I pictured the ending of a black and white western and as the last credit rolled down over two horses rearing up as if to challenge one another for yet more excitement, leaving my 5 year old imagination reeling as I sat in the back seat of my parents '57 Chevy- probably around 1960 at some Drive Inn called "The Riverside" or "Apache" or "The Admiral Twin", on a hot August evening as it could have actually happened because that is what my parents who were in there early twenty's could afford and what we enjoyed.
This was the plan until the contract to do this picture was voided by somebody writing checks for the city of Tulsa. A year goes by and I never got paid. I was supposed to get paid in four parts because it was expensive to make. I was told over and over "checks in the mail". And I was asked each time to send yet another invoice because "the last one must have been "lost" again. The official delivery date came and went because I held out delivering until payment. So I was paid half and I was told I would get the rest the day I hung the painting in the arena and was told I needed to send yet more invoices for that final payment. So I gathered twenty or so friends from Tulsa and flew in an expert on projects like this because it was a big job and it took everyone's help to get this massive thing stretched and hoisted ten feet off the floor and hung straight. With all my friends help and two installers from Gilcrease it was hung and even the cleaning ladies at the arena liked it. But you can guess no one showed up with a check. I actually thought now they had the painting I would never be paid. So to back up –because of nonpayment over the course of the year I have to get a loan to cover the expense to make the picture and deliver it and for me to live. So any "feel good" feelings were lost way before I walked away from my picture hung nicely in the arena, empty handed.
But something good did come out of all this even months before that. There is the word or symbol in the Chinese language for crises that happens to be the same symbol for opportunity. With the city of Tulsa voiding the contract by nonpayment, the painting became free of restriction of content. In other words- it wasn't going to be this "feel good" project anymore. It was going to be better. I can't fake a feeling that's left me and as the saying goes: You never stand in the same river twice. I and I had a year to look at the painting and to think about it and watch the river flow.
The composition stayed the same but my thinking changed as I thought about the location of the arena - on the "north side" of Tulsa and how my painting was going to be located on the north side of this "north side" building.
Also, I thought about how I'd always loved Tulsa's "north side" because I think the landscape is prettier than the "south side" and how both sides of my family came from the north side and I lived there till I was ten and both set of grand parents lived their lives there.
I thought about how cool and bold it was for Tulsa to build their new Cesar Pelli arena in a place that Tulsa has be trying to run from for years and years.
Why run?
Because of the African American community lived on the "north side."
Then I remembered my grandfather telling me how he came out after a movie at the Raito Theater one afternoon in 1921 when he was 11 and saw dump trucks rolling past piled high with the bodies of dead black people and he said there were arms and legs hanging over the edges as the trucks headed toward the Arkansas River.
Now I have lived away from Tulsa for a quarter of a century and in that time I have learned that if Tulsa is known for anyone thing more than anything else around the world- it would be the race riot of 1921.
It is the largest such attack in US history, an attack on a prosperous African American community where white men burned down blocks and blocks of what was called "Black Wall Street." No one really knows who started it or how many people died. But the whole place was torched; Burned to the ground- homes, businesses, people and animals.
Even in the 60s you could see what it must have been like, here and there with the little parts that didn't burn; and how it was still a community like many inner cities, where you see row houses, bars and churches all in close proximity. Sure in could have been called a ghetto but at the same time life was being lived there; and where there's life, there's culture.
Now that's all lost too. It's just grass, trees and empty streets where it once stood. Greenwood and Archer never recovered. There is not even a grocery store on the "north side." And it happened for no reason except that they were black.
I grew up from the age of ten way out east- near 21st and Garnett. Early on I saw how some from more prosperous addresses turned their noses up at us. We weren't black and weren't really that poor, but we might as well have been.
As time passed- I moved to New York and have I had shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York galleries and collections from around the world- ten years before any Tulsa Museum would touch me. Philbrook wouldn't even accept a horse portrait as a gift once. (FREE)
I still wasn't bitter until the people in charge of paying me for my arena painting dismissed me for a year and mockingly told me to send even more invoices and how money would be there if I only would deliver it.
This opportunity made it real and an opportunity turn a "feel good" painting about a place once called the "Oil Capital of the World" in to something much more important, relevant and worldly- and that is in 1921 you could have seen Black Wall Street burn from where my painting now hangs.
How could I ignore that?
In the end, I did tie it back to the movies when I finally got to talk to the fellow who wrote the checks (or didn't write the checks and told me to send more invoices) when I told him over the phone and for the record, the painting was titled DREAMLAND. Of course I didn't tell this guy who had no remorse or respect what that meant- I wanted to get paid first.
The Williams Dreamland Theater was a movie theater near Archer and Greenwood that was burned to the ground that day in 1921.
They may have shown Westerns, I don't know- but without a doubt horses burned in their stalls in sight of it and the arena.


Shelly Collins said...

So interesting. Thanks for sharing. Let's check the painting out closer on Saturday!

Celeste Vaught said...

Wow, what a poignant story.

Jeff Shaw said...

The first time I've seen this. post. Andoe is too cool. I read Jubilee City when it first came out and bought a copy for my brother to read because I grew up in the Lowell Elementary area. We knew lots of people that got in as much trouble as he did.

The story he told here is such a great story of defiance. I wish I could think the way he does sometimes.

Michael Bates said...

Great story, but I have to say -- it all burned, but Greenwood and the Dreamland were rebuilt after the riot. Urban renewal and the expressway knocked it down again in the late '60s. But both incarnations deserve to be remembered.